One of the biggest perspective shifts that take place for us here, separating us from the majority of society outside, is what becomes our definition of time. Is time just a cruelty to endure? A punishment meted out with such quickness, it seems as though a blindness inhabits our masses obscuring the cost to the person it was doled upon, much more than one would assume.
Some bits of time go by in the blink of an eye. Off the top of my head, the time
restricted interactions seem to really fly. The precious 15 minutes allowed for a phone call; the much shortened 2 hour (from up to 12) maximum time limit that has now been deemed sufficient for our in person visitation, or the rare stolen snatches of alone time, since solitude inside is minimal. What these samples all share is their extreme briefness in their scope of an individual’s entirety. However, for those of us trapped in this life, these moments become a type of bookmark of a nightlight reel of sorts that serve to soothe, to make the rest of everything endured bearable.
On the flip side, other segments of time drag so slow the reality of my existence feels like some cosmic joke the universe is playing on me. The seconds refusal to tick forward despite the fullness of my bladder, permission to relieve this steadily increasing discomfort dependent on the forward momentum of time. Digesting the sheer magnitude of the 32 year gap between my earliest and latest release date, pondering exactly when will I get from under the departments jurisdiction. Three years and 1 week; the amount of time that has elapsed without the security of my father’s unconditional love wrapped around me, ensuring my place within the family dynamic. Each of these a test of my endurance, a measuring stick for my inner strength, a survey gauging my grip on sanity.
When exactly does the change occur in the life of the incarcerated? When time becomes not just a mere assignment given to a portion of the day, but transfigures itself into the pound of flesh required as payment for our sins? I can’t pinpoint when the shift happened in my history, maybe I’ve blocked it out. After all, the severing of my old self that didn’t have the albatross of incarceration upon my neck felt much like I imagined amputees’ that feel the sensation of the phantom limb still describe, still there now just out of reach.
And once I’m no longer in this environment where time relates directly to trauma, how do I push it back to its previous slot of minor relevance? If when I ask a person ‘What’s new?’ they respond ‘How much time have you got?’ will I be triggered and blurt out 18-50?
This duality of time is a small slice in the psychological side effect of incarceration. After 15 years inside I can attest to the truth in the almost complete shift in how I view and define things. The lens I see through is shaded, colored by endured trauma memories that trigger anxiety and experiences inside these walls that my muscle memory reacts as witness of.
Just beyond my grasp, my phantom self waits. The path I’ve decided on of self-love, thanking myself for the ability to acclimate to this foreign place. I was able to alter my perception through necessity to successfully navigate my way through here. Showing myself that I’ll be able to do so again. I’ll be mindful to channel that phantom self, taking cues from that version of me upon release. I’m confident my transition will be a success.
The ultimate test for myself of course will be what does the definition of time look like to me?
*The solution to incarceration isn’t more incarceration. Awareness begins one post and one voice at a time.
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