During my first few years of my sentence visits, phone calls, and photos were simply ways to connect with family. I didn’t think much of the bigger picture of time. In the beginning the gravity of a long sentence has yet to pull you apart.
As a prisoner you go from being that one friend everyone knows, to ‘that guy’ everyone knew. As time passes your friends fade away. At first you are on everyone’s mind, but like the death of a friend, time eventually erases you from their consciousness. Your friends marry, have families, raise children and life goes on. Eventually it’s just you alone.
Maximum security is different from time at the lower levels. You’re caged with men serving very long sentences many of whom will never be released. The mentality of convicts is hardened, and it’s day in and day out of endless madness. Each day is about survival.
In maximum security most convicts could care less about the next man. They certainly have a disdain for a hostile administration protecting bad staff or that promotes retaliation.
March 29, 2007 at 5:46pm, a day that I will never forget. Becoming a mother for the first time, looking down into his beautiful (then) blue eyes. The silkiest black hair I had ever seen, long enough to lay on his neck. Delivered by C-Section, weighing 9 pounds 3 ounces, 21 1/2 inches long. Dr. says, “Hey nurse call Jim Tressel, his new quarterback was just born.”
The first time my heart skipped its beat, quickened and slowed all at once. Love at first sight, one of those feelings that happen very seldomly in a lifetime. They knock you off balance. Watching my son grow up kept me on my toes. My days filled with fear and anxiety.
Every time he would stumble and fall, I wanted to be the one to break his fall. The day he was born I vowed to protect him at all costs, later realizing it was impossible. Have you ever not been able to breathe? That feeling of panic that sets in. That’s the only way to describe how you feel while raising a child. Every minute of every day mixed with feelings of unconditional love and happiness. Does the feeling of fear ever go away? Who knows? Fourteen years later and many miles apart, that feeling is still alive and burning.
My heart is full of cherished memories. From his first word (“dada”), to his first steps (10 months old), to his first day at school, trips to the hospital. The normal boy injuries to the scary WTF happened and how injuries. All these moments and many more brought happy tears along with moments of sadness. Knowing with each moment, it was a step towards him growing up and no longer needing mommy. A very common worry with most parents.
Now at 14, about 6 foot, 200 pounds, I can’t protect him anymore. Doing 17 years in prison. They say you come here to get reformed, but the things they don’t tell you is the ups and downs you will go through with your children, family, spouse and friends.
After teaching me what true love felt like, making me a mother and showing me what happiness really is, he’s teaching me something new. A feeling only your child can give you. A pain that cuts so deep you have to second guess yourself. He taught me that no man can break your heart like your own son.
“Fuck you bitch, I have no respect for anyone in prison, and there’s not shit you can do about it.” Words that replay over and over in my head. Shattered my heart. Made me mentally evaluate myself, questioning why I’m doing the things I’m doing…G.E.D., college, writing, groups, programs, etc…All to benefit my success in the future upon my release. To be stronger for my children. But if my own flesh and blood hates me, what am I really doing this for? What am I really going home to? I have always been a mother before I’m anything.
How do you repair your relationship with your child or help them when they are crying out? These invisible handcuffs take away more than your physical freedom.
(“I Got You” by Ciara) “I love you son and I’ll always wait for you to come back.”
15 Minutes from pick up to hang up; a letter sent only to be received 22 days later; an email from an outside source, delivered to my in box days later…
Being in love while in prison, and your whole relationship is recorded and monitored. Love isn’t supposed to be hard. Loving him comes easier than breathing.
But what is hard are the dark days. When you have an overwhelming need to feel your man beside you, to feel his arms around you. Nights waking up in tears and reaching out for him, only to be reminded where you are and where he is.
When you’re at home you call or have a conversation with your significant other, and you think nothing of it. But when you’re both incarcerated, you hold on to the few moments that you get in real time. You replay the phone conversations in your head. Hearing each others voice helps ground you, reminding you why you continue to wake up every day and continue to push forward. I smile at the most random moments and thoughts of him–his pictures, letters, cards– help get me through til our next phone call.
His letters are my most cherished possessions. Knowing he lingered over these same pages, spent hours touching the same piece of paper, letting his thoughts find its way on to the page, makes me feel as close as possible to him within the circumstances.
There are years and miles between our release, but I’ve never felt closer to or wanted anyone more than I do him in my entire life. Before him I was going about my time in autopilot mode. Just breathing and stumbling around. Once he came into my life I woke up and started to live again.
In a place where negativity can consume your entire existence, discovering someone that makes you happy can feel too good to be true. He not only makes you happy but understands the true meaning of TIME, incarceration, and what it takes to walk through this journey. Yearning for the same things together.
You begin to grow with that person, lift each other up on the harder days, discover other ways of communication. Exercising your mental creativity on how to get to know each other physically, sexually and mentally. Discovering you’ve found your purpose for being in prison. You’ve met your soulmate and everything begins to make sense.
Nowhere in our sentence (mine or his) does it say we aren’t allowed to be happy. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m in prison with 13 and a half years to go. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. My love is being recorded and monitored, as I tell all.
I think everyone discovers, as a matter of due course in life, that reality sucks. We’re birthed into this world–by no choice of our own, mind you–and thrown into the madness of life.
”Good luck kid,” says Mother Nature, ”you’ll be lucky if you make it.” And with innocent eyes the child replies to this statement of fact, as all children inevitably do, with blind love and optimism.
And so, one endures and from time to time suffers in life, but none so much as prisoners do. ”The fleetest beast to bear you to perfection is suffering”. Ain’t that the truth. But this quote would be more accurate if it were ”The fleetest beast to bear you to perfection is suffering, lest you die first.”
Perfection? I’ve often wondered what Master Eckhardt meant by that. Isn’t perfection in the eye of the beholder? Must I really suffer to perfect the things I yearn to master?
As a prisoner I move to and fro in my cage like the hamster whose world he can see in totality. Unlike the hamster, I am aware. Yet, we prisoners share similar lives as with our hamster brethren. We blindly march from point A to point B. Forever marching to nowhere, the chow hall, the yard, the cell block–everything repetitive, and like the day before. I’d argue with Meister Eckhardt I suffered not in perfecting that.
Behind these uncaring walls suffering thrives. Men wither beneath the calloused hand of time. I see, yet don’t notice, for my mind has conditioned itself to filter the misery from the visual.
And so I go about my days passing by the sick and forlorn, the mad and aggrieved. I see not the man who cries when he thinks no one is looking, nor do I take in the aggrieved voices of the suffering. I stopped seeing and hearing years ago.
Does it really matter? After all, from suffering speeds perfection. Eventually these men will perfect what they seek. Some seek to extricate themselves from fading relationships, others seek a way out from the talons of pain of having lost loved ones while imprisoned.
I’ve suffered and I’ve submitted beneath time’s cruel claws. I’ve long since perfected. So I wander about within my cage content to pursue the things that matter to me, intentionally blind to those who haven’t. A hamster in it’s little world.
And like the hamster we prisoners exist until we don’t. Perfected in the end.
Christopher (Madison Correctional Institution) (OH)