JUST BREATHE

I have to breathe. It is very difficult to remember such a basic thing in here. How could I forget? I can hardly speak. There is so much chaos. So much terror. I find myself holding my breath. Then the sobbing. It is so difficult. Just breathe she says. Her voice is soft, smooth, gentle. I remember that voice from somewhere but not in here. Everything here is harsh. Difficult. Threatening just getting to the phone. Breathe, she encourages. Breathe. How could I forget? It’s all so bleak. Dark in so many ways. I do not want the dark, but it’s all around me.
At first I did not know how to do all this phone connect stuff. Wait. It’s not your turn. Why am I holding my breath? Have to wait, it’s not your turn. This is not normal, I know. Nothing in here is normal. I do not know my way around, especially the phone call issues. There’s an echo. Voices. Then hers comes through. Breathe. I can’t stop sobbing. I’m sorry, oh so sorry. Help me. I do not know what to do. My chest is tight. My head throbs. Just breathe she says gently.
I waited so long. Then my turn. Dial. It’s finally ringing. Please pick up. Press 3, oh please press 3 to connect the call. Can you hear me? Yes, my wife says, I am right here no need to shout. I didn’t realize I was shouting. I am so sorry I say again. I love you. I can’t go on I sob. Breathe, she repeats. There are too many people. I am afraid. Terrified actually. What did I do?
Breathe. Easy to say, difficult to do. I’m out of control. I cannot even speak. Is this a dream? No, it’s real. Are you still there? I’m so alone. Surrounded closely by men but so alone. I’m numb. End it please. Yes, she says, right here.
You have one minute the voice tells us. Don’t leave me. I’m sorry. I love you. Help me. Just breathe she tells me, it’s alright. But it isn’t all right. It’s all wrong. I’m here. You are there and I am sorry. Gone. She’s gone. Twenty minutes and she’s gone just like that. The line is long, no calling back. It’s over. Back to my cell. It’s dark. No help. No relief. I have to breathe but find it hard. Is this what death is like, a panic? Pounding head, pressure on my chest? Why is it so hard?
Just breathe resonates through me like that song. Is this another dream? I follow the herd back to our cells after the phone goes dead. I find I am still sobbing. I stumble and someone I do not know helps me. I am weak, reeling. Just breathe she had said, I am here. How do I do that? Meds soon. They help calm me. Follow the herd. Line up. March to the room where relief comes. Just breathe till I get those pills. Somehow my rubber legs carry me there and back. Why am I still crying? How did I get on my bunk?
It’s easier now. The calmness settles over me but I know the storm will come again and there’s nothing I can do. Just breathe. Did she say that or am I here dreaming? Will I wake out there? Will this chaos never end?
No. Noise, chaos, meds. The calmness comes if I just breathe. I don’t want to. I want it all to end or get better. I know this is all wrong, very wrong. It’s dark and loud. Echoes in this concrete building. All so foreign. Nothing to hang on to. Nothing I can do. Just breathe.

TOMORROW

It must be tomorrow because I am sitting in front of her again. Or maybe I never left, as I do not remember much in between. She asks me again how I am doing and I just look at her. Other questions get more of an answer, though the only ones I remember are ones about me hurting myself. It is not one I have thought of either in a while, or at least not directly. She writes and looks at me. She seems to care about what I am feeling and says she will be one of my counselors while there. She doesn’t ask about my crime for which I am very thankful. It is hard enough to even look up at her as I am now used to looking down so as not to catch anyone’s eye – inmate or CO – lest I aggravate them by doing so.
I feel numb is about all I can tell her. There does not seem to be any reality, at least none that makes sense to me. I am sad, but it difficult to express that. I am lonely, out of place, and tired, but these are difficult concepts to explain to her or to understand myself. I later wonder if I even said anything to her or only thought it.
All of the sudden I realize I am crying; crying and sobbing so hard I did not know I was doing it. I had heard similar noises coming from an adjoining room. Now I added to the din. I do not remember what caused it or when it started. When I finally looked up, she pushed a Kleenex box to me and just nodded. There was no contempt in her eyes, no judgment, which I could not understand. I was a despicable person who had harmed many, even another female like her if only in thought and there she was quietly wanting to help me. It didn’t make sense. Nothing in here did.
Somewhere in our silence and her conversation about things I remember hearing I would see her again tomorrow. How does one get to this point? Where do you give up everything for something, nothing really, and do it so completely you lose everything? I am one of such people that overflow this place. How did this happen so fast? I cannot seem to wrap my head and thoughts around it nor understand the finality of it all. Maybe it’s the meds. Is this what the rest of my life will be like? No meaning?
It’s a wonder I am still breathing, though I sometimes think I am not. I feel in a timeless void with images passing by me that speak a different language I do not know. I stay on my bunk but cannot read. My mind finds it difficult to focus even when someone yells to tell me I am being called for meds. Why didn’t they just call my name rather than the bed number? I do not know my bed number though I am told it is very important to remember it. Guess I will be defined by it in here.
Is that really me being called? Didn’t I have a family? I thought I had a dog, what was his name? I think I worked, but cannot remember as everything now seems a gray blur. There is a hum in my head too, low but constant which I lose now and then till I do not expect it and it returns.
I awake not even knowing I went to sleep even though I am sitting. Is it morning? Is this over now? The pain in my stomach is still there though that could come from not eating. Or trying to digest the unusual food. No highs. No lows, just constant nothingness. That’s all there is or will be till tomorrow.

WELCOME TO DOWNSTATE

I’m talking to a young lady. She is asking me how I am getting along here at the New York State Reception Facility called Downstate. I do not even know how I got to her office save by the CO escort. I do not know why she is asking me that anyway as I am not getting along. This is prison and it stinks. Do all the guards hit you like that white shirt guy did I ask her? No, she answers after closing the door. The last time someone did that I got slapped, so I tense. She says she has heard of it before, but no, it is not right.

No it is not. I could not do anything and had no idea what was coming. I had been staring at the floor, feeling how my new clothes felt when I was awoken from my stupor and led to the white shirt’s office. The white shirt told me to stand against the wall with my hands behind me, which I did. That is when one of the two very large blue shirted CO’s with night sticks closed the door and stood with their back to me. I knew that was not good. Then I heard their boss say something to me before he slapped my face. Then again. I could not believe what was happening. Then once more. I was told to put my hands on the desk where he proceeded to hit them with a very large book, a dictionary I think. How many times? Eight or ten I think but was lost in the thought that this was really taking place. The blue shirts were just waiting for me to react. My instincts wanted to fight back, but the meds dulled my reaction thankfully. He told me to stand as before, yelled at me some more and then punched me in the stomach a couple of times. Then he had me sign a form, saying that I did not want to go to PC. (protective custody) I did not know what he meant but did as he instructed out of fear.

Later others went into his office. One did not return. I do not know why. Many, like me, were teary eyed returning, sitting alone and staring at the floor. Is this what I can expect in here? This young lady, a counselor I was later told, says no, it is not normal. Honey, nothing inside corrections is normal for me. She just said we would talk again tomorrow.

ON THE MOVE

My beard has grown. When did that happen? Time must have passed. I’ve talked to people but I do not remember. I think it is March. No, someone said it’s April.
Now I am in a small room with several guys, wearing my own clothes. No more brown jump suit that was way too large. Did I do that or did they do that while I was asleep? I don’t remember sleeping, at least not much. I am eating baloney and cheese sandwiches, something I have not had since I was in elementary school. When was that? It is difficult to eat with these handcuffs on my wrists. Is this some kind of twisted dream? I notice I am also chained to another guy who is ravenously eating. Do I know him?
We walk as best we can through a dark tunnel and are put on a bus. It is difficult with one ankle chained to my new partner. It must be night as it is cold and dark. It is cold in the hard plastic chair I finally manage to fall into beside my chain mate. The bus finally moves. Now I can see the sun. Was it always there and I missed it? It is cold. The only windows are up front or the small ones up high that I can see out of when I stand. Now I see the sun come up and we are headed into it. Then we stop so the guards can eat. We do not eat. I smell the grease of fast food and exhaust smells of the bus and get a queasy feeling in my stomach. There is no talking. My body hurts, so I stand, or try to stand as the bus motion and leg chains make it difficult. Most are sleeping. I try but it is now so hot it is difficult. Suddenly we are ‘there’ and told to leave. That is new being chained to a guy, but I adapt. I am reminded of the sack race I once ran with my son. Wish I was back there now. Did I dream that or this? I can’t tell.
We rise and file out to a tight room where a guy in a white shirt is yelling at all of us. “You eye ballin’ me?” hangs in the air. I do not know what is going on as I stare at the floor. We are finally unchained and told to ‘feel the wall’. Then we wait.
We are directed here and there. In and out of cages where some are left behind and the rest of us parade single file further to wait. We are again in different clothes, clean ones at least this time. I remember getting my head shaved and given a cup of something and told to put it on my hair and shower. But you shaved my hair. There is only cold water and a very small hand towel but I manage. This must be a mistake. This must be a dream. The new clothes are clean, pressed and folded this time and a forest green that will become a familiar shade.
Again we are moved like sheep from one large caged room to another, usually one by one. It seems we do a great deal of waiting. Get used to it I am told, lots of it in here. Where is here? Is it for long? Is it over?
Then a group of us are moved to another building though yet another tunnel. At least there are no chains this time. With a sarcastic tone we are told we have reached our new home inside corrections. Hallelujah.
Now what?

COUNTY VISIT

March is almost over when my pastor comes to visit.  How could that be?  It is light outside when I am awakened by the guy who sleeps under me.  Then I am led to a place where glass separated us.  She talked and I listened and tried to understand.  For a few moments I did and it was like other times.  Normal.  It was good to see someone I knew.  It was great she came, though I felt we were in a play and just acting.  Unfortunately I did not know the scene or setting.  Most of all I did not know my lines.

Then I said good-bye and was led away and had to strip.  Why? The CO’s looked me all over as if I was smuggling in something under my penis or up my rectum.  Is this part of the play?  Does everyone have to do this?  Then I am back on my bunk wondering if anything really happened or it was all a bad dream.  Good and bad.

Then I am eating though I cannot identify what.  I realize my teeth hurt and I need to floss.  When I got my meds I tell the med lady that my teeth hurt and would like some dental floss, but she just laughs at me.  Again, it seems like a play.  Others are chuckling too.  I can hear her laugh all the way down the hall.  “He wants dental floss!!”

Is that a joke?  Did I say something funny?