WRITE IS RIGHT

I do not think I will ever emerge from this dismal place. I so desperately want to, but in here my desires go unheeded. It feels like I will not get out. I will never see another sunny day on the outside or take a walk on a path in the quiet woods again. Those great days will be all used up. I will not get the smell of the forest, of wood, or feel the moss on the side of a tree. No more sailing or lapping waves to lull me to sleep. No more sunsets. No more full court basketball. No more edible food let alone wine or beer. Just dark and emptiness amongst all these sad people.
To write, ah that seems to be my only answer. My old teacher instincts are there in glimpses. Write. Journal. Write how? To whom? (Or is it who; no definitely whom as the old grammatical rule says it would be them, so add the m.) It seems fruitless regardless, especially from someone in here with my crime. Who would ever want to read it? My kids may not even want to ever see me let alone hear from me again.
Maybe the best thing to do is for me to simply write to someone I do not know, someone who does not know my past so they could not hold it against me. Start with a clean slate so to speak. Tell them my testimony, my story with my true feelings since I have no more secrets. Everything is laid bare in here. (literally) No holds barred, consequences be dammed. What further damage could I do anyway? So much hurt has been handed out. Maybe I could aid someone in a similar position to NOT do what I did thereby preventing future pain. Just let my inside out from the inside place I now find myself each day.
How did I get to this point? Things are a dull gray rather than black or white, though still not a desirable state. I see the darkness though now at a distance, there but at bay. My reduced meds still help keep it that way. The counselors help. They say I am keeping it out of reach, taking the necessary steps to my recovery and a better life. The priest says I am headed toward the beginning of a new path, turning things around as needed, making that u-turn that is required if I want to have anything of value in the future. Hard to visualize any future from inside corrections having any value to me or anyone.
It is not easy, at least for me. The shame and guilt still surround me even amid other’s feelings like “At least you didn’t….” or “Many act on those feelings as you did..” do little to abate the hatred I have for the person who did my crime. I am guilty and am paying the price to, as the judge told me in his sentencing, “even the scales of justice in my case.” I cannot at this point quite see or believe that will happen, but am learning to pray it is so.
Strange yet familiar are the words of Father Domido. He is a welcome sight as I enter his office when called out to see him or when he visits here. It is also difficult to believe his words meant to encourage me. Why would his just, holy and compassionate God allow me to trespass so on another? On so many? Then how could He forgive me for doing it despite my knowing better? Such arrogance. Such lust. Such deception. Who could ever forgive me? Maybe God can, as Father tells me, but I do not know how my wife or kids can. I cannot.
There is something that tells me I need to write this down, let people in, and not bottle it up. I try to inspect the source, as I have had feelings or hunches before on things, and look where that got me! The difference my counselor, friends and priest tell me, is that it would be helpful, especially for me now as well as later. It seems clear at times, then so cloudy at others. No wonder so many guys simply curl up and sleep their time away. What’s the use? Things are definitely irrevocably changed, seemingly for the worse.
I guess that is what is to be done. After all, I know keeping busy helps, and time will pass. Write it all down, journal, sort it out later. Letters from inside I guess.

SOUNDS

It is interesting how sounds – and smells – can trigger our memories and thoughts. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of the metal doors clanging shut as we entered our cells. It was a low and ominous sound and grew to have finality in it. No getting out, that’s for sure.
This was at the maximum security prison when everything was new. Out of all the things I don’t remember, that sound is one I definitely do. It echoed in the concrete hallways as it offered little hope, locking me in a concrete box that offered little respite from the aching I was feeling. Not physical nor emotional pain, as the meds took care of those. Just a pervasive sense of loss that would haunt me once those doors clanged shut and the electronic locks click, indicating I was told, that the light on the C.O.’s panel went off for my cell signaling indeed our doors were securely shut and locked. The small, glass-less window in the door covered with metal bars only teased us of what lay outside in the curved hallway of five cells. Each cell also had an outdoor window of extra thick glass that only opened slightly with a crank only the CO’s possessed. It seemed to give us the only natural light we would see once shut inside on those long days and tormented us of the green expanse outside. Most views didn’t extend very far, however, as strategically place mounds or buildings hid most views lest we plan our get-a-ways.
The sound of the click of our doors being unlocked was also I sound I will remember, a welcome sound, sometimes unexpected. We normally would be waiting for the click prior to lining up for the march to meals – chow as they dubbed it. I had refused in my mind and verbiage, after muddling through my drugged stupor, to call it that, reminiscent of the dog food I fed my faithful Golden. It was fine cuisine for him but not something I cared to think about for me to ingest, though some meals appeared to be a close facsimile to it. So I banned the word and encouraged others to do the same.
It also was the welcome sound when unlocking for rec and library times twice a week. Those 45 minutes were such wonderful times even if the gym and library were small. It was less than half a gymnasium and housed an old weight machine and basket with no net which we shared with the handball players. I always tried to cajole some guys to play rather than just shoot around. I never tired of it and it would provide a great escape for that short time and throughout my state enforced time out, a God-send in getting me through my bid – length of my sentence inside, buying me safety and even respect along the way. Praise God for the benefits of movement on the court. ( I may not have at first, but surely did later)
The best times of hearing that door click unlocked were the unexpected ones. “25 out.” I had somehow procured a cell with one of my favorite numbers – I remember moving to it before I was even told to go to it, I just knew it was mine. When that shout came, I was supposed to rush to the bubble for further instructions. (the bubble was the bulletproof glass enclosure that held the CO on watch) I started to vaguely remember how I had done it for med calls when the “meds” call was sounded and all were herded to the dispensary for their dose.
That click sound, when sudden and out of the ordinary, could get an excitement aroused in me. I had no idea what it was for but it meant a few moments of enlarged freedom where I could walk and maybe even catch site of the outdoors, sky and maybe even the sun or moon. Maybe, I would dream, it meant they had made a mistake and I was being pardoned, set free, given another chance and being sent home, maybe ….. Usually it was the psyche lady making sure I was getting “better” whatever that meant in this place with me looking at more years of incarceration. Maybe it was commissary where we were able to buy things every other week. Maybe it was another counselor. Or the priest. I was not Catholic but had enjoyed their Sunday morning service more that the protestant ones, mainly because of Father Domido, a Peruvian priest who “saved” me from thoughts of further self destruction and gave me hope in Jesus Christ which ultimately led me to be born again.
So when I would hear that click and my number called, my heart would begin to race as I never knew the reason. It might be a counselor call out, or maybe, I hoped, it would be Father Domido again, calling me out to visit him for a short chat. It never came from him enough, but just hearing that sound gave me the hope that he started in me, the hope that I would later cultivate form the source of all hope, that of Christ our Lord, our true Father.

TIME PASSES II

Time continues to pass. I find myself more able to remember, though if I go too far back I slip into the way. The way is the quiet solitude that recognizes what I did and rips at me to the point of physical and mental sickness. So, as the counselors and wise ones have instructed, I again attempt to look forward, or at worst, at the now. The thought of ending it has slipped into the past where we all hope it stays. My jury is still out on that, but I agree with them in spirit.
Now I am writing a letter for a guy who cannot functionally read or write. I have to read his girlfriend’s letter to him and am now scribbling his dictated words back to her. Word has spread of my ability and willingness to do this, so my services are in demand. I could write anything I wanted, tell her to go take a flying leap or send me money. Some scoundrels do, oddly enough. Not I however. I am working on rebuilding a lost integrity. There is no shame among the downtrodden I guess.
It passes the time if nothing else. Half the inmates have no high school education and one third, according to DOCS own statistics, are illiterate. It is a very sad state of affairs in a no child left behind mentality to have over 20,000 men who cannot read or write, and as a result usually cannot get, let alone hold, a job of meaning. How genuinely saddened I was when I finally coaxed one such author to explain why he didn’t sign his name to the letter I wrote. He could not even write his own name! Actually I could identify when, oddly enough, I could only spell it phonetically myself.
More time passes. Some of us observe the geese outside our windows who have migrated back and are now nursing their eggs. A proud mother sits endlessly on her nest, oblivious to our plight inside. The hatching is amazing to watch, though not my first exposure to this as with others. Many of us mark their progress in family development hardly noting the days passing. The hawks are also noticing, awaiting an opportunity to lessen the numbers while satisfying their own needs at the expense of a stray youth waddling behind mama goose. The symbolism of their greed is not lost on me, though their motives are natural and nobler than my feeding off an unsuspecting teen.
While difficult, I know I must go on, continue with my transition forward rather than back, turning away from the lurid temptations and selfish desires that brought me inside. Time doesn’t seem to heal this wound, only scab it over for me and others to pick at when they feel like it. To lessen the pain I was counseled to generalize my crime to others to save the beatings and taunting – picking at the scab – that would occur when others found out my crime. Still, ingenious inmates call someone on the outside to look up our identification number to learn the crime and history of anyone they want. For me, just calling home is an ordeal, let alone with an agenda.
Setting up the collect call system, by the way, was another hurdle to overcome. It is surprising how much the anticipation and simple joy of hearing the voice of someone you know and love on the other end of the phone can bring. Or the resulting sadness and despair when it is not set-up properly or when no one answers. Then getting to one of two pay phones for 30 guys during rec time was another problem. Catching someone at that sacred time became an almost overwhelming task. Then when I do reach my unbelievable supportive wife who I hurt beyond repair and she does press three, I generally am so overcome with emotion I cannot speak. The disappointment either way is so difficult – anticipation, not getting through, or being unable to capitalize on it. I long for it to end, for someone to yell “cut” and all goes back to before, yet I know it will not happen and there is a long time to go. That end is unfathomable though out there and seems too distant to accept.
Yet time goes on with me with it. The letter writing helps, and I exchange the work for lessons in chess, which also helps. Right now I am pathetic at it – and dislike the contact chess methods often exhibited inside. Since when is a board game a contact sport, slamming pieces down or knocking captured ones out? Time continues to pass, minute by minute, day by day. The flicker of light is there, sometimes growing, sometimes hardly distinguishable in the darkness of guilt and humiliation.
A priest at Easter time tells me God forgives me since I repented, that I now need to forgive myself. I doubt the former and cannot accept the latter. The wound is festering all over again and does not seem the type any God would want to heal. So I bandage it with chess, letters, reading and this writing, tears, more tears and carry on. It may not be healing, but at least the bleeding has stopped.

TIME PASSES

Time passes slowly, but it passes and I can see it going. They tell me it is mid April. I note the changes, the details in the day. From the early stirrings in adjacent cells, I hear the early functions of bodies waking and I add to the chorus. Then the early count comes, a preparation for others not yet awake to “rise and shine” and get ready to march to breakfast. That we literally do, march: in speechless pairs, dorm by dorm, through concrete hallways, outside between buildings, more hallways and a maze of tunnels to a dining hall which I could not find again if paid a million dollars. The thought humors me, but I must stifle the mirth as noise of any kind is verboten.
We get our food with 10 minutes to eat, with the clock starting when we hit the dining hall. It doesn’t matter how long the line is, it is 10 minutes, unless we get lucky and our C.O. gets caught up in conversation that gives us a precious minute or two more. I learn to eat with little chewing and no conversation, though most of the food is overcooked anyway and requires little mastication and delivers similarly few nutrients. Woe to those who linger after being told to “pick it up,” or the hungry sole who attempts to take back to his cell more than the allotted four pieces of white styrofoam type bread.
It’s tomorrow again and I meet with a second counselor at the same time. Two for one. They ask me how I am getting along and how I am adjusting. I hope they do not see my swollen eyes or straggly beard that I cannot seem to take care of at present. It is difficult to shave in a tin mirror – all that is in my lovely new digs.
I explain I am coping, to which they agree is progress. What’s the alternative I wonder as I do not think I verbalize it to them though they do kind of stare at me. When they do this my gaze automatically goes down and the shame returns.
They mention I seem to be adjusting according to the CO on my dorm. Translation is I am not causing any trouble and play well with others. Not only do I have no choice but I am medicated and do not feel like doing much of anything. The regiment of count, chow, dorm time, count, chow, activity, chow and count seem to normalize anyone I would think. I think the meds have evened out or maybe I am just getting used to them. Thinking is still hard, or at least weird and I am choosing not to go back very far and cannot go forward which leaves me in a not very good place – here inside corrections. I find myself able to function and observe, though my mind is still muddled in the horror of my crime. The darkness is there but at bay presently. It appears Satan had replaced whatever goodness was in me with selfishness and his egotistical ambition (on which I eagerly bit) to rule my own world. Adam all over again. The results aren’t so different. Both of us suffered shame and humiliation that will affect future generations and haunts us on the journey. Both of us need inside corrections.
The silhouettes on the hall wall as we silently parade past an open courtyard window on the way to and from meals echo the darkness that still resides in me and wants to come forward. There is light behind me obviously to create the shadows. I need to somehow bring that light forward and keep it there. The walking silhouettes remind me three times a day of the little progress I have made in that dealing. I am still bogged down in a mire of self-loathing and pity. It does not seem anyone will understand the depths to which I fell and from which I am now trying to emerge – if it is worth it at all. I see and hear others still in his grasp, conniving, lying and secretly pushing their way to and past boundaries – something I know all too well and previously mastered. Will their present transgression come to light as their past ones have? Do they not feel the remorse and shame I am living with, or are they singularly coping with it in the only way they know? What will prevent me from joining them again? Those necessary corrections could prove too difficult, inside or out. Maybe the struggle, the endless turmoil between darkness and light, yea good and evil and the resulting consequences are what keep me awake at night after lights are out. Is there to be no end to this? No cure? No hope?
A general fatigue aided by drugs and a nightly sob session seem my only escape to the few hours sleep I get. Then it all starts again as time passes.