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.

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