by R. Sanchez
I haven’t decided whom I’ll send this letter to, or even if I’ll send it out at all, but in the event that I do decide to mail this, I pray that these words find you in the best of health and spirits.
It’s almost midnight. I’m tired but I can’t sleep. That’s been happening a lot lately, but I find that writing helps. It’s probably because there’s no one you can really talk to in here, no one you can trust not to take advantage of a perceived weakness. It’s hard to be on point all the time, wear your mask, check your armor for cracks. I’ve been doing this Level 4, maximum-security shit for over 14 years now, but haven’t been home, haven’t been able to raise my daughter, haven’t been able to just be for 16 years.
People here laugh, smile, and clown around, pretending to be happy or just having given up on hoping for anything better. Sometimes, I think about how the lawmakers and juries would absolutely flip out if they only knew how we face our trials and convictions … with a joke at the ready and no sign at all that we’re even concerned about spending the rest of our lives on a shit-hole yard with sadistic cops. How could they, or you, really understand? We’re just whistling past the graveyard. The only way to mentally survive is to deny the pain, ignore the loss of freedom and hope one day you can make it home and pretend this time in the pen wasn’t real. In short, you have to murder a piece of your soul in order to be able to live in this environment, and pray you can revive it once you’re out them gates.
I may never come home. I watch Barbecue USA and Ask This Old House on PBS and say to myself, “I’m going to do some landscaping in my mom’s backyard, maybe build a barbecue pit and try out that recipe for country style pork ribs I saw the other day.” In reality, most of the people I love and care about will probably watch me grow old and die in here, or pass away themselves long before I ever make it back to them.
I don’t think about that, though. I sit here in the dark, drinking tea, writing this letter to no one, and using my little book light because my cellie has passed out already. All I want to think about is what we’ll have for breakfast tomorrow, whether we’ll get a little yard time, wonder if I’ll be able to get into the store for some top ramen and coffee. All the while, something inside me silently decays, like dry rot in the walls of a decrepit mansion; it goes unnoticed. Every now and then I allow myself to feel it, like tonight. I scream inside my head that I’m better than this! I’m intelligent, well read, articulate, and creative; my parents didn’t divorce, they loved me, I did well in school. I do not belong here. I know it and it is like salt in an already excruciatingly painful wound. I feel that I’ve wasted so much and yet, still have the potential to do much more. That potential is killing my soul. I wish it would go away and leave me be.
Tomorrow, I will joke around with other ex-gangbangers, murderers, and dope dealers. I will pretend that nothing is wrong and do my best to enjoy myself, enjoy prison. I will be callous, unforgiving, and I will survive. Tonight will not be forgotten, but it will become a distant echo, like a barely repressed memory.
Am I depressed? Do depressed people intellectualize their suffering? Are they even aware something is wrong, or do they just trudge through their bleakness, oblivious to their own misery or that there’s any hope of escaping it? I don’t know which I am, or if I’m even depressed at all. I do know that sometimes I smell something, or hear a sound that pulls at my heart and resonates deep within, and for that moment, I hate where I am, hate that I’ve given up without noticing.
Right now, I’m listening to “My Immortal” by Evanescence and “Hey You” by Pink Floyd; I got it on loop on my Discman. Not exactly the most cheerful music, I admit, but it mirrors the feeling of loss I have for my family, the mother of my child, the freedom of drinking a beer on the beach under the stars. There’s emptiness where I once had the memory of sun on my face, affection, the closeness of another human being and I desperately want to cry. I don’t, though. I don’t know if I can cry for those things anymore, but as I sit and listen to the music, I do think of them and mourn their loss.
What would my homeboys and other convicts say if I told them this? Most would probably call me a bitch and either avoid further contact with me or try to victimize what they see as “soft.” Would someone pull me aside and admit to feeling the same way sometimes? Would any take comfort in the knowledge that they are not the only one who hurts on occasion? I’m a romantic, so I’d like to think so, but I won’t tell any of them. Nor tolerate any disrespect or attempt at aggressiveness. I will face challenges head on and show no weakness. Nevertheless, for now with you, it helps to know I can pull down my defenses for a moment and be vulnerable. Just being able to say, “I hurt” to anyone without fear of reprisal helps.
I don’t want your pity. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I didn’t do everything I was accused of, but have earned my sentence with past actions for those cases I either beat, or was never charged with. I use this to justify my time, to face it with stoic resignation. No, what I’d like is for some normal person, with normal outside problems and a normal outside life, to understand that I am not a complete monster. I just happen to have a better-developed emotional and psychological defense mechanism.
Whoever you are, I wish you well. I hope you know that even though life gets hard, it is never impossible. No matter what is thrown at you, it could always be worse. Even I can see in some ways that I am blessed. Many of my homeboys have died or succumbed to their addictive lifestyles to the point where all that exists is a hunger for more. Just be thankful for your loved ones’ company and the freedom to follow your dreams. Enjoy your ability to drive away from your problems and your option to return to what’s important to you.
Life is good. I live in a bathroom with another man, rarely see my loved ones, am surrounded by killers and thieves, and can still say in spite of my bouts of depression that life is good. Therefore, I hope you don’t take too much for granted out there, for that is what I did. I lacked appreciation for the little I had, and now I don’t even have that. If this letter can show you anything at all, it is that there is already too much suffering in the world to add to it because of a fight with a loved one, or a hard day at work.
I’m tired now. I want to put my pen down, go to sleep, wake to find this has all been a dream I can’t recall. The words will stay on paper, but the black feeling will have faded like shadows before the sun. I hope you take what I said and find something positive in it, a warning to cherish what you have. Whatever it is, I pray it serves you. I rarely take my own advice though, so I don’t expect you to either. Take care of yourself, God bless you, and may angels watch over you and yours.
Republished from “Perspectives from the Cell Block: An Anthology of Prisoner Writings” – edited by Joan Parkin in collaboration with incarcerated people from Mule Creek State Prison.