VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: The Convict’s Lady, A Serpent of Duality

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by Armando Ybarra

As a convict, sitting here in solitude, my mind mimics the duties of Coatlicue, the Aztec “Lady of the Serpent Skirt,” as it contains and balances the dualities of the blended realities I live in through my consciousness. Dual realities co-exist within my mind, such as: hope/anguish, success/failure, life/death, all at once these opposites utilize the same brain waves to create my living existence. In my role as “Serpent Skirt” I contain my emotions and balance the time spent living in each reality, so as not to be trapped in one to my detriment.

A convict’s mind is a complex entity, for it tarries together with the past, the present, and the future. Thoughts formed are a juxtapositioning of this mixture of realities. Sitting here analyzing my past influences, my present with the realization of my regret of ill-conceived choices, yet a yearning for a future full of hope is never out of reach. I cling to this hope to preserve my character from the antagonistic circumstances which aim to chip away at my integrity, forcing me to live in a reality unfamiliar to my existence. This inner mash-up of dimensions takes place in such negative surroundings that my hope seems to constantly be in a struggle to survive. This chaos reaps havoc within my mind, the living quarters I now occupy. No longer is my reality set in three dimensions; I now live life within the limitless boundaries of thought, within the confines of my mind. My body is shackled to this prison cell, but my mind roams free, refusing to be incarcerated.

The duality of hope is an indignant charge that is not easily contained; anguish aims to rip apart my sanity as its co-existence with my hope induces a rivalry over my emotions that is fiercely competitive. Anguish pervades my spirit on account of my father’s death. He was the one true loyal friend I had in my life. The agony over my mother’s passing also permeates my heart. She was the love of my life; who mourned for my father for ten months, then followed her soulmate to heaven. My godson lost his life in between the deaths of my parents. He was a good young man with a golden heart and a tremendous amount of potential.

My mental Coatlicue strenuously labors to contain and equalize the opposing forces of anguish and hope, with no solution to reconcile the two; as hope and anguish maintain to be irreconcilable, I engender feelings of confidence and optimism to create an advantage for hope to overcome.

The pain from the deaths in my family is contained because of the lack of outlet which frustrates the Aztec Lady of my mind. This attempt to balance the realities is an exercise of futility as the pain outweighs the joy only because of the circumstances which prevent the joy from expanding and the pain from alleviating. This is a struggle my consciousness engages daily as I refuse to allow the memory of the people I love so dearly to destroy me. I must make a conscious effort on a daily basis to smile for them, a choice I make to demonstrate their love for me is stronger than the pain I feel. This is the key to balancing their realities: their love.

Gloria Anzaldúa writes in Entering into the Serpent that “People who inhabit both realities are forced to live in the interface between the two, forced to become adept at switching modes.” This “switching of modes” is a survival tactic a convict uses as conflicting voices within my mind battle for position in my mind’s arena, the interface between realities. The reality of life behind bars is eschewed through the process of thoughts and memories. My mind contains the thoughts capable of destruction by balancing them with thoughts that have the ability to rejuvenate my existence against the negative aspects of my reality, filling me with a positive outlook for a future full of hope. Serving a life sentence in prison entails blended realities, which are a double-duty to my mind’s Serpent Skirt. The Aztec Lady my mind mimics constantly struggles to balance and contain, but has not yet failed to maintain to keep the dualities in check.

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.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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