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by G. Rodríguez

I sit here on this cold metal bunk, inside my concrete coffin, reminiscing on both the glories and the sadness that have shaped my life. I’ve been reflecting for only a couple of years now, yet I’ve called a concrete coffin my home for well over 20 years. Long ago I came to accept the harsh reality that I’ll never again have a real place to call home, only this cell or another just like it.

Some memories come back to me quickly as if they were yesterday. Others have become so misted I’ve begun to question if they actually happened. As I have many stories I could express to you, some present a greater challenge than others do. I say this because these stories are mine, I hold them close, and I resent the thought of parting with them. By retelling them, that is what I would be doing. Others will tell you their stories, their pain, or their happiness. I don’t want to recount the violence that most of us had to do or see as part of this malicious cycle. Instead, I’ll attempt to convey something of great value to me.

I’ve been gone 23 years now, and will probably be here for another 20. This is a result of my conduct while incarcerated. Among all the turbulence that occurred when my term first began, my parents decided to close themselves off when it came to celebrating blessings such as birthdays and holidays. My siblings continued to enjoy these moments with their families, but my parents decided if they couldn’t spend it with all of us then they didn’t want to celebrate at all. A full 10 years of my term passed before I was aware of this.

I don’t remember how I came to know about it, but once I did, I began to ask them not to discontinue their life simply because of me. My siblings needed them just as much as I did. Gently, they would dismiss my request. I asked my brother and sister to stop by at least for Christmas because I didn’t want my parents to be alone on such a festive holiday. They both responded the same way: My parents wouldn’t allow it. Throughout the years, this has caused me to feel guilt and sadness to know I’m responsible for them not living their lives fully for the last 23 years.

Even after all these years, this is a time for me when I’m at my most depressed and in a destructive place. In my house it was a moment in time, when whatever we were doing we would put aside and come together as a family. Since I was eight or nine years old, I was the one who would pass out the presents under the tree. I made it a slow, memorable process. I would put on my Santa’s cap and grab a wrapped up present, then read its tag, “From Tus Padres to Diana.” Then we would all wait for her to open it so everyone could enjoy that moment with her. I would then proceed to the next one, “From Gilberto to Harold.” It was time consuming, but as kids, we loved it. We got to stay up late opening presents, gleefully exclaiming our joy or our enthusiasm over another’s joy. My parents snapping pictures when times were financially good, and when times were financially bad they still found the means to make that one night magical. Even if they would go without for a month or two, we kids never felt our poverty on that night. They created coziness, a sense of well-being for us. Memories I’ll cherish for life.

I celebrated my last Christmas with them 23 years ago, all the while my life was spiraling out of control. Yet, at Christmas time, life still seemed normal. My mom made a traditional Colombian holiday meal. My siblings and I gathered at my parent’s house, and my dad played records by old Hispanic musicians. I remember him playing them in my earliest memories. My parents celebrated their last Christmas 23 years ago, and began to suffer their self-imposed loneliness.

My children and grandchildren unfortunately will never have this familial tradition passed on to them. My ex-wife has done a great job raising our children by herself, but her traditions vary from mine. I called home a few days ago. As I talked to my sister, she told me both her family and my brother’s family showed up at my parent’s home to celebrate the holidays with them. Finally, after 23 years, my family was together in our old fashion.

This news turned out bittersweet for me. I can’t begin to express my joy at knowing they were together, because heaven knows they deserve happiness. Yet sadly, it reminded me how far away I am; how long I’ve been gone. I may never again feel that sense of family. I said none of this to them for fear of spoiling their peace and hopeful renewal of our family’s tradition. I didn’t want to cause any sense of guilt over their joy. Therefore, I laughed, I joked, and I listened to the events while inside I was hurting.

After my call, I only wanted to be alone as I walked the yard. I felt too many conflicting emotions and, since I was unsure how to process them, I knew I would turn to what I’ve done my entire life: violence. Friends would ask me what was wrong, but I couldn’t say I was hurting. That is weakness, and so I brush them off and continue to isolate myself, using my loneliness as a blanket to wrap myself. Tomorrow may bring clarity, but as for today, my memories are my only solace.

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.

About The Author

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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