by Ellis Lund
As I grew from a child into my teenage years, I witnessed that I had a direct and indirect impact on my social relationships, as well as the morale of my environment. If I was being unruly, then the reaction I received from my parents was negative, and the subsequent attitude I would receive for some time thereafter would not be very “loving.” Alternatively, if while playing with childhood friends we fought over who would play with a certain toy, naturally someone would become angered because he was unable to play with that certain toy. The outcome them became self-evident: My involvement created a negative situation (social dynamic). My reality then became awkward and contentious.
As an adult, situations are very different. The way I treat others may have greater consequences than they did when I was a child. For instance, at the age of 18, I murdered a man for physically assaulting his girlfriend—who happened to be my best-friend’s sister. I took exception for how the girl was treated by her boyfriend, and, because of my actions, I was consequently arrested and convicted. Now, there is no justification for me taking the life of another human being, and nothing can stop others from labeling me as a maligned person. For in the eyes and hearts of many, I am the worst person to walk the earth. Along with the scarlet letter “M” I must bear, I am also thought of as an unintelligent and violent person, one who is unredeemable in every respect. I know this is not true, yet is a hurdle I must overcome.
In the realm of the criminal justice system, there needs to be resolution to a crime through conviction, or society feels vulnerable. Think briefly about cold cases. When a case does not have a conclusion because all leads have come up with nothing, the case becomes “cold,” frozen in fact and time until new information comes forth to warm and revive the case. In the interim, everyone affected by the crime, directly and indirectly, has also become cold and frustrated because of the lack of resolution. Cold cases create a disharmony within society; the scales of justice are imbalanced. Law enforcement, while under pressure from the public in pursuit of closing a case, begins to grasp at straws, finding any person and information, real or imagined, leading to a conviction; therefore, restoring harmony and balancing the scales. This is the reality of the justice system in the United States, whether people accept it. I have witnessed this sense of restoration of social harmony.
The condition of incarceration can be crippling, both mentally and socially. Convicted and sentenced to life in prison at the age of 18, I faced many obstacles. Aside from the social aspect, one of those obstacles was that I did not finish high school, and the availability of earning a diploma in prison is nearly impossible. The only equivalency is to earn a General Educational Development diploma (GED). This may not sound so difficult to someone of the free world, but the opportunity to study and take the test involved many unforeseen hurdles. I had to position myself just right—knowing someone who knew someone—in order to earn a GED. Through self-motivation and self-teaching, I learned the academic essentials. My desire to attain even the most fundamental level of education came with conditions, and the more obvious was access to educational curriculum or material. Aside from having access to the institutional library, not much in respect to educational material is found within the shelves from which to study. One must seek and obtain academic curriculum, i.e. a GED Study Guide. Moreover, if I had not insisted on reaching my goal, it would have remained elusive. I had to be self-motivated and determined to achieve my personal goals, despite the conditions of my confinement.
Throughout my journey of elevating my education, many people discouraged me, insisting that I could not achieve my endeavor. Yet, I did not listen. Even though their words resonated in my thinking, I did not succumb to their toxic nonsense. I knew in my heart that I had not only the ability to attain whatever I set my mind to, but also that I harbor the irrepressibility to further myself in all areas of my life. My choice to be violent and impulsive at a young age created an imbalance or disharmony within me. Through circumstance of imprisonment, determination to right the scales of harmony resulted in becoming irrepressible: impossible or difficult in being restrained in my pursuit of betterment.
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.