INSANITY: I have heard people say that the definition of insanity is when you do something over and over and expect a different outcome each time… More days than not, I tend to agree with them.
The things that I plan on sharing in this entry may paint me in a deleterious way, but what I about to share with you, comes from deep within. Adapting to an environment such as this mandates a number of critical changes in how one thinks and behaves. There are many fundamental aspects of basic humanity that you quickly learn to surrender. Those changes are not simple or easy and, to a well adjusted individual, very difficult to implement. The following topics are not easy for me to discuss or admit to – but there is a nefarious side to me that I have had to adopt for survival within these walls.
I am in a very reflective and melancholy state at the moment. If you continue to read on; please keep an open mind and try to realize that this is not an easy environment to remain authentic in at all times.
SELF IMAGEI spent the past Saturday in front of my television watching Lisa Ling on “Explorer”; ‘Documentaries of Prison’; on the National Geographic channel. I absorbed each episode imagining that I had no prior knowledge or experience of what prison is like. Four episodes later, I realized that no one resembled somebody “normal”; in appearance, character, or temperament. The inmates interviewed looked precarious, calculating, and bellicose. Certainly no one even closely represented me; the “Davids” of the prison population. That realization made me increasingly concerned that I may not be the “David” that I think I am - to an outside onlooker. I may very well be seen as one of these men on television.
Like them, I have tattoos though mine are not standard prison designs, but rather nonconforming, bold and Asian. I am in excellent shape, there is a darkness to my eyes and a non-emotional expression on my face 90% of the time. Unlike them though, I did not grow up on the streets or in a gang, but instead - from an upper class lifestyle. Yet still, here I am relating to these men on television. I understood them. I had believed in and adapted to the way of life depicted in front of me.
MORALITYVeridity; I have become hardened, calculating, merciless and an expert at self preservation. This is a capricious environment and institution. The values and morals that I have had to actively ignore in order to survive I care not admit until my release, I am not shameful about these things – but I am certainly not proud either. I have unfortunately learned to think like a criminal. In fact, I have surpassed them because I can tell you what they are going to do before they know it themselves. I have studied them intently now for 12 years. I call it “aggressive observation”. The advantage is that few individuals are successful at deceiving me. I can see through their manipulations and diagnose their ulterior motives. Everyone has ‘angles’, but it is those who are driven by malice that we must pay the closest attention to.
Severity; I can discontinue relationships with people in an instant without doubt or remorse if I feel disrespected or played for a fool. Forgiveness is a trait that enables us to be human beings, is it not? Forgiveness allows my family and friends to love me today - despite all that I have put them through. It’s important to me to develop the ability to forgive again. It is an act that we do not do in here.
PEACEFULNESSViolence; I am now able to validate acts of violence. Those are words that I never would have been able to say had I not come to prison. I am not an advocate of violence and yet, I am able to make sense of why it is used in this environment. Confounding.
Introversion; who do you know that would prefer to live alone in a 6x10 cell rather than in an open dormitory? I am now one of those people. Yesterday, I was describing another prison unit to a fellow inmate and I told him that the cells there, were ‘very nice’. Who in their right mind would ever describe a prison cell as ‘very nice’? Apparently, I would. In the cosmic scheme of things, I lived alone in a cell for the 1st two years of my prison sentence. It was during that period that I became my own best friend. I never complained much then. There was nobody who would listen. Everything that I was experiencing was my own fault, brought upon by my own doing. Once someone has accepted responsibility for whatever it is that they have done, there is no point in complaining.
SELF VALUEWorthlessness; each passing day, I expect disappointment. I never expect anything to go my way or benefit me. The logical side of my brain says; “why should I have anything go my way?” “Why do I deserve anything at all?” “I am a convicted felon and responsible for 3 lost lives.” What is bizarre is that I am not normally a natural pessimist. In fact, most would actually characterize me as being an eternal optimist. In here though, I am a different being. To my fellow inmates, I am seen as an intimidating force. To my family and friends, I am an intelligent, kind, thoughtful and driven man. To society however, my very existence is defined by a 6 digit number signifying my place amongst very bad people.
SENSE OF BEING
Soulless; Prison confinement eats away at your soul. The longer you are confined, the more your soul fades away. I tell myself that in place of the soul I have lost, I have gained personal and mental strength. I am not so certain that it has been a fair trade. Many men in here walk around and go through their same routines each and every day. You may feel the warmth of their skin as you shake hands, and occasionally see a smile on their face, but they are simply not ‘there’. Is it possible to gain – and not to have lost?
VULNERABILITYNo more weakness. I couldn’t afford it. Vulnerability is something that we allow to happen to ourselves. If we get hurt, then it is nobody’s fault but our own. Vulnerability is therefore unacceptable as it creates a personal liability. Even in my most panicked, afraid moments, I remain stoic. I must choose what it is that people will see in me.
Me: I am David, or at least, a version of David that is more cognizant of the changes within. My transformation is evident. I am different. It is safe to say that even the people who are closest to me are unable to recognize this. How could they? The most time that they have spent with me at one time are during the 8 hours of visitation. During those times, I always choose to be happy. When I am on the phone with them, I feel “normal”, alive, and whole; like I have a reason for being and that I do not simply just ‘exist’. When I hang up though, I transform back to that intimidating, non emotional, skilled convict that I have become over the last 12 years. That change washes over me by the time the receiver connects.
As I look at my reflection in the mirror, I know that I am not completely lost. I just need to constantly remind myself of who I am. Sometimes we do things for so long, that we forget.
I forget – a lot.