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Where to even begin ....

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freebird1's picture
Where to even begin ....

Just when you think there is some sort of understanding on how prison life works or impacts those we are writing to, something else happens to make me at least, take a step back and take some time out to consider how their lives are so far removed from ours. The reality often is almost like reading a fiction novel. When in actual fact it is stone cold, blunt truth.

One of my ppl's is in a Fed facility. The lockdown procedures have been pretty heavy in terms of the covid, riots and god knows what else they deem necessary to keep inmates locked up 23hrs a day for weeks on end.  But the most recent one, which meant no emails or phone calls for over a week, was because there was 3 executions within as many days!

Now I am fully aware that many of the guys locked up are hardened to such things, after all many have backgrounds of murder, death and violence, and I'm thinking there must be a certain line of thinking whereby they feel safe because they themselves aren't on death row. 

When I finally had a phone chat the response was, 'Well some of them deserve to die'. No compassion, no sympathy, just an unemotional throwaway comment.  

It just brought it home with a resounding thud that the man I find easy to talk to, share moments of hilarity and interesting stuff to talk about, is also the same person who was once affiliated to the most notorious gang in CA. And therefore, his take on such matters should not be at all surprising.  After the phone call had finished I just sat trying to fathom how I would have felt if only 1, much less 3 people who I knew, either in passing or more directly had been executed. It's a situation too difficult to comprehend really, because our backgrounds are actually worlds apart from those we choose to communicate with. Never more so than this particular conversation. The biggest surprise to myself was my own lack of reaction listening to those words. But I guess the distance just forges detachment and to some degree disbelief. Just like reading the fiction novel...caught in a moment, then moving on within our own realtime world.

So, do we ever really  understand prison life and all it's complexities and highly charged day to day enviroment? Do we really know our chosen penpals as much as we think we do? And just how stoic are they dealing with such things on a regular basis? I can only assume it becomes a numbing process, whereby shutting it out is the way to deal with such things.

Certainly made me view many things somewhat differently. 

ST4s's picture

Prison as a numbing process? Indeed, Freebird. But then, I’d say it works in the other direction too, how it shines a bright light on how precious life really is.

I don’t write to anyone on death row, but one of my buds has beaten cancer in the past. He recently had familiar symptoms that made him think his remission was no longer reliable. In the interval it took for the powers that be to get him in to see a doctor… the conversations we had when his prospects for living to see his release day seemed to be hanging in the balance… there’s the other side of the coin. He was also a notorious gang member, now disengaged and on a PC yard, but still, not the kind of man you’d expect to hear crying on the phone. I guess my point is all that numbness and badass bravado evaporates in a heartbeat when the stakes are that high, and that personal. (The tests came back. It was something else and he’s gonna be fine.)

But yeah, the prison headspace thing. It’s like a whole ‘nother planet sometimes. And capital punishment in the U.S. of A. Don’t even get me started on that one.

Kirsten's picture

Well, in a country that places three strikes and then you're out for your whole life, even if it's shoplifting (smh at this nonsense) what elsse are you gonna expect, really? And when "revenge" is thought of equaling "justice", again, what are you going to expect if you grow up with a mindset like this? 

As for do we know our penpals... well, do we know ourselves? Do we know our families, spouses, friends, neighbors? I daresay I don't. I may have assumptions, clues and examples, but... even with myself... there are/were enough situations I wouldn't know how I deal /cope with them before being into them. Therefore... I think there's always a considerable amount of not knowing.

As for a numbing process, yes, for sure. But what's been frozen/put on ice can also thaw up again (though it might hurt first, did you ever put cold fingers under warm water? There you go...)

As for being strong and acting strong: Much is bravado, just like St4s said. But then again... don't we out here also play roles and out masks on our faces and built walls around our hearts at times? 

Kirsten's picture

*put masks, sorry

Lady_TaTas's picture

I personally think it's not possible to understand what prison life is like. We can certainly have empathy for them being locked up, but not truly understand. It's like being a black women raised by white parents. They had empathy for me facing racism.. but they never felt the full weight of that racism because they didn't experience it first hand. Remember the old saying.. until you walk a mile in someone's shoes.. just remember we can never put on our PP shoes, however we can walk beside them and give support and hopefully perspective 

Liw from Scandinavia
Liw from Scandinavia's picture

Yeah.. I've a pen pal that can say really nasty and reckless things, like that but a lot worse! He sometimes tells me (in detail!!) what he would like to do to some people and I know he has killed 3 and hurt more, so that's not just him playing tough... He could as well do it, if he was out. But it doesn't impact me that much or makes me upset. I obviosly knew when I reached out to him in the first place that he was a very "black-and-white" thinker because I googled him and read his crime story. But when he says such things I confront him in a low arousal approach and sometimes we can have very good talk, like two friends, about it. He has a beautiful heart, but he doesn't show that side to him easily.

I once said to him: "X, you gotta show me that heart I know you have inside."
He: "L, that heart is buried under so many layers of hurt and mistrust, it's impossible to dig that deep."

I will never forget that respond. It was so telling... There's reasons to why many of the pen pals we get in contact with have the mind frame they have.........