“A New Look”

UNFORTUNATELY IT’S THE NORM IN THE PRISON ENVIRONMENT TO SEE HOPELESSNESS, UNCERTAINTY, AND DESPAIR LURKING IN THE EYES OF MANY MEN. AS MONTHS TURN TO YEARS AND YEARS TURN TO DECADES THAT LOOK BECOMES HARD AND CALLOUSED AS ETCHED IN STONE. WHAT SHOULD BE A FRIGHTENING SIGHT TO SEE, HAS SADLY TURNED TO ACCEPTANCE. DOOM AND GLOOM IS THE ORDER OF THE DAY IN A PLACE WHERE THE BRIGHT SPOT FOR SOME IS A PIECE OF BAKED CHICKEN ACCOMPANIED BY A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE FOR DESERT. IT’S THEN YOU MAY SEE A SLIGHT GLIMMER OF HOPE RESIDING DEEP WITHIN. 

THROUGHOUT 27 YEARS OF INCARCERATION I’VE SEEN JUST ABOUT EVERY LOOK ONE COULD IMAGINE; FROM THE TOUGHEST MEANEST GUY TO THE MOST MILD MANNERED AND RESERVED. THERE’S A VARIETY OF LOOKS AND GAZES IN WHICH RACE, AGE, YOUR CRIME AND MASCULINITY CAN’T SEPARATE.
THERE’S THE PRECIOUS LOOK IN A MAN’S EYES WHEN HE RETURNS FROM A VISIT SEEING HIS LOVED ONES. THAT’S THE BRIGHTEST LOOK YOU’LL EVER SEE. HIS EYES SHINE LIKE THE HIGH BEAMS ON A CAR TRAVELLING DOWN A DARK ROAD.
THE WEIGHT OF HIS PRISON SENTENCE THAT DWELLS DAILY IN HIS EYES LIKE A SQUATTER IN AN ABANDONED HOUSE IS TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED WHILE HE BASKS IN THE TIME SPENT WITH HIS CHERISHED LOVED ONES.

THE NERVOUS LOOK A MAN HARBORS THE MORNING HE’S SCHEDULED TO BE INTERVIEWED BY THE PAROLE BOARD. DESPITE HAVING SERVED HIS TIME, COMPLETED ALL NECESSARY RECOMMENDATIONS, AND HAS REDEEMED HIMSELF, HIS EYES ARE STILL FILLED WITH WORRY KNOWING HIS FATE HANGS IN THE BALANCE FROM THAT HORRIBLE DECISION HE MADE YEARS; EVEN DECADES AGO.

THE BLANK GLAZED LOOK THAT OVERTAKES A MAN’S EYES AFTER HE’S PUT BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS INTO HIS APPEAL SPENDING COUNTLESS HOURS IN THE LIBRARY POURING OVER CASE AFTER CASE, TWEEKING IT NUMEROUS TIMES BEFORE FINALLY FILING IT WITH THE COURTS; ONLY TO GET DENIED IN RECORD TIME WITH A FLIMSY EXCUSE THAT HOLDS NO WEIGHT BUT CALLED JUST AND FAIR. IT STINGS AND FEELS LIKE A SLAP IN THE FACE AFTER ALL THAT HARD WORK.

THEN THERE’S THE GHASTLY AND SULLEN LOOK I’VE EXPERIENCED SEEING IT MORE TIMES THAN ANY ONE PERSON SHOULD IN A LIFETIME.

THIS LOOK IS PAINFUL ADDING A HEAVINESS TO MY HEART THAT’S BEYOND MOURNFUL. IT’S THE CRUSHING LOOK IN A MAN’S EYES WHEN HE’S LOST A PARENT, CHILD, OR SIBLING TO THE ENEMY DEATH. 
THERE ARE NO WORDS TO UTTER TO A MAN WHEN YOU WITNESS THIS LOOK IN HIS EYES. ALL OF A SUDDEN THIS SAME PERSON YOU WALKED THE YARD WITH, EXERCISED WITH, ATE CHOW WITH, EVEN SHARED A CELL WITH…NO LONGER LOOKS THE SAME. HE DOESN’T LOOK AT YOU; HE LOOKS THROUGH YOU LIKE YOUR NOT EVEN THERE. YOU UNDERSTAND BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN THERE BEFORE. I NEVER IMAGINED THERE COULD BE A MORE DAMAGING AND SOUL STIRRING COUNTEANCE IN A MAN’S EYES WITHIN THESE PRISON WALLS. WHAT COULD PUT SUCH A LOOK IN A MAN’S EYES CAUSING HIM TO ROAM THE PRISON YARD AIMLESSLY WITH HIS GUARD DOWN IN A PLACE WHERE VULNERABILITY IS PREYED UPON? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY CREATE A LOOK THAT’S DIFFICULT TO PUT INTO WORDS NEVER BEFORE WITNESSED?

ENTER CORONAVIRUS, AKA COVID-19. HE SLYLY APPEARED ON THE SCENE PLACING FEAR IN HEARTS, TERROR IN EYES, TREMBLING IN VOICES; RUNNING AMUK, UNNERVED BY THE HEINOUS CRIMES COMMITTED BY THE MEN HE NOW RULES OVER TAUNTING THEM WITH HIS MENACING PRESENCE. HE HAS BECOME THE “ROCK BOSS” DEMANDING OUR TIME, ENERGY, AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION WITH AN “I COULD CARE LESS” DISPOSITION TOWARDS ANYTHING YOU HAD GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE; RULING WITH AN IRON FIST AND WRECKING HAVOC. 
“I’M HERE GET USE TO IT,” HE EERILY WHISPERS WHILE ROAMING FROM PERSON TO PERSON; UNSEEN, UNNOTICED, CASUALLY INFECTING EACH MAN DIFFERENTLY. 

A NEW LOOK NOW DOMINATES OUR EYES IN THE TRAGIC FORM OF TRAUMA, STRUGGLE, DEPRESSION, AND EXHAUSTION, ALL BIRTHED BY THE CORONAVIRUS THAT HAS INVADED THE PRISON POPULATION.

Written by: Connell L. Howard #234626 @jpay.com