Living a Life on Hold

I am unfinished. At fifty two, I am the owner of a life that feels unlived. There is a tension that runs through my days like a rubber band stretched from this moment all the way back through the years to that moment in August 1987 when two gunshots changed my life forever. At some point in each day I feel myself cringing in anticipation of that rubber band snapping! I fear that snap almost as much as I want it, because it is then (and only then), that my REAL life will begin again.

One of the most common mental tricks that men use in prison to keep their spirits up is to tell themselves that this, (prison) is not their real life, it is an interruption of their real life. Their REAL life will begin again when they get out. In fact the most common phrase you hear in prison at the begining of a conversation is; “When I get out of here I’m gonna…” And everything we do behind these walls is either aimed at getting us out, trying to maintain our community ties with family and friends, or finding ways to fill up our days and kill time while we wait on the other shoe to drop. Everything in here has a temporary feel except the place it’s self (which seems to perpetually consume the youth of our comunity).  

We live in a half dream, half nightmare, trying not to let any of the things we experience in here matter because; “When we get out..” it will all be behind us as if it never existed. We don’t say what we really mean or do what we really want because it might spark conflicts that will keep us in here longer when there is nothing in here that we value enough to make that sacrifice. What we do is opt for the least objectionable alternative in a situation full of unsatisfactory choices. But how long can a man live like this? How long can he go on treating the events of his life as if they are things separate and apart from himself? How long before he grows numb to the value of his life, when almost every choice available to him gives him no satisfaction? Creating that distance in your heart between yourself and the things in your life, ensures apathy. It fosters indifference, and often ends in an embittered soul. It’s the chief reason why so many men come home from prison seeming so “cold hearted”; because the emotional isolation required to successfully navigate long prison stays is killing their ability to become emotionally invested in the world around them.  

Without regular contact with multiple people in the free world, men in prison tend to become intellectually stagnant. They become frozen in time, relics of a bygone era. Often you can determine in the course of a conversation how old they were when they came to prison because they are often locked into that maturity level. They are living their lives in a prolonged holding pattern without the usual pressures and experiences that provoke maturity.

I came to prison at ninteen, if I left today I would leave with thirty two years of prison experience but hit the streets with the same real-world experience as that nineteen year old they locked up in 1987. With little idea of how to maintain a household, or an intimate adult relationship. All I would have are theories and supposition based largely on what I’ve read or seen on TV. Yet the people who deal with me will look into my fifty two year old face and expect more. When that rubber band snaps how long before the sting of it subsides, and what will the life that remains to me look like? Prison only prepares you to succeed in prison. It is a life lived on hold.

T. L. Thomas Bey #194430