© Copyright 2022 by Darien Greene
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
and chained to another human being, inside a prisoner transport bus,
I can’t help but to notice the hushed talking of other
prisoners. Remembering the loud voices and tones of bravado about
finally leaving jail to go to prison, the night before. The night
before: is when the jail’s correctional officers let you know
that you’re being moved to state prison to commence your
sentence, so you have to pack up. I suppose that’s where all
the excitement was: in the changing of surroundings. Regardless, of
whether those new surroundings are more or less, dangerous. Everyone
is going for whatever reason, truly guilty or irrelevantly innocent,
to their respective prisons, each with their own security level
designations. Nonetheless, all human beings. That day, it had been
men much like myself being taken to somewhere they rather not be, and
regretting what most men do with time and opportunity, after they
realized how they had utilized both.
The handcuffs around my wrist, and the manacles around my ankles bite into my flesh, as the dropping off and picking up of prisoners, on the way to our own destinations is a laboriously delayed process. The inmate chained to me has dozed off and the keeps nodding off on my shoulder as if seeking a maternal comfort. “My bad,” he says, as he leans back to the other side. It’s dark, and cramped, and feels like a submarine, as the only light that comes in is through the front windshield. In that line of sight, I can see the silhouettes of the state correctional officers with their firearms, viewed through a mesh grill, reinforced by locks and deadbolts. I can hear mumbled conversation from the correctional officers, and laughter, as I stare ahead, thinking about how I had been naked in front of all these strangers, and still, some of them can meet my eye without the least bit of recognition.
I can see how a slave could feel on the auction block—naked and disarmed for inspection. I remember the relinquishing of the personal clothes and some effects, upon the night of my arrest, it’s been so long since I’ve seen these scant personal items,--remnants of another life. And now, I’m given the choice of having someone pick-up these items or trash them; in exchange, for the changing of orange clothes for the blue colored state uniforms. I suppose that is the first step in getting a person prepared psychologically for what is happening to them. That is, the giving of the false choice, that it would matter. What does a person get incarcerated with? Besides the clothing they were wearing and maybe some identification, credit cards, cell phone? However, that is not what’s being asked to be discarded.
I’ve opened my mouth, stuck out my tongue, lifted my genitals, there’s not much to say during this process. I’ve been naked like this so much to correctional staff, I wonder if I am still modest. I most definitely wasn’t shamed…more or less, apathetic. I’m not even addressed by a name or a number, just orders and commands, with hand gestures and the anonymous, and sometimes anomalous “you”, when being giving instructions without being specific as to which one of us to whom the correctional officer is speaking.
Most men having had, by the time of the dispositions of their cases, been in the jail awaiting sentencing, collected significant amounts of mail, photos, cards from family and loved ones, and legal mail. Every institution has storage limits, so what gets left behind? Memories and the photos, and the way some letters may have made me feel, I am now asked to amputate the very things that had given me hope through the process. Connections that were formed with the old art of letter writing and postal services, where intimacies never easily spoken of with the words we had used during the days before such dismal circumstances. And now, I am to start a new experience leaving pieces of me behind. Unfortunately, the surrendering of these scant personal possessions that we had accumulated, is the cruelest reminder of those we also let down. Those we said we’d be coming back home to after all of this, but it didn’t go in our favor. And so, now, we are left picking and choosing between the photos and letters, rushed, as there seems to be the clinking and rattling of chains and handcuffs with the impatience of the transporting officers, and the seeming insatiable appetite of this well oiled machine.
I believe it has to be nerves during this process, because I’ve seen most men not understand the instructions from the transporting officers of what we can and cannot take, and yet, I watch the irritation of the guards when some can’t pick and choose fast enough. I’ve watched name brand clothes and shoes, letters, cards, books, and Bibles, go in to the garbage cans. For me to watch some men become so meek in asking questions, as to what they can and cannot take, became upsetting….as if it hadn’t occurred to them yet, that this is the point where you are no longer a man but a ward of the state. Unable to find a psychic equilibrium, I suppose it would feel something like being in between who we thought we were and what we’re accused of, the psycho-social transition is difficult to impossible for most. I’ve watched some men try to take with them all of their possessions, i.e., hygiene, stationary, food items, and even electronics as if they were only moving from one cell to the next. As if the meager possessions would solidify an identity for them within the fluidic environment of prison and uncertainty. In the questioning tones of some men, I thought I could almost hear a pleading for understanding as to what is happening, and a deeper undercurrent of why is this happening.
I, on the bus, like so many others, was on my way to a place where there aren’t going to be nice people, a place where we’d be sleeping next to murderers, robbers, and rapists, a place where everyone has heard negative stories about. I wondered, whom I would have to become, who would I be? The question that I had been reluctantly evading, was what am I willing to do, to maintain my safety and individuality? My shackled companion, quietly, asked me, if I had ever been to prison before? I suppose it was one of those questions where, we hope to find connections in our fears. I told him, “It’s not as bad as you think, and only as worse as you make it.” He wanted to ask me what I meant by that, but too many questions, indicates the need for certainty. As certainty is not a part of the prison experience with other inmates, being that too many angry and fearful men, are great makings for a violent and unpredictable environment. As the only certainty I had discovered was that I came in this place by myself, and I will leave this place by myself; therefore, the only thing that I was going to have to learn faster than anything else is, and that would be, counting on myself.
My companion had gotten off at the prison before my stop. We really didn’t communicate much, maybe a few mumbled and exchanged words, so when he stood up and he was separated from me, he said to me, “Be safe.” I said in return, “Be safe yourself, and keep your head up”. I’m hoping he understood the wisdom in that brief statement, I said as they led him into the barbed and razor-wired sally port for new arrivals. The thing I most liken a man walking into a medium to maximum security prison to, is like being drafted and sent on a tour of duty: some things that a man will see in prison, will be likened to some of the violence the enlisted have seen in armed conflicts. If war can leave some soldiers not ever really coming home mentally or emotionally, the casualties of this life experience, are like some enlisted with their trauma: they return for another tour of duty--recidivist.
Arriving at my stop, after stepping off the bus, the daylight blinding me temporarily. Unable to shield my eyes, my hands chained to my waist, I closed my eyes, I heard the prison before I saw it. All those voices rising in the air, in the middle of some rural area, where a compass wouldn’t do much good but keep one amused as the bloodhounds tracked you down in the woods. I open my eyes, imaginings like that are the little thoughts that I will leave here, outside the prison. The place I will live is made of concrete and steel, built to outlast my body. Outlasting many others, in their minds, and even worse in their spirit.
Still though, there are things I have taken from prison. On the only day that matters to a convicted man: his release date; on that day, there is no one saying what I can take and what I have to leave behind. I’ve seen many men take everything they accumulated, while others disperse their belongings amongst their friends and acquaintances. Ironic, all I took with me was all the certificates of completion and achievement I earned. I suppose that was the piece of me that I couldn’t leave behind: being told I am something I know I’m not, and found the pieces of me that are also made of concrete and steel, a compass—I am not yet defeated.