Yesterday I wrote about my friend and neighbor, Richard. Recently he received the news that his wife has decided to
file for divorce. She just could not deal with the loss and loneliness
anymore, and she wants to move on.
Unfortunately, Richard is not the first and he won't
be the last prisoner to suffer tremendous loss because of his situation.
Prison, you see, is such an unusual place. It's a melting pot of emotions.
Men who committed some of the most vicious and heinous
crimes a person could imagine, cry at night for their mothers, and for their wives and children.
They, like me, have thrown away our lives by committing
a crime (or crimes). And once those outer doors of the prison slam shut behind
each of us, we desperately want our lives back again.
The reality is, however, that once those doors close,
they will stay shut until the parole board orders them to open again. Or some
circumstances come about such as a man winning his appeal through the slow and straggling judicial process.
By its very nature, prisons are places of pain. Yes, there are various amenities: visits, mail, a recreation yard, work assignments
and some basic schooling for those who need a high school equivalency diploma. Yet,
in spite of these priviledges incarceration is a hellish ordeal. For there are
many things a man experiences that, in this setting, get amplified many more times.
There's loneliness, hopelessness, anger, despair and
frustration. There are explosive situations that happen between inmates, or between
inmates and the guards that can become violent. Men's minds are set on edge and
nerves are rattled. There are many hours of monotony, too.
Locked behind these walls, the pain of missing one's
family is magnified. Some men go years without seeing a family member. Over time relatives die off or move on, or they just disappear.
In addition, there is an inner gnawing fear of being
forgotten about, that many inmates try to numb by watching endless hours of television or by playing long hours of card games. Still other men try to lose themselves in pornography and sexual fantasies.
It is the loss of people and things, and the broken
ties that even commitments of love cannot maintain that probably cause a prisoner the most pain.
And while some men survive and quietly endure their losses, others unravel and lose their minds.
There is pain and loss at every turn. And such is the result of being criminal. The Bible calls this reaping what a man has sown. It is a
painful spiritual reality, and, I believe, only the love and forgiveness of God can lessen the hard blows so that the inner
pain at least becomes bearable.
March 17, 2004
(c) 2005 David Berkowitz