Notes From An American Prisoner

prison-reform
The following was written as an ode to Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was a Writer’s Digest Prize winning essay in the category of narrative non-fiction in 2014. 

I am a loving man, soulless by disposition; a forgiving man, vindictive by circumstance. I am an innocent man, but I am a monster. Another might say I am two men, or even say I am no man at all. But what another says is of little consequence. Do I believe good exists in the world? Not proportionately to the injustices of the world. I admit, however, of the good that does exist, I have experienced very little, and understand even less.

“Guilty!” Pack ‘em in like sardines. Place ‘em on the back burner for a seven-year stint. Just let our children pick up the mess come release date. That is what fuels the sheep I count.

Admittedly, I live one tyrannical hour at a time because anything more is a trivial pursuit, a hypothetical ship docked on Generality Island. That you will probably never understand, though.

What? What do you mean you’re not rehabilitated? You freeze all night, starve all day—get raped in the showers—and you’re still not fixed? Something must be wrong with you.

“Guilty!” Seven more years ought to do the trick. Maybe our children’s children will have better luck. Better yet, maybe we need another prison—where’s that Senator who owes me a favor? It’s so damn expensive to consult my conscience these days—why bother.

I am a man without a name because an eight-digit number suits me perfectly. Indeed, I live a simple life, here, comfortably, in the palm of the state. It’s kind of like a vacation—if your idea of retreat is Dante’s Inferno.

Sure, I used to care about identity, individuality—but those cares have long since adjourned. “Before your mother was born,” as McCartney might say. Is he still around?

They say when you’re exposed to something for too long, you become desensitized—so now I beg the judge to keep me. I live here and I’ll die here. Anything more is just a fairytale, a figment of incarceration. And surely I am stronger than that—right?

I used to work at a little movie theatre on the corner not far from here. It’s not there anymore so don’t look for it. I loved the solitude. But I loathed the decline of American cinema. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

I used to watch On the Waterfront over and over again. I could relate to Brando. He told it like it was. “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” Nobody said it quite like Brando—not even Bogart.

I used to hate it when customers came to the counter asking for popcorn. Most of the time, I managed to muster up a passable smile. But inside I secretly fantasized about gouging their eyes out.

Their eyes would almost certainly serve a more purposeful existence on the black market somewhere—perhaps in India—in the skull of “a thinker,” a Maharishi. Besides, Brando wouldn’t have stood for this type of nonsense. Why should I?

Sometimes I feel like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. The entire world has changed to color, yet here I am still living in black and white—lounging in the past. Thus, I am fairly apathetic.

Admittedly, I was lying just now when I said “I feel like Norma Desmond.” Perhaps I did it out of dejection—who really knows. A conversation is just nice to engage in sometimes. Moreover, as we do not have much in common, one of us must lie to keep the conversation going—don’t you agree?

The anticipatory footsteps of my neighbor serenade me every evening just before dinner, almost like a lullaby.  He has very little space to walk, but he walks proudly. Maybe it’s the hunger. Maybe not. The body will do strange things to a man—a loving man, soulless by disposition; a forgiving man, vindictive by circumstance.

You must imagine, undoubtedly, freedom lovers, that I want to amuse you. But you are mistaken. I can tell you earnestly that I have many times tried to become a good person. But I am not equal to the task.

Good cannot exist in a man of meager but ambitious means. That is, a man in the twentieth-century must, and morally ought to be, preeminently a soulless creature.

Written By Brandon Loran Maxwell