A GLIMPSE INTO THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

Out of the many places on the planet, prison is one of the least known to the American public.

   The plethora of prison movies and scripted reality shows barely denude the realities of prison life. They deliberately omit the psychological concentration camp experience.

   The little amenities and hard-earned privileges in the form of prison visits and 15-minute phone calls, television, commissary, musical instruments, hobby craft, and exercise equipment, can hardly do justice in comparison to the living conditions in such a confined place.

   The twelve-foot-tall chain-link fences topped with looping strands of razor wire, the granite-looking walls, and metal doors upon metal doors, keep you conscious of the cruel hand of punishment you’ve been dealt. The ten-by-twelve dungeon-like cells adorned with a metal bunk, paper-thin mattress, burlap-looking blanket, plastic faded mirror, washbasin, and stainless steel toilet, are a constant reminder that you’re not at the holiday inn. The unspeakable loneliness, confusion, frustration, depression, tears, hopelessness, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, and grief (which repeatedly pound on you day in and day out) causes your homesickness to be amplified at least an hundred-fold. And to top it all off, the non-ending orders of when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when to shower, when to eat, what to eat, when to use the phone, what books to read, and even when to pray, drives you to the edge of madness.

   How does one survive such a corroding wave of negative emotions and physical oppression? I can’t say. I honestly don’t know. The only survival instinct I’ve found to work in my life is to believe in something greater than myself. That’s the only way I’ve been able to carry on, in a world where I have no say so; in a world plagued by gang violence, drug usage, and psychological torment; in a world designed to deprive you of your human dignity.

   Don’t get me wrong – besides the down-side perpetual effects of confinement – some prisoners do find ways to rise above water. A few work menial jobs in the kitchen and elsewhere within the prison. Others work in the prison textile factory (UNICOR) for pennies on the dollar. Others attend educational classes. The key is to enjoin yourself into the busyness of prison life until the day of your release. Until the day when you can breath easily once again.  

   Still, others become victims of the dehumanizing, punishing effects of an environment which doesn’t have much to offer. These are the ones who are always consuming illegal substances trying to escape the reality of their dire condition; these are the gang members who are desperately trying to control their peers through fear and violence and subtle manipulation; these are the ones who spend days reading fiction novels or sharing grandiose stories with others trying to reinvent a dark world that needs transformation. Do I condemn any of them? Not in the least. I sympathize with them rather.

   As for me, most days you’ll find me locked in my ten-by-twelve, either reading, studying, or exercising religiously. When out in the housing unit (with the other 103 confined prisoners), I’m either on the phone or on the computer sending e-mails to the outside world. When out and about on the prison compound, I’m either heading to the chapel to fill my soul with inner peace, or the recreation pen to jog and breath in the open air, to release the emotional stress I’m repeatedly garnering through this ongoing, turbulent prison experience.

   A few days from now will mark the 24th time I’ve celebrated my birthday in prison. Have I really been here this long? When this is over, I hope I’m not emotionally scarred by the results of a world unfit for human living (at least not in its gargantuan approach). The American criminal system, like any other across the world, is cruel at its best. A carceral system unfairly designed by a political silent majority who decry what a crime is and what punishment to carry. Minorities are the ones who end up paying more than they bargained for. But that’s a story for another day.

   Living in the belly of the beast hasn’t been easy. It has emotionally disturbed me in more ways than one. Notwithstanding, I continue swimming up the river and against a carceral system which categorizes me as ‘damaged goods’ and ‘incorrigible’ – in spite of the tantamount educational and rehabilitative strides I’ve made so far.

   This isn’t a place for a normal human being to live in. This isn’t a place for hope and optimism … the belly of the beast … abandon hope, all ye who enter here.   #freedwinrubis