(This post is dedicated to my father. You are missed. I’m sorry it took so long for us to become friends. C.L.S 6/10/1922 – 1/1/2014.)
Greetings again! I know that I mentioned I would do my next post on the issue of pen pals, but today is Thanksgiving, which brings to the forefront the issue of holidays spent in prison. I hope you forgive me for pushing pen pals back, but I promise that post is coming soon.
I suppose I should tell you that I have done the whole “prison holiday” thing many times. One would think that would make it easier, what with knowing what to expect and all… but in some ways, it actually becomes more difficult with time.
The family I was born into is all gone now. (Yes, I know, it’s ironic: I’m on death row and I’ve outlived everyone else.) My mother and brother died some time ago. My father died only three years ago. (The death of someone close to you while one is in prison can be very hard. They don’t let you out to see to the deceased’s affairs or attend any memorial services.) All of them died while I have been here. As the only ones left, my father and
As the only ones left, my father and I drew pretty close. (Far closer than we ever were on the outside- sad, that.) We had some years as the only ones left. I know my situation was emotionally difficult for him. I could see it in his eyes. He was dedicated, though– making the long drive every couple of weeks like clockwork, clear up into his 90s. (A two-hour visit took up about half a day for him, including driving time.) We corresponded regularly as well; I could almost predict the day they would bring me a letter from him. (He was a Marine and had a routine that would not be broken!)
He died suddenly; an incident occurred in which he was injured and he was gone before I could figure out what was happening. I could write a book on what it’s like to lose a loved one while you sit helplessly in a cage, but this post os not about that. It is about holidays spent in a cage.
There are children and grandchildren, of course…but as in a piece I wrote that accompanied another blog post: “the cage takes all that away somehow.” I do understand– really, I do– who wants to be saddled with an absentee parent or grandparent who was dumb enough to get locked up? And after a while, you’re just no longer in the forefront of anyone’s mind. They have their own lives, their own family, and today’s world is so busy. Understanding that, being able to move beyond the self, can make it easier. But if you let it, the loneliness can become almost palpable.
I have memories, of course. (I live on memories in this hole.) Growing up around family during the holidays, the warmth, the laughing, the aggravation, the yelling… enjoy every moment you have– if it ever disappears, you can’t believe how much you will miss it…trust me on this one!) I even look back on what at the time I thought to be major incidents of dire consequence and smile fondly at the memories.
Then there are “the firsts” that I cling to as a drowning man clings to a life preserver… I remember as if it was only yesterday the first Christmas tree that my son could focus on and really see. It had glass balls of red, green, gold, and silver, and enough lights to illuminate a small city, I’m sure. I held him sitting on my left forearm, high enough so he could see over my shoulder. He just stared in wide-eyed wonderment– we must have stood like that for ten or fifteen minutes. (My shoulder had a drool spot that was four or five inches across–not an exaggeration! I then sat him on the floor in front of the tree and took ornaments off of it and handed him the different colored ones and let him look up close at the shiny glass balls. (For a long time after that, everything he thought was pretty was “shiny” for him.) Truly I remember this as if it only just happened. (Much to his chagrin, my son– who, like Anna, is twenty-five years old– can be a small child to me sometimes.)
But I can’t make new memories– not ones that I want, at any rate– so us singing the Muffin Man song as he sits in his high chair and watches me make his favorite blueberry muffins, or singing his “bath song” (we had a song for everything) while he gets cleaned up after the muffins. (I swear, I would watch him and I still have not a clue how he got muffin and blueberries ground into the hair on the back of his head!) These are the memories I hold onto desperately.
But now my holidays are empty and alone. No family, no children or grandchildren, just the cage and the convicts. Some in here handle it better than others. I wonder if not having a television might be part of what makes it easier for me. No holiday commercials, no seeing families gathering. (Makes it rough on keeping up with affairs both local and abroad, however. I am the last to know anything, and only what and when my neighbor deems noteworthy.)
But the level of “behavior issues” goes up this time of year. The prison attempts to control that to some extent… they allow people to buy “special holiday-only” food items off of the prison canteen list. (If you get into any sort of trouble you are put on “loss of privileges” and cannot participate.) I suppose the “comfort food” items can be of some help. But one must of course be able to afford these things. In the state of Arizona, those of us on death row are not allowed to have jobs in prison. Some inmates have family or friends that are willing to send them a little money, but if you have been here for a while like I have, you don’t have anyone on the outside anymore to do that. Again, the cage took all that away. To be honest, I can have trouble obtaining postage to maintain this blog. Stamps, envelopes, paper, and pens must all be obtained through the prison canteen. No one can send any of that stuff.
I suppose it could be said that I have “behavioral problems” at times. Not being able to participate in such things as the holiday canteen items makes that control kind of moot for me. (And they can’t take away a television set I don’t have, either.) On an intellectual level, I know it is/was my own actions that led me to the place that I am… but one simply cannot blame themselves all the time. (I shudder to thing on what sort of psychological issues that might lead to!) So blaming the system or the prison on some level for something can be a viable option. (As long as you don’t contemplate too deeply your reasons behind it and it all falls apart.) So things that happen, sometimes admittedly small things, can cause an exaggerated reaction. (I am sure there is some clinical definition for this behavior but I am afraid I don’t know it.) And being one that understands the mechanics of the thought process that gets me to that point doesn’t help in the least, either… I still find myself falling victim to the behaviors. (My own personal brand of crazy, perhaps?) I don’t know.
I guess it comes down to loneliness causing complex emotional reactions and behaviors. It seems that walking through the memories of my past life can only help so much. Still I cling to them, however…walking through stores decorated for the holidays, remembering the excitement and wonder of the season when I was a child, reliving times when I had family and friends close around me and the laughter and good spirits, watching my child experience these things…is living in the past healthy? Not likely. But it is all I have left in my brick and metal oubliette. It is truly a place to be forgotten. I just hope it doesn’t become a place of forgetting for me…without the memories I don’t know how I would survive.
Well, thanks for letting me rant on about this place. All the suggestions about future blog posts were great and I will see about writing some of those for you.
Don’t forget to thank the person without whom none of this would be possible… Anna, you are a treasure that I am very lucky to be able to call my friend. Thank you so very much!
And thanks, everyone, for stopping by. Happy holidays to each and every one of you.