Not long ago, I remember a day sitting in my California prison cell doing what I’d done so many countless other times through the electric fence and razored wire, staring out my window. My freedom, something I hadn’t had in nearly thirty years, was left standing there in the forest just outside the Prison’s perimeter. I couldn’t reach out to clutch it with my bare hands even if my life depended on it – I was, and continue to be, serving the rest of my life in this man-built hell.
They say that it’s a center for men and women to be rehabilitated. A place of correcting our wrongs with rights, before we leave behind a legacy that is just meaningless and forgotten. They say many of us get so lost that we fall through the cracks, only to no longer find our way back out. For me, I’m one of the fortunate ones – I found my way back to the surface.
Five years ago, though I was no longer a prison gang member or an associate of anyone that was, I still could not recognize the “reflection” staring back at me every time I shaved or brushed my teeth in the mirror – it was “me that was actually broken into small fragments rather than the damaged piece of reflective glass upon the wall. I still held on to a lot of baggage that can come with stepping into such an environment as a prison.
Many would agree where I sit, that when you walk through these unbiased gates you are culturally segregated whether you like it or not. You are, from the start, forced to see the world around you in either black, white, or brown, depending on the color of your own skin. This is the ideology that you undertake simply because it’s how we are taught to “survive.” The world, your world is no longer in color – your eyes see things and people through what becomes a “restricted lens.” That is the part of walking away from a prison gang that took years longer to rid my mind and heart of – though I finally did.
Being “ignorant,” because that is what I say to anyone that fools themselves into believing they are better than anyone else based on “appearance,” is a depressingly scary concept. Think about it, would you love an animal, such as a cat or a dog, based on its fur color or size? As human beings, I would assume that “we” hold greater conscientiousness to love and be much more compassionate towards one another than even animals are capable of doing – ash black, burnt sienna, pearl white; these are colors in Crayola boxes and nothing more.
Before Christmas, I was moved to another prison after five years, in a place where the majority of men could not let go of the ideology that the “line in the sand for segregation” should remain intact, contrary to the fact that we’re no longer prison gang members. For once, I was in a new prison where the majority was willing to see things in color – no longer in just black, white and brown.
It was the first night when I’d gone out for evening yard and the moon was so big that it appeared just a mile away. I sat on one of the cement tables beneath that amazing moon, and for the first time on “any” prison yard, I felt like I could actually close my eyes without fearing an attack from another prisoner based on my past gang and belief system or worse yet, the color of my skin under the light of the moon.
I leaned my head back, looked up one more time at the sky that rested atop my half-open eyes, and just exhaled into the evening air. It actually felt as if the atmosphere was welcoming my release, letting me know that it’s “OK” to relax and take in some of the beauty the world still has to offer me despite my being in prison. In that moment, I could see particles of my previous life flying by me like dust having nowhere else to land. And the only fear that my body would feel was losing “this” peaceful moment if I was to open my eyes. I could visualize them, my old beliefs and misconceptions about mankind, veering off the cliff into oblivion. Once and for all. It has become very liberating to know that I’d reached a place in my life where “letting go” of the baggage that caused harm to others and myself.
My own story is no different than a child’s. We all want to be courageous and confident in doing the right things. We’re all human – and I’m grateful that I can look into my own reflection today. While seeing a man, a human being I can be proud of again.