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The Walls

November 4, 2012

I’ve been approved by the committee to be released from SHU and I am awaiting transfer–in limbo in Ad-Seg (administrative segregation). I am allowed my paper and books, to receive mail, food and cosmetic items, and given access to an “Individual Exercise Module” about once a week. The walls in my cell are painted white, the door red, and marked up. A man has carved his gang into the wall accompanied by the message “fu– P.C.”; another has paid tribute to the band SLAYER: someone else has expressed their sorrow in this terse and blunt fashion: “I love Jordin but she’s a whore:” and still another has shown his disdain for the “correctional officers” by writing: “EAT SHIT AND DIE PRISON GUARD!”

How many lonesome conversations have these walls borne witness to? How many conversations have they participated in? Or are they always taciturn but for these charming little notes left by the guilty, innocent, angry, betrayed, loved, loving, hateful, nostalgic persons?

I think that if I had to sit here and stare at just these walls for too long, I’d begin to beat my head against each of them until they were bathed in blood, then I’d paint and call it abstract art. In the past, I’ve lasted 10 days in a cell with only my boxer shorts and the lights on 24/7 — no mat, no towel, no blanket, no paper, no pens, nothing. Those 10 long days with only 4 walls and my boxer shorts, sleeping on the cold hard concrete with a bloody bright light suffusing the cell, were a form of punishment. To pass the time, I did a lot of singing and … well, other stuff. This is prison where–quote, unquote– the “weak-minded” will NOT survive or, at least, not very well.

Believe me when I say that these walls can play tricks and can assail your soul with lassitude, for trying to find pictures in the cracks eventually hurts your eyes which induces headaches and becomes dreadfully boring. Last year, the man in the cell below mine killed himself. I watched as he was wheeled out on the stretcher. The worst part is the “C/O’s” did the least they could to save his life. A nurse discovered him, asked him to get off the floor, then when the non-responsive inmate remained in repose, she walked slowly up to the tower and very meekly said: “Excuse me, there is someone with a sheet around his neck on the floor and he won’t get up.” One minute later a C/O entered the unit, proceeded to tap repetitiously on the window, and say “Get up.” Five more minutes passed while these nitwits “suited up” (i.e. grabbed shields, face masks, vests, batons, mace) before they entered the cell. All the while, the C/O’s saying: “Hang on, I’m coming for you.” Another three minutes passed as they hit him in the chest with the defibrillators. The man was dead. He had not hung himself, he had CHOKED himself to death…

He had gone to medical almost each day complaining about breathing problems from what I could hear and “they” did little for him in the way of inhalers, antihistamines, etc. And so, for whatever reason, he decided to end his life. Maybe “the “breathing problems” were only the culmination of his problems; maybe the walls got to him. Maybe they began to speak back and whisper malicious things–maybe in specious and mellifluous tones… Some would say that this man was “weak.” Maybe so. I prefer the words tired, weary, worn.

Two years ago, a man in the next hall killed himself. The staff were baffled–he’d served 18 years already, had a “good” job, was “programming.” Only those two individuals are aware of the actual reasons for their suicides. But it is not difficult to conjecture. Maybe it’s written on the wall somewhere in tiny script, an inconspicuous message to the living. I swear sometimes at night I see demons crawling up the walls now veiled in shadow, and I listen for the voices of angels to comfort me. Only there are fewer angels these days. The phantoms of melancholy play across my mind; oh they gavote and waltz and tango! Oh, how they dance!

Please don’t think that this is some new “condition” that has befallen me since my arrest five years ago. No, misery, she is is an old familiar friend to men like me–he with the stolen childhood, the stockpile of regrets; he who could not get it right. And misery…she is the one who eventually abandons you for madness. Madness is when good things turn to bad, and bad to worse. Madness is when each reminder is of sadness. Madness is fleeting joy, ultimately unattainable. I could try to give you a good explanation of madness but the depths of madness is ineffable? Am I mad? I’m not really sure…

But I think I’ll leave this message on the wall just before I’m transferred:

THE MAD POET WAS HERE.

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