I am currently sitting in my apartment self quarantining like most of the world. I am enjoying the creative posts people are putting up to help each other make it through these strange times. As I travel back through the layers of memories that led to one of the most difficult and darkest moments of my life, I keep veering toward the one memory that helped get me through.
In 1993, at the age of 19, I was sentenced to life in prison. There is a lot more to this story, but given our current global crisis right now I just want to focus on the isolation part. To say that I went through an adjustment period would be an understatement. In 1996-97 I was in solitary confinement for 18 months for assaulting another inmate. This was a very dark and turbulent time in my life. After this period in solitary confinement, I spent a great deal of time reading and studying and trying to turn my life around. I need to point out that this was done during a point when there was no hope of ever getting out of prison. There was no parole for lifers at this point in time.
About a year into that period of isolation I had cleaned my 8’ by 10’ prison cell 365 times. I had done thousands upon thousands of push-ups and sit-ups. I had organized my legal paperwork a hundred times. I had done everything repeatedly. I was becoming obsessed with my “routine” and I was beginning to lose my mind. It was not the isolation that was driving me toward madness. The isolation was finally making me look at myself. I was in a place where there were no outside influences to justify my anger. No one else to blame for my attitude. No one to lash out at so that I could feel that temporary release of pressure that was always building up inside of me.
I could not see out of my door because it had plexiglass bolted to the front of it that was scratched and dirty. I could not see out the window of my cell because it was painted over. I had nowhere to look but inside of myself. It took these extreme conditions for this to happen; mostly because I knew what was inside and I didn’t want to face it.
It was at this time that a lot of things started to change for me. How I felt about myself and others. How I viewed the world and my place in it. My behavior. My feelings. The hurt that I had caused others and the hurt that was given to me. The realization that it wasn’t everybody else that was the problem. I also came to understand that it wasn’t just me being the problem. It was how I dealt with things.
This was the beginning of a journey that I am still on. And this little bit of isolation has allowed me to refocus on that journey. I think this is the time for all of us, after doing our taxes and cleaning out the closet and reorganizing our drawers and all the other little distractions that we use to occupy our time to stop, take a few deep breaths and really examine where we are at and where we are going. Not only as individuals but as a community. To think about how we feel and react to the world around us.
Written by Jason Clark, Inside Program Coordinator