Boxed in….

Whitt, Lee



BOXED IN... They say that the dimensions of the cell is seven and a half feet wide by thirteen feet long. Until you factor in the amount of space that is taken away because of the installation of the wall-mounted lockers, the wall-mounted bunk-beds, the steel two-seat desk, toilet and sink, and a wall-mounted shelf. Which doesn't really take up too much space due to where it is placed. Inside of this area you have to split the space that is left over with another person. Unless you are one of the lucky people who qualify for a “Z-Code” cell. A fancy name for someone who cannot be housed with another person for one reason or another. Oh to be one of them....One can only wish. After you go through the introductory phase that you are subjected to by the staff of the facility that you will be held in you begin the process of trying to establish some kind of hold around you so that you don’t lose what little sanity you may have left. One of the very first things that you should do is to try and make the cell where you are going to lay your head at night as comfortable as you can. There are many ways of doing so. To try and maintain a grasp of your humanity, you need to pursue them. I started out the process by obtaining the throw rugs for the floor of my cell. The cells consist of nothing but concrete and steel. If you don't cover as much of it as you can, it'll dull your senses to the point where your mental capacity will be tested. The next step is to obtain hygiene products. Maintaining your personal hygiene helps you to continue to feel like a human being. Little things like being able to wash your face and brush your teeth when you want aids you in reminding you that you are a human being and that you still have your dignity. What has upset me over the passing of the years is just how crazy the prices have gotten for the things that should be considered the basic essentials of everyday life. There are hundreds of us who make less than $25 a month who have to purchase toothpaste that is $3.00! If it is true that the D.O.C. is “concerned about the health and well-being of the inmate,” why are the prices so excessive? Once you have the hygiene products that you will need, then you need to begin the process of obtaining extra clothing in the way of T-shirts, boxers, socks, sweat-shorts, sweat-pants, sweat-shirt, and longjohns. Why? Because you only get three pair of institutional browns issued to you consisting of pants and shirts, and you also only get three T-shirts, briefs, and socks issued as well. It is difficult to relax in the clothing that they assign to you. Not just because of how they aren't really sized properly, but also because of the material that they are made of. After you've covered those basics, then you need to see what it will take on your part to obtain a television/radio. If you aren't assigned a cell with someone who already has these items. That is a benefit that many who are just coming in have enjoyed a time or two. DO NOT underestimate the importance of the need of a television or a radio. If you have to be in a cell without either of those... simply put, you will endure major mental struggles. There was a time when I had spent so long in a cell without either item that the silence, which I would eventually term as "dead silence," began to press in on me. As odd as it may sound, in a cell with no noise, even the silence is loud. One of the main reasons why you need one of those items is because of the myriad of emotions that you are going to go through over being imprisoned. You think of the emotion, you'll experience it. Anger, sadness, laughter, disbelief, confusion, wonder... they're all there, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. No one, and I mean absolutely no one is immune to the emotional bombardment that occurs. Why? Because being confined in a small space for extended periods of time provides you with ample time for contemplation. This in itself is quite dangerous for those of us who are imprisoned. The reason why is because this environment, as much as the professionals would like to say otherwise, is an extremely negative environment. Because of this, much of your thoughts are going to be wrapped around negativity. One of the first emotions that I had to deal with was rage. I was relatively young when I fell. Barely into my twenties. Because of my youth, most of my rage was directed towards those in authority. When you sit in a cell for hours on end with the amount of rage that I had, you become a ticking time-bomb. It doesn’t make matters any better when you have to deal with C.O.’s who make it their sole function to de-humanize as much as possible. The amount of time spent in my cell, full of rage, caused me to become outwardly disrespectful towards staff. It didn’t matter to me if I had done some kind of wrong or not, they would catch the brunt of my attitude. To say that I walked with a chip on my shoulder is putting it mildly. Through all that I endured, I couldn't seek out anyone for aid in any way. Staff or fellow prisoner. If you were seen going to staff for anything other than what they were supposed to supply you with you would be judged as being a "rat." Back in the day, and even today in some places, people who were tagged with that label didn't last long before some kind of harm befell them. Besides, I grew up on the street and learned the "rules of the game" long before my incarceration. You didn't take your problems to another prisoner because it would be seen as weakness. Once you showed weakness, you became a target. Your time would become very difficult; if you allowed yourself to be that person. Any way that another prisoner could take advantage was something that you always had to be on guard of. I had the fortune, or misfortune (depending on your perspective) of having a family member who'd been incarcerated that I ran into and he shared one of the biggest rules that is abided by true convicts..."Don’t ask nobody their business, and don’t tell nobody yours!" So I spent my hours in my cell trying to figure out how to adapt. Some have deemed me "mentally unstable." This from both staff and "inmate" alike. What has garnered me that title? Because I found that I was able to figure things out through myself. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it is not as crazy as it sounds. Everyone has done it at one time or another. Anyone who tells you that they haven’t is just afraid to admit it out of concern as being labeled. If we didn't talk to ourselves, how else would the world have come up with the answers to many of the problems that exist? Too bad they can’t come up with one for the incarceration problem! Especially in Pennsylvania. Since the 1980's the state of Pennsylvania has opened up more than twenty prisons. Hmm, seems like something, somewhere, isn’t working. Anyway, I would structure a "conversation" around a subject and hold a "discussion" about it. This allowed me to be distracted during the time that I was in the cell. For awhile anyway. Once that phase wore out, I tried to sleep the time away. Let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much sleep! I suffered migraines, fatigue, loss of appetite, and even felt like my brain wasn't firing on all its synapsis! Yet, through it all, I still insisted on forcing myself to sleep whenever I was in my cell. If for no other reason than to make it easier to ignore the other person who was in the cell with me! Some of the things that broke up the monotony of being in the cell were the walks to and from the chow halls and going to the yard whenever it was scheduled. For some time, being out in a larger space was enough. But then it was always back to the bleakness of the cell. Boredom developed out of the repetition. With nothing challenging to do it was easy to give in to depression. Fighting depression when you didn’t know what it was you were fighting is a losing battle. The main thing that you have to do is find a way to occupy your time. A cell is not a fit punishment for someone to endure. Gaining a television aided me by filling the emptiness that I endured on a daily basis. Recovering from time spent where your mind is starved is quite difficult. Cells may be designed to hold a person, but the end result is that they starve the mind and lead to mental damage that, at times, is beyond repair. Submitted by: Lee Whitt Albion, PA

Author: Whitt, Lee

Author Location: Pennsylvania

Date: October 25, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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