One doesn't meet friends in prison. Or so I was told just like the others residing inside this lethargic purlieu. As one of those who only experience thoughts of regret, survival, and uncertainty,
I felt friendship was an impossibility. Something I neither deserved or should dare contemplate. For my life on earth, I felt, was essentially over, whether anyone else realized this actuality or not.
Since arriving in 2010, my course never deviated from one filled with despair and hopelessness. Where facing my past, my morose present, and despondent future created a seventh ring of hell for which I would not and should not ever receive a reprieve.
My state changed in 2013. While working in my menial job as chapel clerk, someone appeared and forever changed my take on life's worth. There were no outward signs forcasting that we had anything in common. For our ages, backgrounds, regions of the country where we were reared, and political affinities were disparate. Yet my instinct told me to let down my guard and invite this man inside my fortified stockade I had constructed in an effort to preserve what little sanity and dignity I felt I still possessed.
He was in his mid-thirties. Young enough to be a son or a much younger brother. The impeccability of his mannerisms along with his GI Joe haircut told me that despite his present circumstances he maintained a proud personna of one who had served his country
Page 2 in a branch of the military. His confident gait exhibited further evidence of his self—confidence like no one I had previously met behind these fences.
When he confronted me to introduce himself, his self—assurance oozed out from inside of him — even through an incongruent Mid- western nasal, tenor voice; something a lesser man could never perpetuate. Same for a less—than—stellar handshake he gave while gazing directly and confidently into my tired, deflated eyes that must have given away my bankrupt self—assessment. He said his name was Matt [redacted] with such~aplomb I was initially taken aback. My first reaction was surprise at his Polish surname. For
I had mistakenly assumed his clear, ruddy, complexion complimenting his handsome features to be Irish. Yet I instantly knew Matt was different from anyone I had met so far. What I soon learned was he was just the person — the friend — I needed that I never thought I would find inside this woebegone world.
Matt, I soon learned, would take over for me as the chapel clerk after I left the compound to return to court. He wasted no time absorbing all aspects of this servile position and, after only an hour or so, had compiled meticulous notes he shared so as to reinforce his competance and to assure me he was more than up to the task. During the following two weeks before leaving for court, Matt and I bonded like two long lost brothers. Finding him was like being on a desert island and having a close friend wander into camp. Our friendship although probably only sperficial in his mind at this time, proved refreshing to the point where I found
Page 3 myself looking forward to our interactions. Because of Matt, I began to feel like a living, breathing human being again and no longer like a lobotomized, walking corpse amid an environment or waste and absurdity.
A few days after returning to the same county jail I had sat in before so I could get back to court, I became more despondent than ever. Although’ I should have been excited about the possibility of being released from my court—ordered confinement, the days and nights spent inside this dirty, corrupt jail caused angst that reached levels that were seemingly unendurable. With no one there or on the outside who could empathize with my plight, I chose to, reach out to my new acquaintence and friend even though I knew
I risked. driving him away and making myself seem cowardly, pathetic even.
My faith in my new friend proved to be well-placed. Instead of withdrawing from me, Matt again took up arms. This time not during the heat of battle but against my obvious depression, anxiety and thoughts of surrender. Despite only knowing me for a few weeks, Matt responded vigorously with letters that provided the encouragement I so desperately craved. Upon receiving his letters, I would immediately respond so I could hopefully receive another at the earliest possible moment. I endured five months at this county jail before returning to prison where I learned the judicial relief I had hoped for would not be forthcoming. Still,
I sare say I would have never survived those long, arduous months without the support or my friend, Matt, who demonstrated he had
Page 4 my back just like he did the backs of his fellow Marines while in battle.
After learning I would remain in prison, Matt re—affirmed our friendship. He provided emotional support that allowed me to continue and, hopefully, fight another day in‘a different court.
All the while, Matt was facing his own battles that would lead to him returning to court, as well. His.plight was further complicated by prison staff and other federal officials who mad a point of trying to squash Matt's will and his determination to seek the justice he deserved.
I tried to offer Matt the same encouragement he had provided me. We walked the track on the rec yard and talked endlessly of the many issues he faced. All the while, Matt never waivered or doubted himself and his course - even during periods where he was unduly harassed and punished for having the gall to challenge the unfair, inept, and criminally corruped system that controlled both our lives. After each retaliatory action taken by the government against Matt, his commitment to his cause and his beliefs were not curtailed but emboldened. Just like a fervent believer in a religious or moral cause, Matt's government-imposed torment only fueled his passion causing authority figures to wince in awe and the rest of us to marvel at his ability to persevere and even thrive under such duress. His ardor caused Matt to earn a cult- like status where even his most torrid adversaries admired his unflenching tenacity.
When Matt returned to his home state to appear in court to argue for an equitable resolution to his plight, he remained on the minds of everyone back at the prison who respected and like him. "Heard from Matt?" they would ask. "He's goin' to beat 'em, aint he?" others would inquire. Even staff members on the compound who were among his admirers routinely asked me, "What's up with [redacted]?
Any word yet?” Staff like the rest of us hoped Matt would obtain the justice he had worked so vehemently to secure. It was not just
Matt's obduracy we all admired. He had earned the respect and admiration ofmany for whom Matt had written legal briefs, filed motions, or administrative remedies. His will and heart for others he habitually evinced only enhanced his stature and will be long remembered by all -inmate and staff alike — who witnessed his determination andﬁingenious legal prowess on behalf of others, many for whom no recourse was otherwise available.
I will be leaving this prison finally in a few days. This journey and my mistakes that landed me here have cost me everything. Many years (not days) during this sojourn I wondered whether I would or even if I should survive. One thing is for certain: My friendship with Matt [redacted] was essential to my reaching this life chapter's end. Matt came along when I needed a friend most, as if through Providence, to help me endure so I could some day return to my family and hopefully a world willing to see past my mistakes and forgive.
Yes, against the odds I found a friend while in prison. Not just an acquaintance but someone whom I will, like many others, be
Page 6 forever indebted. It is my sincere prayer that Matt is only a few steps behind me in leaving this place. Nothing would make me happier than to continue this unlikely, ardent, friendship but in a less combative and more serene environment where we can continue our talks by focusing on the good things life has afforded us. All the while though I will give thanks to my Creator for sending Matt to me and will remain eternally grateful for the person his parents raised him to be: a kind, considerate, brave soldier on behalf of all that is fair who made the lives of many just like me a little less painful and gave us a view of the future that is well worth living.
B. C. Murray