"Surviving the Madness"
The clangoring of steel striking steel reverberates down the endless halls as cell doors slam shut. One after another, after another. The hollowed echoes still not enough to drown out the incessent screaming of the residents as neighbors yell at neighbors, and men from the fourth tier holler to those on base. Four levels of endless cells to my left, the same to my right. Unlike the halls and the cells, there is one thing I can see the end of: my future.
Welcome to my first day of prison.
"326204, report to Health Services", the voice boomed over the intercom. I am no longer a name with an identity, I am only a number. A number who joins the hundreds of other terrified faces sitting in Health Services waiting for news. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Positive or negative. A person's sentence pales in comparison to those few minutes when ones fate is discovered.
On my second day, one of the men who received ugly news from Health Services decided to test his ability to fly from the third tier. Or maybe he just wanted to test the durability of the concrete below. Either way, a soaring body kissing pavement is not the way I wanted to wake up for breakfast that morning. His body sounded like crushed glass when they rolled him over to place him on a gurney.
A week later, another man forgot he wasn't born with wings and took a nose dive from the fourth gallery as if he were expecting a pool to just manifest. His departure was spurred on by news of his girlfriend leaving him because of his two-year prison sentence.
Less than a week later, a man was brutally stabbed by two others while on his way to breakfast. Everybody walked by the sprawled, bleeding man without a second thought. When I approached, I was about to squat down to help him - if possible - but an ol' school guy behind me grabbed my shoulder and pushed me forward. "Eyes forward and keep movin'. You ain't seen shit," he told me.
"He'll be layin' next to you if you don't keep it movin'." I learned very swiftly to mind my own business and stay invisible as often as possible.
For thirty consecutive days I questioned whether I was in prison or an asylum. Whether I was in hell or purgatory.
Over the next five years, I learned that words like "honor" and "integrity" was a foreign language to my generation - which made me a social pariah because I tried maintaining these core values. I learned that people are quick to brand someone with a false label simply because it's juicy gossip; and those claiming to be your "brothers" are usually the first to stab you in the back - literally and figuratively.
The next decade taught me that our families will never truly understand prison society. When I was stabbed, jumped by a gang, or stabbed someone else to protect myself, any resulting consequence was my fault. They believe you can just pick up a phone and call 911 and everything will be peachy. When I explain that I will defend myself at all costs, and that being a snitch is not an option, then I must be intentionally attempting to jeopardize my freedom. They don't understand there's no place to hide once inside the belly of the beast, so dealing with your problems head on is the only option.
Most recently I discovered that writing was more therepeutic than any medications offered. From sun-up to sun-down, I write to maintain my sanity - what little of it remains anyway. I'm convinced that the ink flowing through my veins has saved countless lives, including my own. It's how I survive the madness.
By: Mario Sentelle Cavin
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