THE DEPTHS OF MY OWN INFERNO
I lost my freedom long before coming to prison. Although it took actually coming here to realize it. Otherwise, I would have continued to languish in an eddy of perpetual confusion, self- doubt, and self—loathing about the unknown; past, present, and future.
No hell is greater than not understanding one's self. No physical or emotional pain comes close. For a Type A individual whose sole desire is to control every aspect of my destiny, the unknowing- especially after the fact—offers a constant agony like a self- crucifixion that never ceases and never wanes. The inability to find answers to squelch the pain and allow for life to continue unhindered is a constant reminder of my ineptness. Thus, my personal hell.
For all the negatives, prison does offer one thing for those seeking answers: an abundance of time. Of course, no one considers this experience anything but punishment unless they are forced to address the Why's? What If's? and How could I's? of one's past.
Thankfully, I am a delver, a searcher, desperately seeking answers I didn't possess about actions and thoughts I couldn't explain.
A miner knows that to reach valuable ore, one must dig, drill, and blast through multiple layers of rock and sediment that have accumulated over years, millennia even. Cursory efforts to reach veins of minerals are fruitless, laughably so. Nowhere does the old adage that there is no substitute for hard work apply more aptly than with those willing to expend the resources to search for pay dirt that others will never bother to pursue.
With fifty—eight years of life experiences, I have found myself forced to become a miner. Not a pursuer of valuable material.
Instead, someone who mines for answers to questions that have long gone unanswered. These answers lie not just under the surface of my skin, but deep inside an aged psyche covered with layer upon layer of issues like dust, sand, molten rock and shards of razor- sharp material waiting to deter my coming near. With nothing but time and an inextinguishable need for answers and explanations,
I mentally suit—up, light my proverbial beacon attached to my head and begin the excavation of myself that I hope and pray will finally lead me to a feeling of peace.
The crust immediately beneath my skin is lose and altogether familiar. As.I rake across these issues,I am reminded that I have pushed. this same layer of dust and sand back and forth for yearsﬁ thinking each time I commence: something new will appear that is easy to discern and will eliminate the need for further self- assessment. Of course, as before, there is no reason for such grandiose optimism. I eventually accept this and my need to continue to go deeper. And this requires more physical and emotional diligence that I must be willing to exhaust. For I have no choice but to do so.
Below the loose rock, sand and pebbles are layers upon layers of sand and dust that due to years of sediment have become so congealed that they seem to be one onerous layer of seemingly impenetrable solidity. As I begin to pick away, I realize how the layers' initial appearance was nothing but a deception. I could get through this but it will require peeling back years of experiences piled atop previous ones, something that will require more time than brute force to accomplish. I begin with the realization that although I may become frustrated and uncomfortable,
I must persevere and continue on this quest. As the layers are peeled back, I recount images and events of my past that gs. collectively created who I am. While some layers are pleasant to revisit, others are painful, dire even, thus incentivizing me to work harder and faster to get below and to the layer underneath.
After weeks of digging, my pick axe hits solid rock. My heart sinks as I initially feel I do.not possess the tools and skill to penetrate these ossified issues and experiences. Finally, after much contemplation, I draw back and strike the surface with all the energy I can muster. After feeling the reverberation of the tool against the rock, I notice fragments have flaked away from the seemingly impenetrable surface. Although the fragments are minisculégl
I gain enough: gumption to continue my journey to reach the core of my being, even if seemingly insurmountable physical and emotional exertion are necessary. Before any significant puncture is visible, my pick shows signs of wear. The sharp, pointed end of my tool has become flattened after continuous pounding against the solid surface, making my efforts even more difficult and seemingly pointless. I want to give up, throw my hands in the air and declare my mission too difficult, impossible even. But no, I go on. Not because I want to. Because I must.
After more time and even more effort, I note that a crevice has finally appeared in the hard black surface. Though not very wide, the crack is large enough for me to peek inside, mount explosives therein, and hopefully blast away this solid layer of material. I regain my will to continue with new hope that I will reach my destination sooner rather than later. I set the charges and prepare for what I hope is an explosion, one that will finally reveal to me what I have so diligently pursued. As the dynamite charge is released, I feel the sting of brittle pieces of rock and debris against my skin. My vision disappears as the black dust covers my eyes, causing a burning sensation that regardless of how many times
I wipe and blink, simply won't dissipate. With my eyes closed, I see images of my many failures that cause me so much shame and disgust that are much greater than the physical pain I am experiencing. I hang my head, scream, and pound my fists on my
4!!!! in hope of at least distracting myself from the constant agony that has exploded onto to me like a soot—colored layer of skin that can't be wiped away. For the dust was sprayed so violently it penetrated my skin so it can only be removed after constant washing and extraction and, of course, time.
I wipe away enough black :dust from my face to allow me to see that a newly created gorge has now been created that is wide enough for me to step down into. Despite the pain, I feel a sense of relief as I hear the crinkling sound of loose gravel—like material below my feet. Is this what I am searching for? A quick examination reveals otherwise. Although disappointed, I am grateful that this layer will be easier to penetrate. With my pick axe now worthless, and no ofher tools available, I bend over and begin digging my hands into the material, pushing it to the side and away from where
I stand. My optimism instantly disappears. I recoil from where I am digging after feeling a sharp, stinging sensation in my fingers . and hands. I hold my now blood-coated hands to my face and then wipe the blood on my pants, revealing a plethora of cuts and tears in my skin that are imbedded with shards of broken glass and metal.
Although my cuts and abrasions are small, the volume creates blood flow and pain that are more agonizing than one can imagine. Still,
I know I must continue to dig. If not, everything I have conquered so far will be for naught.
I take a deep breath and thrust both hands deep into the tormenting mix of glass and metal shards that cause me to wince and then curse and want to withdraw. Instead, I stroke my hands through the elments and push as much as I can away from me. My hands are stinging as if they have been shoved inside a nest of agitated yellow jackets. Instead of welts, I have more scrapes, cuts and bright red blood flowing effortlessly from every puncture of my hands and wrists. The blood momentarily frightens me. Then I remind myself that this isn't life-threatening, just a painful nuisance that I hope will cease once I get past this layer and to the epicenter of my being.
As I continue to dig with my bloody, aching hands and arms, I lean over too far causing my legs to slip out from under me. I fall face down into the razor—sharp material causing my face and forearms to slam into the surface. Immediately, I feeling the biting pain and see blood flowing now from my face causing even more consternation. How serious are my wounds? I ask myself. I spit a mouthful of blood and wipe my lips and face with my blood—soaked shirt that is no longer Oxford blue but a dull, flat, purplish magenta. My eyes search for a mirror, a reflection that can enlighten me as to how injured I really am. With nothing available,
I can only rely on my feelings. I am hurt but don't feel my life is in jeopardy. I look down at the shards that now seem to form faces that are laughing at me, taunting me. Do I quit? To continue means my pain and bleeding will only worsen. Drops of blood from my chin confirm this and cause me to regain my will to continue this search that I am convinced must be close to the end.
Now I am truly entrapped. To go forward means more physical and emotional pain than I have ever withstood. On the other hand, giving up leaves me with enough remembrances to ensure a lifetime hereafter of horrific memories that I have tried to suppress or forget entirely. Realizing the short term discomfort is preferable to a lifetime of hellish recollections, I let out a primal, gutteral scream and thrust both arms deep into the shards all the way up to my elbows. I scoop and toss the pieces forward and away from the hole I am attempting to create. As I do, more of my life flashes before my eyes causing my heart to race and my stomach to contract. Now my physical pain caused by the sharp objects has become inconsequential. For the reliving of my life encased inside this layer is much more horrendous.
I beg God for mercy. Or at the-very least, a temporary reprieve..
I curse myself because I believe everything I am reliving is due to me and me alone. Finally, I discern the only way to obtain relief is to keep digging. By only getting to the root of all my issues and problems can I make my pain, shame, and disgust disappear. I throw myself into the material and dig like a desperate castaway clamoring for fresh water. All the while, one terrible image after another flashes before my eyes, each one worse than the one before.
This must be hell. Nothing can be worse. But unlike Dante's trip into the Inferno, I have no Virgil to guide me through the many layers of hell. This is a journey I alone must make with no one to lead or comfort me.
My sweat, tears, and blood cover the shards as fast as I can dig.
When one layer is removed the next becomes immediately covered and identical to the layer before, making it seem to my tired, tormented mind that I am accomplishing nothing. My tears flow even more abundantly as the visions of my pastIappear;more-horrendous and vivid with each second I burrow. This has to end! I cry. I notice the lacerated skin around my fingers, hands, and arms. As pathetic as my injuries appear, they don't come close to the horrible reminders of my past that beat against my psyche continuously without any reprieve or remorse.
Then my hands feel a soft, black synthetic surface similar to that of a laptop computer screen. My tears momentarily stop as I fervently rake away material on top and around the object. I observe and touch the soft, flexible surface where my blood and sweat now appear atop. I remove my shirt completely and wipe the object clear and step back enough to prevent further liquid and debris from gathering on its surface. What is this? I askhasrI stare at the object with the curiousity of a child or animal experiencing something totally alien for the very first time.
I fail to notice how the sky has darkened with the removal of each layer of material. I look up and see not a star—filled sky but total darkness, as if I have entered, a deep, dark, forbidden cave where nothing exists but myself and this screen. I sit back, cross my legs and gaze at the object in anticipation-or at least the hope—something will be revealed to me that will make this journey worthwhile. I take a deep breath and hear a faint click. An old black-and—white video appears that instantly remninds me of a classic televison show I would have incessantly watched as a child.
Then I realize this is not a television show at all. What_l am viewing is myself at the age of four years old and what occurred on a particular day of my life.
This is what I have been digging for? A video of a one—time occurrence fifty—four years ago? This must be a mistake, I say to myself. This incident—as terrible as itwas—only happened once. There is no way this could be the cause of all my troubles and behavior that led to my current state. I yell up at the sky hoping God or someone will realize a serious error has occurred. I turn and watch the video play back on the screen. I am appalled at what I see, a four year—old boy exposed to something he doesn't understand and certainly doesn't deserve. I touch to screen in an attempt to comfort the boy in the video whose eyes exhibit confusion and what appears to be shame. I curse the other person in the video whose face I cannot actually see. It is like I am watching a ghost, a demon who is too sinister for this world.
So, I ask, what now? What does this mean? Surely there is more than this for me to find. The screen goes black but for only a couple of seconds. Then other videos appear. I see myself as a teen, a young adult, and finally as a middle-aged man. In each one I am involved in a scene where I am contemplating or carrying out some sort of behavior I find inexplicable and embarrassing. Each scene is more uncomfortable to View than the previous but not as abhorrent as the first one when I was only four years old. I realize then the images or visions were the same ones that kept appearing and haunting me while I dug. This time instead of digging and crying,
I sit and view myself in behavior totally incongruent with whom
I believe myself to be.
After minutes became hours, I notice the blood on my hands and arms has congealed. Despite the liberal amount of cuts and scrapes,
I am experiencing no more physical pain. The lacerations are still present but the pain is incomprehensively non—existent. Just that quickly, the screen goes black, just the the way it was when I discovered it. I don't get it! I yell to the sky. What are you trying to tell me? The screen instantly flickers to life again and
I am again watching myself as a four year~old boy during the same ghastly circumstance. I have seen this! I scream. No response.
Instead, just as before subsequent videos of myself at various ages re-appear and run their course before the screen again goes dark.
Could it be? No way! Or could it? Could it be that all of my issues and behavior I never truly comprehended and thought of as some sort of out—of—body experiences were consequences of what happened that day when I was only four years old? Could it be, I continue to think, this one—time event was so traumatic it changed my entire perspective on life? The screen remains dark as if it is listening to me and allowing me to decipher what I am meant to learn from this long, painful, arduous process. Maybe this is the answer and my arrogance has kept me from understanding how something so long ago permanently affected me. Maybe, I continue to think out loud, I am not as strong as I think. Maybe, I am human after all.
The morning sun rising in the east hits the back of my neck. I look and observe the most glorious sight: the beginning of what is truly a new day for me. As I exhale mightily, I see the sun's rays penetrate the synthetic screen that had vividly shown me the root cause of so much I didn't understand about myself. And, in a matter of minutes, the screen begins to melt and shrink to where it resembles nothing more sinister than a warped ball of plastic.
The sun rises furtheruwhile I attempt to rise to my feet. Every facet of my body hurts. The digging, pounding, and voluminous cuts and scrapes have taken its toll. I stagger around still entranced by all I have experienced and what has finally been revealed to me.
I look back where the screen had been. Now, instead of a ball of plastic, the synthetic mass has disintegrated until it disappeared entirely, never to broadcast images of my life ever again. My body feels one hundred pounds lighter, as if all the secrets and burdens
I have carried over fifty years are gone—just like the synthetic screen that revealed to me the root cause of everything about myself I could neither explain or understand.
I take a look at my bloody hands, arms and legs as I hobble away and try to live anew with a true understanding of who I am.
Although walking is painful, my steps are light and brisk.
-Regardless of the physical pain I have endured, I am finally at peace. I can live life unemcumbered from my past because I have now been exposed to it and accept it's role in all of my heretofore inexplicable behavior. And without the emotional trauma I have bore for so long, I can endure anything during the remaining years
I will walk this earth.
What I have learned is how to dig through my pain—filled past and solve a riddle's answer that has eluded me. After accomplishing this, a little short term physical pain doesn't offer any deterrent to my ability to live the life I was meant to live all along. Having seen and now understanding my hell on earth, I, like Dante, can now climb to the other side of my world and begin a new existence, unemcumbered and no longer tormented by what is known and unknown. Thus, I am free, even while still housed inside a federal prison.
B. C. Murray