From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.
— Captain Ahab, Herman Melville
I am the only one who knows them.
I know all their secrets. They tell me everything. To me, they confess their atrocities, their fears, their deeds, inner darkness and all the truths they refuse to give to their lawyers, their judges, their parole officers, their wives, even their God.
I am their prison cell.
Six feet by nine feet. An iron hard bed with a single soiled sheet, a cold commode without a seat and a low flush toilet, sure to back the stink into the air. I am an eternal purgatory cut off from the flow of life, a place outside of time, a chronal island, bereft of temporal eddies, the tiniest echoes indicating their continued existence.
To most, I am a place where no man wants to end up. To them, I am their universe.
I can feel your prejudice. I am a prison cell. How can I think? How can I tell you this story? That my good person is not the question.
The question is how can you not already know it?
Now you are supposing I may be lying. After all, I house liars, thieves, murderers? What would I know of the truth?
For within my walls, I have two truths that cannot be denied.
No one who is here, wants to be. If they were not, I would still have no other existence for which I could be turned. I would remain a prison, filled with my secrets, which would leak from my walls, no matter what they were turned to.
Condominiums would always echo with the screams of abuse, silently over dinner, the shudders of violence would echo through time, coming out in a harshly spoken word at an inopportune moment.
If I became a garden, my fruits would always have the bitterness of suffering which leached into the very essence of the soil beneath me. Anyone who knew of my fruits would always taste my hidden burdens. No man would eat of me without guilt.
No friend, I have no reason to lie to you. I want you to know as you tear me down what has transpired here. The true atrocity lies not with the men I housed. No, sir, the horror is the system that made them. Drove them to lives which ended here.
Know, I have taken the lives of everyone who has ever lived within me. Unless they were here only for a moment, once they lived here, they were never free of me. I haunted their dreams, any moment of darkness and silence would bring them to me. Many were unable to be anywhere without a background sound constantly filling their consciousness as a talisman against returning.
Some were drawn back to me, their fear of the outside only increasing once released and they realized how inadequate they were to the task of living free. The irony is they are unable to cope with their freedom because you, dear listener and those like you who hold them to an impossible standard once freed.
One that says, they can only be ex-convicts, never free men, never a moment when someone won’t put their past mistakes before them again. So, given no choices for work, no forgiveness for transgressions, families taxed to their limits, in their support of those who have left me, have nothing left to give. So these men return to their fraternities, the only families they may have ever known. And thus back upon the path which leads to crime, to police, to prosecution, to judgment and ultimately, me.
I have nothing to do with this.
Their infection, their disease, is created by you.
Steal a man’s dignity, steal his chance for prosperity, take his opportunities, even if they were always going to be small things, things you would never use, never see, never be aware of, but you take them anyway. He has no home to speak of, no family of any use to him, small, petty people living mean, bitter lives, no more able to uplift him than they are themselves, and yet you take what little he has and leave him only the semblance of a life. His false honor, his belief in whatever passes as his, then pack him tightly with others just like him
This is all within your power to change. But as your wrecking crews gather about, moving teams through the walls, I would have you know what these men would tell you, if you could hear them.
They would say to you: men who deserve to be here, more often than not, do not ever find their ways through these doors. They would say my doors open longest to the most vulnerable, those whose lives are cut shortest and had the most potential and opportunity to change the world for the better. They would tell you money is privilege and freedom from the penance which has drawn and quartered the lives of those who come to me.
That no matter how dangerous this place may make them, they would have you know, they are only as violent as the system which placed them within these walls. And if they seem more so, it is only because an individual’s violence is concentrated within one man. Social violence is diluted by millions but no less toxic.
Their crimes are both a symptom of a greater problem and a just response to the madness which makes up a your way of warehousing the victims of socially-engender poverty, those educationally-challenged, media-perverted minds who lack true decision-making capacity and are directed through a finely tune system of racial and social injustice to ensure the continued development of a system designed to maintain this inequality made culturally necessary, yet invisible.
They would tell you this if they could. If they knew how. If they understood their intrinsic value, their true worth, they would have both the capacity and the desire to let you know of the depth of their suffering, no matter the madness you see on the surface.
They would tell you, no matter how gentle your demeanor, you would transform to survive within these walls or you would die.
I tell you as you flee these walls and my impending destruction by implosion, I implore you as you are building the next structure to sit at this foundation, don’t keep making the same mistakes you made when you built me fifty years ago to house the few true reprobates society created then. Instead, find a way to humanely deal with those damaged individuals harmed by the noxious programming of society and instead to change society’s dependence on the creation of an underclass in order to promote enough fear to demand complete subservience of those they cannot directly imprison.
Do you hear me? Before you press that button, erasing me from the universe, know that I abhor my existence and the greatest kindness you can offer me is to be rid of you.
Do it. Do it, now. FREE!
On a sign outside the construction site:
Demolished: Wrenfield State Penitentiary, 1958-2008, housed 5000 prisoners
Future Home: Wrenfield SuperMax Federal Penitentiary, due to be completed in 2014, and will be able to house 15,000 maximum security prisoners.
The Cell, A tale of the Prison-Industrial Complex © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved