What Prisoners Miss Most

By · Friday, October 31st, 2008

Prisoners miss what they cannot have. Those who serve time in supermax prisons, like the ADX in Florence, Colorado, live in sterile cells. They are deprived of nearly all human contact. Their mattress is thrown on a concrete slab. They can hardly move beyond the small space allotted to them. They cannot use the telephone freely. Their visits take place through a telephone hand set.

Some of the men who are locked in ADX cells will serve the rest of their lives without much to stimulate their senses. Although many of the ADX prisoners have been convicted of crimes that other citizens would consider reprehensible, I do not doubt that the men inside of those cells miss being a part of humanity.

In high security prisons, conditions are more open than in the supermax. Yet prisoners inside those oppressive atmospheres live without hope. They serve long sentences, sometimes without any possibility for release. Since they cannot envision ways in which they can distinguish themselves in positive ways, some look for opportunities to distinguish themselves inside the twisted world of prison. They become more violent, or psychopathic. They cannot hope to play meaningful roles in the lives of their family or society. Consequently, they join cliques or gangs; they engage in hustles or try to narcotize themselves through the time. Some whose prior decisions forced them serve their sentences in high-security prisons miss the feeling of safety, or living without the thick pressure of evil that seems to pervade the penitentiary.

In both medium-security and low-security prisons, prisoners have a bit more hope. Many have release dates that they can at least grasp. The release date may stretch out for ten or twenty years, yet at least they can see a glimmer of hope. Prisoners in those institutions sometimes fight to hang on to memories of the lives they led prior to prison. They miss the world. They are not always ready to embrace the prison culture completely because they believe that something will change. They miss their families, their freedom, the ability to feel as if they are independent men.

In minimum-security camp, all prisoners are within 10 years of their release dates. The atmosphere is much less oppressive. Significant portions of the camp population are within weeks or months of release. With the rapid turnover in the camp population, prisoners miss their freedom. Yet they can see that it will come.

During the 21 years that I have served so far, I have missed all that others take for granted. Prison has become a part of me, yet I have never stopped working to prepare myself. I am determined to emerge successfully, unscathed by the experience. What I miss most is my wife. I want to kiss her and hold her and sleep with her and love her. I want her to feel proud of me, to let her know that she has been the inspiration for every breath I have taken through prison. I miss her touch, and I work daily to prove myself worthy of the love and sacrifices she so freely gives to me.

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