Why I Don’t Watch 24 From Prison

By · Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Millions of Americans tuned in to watch Jack Bauer defeat terrorism on the popular television series, 24. As a prisoner at Taft Federal Prison Camp, I was not among them. Many of my fellow prisoners watched the fast-paced show. They rely upon television to escape the loneliness of confinement. Even in a minimum-security camp, longings for family and community can sting. For me, however, television is a luxury I cannot afford.

My prison term began in 1987, and during the 21 years that I’ve passed since then, I’ve worked continuously to prepare for the challenges that await my release. Now, with less than four years of imprisonment remaining, I feel as if I am in the final stretch. I must work harder in 2009 than I’ve ever worked before. That means more writing. More reading. More gathering information from other prisoners so I can write about their experiences. I must exercise more. I must work hard to widen my network of support, to build my brand.

Others try to convince me that I’m ready for release. They don’t realize that I was as ready for release as I ever could become in 1995, after Hofstra University awarded my Master of Arts Degree. I had completed my eighth year of confinement, I was 31, and I stood ready to begin my life as a law-abiding citizen. Unfortunately, our unforgiving system of justice did not make provisions for nonviolent offenders to earn freedom.

Now I am 45 years old, deep into my 22nd year of confinement. I married, though I have not been able to provide my wife with home or any assets of consequence. This reality troubles me, and I feel as if I have a responsibility to work hard. I have a deep need to provide. That means I must prepare. That means I cannot watch television.

Other prisoners do not feel burdened with this oppressive need to contribute. They struggle enough with the day-to-day conditions of confinement. They miss their families, their communities, the lives they left behind. Activities like exercise, recreational games, and television anesthetize the pains of confinement. With the decades of confinement behind me, prison has become the only life I know. I must fight to prepare for the world ahead.

My work is a survival mechanism. I work, therefore I am. My adjustment pattern conditions me to feel as if I must connect with society in order to justify my existence. Without those connections, I am a prisoner, and therefore less, somehow, than a full human being. This need to work, to prepare, to contribute to the world, has consequences. It precludes my ability to sit through a television show, even a show as exciting and critically praised as 24.

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