Tuesday, January 22, 2013

February 27, 2013

Dear Sis~

On Monday my old friend Tom - just 4 months ago had a hale and hardy soul, now a mere envelope of cancer-gnawed flesh and bones - was removed from his cell by wheelchair, too weak to offer anything but meager protest, and transferred to the one place he dreaded going to, our notoriously filthy, blood spattered clinic holding cell, consigned to die in pain-soaked isolation.  The image of him, barely able to croak a few words, weakly waving goodbye to me, his sunken, lingering eyes reflecting his recognition that he was going to his death, will forever be imprinted on my memory.  I hate the idea that he'll die alone, surrounded by indifference and neglect.  Tom was a unique character with a sharp, incisive mind and I already miss him.  I confess that it is tiring to be surrounded by so much death - the dead and yet-to-be-dead - these past two decades, a struggle not be drenched in negativity, with precious little to mitigate my disappointments.  Each day requires an act of will to wake up and set myself with a purpose, to believe this mortal life is more than just a play of shadows in a shadow box...

Speaking of which, a death row prisoner across the river at UCI committed suicide about 2 weeks ago (Carlos Delgado was his name), while 2 months ago a non-death row prisoner here hung himself.  It's surprising to me that more prisoners here don't kill themselves given the long term extreme isolation and punitive conditions, the hopelessness that comes from being confined for years in a tiny cage with virtually no property and certainly no programs or anything to engage the mind or offer any shred of hope.  I'm referring specifically to the 1,000 men in close management status here (close management being a euphemism for long-term solitary confinement lasting years and years).  Death row conditions are marginally better; at least we get visits and we can buy a little TV or radio (or now an MP3 player), but the flip side is that we spend decades in these cells and unless you possess a stout mind (and body) this inevitably erodes your constitution, often without you even knowing it.  I've seen too many men go insane, a sad and scary thing to behold, or just throw in the towel and kill themselves, or get the state to do it for them by giving up their appeals and demanding to be executed.  The irony with Tom is that we often discussed, over the years, the extremely high percentage of D/R prisoners who die of cancer each year, more than 30 that I know of, and we half-jokingly wondered if there's something in the water here.  Then in a blink of an eye Tom was struck by two - brain and lung cancers - and Tom's number was up.  I wrote, as I promised I would, to Tom's people and told them what happened, that I don't expect him to live more than a few weeks at best, but I confided to one of his close friends (his closest, in fact) that a small part of me is happy for Tom because after 20+ years on death row and a lifetime spent behind bars he will soon be free...

I'll close with a quote, attributed to Brian Cox, given to me by a dear friend: "We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself."  I believe that.

That's it for now, Sis.  Give the doggies a scratch behind the ears for me.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My husband and I saw your story on televison and it prompted us to look for info on you. We were struck by your intellegence and, after reading a portion of your blog, think you are a gifted writer. I am glad you have turned your life around and are trying to help young people. All of us are capable of doing good and wrong. Hang in Billy!