What Is It Like To Serve A Life Sentence?

Some people cannot understand how it feels to spend one night in prison,let alone years or even decades. I wish I was one such soul, but my life took a different direction at a young age that landed me directly into prison for an extended period. Prison is a lonely place. I wake up every day knowing that there is no one there for me to lean on, no one to share my secrets with, no one I can completely trust. Part of me knows this is because of my own making, but part of me knows this is the prison experience. I must pay for my sins, and apparently part of that is ex-communication from the world.

Prison becomes about monotony if you let it. You wake up for years in the same position on a tiny mattress, at the same time, knowing what is for breakfast because it is the same menu from week to week. If you’re lucky you may be in a place that offers some freedom of movement so you can at least go outside and walk in a circle.I have known guys who can tell you how many cracks there are on the track, or how many lines are painted from one end of the yard to the other. Often, your mind will wander when you have been incarcerated for extended periods.

The wandering of the mind can be a blessing because you achieve some measure of freedom. You are no longer trapped in the little cage you live in. You can go anywhere, be anyone, for a time at least.I sometimes see the guys who live in a fantasy world and I take pity on them. I hope I am released before I get there.

As I said, prison is lonely. You are surrounded by hundreds of people daily, but you are the only one serving your sentence. Some people are able to establish and maintain relationships with partners on the outside. But it takes a special kind of person who is able to make the sacrifice it requires to be with a person who is in prison. If you are lucky enough to find someone like this you will probably love that person more than life. You will find so much value in that person, at least that was how it was for me the one time it happened to me. When it ended,I was hurt more than I had ever been hurt before, because I lost my best friend on top of everything.

Despite all the loneliness and deprivation you might get something from prison. The time in exile is time to think. Think on who you are and what brought you to this place. The years worked their magic on me. I became remorseful. I gained valuable insights into my life and character. I took these insights and applied them to the people and the world around me. These are things that I doubt the confused kid I was that stepped into this mess would have been able to do in the fast paced world of society. These insights allowed me to see what I did not like about the young man that I was, which led me in search of a better me.

I began to seek every opportunity I could to educate myself. Through education my whole world began to transform. If you are lucky you will find this opportunity, and if you are smart you will take it. This is another lesson prison taught me, if you want something you must seize upon it when the opportunity presents itself. I will never be a passive spectator in life again. If I need something I will become proactive in acquiring it, and if it still isn’t possible to get my hands on it I will create it. The deprivation teaches you to create.

Serving a life sentence is nothing but serving time itself when you get right down to it. You can either make time work for you or against you. It is your choice in the end. I have been guilty of both in my life. I have fallen prey to the loneliness of time in prison and I have worked to understand myself in this time. I believe the loneliness of my life is the pivotal story of my existence, but it is how I choose to deal with that loneliness which will define me. I have learned this from serving a life sentence in prison.

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

Originally published at thelastmile.org on August 24, 2014.

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