Sunday, August 5, 2012
Mutually Insured Destruction
Last week I was transferred from Florida State Prison to the main death row unit at Union Correctional Institution. I am only too familiar with what is known as the North East unit at UCI as I have spent many years there before I was moved back to FSP in December 2009. But for all that was familiar, it was still as if I had stepped off into a strange and unfamiliar world as although structurally the unit remained the same, this place has substantially changed.
What surprised me the most was the pervasive thick fog of malice that now exists within this unit. I have been on death row now almost 30 years and never before had I seen this tangible presence of malice towards death row that now exists. But this is not merely a coincidence – as I quickly came to realize, those that run the prison deliberately created this environment, systematically transferring officers who had worked death row for years out and replacing them with handpicked guards consumed by their hatred towards prisoners, especially those on death row.
Even as difficult as it is to explain this destructive presence that now hangs over this unit, it’s that much harder to understand the why of it all. Don’t get me wrong – I do understand the concept of uncompromised hate as I’ve been on both sides of that fence only too many times. But I’ve been on death row too long to know that it makes no sense at all to hate us simply because we are condemned to death. Anyone even vaguely familiar with how our judicial system really works knows that the only real difference between those on death row and those now serving “life” in the prison general population (“gen–pop”) is not the native of their alleged crime, but the quality of legal representation that we were provided. Death row does not hold the “worst of the worst” as those convicted of far more heinous crimes routinely get “life” instead of death. So it doesn’t make any rational sense to hate us simply because we happen to be on death row instead of the gen-pop.
But projecting our hate upon others very rarely (if ever) is governed by such a novel concept as rationale. Those that project their hate and malice towards others are almost always so completely blinded by their own sense of self righteousness that they cannot objectively step back and see what it does to themselves.
Although some might argue that it probably took me longer then it should have, over the years I have grown up – or at least, I’d like to think that I have. It wasn’t so long ago that if confronted with the same circumstances, I lacked the self discipline to control that spontaneous burst of anger. If anything, I even embraced it.
When I left Florida State Prison, not including boxes of legal materials that seem to grow larger as the years pass, I had about 5 boxes of personal property, mostly just all sorts off stuff that accumulated through the years that meant nothing to anyone – but to me. Most of it was important to me, as it’s all I had that accounted for the life I’ve had the past 28 years – and the life that I didn’t have. There were photographs of my kids growing up through the years that I couldn’t be a part of their life, pictures of the few friends whose smiling faces gave strength and support and reminded me that no matter how alone I might feel at times I’m never really completely alone.
But now they are all gone. By the time my property was returned to me, all that remained, including my clothes, barely filled one box. A single sheet of pink paper told the story. This is known as an “inmate impounded personal property list” (FDOC form DC6-220) and the first item listed was “16 pounds misc. papers” that were marked with a “c” (contraband) No reason, no nothing. It was all just thrown into the trash as since I am a death row inmate, that’s all anything I might have had is – nothing but trash.
It is way beyond their comprehension to understand why what they did was wrong, why that they did inflict such pain upon me. In their eyes I am something far less than human. They threw away all that matters to me; they are so completely blinded by their malice towards those of us on the row that they lack the capacity to see what this does to us.
This is one of those truths that give me the strength and dignity to rise above the environment I’m forced to exist in. All that matters to me is now gone and getting angry won’t bring it back. Hate and anger only perpetuates the never ending cycle of more hate and anger. The only hope of breaking this vicious cycle is to find the strength to rise above it and make that conscious decision not to respond in anger as anything else can only result in our mutually insured destruction. For all that I lost; I can still gain by growing as the person I have chosen to become. By choosing to find the strength within myself to accept what I cannot change and hope that by choosing not to respond in anger, those responsible for the unnecessary pain they inflicted upon me, perhaps they will find that moment in time when their own suppressed sense of moral conscience will remind them that I am not the enemy and perhaps even find the strength to show empathy and compassion towards the next prisoner.
This is the simple truth that I have been stressed to learn – hate and malice may cause great pain upon those we inflict it upon, but ultimately they destroy only those consumed by their destructive power. Only by finding the strength to choose not to respond destructively will there be hope of breaking that never ending cycle. I find comfort and strength in the choice I made as I know it has made me a better man.
Union Correctional Institution