Outside the window a cricket sings out in its private celebration of life, as the humid aroma of recent showers steaming off the hot concrete barely overcomes the stench of a hundred living souls compressed into an abyss of lost humanity. Darkness, in its possessive manner, steals its way forth as I stand at the front of my cell.
Beyond the bars that separate me from the rest of the world, I can bask in the simple pleasure of watching day give way to night in my own selfish celebration that I have endured - and even survived -yet another day. This is my evening ritual; my way of paying homage to the ability and inner strength of perseverance. And even in this shadow of condemnation, I do find strength.
I accept that the definitive measure and molding of character is not simply the ability to survive adversity - but to overcome and even manipulate the essence of adversity into a productive entity of which I might find the strength to master. I cannot see beyond this artificial hell in which I've been confined.
The horizon I see is nothing more than a scattered number of lights flooding the compound grounds and dancing with glittering fire upon the honed edges of razor wire that lie between the statuesque "iron curtain" perimeters. The only sign of life in this world outside is a spotlight, as it lazily rakes its way across the grounds in an unpredictable, haphazard manner.
But even as they've confined and condemned my body, there remains a part of me that is rebelliously free; that no amount of steel and stone can confine and no man can condemn. Within the inner self of the man I am, just as within every condemned prisoner, there's a path that leads its way off into a different horizon. This path is landscaped and lined with the symbolic fruits of faith, hope, encouragement and perseverance; stolen moments of our humanity - and even sanity.
For each of us, we strive to maintain some recognizable, progressive forward motion, refusing to succumb to the environment, finding inner strength to keep pushing ahead one slow step at a time. And all too often, it is a constant struggle, as this imaginative path takes its twists and turns through the highest of emotional peaks, to the lowest of emotional valleys.
For me, I call this imaginative escape from the reality of condemnation the "Yellow Brick Road", in personal reflection of the theologically symbolic nature and promise of the covenant of the rainbow; because even in the worst of storms, there's always the presence of a rainbow. And somewhere over the rainbow is the promise of hope. And this Yellow Brick Road is my odyssey through Oz - my exodus through hell. And somewhere at the end of the Yellow Brick Road is my redemption.
And it is a strange road.
There's night and there's day.
With the night comes; the uncertainty and even fear of darkness; the long moments and hours of hopelessness and despair, the feeling that all has already been lost, and that to continue would be futile, the mocking echo of silence, which serves to remind me that I am alone in this concrete crypt. Long nights of lying awake - unable to sleep as thoughts of what was and what might have been haunt me.
The demons of darkness creep stealthily in to rob me of my most prized possessions of hope, faith, and the strength of perseverance.
But then comes the new day and with it mixed confusion. Darkness, and all it holds, has again been defeated - but there is no joyous victory as the new day does little to restore the gradual erosion of those values that compel me forth. The day brings with it the anticipation and anxiety of uncertainty; of hopelessness borne of living in an environment of forced conformity and dependence.
Life of the condemned is not life at all. Rather, it is an existence somewhere between hell and who knows where. A constant state of forced limbo, like a puppet on a string. Having been condemned by society, we now are not allowed to live - or die. Only exist ... if being stored in a virtual warehouse devoid of emotion can be said to constitute an existence.
If life is but the struggle for mere existence and its value judged by longevity - then perhaps by cheating those disciples of death that now demand the forfeiture of my life is itself worthy of that unknown cricket's celebration of life.
I only wish I could find some justification and comfort in that argument. But, I do not; for me life is not merely a struggle for biological existence. Without the preservation of my humanity and individuality, such an existence would have no meaning, or worth. Here on death row, we do exist. Yet through the condemnation imposed upon us, society has deprived us of the recognition of our existence -- denying our humanity.
It is not enough to condemn us. In society's demented state of moral consciousness, we must first be stripped of our humanity before being deprived of our life. To recognize our humanity is to create a reflection of their own inherent imperfection, as well as face the truth that they are taking a human life. But to make us less than human pacifies society's guilt. They don't kill any particular individual, but rather something less than an individual.
And so for years on end a death of the inner self is methodically inflicted upon us so very gradually that it's practically unperceivable. An erosion of all emotion, until having been subjected to the endless rigor of administrative conformity, the person within is lost in a penologically conditioned sacrificial surrender. The strength to resist no longer remains and without realizing it - we have been subdued. Conformance, and compliance - even the acceptance of death - become a form of adoptive security, protecting us from confronting atrocities we've suffered in the name of justice and "We The People."
But for each of us, there is a Yellow Brick Road; an escape from the reality of our condemnation; a place of solace and security.
The adversity we suffer remains and continues to plague us; continues to rob us of the humanity and individuality we so desperately cling to. But as long as we each keep sight of our own Yellow Brick Road, we will deprive our captors and executioners of the theft of our humanity and stand strong in our inner strength.
Not only to survive -- but to overcome.