In 30 days, after 15 years of living inside the most violent penitentiaries the United States has to offer, I’m finally scheduled for release on July 31st.
Just writing these words seem like a dream to me.
When I first entered the system as a young 23-year-old junkie with a 16 and a half year sentence for armed bank robbery, I KNEW my life was over.
I’d heard all the stories and seen all the movies just like everyone else. There was no way in hell I could make it for 16 and a half DAYS…let alone years.
I asked a convict who just did 10 years if it went by fast.
“Well, it did and it didn’t.” The middle aged black man with dreadlocks down to his ass said.
“Man, what the fuck does that mean?” I questioned angrily.
“Well, while I was doing it, it seemed like it took forever. But now that it’s over with, it went by pretty fast.”
When I heard this, it made no fucking sense whatsoever. I actually cursed the “old head” under my breath as I walked away for his lack of wisdom.
But now that I sit here, with less than a month to go before I return to a city that I grew up in, but will be far from the home I remember, I can fully appreciate the wisdom in the old cons words.
Everyday in prison is the same. You wake up behind a locked door, and you go to sleep in the same cage. In between these times you witness the types of horrors and atrocities that no human being should have to endure.
Murders, rapes, stabbings, riots and vicious assaults have become so common place in my life that it’s just “another day at the office.”
With 45 days remaining I witnessed for the countless time two inmates savagely stabbing another poor soul for God knows how long before the alarms sang and the concussion grenades dropped. I saw an amazing nurse performing CPR on the unconscious and severely leaking convict while straddling the wheeling gurney to an ensuing helicopter.
As the yard was cleared, the joy across EVERYONE’S face was more than visible at the prospect of being locked down and receiving some semblance of peace for the weekend. This is the normal for me. Hoping that someone gets killed so that I’ll have the opportunity to catch my breath and reboot before the doors unlock and it all starts over again.
The only analogy that I can even consider would be a veteran coming home after 15 straight years in Iraq. No furloughs. Just 15 straight fucking years of fighting and living in the trenches. What the “old head” forgot to tell me is what happens when you get short…like REALLY short.
Time starts to stand still. Days, weeks, and even years that used to fly by, now move at a snails pace. I can literally see the time turning from minutes into hours. Just like in the movie “Groundhog Day” (which prison is EXACTLY like) as the old alarm clock slowly creeps from 5:59 to 6 AM.
They tell you not to countdown your time when you first come in, especially someone like me that has closer to two decades to serve than one. “Just count calendars.” Old timers will tell you.
But I didn’t even do that. I allowed my time to blur into one continuous loop of workouts, yoga classes, band practices, soccer games and hustling.
As far as I was concerned there was only two seasons a year. The war times of summer, and the hibernation times of winter.
You see, during the summer time, dudes that owe money, or pulled a stunt on another yard, can’t use the excuse of “It’s to fucking cold to go out there.” You also have the fact that they’ve been sitting inside for the last 7 or 8 months…and that will make even the scariest motherfucker go a little stir crazy.
So they venture out to “test the waters”, thinking that if they haven’t gotten their face kicked off yet, surely they’re safe. Which of course ALWAYS ends up with them leaving the compound leaking holes. Personal beefs between dudes inside the units over the TV, microwaves, or phones will carry out to the yard and before you know it, there’s a full scale war between rival gangs or “cars”.
It actually makes the time pretty interesting…and intense. You’re on point constantly and there’s ALWAYS the rumor of whose about to get hit. Once the savage summers are over, it’s football season and your year is complete -forget all about the fact that you have AT LEAST four more months before the official end of the year.
I successfully made it through 13 of the 15 years without going to war with one group or another. (Which is actually a pretty good percentage in the pen), and now it’s all complete. I may not of made it out without leaking holes (I got stabbed 8 times in a riot with the Mexicans.) But at least I’m making it out. Which is more than I can say for the convicts that I now consider my family.
While I’ve been incarcerated, I’ve pretty much lost everyone that I knew on the outside. My brother and the woman that I thought I’d one day marry both died. All of my “friends” left the day I was arrested. They’ve all been replaced with the cartel members and gang leaders that raised me throughout my bid. Everyone of my prison family are all people that I love…but pray I never see again.
It truly is a fucked up feeling knowing that people you’d happily run into a knife fight with, and live in a bathroom for years on end with, you’ll never see again. I’ve met some of the most solid people I’ll probably ever come into contact with inside the penitentiaries. Convicts whose word is as good as gold, and whose motives I would never question.
I’ve also lived around the scum of the earth. Straight pieces of shit who I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. But at least in here, everyone knows where they stand. If they cross that line, they WILL be thoroughly annihilated with the crudest of weapons.
The amazingly sickening part of all this is that I’m scared to death of leaving this nightmare. It’s all that I know of my adult life. I’ve never had to pay bills, or even worked a real job. Every basic necessity has been provided for me.
Yes, it’s a horribly dreadful existence, but it’s one that I’ve come to master over the past decade and a half. I know how to go about getting whatever I really need to get by. I’ve built up my name over the years as someone not to fuck with. Wherever I go, no matter what shit hole they put me in, I’ll know someone and they’ll help me get on my feet.
I don’t have to worry about some punk kid pulling a gun on me and trying to rob me. Or someone cutting in front of me while I wait in line at the store.
Both offenses would land the perpetrator a free helicopter ride from this never never land. Human life is worth shit inside the big house, but we at least show one another respect. (You kind of have to when EVERYONE carries around a machete!)
The basic human courtesies that we’re taught in kindergarten, that I’ve gotten use to over the years, are going to be the hardest thing to get used to once I leave. I honestly don’t know how I’ll react if someone bumps into me and doesn’t immediately say “my bad”.
Behind the wall, respect is everything, and from the little I do remember from the free world, manners weren’t high on peoples lists. But no matter what obstacles lie ahead for me after I complete these last 30 days of a fucking painfully long existence in the United States prison system, I KNOW that I’ll be able to get through it. Because, if I can make it through this shit…everything else will be like going to Disneyland.
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