Imagine darkness, if you will, and in that darkness thousands of prison cells encrusted with the rust and filth of ages. Imagine the thousands of fingerprints gripping unforgiving bars of steel as the forgotten men inside come to terms with their solitude.

Imagine the loneliness, the despair, and the silent cries that the imprisoned men drown themselves in as they sit in decrepit 8×6 foot cells. Cells that have warehoused thousands of men before them and will warehouse even more after they’ve gone.

Imagine if you can, those thousands of men sitting alone in their cells with their heads in their hands thinking of the damage they’ve caused to themselves as well as others. The bridges they’ve burned. The unrelenting reminders that if they died within the stagnant filth of their rusty prison cells, what they’d be remembered for most is being failures. Failures at life. Failures at relationships. Failures at opportunity. Failures at many things and most likely remembered for nothing more than who they were on their very worst day.

Imagine. Just imagine the thousands of men who are lost, destined only to be swallowed up by a raging river of regret, shame, and forgotten dreams. A river that flows slowly through every prison, methodically stripping the humanness from within just like sediment is loosened and carried away from the muddy banks of a rivers edge. Is this the beautiful, retributive rainbow of karmic justice that our society touts as effective? Or are these thousands of men just renters of space, destined to be swept away in a swiftly moving current of torment that leaves in its place nothing but another layer of filth and rust? Another empty cell that will quickly be filled?

Imagine grief. Imagine the oxygen depleting heaviness that grips a person’s soul with an iron like grasp. A grasp that refuses to let go and only seems to tighten when alone and contemplating the choices these prisoners have made.

Imagine the grief when self-honesty is unavoidable. Imagine the blinding clarity in the unmistakable errors that haunt these men ceaselessly in inescapable dreams and nightmares. Imagine not having that escape, that needed relief, that ability to make amends beyond the time spent in a state of segregation and societal separation. Imagine the forlorn reality that grief induced reflection is oftentimes the most brutal of punishments. Imagine.

Imagine the effects of time. Imagine the days, the months, and the years passing by without purpose or meaning. An hour here, a week there. Just blurs of catatonic numbness and institutionalization interrupted by shakedowns and strip searches from the guards who despise these men’s very existence.

Imagine self-worth, or for that matter, the lack thereof as these thousands of men in prison become more and more aware of the understanding that society has in large part given up on them and cast them into the outer darkness of exile. I mean, that’s what it is right? Exile?

Imagine the long drawn out exhale that comes when a man lowers his head in defeat. Exiled. Banished. Placed into a warehouse where problems aren’t meant to be solved but rather hidden away as though time itself will somehow make the needed repairs to the men’s penchant for deviance. Imagine it. Feel it. And if you can, pull forth the strength to emphatically put yourself in the shoes of the imprisoned. Imagine it for a second within your mind. Isn’t there a better way? Imagine if there was.

Imagine entering prison as a teenage first time offender. A young man full of life and vitality, and within a matter of a few short years being reduced to a shell of your former self because of the hope draining imprisonment in which you find yourself. Imagine.

My name is James and I’m sitting in the rust and filth as you read this. And as you read this…know that I am regretting my past immensely as my own fingerprints grip the same unforgiving bars of steel that thousands before me have held. I wish I could imagine something different. Something different than the six thousand, eight hundred and nineteen days that I’ve been imprisoned since the age of 17 for a cowardly act of violence that didn’t have to happen.

I’m so sorry.

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