Prison can be an intriguing place now and then. At times I feel like Morgan Freemans character, Red, from the movie “The Shawshank redemption”, living in a world where everyone is innocent. Like Red, I too am ‘The only guilty man in Shawshank’. This always reminds me of the scene when Andy (Tim Robbins) first approaches Red on the prison yard to make a request for that subsequently prolific rock hammer and red asks him one of the most commonly posed questions to new inmates, “So why did you do it?”. “I didn’t since you ask” Andy replies right back. A burst of laughter escapes Red, as he looks at Andy with those knowing eyes and says to him, “Oh you gonna fit right in”.
My first interaction with an eventual friend of mine wasn’t as entertaining as that scene and he is definitely no Andy Dufrain but he, like so many other men in prison, professed his innocence vehemently. Let him tell it and his case bordered on a Shakespearean tragedy, so angry was he at the injustice that had befallen him, he would rage with fists clenched to the sky, howling at the treachery of a justice system that had so thoroughly failed him. How could they give him 20 years for something he didn’t do? The act never convinced me and after a multitude of conversations, I was finally able to get him to admin (rather reluctantly I must say) that maybe he wasn’t so innocent after all, maybe he did do some of the things he was convicted of. To those that’ve never experienced conditions like these or people with such distorted beliefs, I can only liken it to the 7 stages of grief a mourner will go through when they lose a loved one. Something like you saw many Republicans go through this primary season with Donald Trump. Eventually everyone had to come to terms with the unbelievable yet undeniable truth. The Donald had bested them all.
I don’t know whether this is a coping mechanism to deal with the extensive amounts of time people get, maybe a lie one tells themselves in order to feel justified in their anger or just a shield against possible ridicule and intimidation from other inmates. I do find it fascinating to be a witness to this “outrage”, wondering to myself if they truly believe in the righteousness of their convictions or is it they’re just secretly angry at themselves, angry for getting caught. This is a question every convict must ask themselves, one I have contemplated assiduously over these past few years because how we ultimately answer this question will define our character and sincerity. Would you be sorry if you were free?
Now I’m not saying there aren’t those men and women who may be innocent, I’m sure there are and there are those who do get an exceptional amount of time. More fodder to feed the beast of industry that is the prison industrial complex. But as far as the rest, those guilty souls, why is it so hard to accept responsibility for their actions? Is it the pain, the guilt, the fear of having to relive the shame? If an inmate feels this way, imaging how a victim must feel. We must have the courage to open our eyes, to face our past and be a witness to the destruction left in our wake and the lasting ramifications of our actions. Not only in the lives of our victims but in the lives of our families as well. Because whether we like to admit it or even realize it, we imposed a sentence on our victims, a life sentence t which they have no reprieve.
Don’t let my words make it seem like all of this is an easy thing to do because change never is. Change is a very hard endeavor to see through to the end, whether inside or outside these walls. Prison can be a very discouraging place when you feel like you have no purpose, no sense of direction or outlets to seek help. There is no rehabilitation and very few avenues in which an inmate can make amends. So, unless you have some sort of support system outside these walls, it can prove difficult if not impossible to make any real headway in helping to bring about change. Which means a very large percentage of that small percentage of people who truly want to make a difference end up telling themselves “what’s the point? There’s nothing I can do anyways”. So many will choose to lose themselves in a world of TV life, prison politics, fantasy novels and the monotonous activity of card games.
I could just as easily sit here and do nothing. Giving in to the seemingly inescapable reality of this purgatory, a purgatory Bill Murry illustrated well in the movie Groundhog Day. Everyday feels the same here. I won’t do it though, I will never give up. We can make a difference, we have to make a difference. People believe that places like these are just a reality of life, a necessary function to maintain order in any human society, I recognize that, but there has to be more. We have to find new ways to make progress and bring about change because almost everyone here is getting our someday.
So what now? Well, maybe I’ll take a little guidance from Red and be the man that can get things, only instead of contraband, I can help by providing inspiration and setting a more positive example. We all have a choice to make, whether inside or outside these walls, a choice Brooks Hadlen knew all too well after 50 years in the shank. Get busy livin or get busy dyin. Damn right. This is a difficult path to be on but we can all make a difference, even if the difference is only the change we make within ourselves. Even if you see no way to make recompense, maybe just taking responsibility for your actions can be enough for now.