I Was Not Thinking About... Release
I will never forget June 3rd, 2021. There I was in my 6’ x 10’ cell. As it was a minimum restricted facility surrounded by other prisons in the East Canon Complex, it had real drywall on 2x4s instead of all the concrete of a higher-level facility. My steel bunk was 2 and ½ feet wide and 6 feet long and reduced the emptied area of my cell by even more, with the Stylus wheelchair in the center of the cell. There was almost not enough room for the officer to enter when he brought me my evening mail.
The mail had only one 9” x 12” envelope, a reply from the law library with the House Bill I had requested. This Bill had only passed the previous week. However, the quick mentions on the evening news had me excited and trepidatious.
I was so anxious I turned my back to the window next to my bed to face the cell door. I placed my feet on the cool concrete floor at the side of my bed and tore the envelope open. The packet was 12 pages thick and in my haste I did not even notice I cut my finger on the staple. I was lightly bleeding on the papers as I read through paragraph after paragraph. Then I read them again, as I was not fully comprehending the information because it was so foreign to my reality…
Since November 1986, I was facing -- then serving -- a “life” sentence. My first eligibility for parole was not until December 2028, and no one ever gets first parole. And now this bill changed all of that.
I was now eligible to take a course which could possibly get me out of prison sooner. It had much better odds of release and so far no recidivism . . . everything was suddenly different. 34+ years of hopelessness, multiple sclerosis since ‘99, a heart attack just four years earlier. My whole life and prison experience being “you will die here.” “You will be a quadriplegic, helpless, and die alone here.” “You will never be home with your children, grandchildren, or other family ever again except under review of the CDOC.”
All of these are gone in the blink of an eye and the signature of a governor. But now what… I was denied classes, vocational training, mental health, other than “try this MH drug.” No therapy or anything and now in three years I’m going to try and overcome what will be by then 38 years of institutional living. “Fear,” “nervousness,” “trepidation,” “discomfort,” none of these words can begin to express the gut-wrenching cold sweat-inducing horror, excitement, and lack of understanding I have of the world, technology, and human relations outside of this. What will it look like? What is self-check-out? My mind races at even a new commercial. What reality is there? What’s it like? And how do I do this?
Painting by Gwynne Duncan