By Armando Macias
I know a lot, I know a lot about life. I know it has intricate cause and effects. I know with each negative action comes a consequence. The cold, cold cell reminds me of this. Its evil presence challenges me.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5—one; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—two; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—three. Burpees are the ideal exercise when no weights are around. You go down, do a push-up, and stand up. Count each movement. You just did one 6 count burpee. Burpees help relieve stress, especially after moments like yesterday, when they did a cell search and tossed all sorts of my “stuff.” Well, stuff to them but prized possessions to me. That’s life in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU), aka the hole, solitary confinement.
I know a lot because I’ve realized life is too intense to fully figure out. Mistakes are mistakes in hindsight not at the moment; not then. Call it bad judgment, a different set of values or just me being misunderstood, the results still a consequence. I know I don’t have it figured out. I know every consequence has many lessons accompanying it. I know I have a lot to learn. Yet I know enough to teach my nephews a thing or two. I plan to do that.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5—twenty-six; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—twenty-seven. My sister’s letter describing the kids’ activities revealed how fast the kids grow. They’re teenagers now and reaching that point where life’s opening up to reveal all its chaotic wonders. Do they know that certain lessons are contextual and not situational; meaning some truths fit various situations? Those, they need to learn.
Should I write? Dare I write? If so on what level? Should it be a letter full of stories proving that punitive measures can lead to transformational progress? Nah, not true. Not true by a long shot. Even though I’ve secretly imagined it may one day be so but reality proves otherwise. I cannot in good conscience promote a lie. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—one-hundred; 8 count burpees now (2 push ups) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—one. I look over at the kids pictures leaning up against the wall. So innocent looking, such babies. I was in juvenile hall at that age with violence being no stranger to me. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—ten; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—eleven.
Maybe a simple friendly letter sharing bits of advice would be best. Hmmmm. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—sixteen. So many “should Is” are leaving me far from listless and with many competing thoughts. What tone and rhythm will best serve sincere communication with a teen?
The problem with memories being brought to present is along come all the vast possibilities that could’ve been. What an endless labyrinth of torture that is. Especially since I’m stuck in the hole.
This checks my beginning a letter. Who really wants to be one of those adults who spits out clichés like “I’ve lived life and have more experience so trust me you’ll regret it” or “you’re young and don’t know any thing” blah blah blah. It’s all probably true but it still sounds like overrated preaching. It’s as if an adult enjoys preaching more than actually getting through to the teen. It eerily falsifies sincere advice. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—thirty-one; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—thirty-two.
Fundamentally this is an extreme case of the problem of identity. Which identity will I present? One of a fun-loving uncle? The convict uncle who wishes to school them in hopes they choose another path not his own? Hmmmm. Love of family is hard to embody on paper. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—fifty-nine; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—sixty.
The problem goes beyond a letter, yet remains within me. Identifying myself and the purpose of my letter is subjectively baffling. Being an uncle can’t be generalized which I find unfortunate right about now. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—seventy-six.
So easy to be clumsy when dealing with concepts of such depth. The Gang Unit will confiscate anything seemingly gang-related or incriminating, making it possible for good advice to be bad. Most dangerous of all is all the lessons I share must be written with no context to them. Being in solitary confinement drastically diminishes the potential of creating a loving connection with family, thus making this a letter from an estranged uncle. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—ninety-eight; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—ninety-nine; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—one-hundred. Time for other exercises that require my undivided attention.
I cut a small circular piece of paper, place it on the sink drain, fill it up with water, get naked, soap up, and then with a milk carton throw water on myself. I wash my boxers, floor, and cell walls. Dry it all day by wiping it down, and get ready to write. A good bird bath after exercise is refreshing.
The callously cold cell air vent sounds like a demon whispering curses and the sharp cold air being proof of its existence. The penal system is the devil’s realm and prisons are demons in its service, or so it seems to those of us here in the SHU. I’m in the belly of the beast.
The ugly cold metal bunk, concrete floor, walls, and that steel door reminds me of the demon’s mouth and me being trapped inside. One day it plans to defecate us onto the death chamber to be murdered then spit the remains out to the world. Until then, they’ll psychologically torture me with an indefinite stay in this torture chamber.
A bit too dramatic when identifying myself to a kid huh? Best to ignore both time and the demons of the California Penal System which feast on my life. The truth is my spirit is my own and I refuse to be broken. This place is not who I am, neither is the government’s description of me. My identity cannot be trivialized nor should my letter. Still dare I hope my words manifest urgency in their world? At least, a small positive effect?
Obviously my habitual method of writing is off the table. Kids are neither a concept or an ideal, nor a metaphor but flesh and blood with a unique developing fresh mentality. In light of our own experiences we know teens have growing pains. It’s easy to forget this when all I see is a picture and I’m an adult with minimal human contact. But the common denominator is our culture, our family. The fruit of advice is rooted in society and our cultural experience, which is a sort of collective intelligence. Writing this is a heavy responsibility. I’m trapping a past with words on paper. Hell nah. I cannot write as I normally do. There’s also the danger of explaining certain causes and effects but simultaneously unwittingly justifying unjustifiable actions.
Digging up memories brings up corpses from dark corners along with all sorts of unpleasantries, all of which become nourishment for lessons to be harvested for this letter. Lessons will be gleaned from introspection. We should all do it. What galvanizes my letter writing is acknowledging my and society’s prejudices, faults, successes, pains and aversions. Death’s presence inevitably rises for attention. The reminder of death always double checks the validity of the meaning behind my actions and words.
While the Demon Vent whispers its cold icy curses the metal bunk bites my behind but these pictures of the innocent Little Angels brings reality into focus.
I dive in, write, cross out, write, write, write, edit, write until my hand and head hurt. The demon has no hold on me. I’ll write and release all my thoughts. For a while this demon shall be banished.
After having used all my paper I double check the letter making sure I was neither a friend nor an old man scolding ’em, but an uncle. Only then do my numb legs become apparent. The Demon Vent blows and blows its vile taunts. As I look for stamps I search envelope by envelope slowly realizing a cruel version of my good uncle fantasy enters reality...I have no stamps. They must have tossed them during the cell search. This hell realm once again makes its presence known. Ja ja. The demon has won this battle. The war continues.
|Armando Macias AI4624|
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin CA 94974