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House of the Condemned (Dec. 17, 1997)

(This paper was written during my first visit to my uncle in Lompoc Federal Prison. He was busted just over two years ago, and sentenced to 60 months. He is currently serving his sentence. I would like to dedicate this piece to him, and to everyone else who has been ill-served by the system. Stay strong and remember: I love you.)


So, this is where it ends, this is how it ends. In this place, I wish I could write that with as much hate as I can say it. This place where grown men smile like little children to receive even the simplest of gifts. Like the sight of their children and families, a few minutes to pretend the hellish confines of this gritty reality don’t extend this far. Or that for 30 seconds things can be normal. The word “prisoner” has never been so appropriate. Fuck this system. Eloquence fails me, there is no better word now; fuck this system, and every last one of you who support it, present or past. If you’re not with us right now, you’re against us. Political prisoners, these men are at the mercy of a corrupt and outdated system of “correction,” or so they call it.

Penitentiary. The only thing men are taught here is to hate the system and the people who put them here. Men holding their little sons and daughters, hugging their wives for minutes on end. The love in their eyes at the simplest little things. And these hard-eyed punks in their navy blue windbreakers. Fuck these guys. The puppets who wield such terrible power over these condemned men. Now I understand the pacing tiger. Men put in here, placed in this hell to waste away. To waste their lives. God help them if they think that way, I wonder how they cope with this hell?

One in particular. A Jamaican. I’d kill for his skin color. He has a little daughter. It looks to me like he’s in love with her, and she with him. His son looks at him with adoring eyes. I wonder if he understands? His wife, and someone who seems like his father. His dad looks like Black Mafia; if he isn’t, he puts up a good front. 

The dope growers here are all alike. My uncle fits right in with them. They all take care of themselves, at least the ones present. There is an old man, gray hair, gray beard; looks at least 70. He has a son and his wife visiting, with three toe-headed grandsons. The Jamaican guy’s little son is climbing him like a tree. The admiration in his eyes is touching.

One of the guards caught me looking at him. I wonder if he can see how much I hate him? Strange to feel actual hate for this human. He’s the same carbon I am, the same earth. Scum. He’s trying to stare me down. I decide to look away; I don’t need to play any cop games right now. This is not the time, and after some thought, it’s not the place, either. He’s short, of course. Buzz-cut, practically sweating ego. Probably potty-trained with a horsewhip. His windbreaker pisses me off, he wears his hollow power like a crown of traffic tickets, or maybe rotten Depends. He has a radio and lots of keys, something that could be mace or pepper spray.

Little kids everywhere. Wives, children, siblings, parents. Families of some kind, bound by blood or weight of soul, here to visit condemned men. The Jamaican guy’s daughter is playing a board game with him. Reality just sort of hovers around them, it lays on others like wings of lead. They almost look normal, and then terrible realization settles in.

And don’t you tell me how much worse it could be. I have no ears for such consolation prizes. This is The United States of America three years away from the new millennium, not Germany seven years from the half-way mark. This is a money crime. My uncle could have committed rape, murder, or abduction and been given a sentence half as long as this. 

Fuck this system.

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