"One aspect of incarceration that couldn't be guessed is the degree to which our physical absence disrupts our interpersonal relationships. Prior to entering the prison system, I had a robust social network. I knew a lot of people and I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, going to parties and getting involved in activities that most young people experience. At the time, I believed my relationships were stable and that somehow we'd always be connected. I thought I had a lot of real friends and people I could count on no matter what, but today I know differently. Remember the phrase, 'Outta sight, outta mind?' It alludes to the idea that once visual/physical contact is broken, the relationship itself is broken. This is precisely what many of us in prison experience during our incarceration. Of course, this outta sight, outta mind dynamic is not unique to prison but there's something about experiencing it while incarcerated that makes its impact so much more dramatic. In my case, it felt that as my relationships deteriorated, so did my capacity to have meaning in the outside world. I felt as though my friendships helped me maintain a sense of relevancy in life, and as a result I found myself trying desperately to hold onto friends and things we had in common. However, as my sentence progressed so did the distance between the friends I once cherished and me. Slowly but surely my physical absence whittled away at my relationships until my once vibrant social network was reduced to me, myself, and I. For years, I put on a front like I wasn't affected by what was happening, but inside I agonized over the loss of my friends. I ended up feeling disconnected, like I no longer mattered to anyone in the outside world. Today, after 18 years in prison, I have no contact with any of the people I called friends when I began my incarceration; they've all moved on with their lives and so have I. The only relationships I have strong enough to endure the 'outta sight, outta mind' dynamic are the relationships with my family. For this I am truly grateful because I don't know where I'd be without the unconditional love and support of my family. I think the toughest part of all is that I have a life sentence and I don't know if/when I'll ever have the opportunity to develop a friendship, romance, or any other meaningful relationship outside of prison again. Pretty much everyone I know or could come close to knowing is in prison. Couple this with all the uncertainty of prison life and the mistrust associated with prison culture, I've found it virtually impossible to really get to know anyone in here well enough to call them a 'friend.' For me, true friendship in prison has been a fleeting illusion to be pursued but yet to be attained. Perhaps one day that will change but as it stands, I guess you could say I'm a loner just doing my best, where I am, with what I have despite being 'outta sight, and outta mind'" (Source).
"The first thing that surprised me about prison was the monotony. Every weekday is more or less identical -- week after week, month after month, and yes, year after year after year. The routine numbs you. It grinds you down like a persistent, hacking cough. Eventually, it also erases your sense and understanding of time itself. Everyone's clothes are the same. The cells are the same. The chow schedule is the same. The food, though, is a rotating variation of the same things, over and over again. You go to work at the same time every day. You go to rec at the same time. You shower at the same time. The TVs come on and are turned off the same times each and every day. For some, it's comforting, predictable. For others, however, it is maddening. The monotony erodes your individuality until you no longer exists. You have a number. Some people have similar or identical names, but no one has the same number. Routine...routine...and then some more routine. The second thing I did not expect turned out to be the people. Yeah, I expected 'bad' people. But I didn't expect so many of them to be of 'diminished capacity.' Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are a lot of folks in prison making very stupid decisions. I don't have anything against someone not being the proverbial sharpest knife in the drawer. But when you have make social calculations based on the likelihood of someone doing something monumentally inappropriate or stupid, it makes life more complicated than it has to be" (Source).
"One aspect is the amazing amount of talent in prison. There are many people here not just talented, but very intelligent. I know for example, one individual who has been incarcerated since the late 60s, an African American man. He started his time in Illinois, and then was extradited to California. He should be on the outside because he would easily fit in on 'Washington This Week' or 'Nightly Business Report' on PBS. He could outshine those renowned political and international policy experts with ease, and he's very well read! There are multi instrumentalists (including myself) who can even break down complex jazz arrangements. You have amazing painters and artists, poets extraordinaire, and proficient writers. San Quentin is unique because of the many programs here, inmates can cultivate these talents. There are electronics experts, computer experts, and masters of law, even doctors. Prison contains all kinds of people; it's not all stereotyped tattooed convicts and gangbangers. As a matter of fact, many of these talented people are those 'convicts' and 'gangbangers.' Never judge a book by its cover especially in prison" (Source).
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