First night Inside

The entrance was set within an architecturally grand exterior of towers and crenellations like never-built Californian castles. Dirty cream towers with vertical stripes of brown bossed stone. Oblique rays of a sinking sun glittered up the bay. Wanded, signatured, stamped, we were let past the thick and clicking gates into the central court. Through warm early-evening air I walked in across the yard. Guys everywhere, eyes our direction. Three hours later, I walked out through cold night, and stared up at the walls – walls higher and more massive than any I’d ever seen. They glowed chalky-white in the low light of intermittent lamps. Their surfaces were all a-crumble. I found the deterioration at once lovely and heartbreaking.

It was strange, how un-strange I felt being Inside. I felt sort of movie-midst. Like maybe it was all a Hollywood set. Like the huge silver coils of barbed wire running atop the forty-foot perimeter wouldn’t actually cut me if somehow they chanced to graze my skin. Like maybe I wasn’t even real – instead, I was a collection of pixels dancing on some television screen, resembling a person to the person out there in reality watching me.

Not so for the ones who couldn’t leave. For the ones in the state-issued blues and greys, faded from decades of use. Those for whom life on the Outside was a glorious, wavery and remote dream. For them, the decaying fortress walls held no aesthetic interest. They were mundane, ugly, a wearying reminder. Inside: ones who were justly punished. Rapists and serial killers. Men insane and consumed by unremitting anger. Men confined to the Adjustment Center. Men on Death Row.

Also Inside: ones unjustly punished. The ghetto-born, latchkey-and-beaten-children-turned-teenage-drug-dealers-and-gang members who, because of their dark faces and harsh, ill-timed legislation, ended up with twenty-five-to-life…so that here they sit now, in our classroom, men in their forties and fifties, gingerly taking their first steps down the path towards a degree…terrified to be back in school after so many years…soaked in anxiety, skepticism, self-doubt. They respond to our spirited encouragement with looks veiled and bewildered. They say thank you after every paper we hand them. They have idea none how much they will learn, and how quickly.

~ by kingzoko on May 6, 2014.

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