Nothing fills a room like emptiness. And though there may be a chair in the room or a stainless steel fountain with a toilet below it; and though there may be place to lie down, or a spot to rest or sleep—like a narrow bed or a hard wooden bench, there is equally nothing around but a bricked room of incarceration.
There is a floor and a flat ceiling. The walls are flat and so is the closed door where at eye-level, a small glass window intertwines diagonally with wire mesh in the plate glass, which is also as flat as the time you serve. In here, time in itself, becomes anonymous to the world and so does the man in a cage. Outside, the sky changes color. Outside, the sky has dimension and the world has depth and clarity. Outside, the air is fresh and comes with the smell of different seasons; such as fallen leaves in autumn or evergreens in winter. Summer comes with the smells from the beach.
One could close their eyes and smell these things like ocean or the scent of coconut tanning oil and they could imagine the cries of gulls hovering over the curling waves or children playing in the sand. One could connect this idea to the thought little kids building sand castles in the sand or running from the shore and jumping in the shallow waves with a mother or father not far behind them.
Inside, however, locked away where you find yourself, natural light is reconstructed. Air is re-fabricated and synthetic. Color loses its crispness to fading memory and the familiar touch of a woman, or anything soft, like silk to the skin or strands of long hair as it crosses a man’s face during a kiss have all vanished and become nothing but faded and painful memory
Inside: this is where names become numbers and people become case files. Inside, men become statistics. Outside, children are born and inside, life slips away. Out in the world, a young girl takes her first step. A young boy learns his first words. A kid learns to ride a bicycle and how to throw a ball. A girl finds her first crush and a boy meets a girl to land his first kiss. Time does not stop on the outside. Life happens and people grow. Whereas, on the inside life slows down to a confined space, outside continues to grow and evolve.
Placed in a cell, there is nothing but letters describing real life on the outside and on occasion, there are the kind gestures of donations to your commissary. There is nothing but pictures, which lack the dimension of touch and reality.
Inside, there is nothing but hollow time and emptiness.
I had the chance to speak with someone about the time they served.
“I’m finally out,” he said
“And I’m never going back to that place.”
“What did you miss the most when you were away?”
He answered, “My son.”
He said, “That was my little man. He was a little more than two when I left.”
“What did you miss most about him?”
“Everything,” he said.
“I missed everything about him. He had this little laugh when he saw me. And he always smiled when I came into the room.”
“You wanna try something?”
“Sure,” he agreed.
I told my friend, “Close your eyes for a second,”
He shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and then he exhaled.
“I want you to picture a moment together with your son and see his face exactly as it was before you went away.”
His head lifted. His chin rose slightly. A gentle smile appeared on his face as he gathered a thought. He inhaled almost like he was trying to inhale the aroma of his memory.”
“Do you have something pictured in your mind?”
He smiled, “I got one.”
“Can you see it?”
“Yeah, I can see it.”
“Can you describe it to me?”
“I took him fishing once. I took my boy like my father did with me when I was a kid. It was cold outside so I dressed him up in his big down jacket and his knitted hat. He was smiling the entire time. I think it was the biggest smile I had ever seen.”
Still with his eyes closed, my friend relived his memory.
“Do you see him looking at you?”
My friend answered, “Yeah.”
“I can see him. He’s reaching towards me with his arms out so I can help him get his line in the water.”
My friend took a deep breath from his nose.
“Is he happy?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s happy?”
“Is he smiling?”
A tear of emotion welled in the corner of my friend’s eyes.
“Yeah, he’s smiling.”
“Good,” I told him.
“Now tell me what happens to your boy’s smile when you tell him you have to go back to prison.”
Quickly, the loving expression of his face changed. It sunk, as if the spirit in his heart and the air in his lungs had been taken away.
“He’s crying now.”
“He’s crying for his Daddy.”
My friend opened his eyes and looked at me. Had I not been a friend to him, I suppose he would have struck me. Had I not been a friend, I suppose he would have taken a charge at me to beat me or to pulverize me for making him feel that way.. But because I was a friend, he understood that although my words were sharp, the intent was not to cut him with insults. Because I am a friend, I told him the truth because this is what friends do and I would rather have him as a success story instead of another tragedy.
All I did was explain the truth. This is what would happen if he didn’t change. Not halfway change, or change a little bit; this is what would happen if he did not turn his life around.
I explained, “The day you go back to that life is the day your name becomes a number again.”
I told him, “The day you give in is the same day your son becomes fatherless again.”
I told him, “There is a word for damages like this. And that word is irreparable. That means the damage you cause can never be fixed. Never! And as soon as you go back to that ‘Shit’ this is exactly what will happen to that little boy that wants nothing else but for you to love him.”
I explained, “The idea of redemption only comes on so many occasions.”
“You only get so many chances,” I said.
He seemed to agree.
Then I asked, “What will you do with this chance?”
I told him, “Remember, nothing fills a room like emptiness unless you and choose to fill your life with something else.”
“So choose wisely,” I told him.
“There are too many people that will miss you when you’re gone.”
He stayed out for a while.
He stayed clean for a while too but that was then . . .
this is now