Terror in an Imagined Nightmare
This past week, a friend of mine was told he had a visitor at the prison to see him. He hadn’t been expecting a visit because he knew the loved ones that normally visited him were not able to that day. Naturally, he immediately imagined the worst. After all, as wonderful as prison visits are from loved ones, visits are also when many prisoners find out really bad news from friends or family, because some news is better delivered face-to-face. Fortunately for my friend, his worst imagined scenarios weren’t true–rather, his son who he hadn’t seen in eleven years came for a surprise visit. Nevertheless, hearing this story reminded me that because of our separation from those we love and care about, many prisoners, including me, naturally live with an undercurrent of worry that something bad will happen and that we will be powerless to do anything about it. Even though we would likely be powerless to do anything even if we were free, we are restricted from supporting other family members, or joining in communal grieving, and even communal celebrations in the good times. That sense of powerlessness is one of the hardest parts of prison.

In my first year or two in prison, I was busy working in the prison kitchen when an officer told me I had to go back to my unit immediately. He said the unit counselor needed to see me. Since unit counselors generally wait until prisoners are in their unit to see them on routine issues, I was rather terrified about what he was about to tell me. As my friend recently had, I too imagined the worst possible scenarios. When I arrived at my unit, imagine my relief to find out that another prisoner had gotten locked in my cell while trying to rob me of my property. I was called back to the unit simply to tell the officers if anything was missing (there wasn’t). Of course, this news upset me, but I was so relieved that nothing had happened to my loved ones that my anger at what had happened is barely memorable. In fact, several years later when I ran into the would-be robber’s homeboy who was supposed to hold my cell door open to facilitate the robbery, I didn’t even remember him. My imagined terror at what could have happened had clouded the details of what had really happened. 

Some people might call it poetic justice that prisoners experience this incessant undercurrent of worry about their loved ones. After all, the harm many prisoners caused others often lasts for years, sometimes even a lifetime. Others might be surprised to know that prisoners even care about their loved ones–after all, they didn’t put much thought into how their crime would affect them. I suppose these thoughts are valid, but they fail to consider the humanity of the prisoners themselves. Even men and women who are convicted of some of the worst crimes still love others and are loved by others. Yet, for many reasons these same people have harmed someone, often even someone they love. 

A prisoner’s worry about his family is a likely consequence of crime. He can do nothing about the ravages of time while he is locked away, nor can he do anything about accidents and tragedies that befall his loved ones. Still, he goes on loving, and sometimes being loved, and when you love people you sometimes worry about them, even if they aren’t an active part of your life. It’s simply human nature. Just because someone commits a crime doesn’t make them any less human. Broken, yes, but even broken people worry about those they love–and hope and pray for peace, health, and happiness, for them, and for those whom they have harmed.

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Author: Bryan Noonan
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.