Incarcerated men have an escape in dreams of degrees.
Four solid concrete walls surrounded me. The uninviting barriers were getting closer and closer as the days went on. The deep scratches in the dull gray paneling around me served as a harsh reminder of past struggles. The overwhelming scent of body odor and cheap disinfectant polluted the air vents. Sunlight was like rain in California, a rare occurrence. The steel two-piece set connected to the wall, functioned as both a toilet and sink: a one-stop shop if you will. The thunderous flushing sound could be heard throughout the tier almost as if they wanted to flush your dreams and lives away. The paint chipped ceiling offered words of encouragement from past tenants. Pictures of loved ones and missed memories flooded the remaining wall space. Calendars hung down like reefs during Christmas season. Little “X” marks covered the calendar like a kid counting down days ’til summer vacation. A solid, steel door reminded me daily of my past blunders.
Like gladiators anticipating battle, my community waited for their steel doors to clang open. A man would walk by and open our cages like a zoo-keeper, letting his animals get a taste of freedom. Once the creatures were out, one couldn’t help but notice the uneasiness in the air. Lost souls wandered around aimlessly looking for a glimpse of hope or joy. Faces filled with despair; a daily reminder to keep your guard up, would walk by in the form of two shiny black eyes. The outcasts with smiles on their faces had a slight hop in their step as if they were headed in the right direction.
Stepping out of my oasis into the danger zone, familiar faces emerged and handshakes were exchanged. Like kids on recess, laughs and smiles are shared over past stories and future plans. Huddled around the bolted steel tables, cards and dominos are slapped down as the intensity picks up. There was an electricity in the air that rivaled a prize boxing match. I glanced around and saw life in these beasts: smiles, jokes and high fives were being tossed around. I watched as one creature offered to help feed a younger creature who might’ve not had enough to eat the night before. A smile crept on the young face as he chewed on the food he had received.
On the opposite side of the day room, OG’s sat in the center of an oval-shaped circle. Away from the chaos and poison of other savages, the OG’s sat and offered advice and support to those willing to listen. OG’s stands for “Original Gangster,” someone who has lived the life before. A veteran of the streets.
Bad breath and poor hygiene filled the circle, but no one seemed to care. We went around as if we were in an AA meeting admitting to our mistakes and problems. We all shared the same four words as we started to speak, “I messed Up, but…” The OG’s served as the counselors, listening and responding. Missing teeth and hair, the OG’s were not short on knowledge. They spoke directly from their hearts and past experiences pausing every now and then to catch their breaths. The occasional laugh would erupt when one outcast would share their future plans and someone would crack up at how far-fetched it sounded. These group meetings served faith and hope like a buffet line serving hot food and these young souls were hungry.
I left the group with goosebumps covering my skin. I looked around at my environment and soaked it all in. I made it back to my cell right before count to find my cellmate Sua, daydreaming over a magazine of Hawaii.
He looked up and said,” What’s up, Ty? You look happy today.”
I paused before saying, “ Oh, you know.. Just another day in Paradise brotha. I had a dream last night, I’d get out of here and get my degree. You know, do good for once.”
Sua laughed to himself before saying, “ That’s dope bro. You know what they say, though, Once a convict… Always a Convict.”