As I write this piece, March Madness is taking place. It is 7 am and my fellow prisoners are gathered in the dayroom of the Cayuga Correctional Facility around a flatscreen TV, reliving last night’s basketball game. The final score was tallied eight hours ago, but the men are still fighting for points and disputing calls. Last night, a battle took place on the basketball court and in the dayroom. Men cheered, jeered, shouted and cursed.
Because it was still too dark in the dorm room to write—on the weekends, the lights don’t come on until 2 pm—I chose the dayroom, a raucous romper room of men watching sports, arguing and playing dominoes by slamming the plastic tiles down onto a Formica table. Here, even chess is a trash-talking contact sport.
Prisons are not set up to inspire writers; I have few choices of where to put down my piece of paper and write. That’s the whole idea of prison rehabilitation—limit the choices and temptations that daily life offers, and hopefully, men will learn to make the right decisions. But the reality is that many of us simply find a way to get what we want. Prison makes us smarter criminals.
Medium-security prisons offer many advantages over maximum-security prisons, but privacy, quiet and solitude are not among them. Sixty men are housed in a dorm at Cayuga, and for my first two months there, I had no desk or chair. My five neighbors were 30 inches from my face. I was in a double-bunk cubicle with two steel bunk beds, two metal lockers and 24 inches of “free” space. My bunkie had to leave the cubicle every time I sat on the bed.
Eventually, I was assigned a single cubicle, which offers a steel bed with an ultrathin “mattress,” a chair and two small lockers. It is delineated by four-foot-high metal partitions, the kind normally used to form bathroom stalls. Sometimes I write in the cubicle now, on top of my locker, in the shadows, as men snore through their ESPN hangovers. From a distance, I listen to the dayroom dialogue—the phrasing, expressions, prison slang—and catch myself repeating sentences out loud to remember them, to practice their sounds.
Link to the rest @ LitHub … My Beautiful Oubliette: The Difficulty of Being a Writer in Prison
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