As told by Inmate 61489220
Incarceration is probably one of the bleakest existences to be foisted upon a human being. I’m not saying it’s not well deserved in most cases but still, the grayness is almost unbearable. Everything available to delight an individual disappears. The absence of color is the first thing you notice. Clothing, walls, floors, even the food. I’m not sure how they do it, but the food is gray also. I concluded they do this intentionally to make life as miserable as possible. Even the taste of food is gray in prison. And, of course, intimacy with another human being is gone but not forgotten. It’s the not forgotten part that drives you closer to insanity. You don’t realize how important it is to be touched and held by another human being until it is no longer available.
I was allowed two visitors a month but they had to be family. About a year into my stay with the Federal Government, I received a note from my brother advising that he and his family along with my mother were moving out of state and would no longer be able to visit. It was sad news, but in a way I was glad. It was humiliating to see them ‘out there’ from where I was and would be for a very long time. The pain in my mother’s eyes was more than I could endure. It was better this way … for them.
Even my name, John Phillip Morgan, was forgotten. I was just a number now.
But there was one bright spot I initially mistook as meanness. The cell next to mine was at the end of the block and for some reason, it had a window high up. Nick was the name of the inmate who occupied this cell. He didn’t have much to say except when he stood on his table and gazed out of the window. He spent many hours during daylight and sometimes after lights-out, gazing out of that window and mumbling to himself.
At first, I thought he was just lording it over me … he had a window and I didn’t. After a while I decided I might have it wrong so, one day I asked him, “Nick, what are you looking at?”
“Oh, just things.”
“Come on … what things?”
“There’s the park just outside the fence and the river. Mostly sailing boats but occasionally large boats go by.”
“What about the park?”
“There are lots of trees and a baseball diamond. And there are plenty of children playing. Bicycle riding, jump rope … that sort of thing.” The day we heard hammer blows on wood, he looked out of the window. “They’re building some kind of a stand with a roof … probably for musicians on holidays.”
“I asked so many questions he just began telling me everything he saw. He especially liked to tell me of the young couple who showed up regularly on the riverbank. They would sometimes take their clothes off and go swimming. They never wore swimsuits. Nick delighted in describing both of them, how beautiful they were and they seemed to be very much in love with one another.
I became so melancholy when he talked about them, I finally asked him to stop. He did stop until I couldn’t stand it any longer and asked him to tell me more about them which he seemed happy to do. When summer faded into autumn, they stopped coming to the riverside. We assumed they had gone away to college.
Prospects of a bleak winter loomed before me. But that turned out not to be true. There were all sorts of activates right up to the year-end holidays.
At night he would look up at the stars and tell me about the various constellations as they moved across the horizon. He managed to obtain a book on stars from the prison library and became quite knowledgeable. He would go on about the various planets in our solar system and what life must be like. Of course, he was guessing but he did such a good job, it was almost believable.
When spring arrived he did such a great job of describing nature coming to life in the Park across the way, I became jealous. I found myself wanting to be at that window so I could see all the things he was seeing … for myself.
The days and nights became bearable with Nick’s running tableau of what was happing out there. The next year passed quickly until the summer arrived and the young couple he spoke of earlier were married in the Park. It was such a wonderful catered affair, we talked about it for days after it ended.
And then one day, Nick slept in which was not like him. When the chow call came he still didn’t get up. I called him several times but he didn’t stir. Finally, one of the guards came into his cell and quickly left. Two guards came in with a stretcher and took Nick away. I asked what had happened but did not get an answer. Several days later, word came through the grapevine that Nick had died.
The first thing that jolted through my mind was his empty cell. I asked my regular guard about being moved.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Yes, it is.”
He said he’d look into it for me. I hate to admit it, but I was glad Nick had died. I couldn’t wait to be able to have that window at my disposal anytime I pleased. It was an agonizing month before the guard stopped by and told me my request had been granted. I would be moving the next day.
There was a flurry of activity early the next morning as my meager belongings were transferred to my new cell, and finally, the cell door was closed. It was done. I moved the table against the wall, jumped onto it and looked out of the window. It only took a few seconds before I began screaming, “NO! NO! NO! LIAR! … LIAR! … … LIAR!”
I sank to my hands and knees on the table top and sobbed uncontrollably. There was no park, no children, no bike riding, no jump rope, and no river. No nothing except a blank gray wall. I swore at Nick, cursed him to an eternity in hell and sank into a funk the depths of which I never thought possible. It was all a lie.
When the guard came by, I grabbed the bars of the cell and whispered through gritted teeth, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
His sympathetic answer was, “Would you have believed me?” He continued his round, leaving me alone in my never-ending gray world. I mourned for days until the door from my old cell opened and the guard ushered in a new inmate. After he settled in, he came to the cell wall, “Hi. I’m Charlie.”
I told him my name and answered his questions about the prison routine. And then he said something I didn’t expect.
“Hey, you’ve got a window. What’s the view like?”
I was on the verge of telling him when it struck me what Nick had been doing and why the guard had not told me the truth. I realized what I had to do whether I liked it or not, but I was determined to do a better job of it than Nick or anyone else.
“It’s a view of the park across the road and the river bank. There’s a lot of activity all year round.” The words were hardly out of my mouth when music from musicians practicing in the park came through the window. “Oh, that’s the new gazebo they just built for the local musicians.” I was only guessing but that’s all Nick ever did.
“Gee. That’s great. Anything to break the bleakness of this place. Do you spend much time looking out of the window?”
“Yeah, I try to keep up on what’s going on.”
“Boy, I would sure appreciate it if you’d describe what you’re seeing.”
“Hey, no problem, I’d be glad to. Makes the time go by faster.”
“That’s great. Thanks a lot.”
“You bet.” I jumped onto the table top and began describing my first of many scenarios.
“Do you ever look out at night?”
“Yes, I do, but I don’t know much about stars and that sort of thing.”
“Maybe the library has some books. I studied it a little when I was in school.”
“I’m sure they do. Put a request in when the book cart comes around.”
“I will. Thanks.”
Somehow the grayness didn’t seem so bleak now that I had a way of adding a little color to it. I looked out of the window and thanked Nick for all his beautiful lies. My hope is that I can lie as well as he did, perhaps better. What a beautiful soul he is. My only regret was finding it out when it was too late. Perhaps he knows, now that he’s free.