All Things Crime Blog has been posting excerpts from Nicholas Frank’s book, Destructive Justice, in which he tells the story of how his 17-year-old son, Nathan, received several life sentences for an armed robbery in which no one was injured. Now, we here at ATCB have been asked to post articles by Nathan himself (whose real name is Tyler). It turns out that there’s more than one good writer in the family.
by Tyler (May 18, 2014)
I awake to the usual sound of toilets flushing. A population of men going about their daily rituals and morning processes. With my eyes remaining closed, I begin to focus on and separate each distinctive noise. I hear the “yard door” open and close, followed by the “grill-gate” (heavy metal bars) informing me that shift change is taking place for the Correctional Officers. A new batch of custody staff, here to begin their own hours of concrete confinement. I know that just like us (convicts), some of those personnel will be irritable, angry, happy, alert, sluggish, and overall not pleased to be here – a wide variety of emotion and personalities for all to contend with.
A man is coughing. It doesn’t sound good. A hacking of the chest, implying medical problems. In fact, there is always a man coughing. Everywhere I have been for the past eleven-plus years, there has been a “cougher of the morning.”
My ears pick up the sound of an argument. Another constant, two men packed into a small space takes work. Irritability does not follow a schedule and oftentimes greets you with a hardy “Good Morning!” Hopefully, the disagreement is minor, preventing an escalation of the situation to something more serious.
My own living companion blissfully sleeps on. I know this to be true because of the pattern of his breathing. Light and quiet, but methodical.
How do I know this? Or better yet, why do I know this?
Hell, habit I suppose. When living a life of close quarters and the experiences from those confines, you pay close attention to detail. It is now second nature to me, something I notice without effort.
I squeeze my eyes shut and forcefully throw the covers off of me. Rise and Shine!
My bare feet hit the cold concrete floor. The constants just keep on coming.
I wash my face and run warm water through my hair. Brush my teeth, pull on my broke-in elastic waistband pants and tie my old worn-out work boots. The day is starting and I have goals to accomplish and daily chores to get through. All-in-all, I am alive, life is life, and I’ve got to live it.
What does that mean? Well, in prison it can mean many different things. To be honest it’s all in how you look at it…
At the age of seventeen I began my life of incarceration. In those early years, my mental thought process was survival and little else. For years I survived one attack on my life after another. My gang ties and alliances created a hostile environment that was unique even to prison. Thankfully, I grew to detest the person I had become. The person my father had raised me to be was finally emerging, and with it a change in my surroundings took place. It was time to live, not just exist.
Here is where the concept can become tricky. How, in an environment like prison, can one live a life?
I do not need a job, for the institution will provide shelter, water, clothing and (debatably) food – “debatably” because “they” call it food. We don’t.
What is the point of education, higher learning and furthering my studies if I have “life” in this hell-hole? Why should I work on myself and on who I want to become as a man if I will never find friends who don’t want to use and manipulate me? If I can’t have love or freedom or time with my family?
So…No job, no career, no friends, family, love or freedom. Where is life in that? I asked my dad that very question. My father has told me so many things that I will never forget. One of them pertains to exactly this. With despair and hopelessness, life did not seem feasible.
Here is what he told me…
“Son, no matter where you are, that is where your life is. It might not be the life you want or the life you would choose, but life is life. Whatever the circumstances are, you can still find meaning within them.”
This made sense. I had only to look at my life from a different perspective. If I have no job, I will create one for myself. I will try to bring purpose to my life through deeds and accomplishments, goals… I will work on self-improvement. Bettering and improving the way I think and live, and hopefully in so doing impact my surroundings.
Because these are the fundamentals of life. To learn new things, to improve as a person, to have responsibility, work-ethic and discipline.
That is life with meaning. No matter where you are, that is important.
With those basics, my way of being became fuller, much more rich and purposeful.
Surprises began to take place. I started to experience genuine friendship, even if it was few and far. Family had a level of depth and familiarity not felt since childhood. And as for love and freedom? Well, I still have a long life ahead of me.
With my work boots tied, I turn my prison cell light on. The metal door is electronically opened and the population proceeds to the chow hall to partake in some of the “fine dining cuisine.” The chow hall is loud and crowded with convicts – a small roar of voices overseen by officers with assault rifles.
Yup – the day has started and so have I.
Click here to view Tyler’s previous post:
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