{short description of image}

f r o m   t h e   i n s i d e

prison essayist Anthony Lee Brown


The nightly journey to sleep frequently ends with the desire to throttle the evasive Sandman rather than travel with him through dreamland. If you consider that my daytime world is very similar to the Twilight Zone, you can understand the emotions involved in having my nighttime world seem like a bad dream before I ever get to sleep. My cell is one of thirty-two, stacked sixteen on sixteen, lining two outside walls of a large triangular room, surrounding a large common area that contains steel tables and seats bolted to the floor, a television bolted to the bottom of the second tier walkway, three telephones bolted to the wall, and a pool table too big and too heavy to need bolting to the floor. I am one of forty-eight men living in this space, and while I am blessed to have a sell of my own, I am still influenced by the others who live here, especially around bedtime each night. Some of the men, like me, work in Industries on a very regimented schedule. Still others have jobs beginning and ending in looser time frames at all hours of the day and night. Many, however, and it often seems to be the majority, have no jobs or schedules beyond their own biological clocks, and the desire to have their waking hours occupied by time-passing activities. These activities in the late hours are the Sandman's joke on me.

Each night around 10:30 I pull my door closed and it seems the volume of activity and noise doubles, as if the grating clang of my door locking closed is some kind of signal for the festivities to begin. Dominoes smash twice as hard onto metal table-tops, the cue ball skips across the concrete floor from table base to table base after smashing the racked balls into random patterns across the pool table, and all the participants, and onlookers too, 'play the dozens,' as the shouting of poetic insults about one's nature, capacities or heritage is called. And, of course, the television-watchers have to turn up the volume to hear over the shouting, the clanging and the banging.

I usually begin the ritual of sleep-seeking with music or recorded nature sounds played just loud enough to cover the racket that assails my door. Headphones would be perfect, but years of living in unsafe places with dangerous people makes me unable to relax, much less sleep, if I can't hear what is happening directly around me. But with the sound of rain falling in a bubbling country stream spattering quietly over the vocal clamoring of one man decrying his fate at the hands of another man's mother, I crawl into my bunk to browse a magazine until the tension fades and my eyelids begin to grow heavy.

Knock! Knock! Knock! "Hey Bro," a neighbor hollers into the door jamb, "Can I see that when you're done?" That bastard, no doubt returning to his own cell after an evening of 'dozens' and dominos, has glanced into my window and seen the girl on the cover of the book I'm gazing at. Of course by the time I hear his voice the adrenaline is already blasting into my bloodstream and the look on my face is enough to clear his face from the glass.

Eventually, though, 11:30 lock-down comes and all the noises fall into a silence that is nearly as loud. Silence it is, though, and I lay my book down. It's not that late, but I'm feeling that lazy-lidded, no-more-reading, drowsy kind of feeling. Sleepiness becomes a warm and safe and comfortable place, people by my wife and family, and friends who love me. I turn one hip away from the hard mattress and settle onto the other one. My hands fluff up my pillow, then come to rest before me and across my chest. And from far, far away, moving closer and closer, I hear him. The Sandman is coming. It's a sleepy sound that I can't quite recognize but hear better and better as the silence of the cell block draws nearer and nearer. Oh no, not again! It's not the Sandman at all. It's that 35 horsepower chainsaw snore from my neighbor on the other side of the megaphone metal wall that my bunk is welded to.

Is it any wonder that eighty-percent of the people in prison come back? Each day's rehabilitative process is kicked back to square one each night as the desire to spill blood, even if only that of the Sandman, is kindled anew.

Discuss in the Eclectica Forum! -or- read previous columns From the Inside

GoTo TOCE-Mail the AuthorRandom Link!