The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from handwritten letters by our correspondent “Leather,” who is currently serving a sentence because of charges related to a family dispute, subsequent warrants, and the labyrinthian carceral state in general. Leather was previously incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Prison but has recently been transferred to a facility in Ferriday.
The Loneliest Place on Earth
For this topic I would like to start with a simple exercise, and the exercise is to find the darkest closet in your house. Go in it, close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears so you can’t hear anything, and relax for a few minutes. Now tell me what’s the biggest emotions you feel? You will all feel different but one of the biggest emotions you will feel is loneliness. Like millions of Americans, loneliness is one of my biggest fears, and one I face right now because of incarceration. And I’ve faced it a lot in my years here on earth. It’s sad and painful. But this is one of the fears you’ll have to face if you’re ever incarcerated, because when you’re behind bars your mind starts to play tricks on you. You’ve been taken away from your life as you knew it. You have to deal with the loss of your job, family, friends. If you don’t have a good support system, the truth of the matter is these walls, bars, and glass have a way of mentally messing with your mind. You have all kinds of thoughts, thoughts you never had before: forgetting your favorite songs, forgetting people’s names you’ve known all your life, forgetting your kids’ birthdays. It’s crazy.
But so many people can’t handle being locked up like an animal, because when you’re locked up, you’re often locked out. This is why so many inmates attempt to kill themselves. This is also why so many are on medicine. Because once the judge gives you time, the minute he strikes the gavel your mind frame changes. As you walk out the courtroom, you can feel a part of your life taken away. And this is for inmates with short time. Imagine if you’re ever 40 with 20 plus years, it feels like your life is over and that’s if you’re guilty. Just imagine if you’re innocent or wrongfully convicted, this will really give you an empty feeling.
There’s people who never shake back from this experience, even though you’re incarcerated with a variety of people, sorry to say, but none of whom you can trust. You can’t trust the courts, you can’t trust lawyers, and once you’re in jail you can’t trust the guards, and you surely can’t trust no inmate. This is why this is the loneliest place on Earth. There’s a stage where you even question if you can trust yourself. The people on the outside, your family and friends seem not to be in your corner. Most of the time this ain’t the case. It’s just fear of everybody who you ever loved, or who ever loved you will abandon you, move on, forget about you, or die on you. This causes changes in your thinking. If you don’t have a strong mind you’ll lose all sense of thought. This is when you start becoming a product of your habitat, starting to feel that loneliness is normal. A lot of inmates try to kill the loneliness with church, exercise, start getting involved in homosexual activities. Some inmates form intimate relationships with the guards. These relationships are one-sided. Inmates start having feelings for the female guards, willing to fight if another inmate looks at her. These inmates start to hallucinate. This is how lonely the mind gets. They’re so desperate for human companionship that they can’t grasp reality. They can’t tell right from wrong, up from down, what’s good and what’s bad.
Here is where self-compassion is important. You see, self-compassion is an attitude that involves a certain set of feelings, thoughts, motives, desires, urges, and behaviors that can be directed towards any living thing (e.g. ourselves, another person, a group of people). Therefore, when we talk about self-compassion we are specifying that this attitude is being directed internally towards ourself. This involves being aware of our own pain and suffering, but most inmates don’t do this because it is not something we are taught about or talk about a lot, because the idea of self-compassion can carry some negative connotations. Most men I’ve come in contact with think this is soft or too “touchy feely” and often fall into a state of depression.
And on top of that, once you’re in prison they make sure they ship you 4 to 5 hours away from the parish you catch your charge in. For lots of people they can’t make that trip to visit their loved ones, because it costs money, time off work, etc. Just another way to make sure you are lonely. Because in my case there was 30 guys shipped after 14 days quarantine. We were all split up and put in small dorms that hold 70 inmates. This dorm is general population with inmates from all over Louisiana. Right now I’m in Ferriday, La. I’ve never heard of this place, and I don’t know anybody here, which proves jail is the loneliest place in the world.
Its concept is by design. There’s a term inmates use when the walls start closing in and some inmates say the walls start talking to them. Some lose their minds. This is why jail has become more like mental health institutions. This is why jails employ so many social workers. This is why everybody is on medication. I’ve been there so I know firsthand. This is also why so many inmates fall into a state of depression, a feeling of abandonment by everybody you ever trusted, making everyday living hard, in some cases impossible. This is why I say this is the loneliest place in the world. Not even your own imagination can get you out of this state of mind.
It brings me great pain knowing I’m locked up with thousands of other people who feel this way. Most people don’t know this but if you spend a certain amount of time in jail, you’re automatically eligible for government assistance when you get out, because you’re not fit for society. It’s because very few prisons offer rehabilitation, mostly just dead time. I’ve been locked up a year and a half just to go to D.O.C. camp and I’m only being housed in another Parish’s county jail that gets paid off for every inmate they house for Orleans Parish.
So remember, when you’re talking to someone who’s been incarcerated, keep in mind they come from a cold, dark, and lonely place. Prison: The Loneliest Place in the World.