Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Get Up and Do It Again

It is still dark on a Saturday morning, and Simone, the cat, snores contentedly at the foot of the bed. I want the darkness never to end, to let me remain here in half sleep. But that is not what's happening today.

Demons have pinned me to the sheets. My gut is grinding in fear. My arms and legs feel like lead, but I have to lift them, to move, to get ready to go out to the prison.

These mornings are tense at home. I am angry, irritated, in a hurry. I need to be alone with the prison that hangs over me, but Megan wants to talk, wants help with house tasks, wants, deservedly so, to have some Saturday time together.

I can't blame her, but neither can I tell her about the snakes in my head, the twisting pressure on my heart, the pending doom.

My mind speaks only curses. Something here is dangerous, better left alone. It coils, hisses, threatens.

But I turn away from the demons and give her some of the morning.

We take a bike ride to a cafe so we can make plans, have the conversations married couples have.

I try to forget.

As soon as I can, I enter the transition of going to the prison. I put on my worn-in-the-seat prison pants, shoes, conservative button-down shirt, nerdy reading glasses, and get the plastic tub that will contain the supplies that I have to pick up on the way: books, magazines, pens, dictionaries, thesauri, folders. An inmate wants a copy of Dante's Inferno.  Another wants A Course in Miracles. Another wants a book about writing poetry. Many want erotic novels like Fifty Shades of Gray or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I stop at an office supply store and a couple of used book stores. I also get something to eat. It's going to be a while before I am back out.

A waitress at the taco joint knows my routine, knows where I am going, has a relative who is incarcerated, and treats me to a drink. It's part of the Saturday ritual.

Then I head to my office at the university. There I will print out the turnout sheets, call the prison to make sure it is not locked down, and take some time to gird my loins, comfort my fears, settle in to the next four hours.

When it is time, I load the tubs, stack the inmate drafts, pin on my ID badge, and start the car. I do not listen to radio or give in to any distractions like engaging the shithead driver that just cut me off. I head south, to the industrial part of town: the belching power plant, the contaminated wells near the sprawling complexes of the defense contractors, the truck stops, trailer courts, the underbelly of Tucson.

Traffic is usually heavy when I merge onto Interstate 10. Big semis don't want to slow or move over to let me on, but I wedge my way into the stream and fly along with the river of commerce and the road.

At my exit, I feel the prisons, both federal and state. It's an energy field that extends a few miles out from the actual places. Maybe this is psychological, but it feels physical, and I am confident that someday, when we have instruments capable of measuring such things, that it will become a measurable entity.

I want to turn around, to recoil, to run, but I press ahead. Don't ask me why.

Then I am in it, and I gradually get used to it, like anyone gets used to cold water after swimming a few minutes. I shut off my personal sensibilities and simply act. I override my entitlement to a Saturday, a day off, and shut down the images things I might do: watch a game, go for a hike, ride a bike, luxuriate with a book, grade papers.

I grab the tub and rest it on my hip, like I would carrying a toddler, and head for the Main Gate.

Strangely, I am attuned to the place, notice the stunted, twisted barrel cacti, the harshly pruned, grotesque ocotillos, the flapping flag of the state of Arizona, the scraped earth. Inmates walk with a submissive deference, are polite. Guards look at me suspiciously -- "Creative Writing??" -- but do their jobs of opening the electric doors of the sally port.

I board the bus and head to Rincon, the medium high security unit. The driver watches me in the mirror; I don't know what he is looking for, and his eyes betray nothing. He opens the door, and I descend the stairs to the walkway that leads to no man's land.

I take a moment to look. I look hard, straight at my path, and meet the reality. Here is the place where men are confined, detained, broken.

But, in spite of the ubiquitous and constant theft of humanity, something endures. There glows an ember, a hunger to say what needs saying, to record, to witness, to escape, to capture a thought, turn it over in one's hand.

Then I recognize that hunger in myself, and I remember. I remember being beneath the wheel, of losing  a sense of awe, wonder, hope, trust. I remember wanting to undertake the hard work or wooing those parts back home, out of hiding.

Was it so long ago?

And I enter no man's land and realize that, yes, I have to pass through in order to reach the other side.

It seems so far to travel here in no man's land, but I pass through the razor wire not to save someone else, but to recover the lost and exiled pieces of myself. 

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