Writing from Prison
by Todd Newmiller
Originally published in Newspeak, February 2007
Trying to strike words on the forge of paper, if not sparks of inspiration. Kool Mo Dee’s birthday today. Also the anniversary of Hetfield’s flesh-melting horror. Just another day of confinement for me, my mind wondering at the meaning of it all. I’ve got to believe this is all happening to some end, but gazing into this life, this reflection of the will of the cosmos, imperfect almuchefi in an imperfect existence, I can make no sense of the chaos that confronts me. How can injustice be the means of anything other than the grief of injustice that I’m experiencing now? I’ve got to use the block and tackle of this vast evil to do work to a positive end, but I also have to avoid being contaminated by the toxic nature of these hooks and chains.
Minor comforts threaten the whole operation, little things that make life tolerable providing an escape that is either enough to get me through or a distraction winding me even further away from literary accomplishment. I hate that I constantly whine in these letters about the fact that I not writing enough, I’ve got to get myself worked up to the thing. At least, that’s what I endlessly tell myself.
August 15, 2006
A whole week since I last wrote. This isn’t good. I’m trying to psyche myself up to heroic output today, though System of a Down’s "Aerials" on the radio just now, the sounds of happier times. Those times will surface again, though, even if it takes a bit of time. The fuckers have to come up for air eventually, so be ready to paddle like hell and to throw the barb strong and true.
I think I’ve got to schedule some kind of program for myself that includes reading and writing and studying and exercising. I’ll figure this damn thing out, yet. I know I haven’t been reading enough to keep me inspired, so that’s got to change.
Yesterday, a couple of guys got into a fight. One of them has a reputation for running his mouth when he’s playing chess (a white guy). Apparently he said the wrong thing to the wrong dude, because the Mexican guy he was playing against decked him right out in the middle of the day room, giving him a cut across his nose from his glasses. Then the two of them went into a cell to finish things up. The interesting thing that happened was that afterwards, one of the white guys went up into the cell with the white guy who started the whole thing and threw him around some more. The blacks guys in the pod clearly thought that was out of line and a couple of the white guys had to talk to them about how, "we regulate our own." I think that the guy catching the punches had just pissed off the wrong people and the incident became an excuse to do something they were already inclined to do. While the second beating was going on, I was standing in the day room watching some TV and waiting for lunch. I happened to be standing around some black guys, one of whom looked at me and said, "You know you’ve gotta keep clear of all that." I responded, "Oh, I know." It was troubling, but interesting.
A few minutes ago, my celly said there were a couple of guys fighting in their cell downstairs. Cellmates who are having some issues of some kind. Like I mentioned previously, my sense is that a fair amount of fighting goes on in the background here, pretty much at all times. It’s a strange culture.
So much for my riveting prison stories. It’s all pretty much the same thing over and over again. People without the restraint or social skills to avoid fighting, people with weak egos willing to go to blows over petty things, and the kind of predators that have always been pack hunters and bullies. So many marginally functional people.
Watching Team USA playing some international basketball against South Korea. Not exactly a fair matchup. And just the kind of "sporting event" Americans like to watch. Maybe in the end, that’s what will get the American people sorted out on the Bush administration – the fact that in Iraq they’ve fucked up what they promised would be a thorough trouncing on international play. But maybe it’ll just be raising gas prices. You just know the ultimate reason will be something petty and idiotic, though.
September 4, 2006
I’ve been really unsteady with the writing. Damn leviathanic shenanigans.
I never would have imagined that, at the age of thirty-two, I’d spend the night before Labor Day darning my state-issued socks while sitting in a prison cell watching "The Mummy-Scorpion King." Go figure. So, I broke into my cheap sewing kit and have (hopefully) managed to eke a little bit more life out of these damn cheap socks. I’m a little wary of declining success, given my history with sewing, but the results at least look better than I had expected for myself. Small victories.
November 9, 2006
"I want to believe."
– The X-files
As time goes on, my feeling is one of being swallowed up more and more completely by the system. In an insidious way, getting established into any kind of schedule, falling into the kind of routine existence that makes life easier and more bearable, is terrifying. I don’t want for this to become my "normal," I don’t want to compromise my way into tolerating unhappiness, into tolerating injustice. It’s too easy to become overwhelmed by the immensity of the struggle, to let the gears of the machine grind away at your soul, at your humanity.
"This is a wicked stretch of country. It’s old and wicked with lots of laws and no justice."
– Earnest Hemingway, "The Strange Country"
This system, the prison system, is at its core fundamentally dehumanizing, but not because of the physical conditions of the institution, which are not truly so terrible once you’ve become accustomed to them. This system is dehumanizing because it’s a system that’s devoid of logic, or reason, or compassion.
December 20, 2006
"Whoever remains for long here in this earthly life will enjoy and endure more than enough."
One of the most difficult things for me to deal with (to continue to deal with) as the months go by is that the police and prosecutors and CBI analysts, all swimming in an ocean of deception and all abusing the authority entrusted to them, would have people believe that I am a liar. I think the truth is that the agents of the system project their own evil wherever they look, and so see a world in need of punishment.
I long to see the system come crashing down upon itself, the cogs in the machine ground down to nothing, chewed up by the thrashing as the critically unbalanced machine beats itself to death.
"Famous for his deeds a warrior may be, but it remains a mystery where his life will end, when he may no longer dwell in the mead-hall among his own."
The waiting has become quite frustrating, my patience for our worthlessly corrupt system swallowed up by my rage at how profoundly unprincipled and manipulative are the automatons that prop up the façade of American ideals as this country rots from within. Citizens turned into pod people, mindless and soulless machines of consumption and conformity. Welcome to Zombie America, where your humanity is just bait for the shuffling brain-eaters, de facto enforcers in our relentless pursuit of mediocrity. The system has become its own end as the people willingly enslave themselves, in service of their intellectual and moral lassitude, a pathological impulse to passivity.
I guess I’m going to call it a day for my writing output. It’s about 10:30, five hours or so ‘til I get to labor for my 23 cents/day.