E-Mail  by Lawson Strickland   Bio/Address

How admirable,
He who thinks not, "Life is fleeting,"
When he sees the lightning!

The man in the cell next to me, whom I call "neighbor" to conjure the irony of a more suburban scene, laughs incessantly. Huge deep guffaws, snickers and whoops punctuated by energetic curses and other self-motivational cheers. He laughs and sucks in shuddering breaths with each pause before another fit.
    He laughs to ease the pain of hate for his loneliness, misery and frustration. No one has spoken to him a word and I wait with uneasy anticipation to hear a sob, a contraction of the throat, something to give me satisfaction. For the self-pity he grates across my nerves; for months' worth of day's hourly aggravations.
    It is only early, the sun still weakly low in the eastern sky. Yet I feel weary and worn and frayed at edges which no sleep may knit. Not with night's restless turning and body uncooled by sweat. Each day I arise a bit more unraveled with the loom a bit more broken. If only hope, with my last commodity to barter with despair, may hold the threads together a moment more. If only all doors were open.
    I stand to make my bunk, what I wish to be a bed , with plastic mattress under threadbare sheets, supported by sturdy legs. And a concrete floor, four concrete walls, toilet and table is all for the home where twenty-three hours each day I spend. Home to the conscious dead.
    The most prominent object in my cell is a window centered within the back wall. It is all steel and hardness, mesh alienation and welded bar separation; two glass panes to crank open only so far. I bide the time there, yet even now. From morning's rise to evening's sunset.
    I long to feel across the skin freeness of breezes fresh with nature's scent, of new cut grass and honeysuckle and pine. To spy upon warblers and sparrows and jays plucking along rows of razor fence line, oblivious to the kept. The canaries free, loved by the caged cat.
    This is sustenance living at its best, each emotion too dangerous to be left unchecked. Living a subtle balance between wishful prayer and wretchedness in despair. Left with only the illusion of nonchalant disinterest to feign, hope the greatest sin.
    My neighbor will sleep through the day. He confesses existence here is easier in that way. The nights are shorter and cooler, more forgiving to lose the self within. One dreams less in the light amid the cursing, clanging, endless torturous twisting of the screeching, blowing and banging din.
    Days such as these are stacked to construct the alter of execution, with years to hone the finer edges of hate. We count them either up or down with a determined resolution, to that once and final date.
    I fail to anticipate my day, whether it be near or further yet, but it lurks some days in close among the shadows or just beyond my horizon's crest. It neither reveals itself as an enemy, nor as a friend offering hints of release. Ever the unknown entity, it waits with patience's peace. That day to surely come promises only with a flickered gleam in the eye, the taking of all before the leaving again. Both the sins and he condemned to die.
    Only today there are decisions still to be made, with issues of which I am not privy. My attorney will call for me to be chained and trudged to a phone by security. It is rare for us to speak for any length of time. Each of us tired of questions that cannot or will not be answered. We are left only to amuse each other, with superficial banter.
    What books have I read? How is my mother? How might be you? He's sad to say there is still no news, though it's been one year, close to two. Or, the court has turned me down, it has been two weeks since. He thinks I'd be interested to know that, while I may only wince.
    Maybe things are looking up, There's always the option of a life sentence. In that may I somehow find Solace? He swears in my place he would. Does he even think he could pretend at my position? I doubt he truly could.
    He is a good man, though. One of conscience, an advocate for all we hold dear. He promises to be up to see me and I chuckle that I will be here. He regrets that it may be some time, with all the other clients and cases which arise. And in the end all is said, but that which is left between the lines. For me even now, after so many years of this long uncomfortable game, those unspoken words are ever clear, which neither time nor place shall change.
    Shadows will move relentlessly, stretching across the cellblock floor. The hands on the clock spin. While I sit and write and read and muse, the day will make room for more, coming to an end. They mean nothing to me now, pages on a paper calendar that yellow and fade away.
    I am in my own middle passage, a voyage far from all I've known. Trapped and stuffed in among society's misery, tucked away and set adrift. I'm detached, antagonized, brutalized, morally astray: A stunted soul without room to grow.
    I draw within under a siege mentality, ignoring the people around me. Breathing shallowly to avoid the polluted air, mentally sandbagged into my own reality. One which only I may know, that cannot be cut or yanked or beaten out of me physically. I search my memory for ages long gone, times when I laughed, cried and had the courage to care. I write those scraps and fleeting images in little books I keep hidden, for when the memories are no longer there.
    The death does not come upon one on a table or in a chair. It begins years in advance, creeping up to steal your humanity, your individuality, your notion of what is right and wrong and fair. When the time does come, as I've watched those who have gone before, the truth is in the lost light extinguished in the eyes. The blank vacant stare.
    How do you meet those eyes again and again and never whisper into the night, "Una salus victus nullam sperare salutem*?" When the sound of hard-soled boots marching in step towards death pulls part of yourself with them? How do you overcome the going? When the threat of execution, of retribution, loses its ability to exact a payment and becomes nothing less than mercy? Victim and victimizer alike, closure is issued out to more than one soul on those nights. Burn candles for both.
    I'll be in the window watching the night, alone with myself. Cool breezes of freedom pushing their way in to me, carrying hints of softening dew. It is senseless to fight, to yearn, to dream for what will never be true. You either go crazy or sign a truce with destiny and resign. A pact to keep hope in check in return for having nothing to lose.
    My neighbor is arising, stirring with the other night prowlers, all who have avoided the face of another day. I pity and love them in a way, understanding the relief they seek to find. But I cannot join them, cannot partake in their aggravations, the fights and pestering they heap upon each other to lesson the sting of their mind.
    I can only turn myself away, turn my bed down, turn myself off and resist the temptation to kneel and pray.
    Somewhere, monotonously, the sun is moving, planet turning in kind. Bringing forwards toward me again all the things I cannot leave behind.

Over and over and over and..... day after day after day.

Lawson Strickland

*Una salus victus nullam sperare salutem: The one hope of the doomed is not to hope for safety. From the Aeneid, Virgil.

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