My cousin Bo is presently incarcerated in federal prison. I am helping him to set up and maintain a blog. He will be writing about his own experiences and thoughts. The blog is presently being set up. In the meantime, he’s asked that people send him questions. This is the answer to the first question.
The question proposed, “what does it take to adjust to life on the inside?”
My government name is Ryan Scott. Here, my name is inconsequential. I am Federal Prisoner #74291-065
I cannot answer this question in a way that would make sense to you on “the outs,” as we say. I could tell you I program, or that I work out; but that would mean nothing to you. My cousin Brian would put it this way, “even if a tiger could speak English, we could not understand him.” The encounters of a tiger are not of the same kind. There is no shared mastery of environment or experience. Lacking these common grounds makes the language to no effect.
I live this life, or should I say: I’m about this life. Prisoners call me BoDee, that is DeeBO backwards. I am 6’4″ 255 pounds with mocha skin. I live the life of Bodee, but I miss Ryan “Bo” Scott.
I have interviewed countless prisoners over the last 20 months. I account for my own emotions and what I have done to cope with isolation within a place and a situation like this. To a great degree, I trust what I say is very accurate. I am of sound mind and body as much as one can be in here. From what I can tell, I am wide awake in this place.
Almost all new prisoners (12-18 months) have no understanding of the punishment, turmoil, and imminent extinction awaiting them. They can’t see that they have already been destroyed, even though they live that destruction everyday. To be candid, living in a place like this requires a complete remodel of your mind. The structure of your mental architecture is focused on the blueprint of denial.
People often wonder why prisoners work out so obsessively. This working out –we call it “programming”– is an example of what I tell you when I say that you and I are like a man and a tiger trying to hold a conversation about life. You lift weights or work out at your local gym in order to look good and be healthy. You can put your efforts on a scale of achievements for the day. It’s a means to a distant end. For us, we have to program so that we don’t appear weak, soft, or vulnerable. It’s one of the few things we can do in here to grab some small amount of control. Moreover, the exertion and muscular exhaustion is a way of self-medicating away the stress, the loss, the lack of love. It’s just a process. Moments of taking control of your body, making it submit to your will, give a person some freedom back. I push my body beyond the limits of the mind. That feeling of unconsciousness is like a vacation. I cannot shut the door and escape. I cannot go for a drive. I can’t leave! The man – the tiger – I don’t expect you to get it.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about my life, my future, my age and how I can do and be better. These times of thought are a distraction and very important to the “future me.” Near the end of the day, in those dark hours between lockdown and sleep, reality creeps in; bitterness, anger, hopelessness and other emotions fight for possession of your soul. There is an old saying that I heard on the outside that has a cruel twist on the inside: “No matter where you go there you are.” That is to say, *I* am still human with deep feelings, a lack of love, and an unfulfilled sense of belonging. These are some of the feelings or emotions that overwhelm a man that is behind bars.
To lose human connection is a sensation that is close to impossible to put color to. This experience is almost supernaturally painful. I remember when my grandmother Helen died. I was sitting next to my big cousin Brian. At her funeral I felt in control and full of fortitude until our row was ushered out. As I stood and turned, I glanced at my mother and my Aunty Esther. They were knotted in pain. Their tears seemed to burn their faces like acid. Their mother was dead. I felt in that moment as if Brian and I were transported in a time forward. Life hit fast forward and we were at a funeral in the same little church, but this time it was us at our mothers’ funeral. This freeze frame of the future snapped back violently, sound came back to my ears like wind rushes through a old tunnel. I was struck with the greatest pain in my heart I have ever felt. For that half second I had felt like my mom had died, that searing pain robbed me of breath. I stood in her shoes for just a moment. I felt her pain, I knew her pain, I shared her pain. My big cousin Brian also felt that same pain. To bond over the questions of life and death activates the deepest connections of compassion and understanding. In those moments we have access to understanding our humanity and our end game destiny.
In prison, though, there are no bonds of sympathy. We live by a crueler code; to show human sympathy is to let a wolf inside your gates. If you do not learn this new way of life, someone will teach you that hard lesson- painfully. As I see people lose the capacity for compassion and abandon their sense of decency, I see dead people. I see pure denial. Denial is knowing and at the same time, not knowing. There is no support in the hours of sadness, and no long-term moments of joy.
To be in prison is to be a guest at your own funeral. You are witness to your own death throughout the day, and only when you fall asleep and dream do you have access to the joys of life and living. But you wake up again, returned to the same funeral procession. Inside this coffin, your body rots, physically present in the world but unable to interact with the people you love.
This is what it feels like to be on the inside as best I can communicate it. As to the question of how the adjust? I’ll bring more on this question next time.
Ryan Scott, Federal I.D. 74291-065