As I was led shackled through the prison’s corridors, the rattle of chains made me a spectacle for those the paparazzi once chased. My incarceration had allowed me access to most of the facility already but on this day I was escorted down an unfamiliar hallway. The drab gray tunnel was an underground passageway to a building detached from the main citadel. The florescent lights hummed and picked out every chip in the paint on the series of gates. If the situation had been a drop different, I would have made a crack that it was straight out of the old sitcom Get Smart.
But I wasn’t Agent 99. My temporary new home is officially called Unit 14; history says it’s Clinton’s old death row. The square unit was converted to house 48 faceless out casts after the New York State death penalty was abolished. The place should have given me the creeps, Yet for some reason, I felt eerily at ease. The spirits of the condemned who waited out their final days here welcomed me into their old home.
With nothing but my thoughts to keep me company, I paced my enclosure until my joints burned. My mind desperately tried to hash out a series of unclear thoughts as a gamut of divergent and unchecked emotions whipped through my mind with uncertainty taking the lead. The overweight nurse who appeared at the door with a battered clipboard didn’t help much. She read off a brief list of questions related to my sanity. Each was devoid of compassion; all had been recited too often.
One of the questions asked whether I was contemplating suicide. If she had really cared about the inmates, her questions would have been directed to the sporadically crazy person I heard in the distance. I say “heard” because I am not afforded the luxury of ever seeing my new neighbors. For some reason, no prison setting or subway car is complete without a crazy person.
After only a handful of days, a glance at the shower’s chrome mirror showed a disheveled person. At least with three brief showers a week, I could almost figure out what day it was. A week or two passed without running a comb through my hair. I caught myself giggling with cruel glee as I imagined perfectly straight hair growing out of my ears. Now it became obvious between the pacing and the incessant handwashing, madness was settling in to roost. I wasn’t going nuts. This was simply a small part of the twisted reality that happens to be prison life.
I realized long ago, even before I set up Zap Tales, that I couldn’t live between our two worlds. Mine of the caged and yours of the free cannot come together in some liminal no-man’s-land for a polite cup of tea. Despite being fully aware of that, I tried. Stubbornly, relentlessly. I mistakenly assumed I could create that in-between space without creating harm.
Then I watched my loved ones desperately try to suppress their tears when they saw me chained and manacled. I can reach out; that much is true. But that space in between isn’t neutral territory. If I show up there, harm will occur. Therefore, other than the release of my full-length memoir and a few related updates, this will be my final Zap Tale.
Before I bow out, hopefully with some grace, I have to thank each and every one of you for your unwavering support. After losing my faith in humanity, you helped me find it again. After thinking I had been reduced to a faceless number, you made me feel human again.
But after believing for so long that they couldn’t take my words, I tearfully realized…they can.