Thursday, December 30, 2010

Comments From Behind the Fence - 6

Death. Nobody really likes to think about it too much when it comes to our own mortality. Dying in prison? Alone? Isolated from anybody who cares about you? Take a moment and look into your heart. Is there anything about that idea that isn't depressing?

Men (I can assume women, but since I'm a guy...well...) in prison don't talk about dying inside. It is a fear for most, and prison isn't an environment where that emotion is acceptable. But it happens. Sometimes to strangers...sometimes to a familiar face. And, on occasions, to a friend.

A few years into my time I lost my best friend Steve to cancer. I still haven't been able to really grieve his passing. When I was accepted as a hospice volunteer, I went back to my cell and I told Steve, "This is for all you did for me." He never wavered in his friendship. He was an example,and in some ways, a role model.

Now, a couple of years in the program have passed. As I write this, I have an active patient. He was a compete stranger when this began. But now, we've had hours to talk and get to know each other. We've shared past accomplishments and past failures. We've talked about our lives, and he asks me about my future. He knows that I have one. And sometimes I feel guilty that I'll leave this prison and he will likely die before I do so. I'm emotionally vested in this person. When I see him, I don't see an inmate. I see a man. And this person has shown me what it means to die with dignity. He never complains about his lot in life. He has found peace in dying that most don't find in living.

And still, with all I've learned from this dying man, a selfish part of me remains. That selfish part wants him to keep living. Why is that selfish? Because, everyday he lives is a day of pain for him, and a day where I didn't have to hold his hand when he takes the last breath. That only means that I still have so much to learn.

These aren't the things normal citizens think about when they consider prison life. They'd rather watch programs like Lock up that go out of their way to show the worst of the worst. Stereotypes are a terrible thing. Clinging to them has never serves humanity, never contributed to progress, never done a single thing for the public good.

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