Steel Cocoon

Michael was working on this piece to present in the next PPTG performance at Auburn. Last week he was transferred to Attica because of DOCCS new policy–in reaction to the escape from Clinton this summer–that anyone incarcerated in one facility for ten years or more must be transferred to another facility.  Hence, Michael won’t get to perform this piece so it’s being published here instead.    It is a brief reflection on Michael’s thirty years of incarceration and the concept of “rehabilitation.”

What has affected my life during 30 years of incarceration is not the physical violence, but the psychological violence I am forced to submit to every second of my prison existence.

Every morning at 7:00 a.m. a cowbell rings signifying all neo-chattel must stand up to be counted like my ancestors who were chained in a coffle, waiting to be counted, making sure their souls hadn’t escaped during the night.

One way to assuage the traumatic effects of this animalistic existence is to be visited by loved ones. Our hearts soar at the sound of “You have a visit.” Most of us take showers, put on scented oil, and dress in our prison finery, because our families have come to visit us. We are so happy to be going on visits we don’t even think about getting searched. Upon entering the visiting area a guard asks us for our passes, then we’re told to place our hands on the wall and the guard pat frisks us. We are then told to sit in an electronic chair that can detect metal in your rectum. Only then are we allowed to visit our loved ones.

What most incarcerated people don’t realize is that the minute you cross the threshold of the visiting room, you have just entered into an implied contract which states that at the end of every visit you have agreed to be strip frisked. If you do not comply you will not be allowed to participate in contact visits. The distinction being a non-contact visit and a contact visit is that during a contact visit one gets to experience the human warmth of being touched. However, during a non-contact visit one is separated by the indifference of Plexiglas.

What rehabilitation process is there that can help a man who trembled in fear of crossing a yellow line–just like dogs who tremble in fear because they’ve been reeducated with a behavior modification tool called “Invisible Fence”?

In every corridor and yard throughout the prison system there are yellow lines. We incarcerated people dare not cross these yellow lines without permission. Rehabilitation is in the eye of the beholder. Unless one can envision himself or herself as a human being, no one else will be willing to acknowledge that fact.

My sole responsibility to society is to stop perpetuating violence against myself; only then can I help reduce violence in the world. Thus it has been said about Mohandas K. Gandhi: a woman once brought her child to Gandhi asking him to tell her son to please stop eating sugar. Gandhi said, “Please come back in 3 days.” On the third day the woman returns with her child, and Gandhi tells the child, “Stop eating sugar.” The woman says, “Why did it take 3 days?” Gandhi responded by saying, “I had to stop eating sugar myself.”