From the November-December issue of News & Letters
Crescent City, Calif.—The physical and emotional toll of being in the SHU (prisons’ “Secure Housing Unit”):
• Manic guards off their meds.
• That last good photograph stamped with a boot.
• Classification hearings postponed for potlucks.
• The daughter whose eyes fill when you ask innocently, who are you?
• Sons who are bullied and black-eyed at school because nobody likes the son of a felon, especially sons of law enforcement.
• Summers that last for three weeks, winters for 10 months. And somewhere in the middle you’re caught praying for global warming.
• Sunburn blisters from two minutes’ warmth.
• Optical nerves damaged from light.
• Wrists that snap wringing clothes.
• Tendons that tear when reaching for a towel.
• Knees that don’t have a leg to stand on.
• Teeth caught in toothbrushes.
• Toenails that fall off into socks, rattle like loaded dice.
• Ankles that buckle jogging in place.
• A spontaneous nosebleed on that last clean sheet, laundered shirt. Filling the sink, the toilet, splashing across the floor.
• Making your own funeral arrangements, notifying the next of kin—only to receive a return to sender unable to forward as addressed. The only piece of mail you’ve received in years.
• Seven-year-old daughters who think glitter is what Father needs on his Father’s Day card, but the mailroom disallows because what they don’t need is an over-excited prisoner.