by C. Ikpoh
Lonely doesn't even begin to describe where I am at emotionally. They say the first night is always the hardest. I guess I will see. I cannot fathom how this gets any easier though. The jeering and taunts have been constant since lock down and lights out. I was able to catch a few spurts of rest, but each time I closed my eyes, I would wake abruptly remembering where I am. This place is surely hell. All alone without my love, surrounded by inequity personified. I want to curse God, but I keep hearing the judges voice over-and-over in my head. "You are a repeat offender. The first two times you were let off easy. This third time, I will not be lenient, and you have only yourself to blame for this." He was right. I do only have myself to blame. My life will never be the same. What was is no longer, and I only have myself to blame.
Today was rougher than the first. I have many things to be thankful for though. The fact I have my own cell is a blessing. The fact I haven't been raped yet is a definite plus. But what I am most thankful for though, is the fresh memories of my love, Eloise. I can still see her face as clear as ever. The feeling of her dark hair against my face is present. Those brown eyes fill my mind. Christ, I can smell her even in this hell hole. I miss her more than anything.
Just before I did what I did, we shared the most amazing moment. We were at an art fair, and Elo fell in love with this painting. As soon as her eyes saw it, she had to have it. Naturally, I played it off, acting like I was interested but not totally invested. Later, I slipped away and purchased it without her knowing. When I walked in the door and showed her, the most incredible thing happened. All in a moment, I realized what true love felt like. I've known forever that I am in love with her. But this moment just had the best of love all in one frame of time. God, the way she smiled at me. I remember her saying, "Boy, you better stop." Ha! I asked why. Her response, "I don't know." She was so overjoyed, she couldn't even look me in my eyes for too long. Her smile was perfect. It was literal perfection. For once in my life, I knew I had been a blessing to another, to someone I cared for more than myself, more than the world itself. I told her I'd stop the day she stopped making me feel like a god amongst men. Even if she tried, she wouldn't be able to. I forever will be the luckiest man for having had her love.
After I did what I did though, I know she was devastated. The way her voice cracked over the phone when I called her from the station, her being on the verge of tears and not being able to talk to me, seeing her face the next day with red, teary eyes trying to smile but not being able to, I was destroyed. I never meant to hurt her like that. More than being incarcerated in here, I hate what I did to Elo the most. I will forever regret it. I only pray the great memories remain most vivid during my time in here.
Highlights you ask? Well, someone three cells down was carried away to the infirmary due to ground glass being put in their mashed potatoes. Thank God that wasn't me. I seem to have one person in here I can relate to also. His name is Craig. He's serving five on a burglary charge. Good guy, just never had a chance in life, you know? He's going to be working with me in laundry now.
The real highlight, though, was seeing Elo for the first time. It was unexpected. I thought throughout the first two days that if she never visited or wrote, she would be perfectly within her rights. Yet, there we sat. I couldn't even look at her though. She kept trying to make eye contact, but my weakness dominated me. I felt terrible she had to see me incarcerated. "You have only yourself to blame for this," I kept hearing over-and-over in my head as I pondered how I messed up so badly.
Her words were soft, kind and gentle. She was there for me. A stark contrast from our last conversation where she was animated in how she communicated her anger. She talked about our future and how we are going to move forward, which was to my delight. Yet, it carried a tone of subdued nature. Things were going to be different. That was expected. However, the sense was one of finality. Things were also never going to be the same. The love was there, but it was mostly lost on one side. When I asked her about it, her words were of conviction but hollowed as well. I knew she loved me more than she was saying. I also knew she would love me more than she would ever admit, and that pains me. Especially now during my incarceration when I could use her love more than ever.
I get it. She can't speak of it because she has to guard herself. She knows where her heart will take her if it's let free, what thoughts she will have towards me again, and how that will conflict with her better mind. Plus, with us being married to two different worlds -- outside vs. inside -- it would be catastrophic for her to try and cheat on the reality of things. Nevertheless, I still could use some words to ease my hurt and feelings of stupidity. Just a fraction of the truth would suffice. The way she looked at me, the way she talked to me with the words she chose, it's too hard to believe you do that with someone you don't love the same way I love her.
Oh, another highlight of the day is I wasn't raped. Still have that going for me.
This place makes you realize many things. One of those things is how you are just a number. Everything special about you is known to yourself alone. DB1766 is who I am. No one knows or cares about my loves, passions, interests, ideologies, theologies, philosophies, none of it. This guy, Craig, said the sooner I realize that, the better. I'm starting to believe he is right.
It's innate in us to want to be special though, to be recognized for who we, as an individual, are. I, for one, despise being put into a box. I hate being lumped into groups, generalizations or assumptions. It's like when you are in love, but aren't feeling the love, or realize you are just one of a few. No amount of explanation will do. You are going to be upset and hurt about it. That's how this place has me feeling. Both my life as I've known it and my freedom don't love me anymore, and they never will again. When I leave this place, I will never be loved the same. I just won't, and that's a fact I will have to deal with forever.
My worst fear, though, is Eloise will only see DB1766. Something about her is that she isn't the most forthcoming when telling the truth about her feelings or emotions, especially towards me, so I'll never truly know if my fear has become a reality, and that scares me. It scares me because I believe that if this does happen, she'll begin to have others fill her desire for attention, love, admiration, gratification and validation; her desire to be attracted to another physically, mentally and emotionally, to be wanted, to be appreciated, will be filled by another or others. I fear that I will only be kept near at arms length to provide a certain experience Elo has become accustomed to and feels sentimental about because of our past and the memories that hold us together. I fear I'll become "one" of her closest and not "the" closest, and that the distance will become greater than ever before. My heart and my pride could not handle this. I can barely handle it as I am writing. I hear "Get in line!" everyday in this hell hole. I don't want to believe THAT reality with the one thing I have which keeps me sane while incarcerated. I don't want to be in line for my Eloise.
DB1766. I must be more than that, Elo. I must mean more than that, and it is going to be a fight to hold on to my identity and what makes me special and unique in this place. I can't lose myself or my self-worth, regardless of how I am disrespected or treated. I am not any other man, Elo. I am not DB1766.
Eyes. They are truly the gates to one's soul. There are certain eyes, though, that can captivate you like no other; that will reveal the secrets of the universe to you. Combine these with a bleeding heart, and those eyes can move mountains with their raw, genuine emotion. They make the strongest of us weak, and will bend you to the whims of whatever feelings they convey. It's as if they hold the spirit of that person in a diamond embedded amongst them. The light always seems to catch them just right, causing a shimmer or sparkle. And as they fill with light, the eyes seem to glow, making it hard to keep a constant gaze with them. Nothing does to a person what they can. I know this, for these eyes came to me today. Eloise made her second visit.
It went much better than the first. Elo, God, she is so strong. I could tell she is still hurting but is pushing through for my sake. My one millionth chance with her is my sole salvation in this place, and she knows it. As we conversed, we smiled and told stories of old times before I did what I did. It was as if we were re-establishing our relationship, reaffirming what we have. Inevitably though, she asked about the now, and asked how I was holding up. I told her I was alright and still a virgin. She laughed at that. Then, I inquired how she was doing, and her pause spoke more to me than the words that followed ever could. She told me everything was going well. She was tired, but that was about all she elaborated on. Knowing Elo, I know there was much more than what she said. It was all in her pause. Those few seconds seemed like an eternity.
I did not want to dwell on me, so I asked her if she had seen the new Disney movie that came out. She always used her niece as an excuse go to see them, whether new ones or re-releases. Truth be told, she LOVES them. And in telling me about their movie date, Elo lost herself in the moment. The fluorescent lights above reflected off the diamonds in her eyes, and they began to beam with joy and happiness. Her skin seemed radiant, becoming more and more so with each smile. I found myself lost in her presence. I found our love again. When our gazes finally met while she was finishing her story though, I realized something unsettling. I saw forever and a day in Elo's eyes. I also saw today with no tomorrow.
Have you ever looked into the eyes of the person you love deeply, and realized that forever is not promised? I pray you haven't because it is a painful experience. It is heart-shattering. Normally, you look at the one you love, and you see the thing in their eyes that allows you to believe you will forever be: trust. However, when I looked in Elo's eyes, I did not see it. She does not trust me as she once did. She does not believe I am or will be the person she once thought I was, and it is because of what I did. When Elo invites me into her soul through her eyes, I see love, magic, passion, fire and life. I see all the things that crumble my resolve, leaving me in the palms of her hands to do with as she desires. I do not see the trust anymore though. My source of unparalleled inspiration and majestic love is also my greatest reminder of what I've done.
I know I cannot change my past, but now it seems I cannot change my future as well. As scary as it is to ponder, things just might be the way they will be, beyond all control. For my own peace of mind though, so I know I gave it my all, I will do everything in my power to win her trust again. I must if I want Elo back like I once had her. If I want her to forsake the divide between us, knock down the wall she has put up, to throw all caution to the wind and give herself to me, I must.
They say two people that make it through the worst of times together become virtually inseparable and unbreakable, like steel after the iron passes through fire. I pray that is my fate with Eloise, for the alternative of losing what we had, even if we remain connected but on a lesser level, would be a tragic conclusion.
Now, all I have to figure out is how I do that while incarcerated. Fml.
The darkest day of my incarceration was today. Not because of anything inside though. It was because of something outside. Or rather, someone I should say.
I called Eloise this afternoon. After her visit yesterday, I figured a way to not become a figure of memories past was to continue making new memories while continuing to nurture our relationship. Little did I know in the aftermath of our time together, Elo did a lot of thinking. She contemplated how much she missed me, what we have, and how because of what I did, she would have to go without both for quite some time. The inevitable feeling of anger settled in. Then, it simmered as she slept, leaving her steaming upon waking. By the time I called, she was boiling over with anger from the hurt she was experiencing. Enter my phone call from stage left, and I could instantly tell she was upset. I attempted for about five minutes to uncover the source of what was bothering her. It was then I discovered it was me.
Much was said. Much was discussed. I did not want to argue or talk about things, but when I was asked to elaborate and detail my side of whatever it is she brought up, I proceeded to explain myself. My natural inclination was to just let her be. I knew I should not have engaged in the conversation, but I did. And boy oh boy was that a mistake, for things went left REAL fast. Before I knew it, things I said were being misunderstood and misread. I was being judged. But over all of this, the thing that got me which hurt me the most, was Elo telling me I was just like every other man she had ever known that messed up in her life. I was no better to her than the rest of the men in this place, and the fact she used things against me I thought she would ever use as a weapon, destroyed me.
What could I do? Things were beyond the point of understanding or reason. We were so far from the origin of the conversation, finding our way back would have been just as treacherous as the journey's start. Did I believe Elo meant what she said? I don't. I know I am special to her. I know I'm not like any other man she has ever met. But the fact I cannot be "her" man, that I cannot be "that" man in her life, makes the words she spoke burn deep down to my core. As if I needed a reminder of that reality. I knew from the moment incarceration was inescapable that I wasn't going to be able to be so. It is a reality I completely accepted. As soon as I realized that, I pushed the feelings surrounding those desires out of my heart and mind for my own good, so I could survive in this place. What I cannot accept is both the tears and the diamonds I have seen in her eyes, the smiles and glances of love she has given me, the tone in her voice when she has spoken from the heart, the unforgettable and special moments we have shared, all do not mean as much to her anymore as they do to me. I already have accepted all that I will not have in life with her. I cannot accept that what I've already been given by God through Eloise is no longer special, no longer mutual, and no longer real.
"SOMEONE GET HIM THE FUCK OFF ME!!! WHAT THE FUCK??? OH GOD!!! I CAN'T FEEL MY LEG!!!"
Music to the ears of the enraged. Pleasurable to the hands of the wronged. And it all happened so quickly, I did not have time to think. This has been an interesting one to say the least.
I was with Craig in the laundry room finishing up our work. He helps traffic items into the pen. Normally, it's quick and easy: we fold the sheets, get an extra basket when shift change comes, and between crews when no one is around, we put the items in the bin we are about to take to the cage where inmates get the fresh sheets. Craig gets his money, I get my cut and that is that. All was the same today until shift change.
I thought something didn't feel right. "Where's Tony?" Craig asked as some random guy we both didn't know came to deliver the stuff.
"Solitary. Breakfast thing. He fucked somebody up," was the explanation.
Now, I know I'm one of the new fish around here, but word travels fast and I didn't hear anything of a scrap in Tony's mess hall. Then, when we were unloading, there were extra items in the bin. Craig said he had no idea if the shipment had been updated last minute, but regardless of if it was, our job was just to deliver all the shit to the cage. It didn't sit right with me though, and sure enough, there was a reason why.
Just when we thought the random delivery guy was gone, he came back with two of his guys. "None of that shit is making it to the cage. Not this time," one of the guys said. Craig and I immediately put our backs to the wall. Funny how this place makes you overly conscious of your backside. I wasn't going to be surrounded by any more surprises though, and neither was Craig. "Hand over the shit, and we won't take yo ass along with everything else."
Aaaaaaaand that was my first rape threat since being incarcerated. I replied, "I was wondering when someone was gonna ask me out. Started to feel like I wasn't the prettiest girl at the dance." Craig looked at me like I was crazy. I shot back a look of confidence. What he didn't know is I was a Golden Glove champion. Boxing is in my blood. I'm nice with "these" if I do say so myself. I also took some jiu-jitsu at a local gym. I'm not a Gracie or anything, but I am not too shabby either. Plus, I could tell from all of Craig's stories about the fights he's been in and tough talk he's doled out, that it wasn't ALL bullshit. I mean, we are men. It's natural to posture, but I was confident Craig had some scrap in him.
"What you say to me, fuck boy?" the biggest one in the trio asked. They started to get closer, walking our direction. Craig became jumpy, fidgeting with his fists. It was then one of them stopped while the other two continued to move forward. The one that paused was clearly the leader of the bunch. The big one then said, "Imma fuck that attitude out you after I knock them teeth from yo mouth."
"You talk to me like you know me, man. We gone out before?" I retorted. Again, Craig looked at me like I was insane. I winked at him this time. The anticipation of my first prison fight was building up. I felt like I was in the ring again before the first bell as if my hands were bound tightly in layers of mesh and tape, and my lips were slightly protruding from wearing the mouth guard. And once the sweat was dripping down my head, I knew I was ready. I knew everything I needed to know too.
The man approaching Craig tensed up his left side a bit with each step. He was a southpaw. But the look in his eye wasn't wild. He was tame. He didn't really want to be there, which was a good draw for Craig. His fight should be easy. I happened to draw the giant, closet homosexual on the other hand. Good thing for me was I noticed he didn't walk heel-to-toe on his right foot. His knee wasn't solid. Judging from his size and build, it was probably an old football injury. I knew immediately what to go for.
"Fuck them up," the leader of the group said. It was then they attacked.
"He's coming with the left, Craig," I said out loud before they reached us.
"Huh?" Craig replied before realizing a left hand was flying for his face. Luckily, my words clicked just in time and he ducked under the haymaker. Who did the guy think he was? Roy Jones, Jr.? The dude definitely watched too many fight PPVs thinking that shit actually worked for people like him. After catching a glimpse of that out the corner of my eye, I knew Craig would be fine. I also had a massive, sexually aggressive man charging towards me. I needed to focus.
As he approached my position, he slowed his gait to square up. I knew a straight right was coming, as I could tell the man's fists were slightly educated from being battle tested. As soon as it darted my way, I dropped down and punched the man's right knee as hard as I have ever hit anything before. My fist pushed his kneecap through the back of his leg. It didn't take long for him to crumble. When he hit the floor, I stood up and stomped his knee repeatedly. As he screamed in pain, I mounted his torso, putting my knees on his arms, and I pounded his face until my hands were soggy and red soaked. Surprisingly, it did not take long. His jaw, or whole face actually, was filled with more glass than a chandelier. With that, I was finished.
"SOMEONE GET HIM THE FUCK OFF ME!!! WHAT THE FUCK??? OH GOD!!! I CAN'T FEEL MY LEG!!!" the guy shouted.
Amidst the wailing cries of agony, I yelled out, "Craig!"
I heard him still scuffling with his opponent. A few punches later, he yelled back, "All done!" He took a few good licks, but he gave out more.
After I finished with my opponent, I stood up and stared down the leader of their group while spitting aggressively onto the face of my battered victim beneath me. Terror was written in his eyes. He put his hands up and backed towards the door quickly before running off. Craig came over and grabbed me, ushering us towards the bin with the goods. They still needed to be delivered, and we had to get out of there before any c.o.s came back.
As we ran, I asked if we should worry about retaliation. Craig explained the guys were independents: a smaller faction not affiliated with any main crew. They took a big enough chance trying to fuck with the delivery, which served the needs of some of the largest gangs in here. There would be no way they would try shit again.
Me - 1
Rapists - 0
"Hello, Eloise. My name is Erin Carpenter. I am with the IDOC at Stateville Correctional Center. You are listed as the primary contact for inmate DB1766. As such, we are calling to inform you that he has been severely injured and he is in critical condition. The doctors are saying there is a possibility he may not make it through weeks end. For more information, you may call me at 555-1308."
It's me. Eloise. Remember me? The one you are supposed to be helping by sorting out my problems. You haven't been much help lately. And then I hear this on my answering machine upon returning home today. Just when I thought the situation couldn't get any worse. This happens.
I want to be mad. I want to hate him for making me return to an empty home every night. I want to hate him for our last conversation. I just want to hate him, but I can't. I still do love him. I know I shouldn't, but I do. After everything we've been through, and all he's done, he is still the only one who has brought to my life what he has. No one has ever taken care of me or loved me the way he has. His complexity may be difficult at times, but that is what makes him so great. And now that he may be gone, I am beginning to regret pushing him out.
A friend of mine told me when a man is in his position, being incarcerated, he usually ends up in one of two situations: he either ends up married to hope on the outside, or he becomes married to the inside. I don't know what happened, but my gut tells me this situation is a result of him transitioning towards being married to the inside. If that is true, I feel somewhat responsible as well. I know I am his hope on the outside, and I was shutting him out to protect myself. What we have, and with him being in there and me out here, it doesn't feel right. I am angry because it was by his choice of actions that he ended up incarcerated. He didn't choose "us" it seemed. I don't know why he didn't choose "us", but deep down I pray it was because he couldn't help himself. Whatever his reasons, God knows I was so angry. But now, I am becoming filled with remorse for not helping him by being there. All he wants to do is love me the best he can from a distance. I know certain things in that love are not possible, and we will never be able to be physical or have our special moments while he's locked up, but we can still have each other. Yet, knowing all this, I still wouldn't accept it during our last conversation. Now, a part of me wishes I would have.
If he dies, I am afraid the blood will be on my hands. Will I be responsible for killing this love? It is what I wanted. I wanted to be free of that connection and not be burdened by what came with it. I told him I only wanted a friend in him because I felt it was best. Now I realize I may be losing a special person like none other; one that loved me in a way like never before. All he wants to do is be there for me. If I let him, would this have happened? Lord, I don't know. I just pray he makes it. He's weathered every single storm I've ever seen him in. I've given him hell and he's fought through every time. The man is tougher than a $2 steak. If anyone can beat this, it's him. And if he does, maybe we can start over and make things right. It doesn't have to end like this. Hope doesn't have to die. Right, diary?
Craig was wrong.
There was retaliation for what we did to those guys in the laundry room, and it came in the form of me getting stabbed multiple times in my side by a sharpened toothbrush. Goddamn prison and its fucking cliches. Craig's injuries came way of broken bones: five ribs and his skull. I don't know if I got the better end of things or not. What I do know is I can fully say I'm an inmate now after the rape attempt and being shanked. Yay me, I guess.
What came to me as a delight was also hearing those who exacted the retaliation are no longer breathing. Appears Craig was right about something as well. The higher powers that be inside were none to happy about the first attempt on our lives, or the second, and they remedied it the only way they know how. Music to my ears, because it does make me feel I can sleep easier at night at least for a little while.
Oh, and word is out. I have protection from those higher powers. Word also is I'm, and this is what I was told verbatim, "a bad muthafucka on some Steven Segal-Jackie Chan type shit". I don't know what the inspirations for those two particular comparisons are, but I'll take the "bad muthafucka" part.
Even better than that, though, was seeing three letters awaiting me upon the return to my cell. I could smell her scent before even reading the envelopes. They were from Elo. I rifled through the words with my eyes. They were parched of familiarity and drank every last letter written on those pages. She expressed regret, love, sadness and pain. But mostly, she expressed love. The letters lifted me, and encouraged me to lift this pen to continue writing in here.
Elo and I aren't near. We are distant. We live two different lives in two different worlds. Yet, I know how she feels for me, and she knows how I feel for her. Things are at a great place when that happens, when there is an understanding between two people who carry some type of love for another. We have serenity and a new path, and when I think about it, it makes sense. We can just "be", and that feels amazing because together we are special, regardless of the nature of the relationship.
When you are locked up and not bleeding out, you have a lot of time to read. This guy I've been reading, Christopher E. Ikpoh from "The Christopher Isaac Society", said that "Intelligence is next to godliness. Understanding is divine." I see that now having been released from the bondage of my heart's oppression since reading Elo's letters and knowing exactly where we stand. It's a blessing to feel this way, and though things may never be the same as they are what they are, she is still in my life. She is still here for me. We share a bond that neither of us have with anyone else. Who knows what the future holds. What I do know is minus guilt and doubt, I am a new man. With a healed heart, my body will heal much quicker. We'll see if the years of love Elo and I have shared will endure. I pray they do. Day-by-day, we'll see though.
Now, if I can just understand how I'm supposed to sleep on this terrible mattress. That hospital bed was amazing.