I never thought much about old people growing up. I mean, I never really noticed the daily things that go into being elderly. I used to hear my grandfather or my grandmother talk about their rheumatism or arthritis or the famous ‘creaking old bones’ or how their knees hurt before it rains, but when you’re twelve years old, you’re more concerned with riding your bike to town or buying comic books at the drug store. When you’re twelve years old you’re immortal, full of ‘piss and vinegar’ like my dad used to say.
That being said, I’m starting to see the light at the nursing home entrance. I’m surrounded by walkers, canes and crutches (oh, my). It’s like a geriatric Wizard of Oz, without the magic slippers. I live in a minimum security unit in the Southeast corner of Texas, south of Houston. There are around 1,500 inmates here, 450-500 of which are medically unassigned – pardon the expression, ‘the broke dicks’.
We don’t work in the kitchen, the laundry or the unit cannery. We don’t clean dorms or floors or anything. Most of us are over the age of fifty. Most have done the required amout of ‘flat time’ to be eligible for parole. Most have little or no disciplinary problems or records. Some have families to parole home to.
Some have everything an incarcerated individual could dream of, three meals a day, a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, a phone available to call their loved ones, and $95 every two weeks to spend at the unit commissary, where they can buy things like stamps, paper, envelopes, soft drinks, snacks, coffee and tea, or hygiene products like soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.
But you can’t by time. You can’t buy a visit from your family or friends. In most of our cases, time is the enemy now.
I’m not a soap box kind of guy. I’m not a crusader or an advocate, however, I’m a very emotionally connected person. When I watch the television or listen to NPR and I hear of a tragedy or see human suffering, I’m deeply affected. When I see a man in his 70’s and 80’s being set off for parole after twenty years or more of being a model prisoner, I ask myself two questions.
Why? and How much longer?
I’m starting to ask those two questions in reference to myself. I was 32 years young when I arrived here. Now I’m 57, and I came up for parole ten years ago. I have less than a dozen minor disciplinary cases over the last twenty-five years, most of these are directly related to my being a diabetic. I’ve been a Type I diabetic since I was eleven years old.
I’ve never been in a fight.
I’ve never tested positive for any drugs.
I’ve never extorted anyone for anything.
I’ve never disobeyed a direct order or had any problems with staff or guards.
I’ve done every possible thing these folks have asked of me to go home.
Yet, I’m still here, and I’m not alone. And I’m getting older, and so are my brothers and sisters.
It is stated that it takes $30,000 to feed, house, clothe and guard me, plus medical expenses. That’s over $750,000 for the time I’ve been here, plus two visits to the hospital – close to a million dollars.
How many books could that buy for students?
How may hospital wings could that build?
How many roads and bridges could that repair?
How many homeless could that feed?
I want to make one thing clear – I’m not saying that prisons should be abolished. They are, as my dad used to say, a ‘necessary evil’. There are a group of people who should be incarcerated for what they’ve done. But everyone deserves a chance to redeem himself, because everyone, incarcerated or not, makes mistakes. Everyone has momentary lapses of reason. Everyone is human.
No one is above the law and no one deserves to be abandoned by it.
I’ve met some truly amazing individuals in the last 25 years, people who would give anything for a second chance.
My dad used to say, ‘We live life forwards, but we learn from it in reverse’. Those who learn should be rewarded. Those who do not should continue to be guarded. I’ve seen inmates leave here only to return two or three times because they were uneducated, unprepared, and overwhelmed, but there are some of us here who are not.
I consider myself lucky. I had a father who was my best friend, who loved and trusted me, and who, in his 56 years on this planet, never let me down. And I cry every day, not because I’m behind these walls, but because I miss him and I let him down. And because my time on this earth is growing short, and I might not get the opportunity to right what I did wrong.
I can’t undo what I’ve done, I can’t change the past. But I can undo some of the damage and I can change the future, and I will if given the chance…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love. In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.
John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
Rosharon, TX 77583