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Writing essays has made me realize some profound implications about how 17 years of incarceration has been steadily chipping away my humanity. I realize that the tone of the majority of my writings are angry because, in reality, I am angry. It is impossible to be a Black person in America, or a human being who is conscious of humanity, nature, the environment, all of Earth’s inhabitants and the planet itself without being angry about something. 

I set out to write a piece to confirm that I am still an emotional human being. But as I attempted to write what I envisioned to be my heartfelt testimony of how I maintain my sanity during a depressing time, I realized that I did not possess the emotional capacity to write it.

See, I am currently in the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), and the only property I am allowed are my books. Ninety-nine percent of my books are historical, scientific, political or cultural, which make for good reading when I am in the general population. I am able to counterbalance the righteous anger with movies, shows and documentaries that reaffirm the powers of unconditional love or educate me about the plight of human beings on this planet that are often ignored, overlooked, and forgotten. These programs have a way of reminding me that I am still human in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary. 

I have been unknowingly finding my emotional balance this way for so long that it has become second nature without my realizing it. This troubling fact has forced me to realize that prisons are such emotionally sterile and miserable environments that I would have been transformed into a shell of a human being consumed by anger if not for a constant dose of artificially manufactured emotional stimulants.

Prisons are designed to be information deserts that strip you of your humanity while assuring that ignorance will forever remain our driving force. Our ignorance exponentially increases the rate of recidivism, which is mandatory to maintain the prison industrial complex’s profit margins.

I now realize that I am not only in a constant battle to maintain my sanity, but I am also in a war to remain fully human. If I were questioned before attempting to write this piece, I would have proclaimed that I am a full and whole conscious human being who is not only emotionally healthy but is also empathetic, sympathetic and altruistic. This forum has provided me an opportunity to self-diagnose the fact that in order to keep my emotional senses from fraying, I must digest a steady stream of material that reminds me of the therapeutic properties of love, and how humanity is capable of so much more if we only learned to universally embrace it. 

There is a possibility that I might still die here, and the only thing I might ever leave behind are my thoughts and ideas. I am virtually a zombie; I am alive physically and mentally, but for all intents and purposes I am dead to the world.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Shonari Warren is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.