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Vintage postcard showing prison tower and concertina wire
Illustration by Katrina Rodriguez; text effects by Teresa Tauchi

"Postcard From the Yard" is a series from Global Forum Online that presents brief but rich descriptions of a single scene intended to invite the outside reader into the space or moment occupied by the writer. Collectively, these stories build an immersive portrait of prisons across America.

The officer woke me at 4 a.m. for the one-hour ride to Duane L. Waters Health Center in Jackson, Mich. I had to mentally prepare myself for what I knew I would see. I've been there before, and I knew death would be up close and personal. It's not unusual to see a dying man being carted around the facility.

DLW is the prison hospital of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Every prisoner dreads going there. It has a reputation of providing poor health care. And because the hospital houses hospice patients, the building itself reeks of death.

I had lost hearing in my left ear, so I was there for a test.

After being unshackled by the transporting officer, I made my way to the crowded waiting area. The room was the size of a small living room. It had three benches and two fiberglass windows. The walls were dingy.

I saw a man I had been serving time with for years rolling by in a wheelchair. The man I knew had deteriorated. All that was left was a shell. I hadn't been prepared to see someone I knew in such bad shape. Seeing him like that made my wait feel like forever. I saw myself in him.

I'm serving life without the possibility of parole. I'm sentenced to die by incarceration. I'm 43, and to most that's young. But I'm 24 years in on a sentence of forever, and my health is declining. Prison does that to you. I think every individual who is incarcerated fears dying in prison more than anything else. For those of us serving LWOP in Michigan, we will probably die at DLW. 

In the last four years, I have known seven men who passed away, four of them here at DLW, after serving decades in prison.

While I was waiting, I saw my guy Todd-El, who is a hospice worker. I had known him from a previous life. I told him I didn’t know how he did it, working here. “It ain’t easy, that’s for sure,” he said. He recounted that an old head we both knew — a man I had a lot of love for — had recently died.

My appointment felt like a formality more than anything. I didn’t leave with a better sense of why I was losing my hearing. The nurse had a nice disposition, but that couldn’t dissolve the dark and gloomy feeling I had in that place.

After I returned to my prison, I couldn’t help but think: This is what my final days will look like.

Death is promised to everyone, and for those of us whose worst fears come true, we will die alone in a dark prison hospital.

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.

Quentin Jones is a writer incarcerated in Michigan.