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

Recently, I spoke with a kid from Stockton, California, who was back inside for a parole violation. For hours we shared our stories through the vent while locked in solitary confinement. After speaking with him for a while, parts of his story weren’t adding up.

He had lived in Stockton but worked at the Costco in Tracy, 20 miles away. He mentioned that he was part-time but left for work at 5 a.m. and didn’t return from work until 5 p.m. Finally, he admitted that he was embarrassed to tell me that he didn’t own a car and therefore had to walk 20 miles to work a part-time job. Why was he ashamed of that?

There is always a strange mixture of bravado in a den of thieves.

Any prisoner worth his salt displaces those false veneers and finds within himself elements of authenticity. I’d rather befriend someone who walks 20 miles to a part-time job than someone who drives a Ferrari.

There is an urban legend that says solitary permanently dismantles the good parts of you. Science backs this up too. 

In solitary confinement, with no sunsets or sunrises, you pass time on some kind of primordial instinct. Like animals in a zoo, you become sad and pensive. Eventually you succumb to your enclosure. To stave off paralytic shock, you pace endlessly.

That kid’s story emboldened me to look deeper within myself and focus on that inward voice, not on the echo resounding from my footsteps in this concrete cave.

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.

Scott Culp is a writer incarcerated in California.