This past week, a milestone in my incarceration passed … and its passing has left me with many emotions, some of which are in conflict.
So what happened?
Someone I was close with, a friend, left to go to a halfway house.
His leaving at this time assures him of six months to find his way again in society after nearly seven years here inside.
This friend, we’ll call him Mike, was a lot younger than I. In fact, he’s the same age as my oldest and so some parental emotions grew in me. The desire to see him succeed in all things was strong, just as it is with my own children. He would often ask me for my opinion and advice in things he was doing to prepare for his release from exile. I always felt complimented by his bringing me into his confidence. I always responded in ways that I felt would help him to be successful in his reentry into society.
Mike is also intelligent and mature for his age which is interesting given his spending so much time inside while he was growing as an adult. Due to his maturity I also developed emotions of friendship. I often felt like I was talking to a peer instead of a man of 30.
Mike and I shared a passion as well: reading. He led me to many well written novels and to some authors whose work was above average in their genre. I introduced him to new genres and notable authors therein. I enjoyed our “book reviews” following the completion of a book read in common. I also enjoyed debating the relative merits of a book when we disagreed about the author or story.
But friendships of prison are temporary at best. Once released it is illegal for an outside felon to communicate with an inside felon and in fact, associating with another outside felon can violate the terms of one’s supervised release thus landing both back in prison. The Feds do their best to totally break all ties between felons. And this brings me to the emotion of anger.
Not all ties between felons are nefarious. I certainly would never pursue or encourage another felon to return to a life that brought them to prison to begin with. One aspect of prison is that it does make better criminals. Where else can a criminal go to find the wisdom of those that have succeeded in some measure and/or failed in other measures? Perhaps you’ve heard or read that, “prisons are an expensive way to make better criminals.” Well, it’s true. Conversations containing such statements as, “thanks, I’ll try this when I get out…,” or, “thanks, I’ll avoid that when I’m out…,” happen almost daily. There are many who want to return to their life of crime. I am not one and neither is Mike so a continued friendship between us would be clean of crime – but – it is forbidden due to those who would return to their former life.
The next emotion I feel is mourning. The loss of our friendship feels in many ways like the loss of a loved one. It’s permanent and leaves me behind as if I somehow survived something Mike fell victim to. It will take time to get over the loss. I pray for strength in this.
Lastly, I feel joy which is in direct conflict with the other emotions I feel. If I’ve met anyone who I believe will succeed it’s Mike. His drive, planning and natural abilities will lead him to happiness and success as a productive member of society. And I’m thrilled for him.
What have I learned from this?
That friendships are fragile and not of my own making inside. I lost all but one friend when I shared my crimes with them before coming into prison, and I miss them. I miss Mike. I’ve also learned that friendships are cultivated over time and their resistance to failure comes from constant, positive, reinforcement. Finally, I’ve learned that all I can do here inside is feel joy for those that leave and then close the door to friendship gently.
Soon, I’ll transfer to another institution and I wonder how I’ll react at the loss of multiple friendships here in my current location. While I look forward to my new situation I fear the loss of my relationships here.
Appreciate your friendships. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and let them know you’re thinking of them for tomorrow they may be gone. It hurts to lose a friend.