hardness in grey places
People on the outside have a lot of misconceptions of what it is like on the inside. They’ve watched Shawshank Redemption a few times and think they have a handle on it but they don’t. Mostly because they don’t know much about human nature.
At least the way it is on the inside.
Prison is all about being hard. That’s what gets a man respect. It’s what separates him from his peers. In some cases, it’s what protects him.
Hardness isn’t about what you have; it’s all about what you’re willing to lose.
Sean for example.
It took a while for everyone to see how hard he was. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Then one day at lunch, he suddenly started talking. He told us a story about how he and an associate at the firm he worked for would make a game of messing with the sales reps that stopped in occasionally to pitch their products. He and this friend would take turns interrupting the meeting by raising their hand and then talking as long as they could without actually asking a question. They would talk until it got too uncomfortable or they were cut off by their embarrassed superiors. It was a little game they played.
He was hard.
After that, he ran the place. Nobody messed with Sean. It wasn’t long after the salesman story that he told us another. This one about one of his old girlfriends, how she sometimes had panic attacks when they were having sex and he would pretend that he didn’t notice and how much better the sex was for him.
Sean was hard. Jack Henry Abbot hard.
Eventually, I worked up the nerve to ask him what he was in for. Turns out that this friend he had on the outside, the one who he would play the “interrupt the salesman” game with, was wrapped up in this tale as well. Apparently they were both very competitive and they came up with a game where they would count how long they could hold onto the hand of a salesman during the introductory shake before it was pulled away from them. They would do this all month and then tally up their scores. Turns out one month Sean was way behind so at 4:30pm on the 31st, he grabbed onto the hand of a Vice President and didn’t let go until the police were called.
Do you understand now? Do you appreciate just how hard Sean was?
Then one day, he was paroled and Sean was gone. Some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty when they’re gone.
I guess I just miss my friend.
His parting words to me were something about the only difference between gilded cages and prison cells was your definition of crime.
And as for me? One day, when I have a long gray beard and two or three marbles rollin’ around upstairs, they’ll let me out. On that day, Jack Henry’s observation about prison, “Every day takes me further from my life,” will come back to me and remind me again that I am not hard.