A Day in Solitary Confinement

From cell block nine

I am released,

For a narrow window of time.

Cell Block NineCell Block Nine

Narrow Window of TimeNarrow Window of Time

With burlap covering my eyes

And my hands cuffed behind my back,

The guard knows I

Cannot attack.

With confidence he leads the way.

Not a word do I dare say.

My senses tell me I’m in a long corridor

But we have not yet passed through a door.

Long CorridorA Long Corridor

Door to Corridor

Door

When suddenly the guard’s grasp

Upon my arm adjusts

And I hear the rusty sound of metal.

I recognize the sound,

My memory serves me well

Inside this prison’s hell.

Prison's Hell

Prison’s Hell

I feel a hand now press my head,

This is my cue to bend.

I’m told to take another step

And with that step

I fear the place I may be near.

But finally the guard decides

For just a minute he’s on my side.

He tells me where I am

And where I shall reside.

Solitary Exercise Yard

Solitary Exercise Yard

My thirty minutes don’t last long

In the concrete yard

With little reward

But the sun’s deep warmth.

The sun, it makes me grin

And my mind wonders

Back to the days before

I stole the horse named Gin.

Four stone walls

And a concrete floor

Are the solitary exercise yard.

No hoop or ball

Just me and four concrete walls.

I pace

And make my heart race

While the sun beats down upon my face.

I smile all the while

Until at last

My name is called,

Metal scrapes,

And once again

To the darkness I dread

I am lead.

With each blind step I climb

My mind begins to numb.

Blind StepsBlind Steps

The solitary life that I now live,

Is one I must forgive.

copyright Robyn Graham

The poem above was inspired by a recent trip to Eastern State Penitentiary in which I did the audio tour and heard testimonies from former prisoners as well as former guards.  If my memory serves me correctly, the first prisoner to experience solitary confinement was a man who stole a horse.  His head was covered so that he could not define his where-a-bouts and so that no one could identify him.  The images accompanying the poem are a few that I felt coordinated well with the story told through the poem.  The quote below by Charles Dickens really summarizes what life in solitary confinement was like.  The quote, too, fell in line with the words of my poem.

“Looking down these dreary passages, the dull repose and quiet that prevails, is awful. Occasionally, there is a drowsy sound from some lone weaver’s shuttle, or shoemaker’s last, but it is stifled by the thick walls and heavy dungeon-door, and only serves to make the general stillness more profound. Over the head and face of every prisoner who comes into this melancholy house, a black hood is drawn; and in this dark shroud, an emblem of the curtain dropped between him and the living world, he is led to the cell from which he never again comes forth, until his whole term of imprisonment has expired….He is a man buried alive; to be dug out in the slow round of years….

And though he lives to be in the same cell ten weary years, he has no means of knowing, down to the very last hour, in what part of the building it is situated; what kind of men there are about him; whether in the long winter night there are living people near, or he is in some lonely corner of the great jail, with walls, and passages, and iron doors between him and the nearest sharer in its solitary horrors.” – Charles Dickens in 1842 after he visited the Eastern State Penitentiary

 

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”  1 John 2:9-10