A person can starve to death in prison. By starving I don’t mean death through lack of food. What I refer to is the withering and death of the human spirit through lack of love and affection. The talking heads on television promote the image of people behind bars being animals, and it’s true. It’s true because the spirit which once made them human has been starved to death, and they become a black hole in human form.
Prison is designed to separate, isolate, and alienate you from everyone and everything. You’re not even allowed to so much as touch your spouse, your parents, your children. The system does everything within its power to sever any physical or emotional links you have to anyone in the outside world. They want your children to grow up without ever knowing you. They want your spouse to forget your face and start a new life. They want you to sit alone, grieving, in a concrete box, unable even to say your last farewell at a parent’s funeral. It’s not just that things work out this way—it’s that they’re intentionally, and sometimes maliciously, designed to be that way. You’d be surprised how many members of the staff actually get off on it, like sadistic torturers. Others simply don’t care, because they’ve never looked at you as being human in the first place.
I believe there are only two unstoppable forces in the universe. One is love, the other is intelligence. I also believe that a person’s capacity to love is directly related to their intelligence level, just as hate corresponds to a person’s level of ignorance. The only thing that makes it impossible for the system to destroy you and grind your spirit into nothing is to be more intelligent than it is.
In some ways maintaining a relationship while entombed behind these walls is like trying to overcome brain damage. When one area of the brain is damaged, the other areas have to find ways to compensate by evolving and developing new neural pathways that would never have come about under normal circumstances. In here, the “normal” ways of expressing, giving, and receiving love have been damaged beyond repair. If you don’t evolve, your relationship will very shortly die. You can’t kiss your wife goodbye every morning before heading off to work. You can’t hold her when she cries, or sneak up from behind with a surprise hug. There is no going out for dinner, or heading to a hotel for a weekend getaway. It creates tremendous stress fractures on a relationship which eventually causes the entire thing to crumble. When you have an argument you can’t even hold hands and talk sweetly to one another when making up. You’re limited to whatever emotion you can express in a ten-minute conversation on a telephone which other people are listening in on and recording every word. The vast majority of people in prison are not intelligent enough to overcome these obstacles, and soon find themselves alone, left behind by people who have moved on.
My wife and I have struggled, fought, wept, and laughed as we were forced to discover new connections. She’s the only person I’ve ever seen who has the tenacity and will power to keep going when all others would have given up and walked away in defeat. We’ve had to take turns guiding each other through dark places. In the end it helped us to create a stronger bond than others who get to live together under the same roof. We’ve grown together as a single organism.
Times have been both hard and magical. I’ll never forget the Christmas we spent brokenheartedly whispering to each other on the phone, listing all the presents we would so dearly have loved to be able to give the other. Sometimes we decide on television programs to watch together and it’s as if we’re going to the movies on a date. We adjuste our sleep schedules so that we go to bed and get up at the same time. We talk to each other all day long. For example, I’ll think of something she said or did when she was last here and suddenly find myself laughing at her antics and saying, “You monkey!” I speak out loud, forgetting for a moment that I’m alone in a prison cell. Instead, for that time period we are playing and cavorting together. We both do this.
One of our greatest inventions was moon water. Another prisoner once discovered me making moon water and he said it was so illogical that it nearly drove him insane. For months afterwards he would stomp his feet in frustration and bellow, “This shit is crazy! It makes no sense! That shit is making my head hurt!” For some reason the thought of it seemed to hurt his mind. Then again, he was a little unbalanced to begin with.
Moon water can only be made once a month, on the night of the full moon. After the sun goes down and the moon rides high, you fill a container with water and set it on a window ledge so that the moon casts a reflection in it. You must leave it there all night, so that it catches as much of the moon’s light as possible. You have to remove it right before morning, so that the sun’s light never touches it. It must then be kept in a dark place. My wife and I did this every full moon for years, and we would take a single sip of the water at the same time each night while thinking of each other. In that moment we were united, no matter how far apart we might be. You only take a single sip each night so that you have enough to last the entire month.
Of course, the other prisoner didn’t know all this. He only knew that I was hiding a container of water which I took one drink from each night, after the moon had been reflected in it. He kept asking questions like “What does it do to you?” I gave no answer. Once when he could take it no longer, he filled a glass with water and put it in the window. After half an hour he reclaimed it and poured it out while angrily proclaiming, “Fuck that, that’s heathen shit.”
Moon water is a neural pathway which would never have been explored under normal circumstances. For every way the system attempts to separate us, we can’t help but seek out new ways to pull ourselves together. In the end, hatefulness and ignorance will fail in the face of intelligence and love. The proof is in the moon water.