James W. Armstrong, Jr.
98480Northside Honor A
James River Correctional Center
State Farm, VA 23160

Were I given the task of searching out the loneliest man in the world, I would not look on the battlefields, nor would I search through hospital wards or skidrow streets.  I would intend rather to find my man in prison.  Nowhere, absolutely nowhere, can looks of loneliness be so readily perceived as when seen in the faces of convicts.

To understand the “why” of the convict’s pathetic loneliness you must first understand that:

1: Prison is a place where you must write letters to family, friends, and loved ones to preserve both your sanity and alligiance of those left outside.  It is a place where you can’t think of anything to say after the first Christmas.

2: Prison is a place where your hope is your sanity, where each parole board appearance means a chance, no matter how slim, of returning to your family, for many prisoners, the parole board is the only chance they will ever have of returning to freedom.

3: Prison is a place where a man must often endure years without feeling the touch of human hand or hearing a kind word.  It is a place where your friendships are keenly chosen for in them you seek a satisfying relationship.

4: Prison is a place where the flame in every man’s heart burns low.  For some it dies altogether; for most it flickers daily, occasionally flashing brightly, but never with the brilliance it once held.

5: Prison is a place where you can forget.  You can forget the sounds of a baby cooing, of a dog barking, a woman’s laughter, and sometimes you forget yourself.  You can forget the once familiar sounds of a dialtone of the whisper of a wooden door quietly closing.  You can even forget the sound of rain dancing on the city pavement while you try to keep dry in a doorway.

6: Prison is a place where you strive to retain your civility but find yourself sadly loosing ground.  Finially you begin to hate through clenched teeth.  You want to kick, bite, scrach and choke, but never find a proper target because the real object of your tattered hatred is time itself.  It gives you little to rely on, it ages you, drives you out of the lives of those for whom you care dearly, reviles you, and confounds you.  Times escape you, you can never catch it.

7: Prison is a place where you begin counting gray hairs as they appear or measuring the growing expanse of flesh replacing the hair.  It is a place where you begin feeling, you just don’t care anymore.

8: Prison is a place where you can play cards, read, or go mad to escape the reality of it all.

9: Prison is a place where a man can contemplate for many hours what the Psychiatrist told him: “You actually hate yourself”.

10: Finially, Prison is a place where loneliness is real enough to touch every year, month, week, day, hour, minute, and second of your life in it.

Can you feel the loneliness here?  I can.  Because I live it…