The trouble with going to prison. Part Three. No Undo.
April, 2011

Part 3 of 3

Most computer users know about “Control-Z.” When you make a mistake, just hit the Control and Z buttons and the mistake is magically undone. If you’ve logged way too much computer time, as I have, you may find yourself spilling a drink or scratching your car and instinctively reaching for Control-Z to Undo the goof. Duh.

We all make mistakes and wish we could Undo those instants when we’ve done something wrong. Most mistakes are easily forgotten, some are well beyond our power to atone. The haunting regret of most inmates is that somehow they could have that one little instant in time back so they could Undo what put them in prison. If I just didn’t go for a ride, if I just hadn’t lost my temper, if I’d joined the team instead of the gang, if I’d never starting using drugs, if I just hadn’t pulled the trigger.

But there’s no Control-Z, no Undo, no second chance. What’s done is done. Now many years, if not all, of their lives are forfeit but they’re still breathing, still remembering, still hoping for a ticket out. Year after grinding year, they’re still looking over their shoulder, still rereading dated letters from their wives and children, and wondering if they really are going to die in prison. The only goal most have left is their “date,” even if it’s 150 years from now.

The old joke is that everyone in prison is innocent. Not so. It’s a big joke inside as well. Most inmates understand quite clearly that they’ve put themselves there and now only God or the Governor can get them out. They know firsthand the agony of guilt, and the awful penalties responsibility can inflict. And some of them, albeit a very few, know better than anyone the hope of forgiveness and the infinite price of redemption.

Some find peace in religion. Some find it in meditation or philosophy. Some in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or any of the thousands of solutions suggested over centuries of searching for life’s Undo button. Within that minority is an even tinier group that profoundly regrets the pain they’ve caused and sincerely prays for forgiveness from their victims, their families and God. You don’t have to believe it, but I’ve seen it. Amazing grace at work – but they still have to do the time.

That being said, most inmates still haven’t looked beyond their own arrogance and stick with the loyalties and addictions they learned on the streets of Salinas, Fresno or LA. Some never find the Undo button because they’re too busy stuffing their denial with pride and rage. They’re faithful to their own gang religion, complete with its oaths of obedience and sacraments of blood baptism, drugs, lies and murder. The devil’s work, to be sure.

Memo to Salinas (or anywhere) gang bangers, embezzlers, burglars, pedophiles et al:  the trouble with prison is there’s no Undo button. Nobody cares who you are, if you did it or if you’re sorry you did it. But they’ll do what they can to find out what you’ve done. Then they’ll deal with you in the “prison way.” Whatever you can imagine that to be wouldn’t even be close to reality.

One lifer put it this way: ‘Take a good, long look at your wife and children, your parents, family and friends, because you’ll never see them again, ever. You’ll remember them but they’ll forget you.’ While you’re at it, give yourself a new name, because the name your parents gave you may be a death sentence.