but what does it feel like?

recently a visitor asked me what jail is like.  he then went on to say that of course he didn't except me to be able to describe it.

he's right – i don't think i can properly describe what it's really like to be here.  but his question made me think about how i'd sum up this experience, and i'm going to give it a shot.

i've tried in this blog to give you a picture of my surroundings, a sense of what the days are like, an idea of the kind of things that go on.  what it feels like, though. . .that's harder.  at the risk of sounding melodramatic, the closest i can come to it is this: it makes me feel diminished as a person.  the real me is not allowed.  the person that i am is disrespected and devalued.  i'm infantilized, and i struggle to hold on to a sense of dignity.  and it's 24/7, day after day after day.

words are weak.  i think it's something you have to experience to fully understand.

i often think of that experiment where random people were split into two groups: prisoners and guards . it feels a bit like that because really, we're not so different.  i hear the things they talk about while i clean their bathrooms and fold laundry and they sit around and do nothing.  how many of them have never broken the law, i wonder?  if they'd been caught smoking pot or shoplifting in their youth, they'd be the ones caught up in the system now.  who gets trapped in the cycle (of arrest, bail denial, guilty plea, probation violation, repeat repeat repeat) has a lot to do with a person's financial situation, background, neighbourhood, and sometimes just blind luck.  and presto! look at that: one's a guard the other is an inmate.

in seventeen days i'll be released.  if (when?) i run into my jailers on the outside we'll be equals.  we'll be the same people we are now but they won't be in blue and i won't be in green, and no orders will be given or taken.  does it seem weird to you that outside this fence we'll suddenly interact in a completely different way?  this temporary hierarchy is so weird to me that sometimes i'm completely knocked off guard and disoriented by it.  who do they think they are to speak to me that way?  what gives them the right to treat me like this?  what authority do these people have to tell me what to do and where to be, to yell at me for washing my spoon at the wrong time or forgetting to close my door?

i am the equal of every single one of these guards.  i'm just as smart or smarter, i'm older than some of them and i'm as nice or nicer than most.  so why did i have to lay in bed last night listening to one of them yell and scream and completely lose control over someone brushing their teeth after lights out, and then worry about whether or not i'd be able to sneak in a brush myself?  i'm 38 years old and i'm nervous about brushing my teeth.  it's absurd.

they look stupid when they enforce their ridiculous rules with such aggression, like any of it really matters.  i'm embarrassed for them.  they act like schoolyard bullies because they can, because they know the complaint system here is a joke and they won't be held accountable.  they know they'll get away with it.  even the ones that don't need complete control over every little thing, and know how to behave like reasonable adults, still enforce random and nonsensical rules.   they're not even rules really, they're more like personal preferences that we are expected to keep track of:

-this guard is the one that doesn't like people wearing flip flops to the bathroom at night;

-this guard is one of the few that wants the doors closed for the duration of quiet time;

-this guard does a strip search like this, but this one does it like this;

-this guard doesn't allow you to take papers to the phone with you, but nobody else cares;

-this guard needs you to sit on the stool while you're on the phone and not use it to write on;

-these guards don't want your laundry bag out in the common space until the morning, while everyone else is okay with it going out the night before.

honestly – we need a spreadsheet.

imagine being constantly on the alert, knowing that one step out of line, even a line you didn't know was there, might cause someone with absolute power over you to freak out.  imagine having to stand there and watch them lose their shit – along with any entitlement to your respect they might ever have had – all the while knowing that you could be sent to the hole for saying any of the things you really want to say:

-look at yourself.  you're being a child.

-how about we discuss this like rational adults?

-actually, you're wrong because of x, y and z.

-please get a grip, you strange, strange weirdo

it's oppressive, it's constant, it's exhausting.  i can definitely see how people with a low sense of self worth (and no support network to boost their ego!) could walk out of here feeling far worse about themselves than when they came in.  it weighs on you, this feeling of always being wrong even when you're right, of being considered a lesser person even when you know you're not.  it chips away at the spirit, even on good days.

and that's how jail feels to me.

oh, Vanier, how i won't miss you.