Dignity

David - Huntsville, Texas
Entered on May 26, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that what is expected of me is not good enough. What is expected of a convicted murderer? My jury did not issue this life sentence with any hope of reform. The sentence rejects and incapacitates with finality. It speaks to the condemned, “Go away from us. You have no place here.” In response, one must cringe in the darkest corner of the cell, the efforts of his mind and hands falling to irrelevance. I require more of myself.

I was sentenced, but I will not yield to bitterness or idleness. While I cannot compare my crime to theirs, I feel the human imperative that urged Mandela to endure, Solzhenitsyn to survive and bear witness. In the fixed center of an imprisoned mind, I ask the same question as such a hero: what is my obligation?

I face each day as a duty, because I believe my dignity demands it. From the singular, inexcusable mistake of my youth, I must tear the lesson of my lifetime, and upon this I will rebuild a humble ethic. With this code, I step forward:

I will accept as salutary my confinement.

I will rebut any claim that my life is over.

Through education and discipline my mind will flourish.

I will run to this retribution as the only atonement possible.

When I was eighteen, a twisted remorse urged me to fight for my freedom and atone later. My trial was a lie, my appeal a further deceit, and my incarceration the only deserved consequence. To prison then, where I would choose my response. With my mesh sack of possessions and the fright I could not hide, I stepped into my first prison dayroom, where I was immediately asked to choose sides. Some bigger, some smarter, some more afraid of me, each man was engaged in the motions of his choice. A distilled life occupied each prison cell: the quintessential junkie, the most miserable cynic, the bravest burglar. Each face, confronted with the ultimate censure, set like plaster. I looked from them, into myself, and back to them. I saw two potentials. I hardened myself as well – against the bitterness, against hopelessness.

I have not sold out my fellow prisoners. Make no mistake about it: mass incarceration fails us, and I fight to resist its embalming corruption. I am neither a rare example of contrition nor a con hatching my latest scheme. I am one voice among millions, rising to be heard or knocked back down.

I posed these questions but received no response:

Can I say anything to atone? How should I live? Who will accept my remorse? My punishment was leveled with an expectation of rebellion. No one can account for someone who submits.

So I am free, against all that is reasonable, to respond to my failure as I see fit. With my unaccountable resilience I am free. Submission has made me free. Regret has freed me.

I believe in the dignity of the lowliest among men.