The Innocent Prisoner
First published June 14, 2014
First let me say, I was innocent and I never stopped saying so until the very end. Of course, nobody believed me. Eventually, not even myself. That’s just the way it was. They weren’t going to take me at my word. I was hardly the only one proclaiming innocence in that place! Some of the men in there had worked so hard to convince others of their blamelessness, they eventually believed it themselves. I guess it was the only way they could come to terms with what they’d done.
But I had done nothing wrong. At least not anything worthy of a life (and death) in prison.
I don’t even know if I was wrongly identified or if the police and prosecutors were too lazy or overwhelmed to bother looking for the real criminal. And who was I to them, anyway? If I hadn’t done that particular crime, surely I had done another for which I had not been caught. And if I hadn’t done another, certainly, eventually I would. Any which way they looked at it, they were doing society a favor.
I was put in too young, too poor, too stupid to even know what kind of life I’d missed. Maybe they were right. Maybe, eventually, if left on my own, I would have committed a crime to land me in jail. It’s not as if I had a lot of options.
So that was my life. Endless petty dramas. Insane acts of violence. Cruelty for the pure pleasure of it. Vengeance and spite. Tiny hopes, inevitably shattered. Lessons no man should have to learn.
After a while, even though I still proclaimed my innocence, I forgot to care that I’d been wrongly imprisoned. Prison was the only world I knew. I hadn’t functioned very well outside before I was arrested, but I was savvy enough to know there was no way I could function out there after so many years behind bars. I had no clue how to live in freedom. We all talked tough about what we would do on the outside, what we eat, who we would fuck, how great our lives would be if and when we ever got out. But guys like me? We were more scared of being released than of dying in jail. We just didn’t know the territory out there.
Eventually, unlike the others who self-denied their own guilt, I began to self-deny my own innocence. All the detailed stories they told at my trial; the way they said I’d done it; hell, maybe I really had. I could barely remember anymore what was true and what wasn’t. Maybe I was just like those other guys who had absolutely done the crime, and had absolutely convinced themselves they hadn’t. Maybe my memory was playing tricks on me.
But anyway, what did it matter? After a while, you just abandon any hope of justice and just accept injustice as your lot. I suppose it’s one of the lessons we all have to learn eventually, but there sure seems to be a lot of people learning it all at the same time, living that same pain over and over.
Maybe we need to experience it again and again because each time around, we miss the fundamental lesson. Maybe we have to experience it for a thousand lifetimes before we understand that injustice is a basic element of the human condition. And maybe, only then, in absolute irony, we will no longer need to suffer any more lifetimes of injustice.