Photo by Oleksandra Bardash on Unsplash

There is a house outside of the large wall surrounding the New Jersey State Prison, a quaint little Tudor house with an attic window. I can see the upper portion of the house from my housing unit and when I walk around the prison yard.

Back in my high school days, a good friend of mine lived in the attic of a similar house in Long Island. His room faced west and from the attic window, the sunsets were epic. Sometimes we would climb out of the window to sit on the roof that hung just over his driveway. From that point of view, we could watch the girls from our high school playing basketball on the court across the street.

All these years later, here this alien swath of land with its barred windows and barbed wire, I can look at that little Tudor house and find solace in its presence. It reminds me of a much happier time.

In prison, being melancholy is not a feeling but rather a state of being — in perpetuity. A few fleeting moments of joy feel like gasps of air for a drowning soul.

I don’t know who lived there, but that attic window with its pink curtains, was a breath of fresh air. In this sea of despair, that attic window became an island of hope. In that window, humanity was alive and well. 

I am Muslim so holidays like Christmas and New Year don’t mean as much to me. Yet during Christmas, someone would place a pink placard sign in that attic window, wishing all a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” 

Through falling snow flurries, I could see that pink message of love. The humanity of that simple act touched me to the core. It caused me to smile in my despondency and, for that, I am forever grateful. 

In my mind, I often place myself in that attic, wondering how the view must look from that vantage point. Surely, looking out at the wide expanse of the prison — foreboding and threatening — must have felt foreign and eerie from behind those curtains. The apparitions inside must have appeared ghoulish.

Over the years, the little attic window changed steadily. First the window was shut, its curtains draped, no more pink signs spreading love across the expanse. Eventually, it was just boarded up. The view blocked, the hope crushed and the well-wisher silenced.

I didn’t like seeing the changes, but I did understand. I am a pragmatic man, after all. People move on, things change. And from their perspective, the prison must have been a frightening place, filled with ghosts. In a way, they were right — partly. As it is with all things, there is good and bad here. And in prison, there are also many who are just misplaced. Wandering spirits.

So, yes, I understand but I am still mournful because I never had a chance to show my appreciation. Among the many evil wraiths that roam these cell blocks, I like to believe I am one of the friendly ones. So, if by some chance of fate, this composition reaches the one behind the pink curtain in the attic, I just want you to know that from the bottom of his translucent heart, Casper says: Thank you

(This essay was originally published on the blog, Captive Voices)

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Tariq MaQbool

Tariq MaQbool is a contributing writer at the Prison Journalism Project and maintains Captive Voices, a blog where he shares his poetry and essays as well as the writings of other incarcerated people. He was convicted of double homicide in 2005 and is serving 150 years at the New Jersey State Prison. His work has been published in The Marshall Project and The News Station.