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Art by Prison Journalism Project resident artist Sharon Adarlo

Life on the inside is a painful struggle, but the strain on my family financially and emotionally is immeasurable. As my parents continue to age, the stress takes its toll on their physical health as well. Not only does this place seem to suck the life out of me, it’s eating my parents alive like a bloodthirsty animal. There is no way out of this legal maze with traps and back doors that always lead me back to the starting block. 

The one thing I can’t forgive myself for is that I dragged my parents into this mess. My parents have loved me unconditionally for 31 years and do not deserve this. I feel that the only way to heal their wounds is to gain my physical freedom and escape from behind these concrete walls. 

What hurt the most was when my grandma passed away in January of 2018. She was an integral part of my life, and the glue that held our family together. I was an only child, the only grandchild that she saw being born. She was with me from the beginning and even came to visit me in prison just weeks before she passed. From start to finish, she stayed with me and she loved me. 

I know that Christmas this year will not be the same for my family. My grandma’s love and joy for life touched everyone she came into contact with. She will be missed. I realize that if I had been on the outside, I could not have prevented her death. However, the decisions I made prevented me from being able to properly grieve and support my family. Most importantly, my father was in great pain and I needed to be there for him when he lost his mother. I failed him yet again. I should have been there with my family to celebrate her life. 

There will be future life-altering events, and being cut off from my loved ones is so very painful. These fears add to the long list of issues that continue to eat at my mental health and stability. I have issues of anxiety, depression and insecurities which continue to get worse. I have yet to discover a healthy way to cope and handle these kinds of moments. 

I can’t figure out a way to win this war. Staying busy with school, reading, writing and working out seem to help for periods of time. But stepping back into reality, I realize I’m living in a never ending nightmare. I was sentenced and punished with a term of 39 years. 

I am learning that the mental and physical anguish are just things I need to accept as my constant partners on this journey. Life will never be the same. The daily grind of trying to stay positive and push forward takes a lot of energy and steal small amounts of my joy and optimism. I’ll just have to wait and see where this journey will lead and when it will end. Living behind the walls of the Stateville Correctional Center has caused me great heartbreak, stress and pain.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Todd Mandoline is a writer incarcerated in Illinois. He is a 2022 graduate of the Northwestern Prison Education Program.