Photo of the health clinic at San Quentin State Prison by Eddie Herena.

“Ouch,” I think as I roll over to shut off the alarm clock that awakens me at 2:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings on my prison bunk. I awake before the sun shines to do my job — other people’s laundry. It sounds disgusting, but I’m just grateful to have a job and an easy one at that.

The “ouch” was the ache in my arm from it going numb. I don’t know how my arm can be simultaneously numb and in pain. All I know is that my body has most definitely changed in prison as I have aged.

When I became incarcerated, I was a fresh 25-year-old mother of two, full of life and energy. No aches and pains. Now at 42 years of age, I can tell you just how unkind these prison walls have been to this once vibrant body of mine. Sometimes I move slower. At times I even limp. The good thing is, my mind is still as sharp as a tack despite the trauma of my situation.

With this clarity of mind, I have gained much wisdom and much insight. I have developed patience and built up a spirit of endurance. I’m more mature. I’m more tolerant. I had little of these qualities as a youth, especially when it came to certain things. But on the flip side, I have zero tolerance for ignorance and disrespect.

At times I have to simply laugh at myself when I get annoyed with the younger generation for their lack of respect for others. I pause and think to myself, “Am I just being old-fashioned?”

I was raised on a system of good morals and values, and for this I am so grateful to my parents.

After I think of how blessed that makes me, I correct the young woman and give silent thanks to God. No, I’m not old-fashioned at all. I’m acting the way a lady should act as taught to me by my parents. I’m acting my age.

 
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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Chanell Burnette

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia.