I opened the window inside a California Institution for Women (CIW) cell. Suddenly, before I could focus on the sights, I was hit square in the nose by the stench of a putrid decay of waste.
I imagine that is what my resentments and disappointments have smelled like — all piled up, then spread out across my daily affairs like fertilizer. Cultivating the lush green crop of my jealousies. Enveloped in red rage, blooming like currants. Making me drunk and dizzy with thoughts of vengeance.
These emotions seemed to sprout up in me from the depths of my pain. Growing daily, they begin to tangle like untrellised vines. Fettered around my heart and hanging off my neck, choking the life out of my thoughts, conversations and body. I hurt badly, and I long with a passion for everything I had no time to free myself to be. You see, not having “a pot … or a window of my own to throw anything out of,” (unknown who exactly said it first) there was no time to be anything except a survivor.
I was born in the spring of 1984. In first grade, I took an aptitude test called Choices. I was smarter than the Los Angeles Unified School District grade level, and I was bursting over at the soles of my shoes with playful energy. Both my parents worked, they had each other’s phone numbers and were not on crack cocaine, which marked the streets like stop signs and traffic lights.
I didn’t then, nor do I now, understand why they didn’t when so many of my peers had parents that dealt. They didn’t want for anything material. Even some drug-addicted mothers managed to make sure their kids didn’t lack or become excluded from extracurricular activities. Social and athletic pursuits in school were what I believed were my ticket out of depravity and the stigma about my race showing on every news station.
I often stared out of the window to watch the boys play football in the streets. I’d later hang out with, and pattern myself, after them. I began to resent God and wonder why I wasn’t a male. I wasn’t comfortable being female. I also wanted to know why I wasn’t loved or important enough to be provided for and doted on as someone with special potential that needed to be financially and emotionally secure and encouraged in their pursuits.
I don’t want to paint the worst picture. I wasn’t completely uncared for. I have to give my mom credit for the love she gave, and what she did to provide for me. She did her best by herself to make sure I was clean, that I ate. I was also fortunate enough to own a Nintendo when we all had Nintendo fever. I blitzed with the best of them on my Nintendo 64 — the most expensive thing my father ever bought me.
My mom made sure the lights and gas stayed on. I may have been sheltered, but I was raised with values that are priceless.
When it came time for me to start behaving like a girl or young lady, I had to be lectured by my oldest sister and mom about what was expected of a girl of 12. My rites of passage were tweezed eyebrows, China bangs, Sweet Honesty from Avon and Teen Spirit.
In junior high, I took up band. I made it to senior band by checking out my cornet daily until I was good enough to play the trumpet. I couldn’t participate because of money. I began to act out even as my sister and mom argued constantly. Neither one of them were meeting the expectations of the other.
As I visit the slides of my memory, I see my young self in my mom’s lap at the breakfast table. She drank coffee and watched people coming and going from our kitchen window. I can remember seeing baseheads, or crack addicts, and strawberries, or hookers. I had no idea that women in dirty wigs and high heels with no stockings, and men pushing junk and cans in shopping carts, made dreams come true for some men, turning them into princes while manifesting nightmares for others, turning them into paupers. Some were a bit of both.
I definitely didn’t know then that I would become an addict, who fantasized about the chunks of euphoric ease and comfort. I can still see through the windows of my mind.
Today as I reminisce, my past haunts me. Ghosts hang across my windows like sheer valances. The ghosts of ghetto princes. The ghosts of the children I once played with, now mostly deceased. As I sit here I’m taunted and teased by the slick luck of the ones that remain, peering in on me from the outside while I’m locked in — the self-made, spotlighted, celebrated.
I keep gazing out of my window like the daydreamer I am, just to detach from my trapped reality of this cell. To hope. To imagine. I pretend I crawl out of the window into the loving arms of a community filled with opportunity and purpose. Most importantly, a chance for me to vibrate on a higher frequency, as the electrical being I know I am.
I pray each day that my resistance to negatively charged vices holds up strongly enough, so I don’t short-circuit. Blowing the brilliant light that will flow out of me and into the open windows of opportunity like daylight.
When I parole, or as we like to say, “When I touch down, fresh out,” I’ll be a new individual in the eyes of God and my fellows.
It is now my deepest hope to be rid of the resentments, my jealousies and the rage that has stifled. The power of God’s breath, which is ever blowing. Should I open the window or not? That remains my question.
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.