If I look down at my right wrist, I see a black Ironman Triathlon watch — robust, utilitarian and reliable. The band is not the original but a velcro strap crafted from the scraps of an old medical brace. I describe its color as black wearily because I know that this particular timepiece has been hand-painted in at least three different colors in the past, depending on the preference of its owner.
The chronograph and timer functions are hard to pull up because the buttons are stuck. But with persistence they reveal themselves. This $30 sports watch shows the day, date and time, and will illuminate its face with a warm, neon-green backlight in the dark. There are two alarms: one is set for 4:30 p.m., which is chow time, and the other my 10 p.m. meditation. I treasure this wristwatch and have yet to replace the battery after two years of loyal service, but I used to wear one much more expensive and meaningful.
My silver Movado had a black face. It was sleek, costly, and sent a message to other men’s watches that they were not worthy. The last time I saw it was when I was put into a holding cell at the Alachua County Jail as I reluctantly handed it over to a rude intake officer, who I knew would steal my treasure if given the chance. Oddly, in the midst of my arrest and life-changing disaster, I was still concerned about how I would be able to tell time without my beloved watch.
For years, knowing the time held an important place in my happy, busy existence. Time was a fact that I could count on to plan my days. I picked up my son at 3:15 p.m. from soccer practice. I met my wife at Luciano’s for drinks at 6 p.m. sharp. It attended a 9 p.m.meeting with a new client. I dropped off the car for an oil change between 4 and 5 p.m.. So many people, places, and things revolved around the minute and second hands on my wrist.
At times, I wore a classic Nautica piece with a brown leather band that matched my loafers. Other times, I used a white G-Shock to keep track of my sets at the gym. I even wore a borrowed gold Rolex to my wedding, which I would never dream of being late to. I didn’t check my watch once that day in the hopes that the joy of my nuptials would continue on forever, unencumbered by space-time, uninterrupted by the minutiae of life.
When I got to prison after county jail, I felt naked without a watch. Even the most monotonous details of incarceration could be clocked, and I felt like the earth would stop rotating on its axis, and that time would cease to exist if I wasn’t constantly watching it. Chow time ran into rec time which ran into count time, with no separation of the phases throughout my day.
Time elongated into one debilitating sentence. If I didn’t know what time it was when I woke up, I didn’t want to start the day. I wanted to mentally record how many hours of sleep I got each night.
A lifetime of trivial events and grand occasions had ingrained a sense of duty for my mind to look at the clock. Be ready for softball with my buddies at 5:30 p.m. Don’t miss the 8 p.m. “Friends” finale. Attend Mom and Dad’s anniversary dinner party at 7 p.m. There were many memories that didn’t seem real unless I knew when they had happened.
It took me a few weeks to buy my first used watch in prison. I was hesitant after seeing a kid get beaten to hell for not giving his Casio to a gang member.
Eventually, I bought a simple Timex with a cracked face, but I cherished it like a precious gem. I would hang it on the post of my metal bunk when I slept, making sure that it was always one open eye away from me.
I timed my daily routine and plotted my schedule with the precision of a train conductor, content to have broken up with my circadian clock once and for all. When the battery died almost immediately, it sent me into an anxious spiral. I searched all over the cellblock trying to buy another watch, haggling and bartering like a salesman.
It didn’t take long to find a Seiko with no band that I temporarily hung on a string around my neck. I constantly glanced down at it, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment again to make each prison appointment on time. Each time one of my cheap watches broke, I went on a mission to replace it before the days blended into the nights.
My Ironman watch may not survive until I’m released. I may need to search for an overpriced Armitron or an ancient fob from the eighties, but I will do whatever it takes.
I will do anything to separate the segments of prison life into manageable blocks of time, anything to keep track of time until I get out.
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.