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Art by Donald Boutté
Artwork "Love" by Donald Boutté

I’ve been incarcerated for three decades within the California Department of Corrections. Prison time is indeed monotonous. The days feel mundane and tedious while time slowly passes, ticking your life away.

Folsom State Prison was some kind of living hell. During my stay there, the beds in the infirmary and the cells in the solitary unit were always full. Although this place isn’t anywhere near as violent, spending all of one’s time here in such bleak, unrelenting surroundings tends to pull my sense of good cheer here and there. Living amid high stone walls, electric fences and many high gun towers makes for an unattractive environment. The frequent sounds of electric gates contribute to my feelings of being trapped and cut off from everything outside. You see, little is really known about this hemmed-in closed habitat by those who live in the larger world. There is not much beauty behind these walls and fences of coiled razor wire. Few things grow except the sparse, dry grass on the big yard. Occasionally, a seagull lands on the big yard or a flock of geese flies high above. I sigh, moved with emotion as I watch them, fixated, for they can fly away at any time in contrast to the prisoner who can never leave. You see, I live in the stripped-down world permanently, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without respite. 

The other day, I looked at myself in a small shaving mirror mounted on the wall of my cell and saw a 61-year-old man looking back at me. A young man had come in, back in 1991. That young man is gone. There are lines on my face now and I could see an older man behind bars, waiting and watching time go by. It’s disheartening. Nobody wants to grow old in here. I realized that if I didn’t stop thinking about it, I’d soon be wiping my eyes and yet, the feelings themselves remain under the surface.

Following my entire adulthood in here, I wonder if there is really any point to what I’m doing or what I’m supposed to make of a world where I’m merely frozen in place here in lifelong detention while the years fall by the wayside. I’ve never had a visit nor had anyone to make a phone call to. I’m forgotten in this barren place. 

I’ve designed a sketch as a token of my appreciation to you for taking the time to read this. If it were possible, I’d give the joyful simplicity of this one meaningful word to all of humanity. I know of no other means to reach mankind including in this place of exile. Sometimes I look for another word to use but I can come up with no other that so well expresses the great need of the world. Hence I keep to this one word: Love.

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.

Donald Boutté is a writer incarcerated in California.