Artwork by Sharon Adarlo

(Republished with new art created by Sharon Adarlo, Prison Journalism Project’s artist-in-residence)

Blood and tears drip slowly on the asphalt ground. Laughter can be heard in the distance. Each breath takes a toll on my equilibrium. I struggle to stand up and make every attempt to walk and cry for help. Time stands still in the worst moments. The memories of trauma can last forever.

If evolution has taught us anything, it is that strength comes from pain and adversity. Pain comes from a bad place, such as anger, hate, despair, loss, or poor self-esteem. 

As children, we are not all born into any of these types of emotions. We are either taught these emotions, witness these emotions within our environment, or become bystanders to events that sway our minds to these emotions. Violence is a major event that can change a person from being a healthy, successful member of society into a vengeful, bitter, cold-hearted bully. It is up to the individual to make the choice of which one they choose to be.

I have been bullied all my life. I am smart, athletic, and outgoing. I work out regularly to stay in good shape. I love sports and I am very sociable. I am also gay. Only because I choose to date men, I am scrutinized and targeted. I am viewed as weak and insignificant. The only person who looks out for me is me. 

I have always loved working hard, saving money and treating myself to the nice things in life. In prison, I still work hard and save money. There are a lot of inmates within the population who do not work or have money, so they end up prey or worse, predators. Predators often target the younger or smaller inmates. The most common targets are usually those who are gay or transgender. We can not always rely on police or any Department of Corrections staff to help us. 

From experience, staff is not obligated to provide support, and they do not care. We are merely blamed and placed in protective custody or solitary confinement. Thorough investigations tend to fall through the cracks, and we are left feeling defeated. The most important ways to help keep anyone protected are to set clear and healthy boundaries and to understand how to be assertive. For someone who is passive, soft-spoken, or has poor self-esteem, this can be very challenging.

What does it mean to set clear and healthy boundaries? In prison, physical and social boundaries are very important. Physical boundaries are respecting the other person’s personal space. If someone is too close in your space or you do not feel comfortable with any type of physical interaction, let it be known and understood. When you stay silent, you could be indirectly giving another person permission to make inappropriate advances. 

Then, there are social boundaries. We all enjoy sharing our stories with other people, but when the conversations become tasteless and disrespectful, then social boundaries have been crossed. You can choose to address your comfort or simply remove yourself from the conversation. That choice depends on the relationship you have with those individuals. Respect yourself by having realistic boundaries and always be respectful to others. What you say and do goes a long way in prison.

More importantly, knowing how to say “no” can help keep your boundaries strong by asserting yourself. “No” is a powerful word. You will be asked to do things you may not want to do. The worst things you could do to yourself is let someone push your personal beliefs aside and force you into a situation that could have severe consequences. When you are honest with yourself and others and choose freely to say no, you will build self-confidence, your self-esteem will improve, and you will assert healthy boundaries. 

I thought going to prison meant I was a failure to my family.  I felt my parents would see me as a disappointment. I felt overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. I was on the verge of suicide. I had a can’t-do attitude. I felt like I would be prevented from contributing to the world, even though I knew I had potential to do great things. But I realized I can redefine my success by redefining my attitude. I took the wonderful qualities I had and worked to make a difference by helping others build courage through resilience. I got knocked down and felt defeated when I was bullied, but my courage made me a survivor. 

The best support we have is our friends and our family. If you have a friend or loved one in jail or prison, send them a postcard, a greeting card, or a letter. You are making a world of difference at a time that may be rough. It is very important for others to see and know an inmate has a strong support network, and there is no better feeling in the world than to be thought of. 

We all have insecurities and fears. Courage is the ability to face them, and the will to overcome adversity. We can face adversity alone or seek guidance from our loved ones, but you never have to feel you are alone. Even in the worst times of our lives, we can choose to work to make the world a kinder, better place. 

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.

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Chastyn "Nova" Hicks

Chastyn “Nova” Hicks is a writer incarcerated in Arizona. Writing is Chastyn’s passion, and he sees it as his calling. He has been witness to many experiences as an individual who straddles different worlds: gay, straight, Puerto Rican, Latino and Black. He hopes to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves, and to improve the world through his words and his voice. Chastyn wants people to know that they are never alone, he is there to listen and provide hope.