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Photo by Manikandan Annamalai on Unsplash


Behind these walls there is a hidden space.
These dark tunnels where a soul gets erased.
Hope is funny to us.
It doesn’t live down here.
Just pain and hatred
maybe some fear.
To cry for help seems absurd
so our screams go unheard.
A level below death
leaves u feeling like there is nothing left.
Self destructive as we stumble around in perpetual night.
It’s dark in these here tunnels
when at the end there’s no light.

I wrote this poem as a description of how I’ve felt living the alternative to the death penalty: life without parole (LWOP). It’s also known as life without the possibility of parole. I’ve met many men serving LWOP, and it’s like a secret society nobody wants to be in.

At times, we all kind of gravitate towards each other since we all know what is behind the smile we put on. We try to keep each other up on the laws that might help us. We share the disappointment when they never do. So many of us have no reason to rehabilitate nor many ways offered to do so. 

And yet so many I know have been some of the most calm and laidback individuals I’ve done time with. We are on the bottom of every work list, self-help group list and any vocational training if the prison you are in allows men serving LWOP to get in. 

See, we are invisible in the eyes of the world. We are considered the worst of the worst. So why do we need to rehabilitate, right? But we are still humans. 

Some of us have grown to understand just how much we have taken from the world and how much we have lost as well. Serving a sentence of life without parole gives you a different outlook on things. As dark as these tunnels are, many men serving life without parole tend to gain perspective and insight. 

You snatch all hope from a person and they might start to wonder how they got to that point in life. No one wants to make the same bad choices they made that lost them everything. Would you? 

Make no mistake, the alternative to the death penalty has a way of either rehabilitating a person or killing their soul. We stumble in the darkness searching for light, no matter how dim, until we find it or we don’t. 

You would be surprised at how many of us would survive if you gave us men and women serving life without the possibility of parole the opportunity to live. We have all committed terrible crimes. But we are not all the same as we were then. The thought of there being a light can be crucial to each step we take in the dark.

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.

Leon Brown

Leon Brown is a writer, a proud husband and father. He hopes to show people that some of what he has done is not the sum of who he is. He is incarcerated in California.