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I’m a lifer inmate in the California prison system. I’ve been incarcerated for 31 years for second degree murder since the age of 15. Next month, I’ll be 47. I do not feel old or incapable of doing anything physical. In fact, I feel pretty strong and healthy. I feel as though I’m just beginning to reach my prime.

A couple years ago, my cellie told me about how he had been down 19 years for kidnapping and that he had experienced a bad parole board hearing six months earlier. “Man, this dude has been down forever,” I thought. 

But at that very same moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I had been down for 29 years. That same year, in 2019, I started to hear a younger inmate referring to me as an OG when he asked to get in line after me on the kiosk machine that lets us sync our tablets. 

In the old days, OG stood for original gangster. Nowadays, younger inmates use the term to address older inmates when they don’t know their names. The youngsters also use OG to refer to old timers who have been down in prison for a long time. 

“OG?” I kept repeating to myself. “Whatever,” I thought dismissively. 

In the past year, however, I started to hear more people referring to me as “OG” or “Old Man” more frequently. 

That has made me more conscious about my age. I’m finding myself looking into the mirror more often. 

I can be in denial about getting old and feel bitter about it, or I can just simply accept the fact that I’m growing more mature each day and keep on pushing.

I don’t feel any wear and tear on my outer body. But being incarcerated for so long, I’m starting to feel a toll on my mind and inner soul. What worries me the most is losing my mind to some kind of brain disease like dementia. I’ve had a few experiences with memory loss, so it’s a concern. I try to work out and write to stay healthy physically and cognitively, and hope that I will not lose my memory permanently.

I also worry about the well-being of my parents. I’m afraid that they will pass before I get released because they’re both in their 70s. Both of my grandparents died back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. My grandmother had hoped to see me again in-person before she died, but her wish never came true. She had last seen me when I was only 6 years old.

Keeping me in prison until I become an old man makes me feel as though my family is also being punished for my crime. Will the system wait until every member of my family dies before they let me go? Sometimes I wonder if they are intentionally preventing me from having a family of my own. It feels as though I’m being deprived of my right to procreate. 

Or even yet, will they wait to release me until I no longer remember or recognize my remaining family members or anything about my past?

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.

Tue Kha is a writer incarcerated in California. He is working on a novel titled "Kormic."