Photo by Ella Baxter on Unsplash.

A few days ago, my cousin sent me an updated photograph of my daughter. She’s almost 13 years old and beautiful like her grandmother. She is the love of my life and my heartbeat. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give or do for my baby girl. 

As I say this to myself, I realize that I’m full of shit. As of this writing, I’ve been down for nearly 12 years. Damn near her whole life. Breathing in an oversized coffin, with five decades to go. It’s unbearable. Fucking thug life, right?

The only father she’s ever known is the one that her grandparents drive her hours to see in a crowded prison visiting room every once in a blue moon. Old vending machines and pat searches. Laughter and awkward stares working symbiotically to drown out the tension, tears and grief in a room filled with broken dreams and promises. My dreams and promises … unbearable.

As I sit in my cell, listening to Drake’s new album that I’m embarrassed to be enjoying, I’m reminded that I don’t even remember how long it’s been since I’ve held my little princess in my arms. 

The saddest part is that I’ve become used to that empty feeling. A world without love. But what’s even sadder, is the thought of my baby girl becoming used to a world without me … unbearable.

Since my incarceration, my uncle was murdered. So was one of my best friends. My big homie died of cancer, and I recently found out my mother passed while I was walking in a prison yard. Was she thinking of me? Or the shame of my incarceration? A world without them … unbearable.

Snitches get stitches. The tears shed and the pain felt are never to be spoken of again … unbearable.

My cousin is in a cell right next to mine. Found guilty of not signing a plea deal. Sentenced to 25 years for details that aren’t important at this moment. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret putting him on the set and somehow sealing his fate behind bars. Yet I feel more guilty because I’m grateful I don’t have to do this time without him. Our family moving on without us … unbearable.

This is my life. Collect calls. Beans and rice. Racist guards. Burpees on burpees on burpees.

Within these walls, fences, razor wire and concrete cages are endless heartbreaks and stories just like mine. Trauma on trauma on trauma. Pain on pain on pain. Guilt on guilt on guilt. Yet, the only time it was OK to cry was when the rapper Nipsey Hussle died.

Shedding tears for yourself is beyond comprehension … unbearable.

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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Felix Sitthivong

Felix Sitthivong is a writer incarcerated in Washington.