Photo by magnezis magnestic on Unsplash

It’s difficult to be present in the moment, especially in solitary confinement where everything sucks so bad. 

Ask any chronobiologist — someone who studies innate biological rhythms — what the vacuum of solitary confinement does on the psyche, and they’ll explain that being cut off from sunrise to sunset with no access to a calendar or watch will disrupt one’s natural circadian rhythm. But do you want to know what solitary confinement is really like? 

Imagine going to a zoo, and there is no sunlight, fresh air or hope. You pass time on instinct, which means you pace. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the vicious cycle of counting footsteps. The thousands of footsteps that you count makes you feel like you’ve been trapped for an eternity. I wonder what the San tribes of the Kalahari Desert could make of my footsteps? 

The San community is one of the oldest cultures in the world and one of the last extant groups to follow a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They are renowned for their expertise in tracking. By viewing a clear footprint, they can determine if someone is injured or sick, a person’s gender, or whether the person was frightened or relaxed. 

When they see my footprints, they would almost certainly recognize that I’m caged. What else, I wonder? 

In the Kalahari Desert, everyone knows one another’s tracks. A footprint is like signing your name, which is a segue into another pastime of mine here in the hole: graffiti. 

Imagine a poet inscribing sonnets in invisible ink or a composer writing symphonies in subsonic tones. Graffiti writers in solitary confinement place their cloaked lives, names and loves in their dark recesses. 

Urban legend says to never write your name on these walls or you’ll spend eternity in jail, so I never sign off my work with my name. Instead, I always accompany my work with a verse from the Bible. 

My latest piece of art is inspired by the biblical story of one of the miracles of Jesus: the coin in the fish’s mouth. In this story, the Apostle Peter finds coins in a fish he catches in the Sea of Galilee per Jesus’ instructions. I’ve spent days working on the scales of the fish alone; it makes the time here pass. 

In solitary confinement, it’s easy to slip into torpor as one’s visual and auditory faculties dull with each passing day of unrelenting sameness. 

Will someone read this writing? 

I hope so. 

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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Scott Culp

Scott Culp is a writer incarcerated in California.