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If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, round-the-clock help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line by texting “hello” to 741741.

Fire fills the scorched sky. Embers and blazing hot ash swirl in the wind. The deadly heat and swarming flames engulf buildings, trees and all living things. I stand witness to the relentless fury that embodies my terror and anguish. 

I take a small step forward and fall into a bottomless abyss. There is only darkness. The silence frightens me. I struggle to gasp for a single breath of air in this dense void that threatens my sanity. Every chance I make to scream is impossible. Anxiety builds as each moment draws near. I will face my untimely demise; then, suddenly . . . 

Lights out! 

It is time for bed. 

I am relieved and ready for another pleasant night’s rest. 

I find myself in a small cottage overlooking a grassy field with golden daffodils. The soothing aroma of vanilla and lavender fill my home. The glow of sunshine beams out my window. The soft touch of romance fills my soul with serenity. My soulmate kisses me softly and hugs me gently then whispers, “I love you.”

My eyes open. I see the clear blue sky. I feel the healthy warmth of the springtime sun. The air is fresh. Inmates are enjoying recreation. I look to my left and see some inmates playing basketball. I hear other inmates working out and carrying on conversation. I sit in the middle of the yard as my friends beside me share their stories. I smile, but only hear their words as I look around and remember random moments when I felt whole. 

I walk inside my dorm and stand weak in front of the mirror. I stare shamefully at the imperfect version of myself. My eyes create many refractions that unleash my insecurities. They speak to me: “You are an abomination!” one voice whispers. “You are weak!” More and more voices shout in unison saying, “You are fat!” “You deserve to die!” And “No one wants you!” Tears erupt from my eyes and slide down my face. I hear each one explode as they hit the ground.

Time is backward and obscure in my reality. The walls of prison take many forms — they remain fortified within the realm of my mind. No matter where I exist in the outside world, I am a prisoner. My only freedom is to escape to the illusions of hope as I sleep. 

“You can’t fix me!” I scream with rage. My mind is under attack by harsh traumas of my past. I clench my fists tightly, hold my breath, struggle to maintain composure as images of violent terrors shuffle in my mind then abruptly halt to a single memory. 

Nov. 2, 2019. 

I wake up feeling empty inside. I am lost. I do not belong. The world would be better without me. I go to the corner store, walking like a zombie, and buy a red soda, order a pizza. 

I arrive back home and throw the items on the table. I swallow over 75 pills and devour what I call my last meal ever. I lay weak on the floor as I feel my life fade away. I am ready to die. I would finally be free. 

Then, unexpectedly, I throw up. I reach for the phone and call the crisis hotline. An ambulance arrives, and I head to the hospital, where I spend three weeks in inpatient care. 

Mental illness is hard to understand. It is easy to feel displaced from society — I know I did. We experience many emotions in so many ways and in so many settings, while there may not be a cure for mental illness, as a society, we need to realize there is a solution to help those in pain: compassion. 

Compassion requires an ability to look deep within your heart and offer emotional comfort to another person. The compassion you give to another person during their most fragile point in their life could ultimately prevent suicide. Be kind. Show empathy. Offer compassion. 

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.