The word "LOVE" spray-painted in blue on a concrete wall
Photo by Amin Hasani on Unsplash

Asleep on my steel slab, I was soon awakened by an officer’s keys jangling at my cell door. “Day room, you have 30 minutes,” he shouted. I got up, brushed my teeth, threw on my shoes and walked to the phone.

After dialing my mother’s number, I noticed the word “love” etched into the block wall surrounded by all graffiti. Still half asleep, I heard my mother’s voice. The morning was Feb. 20.

Her words poured forth. I could feel my heart sinking to my stomach. In that 20 minutes, it felt like time stood still, yet it was over so quickly.

My ex-wife of 10 years lost her battle with breast cancer. She was only 40 years old.

Our son, Dylan, is 15. He lost me to prison seven years ago at age 8. The agony of him having to bury his mother weighs heavy on my heart. Where will he go? Who will take care of him? Why would God allow this to happen to my son?

In prison there is virtually nowhere to go to grieve. Family is all I have while in prison, and this quarantine has been emotionally difficult for all prisoners. Contact visits are suspended, the video visits have been broken for over a month, and phone calls are impossible to schedule, as we never know when we’ll be granted our 30 minutes. We all know someone who has lost family or friends during COVID-19, so how do we grieve when we’re locked up 23.5 hours every day?

Prisoners are not getting hugs from family, nor do we get a line of cars driving by with signs and blaring horns. We sit and occupy our time with good thoughts and ways to improve our lives for an opportunity to show society we still belong.

Family has been here from day one. Without them, the pain would be unbearable. Seeing my son grow up through pictures has been tough, but joy enters my heart when I see all of his accomplishments.

As men, we are taught to be tough. We hold in our emotions and “suck it up.” Prison can harden your heart, but only if you allow it. I will use my pain to show my son how I will improve my life in one of the hardest environments.

My son and I will mourn together, even though we are so far apart. Prison will not defeat me, nor will it hurt my family with its corrupt agendas. Prison reform may be centuries behind, but my will to thrive is how I will get by.

When writing my son, that word “love” appeared to me just as it was etched on the wall. As the ink flows on the paper, that word “love” will be used to help him heal.

A father’s pain will never go away, not while being locked up in here. But at least I know my son is safe. Although his mother left us on that particular day, we both understand that we gained an angel for the rest of our days.

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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Aaron

Aaron is a writer incarcerated in Illinois. He is publishing under his first name only for fear of reprisal.