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Color fireworks light up a night sky
Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

As an incarcerated American, Independence Day sets off a host of emotions: memories, longing and patriotism.

I miss going to Inkwell Beach in Atlantic City on the Fourth of July with my little sister and dad. We would celebrate the holiday on the beach, cooking out with my dad’s friends and their kids. My dad would throw us in the ocean and build us a sandcastle, then we would watch the high tide wash it away. At night, everyone on the beach would stare into the sky, watching as the fireworks blasted off amazing designs and colors.

The older I grow in this cell, the more I wish I would’ve served my country better. 

Perhaps I could’ve been an infantryman on the front lines, protecting the republic like my grandfather.

It was he who instilled in me a sense of patriotism. Every morning he would wake up in the ghetto and fly the American flag off of his balcony. I can still see it undulating in the breeze, my grandpa standing tall beside it.

My grandfather always reminded me that, though we were Black and sometimes faced challenges, we were still Americans and reserved the right to be patriotic. He told me that the freedom this country affords us deserves to be fought for.

My grandfather served in the Korean War. As a kid, I enjoyed looking at his patches and pictures of him in the mountains with his rifle. 

Sometimes, I have felt like I let my grandfather down — and, in that sense, my country too.

As an incarcerated American, I long for the freedoms that I once took for granted: being able to walk freely, uninhibited by a wall, or to jump in a car and cross state lines without notice. 

Before prison, I had been unaware of the opportunities available to me here that were not for people in other countries. Now I’m longing for a second chance to be an American because in here, I sometimes feel un-American.

As an incarcerated American, Independence Day reminds me that even though it may seem like the odds are stacked against me, if I believe and fight hard — just as our forefathers did — I can be free.

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.

Kory “Hussain” McClary is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey who enjoys writing short story fiction. His writings can also be found at his personal blog