Close up of a man playing bass guitar
Photo by Laura Nyhuis on Unsplash

I often write about the dark side of my experiences, because that is all that exists for the most part, but as I swing out of another deep depression, I’d like to focus on my dreams. I do not believe they will come to fruition, and I stuff ‘em down deep, so as to not wake up from them to the harsh reality that I’m still in prison. The dreams exist, though.

Some of my closest moments to God, some of the moments my soul has been most free and at peace, some of the moments I felt most connected to other humans were playing music. As Frank Zappa once simply put it, “Music is the best.” 

I think I was about 12 when I received my first instrument, a guitar. I have vague memories of a Muppets drum set from even younger years, but the guitar was the beginning. I fiddled around with it for several years but never formally learned how to play, although the creativity was there.

When I was 16 years old, a friend asked me to fill in for a member of his band. They called themselves The Asexual Lobster Sponge. During our first practice, I picked up the bass guitar and quickly got hooked. 

I remember endless nights in that friend’s basement, busting one blood blister after the next, learning to play bass with fingers instead of a pick. It was about a year later when I was introduced to what has probably been the most influential band in my 30 years of playing: the American rock band Primus. 

At one point, I was able to play most of their “Frizzle Fry” album. Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Tim “Herb” Alexander had a profound effect on all things music for me. Later, I was introduced to Jaco Pastorius, who was the next major influence on my playing. 

Since then, a whole string of bassists left their mark on me: Bootsy Collins and Roger Waters, Tony Levin and Chris Squire. But Claypool and Pastarous remain my biggest influences.

I draw inspiration from various musical genres, but jazz and funk are my favorites.

My own music project, the Discordian Society, has two studio albums — “Rise of the Molecule” and “Primordial Soup” — along with a live album called “Live From the Orange Peel.” I claim most of the writing credits, play bass, do some vocals and hold the copyrights. I miss it more than anything else. 

Unfortunately, my left hand is partially crippled from a brutal encounter with the Floyd County police in Southwest Virginia. My hand has worsened in prison because it’s difficult to secure medical care while incarcerated. I hope it can be fixed and that I can play my instrument again, but the longer I’m here, the less likely it seems. 

I can always compose though, so I still write music. I have thousands of pages of lyrics and hundreds of melodies.

For all my doubts and pessimisms, I believe I have one or two Grammy-worthy albums in me, especially if I draw from my experiences of captivity, trauma and abuse.

That isn’t my only dream. I’d also like to write a book. No one is likely to read 5,000 pages of journal entries filled with details of traumatic abuses and the names of the people involved. Hell, I don’t even want to read all of that, and I wrote it. But I think it can be edited into something good.

I also dream about making a movie. I want to write, direct and star in it, based on my seven months in solitary confinement. 

I’ll set the scene. Take a 40-year-old man with no criminal record but an extensive and documented history of mental health struggles. One day, the police illegally enters his home, fights with him instead of defusing a mental health crisis and then, finally, beats him up, throwing a number of concussive blows to his head. After our protagonist is imprisoned, they put him directly in solitary confinement. The movie will be in black and white with a lot of silence, narration from my journals and music from some friends and bandmates over the years. I think I could pull it off. 

Unlike my grand aspirations for a Grammy, I expect no awards for this project, though getting into Sundance or Tribeca film festivals would serve as immense validation. The real goal would be catharsis, the therapeutic value of making it.

The last big dream on the list is to design a video game or start a video game company. I’ve got a number of pages filled with ideas. None of them are fleshed out, just good starting points. Open world, maybe massively multiplayer online, mixed genre.

My other dreams are more like whims. I’d like to learn another language or two, including American Sign Language, but the crippled hand may interfere with sign language. I want to study neuroscience and learn more about severe traumatic brain injuries.

I’d like to study physics. I’d like to have a big garden and learn to grow my own food. I’d like to learn to play piano or how to play the guitar better. Lots of whims, a few cohesive solid dreams. 

My captivity has done some damage, especially in mind and spirit. Currently, it is set to last nine more years, which, for a myriad of reasons, I am unlikely to survive. So I store these silly ideas deep down where they cannot be remembered or seen, a prisoner of a cruel traumatic reality that will never be free to be.

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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David Annarelli

David Annarelli is a father, musician, activist and PJP contributing writer. He was born in Ft. Worth and raised in Philadelphia by his adoptive parents. David began writing as a means of coping with incarceration. He is incarcerated in Virginia.