An incarcerated man pulls away a gray curtain to reveal blue skies
Original illustration by Maria Stavreva on iStock. Adapted by Teresa Tauchi.

I don’t look at prison as a punishment anymore. On the contrary, with ample time to expand your mind and scope of thinking through contemplation and meditation, I look at prison as a sort of higher education. 

I’ve had the privilege of visiting a few dorms in my life and can say they have a cell-like feel to them. 

Sitting on the toilet of my small cell, I write this with a happy outlook. Time, in all its restraint, is a beautiful thing when you utilize it purposefully. 

I try to meditate every day, and I write often enough. But even little things can be meaningful — like folding your blanket when you get out of bed, or spot cleaning the floor of your cell. 

I was homeless for part of my life before prison. It was the most traumatic blessing I’ve endured. Some days I was so hungry — especially after I decided to give up shoplifting and eating out of the garbage — that I would sit for hours on end, pondering life and my status in the world. I would think so long and hard that I ultimately stopped thinking.

I didn’t believe it was a bad thing, but the authorities spent a lot of time scrutinizing me. They interacted with me on a daily basis, trying to get to know me. Eventually, they carted me off to jail.

I was under a lot of stress. Three times in one month the baristas at a Riverside Starbucks kicked me out for simply being homeless — or at least that’s how it seemed to me. The last time they did, I snapped. I was tired of feeling harassed. I went to the bathroom, set fire to some toilet seat covers with my lighter and walked out. 

Probably not the smartest decision, but I felt like I had made my point.

People pick on you in jail, too. The key to mastering your time and staying out of the way is figuring out who you are and living that truth. You can never let fellow inmates or those in authority compromise who you are or where you are headed.  

The chaos of daily life on the streets takes a toll on the body and mind. I had to try and pick up the shattered pieces of who I was  But it wasn’t until prison that I was able to cultivate my self-understanding. 

Prison doesn’t have to hinder or stifle your existence; it can actually provide a stepping stone to your elevation. With so much time to waste, if you just turn inward it can prove to be the difference of a lifetime.

Beyond meditation and writing, I try to prioritize personal care. I kid you not: I recently realized the satisfaction of lotion, which I apply to my legs, arms, stomach and chest. Moisturized skin can make a huge difference. It’s just one way I try to show my outer shell love.

Help comes in the shape of anything you can use. In hindsight, I know there were countless people that had an eye on me and my well-being even if I hadn’t believed it. 

Life isn’t short. Get to know yourself and who you are. Don’t compromise on yourself.

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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Antwain Love

Antwain Love is a writer incarcerated in California.