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An EKG reading is seen over a page of handwritten text.
Illustration by Sarah Rogers

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.

I wake up in the arms of Suicide while Surrender sleeps silently against my chest. 

She occasionally taps her fingers on my rib cage, mimicking the rhythm of my heart. How the three of us fit into this bunk bed is still a wonder. Staring at the 96 bars that confine me, I feel Suicide’s grip as it tightens. Surrender is now pounding on my chest. My heart is racing.

The pain is unbearable, but for a few moments I embrace it. I do and I don’t want this pain to stop. 

It intensifies. Tears cascade down my face.

As I wipe them away, Suicide’s grip softens. Surrender has returned to tapping softly on my side. 

I look at the word tattooed on the web of my right hand: “Love.” On my left hand is the word “Life.” I repeat these two words silently to myself until my bedmates leave.

I lay motionless in my drying sweat and tears, staring at this photo on my wall. Their smiles are the first thing I see, but their eyes arrest my attention. Almond colored, just like my own. The faces of my little girls — the only thing I’ve ever done right in my life — remind me that my life does matter.

Motivated, focused, I turn the sink on and watch it expel brown liquid. Refusing to lose my drive, I grab a bottle of water and attend to my daily hygiene. Once I’m done, I take up my weapons of choice — pen and paper — and begin my day.

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.

Tony Triplett is a writer incarcerated in Illinois. He is a 2022 graduate of the Northwestern Prison Education Program.