A man in prison and the woman he loves are separated by a brick wall.
Illustration by TopVectors on Depositphotos

The word “love” is hard to explain in the context of prison. 

We write it in letters we send home. We say it at the end of phone calls. But I feel like many of us don’t understand it, not really. 

When they put cuffs on me, I was street-smart, world-stupid and emotionally naive. I knew all about hate and anger, but not about love. 

As inmates, in some ways we exist only in letters, phone calls and visits. And our loved ones exist in the same manner to us. 

For a long time I forgot about the life people had beyond the confines of these forms of communication, beyond their connection to me. 

Our surroundings in prison force us to think of ourselves in this way. It’s hard to consider what people are going through in the outside world when you’re locked up. In my conversations and letters with loved ones, I always make my prison sentence the main event. 

One day I realized I had a life outside of prison — in the connection to my significant other. She thought of me as a person, not a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation number. But I was so entrenched in prison that I had let it consume me from the inside out. In a sense, I even had her doing my time with me. 

At some point I asked myself, “Do I really love my girl or do I just want her because of what she does for me and represents to me?” 

This was hard to reflect on, but I needed to examine my love if I wanted to grow. I saw all the sacrifices she had made to be with me, and here I was, giving in to a prison mindset. My meditations helped me become a new person with a new outlook on life: Time in prison was something to do, and life was something to live, not the other way around. 

It’s easy to take love for granted when you can’t be around the people you love. My advice is to make sure love is an action, not just a word. We, in here, owe so much to the people who love us and keep us in their hearts.

At times we are ungrateful and don’t recognize what we have in our lives, but most of us eventually come to the same realization that I have had.

I hope people will read this and, like I did, start living again, instead of just doing their time in prison.

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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Damian Miguel Cantu

Damian Miguel Cantu is a writer incarcerated in California. Damian was raised in Southern California, grew up on the streets of La Puente and Highland Park, and is trying to rehabilitate.