This holiday season, Prison Journalism Project contributors surveyed their prisons on a variety of holiday-related topics. Timothy Monk, a writer incarcerated in Arizona, asked people in their prisons: If you could give a gift to anyone what and who would it be for?
Monk conducted his reporting from solitary confinement at the Arizona State Prison Complex – Eyman, in Florence. In a message to PJP, he said most of his subjects provided their answers written down. “The people [I interviewed] live in the same cluster as me, in single-man cells,” he wrote.
And some asked him for editing help. “The answers were theirs,” Monk continued, “I just helped them clarify how they wanted to say what was on their mind, otherwise they wouldn’t agree. … They just didn’t want to sound stupid when it came to answering a simple question.”
Here are their answers:
Brad: Ha! Why should I give anything to anyone? I’ve never been gifted anything in my life, save for the burden of living in a stress-filled existence. My life was not a gift to me, but a sordid indulgence I’ve been forced to endure. And when I say “forced to endure,” I mean it in the most penological sense. If I chose to take my own life, then I am told that I will burn in hell. Although, if I choose to live, I am forced to endure the hell of existing in a life I do not love, which is the saddest state of affairs one could possibly endure.
Michael: Well, I would say the gift of time — a measure we all seek more of, but fail to use in any real qualitative sense, save for our own selfish suasion.
Carlos: I want to gift someone the benefit of knowing the difference between the truth of what we are told versus the lies we are proffered by those who were responsible for crafting the past we’ve all been forced to swallow.
Mark: I will not share my fantasy answer, as it would be more geared toward the ancient Roman philosophy of debauchery, all day long, with those we think are the most desirable people to us. So I would say the ability to live without the threat of constant worry and despair.
Timothy: A hard question to answer, for the most part, as tastes differ with each person. Although, if I were forced to trim it down to one gift, I guess I would attempt to make it a utilitarian gift, one with multiple uses, and universally gender-neutral. I would proffer the gift of comprehension over knowledge, as the latter is simply the accumulation of unused information. Whereas the former grants one the insight to form a cognitive and quality opinion based on inductive and deductive reasoning, one that utilizes the collected datum to weed out fact from fiction.
Khalil: The ability to share the world in peace.
Lorenzo: The truth about our cosmology, what our creator really is.
Zach: To be able to talk to animals. I’m sure they would disagree with our philosophy of taking their lives to sustain our own.
Darrel: Me, to everyone! If humanity followed me, the world would be my oyster!
Chen: To meet those they most admire. An opportunity to learn why they contrived the philosophies they did, and if it truly was for humanity and not for recognition by their leaders.
Adrian: To have parents like mine. Those who loved me enough to always be there for me, ones who never let their struggles become my pain, and allowed me to choose my own path, despite how ignorant or dangerous it might be. Freedom to choose is important. To be born into a slave-like existence — to controlling parents — cannot be healthy for anyone.
Ernie: To never have a desire to want for anything more than what they need, and to gift the excess to those without.
Max: The ability to forget what is damaging to their mental state, the strength to overcome their disabilities, and to rid the world of any form of mental health afflictions.
Todd: To truly understand what love is, the benefits it can bring to those who need it, and the ability to share it in more than one way. If all of humanity could feel the love of being a parent, of bringing life into the world and protecting it from heartache, pain, want and fear, senseless death would become a nonfactor.
Jaden: To understand what it means to live in fear of one’s own mind, and how to have sympathy/empathy for those who cannot. Mental health afflictions are truly weapons of mass destruction. They affect not only the prime victim, but those that live with the fear of losing a loved one to its incessantly malignant and degenerative nature.
Sam: To possess the beauty of understanding and never forget we all come from the same terrestrial plane of existence. We are all family in one form or another, including the flora and fauna of this planet, and beyond. We are all scions of the stars and grandchildren of the universe. I am certain that if all of humanity could be taught this fact, and verily comprehend it, humans might be less inclined to kill one another and be more apt to help someone who is an actual part of their own family, and not some stranger to exploit for their own personal gain or pleasure.
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.