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Man observing his figure reflected in a mirror
Illustration by francescoch on iStock

For me, solitary confinement is a wonder. 

There are sacrifices, of course, but when that door closes and I know it will not open to interrupt my chain of thought, I feel only contentment.

I am an introvert. The chaos of the prison yard, the noise of all the disparate energies, circling and stampeding, drive through me like the slow flow of toxic sludge that kills flora and fauna. 

In the recreational yard, I become a stagnant pool, stinking and turgid. I need to write. I have to write. But I cannot silence the conflicting energies flowing in and around me, through me, intruding, a continuous buzz of chaotic nothing. 

In solitary, the years have no weight. I can write. I can sink into the silence, into myself. 

What I embrace is a terror for most people in solitary. They have to be alone with themselves in the silence while looking into a mirror that contorts them into aberrations. 

No one ever taught them to be gentle with themselves, so they enter the silence with a whip in one hand and a pistol in the other. Immediately, they beat and assassinate themselves over and over again.

They adopt the voices of those who should have been most compassionate, most forgiving — mother, father, grandfather. They castigate themselves with the language of misunderstood love. In the silence of this place, they think they deserve it.

It might be a cliché, but forgiveness is not for the other person. It is for yourself.  Forgiveness allows us to put a demon to rest. In true forgiveness, the voice at the core of the hurt wisps away. When we are able to forgive ourselves for the hurt we have done, it is like being freed from the weight of infinity.

We’re always tying knots and forging chains; but when we cannot see them, we mistake the origin of our pain and blame ourselves. 

That is why this place breaks people. They only see emptiness where, in fact, a billion universes exist. If you look, they can be seen.

That is what administrative segregation, called AdSeg, is to me. It is why I love this place. If I could have guitars, I could live in it forever. 

Contentment — wherever you are — is a matter of acceptance. If you feel that your life is lacking with “coulda, shoulda, wouldas,” it leads to discontent. Both are states of mind.

In the quiet of this place, I can search infinitely for the meaning of life. I can make this world make sense because I expose it to itself. Faith and fearlessness is all I need. If you only run the same circuit — round, round, round, round, round — you won’t see anything new. Ever.

My confines may be small, but within them, my world is infinite. This is my space, and the only noise within it is my own. It is my choice to live or to die, to be dead and alive or awake and living. My chains are my own, and I blame no one for the making of them.

Iron is only the vibration of atomic energy: spinning, spinning, spinning. To change its frequency is to change its path. 

Similarly, thought vibrates at high frequencies. It is ever eager to transform, to transcend itself. Its shape is limited only by ourselves. AdSeg is an opportunity to look inside.

Where better to listen to ourselves than this hole they keep us in? Where better to hear?

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.

David Neff is a writer incarcerated in Colorado.