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Life Inside

From the Inside Looking Out

When you’re in prison, outside sights and sounds can become cruel jokes.

Nine a.m. Shots ring out. Pop, pop pop. No one stirs. No one bothers. Staccatos from the gun range outside our prison. All day long.

I was desensitized to guns at an early age—an age when the only firearms I should have known were those that fit into G.I. Joe’s grip. And yet these audio cues bring me back to the first gun I ever held. A 9 mm Taurus with a broken hammer and no safety. Two mismatched bullets floating in the clip. Praying that no one would ever make me use it. Pop, pop, pop. Old soda cans and beer bottles were the only targets my friends and I had to practice on. Hand-me-down pistols that my friends and I passed back and forth. These were the only things we had to protect ourselves in Brooklyn.

But I never even fired the gun that has me sitting here today—just my own stupidity and carelessness in being around it.

Guns don’t bother me. Repetition does. That is what has worn me down to the nub after almost 20 years. Get up. Do as they say. Behave. Keep your head down. Go to sleep. Wash, rinse and repeat. Add to that the constant pop, pop, pops from the gun range nearby. It’s endless.

I never see the shooters down there on the range, just like I never saw those who shot the stray bullets in my old neighborhood. We didn’t even duck anymore. Not until the one that knocked Kenny’s Yankee cap clean off his head. Kenny, one of the lucky ones. His hat is his holy shrine to chance. Forever perched on the mantle in his household.

Back at my prison—my penthouse with a view. Watching cars drive to and fro on the highway. Wishing to be in one of them so hard it hurts. Rather be driving to a funeral than slowly dying in here each day. Distant sounds of traffic whirring picking up where the gunshots leave off.

Look down. Lefty, the bird with the messed-up wing, wading in dumpster water. He can’t fly away with his brothers and sisters. He’s doing time, too. One of us. Got to feed him well. No mess-hall bread thrown out the window for Lefty. Only the best the commissary has to offer.

At night I hear coyotes in the woods howling at the moon. How desperately I want to howl! The moon, a better audience than any I have for my woe.

One night, fireworks pop outside the prison. We all, in our rooms, press our faces to the glass. Craning my neck to the left to better watch the explosions in the night sky. Mocking oohs and aahs belying the actual awe and pleasure that machismo won’t allow us to express. The minor-league baseball team at the stadium nearby must have won again. Or a holiday perhaps? For me, just another day.

Sometimes I do look up at the sky and remember the one I loved, her hand curled in mine and a smile stealing across her lips. I hear echoes of what we whispered only to each other. I smell the salty breeze blowing off Sheepshead Bay.

My mind’s eye tries so badly to recall when she turned to me and finally told me that she loved me without me saying it first. So scared she was to open herself to anyone. Let alone me, who she feared would be taken away from her as quickly as she uttered those three words. After I landed in here, she waited for me when logic and common sense told her that she didn’t have to.

In the hellish waiting room filled with outdated magazines and stale air, counting the seconds until I can again look her in the eyes and tell her that I’m sorry.

If only I could somehow turn away from these memories like I’m able to turn my back on the window that brings them up. Now all that remains are those fireworks erupting in my brain. I miss her so much.

Two more years of loss and longing. Two years on top of what I have already feels like an eternity. More repetition. More gunshots. Each one bouncing me back and forth between now and back then. Two long years of watching out the window, waiting, hoping. If she could only see, from this window of mine.

Keith Martin, 38, is a writer incarcerated at Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York. He is serving an eight-year sentence for attempted robbery.