Everyone in prison is innocent, if you hear them tell it. They didn’t sell those drugs. They didn’t rob those people. They definitely didn’t rape that little girl! Some prisoners actually are innocent, and that is one of the worst tragedies. I fell somewhere in the middle. From a legal standpoint, I shouldn’t have been in prison. However, the law is a complex blizzard of ambiguous words, statutes, and case citings that often leave the common man rendered inept. In other words, you are guilty until you can prove otherwise. That’s a hard reality to swallow and I can’t tell you how many people I saw turn to religion to cope.
Religion is HUGE in prison. My guess is because the current United States prison model is based on the early Quakers’ ideal of penitence. It was believed that if a person committed a crime in society, he had to atone for it with God, and therefore was sent to a place of penitence (hence the word “penitentiary”.) Today, however, this concept has become perverted beyond recognition, as prisons have become big business, and religious groups function more like street gangs. Instead of Crips and Bloods, you have Muslims and Christians. I’ve never seen a more divisive tool in prison than religion. Ironically, its the one thing that should have unified people. We were all experiencing the same drab conditions, all having our basic human rights deprived, and all in need of healing our souls—Muslim, Christian, and Jew alike. Unfortunately, most prisoners disregard the basic commonality of principles in their respective faiths and use it for other means. I saw numerous people become crazy with religion. Literally.
Mental illness is one of the biggest overlooked issues in prison. When I first went to prison, I saw a guy I knew from the streets walking like a zombie. Other prisoners were making jokes about him, calling him a space cadet because he frequented the pill line daily to receive psychotropic meds to treat his mental illness. The guy was only 20 years old with a Life sentence! Later, toward the end of my bid, I became sick. At the time, I was working fervently on my appeal, my father had just gotten sentenced to 30 years in Federal prison, and my fiancé had officially moved on. In addition to all those things, my finances had dried up, so I couldn’t afford to eat the specially prepared meals I had grown accustomed to. Rather than stomach the slop from the cafeteria, I simply chose not to eat most meals. All of these factors led me straight into a state of depression. I refused to accept the doctor’s initial diagnosis because I associated depression with weakness. “I’m a Sinclair, we’re not weak”, I told myself. Yet the symptoms persisted. Shortness of breath, lack of energy, restlessness, anxiety, and weight loss…all of the signs was there. My only bright spots were reading the books my cousin Gwen would send me, and writing my first novel. Eventually, though, the depression withered me down into submission. After discussing things over with my family, and doing more research on the subject, we concluded the doctor was right in his diagnosis. I cast my fear of becoming a zombie aside, shuffled slowly to medical, and told the doctor to do whatever was needed to return me back to normal.
Fortunately, I only had to take antidepressants for 3 months before I was back to normal. (In fact, I felt major results in just three weeks.) Classes were also a part of my treatment. During those classes I discovered some sobering facts. For instance, 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed with depression at least once in their lifetime—and those are the ones who actually seek professional help. I learned that a lot of addictions derive from depression, as millions of people attempt to self-medicate. Promiscuity, alcoholism, and even religious fanaticism could all be attempts at people just trying to “feel better”. Most importantly, I learned that tangling with depression didn’t make me weak. It made me human.
In conclusion…I absolutely abhorred every second I spent in prison nursing my suspended ambitions. However, in retrospect, I must admit that I learned a lot of things while in prison that made me a better son, brother, father, neighbor, and ultimately, a better man. Most importantly, I learned that prison, just as in life, is what you make it.
By Shaun Sinclair
Read Part I of this article series http://nyahmag.com/?p=2496
Read Part II of this article series http://nyahmag.com/?p=2754
Shaun Sinclair is the author of “Forbidden”. A native of Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, the Army veteran has also worked as a Law Clerk for six years. He is called the Underground Sensation due to the sizeable following he had amassed without a book publishing contract. Now he is ready to make his impact on the literary world and show why he is the “next big thing.” Book coming 2013.
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Cover Photo Courtesy of http://www.ehow.com/list_6979991_halfway-houses-ex_cons-utah.html