By: Gunther Fiek
Posted by: Bob Chatelle
This milieu is full of unknowns and uncertainty. Anything can happen here without any kind of notice. As an inmate, you are assigned to a cell house with other inmates you probably don’t want to be with and, likewise, assigned with a cellmate you know nothing about. I had mentioned in my previous post how in this environment we are surrounded by individuals with different type of personalities and different beliefs — various backgrounds too. Despite the amount of time I have already served, to this day I still feel out of place in this hidden and dark world. A world where the good and ugly side of humanity comes to light. It has been difficult to find someone who shares a similar ideology or philosophy as I do, not to mention a background too. One way to fit in with a group or find someone to befriend is to assimilate some of their personalities type, character traits, likes and dislikes or even the way they communicate. A task I often found difficult to do.
When I was growing up in Peru, my family moved every few years from one neighborhood to another. When we moved to the states we also moved a few times before we finally settled in one place. It was either because of my father’s work, convenience or economic reasons. It was always difficult for me to make friends and it took me some time before I got comfortable and started hanging around with someone. However, every time I was finally getting to a comfort zone we would move again and I had to start all over. I envied my little brother. Every time we moved, we haven’t even finished unpacking when he was already playing with new found friends. He’s a magnet with people and no matter where he goes or travels he has no problems fitting in. At times, I wish I was like that.
So one can imagine how difficult this environment has been for me to find other guys that I can associate with. It’s even harder to trust anyone. You question anyone’s motive to want to talk to you. All these men here and yet you know nothing about them. You wonder why they are in prison. Any of these guys can fabricate a background: where they used to live, what type of work did they do, family, economic status … you name it. I have encountered so many of these ‘characters’ that is difficult to put a number. You often get to know something about someone because of a reputation he may have or rumors about him. That, fortunately or unfortunately, follows you from one prison to the next. Here, we jokingly call it ‘inmate.com’ although believing everything or anything that is spread by the mouth of a bunch of convicts is nothing short of believing that Abraham Lincoln invented the internet.
I’m a pragmatic person so I usually don’t settle with what someone tells me about something or someone. I like to find out on my own, however, being conscious about what I have heard or been told. When I first came into the system, an ‘old school’ once told me that there are no friends in the ‘chain gang’ although I’ve found a few exceptions. (This man had been in the system for over 30 years and was closing in to his 70th birthday). I kept that in mind but, naturally, during the first couple of years of this turn my life took I started hanging out with guys I found something in common with: language and culture. Yes, with other hispanic inmates. But that meant, in a way, that I had to exclude, push aside or treat differently guys of another race or culture that lack that commonality. That wasn’t me. It goes against my convictions.
It is said that a man’s worst enemy is usually someone closest to him. I found that out quickly although I tried to ignore it. I like and try to believe in someone who I’ve offered my friendship to and when it came into question I often gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe at times I gave them to many chances for the sake of salvaging that friendship. I reckon it is because I just don’t want to loose something it is difficult for me to have. Men can often take advantage of the friendship you’ve offered to see what they can get out of it. It is when you have nothing to offer but yourself, who you are, when a true friendship is put to the test.
It is because of experiences that I’ve lived the reason why I, in a way, erected barriers around my self so that I can filter in – or out – people. I’m careful who I offer my friendship to and even more careful to not judge someone. I’ve always had the desire to help those that I see want to change. You sooner or later realize that you’ve made a mistake but, as I said before, once I’ve offered someone my friendship I try to salvage it. I confess that with time I realize a person’s intentions but I turn a blind eye just for the sake of their company. It is also because I learned that I can do my time better, as it also gives me happiness, when I’m able or was able to do something for someone. But it is in man’s nature to disappoint one another.
I fear loneliness but I have always felt alone. I’m a Halloween baby. My birthday was just a few weeks ago and, much like many other birthdays I’ve had, in or out of prison, I spent it alone. Nonetheless, loneliness is just a feeling. A feeling that at times is difficult to overcome depending on the strength of your ‘pillars of life’ (see previous post). You soon realize that you are not alone or were never alone and this conviction has allowed me to endure the road my life has taken. A road I was always being prepared for.
“Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. For in God our hearts rejoice in your holy name we trust. May your kindness, Lord, be upon us we have put our hope in you.” (Psalm 33, 20-22)