Once upon a time I was a Death Row inmate, Level 3. What that means is I was the residue at the bottom of the barrel. There is absolutely nothing below that in the world we call PRISON except one thing – the lethal injection table.

Death Row, Level 3 means you’re in a cell with nothing but hygiene, reading and writing material. No commissary. No electrical items. Not even your personal clothes – just boxers, your prison uniform and 1 pair of shoes.

You’re left to figure out the rest.

I know that reality like the back of my hand. Breathed it. I metamorphosed there. In the emptiness. In the roach infested cells. In the environment where guards didn’t care if you were alive and many even wished for your death at the end of the needle.

I reflect on this each time I face a hardship. I think about those moments each time an inmate asks me how I kept my sanity and how I keep my focus in the face of drama, lock up, failures, setbacks, challenges, etc. I look at them and say, “This is nothing.” They just don’t get it. They have NO IDEA!

When I walk amongst the despair and depression, I remind people I’m from the land where EVERYBODY has a date with the Executioner. When the shanks and the aggression comes off. I remind them I’m from the land where EVERYBODY was a “killer.”

When things weren’t as bright as I’d like them to be, I remember how I come from the land of food loaf and pepper gas. It’s where I learned what Human Rights’ violations were and also the value of fighting for them.

Somehow, I made it out that situation. There’s not a legal explanation for it, as others way more worthy than me didn’t make it.

It’s why I now have a respect for life and activism that is beyond normal understanding, It’s why I continue to help others even when they aren’t   deserving, because once upon a time I didn’t deserve the compassion that many around the world bestowed upon me. I hear people all the time, in humor, quote movies with the line – “It’s bigger than me,” but have no comprehension of how deep and serious that is.

Many times while in Maximum Security housing I’ve had other inmates say to me (in their reasoning of how I maintain my focus and composure, “I know this is your type of environment!”

It’s appalling, really, Who in their right mind wants to live in destitution? Just because I’m able to ENDURE said environment does not mean I PREFER said  environment.

When I hear things like that, oddly enough it reminds of the Batman movie where he faces Bane. It’s the fight scene when Bane breaks Batman’s back. When Bane is thoroughly getting on Batman’s ass, Batman goes into his bag of tricks and throws the firework bombs at Bane. Bane responds (and I paraphrase) “Theatricality. Illusions.”

Bane has already been well taught in the trenches. Then Batman kills the lights in the room. Bane then says, “Ahhh, you think darkness is your ally. You’ve merely adopted it. I was born in it!” Then he proceeds to snap Batman in half.

Those times in the darkness, those times facing monstrosities changed Bane into something else. Has the American people and politicians so thoroughly made themselves indifferent to the realities? Like the realities of art imitating life and life imitating art.

While I can’t snap the juggernaut TDCJ in half it also couldn’t snap me in half.  I, too, was changed by being at the bottom of the Penal Institute barrel.  However, my results were what they didn’t expect nor want:  HOPE. FAITH. GROWTH. COMPASSION. FORGIVENESS. STRENGTH. VISION. SUCCESS.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sum up all the trials and tribulations that I faced at the bottom of that barrel and even after coming out of that barrel. But I would like to believe that my perseverance is a testament, truthfully a very small one, of what can stir and develop inside a human being, even one who was once a wretch.

999232 ….I was there.

145176B….I am here.

2020…. It’s time for a new day.

The darkness brought me to the dawn and now I await my new sunrise!

 

Kenneth Foster

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