I’m writing this letter to thank you, to let you know how much I’ve come to appreciate you in my life. This might sound bizarre coming from a prisoner like me, but during our twelve-year relationship, I’ve learned to see you as the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. You are harsh and demanding, and even cruel at times, but now I realize that’s exactly what it took to get through to me.
God knows I needed your guidance. Before I met you I was a terrible person. I didn’t care about anyone but myself. I drank and did any drugs I could get my hands on. I lied and stole and manipulated everyone around me, even my closest friends and family. And what’s worse was that this behavior came naturally, so I felt no guilt. Not surprisingly, this behavior eventually led me straight to you.
Looking back, we had a rough start together. I didn’t like you, and you sure didn’t like me much in return. I tried everything I could to resist your lessons, disobeying your rules and disrespecting your establishment in an attempt to cling to my old ways. You punished me harshly in return, beating me down and stripping me of my dignity in a hundred different ways until,at last, I hit rock bottom. You had broken me, leaving me so miserable, empty and alone that I began contemplating suicide just to get away from you.
In hindsight this was a blessing in disguise, for it proved to be a major turning point in my life. I can now look back on these miserable times and recognize them for what they truly were–lessons, all guided by your sage, calloused hand.
Through your severe wisdom you made me look on in horror as my fellow prisoners have been stabbed, sliced, shot, and even murdered before my eyes. You were there when I got my jaw shattered by a punch I never saw coming; you looked on while I was being jumped and stomped by two gang members; you watched me being shot with block guns and painted with mace during fights. You’ve forced me to listen to the slow, steely scrape of metal as someone sharpened their knife in the middle of the night, hoping it wouldn’t be me that got stabbed in the morning. In this way, you taught me to hate violence by surrounding me with it.
I once neglected my relationships, but now you’ve shown me how precious friends and family are by taking them away from me.
You’ve given me the time to sit in a cell, watching as pictures of friends I haven’t heard from in years fade and curl in at the edges, their clothes and hair styles slowly going out of fashion. You’ve made me wait with naive hope for letters which I know, deep down, will never be answered. At every visit you show me how much my parents have aged since I’ve seen them last–another wrinkle, another gray hair–reminding me of how many memories and precious moments I’ve forever missed with them. When they leave, it takes everything I have not to cry, because I don’t know when, or if, I’ll ever see them again.
I was once a wasteful person who disrespected everything that was given to me–no more. Through the schooling of your many lock-downs I’ve learned how to save my shards of soap, pressing them all together to make a new bar, so I won’t run out. I’ve figured out how to rub a postage stamp with deodorant so I can re-use it. I’ve learned that a spoon works great for scraping every last bit of toothpaste from its tube, because I don’t know when I’ll get more. I’ve even had to use the stuffing from my mattress to clean myself because the guards decided they didn’t want to pass out toilet paper that week. Through this process I’ve learned to make do with what little I have, and to respect and appreciate everything that’s given to me.
You’ve provided me with countless sleepless nights in the hollow silence of your cellblocks, where only the occasional clink of keys can be heard while a guard passes by outside. These are the times you’ve taught me remorse, allowing me hours of darkness to reflect on the many mistakes I’ve made in my life. You’ve listened to me cry and heard my prayers for forgiveness, and yet you still remain cold and aloof, reminding me that prayers alone are not enough to atone for the pain I’ve caused.
I was once arrogant and obnoxious. You’ve since torn away my false pride and left me humbled. You’ve done this by shaming me more times than I can count. You’ve forced me to strip naked in front of guards while they smirked and muttered insults under their breath. You’ve taught me to bite my tongue when someone cuts in front of me in line, because I can’t afford to go to the hole [solitary confinement] again for fighting. Harder still, you’ve shown me how to swallow my pride when a guard grabs me by the back of the neck and whispers in my ear to please give him a reason to fuck me up. In this way you’ve shown me that I am not invincible, fearless, nor better than anyone else.
Every now and then you even torture me with brief glimpses of the outside world. Most often it’s while I’m sitting in the hard plastic seat of a prison bus as it goes roaring down the highway, shielded from view behind tinted black windows. Here you give me fleeting glimpses of people going about their lives, talking on cell phones or fixing their makeup at stoplights. I see couples walking hand in hand into stores, elderly people pumping gas, children on their bikes, road crews with their shovels and orange vests–and I envy them all painfully, for they don’t even know how lucky they are to live in such a marvelous world.
But then the prison bus rumbles past, and as these wonderful sights fade into the distance, I renew my vows to do whatever it takes to win back my freedom.
It’s for these reasons that I’m writing this letter to you, Prison. Through your harsh lessons you’ve transformed me from a troublesome, disrespectful teenager and into a humble, hardworking man. Without you, I would no doubt still be a terrible person inflicting pain and disappointment on the world, with no remorse for my actions. You’ve straightened out my priorities, softened my heart, given me strength I didn’t know I had, and shown me what truly matters in this life. My only hope is that others could see you as I do now, not as a cruel tyrant, but rather as a teacher whose hard lessons can change lives for the better.
Thank you, Prison.
Patrick Michael Larmour is serving 33-years to life in California for crimes he committed as a juvenile.
Patrick Lamour #F-19597
PO Box 8500
Coalinga, CA 93210