I sit here on the cold concrete slab I’m led to believe is a bed, locked in this stale, whitewashed, brick-and-mortar room benign of all color—much like a hospital room, but far less sterile—without any traces of hope.

Upon my entry to segregation, being escorted down a poorly lit hallway, I walked with my head held high as to show no fear or reveal that my confidence had been shaken by the circumstances that brought me here. I was, however, putting on a show, to mask my true emotions, tricking my mind to keep my sanity.

The first sign of my decline was my lack of interest in food for the first two days. I became timid, close-mouthed and soft-spoken, a complete 180 from the night of my arrival. The world around me swirled in my mind as I tried to find a grip on reality. Fearing the unknown was crippling my ability to think rationally. I stuttered and stammered and found it hard to comprehend even the simplest of commands—which brought more fear and anxiety. As the days went on, I felt some relief through breathing exercises and reading books for distractions— though sleep was still nonexistent.

It’s been 18 days since I was tricked into going into the security suite at 9 pm where I was met by a group of officers and was quickly manacled before my mind even had the chance to comprehend what was happening to me. I suppose that was done by design; in case I wanted to try to fend off those who were surely escorting me to my execution. 

I find myself lost in my head—not thinking about my predicament—but of people. I miss the connection, the communication, the physical contact. I hate feeling alone. I hate that I can’t just call home when I want to. I hate not being able to look at someone in the eyes when I talk to them, seeing the expressions on their face, hearing the emotions in their voice, and feeling that flow of energy when they put their hand on top of mine. Above all, I feel lost, left out and forgotten—all feelings that get exaggerated by irrational thoughts spiraling out of control. 

I think about how watching TV always makes me sad, sometimes angry about being teased with what I can’t have, even envious with a voyeuristic fascination watching other people live their lives. I see happy families laughing in sitcoms. Couples loving each other in movies. Friends doing stupid things for fun in video clips. I want friends who will write to me or visit me out of the blue just because they were thinking about me. I want a woman to hold me and kiss me and tell me I’m loved. I crave what I see. It’s the worst kind of torture.

I wish I could get in contact with people from my past. I want to reach out and I have no ability to. It’s like being lost in the dark woods screaming for help—only to find your mouth has been sewn shut. I suppose I’m just looking for reassurance that I’m not forgotten. Reassurance that when I come home I won’t be treated as a social pariah. Reassurance that people will see me for who I really am and not just for my crime. I’m afraid to be alone for the rest of my life. Going home would mean I’m a free man; but would I really be free if I had to live like a leper?

I can hear others in this wing share the same fears, as not much is unheard around these barren, brick tombs. Sound travels very efficiently around here, reverberating off every perfectly laid brick and every solid steel door suspended from the ceiling like large, heavy, metal curtains. 

One thing is for sure—once you’re locked in—you’re at the mercy of those with the squeaky boots, the clanking keys, and the ratcheting handcuffs. Even knowing their mighty shields don’t make them more human than me, I still worship them. I leap to my feet and rush to the door at the sound of another human. Nose pressed to the window, tongue panting, tail wagging, hoping this person will stop at my cage, “Pick me! Pick me!” just like a dog in a shelter waiting for someone to show some kindness.

We all long for human contact, even for a brief moment, only to reassure ourselves that we are not forgotten souls—much like the animals in those ASPCA commercials. In all of our evolution, we haven’t come up with a better system to deal with a recalcitrant person other than to lock them in a cage like a stray dog. Ralph Emerson once said, “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” That’s a motto all institutions should live by.

A dog is what I am. Any time I’m to be let out of my cell, I’m shackled to a collar that is wrapped around my waist, and a tether—much like a leash—is attached and I’m led by my handler to wherever I’m going. If I’m going to group, I’m put into one of five chain-link cages that’s just barely large enough for me to stand in—and hardly wide enough for me to sit in. If I am to go outside for recreation—which is only allowed three times a week—I am again locked into one of five chain-link cages surrounded by concrete walls with no view other than the sky. If I am to be an animal, I wouldn’t choose to be a dog, I’d choose to be a bird so I could fly far away.

When it is time to eat, a small trap door is opened and a tray of food is slid through an opening no bigger than the dimensions of a mailbox. Before I even have the chance to say thank you, the trap is slammed shut along with any hope of feeling anything but sadness. Why am I wanting to thank them anyway? These are the people who put me in this hole in the ground. Why is it when a person is facing these types of situations they feel the need to please their captors? Is it out of fear? Am I trying to show gratitude to keep our interactions calm and peaceful? Am I trying to prove to those who hold the keys that I’m a good boy and worthy of leniency? 

My descent into my new reality has been a very humbling experience. My stay was short as I was found innocent after spending thirty-one days in confinement pending the outcome of the investigation. Though an entire year has passed since my time in segregation and I now sleep soundly at night, I can sometimes hear the ghostly cries and pleas of broken men creeping into my dreams turning them into nightmares. 

Austin Jakubowski #643861

Oshkosh Correctional

PO Box 3310

Oshkosh, WI 54903