I arrived to death row on August 28, 2000. I did not think I’d still be alive 14 years later, but here I am. Surely, we will all experience death. However, I suppose true death cannot be hastened, or put off; we will die when it’s our time to go.
Living in this environment is to experience death in the form of life. There is the anguish of living day-to-day knowing the suffering you’ve caused, and not being able to make amends. Watching your family deteriorate as you drift further apart. Not being able to comfort, console or even wipe away a tear, you die a little every day.
There is frustration, as you relive past mistakes, and one painful experience after another. Panic begins to set in as the years begin to take their toll, and you start to question the purpose of your life. Then there is the daily challenge of living in close proximity with men each carrying a lifetime of misery of his own. The conversations are mostly circular, repetitive, and not very deep. But the eyes never lie; some have given up all hope.
Our lives do appear to be hopeless at times, as our circumstances are static and seem pointless. You ask – why continue to live, when there is nothing to look forward to? Life seems to have no purpose, yet it goes on. As the days turn into weeks, and months into years, you wake up to the realization you lived more of your life as a prisoner than as a free man.
However, despite appearances, there are changes. A few guys arrived here as boys, before their 21st birthday, and they are now men. They are seeds that have sprouted through concrete. Their growth and maturation is a marvel, and has been fascinating to witness.
Staff members come and go over the course of time, they change too. Some guards are mean-spirited and cruel. A lot of them are in positions of authority for the first time and they take pleasure in wielding power over other human beings. Others are kind, fair and respectful. However that can change too. A guard might start off with a nasty disposition then become more cordial as he or she gets to know some of the prisoners better. Conversely, a correctional officer might start out a bit timid and accommodating, and become bitter, jaded and abusive.
There are changes in prison policy that are circular. One year, something will be allowed, the next year it’ll be prohibited, and the policy will change again.
We watch the world change via television, newspapers, magazines, and letters from home. This causes feelings of isolation, sadness, depression and eventually resignation.
Don’t miss Paul Anthony Brown’s story: Death Row : My First and Last Visitor of The Year
I’ve certainly changed. After 18 years of incarceration, I’m no longer as impulsive, my thoughts are more introspective, my speech more conservative. My reflexes have slowed; everything is slower. Even my immune system has changed. I discovered this when my jaw locked and my face began to swell after being bitten by a red ant. An ant! I’ve never been allergic to anything in my life, and now I have to watch out for ants.
The most notable change with me though it’s probably my hair. When I arrived, my hair was cut close cropped and wavy and now I have long dreadlocks which are very grey. I’d pluck out any gray hairs spotted when I first got here, if I did that now I would look like a mangy chicken.
I’m a grandfather now. I have two beautiful little granddaughters, and I take great pride in sending them cards, books and letters. I think of them constantly, whereas before, I only thought of myself. They’ve changed my life in a major way. Most change here is subtle though. It’s barely recognizable when seeing the same things continuously in a small area. Living in such close confines with so many men, tempers are bound to flare – and do.
There are misunderstandings, arguments and fights. Friends become foes, enemies become friends. Even war stories change over time, as guys forget their own lives.
Everything changes, whether we wish to regard it or not. Embracing change connects us to life, which is constantly changing. That is so important to men who are confined. If we allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the monotony of our condition, and the apparent sameness, we miss the life we’re still able to have, we isolate ourselves and drift further into the abyss. We are not the same men we were when we arrived here, or even the same as last year. That’s a good thing. As we embrace change, we embrace all of life. Humanity doesn’t stop on death row, it evolves.
Paul Brown has been on Death Row in North Carolina since 2000 for 1st degree murder.
Paul Brown #51026
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