Note: This post also appears in the May issue of Better Cells and Gardens entitled, “How Two Grown Men Live Free of Clutter Without Room Service in 60-Square-Feet.”
It might seem unusual for someone with claustrophobia to love submarine movies. I once wrote about my favorite in “Tom Clancy, Jack Ryan, and The Hunt for Red October.” I loved the book, too, but the movie really makes you feel trapped under water, every claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. I have read 13,000 pages of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, but I’m still claustrophobic.
I saw another great submarine movie this past week entitled “Hunter-Killer” with actor Gerard Butler playing a very unusual sub commander. The title was deceiving. “Hunter-Killer” is a class of warship, but the whole point of the film was the avoidance of war. And it was eerily timely. The plot was about U.S. interference in a Russian election.
It might also seem unusual that someone with claustrophobia survives mentally intact after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment. I might be spiritually intact, too, but I’m not a good judge of that. There is a huge psychological difference, when the prison doors slam shut, for someone who knows deep inside that he is here for just cause and for someone who knows that he is not.
On the day this is posted, I mark 9,000 days and nights in prison in spite of innocence – and in spite of claustrophobia. But I think I mark it about as well as anyone in my position could. Prison is always a challenge for people with irrational anxiety about being in small, crowded spaces. Part of my coping skill has come from watching submarine movies where life is lived in small, confined quarters.
Prison is filled with an abundance of characters who will not play well with others, and would never survive life aboard a submarine. There is constant drama when people who have to live in 60-square-feet cannot get along. The drama is complicated by the fact that some personalities in prison seem determined not to get along with anyone.
As a result, sometimes someone in a livable situation is moved to accommodate someone no one can live with. Fortunately, I am generally seen as having already paid those dues. In my first year in prison, one roommate who spent much of his sentence in the Secure Psychiatric Unit somehow got hold of a package of matches. I awoke as he was trying to light my blanket on fire, because “Satan told me to.” I took his matches away, and told him that perhaps it’s time to stop listening to Satan.
In 25 years here, I have never had a roommate ask to be moved somewhere else, but I have had some very challenging roommates. Hygiene and cleanliness always seem to be a focus of the drama of interpersonal life in prison. One of my past roommates had, as his life’s goal, amassed a collection of toenail clippings.
His obsession was to fill his jar to see how many toenails he could amass during a ten-year sentence. Another was detoxing from heroin cold turkey, an ordeal that was a month-long daily struggle consuming all his energy and most of mine. Yet another, a 35-year-old who lived in his parents’ basement before prison, showered once per month. I had to make a deal with him. I will clean the cell, but he must shower daily. It came as a shock that men actually do that.
A WONDERFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
In those years I was forced to live in a place with eight men per cell It wasn’t easy. When the guy with the toenails spilled his entire collection from his upper bunk onto the man below, I had to keep him from being lynched.
Life among an ever-evolving cast of strangers is a stressful daily challenge, and among them, some are stranger than others. I once wrote about the evolution of time and space in such circumstances in prison in an article for Linkedin Pulse entitled, “The Shawshank Redemption and Its Real World Revision.”
I live in a better, saner place now with a lot more access to the outside, but the price for having some “outside” is that we live in the smallest quarters inside. We really do live a lot like the characters aboard a sub. If my roommate wants to retrieve something from our room while I am in it, I have to squeeze tightly against a wall to let him pass, and vice versa And like life aboard a submarine, we lapse into silent running once we learn each other’s routines.
There is a lot going on this week behind these stone walls, and most of it makes writing difficult. It’s annual inspection time in the place where we live. At some point this week, Earthly Powers will show up with white gloves to inspect the living quarters of each of 288 residents. Where were these guys when I was coping with shower-free roommates and toenail collections?
At some point this week, I need to find a full day to empty everything out of this cell, scrub and disinfect its floor, ceiling and walls, rid ourselves of anything non-essential, and then return the room to a more orderly state than when we started.
This is our second inspection in the not quite two years we have lived here. It might be easy to think, “How difficult could it be to clean a 60-square-foot room?” (We call them “rooms” instead of cells – a last subtle clinging to a semblance of freedom). Like most prison space, our cells hold double their intended capacity when they were built.
I count myself fortunate to have lived with a friend for going on 14 of these passing years. Because of our work schedule, which Pornchai “Max” Moontri described recently in “Imprisoned by Walls, Set Free by Wood,” our only chance to get this done is on a Saturday, and that is also the day I sequester myself to type a post for These Stone Walls. This post is a little more ragtag having been pieced together this week in half-hour stints over a few days.
So please forgive me for the truncated post this week. To compensate, we are adding at the end some additional photos of Pornchai’s woodworking projects which some readers seem to like more than my posts (Hymph!) A few TSW readers have some of his smaller custom-made projects which can be mailed if requested. The maple table atop this segment is one Pornchai just completed to requested specifications. We will display a few other photos after links at the end of this post.
These new photos include his beautiful Divine Mercy Keepsake Box, a cutting board with a drawer crafted with black walnut and maple, his Praying Hands Keepsake Box crafted in solid mahogany, candle sticks woodturned from cherry, and a two-masted ship in maple and cherry. Some readers have inquired about these, and the best way to do so is through this email address, which you’ll have to reconstruct: thesestonewalls2 [at] gmail [dot] com.
AN INVITATION TO DIVINE MERCY
Since we posted “A Divine Mercy Pilgrimage: 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina” just before Divine Mercy Sunday this year, some amazing things have been happening. Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, author of 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina: A Year of Grace and Mercy, has been in contact with me and had a special remembrance of me and Pornchai at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
This is a pilgrimage that anyone can join in at any time. You will never be late to this banquet, and that is exactly what this is. I have begun Donna-Marie’s book. The Preface and Instructions for this pilgrimage are a joy to read, and I have completed the first week’s meditation entitled, “Spiritual Childhood.” Wonderful!
The segments are very well written in just a few pages of reading with “Something to Ponder,” “A Merciful Action,” and a prayer. But then I came to a screeching halt this week as I turned to Week Two: “The Burdens and Surrender of Daily Battles.”
I confess that I turned to the page, read just the first sentence, “Each day we fight a battle,” and then stopped because something happened that hasn’t happened for a long time. Suddenly, inexplicably, tears welled up. This journey is going to cost me something of myself, something stored up over these years in prison. I need to catch my breath, and then proceed.
Part One of Donna-Marie’s book comprises the first 14 weeks of this 52-week journey. When I have completed Part One, I will devote a post to it, and to each of the four parts of this pilgrimage. I need this, and to think I almost rejected this book sight unseen. A number of TSW readers have opted to join me, and each will be starting as I did – when the book arrives.
It is also Mothers Day in the United States this week. I miss mine, and I know she now wonders why I did not listen to her in life anywhere near as much as I hear her now. I know that many of you share that void left behind. So, since housecleaning has deprived you of my usual paranormal rant this week, here is a short list of the most-read tributes to Mothers Day from behind These Stone Walls:
- A Corner of the Veil
- Loved, Lost, Found: A Gift for Mothers Day
- Mothers Day Promises to Keep and Miles to Go Before I Sleep
- To Mom from Your Son Joseph Daniel, In the Lions Den
- How I Met Your Mother: Mary and the Fatima Century
AND FINALLY, PHOTOS FROM PORNCHAI’ S WORKBENCH