My name is D. Sligh, and I’ve been incarcerated since the age of 19 for armed robbery. I’m currently serving an eight-year prison sentence at South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, TN.
I’m 25 years old now, and reality behind a prison wall is no game. It’s disheartening when you wake up every day behind an enclosure with razor wire and a fence that’s almost 10 feet tall. And on the other side, there is someone patrolling the area 24 hours a day holding a loaded rifle. Your thoughts of an escape go from slim to no way possible.
The emotional confusion that you’re forced to deal with on a day-to-day basis can be very destructive to the mind and ponderous on the heart. Therefore, the soul has a lost cause. Being locked behind a steel door and living in a room with one window knowing the only way out is by the turn of a key is a very hard reality.
When you’re surrounded in a dilemma with broken spirits, lack of hope does something to your mental ability; it’s more difficult to process the good and the bad. The feeling of abandonment and self-hate corrupts the mind when you’re caged in a box like a pack of hideous savages, with the exception that you were the reason for your reality.
In the penitentiary, everything that you always thought, planned, or considered doing is interrupted by the slam of a metal door. That forces you to face your reality on what life is really about. Life is what we make of it and if we do nothing, we get the same result. And thinking things will change on there own without taking proper actions to seek that change is insane.
Some may think that serving time is better than death. However, when you’ve been exiled from the real world because your ways of living don’t align with people who chose to live life in the best positive and productive way that they could, what are you to the world?
When you’re in a cell, you find yourself questioning the reasoning for your situation. I’ve asked myself countless times, ‘was it worth my freedom?’ Nothing is worth your freedom when you live for something or someone. I haven’t met one person that hasn’t wished that they could change the past for a better future or a better view of the negative consequences that you’re forced to face every second locked up.
Every day, the world changes right before your eyes. But the only things that change behind these walls are the faces with a Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) number and the colors of the leaves that fall from trees as the seasons alter. Picture that you’re walking nude and the furthest that you’re able to go are never beyond these walls. So using the quote, ‘the sky’s the limit,’ never applies to you. That’s a harsh reality, but a true fact.
Imagine that you’re surrounded with a group of individuals that preys on the weak. When reality sets in, the ones that hunt are really the hunted. Maybe, it’s because they’re afraid of their reality and fear has corrupted their minds so much that they want to cause fear upon the feared to ease the fear. They say only the strong survive. That’s just a quote that people use to prepare you for the outside world. Nevertheless, if you can’t be strong on the outside, how can you ever be strong in prison?
I ran across a quote from a book titled “The Price of the Ticket” by James Baldwin: “Death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone…this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity…yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful…people who cannot suffer, can never grow up, can never discover who they are…” So, I ask myself, was the fear so deep that we decimated our identity way before we could really find out who we were? I have yet answered that question for myself.
To the youth, as I was once before, the things you see on TV and identify with in reality can be tantalizing to the imagination. Therefore, the life some of us choose is ambiguous. Most understand that for every negative action, there’s no control over the consequences. Some don’t, but one thing is guaranteed and that is the only thing promised to you in a life of crime is prison or death.
As I served my eight-year sentence, I was told by a gentleman that I knew, “the best thing in life, I would never get a chance to have again.” He was referring to freedom. Fortunately, I’ll have a second chance in life to make something of myself other than a TDOC number or a headstone for people to pay respect to.
Everybody has their own story. I’ve been blessed to share this real-life experience with you. This is just a small portion of what it’s like to live your life in prison.