At the present time I remain entombed. I am living in what resembles a 17th century sepulcher. In the interior are two cement, platform slabs laying three feet adjacent to each other. The slabs are narrow sleeping quarters for the two occupants. Each has two small apertures hewn on its side for the storage of property. A narrow slit on the back wall serves as a window.
The tiny cell was originally built as part of a containment mechanism for California’s burgeoning prison population. Called a Secure Housing Unit or SHU for short, it was meant to contain the “worst of the worse.” It was shut down due to the brave efforts of prison reform activists. Serving now as a level II institution, I cannot imagine the pain and suffering daily played out in its twenty-years of operation.
My new cell would be stifling if it weren’t for the free movement allowed. The infamous Corcoran SHU now leaves the heavy steel cell doors open from early morning to late evening. This gives the cell’s occupants access to a small dayroom area for the twenty-five cells in each module. Each dayroom contains six stainless steel tables. Two showers are available as well as use of two telephones bolted to the wall. A large television set securely attached high on the wall offers solace to a small group of men who gather daily on two narrow wooden benches. Their faces seemingly upturned in rapturous bliss, one cannot help but envy their fierce devotion to a cause higher than self. A small microwave and cold water tap complete the amenities.
I was here after being beat up by tough guys whose secular views conflicted with my faith. Such is the nature of our times that prison serves as a microcosm for humanity’s ancient, primordial battle between light and existential darkness.
I go before the parole board next month. All will be well, both with the board and my presence at Corcoran State Prison, formerly the SHU.