It is 2 am, a hot summer night at Federal Medical Center Lexington. The smell of Blue Grass coupled with horse manure dances on my nostrils. The screen in the window has been long been abandoned allowing mosquitoes to bite me throughout the night. While I am not in some far-off land, in my slumber I dream of the show Naked and Afraid. At least they have an option for bug nets. Not here, though. The heat index is in the high 90s on the third floor where I sleep in a 4-man cell smaller than my mother’s bathroom.
My face is stuck to the razor thin mattress when I wake up from the sweat dripping down my face. Mentally I scream out inside wondering how many more years I must endure this mental anguish. Laying there I know what I have to do. The heat is unbearable so making my way to the bathroom to wash my face with cold water seems to be the only avenue for relief — but for a moment I do not want to move — afraid that if I do the heat will engulf me like a hot flame.
Slowly my feet slip into the old hard shower shoes under my bunk. I find will to stand up as I glide to the bathroom that feels like a sauna. Turning on the light I stare into the mirror at the face that always looks back at me. I find myself mouthing the words, please God save me from this place. A sarcastic smile creeps in as I splash what I thought would be cool water on my face, instead it is lukewarm. Even with its warmth there is a split second of refreshment. Knowing that it won’t last long, my mind wonders if a cold shower might be a better option. For just a minute I turn the cold water on before I go back for my towel.
Opening the door one of my cell mates breathes a heavy sigh while one of the others snores with his face in his pillow. The fourth says, “Chad, what time is it?” “2:00,” I reply. “Man, is this illegal, bro, having us living like this, it is too hot?” he says with desperation in his voice. As I head towards the door I tell him that I remember reading an article about prisons that have extreme conditions related to heat in the Prison Legal News, and I promise to look things up in the morning on the law.
The water hits me, cooling me down in an instant. This is the only place any of us can find relief here. I am alone with my thoughts praying that God would save me from this life. A life where I am in a prison riddled with lead paint, asbestos, holes in the wall, and ceilings. A life where the correctional officers tell us not to drink the water, and where each one can be seen coming to work with their own Aquafina bottles while prisoners drink from the tap. A life alone — away from my family.
As the cool water pelts my head I pray for mercy, not just for me but for the men among me that deserve a second chance. Overwhelmed with emotion because of my situation I taste the salt from the first tear drop that rolls down my cheek. In a deep moment of reflection I think back to over 16 years ago when I was first arrested in February 2003. That was the day that forever changed my life — the first day of my 40-year sentence for a non-violent drug crime. I shake the thoughts from my mind as the emotions well up inside me. This is the only way I can save myself from a total mental breakdown.
Fighting the thoughts I dry off as I head back to my room. I take one last look at the mirror, and the same guy is still there — it is him –looking back at me. Again I mouth the words, God save me from this place, as I smile at myself saying, “Maybe soon.”
— Chad M.