Some people find it easy to hide behind pretense. Others behind neglect. Even more with screaming into pillows…
In a world full of oppressive ism’s and misconceptions, sometimes it seems that mental illness is the one transparent thing. It is constant, and doesn’t hide based on what you choose to believe. There’s no real shelter to why “we” see the pain of “them” and “they” as anomalies. The facade comes with the buffer that we create to ignore another persons suffering. Ignoring the evidence of tears of when a persons mind betrays them. This thought is superimposed within the microcosm of prison. Especially on Texas death row. Outside of being reduced to a number…the isolation and loneliness, the sensory deprivation, the psychological conditioning…always exaggerates the fight Of. Simply. Needing. To. Be. Recognized. To be heard without necessarily needing small cruelties, the refusal to see us as fully human doesn’t appear to be a flaw in the system. It IS the system. Acknowledging this in the vein of mental illness may seem offensive to some, but that isn’t the case here. The acoustics of steel and concrete don’t make a mockery of the open wounds. It doesn’t resonate the same as “dragging” someone on social media. The cell that houses your mind, body, and trauma doesn’t make your pain comical. No, this level of acknowledgement is a qualifier. It’s a confirmation of our humanity. A subversive demonstration that we are still more than the numbers we are assigned by the state. A point of reference to say that the internal struggle of mental disorders will always be constant. Because no matter where you are on this planet it looks the same. We just call it by a different name.
I’ve been in solitary confinement for over 13 years now. And currently, with the help of supporters and love, I am fighting for my life to not receive an execution date by the state of Texas. I make an effort to be hyper-aware in terms of these restrictions, and to keep a sense of control on the edges of my sanity. But sometimes, it’s impossible to guage the depth of a hole you’re in until you begin to climb out. It’s funny how depression and mental illness works like that. Skews perspective. I’ve felt this way in some of the most challenging times of my life, usually when suffering loss. I remember the worst moments in flashes - - - being separated from siblings; watching friends die from gang violence; gin and curvy roads; being sentenced to death; watching brothers be escorted away from Death Watch and never return. Moments of depression whose dimensions I didn’t fully understand until they shifted with the gravity of clarity. But clarity only helped with me learning the lessons underneath my scares. The shit still hurts… and is a level of pain that I accept because it lets me know that I haven’t become numb. I think that is something to believe in.
I don’t believe that anyone is unique in that, because dis-ease knows no bounds. No one is exempt from what underlines our humanity. I’d like to encourage the effort and work being done globally towards the treatment of mental illness. The progressive approach in moving away from worst-case scenarios like mass shootings and cycles of trauma and poverty and abuse continuing unabated. Best-case scenario? No longer ignoring the absolute best versions of ourselves holistically - mind, body, and soul. There’s something extremely definite and defeating about when you feel as though you’re caught in a vacuum…speaking into a void. So please, leave the pillows out of it. That’s why we have each other. Recovery and wellness begins and ends with communication. Truth…Peace-
Polunsky, Livingston, Texas
13 years in solitary / ad seg
October 26, 2022
Words by JAMES BROADNAX
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS