I couldn’t drive him there, like I did on his first day of preschool, and kindergarten, and college.
I stood, breathless and numb, as the marshals led him away,
in chains and tears. I had none. I couldn’t breathe.
And he was gone. Into the first circle of the hell that would be his next home.
But that was short. He was moved on to one circle of hell
after another, until the final stop.
Federal prison. Caged. A pariah. No longer human; a number only.
Then came the next traumas: the anxious calls, the nightmares, shingles, ulcers, pain.
They don’t tell you everything. They want to be men. They love their mothers.
They don’t want you to hurt as they hurt. They lie, cover up, tough it out.
A mother’s heart knows. But they are our men and we let them believe.
We cry at night, in real beds, with them on concrete or metal slabs with thin pads
they call mattresses. We pray, sometimes all night, and pray that they can pray too.
We live in our invisible cells. We keep to ourselves, out of fear or shame or I don’t know.
We carry them inside us again, feeling the weight, all day, every day. But they aren’t safely tucked inside.
Instead of growing, they are shrinking. They are back inside, in the dark, but it is a deafening frightening place. Not the warmth of us and love, but the cold of steel and hate.
Days…weeks…months. We visit when we can, if we can afford it. They call, if we can fund their account. They change, we change. There is a heaviness between us. Fear is the common element.
He waits for the mail call. If there is a letter, it has more than his number, it has his name, reminds him he is human, he exists as more than his crime. Good news, bad news. Letters, pictures, anything that is not here. All is welcome.
Days between letters…then weeks…then months. Then there is no one left who remembers. No one writes, no one comes. And only the number on his shirt remains, no other numbers, nothing on the outside for him.
So why? Hope is just another four-letter word now. Like love. Empty, gone.
Humanity is connection. He has become disconnected—untethered. No longer real. One last chance, one ounce of control over his existence. The stained and worn-out sheet. Freedom. Darkness. Power to end it all.
The final circle of hell.
And the world is diminished.