Prison has effects on people. If you have ever had a family member incarcerated you might understand firsthand. I want to make something crystal clear, I am avidly against the current penal system. Having said that, the effects of prison have not been entirely negative.

Coming to prison shook me awake. It was like I was in a fog or a state of dementia and when I spent my first real night in prison it was like getting a bucket of ice cold water thrown on me to shake me awake. Suddenly I felt I existed somewhere in the world. I know that sounds strange, but previously when I thought about myself and my future all I seen was darkness. Not evil, not negativity, but nothingness. It was like I was invisible and already dead. When I came to prison I became very self-aware.

I learned to control my anger. A class I went through taught by a Professor of Psychology called Compassion-Focused Therapy. Russell K. is who taught it. He changed my life. Then I understood I was able to interact with my feelings and emotions, not be controlled by them. Pretty incredible feeling to suddenly comprehend how it feels to be “normal.”

I embraced my sexuality. I wasn’t turned out (a term used to describe the effects of being raped in prison and being forced to act gay even though one is not) I just felt okay with finally being me. Suddenly I felt that I had nothing else to lose, who was gonna hate me anymore than they already did? I was reading the lyrics to a song (I think by Five Finger Death Punch) and they said “I’d rather you hate me for everything I am then ever love me for something I am not.” I have lived in that truth ever since and I will never go back.

I learned that everyone struggles, everyone can be humbled. I learned to love.

I have had a few negative impacts, like crowds. Crowds freak me out. Whenever I see three similar people standing together I become afraid. Like three shaved-head, tattooed, goatee’d men standing together by some space I need to get to, like the shower or something I get afraid. Or if its three or more people of any race, for me that signals danger and the space is off limits.

If someone is dressed in all black, off limits. I will never tolerate food being given to me on a tray once I leave this place. Nor will I ever voluntarily eat at a restaurant, too similar to a prison environment.

There are more. Many more.

I will leave you with this, the biggest thing I have learned since incarcerated has been hands down my sense of humanity. Never have I seen the better side of people then during oppression. The hope, kindness, love, and humanity that comes from many of the people here is breathtaking. Unbelievably breathtaking.

With Love
Jeff Jeffebelle Utnage