Today I felt like a dog, a rat, or some type of animal, dehumanized. July fourth as I stood by my cell door and peered through the 5” by 20” glass slot in the door, eagerly anticipating my breakfast tray being served, it suddenly dawned on me--I’m just like the dogs I raised as a child who would wag their tails in earnest at feeding time when I approached the feeding trough with their meal. The pigs did the same in their sty. I looked across at the other cell doors and like me the other convicts stood at their doors in anticipation of being fed. Now I really understand what it means to be dehumanized.
I’ve heard that word many times to described the prison environment, but I never felt it in my gut, in my marrow. The description though apt felt more abstract to as if it described what took place in the other convicts but not me personally. Now I know. Even the multitude of strip searches, invasions of privacy, cell searches, general harassments and abuses I’ve long suffered never brought home the feeling I felt today.
I took my tray and sat down to eat my breakfast. Things just were not the same. I would not say that I was angry but more ashamed. I wished I would refuse to eat this tray. I didn’t. I ate it anyway. “Weak,” I scolded myself. Another stinging defeat. Add that to the million other micro defeats I’ve sustained over the years at the hands of the prison and justice system. The breakfast was tasteless though not a bad meal--oatmeal and a breakfast pastry along with a half pint of milk. Usually one of the better breakfasts to me, but not today. Today, I chewed mechanically and swallowed just for swallowing’s sake.
“Dehumanized,” I whispered. Death by incarceration is the sentence the good citizens of Pennsylvania have visited upon my Black mind and body. Am I to feel like this the for next 20 years? It’s been 26 years already, The way I feel at this very moment, better death visit me now if this is where it’ll find me 20 years hence. I can accommodate the punishment of the lust of freedom. I have trained myself to be content with nothing; however, I cannot tolerate being dehumanized. May tomorrow this feeling too will pass.
Written by: Trevor Mattis