04 May, 2018


"Anywhere I lay my head, boys," sang Tom Waits, "I'm gonna call my home." Mine is not the easy sentimentality of the vagabond, however, and I'm hardly cavalier with language. What I consider home is a sanctuary, a space consecrated and made my own. It's the difference between an outhouse and a castle: one is rough-hewn and invites only the briefest of visits, the other is regal and endures. How could anyone conflate the two?

And yet, all the time I hear references to one's cell as "home." This was especially prevalent during the years that I worked in Crossroads' kitchen, around what were generally short-timers. Kids on the serving line, talking about their evening plans, let garbage like this fall out of their mouths: "I'm gonna go home and get me a shower and watch me some Empire tonight, boy!" The guys in gray weren't the only ones guilty of this slip; guards did it, too. On the rare occasions when the kitchen had a surplus of workers, "Who wants to go home?" was the question put to us. My hand always went up, but not for the reason they thought.

My cell can't be home. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects one's home and property against unwarranted searches and seizures, while the little concrete box in which I live is subjected to frequent turnings upside-down by uniformed goons. As if that weren't reminder enough that this is no proper home, I'm also required to share it with a stranger. (That Doyle and I get along and have simpatico routines is irrelevant.) The bed and bedding I'm allowed are terrible, the lighting sucks, I can't adjust the temperature, and the lares and penates, those treasures that make a house a home, are altogether banned. I don't even get to paint the walls a different shade of gray.

My home no longer exists. Its only remnants have been kept safe in my mother's keeping since my abduction by the state. Material goods being low on my list of concerns, I've asked her to divest herself of, or use, what she could. Someone might as well appreciate them. What's now left are several boxes of clothing, a few decorative tchotchkes, and several hundred CDs. Whatever home I'm able to build once this purgatory's past will have to be made from scratch.

If that sounds especially sad, consider that every move a person makes in a lifetime involves exactly this. The same stuff may follow from domicile to domicile, but it's not the stuff that matters. You could say that it's the arrangement of that stuff, the investment of care into establishing what comfort one desires, and the life lived around that stuff that constitutes home. My eventual freedom would include the freedom to create home on a completely featureless foundation — an exciting prospect, not one to be melancholy about.

Meanwhile, I continue referring to my cell as exactly that, the same as I reject the labels "inmate" and, worse yet, "offender" on the grounds that I'm unjustly being held captive, a prisoner. Euphemisms won't make me any less uncomfortable. Then again, why would I want to get cozy and settle in here?

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Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.