01 March, 2023


"Care keeps his watch in every old man's eye," wrote Shakespeare, "And where care lodges sleep will never lie." This couplet from Romeo and Juliet encapsulates the nature of at least one form of insomnia, the scourge that is an overactive mind. The older I get, the less worry I feel, but this hasn't saved my sleep.

I lived through a period of chronic insomnia that lasted for about two years. High-dosage prescription sleep aids barely had any effect; restlessness stalked me through my days of walking death, fueled by caffeine and four hours' sleep, then hounded me in bed as I rolled and tossed fitfully, as though physical discomfort was my problem. Getting to sleep seemed impossible, most nights, even if I well and truly wore myself ragged during the day. This torture ended only after I sustained terrible loss and encountered real grief for the first time. As though I'd received shock treatment for my psyche, my mind seemed to reset after that, and I suddenly could sleep like the dead.

Things changed again upon my imprisonment. Jail sleep is a pathetic excuse for rest. Prison usually offers improved conditions, but not necessarily by much. Many factors here can interfere with the body's natural rhythm
light pollution, a cellmate's stirrings, guards' middle-of-the-night walkthroughs, neighbors' late nights, a heinously uncomfortable mattress, excessive or inadequate heat, and, yes, the care to which Shakespeare referred. With a wrongful conviction overshadowing one's life, as you can imagine, worry and woe tend to linger. Nevertheless, after a couple of years futilely pursuing acceptable sleep, I found rest again. I regained a state of mental peace, despite my circumstances, and slept soundly enough to forge a way through some of the most purpose-driven days of my life. Recently, though, for reasons obscure, the quality of my sleep changed yet again. In the 1992 movie Groundhog Day, the cynical weatherman Phil Connors, Bill Murray's character, finds himself physically and psychologically trapped in his least favorite place on earth, reliving the same day over and over (and over and over...). For the past month and a half, for no apparent reason, I've been sleeping the nonsleep that Phil suffers in Groundhog Day my eyes close at night, for no longer than a blink, then open in the morning, dearly wishing my alarm going off were just someone's idea of a joke. I've discouraged comparisons of prison life to Groundhog Day for a long time, because they always refer to its first half, in which Phil's pessimistic nature leads him to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Nobody talking about the movie is trying to invoke the positive, life-affirming message of the movie's latter half, which parallels that Miltonic phrase, "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n." Regardless, I now admit to one similarity between my life and Phil's: we both sleep like shit. There doesn't seem to be much I can do about it. Unlike with the insomnia I suffered in the past, this is about the quality, not the quantity, of my sleep. The typical recommendations for solving this problem buy a new mattress, adjust the thermostat, take some melatonin, or simply wake up a bit later in the morning don't apply. Institutional regimen permits no such luxuries.
I'll be okay, though. I always am. And in those future moments when something like despair encroaches because my shut-eye sucks, I can at least take solace in knowing there's no Sonny and Cher song playing when I do rise to meet the day.

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