Posted by: Tina M | 19 January , 2011

A Place to Stand

My friend allowed me to borrow her book, A Place to Stand, written by Jimmy Santiago Baca, detailing his life involved with the justice system and surviving inside prison. I’ve been slow reading it, having been kidnapped by a dramatic work situation, I haven’t been reading in the past year. I picked it back up today and was again impressed with his descriptive language and critical thought regarding social justice in the US/Mexico.

Today what captured me most, however, was a talk that a cell-neighbor told Jimmy about surviving the inside.

“I was like you- hoping for a better life, working to do right– but that time passed. I remember when it happened. I was standing in front of the gates with the chain gang; we were going out to pick potatoes. Suddenly I lost hope, and I could never get it backĀ again. My soul broke. It died. That day, I became a criminal. That day I had no more hope. I knew when the punishment was enough, and then it kept going on and on, and from that point it made no sense. . .

“It happens to all of us who stay here past a certain time. You do your time; then you do more and more, and the hurt in the heart turns to bitterness, freedom turns to vengeance, and you look forward to getting out, not to resume your life but to hurt people the way they hurt you, for punishment that made no sense, for the hurting and hurting, for the day when you couldn’t take it anymore but you had to and lost your humanity, lost your reason for wanting to be a human being. The day you just fell into line, knowing this is where you’d live and die.

“I know you’re going into the hole for a long time, and I know you’re in serious trouble. Remember, it’s not the size of your muscles or your mouth- here, the heart is all that matters. The mind can’t accept being in a six-by-nine cell for years, but the heart understands it has to be done. The minds says, Deal with it and shut the fuck up. The mind senses your growing brutality, but the heart ignores it. Forget freedom, the heart commands.

“No one will help you here; you’re on your own. Fuck family, dreams, hopes, plans; when it comes down to it, you do what you got to do. If you got a parole board hearing in the afternoon and someone jumps your case, you fuck them up, and if you get more time, you get more time. If you’re put in a cross, no one cares. All you got here is heart= corazon. Only corazon. And if you don’t have it, every day will be a hell you’ve never imagined. When the mind says, I am human, the heart growls, I am an animal. When you wish to scream, the heart says, Be silent. When you feel hurt, you numb yourself. when you’re lonely, you push it aside. Strip yourself of every trace of the streets, because it will hurt you here. Here, you have no feelings, no soul; only your heart will help you survive. Forget everything except survival. Don’t ask why– there are no reasons. There is no future, no past, only the moment; you will do what you have to do. You didn’t exist before coming here; your life before here never happened. The only thought that drives you on is to be alive at the end of the day, and to be a man, or die fighting proving you are a man. That’s the code of the warrior.”

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