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Category — prison

Hot water

The same hot water that softens the potato hardens the egg.

I read that on someone’s Facebook feed a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I hate to admit that. It’s like admitting you were inspired by a bumpersticker (which I actually was, once), but there you have it.

I guess it’s just a cleverer way of saying that it isn’t the circumstance that matters but rather the reaction.

I think about the men in my prison writing group. I’ve been running the group for more than three years now. The men are all Lifers, all convicted murders. The “hot water” of their pre-incarceration lives included but was not limited to: physically abusive parents, sexually abusive relatives, domestic violence, poverty, racism, homophobia, households “held together” by drugs and criminal activity, lack of education.

This is not to relieve them of moral agency. Their environment didn’t make them do what they did. They chose to do what they did. And, depending how you want to parse the “hot water” maxim, they either hardened (like the egg)—that is, they lost the capacity for empathy—or softened (like the potato)—whatever moral code or inborn core of decency they might have had dissipated.

For the past two or three decades—yes, they have all been behind bars twenty, thirty, thirty-five years—they have been immersed in the hot water of daily life in a maximum security prison. Some men drown. Some men float, numbed by drugs. Some men pretend the water is not scalding them. They do not acknowledge the pain.

Not these guys, not the men who have learned to use writing to capture and process experience. That hot water? It has both hardened and softened them. Their souls have softened, and their resolve has hardened. Their minds have sharpened, and their hearts have opened. They have changed.

Can they be forgiven? Should they be released? Big questions.

June 13, 2018   4 Comments