Its got to start somewhere

By Nyki Kish-

I feel like I am crawling out from under rubble right now. For some time, I have been growing increasingly anxious and unable to get through my days. These feelings came as the original 8 months I was told it would take until my appeal passed, turning to 10, 12, and now 17. Amidst every month for which I was not mentally or emotionally prepared to be here, in prison, there has also come some greatly troubling change, or announcement of change to the federal system. Quite literally, the federal prison system is being restructured from under my feet. So to not only be going through this time having no idea when or if my appeal will come for me, but to also be witnessing firsthand this country’s implementation of a punitive, aggressive and industrial prison system, it has overwhelmed me.

It has only been somewhat obvious to me, that the increasingly unbearable emotions I have been feeling are my body’s way of telling me I need to get out of this unhealthy environment.

Obviously, I cannot. I cannot live in the wilderness, at peace with the ecosystems around me, as I intended to. That is okay, I have been denied the life of my choice for years now. While under house arrest for 3 and half years, awaiting the trial that convicted me, I grew accustomed to adapting to life in a system that I was no longer used to. I coped. I coped, because while I was being forced to live in a way that did not align with my morals or values, I saw opportunities to make positive change, and I used those opportunities to heal myself and find happiness in my situation, and to help improve what I see as wrong in our society.

Prison, however, is a different story.

From its structure to its policy, this place is not only an incubator of human suffering, fostering uncertainty, low self-esteem, and submissive, institutionally dependent attitudes from us who it imprisons, but it is not receptive to any change; any positive change that is.

Suggestions and opinions, even modest and logical ones, are belittled and viewed as instigative. They are made clear note of, and do not reflect on us well in our ‘paperwork’; our permanent files which govern everything from our security classifications to our parole-or lack there of. Needless to say, having a voice and strong mind are discouraged.

That is how this system thrives. They pit us against each other as they put us through as much suffering as they can, and then they isolate and approach us and say “don’t you want to get out of here? You’re not like them, you can do better.”

for a short period of time, I became distorted by this attitude. While I knew it was terrible, I kept quiet and complied, in the hopes of getting out of the max unit, as in medium I could eat real food, type on a computer, and feel the sunshine on my skin more than once or twice a month. Then, one day, a small event made a large difference in my life, as so often it goes. As I was being taken to a visit , a guard, making conversation, said to me “when are you getting out of max?”

Not for another year, at least,” I replied.

What a shame,” she continued. “ You are not the type of person who should be in max.”

I was taken back. She smiled, clueless. What type of person should be kept in max, with conditions so terrible they do not comply with international human rights standards? Could she mean aboriginal women , who make up the majority of the max and segregation population? Or could she mean traumatized women and women with mental illnesses,who are often kept for years and years in max and seg?

Regardless, it did not matter. I didn’t ask, in fact I didn’t say anything else. But I had a thought , and that thought was a seed that had been planted in my mind.

That seed sprouted and blossomed, manifesting in my physical and mental inability to get through the days intact any longer. Why have I been so concerned with the small privileges that accompany compliance in prison? Is my compliance supporting the suffering of others? If I relinquish the small privileges I have, (to be clear, these involve walking in the prison without shackles, and being able to participate in the wonderful Inside Out program) will change be possible? These are the types of questions that my mind is now flooded with, though I do not have all the answers. But I do not have the tolerance to be acquiescent any longer either.

Aside from my love of family, friends and freedom, I have only one thing in my heart today. It is complete dedication to do all I can to effect positive change in here from now on, and to not let the terrible wrongs I see go unnoticed anymore.

An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind, and we have to stop hurting each other. And these prisons are hurting people, and are hurting our whole society. Prisons and the people in them are not what most people think. From here, in prison, it is instead so clear:

Prisons perpetuate crime. They foster violence, and displace and destroy families and communities.

Crime will and can never end while prisons exist.

And not knowing what else to do, I am going to keep writing here about the events, outcomes and realities of imprisonment, until we can figure out a solution together.       


Intro by Eugene V. Debs

“Many persons visit prisons and imagine after being conducted through its corridors and over its grounds that they have learned something about that mysterious institution; not a few of them are impressed with the plaza at the front of the reservation and with other external features intended to relive the grimness of the grey walls and steel bars. They conclude that the state has provided a comfortable resort and has done handsomely by the criminals who are confined there.

As a matter of fact, they have been permitted to make but a very superficial examination and have been shown only such parts of the institution as were most likely to impress them favorably… Had these visitors and others, who complacetly accept the present prison as the final solution of the crime problem, been obliged to spend a month within the walls, submit to the iron discipline enforced there, eat the nauseating food, and feel themselves isolated, cramped, watched day and night, counted at regular intervals, and dwarfed and dulled by the daily deadly routine,

they would undergo a radical change of opinion

in regard to the lot of men and women who

are caged like animals by human society.”

-Eugene V. Debs