The Hardest Thing to Lose

Of Walpole State Penitentiary, Jim says, “I grew up in that bitch.” He scissors his arms while he talks, but I don’t sense rage, even though, after hearing him describe his ordeals, it is tempting to recommend an anger management course. Listening to him, I contemplate solutions the way I might for a maladjusted 8th grader. But Jim is 54. He has been in and out of prison since he was middle-school age. And I’m not here to fix his problems, anyway.

Jim says people keep starting fights with him. He has quit everything else: cocaine, stealing, hard liquor. “That’s the only thing I can’t solve,” he says. He is small and trim. Moves quickly, despite a broken shoulder from the last scrap. He tells people, “come at me again like that.” What if he tried not saying anything? I think this, but don’t say it. It feels like a suggestion that comes only from my perspective, one that can’t easily imagine the kind of life he lives or the people who surround him.

Solemnly and with great passion, Jim describes what it is like to be without women in prison. Women are why he’d rather be free than locked up. “If you don’t have it, you’re gonna die inside. You’re not going to feel human. You’re going to feel like an animal. Thirty years without girls. That killed me…everything that you are, it destroys it. Just kills it. Eats it alive from inside.” He’s not talking about sex only. He’s talking about being around the feminine. He tries to explain what he misses so badly. “It’s the mimics like you girls do. Their daintiness, their cuteness. Their make-up. Their being.

Some people don’t require prison to keep them away from this type of companionship. But when Jim is out, meeting women is the least of his worries.  His dating strategy is persistent and patient. “It takes me a half a year to pull a girl because there’s no chemistry,” he says. At least at first. “Then it comes to the personality time. I stay the same way. I don’t change. In the end, I get them because they say ‘this is the dude who’s real.’ That’s why they start to like me, because they like that.”

Cambridge, MA
May 2013

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