By Jason Naradzay
First, let me situate you: doors clanging, people yelling, guards barking. The noise in prison is non-stop, and nighttime is often louder than daytime, because at night many inmates cry out, haunted by their trauma.
I often felt like joining them. For the first three years, the cacophony in here drove me absolutely bonkers. I walked around like a zombie — neither dead nor alive. I had a long beard and no one to talk to. My hygiene was so bad that a newfound friend counseled me on the importance of keeping my face washed and teeth clean.
Over time, I started to adjust, and my life began to improve. I became a gardener. I saw firsthand how life started as a seed, grew into a plant, and then died off in the fall. I realized that is exactly what happened to me: Part of me had died in those first few years, but I did not see what was next.
I ended up at Sing Sing, a place that offers many educational opportunities for inmates, and I took advantage of them. I enrolled in a theology degree program. I explored my faith. But after a while, I felt stuck in limbo—stuck because I knew a lot about what not to do. I had given up most of my bad habits and examined my heart and mind with help from counselors, both inmates and professionals, but still had no real purpose. Nothing to do.