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Procrastination turns to productivity and deep reflection on the incarcerated/lifers

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Yesterday morning I woke up prepared to do work...sike. I ended up wacthing a few shows and then I stumbled upon a documentary entitled The Falling Man. For my vision post, I wanted to share a journal entry I wrote right after watching it.

Dear 360 Vision Journal,

After two hours spent aimlessly searching the web for something to watch, luck would have it that I would come across a documentary on entitled, The Falling Man. In the context of the horrific events that happened on September 11, 2001, the documentary explores the mixed public responses and the story of a man who is headed 100 stories to his death from the World Trade Tower. As I tearfully watched the falling man’s picture, heard his stories and digested the public’s disgust and seemingly justified ignoring of the cohort  200-something individuals who plummeted to their deaths, I couldn’t help but think about my experience with the 360/women of the Cannery.

I don’t know where to begin with the parallels between the two—it is more of a feeling; better yet, feelings than coherent thoughts. I was most struck by the idea of someone having to contemplate and, ultimately, make the decision to take their own lives versus letting an inferno of fire do it instead. I was moved by the fact that in the moments before imminent death, the individuals who made the choice met the ground—God?—with their agency, dignity and humanness intact. That is not to say that those who stayed did not carry these things with them to their fiery deaths—I simply which to point out that there is something incredibly human and empowering in having choice…even when the options conclude the same way.

The film moved me into similar feelings—ones that I hesitate to name because I don’t think words, and how limiting and defining they are, will give them justice—that have often simmered under my joy in being with the women at the cannery.  Again, just like every experience I have had with the prison system so far, I was bombarded with thoughts of what it means to be human and to be humane after watching the film; but more so now around choice, death and perhaps suffering. I imagine that being caught on the upper floors of the North and South Twin Towers where asphyxiation and fire are welcoming you through one door and the hug of cement from the other is very much like doing a life sentence and being in and out of the cycle of jail and poverty for the Cannery women.

Every time I read Doing Life, and I have re-read a few stories one too many times, the disturbing question of “Why didn’t you just kill yourself?”  pops up all the time in my head and I, too, just like the speakers in Falling Man wonder what I would do in his or her situation. I have concluded that greater society has ignored prisoners for so long that one doesn’t need be sentenced to life for death to be the only end result—remember Kim saying, “…we all have one more crime left in us…”?  But anyway, just as I am fascinated with that disturbing question, I am also eager to know what keeps prisoners/lifers living when the end goal is clear. Yes, we all die someday but only the shunned—the incarcerated—are reminded that that is the destined and doomed goal for them.

I can understand why a lifer would keep living. In some of the stories I read, lifers wanted to be remembered for the change in them that was for good, but as I have mentioned in a past journal entry, we all are “a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things;” so what good is there in “becoming” good if eventually one’s memory of you will become an unknown, minuscule imprint in the history of humankind? Is that enough? Do we all work for this small and, perhaps, insignificant contribution? Is that the purpose of my life? I understand that it is empowering to live life as best as one can despite knowing that your looming purpose as a lifer is to live just to die; but, to me, that screams great suffering and heartache. I couldn’t do it—no matter the degrees I obtain, the programs I start and the many religions I find—and I am constantly taken aback by the fact that I live in a society  that forces individuals to do it—to live the life of a lifer.

I know that I wouldn’t be exploring these questions if prisons, and all that it encompasses, were abolished and I recognize that this act would be more than terrifying for many—even those who are thrown in the system. So given that it does exist, I do want to end on what disturbed me most about The Falling Man. People, society, media—whatever you want to call it—didn’t want to see the pictures and did a good job of minimizing the stories of those who did jump—the Jumpers—from American and, ultimately, world history. I am sure that the jumpers—a term I despise because they were actual  named, living individual humans—are not the only excluded people from history and I respect the integrity of the many reasons for why one would choose not to confront the iconic image of a man careening head first to the ground. However, those who made the difficult decision to jump are just as dignified, empowered and human as those who stayed or were trapped in the building. I found it admirable—each individual who jumped set the terms for their death versus letting a convoluted “terrorist” act—something way bigger than the individual—dictate their life until it was no more.

Therefore, I find that Doing Life and, perhaps, the work of Zehr is incomplete. I would like him to write a book on the lifers—the many prisoners actually—who ended their lives in prison. I believe no act of suicide is cowardly or shameful and I don’t even care if the prisoners took their own lives before some great reformation. I simply want to respect and bring to the surface that no matter who they were at the time of death, what feelings and harm they caused, and their reason for committing suicide, this silenced group of people got to have one last human right—to own their lives at the last moment—when all others were taken away.

360 love,


The Falling Man (09/11/01)



Owl's picture

I wonder if deciding to take

I wonder if deciding to take one's life could really be considered "owning" one's life.  Although I would love to declare it as an act of agency, this all just reminds me of the fact that many of our decisions in life are chosen within the limits of walled institutions, cultures, societies etc. I wonder if anyone has ever chosen to end their life simply because they have felt that their purpose in life had been fulfilled, as opposed to someone who commits  suicide because they feel their life has no purpose. 

Anne Dalke's picture

life, fulfilled

Carolyn Heilbrun, who commited suicide @ 77:
she was not ill but felt her life had been completed.
A nearby note read "The journey is over. Love to all."