Nothing (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
17 November 2017
I remember sitting in the out-process room of Stanley Prison wearing my green prison uniform. We were sitting squished together with other prisoners being processed out. They fed us our normal breakfast prison - two pieces of toast, butter, and jam. And then hot chai tea poured into our individual assigned plastic cups. The plastic cup that we used for everything - washing, drinking water, and with the Chinese toothpaste - brushed our teeth, took showers, and cleaned the floors and walls of our prison cell.
I saw the other prisoners who’s work detail it was to focus on the out-process room. They collected paperwork, translated instructions from Cantonese to English, and one by one - we as prisoners asked if we could use the solitary electric razor to shave. The prisoner workers gave us cotton puffs drenched in alcohol that we used to clean the shaver before we used it.
All of us wanted to be somewhat decent - clean and shaven before we went beyond the twelve foot cement walls of the maximum security prison.
It was 16 November 2016.
Finally I was standing on the painted yellow line and kept my head straight ahead as the prisoner in front of me was standing in the warden’s office speaking Cantonese. The warden had his file open and one of the officers was talking aloud and gesturing to the prisoner.
Finally the warden asked one question and the prisoner shook his head no.
The file was closed and the prisoner said a resounding, “M’goi.” And he spun out of the room.
“Prisoner 397828!” the officer said in English.
I came striding into the warden’s office. “Yessir.”
“How has your stay been here at Stanley Prison?” asked the warden in perfect American English.
“It’s been fine, sir.”
The warden leafed through my file on his desk.
The officer spoke up in broken English, “Will you be assaulting anyone else outside?”
The warden looked up at me and caught his stare. “I don’t want to see you in here again.”
The warden looked me up and down. “You are clear to go.” And he signed a paper and closed my file.
I dug through the plastic bags that held my belongings when I was processed in and my dark blue suit fit loosely.
I smelled my scent on my clothes. I hadn’t been able to wear deodorant or cologne except for the smell of generic prison soap and Chinese toothpaste that we used for everything. So smelling myself and what I had been like before prison brought back memories of another man, another time.
And it gave me a headache.
We marched in a single file line outside the building and in the cool November breeze coming from the ocean just beside Stanley prison whipped at my hair and soothed my skin. I felt like I was taking in my first breath of freedom although I could still see the fences, the guard posts, and the razor wire that decorated it all.
We stood there for processes and paperwork to catch up to us for nearly ten minutes. Then we marched through the front gate house - and when we came out on the other side - there was no more marching or following each other in line. We were individuals and no longer property of the Hong Kong Justice System.
A golf cart came up beside us and asked us to hop on while holding our plastic bags of stuff that he had kept throughout prison. And the golf cart pulled us through the guard housing and up to the main road that lead back into the richest area of Hong Kong - Repulse Bay.
The golf cart stopped in front of the main prison entrance. I saw a group of people standing outside. And as I walked closer I noticed that all of them were my friends and co-workers. I was happy but then suddenly I was ashamed that they saw me like this.
They then realised it was me and rushed forward. I didn’t know what to do so I simply stopped and raised my hand in a “hi!” gesture.
All had smiles on their faces.
Many of them have given me money to pay for my legal proceedings. Some had given me money to pay for my rent. Others had given me a job when no one else would hire me. And others had just been at the prison every visiting time there was - to check on me and make sure I was okay.
And I suddenly felt like I was nothing.
But I was free.