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130. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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1-27-10:
 
Been thinking about the future a lot lately, same way I did when I first got in here. Went away for a while but it’s back now, that same uncertainty, with less of the pleasantries.
 
I keep hearing that recurring line from The Matrix in my head, like the words the entire movie runs off, the shit Morpheus and Trinity and everybody keep whispering in Neo’s ear the whole time:
 
“You’re going to have to make a choice.”
 
Everybody in that fucking movie says that to everybody else. Make a choice, make a choice, come with us or don’t, red pill or blue pill, inside the matrix or outside, live or die.
 
But, see, I feel like my choice was already made for me a long time ago. I made the initial decision, sure, but it led to a lot of other decisions that I had no control over.
 
Guess that’s what you call consequences.
 
I’m being released tomorrow. Never thought I’d make it through this. I almost feel like leaving this journal in the cell for the next person to find. Or sending it to somebody who’s on trial right now or, better yet, somebody who’s just about to do something that’s going to alter the course of their life forever. Let them know the stipulations of living a “free” life in this fucked up society.
 
But it wouldn’t matter, I know it.
 
People are going to do what they want no matter what you tell them. It’s the way nature built us, the way it’ll probably build whatever species takes our place in the future.
 
You don’t believe that, watch Planet of the Apes sometime. You might learn something, like we’re only on top now because nobody’s kicked us off yet. And that upsetting any balance in this world will always come back to bite you in the ass.
 
This isn’t a moral I’m trying to set up for you, whoever you are reading this right now. I’m just stating the truth.
 
When you die, everything you gained, everything you lost, it doesn’t matter anymore.
 
It’s the most beautiful fact in the world, and it also makes everything completely fucking pointless, which is why I know that after you’re done reading this, you’re going to go right back to what you were doing before you picked this journal up, whether it’s smoking crack or fighting in the streets or getting your degree.
 
Either way, end result’s the same, right?
 
Right.

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105. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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5-22-09:
 
If I remember correctly, Isaac Newton’s the one who said for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
 
I hear that and I believe that Newton was more than just a scientist. He knew things about life, real shit.
 
You fuck one thing up, something else has got to come around and balance it out, eventually. Because balance is the only reason we even exist.
 
There’s patterns in everything, in our minds, in the way nature exists. For example, humans are part of the Bilateria classification of animals, which includes all the organisms on earth that have bilateral symmetry, which is the balance of body parts or shapes on either side. Almost everything you’ve got on one side of your body has a twin on the other side. Lung, rib, brain hemispheres, kidney, testicle, ovary, facial nerve, eye, nostril, breast, arm, leg, fibula and patella and femur and clavicle.
 
There’s two sides to everything. One’s got to support the other to keep the balance.
 
If one of your kidneys gives out, the other’s got to pick up the slack. Same for every other part of your body. If not, things aren’t balanced, and you die.
 
Chinese philosophers came up with the term yin and yang to explain how two opposite things can still be connected to each other. They said the connection’s necessary for the natural world to exist.
 
There’s two poles on our planet, the north and the south. Magnetic fields set up directly opposite each other. Without them, we’d spin off into another galaxy like the universe just slung a fastball.
 
And you’ve heard the saying “an eye for an eye.” Everybody’s heard it before, I know I have. What I didn’t know, what I found out with all my free reading time in this godforsaken place, was the phrase came from the bible. Exodus, Chapter 21, verses twenty four and twenty five:
 
“And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
 
See, every movie, every story’s got a protagonist and an antagonist. There’s the main character or characters, and there’s the people or events that fuck with those main characters’ lives. Without one or the other, you’ve got no conflict. No conflict, no story, the movie never gets made, people never get educated.
 
Good don’t exist without evil, happiness ain’t shit without sadness, and you can’t die if you were never born.
 
So, you see, it isn’t anger or revenge or anything like that why I plan to take Tony’s life when I get out of here. Tony Stephens was maybe the greatest person I ever had the pleasure of getting to know, and I’ll always appreciate having that opportunity, for the rest of my life.
 
I’m just trying to balance things out.
 

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93. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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1-12-09 (continued):
 
Prison gangs, they’re the purest friendship people in this position can have. Completely superficial but so damn effective.
 
Any one of these men would strangle another gang member in a fucking second if it’d benefit him, but the beauty of it’s that they all know that. Nobody’s naïve in here, because they’re all fucking criminals. Joe Schmo in cell block C don’t have to ask himself, “I wonder if that guy would fuck me over if he got the chance.” You’re damn right he would. And once you know something like that, you’ve got no choice but to live day to day.
 
Once you know something like that, going to sleep with all your fingers and toes intact makes waking up the next morning a fucking blessing.
 
Yes sir. I’m thinking now that some of these guys are happier in prison than they ever were outside.
 
Which brings me back to Tony, and my life in here. I’ve got this hope, because of Tony, and hope is fucking unhealthy in a place like this.
 
It’s like having cancer; once you catch it, your body and mind have no choice but to hold on and let it fester and grow until it’s all anybody sees in your eyes.
 
I’m an outsider in here. I see everything happening but I’m not involved. I can’t jump headfirst into prison culture because I don’t see myself as a true prisoner. Not the way y’all define prisoner at least. Which is Tony’s fault. I mean, I know I said earlier it wasn’t his fault, and it isn’t his fault that shit went down this way. I’m in here because of my own choices, my own plan.
 
But after reading his journal, it’s hard to fall into this prison game of friends and enemies. Waiting for the next backstab so you can grab your knife and get to doing some stabbing your damn self. Knowing so much about somebody who’s been through the same shitstorm I have, it makes me a little conceited.
 
Which can get you killed in a place like this.
 
Despite all the bullshit, I still jump up every time the guards come around with the mail, irrationally hoping Tony’s name’ll be on a letter slipped into my cell. Impossible, I know, but you know. I can’t help it. Haven’t received anything yet, and I think I might be starting to accept that I never will.
 
But with that acceptance there’s this little piece of regret that’s started bouncing around my skull, along with that flame of anger. I see things every once in a while, pictures that pop into my head when I close my eyes, whenever I think too long about the fire that night. Horrible, gruesome pictures. Haunting shit.
 
I haven’t heard from Silverstein in months now. I should’ve known when he promised to get me out in a year on good behavior. Should’ve known it was bullshit, and I kind of did, kind of prepared myself for the long haul. Impossible to prepare for this completely though. Fucking impossible, no matter how many times you watch Escape from Alcatraz.
 
I’m counting down, hoping this place doesn’t get me before I can get out.
 
 

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86. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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1-12-09 (continued):
 
It’s even worse with the guards, because they actually are in “the shit” everyday, they’re just too clouded with fake-superiority to see what’s really what.
 
They swagger around like they’re the ones in control, but they’re blind. They, more than anybody, see the prison groups as “prison gangs,” like a bunch of high school kids running together to boost each other’s self esteem.
 
I don’t blame them either, I’d think the same thing if I were in their position.
 
The groups, they do look pretty rough. Gangster. Prison tats, shanks, the whole nine. But you gotta be educated about this shit.
 
I’m telling you, American History X will school you.
 
I’ve been here now for long enough to see what the fuck’s really going on: these gangs, their member initiations have got nothing to do with being part of the group as a whole.
 
The act of joining a gang serves one purpose: to ease the new member’s own state of mind.
 
People aren’t so unselfish that they’d stab somebody in the back just so that other person’ll be safer. They do it because they hope that, if the situation comes up where things are reversed, that person’ll do the same for them. Because they couldn’t live afterwards (literally) if they hadn’t at least tried.
 
Its security, the same reason kids cry during sleepovers at their friend’s house or on their first day of school.
 
Watch a little boy whose mom just drove off and left him standing in the playground of his new elementary school, around a bunch of other kids and way-too-happy teachers that he’s never seen before. Look at that kid’s face. You know what you’re going to see?
 
Fear, that’s what. That kid’s scared out of his fucking mind.
 
That kid, alone on the playground for the first time, he’s scared to death because he’s having that moment of realization that everybody has at some point in their lives, that most people spend the rest of their life trying to cope with.
 
He’s realizing that same mom who’ll stab somebody in the back for him, she’s not always going to be there.
 
And when she isn’t, it never really mattered that she was ever there to begin with.
 
That kid’s mother, she’s not there right then while he’s standing on that playground with his Transformers lunch box and oversized book bag; she’s not there to protect him when one of the other kids decides it’d be fun to pick up a rock and beam the boy in the back of the head.
 
And figuring that out, that he’s completely fucking alone, that little boy’s so lost he just sits down, pisses his pants, and cries until he can’t see nothing anymore, until he falls asleep with a crying-headache so he can at least dream that somebody’s shelling out beat-downs in his name.
 
Because that’s all he can do. Dream.
 
That’s the scale. You’re born alone and you die alone, and all that time in between’s spent pretending that both ends don’t exist.
 
And how much better can you deal with that depressing shit than by banding together, fighting the inevitable?
 
We’re all self-centered animals. That kid on the playground, he’d stab somebody for his mom just as quick as she’d do it for him, but only as long as he knew the unwritten contract would never be broken.
 
That agreement, its safety in numbers.
 
It’s Boyz n the Hood. It’s Goodfellas. It’s Scarface. Casino. The Godfather, all three of them. Worker’s unions. Corporations. Sports teams. Native tribes in Africa. Al-Qaeda. The U.S. government. Any government. Fuck, the Catholic Church. It’s all the same.
 
What I’m saying, I guess, is that prison gangs seem childish, but they’re just human. Like an adult security blanket.
 
And I’m not saying they’re immature; these men got the right idea if you ask me.
 
Sleeping good at night’s all about sanctuary, all about peace of mind.
 
Plus, with these gangs, you don’t have to worry about being lonely either. Everybody’s got a deep need for companionship, whether they admit it or not, and these men figured out a way to satisfy that need in an oppressive establishment without having to cry or lie down on some shrink’s couch. That’s not an easy achievement.
 
By joining together, they’re making sure they’ve got somebody to turn around and say something—anything—to without being scared that person’s not going to say something back.
 
Which, sometimes, can be worse than death.

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82. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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1-12-09 (continued):
 
And the factions, that’s a whole other topic right there.
 
Six months now I’ve watched them, the groups unofficially banded together for their own protection.
 
And I know how everybody on the outside sees them. I saw it like that when I came in here too, looking at them and automatically thinking prison gangs, like it’s a bad thing. I saw it and was like “Yup. American History X.
 
Like I said, I’ve seen all this crap already. Can’t phase me. And it is like that, just like it. Even more like it than I realized though. Because after a few months in here we all have that same realization, like when Edward Norton realizes the politics of inter-gang relations, the bullshit that goes on between cell block crews.
 
Only, when you realize it yourself, on the inside, it’s not the same like realizing it along with Ed Norton. Out there, watching a movie, it’s a profound discovery. It makes you see things about yourself, about humanity, about life and art. Makes you want to be a fucking peace activist, seeing that goddamn movie.
 
In here, though, you’re alone. It’s eye-opening, yeah. But it’s not good to be that goddamn insightful in here.
 
The guards, the warden, the people who come to visit every other day to see their fathers and grandfathers and husbands and boyfriends and brothers, they don’t really know. It’s like they’re just watching us on TV, even when they’re here. They think they know when they’re here because they believe that, just for a second, they’re in “the shit” like the rest of us. Because they’ve got this bird’s eye view that makes them think they know what the fuck’s going on.
 
But they don’t.
 
They just want to believe they do so they don’t feel left out of the mix.
 
Because, in the end, that’s all anybody wants, is to fit in.
 
It’s the same shit like when you cry because somebody else’s parents died, or because the guy didn’t get the girl at the end of the movie, even when you’re watching the fucking movie with your boyfriend or girlfriend and your parents are sitting right at home, watching TV and eating Grape Nuts and being generally old.
 
You just want to be able to lie in bed after it’s all over and feel like life—your life in particular—has got some deeper meaning.
 
But it doesn’t. Nobody’s does. We’re all just floating through this world, waiting for shit to happen. Sooner you recognize that, the better off you’ll be when things turn to shit.
 

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76. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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1-12-09:
 
From what me and Tony talked about—and from what I read about him in his journal particularly—he came to Tallahassee to get away from all the baggage he had back home in Miami. And I completely understand the desire. It’s pretty much the same reason I came to FSU, to get away from it all, to start over in a new place.
 
I could have gone to school in NY: Binghamton or Syracuse or NYU, even Columbia if I wanted. I had the grades, they probably would’ve paid for it.
 
Sometimes I think maybe I should’ve. Probably wouldn’t be in this position right now if I had. None of this would have ever happened. Florida would be far away, nothing but a figment of my imagination.
 
But then, see, I say that now and it just doesn’t sound right. Sometimes I wish I did feel like that, but then I think about all I’ve learned from my experiences in the past couple of months. Way more than I ever would have experienced if I stayed home.
 
I’ve grown these last few years, a lot. I always said to myself that I wanted a fresh start, and it’s funny to think about now.
 
I don’t know what’s any fresher than this.
 
I just wish I could have some contact with somebody, that’s the only real problem. That’s where the anger’s coming from, why it’s getting just a little more intense in here for me each day: loneliness.
 
Everybody I had is gone now, and I just wish I had even one person. Family, old professors, anybody.
 
The other guys in here, they’ve got their mail days, their visitation hours, people giving them that little glimpse of the outside every once in a while, a reason to move forward, to aspire to get out.
 
It’s the waiting that’s getting to me. The waiting to leave here, the waiting to go back to outside living, the waiting to see if I’ll be alright out there after being in here.
 
And in here, God. Watching everybody operate, it’s like death’s slowly eating us all alive.
 
Like just living in here, having a life behind these bars, is against the rules.

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44. Excerpt from Earl Bishop’s Prison Journal

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11-12-08:
 
I read Tony’s journal before they locked me up. A whole book of thought from one of the realest dudes I’ve ever had the chance to interact with.
 
I read it because I was trying to put his mind together, so I could learn a little more about him.
 
I figured for somebody to have found themselves in the positions Tony did throughout the time I knew him, he had to have been through some pretty interesting, deep shit before that; shit he would have never told anybody about.
 
And I also figured since I was in so deep with him over all this, I had the right to know.
 
I’m glad I did too. It put a lot of things in perspective. Made me figure out exactly what’s going on in this little soap opera I’ve found myself a part of.
 
Tony couldn’t help feeling oppressed. Neither could I. Hence, the connection.
 
I don’t blame him, not too much. He was the catalyst, yeah, but he didn’t put me in here—you did.
 
This system. This  country that put us all into this position in the first place. The position where we’ve got to fuck people over just to get by.
 
This country, where individuals are just part of the “population.” A product. It’s been like this for years now too, ever since Vietnam, when the U.S. turned its back on its own veterans.
 
We consider ourselves the country with the most values. I’ve been reading up on some shit though, in the library they’ve got here, reading between the lines and seeing things they didn’t tell us in high school American history, things that they give you a watered-down version of in class so you think it’s not as fucked up as it actually is.
 
You know the only country to ever use a WMD aggressively?
 
US. World War Two. 300,000, decimated. And yeah, you already knew that. But you ever actually thought about it, how screwed up that actually is?
 
Another one: who killed the most Vietnamese in a failed attempt to “free” their country from communism?
 
US. Over 3 million. 
 
What about the Korean War?
 
4.5 million. US.
 
Iraq and Afghanistan?
 
Over a million in the past twenty years.
 
Cuba, South Africa, Colombia, all over South America.
 
You hate on Hitler like he’s the worst thing to happen to the free world since slavery. And yeah, the dude was fucked up, but he killed like six million people over the course of six years. That’s a million a year.
 
We’re on par for that right now, so how different are we really?
 
You ever seen Dead Presidents? What about Set It Off?
 
The things I’ve done are nothing compared to what they did, and they were completely justified.
 
The world hates America, and people here are too stupid to even notice, which makes the world hate us even more.
 
You think 9/11 was an accident? You think it won’t happen again?
 
It happened for a reason, people. And it’ll keep happening as long as things are the way they are.
 
Only next time, instead of a couple of Boeing airliners it’ll probably be a nuke.
 
And if I’m still around afterwards, when the whole planet’s turned into a fucking atomic desert, I’m going to scream “I told you so,” even if there’s nobody there to hear me.
 
Justice, man. Real justice, true justice. It’s going to happen, and I can’t wait.
 

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