Conway Imagines Freedom After Prop 36 Sentencing Reform


My prison pen pal “Conway’s” most recent letter to me was written just before Election Day, as he waited to see whether California voters would pass Proposition 36. This ballot measure, which was successful at the polls, would finally exempt nonviolent offenders from the state’s harsh “three-strikes” sentencing. Prisoners like Conway, who were sentenced under the old law, can apply for early release. Let’s hope that the dream he expressed in this letter will soon become a reality:

My vision:

The gooners come to the door; hand me a clear plastic trash bag. Tell me to put whatever I intend to take with me. I choose, just my letters, my writings and Dag… [his copy of Dag Hammarskjold’s “Markings”]

The last gate cracks. I step out onto the pavement, and start putting one foot in front of the other, as the last images of barbed wire and gun towers slowly fade away on the horizon at my back.

I no longer require someone to tell me where to be. What to see.

I have the power to be free
to be me  to be absolutely.

Another vision: I walk out to the parking lot. Find a ’59 Panhead idling with a Circle-A on the gas tank.

The person standing next to the scooter says, “This is your last shot, take this bike and get out of Hell as fast as you can.”

I don’t hesitate. I jump on, pull the clutch, drop it in gear and turn the throttle full, pop the clutch as the back tire kicks rocks on the tower like a dog pissing on a fire hydrant.

10 Thousand sounds scream from the fishtail pipes as I hit the highway passing cars and trucks like they’re parked.

A song begins to form in my mind as I blast down a road that starts to push buttons in my mind.

It becomes familiar.

The motor sputters, I reach down and twist the petcock to reserve. The motor smooths out and I hear Lita Ford, singing “Let’s get back to the cave”.

I pull off the freeway and refuel. Grab a Mars bar and a Mountain Dew.

I pull back onto the highway. Pantera begins to play “Cemetery Gates” in my head. Slowly my speed begins to crawl back up to the velocity that brings tears to my eyes.

The rim of the Valley comes into view. I see a blanket of jewels glittering below me as the lights of Los Angeles invite me back home.

This time, things will shine.

“In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment — the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth — until, around me, was an infinity into which we all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses of calm dark waters.” — Dag Hammarskjold

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