All Things Crime Blog has been posting excerpts from Nicholas Frank’s book, Destructive Justice, in which he tells the story of how his 17-year-old son, Nathan, received several life sentences for an armed robbery in which no one was injured. Now, we here at ATCB have been asked to post articles by Nathan himself (whose real name is Tyler). It turns out that there’s more than one good writer in the family.

by Tyler (May 18, 2014)

I awake to the usual sound of toilets flushing. A population of men going about their daily rituals and morning processes. With my eyes remaining closed, I begin to focus on and separate each distinctive noise. I hear the “yard door” open and close, followed by the “grill-gate” (heavy metal bars) informing me that shift change is taking place for the Correctional Officers. A new batch of custody staff, here to begin their own hours of concrete confinement. I know that just like us (convicts), some of those personnel will be irritable, angry, happy, alert, sluggish, and overall not pleased to be here – a wide variety of emotion and personalities for all to contend with.

A man is coughing. It doesn’t sound good. A hacking of the chest, implying medical problems. In fact, there is always a man coughing. Everywhere I have been for the past eleven-plus years, there has been a “cougher of the morning.”

My ears pick up the sound of an argument. Another constant, two men packed into a small space takes work. Irritability does not follow a schedule and oftentimes greets you with a hardy “Good Morning!” Hopefully, the disagreement is minor, preventing an escalation of the situation to something more serious.

My own living companion blissfully sleeps on. I know this to be true because of the pattern of his breathing. Light and quiet, but methodical.

How do I know this? Or better yet, why do I know this?

Hell, habit I suppose. When living a life of close quarters and the experiences from those confines, you pay close attention to detail. It is now second nature to me, something I notice without effort.

I squeeze my eyes shut and forcefully throw the covers off of me. Rise and Shine!

My bare feet hit the cold concrete floor. The constants just keep on coming.

I wash my face and run warm water through my hair. Brush my teeth, pull on my broke-in elastic waistband pants and tie my old worn-out work boots. The day is starting and I have goals to accomplish and daily chores to get through. All-in-all, I am alive, life is life, and I’ve got to live it.

What does that mean? Well, in prison it can mean many different things. To be honest it’s all in how you look at it…

At the age of seventeen I began my life of incarceration. In those early years, my mental thought process was survival and little else. For years I survived one attack on my life after another. My gang ties and alliances created a hostile environment that was unique even to prison. Thankfully, I grew to detest the person I had become. The person my father had raised me to be was finally emerging, and with it a change in my surroundings took place. It was time to live, not just exist.

Here is where the concept can become tricky. How, in an environment like prison, can one live a life?

I do not need a job, for the institution will provide shelter, water, clothing and (debatably) food – “debatably” because “they” call it food. We don’t.

What is the point of education, higher learning and furthering my studies if I have “life” in this hell-hole? Why should I work on myself and on who I want to become as a man if I will never find friends who don’t want to use and manipulate me? If I can’t have love or freedom or time with my family?

So…No job, no career, no friends, family, love or freedom. Where is life in that? I asked my dad that very question. My father has told me so many things that I will never forget. One of them pertains to exactly this. With despair and hopelessness, life did not seem feasible.

Here is what he told me…

“Son, no matter where you are, that is where your life is. It might not be the life you want or the life you would choose, but life is life. Whatever the circumstances are, you can still find meaning within them.”

This made sense. I had only to look at my life from a different perspective. If I have no job, I will create one for myself. I will try to bring purpose to my life through deeds and accomplishments, goals… I will work on self-improvement. Bettering and improving the way I think and live, and hopefully in so doing impact my surroundings.

Why?

Because these are the fundamentals of life. To learn new things, to improve as a person, to have responsibility, work-ethic and discipline.

That is life with meaning. No matter where you are, that is important.

With those basics, my way of being became fuller, much more rich and purposeful.

Surprises began to take place. I started to experience genuine friendship, even if it was few and far. Family had a level of depth and familiarity not felt since childhood. And as for love and freedom? Well, I still have a long life ahead of me.
With my work boots tied, I turn my prison cell light on. The metal door is electronically opened and the population proceeds to the chow hall to partake in some of the “fine dining cuisine.” The chow hall is loud and crowded with convicts – a small roar of voices overseen by officers with assault rifles.

Yup – the day has started and so have I.

 

Click here to view Tyler’s previous post:

“Behind and Beyond the Wall”: The Gift of Freedom

 

18 Responses to “Behind and Beyond the Wall”: Tyler’s Story of Finding Life in Darkness

  1. liselasalle says:

    I am glad Tyler has adopted a life with meaning and that he has his father’s wisdom to guide him.

    It breaks my heart but also fills me with hope to read how smart and wise he has become. His life matters.

  2. Darcia Helle says:

    Tyler absolutely has a gift with words. I feel like I’m right there with him as I read.

    His situation, to me, is appalling on multiple levels. From the juvenile system passing him off to adult court, to his absurd sentence of ‘life without parole’, to the stark world he paints of life behind those walls – every step of the way the “justice” system has failed him miserably. By extension, we, society, have failed him. I don’t understand how rapists and child molesters and killers get out of prison in a decade or less, while Tyler is given no hope at all.

    His strength of character amazes me. Put in his situation, I don’t know that I could rise to the challenge.

  3. Scatter says:

    Why is there no place given to rehabilitation? When someone clearly demonstrates over time that their character and motivations and aspirations have evolved, why is there no series of steps that can be taken toward a productive LIFE outside of the correctional system?

    Hope is a most powerful agent of change………despair is a highly effective agent of ossification. It hardens and tempers a character, strips motivation, and incites rage.

    Granted, some can never be rehabilitated. But that should be the GOAL for all. Those who reject it must remain isolated from society, but those who embrace it MUST be given access to a path toward redemption.

    We bemoan the fact that ever more ferocious monsters are being created behind bars, and wring our hands over the rate of recidivism, yet we create the environment that virtually guarantees those results. It’s insanity.

  4. Rick says:

    Tyler is a very eloquent young man who clearly deserves a second chance. With the dogged determination and the love of a father like Nick, I’m hopeful that one day State authorities will realize that they’ve made huge mistake in condemning Tyler to LWOP . . .

  5. Lorenz says:

    I am an American citizen born and raised in Germany. While I love the USA and this is my home country, my values, I have found, are grounded in those of Western Europe, so I am discovering in my early 40s.

    What continues to surprise me, is that the US justice system is geared towards punishment, rather than rehabilitation and education. No-one in Western Europe would doubt, that this young man had problems, was a criminal, and needed to serve a punishment of several years in prison, but nobody would ever, ever, suggest a life needs to be wasted and conclude a teenager needs to be put away for several life sentences?!??!?! Are you kidding?!
    How is that teenager the same person at 17 when he is 43 like me? We all had problems at age 17! I would not be.This is horrendous!

    In Western Europe, we can admit that young people do dumb things. It’s a much much harder process here. (of course we don’t have supermarket access to guns and then ask ourselves innocently (“dumbly” – yes go ahead critique) how all those “horrible things” could happen on a virtually daily basis).

    I am not a lawyer, but I believe in in Western Europe, in Germany (or Austria, or Poland, or France) this young man would have gotten a well deserved 4-6 years in prison. But the US, the justice system that is completely built on punishment, rather than rehabilitation, and it is completely lagging, lagging, and old fashion…

    I once read an article about how the the US is 100 years backwards, as a society, behind Western Europe.

    It’s when I read articles like these, I realize…yes, it is!!! 100 years.

    • Rick says:

      Great comment, Lorenz. The punitive nature of the U.S. criminal justice system is lamentable. This country may even be light years (not just 100 years) behind Western Europe in its criminal justice philosophy.

  6. […] “Behind and Beyond the Wall”: Tyler’s Story of Finding Life in Darkness […]

  7. […] “Behind and Beyond the Wall”: Tyler’s Story of Finding Life in Darkness […]

  8. alita says:

    I’m sending this to a friend who was thankfully and fortunately just released. She’s having a tough time adjusting. But her instincts are right; she spends all her time doing meaningful things. She’ll be glad for the encouragement.

  9. Nicholas Frank says:

    Alita,
    Tell your friend she is not alone. We are all thinking about her and we believe in her. Sometimes things will feel so crazy for her that the idea that she can succeed will seem to be overwhelming. When that feeling comes on, she will have to break down time into manageable units. Instead of worrying about overall success, she should think about being successful for one day, today, whatever today it is. If a whole day seems like too much, she should focus on being successful for one hour, or even one minute. At the end of whatever time period she chooses, she can start another minute, hour or day of success. Eventually, time will pass and she will realize that she can handle whatever comes. Finally, she will achieve an equilibrium that will be more easily sustainable. Wishing her the best…

    Nick Frank

  10. Chris says:

    Hello Mr Moore, my name is Chris, and the picture of the two inmates speaking at a school is a picture of myself and another inmate. I would like to ask you to please remove the picture from your blog as that it misrepresents Mr Franks book and Tyler’s article. Please feel free to contact me with any questions that you may have in this request. Thank you.

  11. […] “Behind and Beyond the Wall”: Tyler’s Story of Finding Life in Darkness […]

  12. […] “Behind and Beyond the Wall”: Tyler’s Story of Finding Life in Darkness […]

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