I’ve opened my ‘emotional box’

More Than Our Crimes
6 min readJul 3, 2020

Can I close it again? Should I?

I lay in my bed the other night, stressing about what I could do to maximize my chance of gaining my freedom. Thanks to a new, COVID-related, D.C. law, my sentence has been recalculated to account for “good behavior,” making me parole-eligible. But that means returning to my previous “home,” the federal prison in Florida, since the parole commission refuses to conduct hearings at the D.C. jail (where I have been held for the past two years during an unsuccessful court proceeding).

I have been watching so many of my peers win their release under D.C.’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, making the real world seem tantalizingly close. I am soooo ready to follow them. The thought of going back to the deliberate chaos and punitiveness of federal prison is like a weight in my chest.

While I lay there, I had an epiphany. Before I came home to D.C. to fight for my release in court, and before this chance for early parole, I would never have spent my mental energy obsessing about my freedom. I wouldn’t even have cared where I did my time. I was so locked into my bid (the routine on which a prisoner relies to get through his time) that nothing outside of my immediate world affected me.

You see, although I wanted to go home, freedom didn’t seem within reach. So, as a defense mechanism, I placed that yearning into a box with the rest of my emotional attachments to the outside world and locked them away. Symbolically, it’s the same as saying, “f**k” something. What you’re actually doing is training your brain to accept the futility of worrying about a particular challenge. Of course, the challenge is still there, and eventually you’ll have to face it again (more on this later). But this is the only way to mentally survive decades in prison. In essence, you become an automaton in order to protect your emotional stability and sanity. In other words, your bid becomes all that is real.

More Than Our Crimes

Rob Barton has been incarcerated for 26 years. Pam Bailey is his collaborator/editor. Learn more at MoreThanOurCrimes.org