To Survive on Death Row, You Must Transcend Your Physical Space

I am my only physical companion for the foreseeable future

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” John Milton, Paradise Lost

Few others have walked a journey lending more credence to such a profound statement.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

The alternative space of a father

Contrary to popular opinion, surviving prison life is mostly mental. Although I have been drawn into my fair share of physical altercations — using fists, knives, mace, etc. — they pale in comparison to the times when I had to save my sanity, my humanity and, ultimately, my spirit by transporting myself out of this manmade hell into an alternative mental universe.

Photo provided by Kenny, with a photo of his daughter, post high school graduation

The space of a community benefactor

Another “alternative space” I created is a virtual role in my community. Despite my drug dealing as a youth, I was also known as someone who would give the shirt off my back to help another. It’s a value system I learned from my grandmother, who was my closest thing to a superhero. One of my fondest memories is buying the children in my neighborhood ice cream when the truck turned onto our street, playing its familiar song. Some of them came from households that were rough on children; still, when they licked a cone, for at least those moments, they could be like other kids.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

But there is no escaping one’s physical space

But despite all this, I still have had to come to terms with the physical space my body occupies. And that became critically important in the last year.

Rob Barton has been incarcerated for 25 years. Pam Bailey is his collaborator/editor. Learn more at