Letters of Chris Vega

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Vega, Christopher. Personal letters written by Christopher Vega to his family. 2007-2018. (Do not use without permission of author.)

Personal letter written by Christopher Vega to his family

Vega, Christopher. Letter, ca. 2016. (Do not use without permission of author.)

On the Other Side of Pain:

I awoke today and felt the need to write. Its been some time, but my son is really on my mind. Its been years since I've heard my son cry and just as it did when I was home, it made me panic. To be honest I'm still panicked. We spoke yesterday and the beginning of our conversation surrounded music. I asked him for some songs to add to my playlist & all of them shared a common theme. I noticed it right away, but first told him how my choices in music are generally songs that truly resonate with me & my struggles. I told him that I have to feel it. He told me he agreed and that he felt the same. So I began to reveal to him the commonality in all his choices. All the music he chose had references to the old days or missing someone. He stood quiet for a moment, and than I asked "who is that you miss?" His response was, "you dad," and burst into a fury of tears. I knew the answer, but needed my [son] to get it out. See my son, my [--], is a tough kid, but too tough at times. He believes it's his job to protect the family in my absence, and in the process opens himself up to a barrage of emotional blows. Never the less, in his tears I felt him in my arms and cried with him. I reassured him that I was coming, but also welcomed him to manhood. I told him in his tears that he revealed a strength. Men have this code of conduct if you will, to keep it all in. We're constantly told to be grateful for what we have & to shut up! Yet why can't we be grateful for what we have and still experience pain? The reason for most is because the frustration of the pain many de-legitimize usually turns to anger. No one teaches us how to communicate pain, because for decades, hell centuries the answer has been to just deal with it. But isn't talking dealing with it? The problem is too many of us accept what society deems as the norm. It's time for us as a society to change the conversation. I often receive backlash for what my peers call this philosophical bullshit. However, I believe the answers in breaking these vicious cycles of pain & anger dwell here in the penitentiary. Now I'm not suggesting just here, but it is a great staring point. Where else can you find millions of angry men who never developed a language for their pain? Anyhow, my theory is the people who have lost the most have the most to give. Sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but truth be told is in a place filled with hurt, and thousands of broken dream stories, you realize you are not alone in pain. Often times in the free world you can force a smile while driving a Benz, a beautiful lady on your arm, or a pocket full of money. But here you live a life where pain can't be hidden and you come to realize you are not the sole proprietor to pain. You begin to get on the other side of it, by realizing pain is not exclusively yours. Without the distractions of the world you see cars, women, and money were merely disguises. However, even here the masquerade ball has yet to end, though the costumes are much less appealing. Prison can do one of two things to you. It can harden you or humble you. Initially it hardened me, but over time and my various experiences I've truly been humbled. I complained about my life being unfair for too long. I blamed my parents, the mothers of my children, my friends, I even blamed God. Yet after I stumbled across these words by Mahatma Ghandi I began to question myself. He said "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." I didn't realize it just then but something began to stir on the inside of me. I had to stop complaining and be that change my sons needed, but how? How can I teach them to communicate what I still didn't have a language for? Then it happened. It was June 16th a day that was pretty significant to me for more than one reason, and I was hurt just thinking about how my life was not what it once was. That pain that I still had not figured out how to deal with landed me in long term segregation. My hurt had once again became another’s. At this point of my prison life I had become familiar with segregation, but not for this length of time. I'd be there for the remainder of the year and for those unfamiliar with segregation, let me enlighten you. You are put in a prison cell for 24 hours a day with no visual of anyone, given a jumpsuit, a few pairs of whites, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, soft cover reading material, and a fan. The gallery is filled with screams, hurling of insults and obscenities at one another and staff, along with kicking and banging of the doors that keep us confined. Yet amidst all the chaos not a face can be seen. Need less to say it is a very depressing place. Your fan ironically becomes one of your greatest tools in helping suppress the noise. When your fan is turned to high it assists you in drowning out the voices echoing throughout the night. Anyhow, as I'm beginning to become acclimated to seg a few weeks in, I receive a neighbor straight off the transfer bus. As is the norm with new arrivals, I yell over and ask where he just came from and he responded Pinckneyville. I informed him that I spent years in that facility & that served as the catalyst to what would be our hours & hours of conversations. Now normally I'm not a big talker with strangers, especially when I can't see the person, but this kid had a different energy. He drew me in with the stories of some of the adversities he faced in life. He told me how he lost his mother at 7yrs old to an asthma attack and how he developed a drug addiction that was linked to the pain from that loss. He often spoke about his fear of being released in the next couple months because he had no family, nor support and relapsing was a certainty. I opened up to him about my addiction, and hurdles in both my civilian and prison life. I was trying to comfort him, but found some relief myself in telling my story. A story I shared with no one. Anyhow, one night before we called it quits, he yelled over " hey Ck, I got you now big bro, I'm not alone anymore," I just smiled to myself and thought, me either. The next night as was the custom we began our conversations until daybreak and I was exhausted, so I interrupted him mid-sentence and told him I was tired and we'd wrap up the next day. You could hear the disappointment in his voice, but he just responded " ok big bro!" Within the next 2 or 3 hours the lunch trays arrived, and his voice came echoing through the vent, " you up bro?" I replied that I was awake, but still tired and I'd talk to him in a bit. Unfortunately, that little bit never came. Instead I awoke to the voices of panicked officers screaming "Milton, Milton breathe. I jumped out of bed to try and get any visual of the chaos out the crack of my door. All I could see were lifeless feet hanging out the threshold of the cell door moving to and fro from the pressure being applied to his upper torso from the CPR procedure from what I assume. I yelled, hell I screamed "Jay get up buddy, it's big bro," but nothing. I felt in my soul I'd lost my buddy, and as I watched a body being carried away from that cell just minutes later, my heart dropped. I sat there all alone and sobbed like a child. I'm uncertain what happen to my little buddy and officers disclosed nothing, but when state police CSI arrived to photograph the cell where he was, it became evident. His pain, his hurt had overwhelmed him. I blamed myself for quite some time, for not staying up with him. Hell to be honest I still do from time to time. But to be perfectly honest I'm more upset with myself for not listening to the cries of my loved ones, or the cries of the little boy inside of me and losing them all as a result. I allowed my pain to overwhelm me and blind me to the pain of others. So many men with a story to tell and no one to listen, others without the words, without the courage to say what hurts. I promised to never be any of those men again and to begin to be the change I want to see in this world. I spent 6 days with a stranger who changed my life. Never seen his face, never seen him smile, never shook his hand, never hugged or embraced him. He touched me simply with a voice. As I reflect on my experience in segregation I am reminded of Isaiah 28:23, " Give ear and hear my voice, Listen and hear my words." Too often we are so absorbed within our own pain that we drown out the pain of others and our friendships, relationships, and compassion suffer, sometimes even die as a result. Segregation was meant to punish me by taking everything from me. However, it made me discover the voice I'd been ignoring for years. Through losing "everything," I gained it all. In his voice, I heard that voice dwelling inside of me. I couldn't find it in the crowd or in a Benz, I found it within the voice of a stranger. I'm uncertain if this was some type of divine intervention, but I can tell you that the power & truth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ is real. People question why all their lives, but are we truly listening for the answers, or do we have our fans on too high? Thank you Jay for your part in leading me to the answer.. For I now have the ear and the heart to be on the other side of pain!

Nomad Thoughts by The AAO Kid