The mosaic of faces that litter the Death Row yards are but mere reflections of urban and metropolitan cities. They are races that speak of marginalized social conditions, or emotional and psychological baggage, and of a thousand other life deformities that painfully contort the face in unfathomable ways. These faces pace the small yard in vertical and horizontal lines or small circular patterns that unconsciously define the limited circumference of their lives. A circumference much like the yard where a single basketball, a deck of cards, and a chess set constitute the nothingness and powerlessness that has always been felt, always been presence.
I am always amazed how the faces attempt to conceal private pain, holding it back like a levy in need of repairs. Many or the faces are those of children, virgins in their prison faces, not yet wholly men, but man enough to execute. Others are husbands and sons who have never experience the gauntlet of confinement and straining to make the psyche adjustments and some sense of the vertigo they exist in. Then there are the blank faces hardened by concrete and survival or stranded on a deserted mental island unable to return. But all of the faces, including mines, struggle to deal with the common thread that joins us more closely then we care to admit, that thread no matter how we look is Death.
When I observe people engaged in conversation, I watch their facial expressions and can see the undercurrent of interior feelings that looms rigid beneath the surface where changes, conflict, and aggression hovers translucently. Sometimes I catch a face staring at me, giving me that jagged penetrating gaze as if we'd once been mortal enemies, or as if I remind the face of another face it once knew. I disarm it with a smile, he looks away, and in that brief space of time I have articulated a profound message. There are times though when I feel the urge to walk up to someone whose face shows particular signs of inquietude and ask; What's wrong? but prison protocol prevents me from making such an intrusion which can be tantamount to invading the sovereign airspace of a country - the result... War!
Okay, what do you do when you see a face experiencing what you have gone through? Well, on Death Row, you do nothing, nothing but watch in silence as the faces go from one extreme to the next. A perfect reenactment of Greek tragedy, comedy and drama, where death waits patiently to close the final scene. If I say to someone; "How you doing?" I am met by well honed defense reflexes aimed at protecting the ego and erecting a wall around insecurities that are too vulnerable to be exposed. I understand it so I just observe, face after face, made bitter by time and scared by living, forged in a season of defeats and victories that have molded a bettered soul. It is truly a burden to have to go through life with a phantom's face.
When yard recall is announced I return to my cage bringing those many faces with me and it is necessary I meditate, tapping into the realm where even the faces becomes oneness, sameness, relative, and for a time the faces disappear. Later, when I am finished meditating the faces return with all of their contradictions and I wonder; from whet perspective will I see them tomorrow?
Steve Champion 0-58001 4-E-63
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, Ca 94974
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