A few months ago while researching the documentary film, Indelible, I met someone who shared two short memories with me about his time in prison. He described an evening when he arrived on a bus to his new home in Walla Walla, Washington. He had noticed how the prison building looked as the road came upon it from a hill above. And later he described a method he and other prisoners used to communicate between their cells by talking softly into the vents.
I don’t think he realized the importance or beauty of these pieces of his history. But they stay with me, inscribed. I can imagine the colors of a red brick prison in a rural town, as seen from above in the early evening–the oppressiveness against the beauty of a darkening landscape. And then the other–a murmuring of voices, streaming through the windowless vents.
The beauty observed was not about prison, as there is nothing of beauty in restraining. Beauty came in the human traits that survived the brutality of enclosure.