In this episode of What Is Life? you'll hear from David Lee, a man who was convicted of murder in the 1980s and sentenced to life without parole.
He discusses what it is like losing loved ones, grieving while in prison and how he paid a hefty penalty for not accepting a plea deal and taking his case to trial.
This podcast is sponsored by FAMM, a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safeguard taxpayer dollars and keep our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM is helping transform America’s criminal justice system by uniting the voices of impacted families and individuals and elevating criminal justice issues all across the country.
The Agony of Serving a Life Sentence - By David Lee
For over 32 years now I have been waking up inside of Pennsylvanian cages serving a Life Sentence, or what we refer to as (LWOP) or "Life Without the Possibility of Parole." Sometimes we also refer to this draconian sentence as a DBI sentence, because you will literally take your last breath inside of some PA cage.
DBI means " Death by Incarceration, " and sadly I go to sleep every night thinking about the possibilities of once again being free, only to have those utopian dreams interrupted by the nightmares of all my peers who have already met the Grim Reaper while sleeping, eating a chi chi, watching television, taking a shower, or just sitting in a state operated cage.
In 2001 my brother Darryl Lee passed, and in 2010 my mother Edna Lee also transitioned into the spiritual world, and I was not allowed to attend their funerals. Because LWOP beings are not allowed to travel to funerals.
Imagine what the pain of not being able to comfort your family during such a time feels like! Also think about what it feels like to need and desire comfort after the passing of your loved ones and be denied that basic human need.
Both the passing of my mother and brother served as the most difficult periods of my imprisonment, because I was isolated and dealing with profound pain. Those were the most traumatizing moments of my incarceration, because I truly needed the sensitivity of being close to my family.
To compensate for not being able to connect with my family I engaged in various degrees of dissociation, and suppressed the many emotions running around in my wounded mind. Many years later as I was reflecting on the memory of my loved ones who have transitioned into the spiritual world, I was able to understand my reactions during that moment in my life as dissociation. I was doing what I had to do in order to survive the trauma I was dealing with based on the extremely limited resources available to me. But survival is not good enough; I really need healing in my life!
What I want people to understand is that incarceration is a very traumatizing experience, because human beings are forcefully extracted from normal human interactions, e.g., playing with your children, having sex, going to the movies, etc., and left to sort through their human wreckage without any real assistance on this side of the fence.
State operators have not, and still do not show any indications of possessing the cultural and political capacity to relate to our traumas in an honest manner. The state is primarily concerned with its own survival, not our collective pain. I want to ask everyone reading this to think about what punishment is designed to accomplish.
When you punish someone, you are trying to cause pain. You cannot traumatize me and think that you are helping me or doing some great civic duty. You are serving your own interests, whether they are political, economic, or some other interest they are not helping incarcerated human beings, or society.
However, the state would have people believe that incarcerated human beings deserve the pain and suffering that is being inflicted upon them. No matter what the circumstances of your life before imprisonment, no matter how much you educate yourself and mature, no matter how much you sacrifice to help other people, no matter how deserving you are of a second chance the state will continue to cause you pain, because you are no longer human to these operators. We are treated like property, because the state operators cannot recognize our humanity and still go about the job of causing enormous degrees of human suffering. Therefore, they must find ways to rationalize what they are complicit in doing to us.
If you are able to recognize punishment as being designed to cause pain, then you should also be able to see that a Life Sentence is endless agony. As an LWOP incarcerated human being, I have been living in endless agony for over 32 years.
However, even in this agonizing space known as a LWOP being, I have been forced to find a sense of purpose or run the risk of losing the will to live, and continuously seek freedom. I had to create a vision of freedom while simultaneously wallowing in a perpetual state of anguish. Something about the human spirit makes us want to find some sort of meaning in life, and for an LWOP being that can be extremely difficult. For me it started with connecting with struggles centered on gaining our release, but I also care deeply about community, so I had to figure out how to combine those efforts.
I have spent many years working to help build prison organizations, and organizations out on the streets. I work tirelessly to mentor our youth in here and out on the streets. I do many things to give my life a sense of meaning, because if I did not do those things, I would not have been able to survive. But as I stated above, survival is not enough. Purpose and healing are very important. I have a sense of purpose, but I have not been able to complete the healing process. But how do you heal while the pain never stops coming at you?
So, in essence the healing process cannot be completed until I am FREE!