Life Row

I am writing this with a pencil that is gradually wearing out. I can’t tell you how many of them I’ve got through to-date, hundreds, thousands maybe? I favour the egg yellow hexagonal ones with lamp black stripes along each edge. They hold so nicely in the hand. They feel so real and present. I am not allowed sharp ones, or long ones. I have tried to swallow them a few times, but have been stopped immediately by hooded wardens. It is never dark in here, my sheets are transparent, I am naked all the time. There is nowhere to hide. If I have been ‘good’ for long enough they allow me to have a pencil with enough of a tip to write with. If I am ‘bad’ the pencil is taken away from me. I went three years without a pencil a decade back. ‘Bad’ means if I stop eating, swallow things or in anyway stop co-operating.

The worst thing I can do, as far as the authorities are concerned, is to die. That is the number one rule – don’t die. Ever. My writing is prolific. I’ll write to anyone who writes to me, lonely women form the majority of my correspondents, followed by prurient Church Ministers, doctoral researchers, policy makers, do gooders, do baddders and all sorts of others from the rational to the psychotic and the somewhere in-between. I write, write, write and when I am not writing I read with a pencil in my hand or intermittently in my mouth, for comfort (cigarettes are not allowed in here, because, guess what – they are bad for you!). I also do a lot of crosswords. So the pencil is a crucial tool in this long life of mine.

The pencil issue can be a source of torment. Perhaps this is what my captors/sentencers intended all along? For example, if we agree that the set of integers is countably infinite but the infinite set of real numbers is uncountable where does that leave the pencil in its strange continuous, fractional in between states? This is the type of infinite regressive thought process the state of Texas wishes to torture me with. Leaving the topic of pencils aside for the moment, I infer you wish to know more about my age and its complicating factors?

Age wise, I am close to zero but will never quite reach it, because, as you very well know, I am enduring an asymptotic sentence. Why else would you be writing to me? Apart from my crimes there is nothing else of any note about my life you could care to know. I used to be a complete nobody and now I am still a nobody on most fronts, but mathematically I am an exception. It’s my numeric aspect that drives your interest. We don’t have to pretend otherwise. Murder is hardly unusual in this state and there are far gorier ones you could engage with. It is the fact that I am an asymptote that interests you, though I appreciate your efforts to disguise this (don’t worry I write that line to everyone). I am the only penal asymptote on the planet as far as we know, though I can imagine others will follow, but if all goes to plan they will never catch up. The UN has officially condemned the practice of asymptotic sentencing, but since when has that stopped the state of Texas? Of course there were celebrities and millionaires who initially paid for the same service, when it was first developed. But they soon tired of it. Once your last great-great grand child dies a loneliness sets in that is impossible to define. It’s more like a rheumatic fever that never leaves you. Exponential Loss.

It is exactly that, if your descendants breed then the loss goes on and on and grows beyond control. ∞ Infinity used to be an abstraction. In many ways it still is, as even I cannot imagine it. And yet, now, at 200, I have almost three times the insight of most people, if insight is a quantifiable entity, but even that is nothing beside the endlessness of infinity. I have discovered there are four different types of infinity: Aleph null, Aleph 1, and Aleph 2. Mine is the forth and the least desirable. It is by definition, tedious, cruel and unusual. I still haven’t come up with a name for it, though Life Row infinity is one option. ∞ I am watched and ‘looked after’ 24 hours a day seven days a week including Christmas and Bank Holidays. When I say ‘looked after’ I mean physically patched up, held together, drugged, stitched, surveilled, tested, monitored, pumped and zapped, or whatever facilitates the continuation of my sentence.

The ‘looking after’ is rough and ready as befits the crime. I am not complaining, my point is that I deserve a lot less than this. I have tried to make this point to so many people, and, on the whole, even the most aggressively punitive agree me with me. Despite this my original sentence must be strictly served. My death would be an institutional and political scandal. Suicide crosses my mind umpteen times a day, the way they used to say men like me thought about sex, though I can’t remember much about that even though the prosecutor implied my crimes were sexually motivated.

My suicidal thoughts out-pace everything else. But, like sex, they are no more than fantasies. Apart from my letters and books, which are an ‘earned privilege’, the authorities keep me in total isolation. My only contact is with medics and wardens, who are masked and anonymous, genderless and voiceless. My cell is padded and garotte free, I am force fed if need be and have been many times over the decades. I am now launching an appeal based on Zeno’s paradox, which I am told, has utterly no chance of going through, but it doesn’t stop me trying. My lawyer communicates with me via letters, but I am not allowed to know his or her name or any personal details, though the handwriting looks brusque and masculine to my eyes.

Previously I appealed on the basis of set theory, but the judge seemed very keen on pointing out that the mathematician who originated Set Theory, Georg Cantor was mad, which I think is discriminatory and irrelevant, but again, we are talking about the State of Texas. Based on set theory my argument was that I am longer part of the countable set of imaginable human numbers which constitute the infinite set and should be either executed or released to die of natural causes. Given an infinite series of “S”s (sentences), I argued, followed by “J” (Justice met) the punishment set, P, would never have a “J”. My eloquence was apparently lost on Judge Maddox. In my handwritten statement I also outlined the three categorical classes of infinity: mathematical, physical and philosophical, pointing out that the law was unhelpfully vague in defining the type I was to follow.

More importantly still, I wrote that my victims and the victim’s distant descendants were all dead and no longer able to have a say, in a word they were being exploited for political ends. Yes, you guessed it, the judge was not impressed. Now I have two further grounds for appeal planned, based respectively on The Ship of Theseus and Zeno’s Paradoxes. Even the State of Texas allows me to read the ancient Greeks. The Ship of Theseus paradox as you may or may not recall, is the question of whether an object which has had all its various parts replaced can still be considered the same object. The paradox is most notably recounted by Plutarch who asked whether a ship which has had every single plank, sail and rivet replaced can still be thought of as the same ship. You may be familiar with some of the home spun variations on this question, such as those relating to “grandfather’s hammer”, an unfortunate choice in my case, which I will try not to refer to in court.

The argument has historically gone one of two ways, with some philosophers arguing that the ship or hammer was not the same object – my argument, but others defending some weird metaphysical essentialism that makes the object the same whatever physical changes and replacements it has endured. Over the many years I have had cornea replacements, 7 hip replacements, neuronal regeneration therapy, bone marrow and kidney transplants, blood transfusions, skin grafts and umpteen other procedures.

As this is Texas I like to use the lower receiver argument and point out that the cells in my body have been replaced many times over, and that therefore, like the lower receiver in a gun I can no longer be considered to be the same man (object) in of myself. Replace the receiver in a firearm and it is not the same object, just as I am not the same man who committed those horrible crimes. Should the Ship Of Theseus appeal fail my Zeno’s Paradox defence is far simpler – as my sentence is one of infinity, I plan to point out that I will never reach infinity and therefore the sentence is a legal impossibility.

As Simplicius wrote of Aristotle’s Physics: “If there are many, they must be as many as they are and neither more nor less than that. But if they are as many as they are, they would be limited. If there are many, things that are are unlimited. For there are always others between the things that are, and again others between those, and so the things that are are unlimited” My sentence must be neither more nor less than that. Feel free to write again. Despite my appeals the chances are I will still be here for longer than either of us can possibly imagine.

Published by Rejected Short Stories

"Now I have restored some of my words that I want to tell people what it feels like to go through such an experience- the contents right flushed out of your brain. What it's like a whole load of other people's stuff pumped into it. Most of what they put in my mind was bank account numbers and bioinformatics data flows rearrange forever. A swirl of unstable figures, flows through me in all directions, such as rats and fleas self-replicating and voracious attacks of my brain, only animals was not, it was language."

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