I have been in prison for fourteen and a half years. During that time I have had access to various tools for different jobs. When I worked in the tool cage in Walla Walla I had access to box knives. During that time I have also had access to improvised weapons on more than one occasion. However, I have not had access to an actual knife.
Today in the kitchen I was assigned to veggie prep, which included cutting up onions and bell peppers. I was assigned a workstation with a kitchen knife that was chained to the table by a three foot piece of steel wire.
This was the first time I have held an actual knife since I committed my crime. It was a surreal experience. Before coming to prison I cooked for myself all the time. Even while my mind raced and I was soaked with a cold sweat, my hands remembered what to do. They shook at first, but evened out as they went through the motions.
I started with the bell peppers. One cut length wise. Remove the stalk. Quarter the two halves. Spot check for any icky moldy bits and remove those. Next.
My supervisor had originally given me a paring knife in addition to the kitchen knife for removing the moldy bits, but realized I didn’t need it when she came by to check up on me. When she unlocked the paring knife from the table I felt a moment of panic. I’m a prisoner. There’s an unsecured knife. I quickly stepped back and gave her plenty of space. She was obviously oblivious to my reaction. It took me a couple minutes and several deep breaths to get my shit together after she left to wash the paring knife and put it away in the tool cage.
Once I was a little over half way through with the chopping, she came back to help. She took over the chopping freeing me to 1) stop low-key panicking and 2) start feeding the chopped veggies into the dicer machine. I felt nothing but relief to not have to keep using the knife, even if it was for such a normal domestic activity.
Later, I learned that a couple of my friends had noticed I was obviously stressed and realized what was going on in my head. They had a quiet word with our supervisor. I was very grateful for this. I think, overall, this experience was both good and important for me. Totally sucked as I was going through it, but it brought up some feelings I didn’t know I had and allowed me to process them in a safe way.
It’s also left me with some serious confusion regarding other people, their crimes, and guns. I caused serious harm with a knife. Just holding a knife which was nothing like the one I used in a completely different context than I used it in caused me to want to immediately drop it and run. As if it were a poisonous and highly pissed off snake. I now don’t understand people who shoot someone, get out of prison, then immediately get a gun. How do they not have similar feeling about that?