Nightmares & Daydreams:
Welcome to Maximum security


June 20, 2023


This is my first night in prison. It's past midnight, and I'm in solitary confinement. The lights are permanently on, and I'm sitting on my bed—a thin beige cot on top of a grey slab of concrete—with my back against the wall. 

I'm looking straight ahead, but my mind is elsewhere. 

My life has just been shattered into a million pieces, now floating around the room like space debris. Now begins the task of trying to piece them together. 

Some pieces are lost forever. The only glue I have is truth, but I don't know that yet … 

Solitary confinement in maximum security prison

When you enter a place like this, dignity is something you leave at the front door. This is the 10th time I've been strip-searched this week. 

This is my third year in solitary confinement. It's past midnight, summer is here, and there's been a blackout for the last two days. The ventilator has stopped breathing and the air is heavy and rotten. 

I wonder if I'll make it.

Illustration by Blacksneakers.

A man's face has just been cut open by two vicious razor swipes. 

He's only 26 years old, but he's scarred for life.

So am I.

And so is everyone else here.

Welcome to Maximum-Security. 

We're on lockdown. 


Living in a Maximum-Security prison is like being inside the bowels of someone who is chronically constipated; 

Movement is rare. 

His enemy is secure, for now, behind a solid steel door with a small plexiglass window. As he stealthily approaches the door, he quickly squats and takes out two plastic bottles that contain what appears to be muddy water. Attached to the lids of each bottle are yellow plastic tubes that are designed to give whatever is launched out of them a 45° trajectory. 

Still squatting, he places the bottles at the bottom of the door and quietly slides their yellow cannons through the open crack. 

The Trojan Tails are in! 

Grinning from ear to ear, he then quickly stands back up and reveals himself to his enemy through the small window as he stomps on both bottles causing liquid shit to explode into the cell. 

The victory is swift, total, and undeniable. 

Just par for the course in the Special Handling Unit. 

I'm in our tiny laundry room lying on a metal foot locker. Two Lifers across from me are bickering about whether Inuit children have televisions in their igloos. 

Water is dripping on my forehead from the ceiling. It could be piss-water from the toilets upstairs, but I'm not concerned. 

Do Inuit children have televisions in their igloos? 

Solitary confinement in maximum security prison

The man across from me washes his bedding every day (sometimes twice); a severe case of OCD with more than a dash of Paranoid Schizophrenia. 

Yesterday, he told me that his bed smelled like shit. 

Today, the laundry machine is broken. 

How will he survive? 

Solitary confinement in maximum security prison

It's 11:05 a.m. 

I'm standing at the crack of my door, watching the guard delivering mail. My cell is all the way at the end. Will he make it here, or will he turn around just before he gets to my cell? 

I pray for a letter… for proof that I exist. 

He's definitely approaching my cell. 

My heart skips a beat. 

I run to my bed and sit there facing the wall, pretending as if I'm oblivious to his existence.

He's in front of my door now, rummaging through papers and envelopes. 

My hopes skyrocket. 

He drops something on my hatch and leaves. 

They have now surpassed the moon! 

I perform a supernatural leap towards my door and spot a folded paper. Not an envelope. 

My rocket crashes back to earth. 

I open the folded paper. 

It's just our biweekly account statement. 

Try again tomorrow. 

Palestinians hold photographs of prisoners jailed in Israel during a celebration for the liberation of Palestinian Khader Adnan in the West Bank village of Arrabeh, near Jenin, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. The same week, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel launched a hunger strike the protesting their conditions and demanding an end to detentions without trial. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
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Zakaria Amara is a published writer, poet, prankster, elaborate gift giver, terrible boxer, former prisoner, and life sentence survivor. A 37-year-old stuck in his 20's, Zak also happens to be a consultant for; an organization that helps youth who have fallen prey to violent extremist groups and ideologies.