Half my class was in the hole, so we finished our lesson even earlier than usual. A quiet fell over my room, the kind of quiet my students often complained about because they preferred distraction from the demons in their minds. One leaned slightly and somewhere between a loud whisper and a low voice said to his classmate, “I had this dream last night.” We both looked up to listen, his pause increasing our interest, his wistful eyes arousing my curiosity.
“I was home, with family, you know. And we had had this really great party, so I went to sleep on my bed. It was so comfortable. It was so real I could feel it all, and it was almost too hard to bear when I woke up,” his voice cracked, which we respectfully ignored. He finished, “I hate those dreams. The ones that feel real, they are the worst.”
It was an angle of the prison experience I never before nor since heard about, the trouble with dreams. I knew many complained of insomnia once they were in custody, but I had never stopped to consider why. Some, I imagine, fear their nightmares; some live with a constant mistrust of their surroundings; and some, evidently, avoid the memories of better times encroaching upon their night life. This began to explain why the living units came surreptitiously alive at night, why they’d come to class with bags under their eyes and their heads would drop on the desk at the slightest opportunity. In class they were a little safer than other places, and in class they couldn’t sleep long enough for the bad dreams to come. I was starting to understand.