On Being Alone: Fourteen Years in Solitary Confinement, by John Catanzarite

I came to know John Catanzarite through a short piece he wrote that was published in The Sun, March 2014. He was published in the ‘Readers Write’ section: Topics are set forth in each issue of the magazine, people respond, and the editors choose and publish. There’s no pay for this part of the magazine. The topic that was being addressed was “Being Alone” and you can read it below. -RM

being alone

Eight years into my prison sentence, I was transferred to another correctional facility for psychological evaluation and placement in isolation housing. That was thirteen years ago, and I’ve been in isolation ever since. I literally haven’t touched another human being since April 2000.

I am permitted to come out of my cell only once every eight to twelve days, to be placed inside a kennel-like cage for a maximum of two hours. The overwhelming majority of my existence is spent in a concrete box sealed by a steel door. I am haunted by the realization that there are 7 billion other people on this planet, yet I am completely alone, buried alive, as if my jailers wanted to erase my very existence.

To survive year after year without physical or social contact, I must, as a matter of self-preservation, relinquish the very qualities that define me as a human being. Why, if I am to continue in this constant state of oppression, should I remain aware and cognizant? Under these circumstances, death seems a comforting alternative. I do not “live”; I merely exist within my own consciousness. I have no concept of time. Today is tomorrow, tomorrow is today, and the past is the future. Though I struggle to maintain my sanity, it’s a battle I feel I shall lose, and perhaps even look forward to losing.

Where is this God everyone speaks of? Is there anyone out there?

I wrote, expecting a brief interchange. It turns out that John, no longer in solitary (thanks to some external pressures) is now serving his sentence of Life Without Parole at the SCC facility in Jamestown, CA. He is now writing his autobiography. It’s interesting to note that he did not begin to learn to read until he was in his late 20’s. Here are a few words from the first pages of this book. - RM

Years ago, long before the destruction of my spirit, if anyone would have walked up to me and said, “one of these days you’ll spend the rest of your life behind bars,” I would have simply told them they were crazy. Sadly enough, it wouldn’t be just anyone who would say such a thing to me; it would be my own father. Unfortunately most of my dad’s predictions concerning me have proven to be true, including that of incarceration. …

It’s not that my dad had any psychic powers, … The reason my father was so successful in predicting my future was a direct result of his constantly programming me for failure, ever since I was eight years old. … [But it didn’t start out like this; the way it began was…]

My name is John Joseph Catanzarite, and these are the eyes I was born with: Run, run, as fast as you can; You can’t catch me; I’m. . . I’m Speed Racer!

When I was in the second grade, I remember racing down the hill from my school every day after class to work with my dad. We had a garage next door to our home which dad had converted into a wood shop where he made fine kitchen cabinets and other wood products.

My school was just above the hill in our back yard and when the last bell of the day rang, I’d hightail my butt out of my classroom and make my way down the hallway to where my car was parked, just out front of the door. Once in my car, I’d start it up and let the engine warm up for a few minutes because that’s how my dad and Speed Racer always did it. Because my car was invisible, I had to find a good spot to park it in, because my teacher and some of the other kids were always walking through my engine, and what good is it to have a racing car if everyone could walk through it?

Once my motor was warm enough, I’d kick a little dirt out from underneath my feet as though I were burning rubber, and I’m off racing down the hill with an endless supply of gears to change and all the girls looking at me as though I were an idiot, however, I didn’t care; I was on my way home from school to work with my dad. Once I got home and won the race, I’d park my car so that no one else could walk through my motor, then head straight for the shop where I’d find my dad, working away on someone’s custom kitchen cabinets.