Caesar in the Dark: Notes on Fear

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Editor’s Note: In March 2010, we began posting the work of Enceno Macy, an inmate in a US prison. Enceno’s articles are sent handwritten, then typed and edited by a trusted editor. Comments typed into the response area will be sent directly to Enceno. Thanks for reading and for the warm response he’s received each time. –efc & ajp

By Enceno Macy

“Many men are so amazed and astonished with fear, they know not where they are, what they say, what they do.

Bronze staue of Augustus Caesar.

“…They that live in fear are never free, resolute, secure, never merry, but in continual pain: … no greater misery, no rack, nor torture like unto it, ever suspicious, anxious, solicitous, they are childishly drooping without reason, without judgment. … It causeth oftentimes sudden madness, and almost all manner of diseases. … Fear makes our imagination conceive what it list, invites the devil to come to us… and tyranniseth over our phantasy more than all other affections, especially in the dark. We see this verified in most men: what they fear they conceive, and feign unto themselves; they think they see goblins, hags, devils. … Augustus Caesar durst not sit in the dark, nisi aliquo assidente, saith Suetonius, nunquam tenebris exigilavit.”

– Robert Burton (1577-1640), “Anatomy of Melancholy,” 1621

Here I am writing from seg (solitary), as described in previous posts. I have been moved once again to another prison, cutting short the welding and college classes I was doing so well in. It is enough to make you wonder if the system simply cannot tolerate a prisoner doing well. Without a single record of violence, I can now claim the dubious accomplishment of having been in every major prison in the state.

Where I have been moved to is as far from my home and family — 500 miles — as you can get without leaving the state, and indeed if we could see out in that direction we’d be looking into the next state. The first thing you learn on coming here is that this place is huge. I mean really big. It’s got the equivalent of four different prisons in one. When the bus brought us here, it took staff two hours to come get us — every other prison it takes ten minutes — and everything is so far away they bring a golf cart to get us. There are three different sections, each with its own rec yard, gym and chow hall. The place has over 3,300 inmates, three mainline units, a four section hole (solitary): a Disciplinary Unit (DU), a Special Management Unit (SMU) for nutcases, an Intensive Management Unit (IMU) for long-term solitary, and a Special Housing Unit (SHU) for really bad guys who do five years there at a time. Oh, and a Protective Custody Unit. That’s a lot of bed space, so things take a long time to happen.

This place has a mixed reputation for racism and violence, but supposedly is not so bad as others I’ve been in. Right now I am focused on trying to clean a horridly filthy cell. The main negative I’ll face when I go mainline in a few days is that there are a lot more politics here, so it will be hard at first to fit in. My full concentration will be on staying out of fights. Since I am new here, I will once again have to go through the usual tests. Facing that ordeal confronts me once more with fears I hoped not to experience again.

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8 Responses to Caesar in the Dark: Notes on Fear

  1. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:

    You are A Light in Dark Places.

    Thank you, Enceno.

  2. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Thank you dear Enceno, for your stunning piece on fear. And thank you PW for publishing this. I myself am experiencing a lot of fear at the moment, though nothing like the fear that you’ve had to deal with, dear Enceno. However I’ve lost a lot of work, and am not sure how I’m going to make it in the next months. But I’ve been working a lot on fear – and realize, just as you say – that the only way to deal with fear is to turn towards it and face it.
    The zen Buddhist writer Charlotte Joko Beck is brilliant on fear. In her book Everyday Zen she write about ‘the razor’s edge’ – saying that when you open up to fear and allow yourself to feel it, you become fearless. I really recommend her if you haven’t already read her stuff.
    However, you’re working it all out for yourself dear Enceno. You are truly remarkable, and a gifted writer. Keep writing, cos there’s definitely a book in there!
    I wish you all the best

  3. geminicheryl says:

    “My only two active fears now are of my mother passing away and of my failure to live a successful, productive life.”

    Enceno, please reconsider your fear of your failure to live a successful, productive life because it is my belief you are already doing so. We each of us do this by moving through our life experiences, using it all as material for our self-understanding and growth. By manifesting our truth, and living it we are allowing others the same opportunity. You have developed a fine mind, a connective writing style, and a soulful heart. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

    . . . and remember, in regards to fear of death, none of us get out of here alive!

  4. KatLyons says:

    Hi Enceno – I am relatively new to Planet Waves, so this is the first of your posts that I have had the honor to read. I am a therapist that has worked in a jail setting and am sometimes called to help people who are processing out of prison to reuinite with their families. This is just to say, that I am a little familiar with the world that you are in. I appreciate your, no doubt, hard won insight into yourself and into the nature of fear and the world, your taking the time to write such a carefully constructed and thoughtful letter AND your risk in sharing your writing with those of us joined together with you in this forum. I totally agree with you that “fear is a manifestation of your own making.”

    Normally, I would ask your permission before making a recommendation, but because of the communication process, I am going ahead and hope you will forgive me if this seems presumptuous. If you get a chance, get a book by Byron Katie, “Loving What Is: four questions that can change your life.” And, if you have on-line access, go to They will probably have that book in the prison library, as she gives presentations in prisons all over the US and in other places (not just prisons) of the world, too. Her work mirrors much of what you wrote about fear and other stessful thoughts and feelings, and she has an elegent process of inquiry that is a powerful and simple way to cut through underlying beliefs. I taught it one time to a guy who had spent much of his 25 years (total) in prison seg units and to his 9 year old son. His son, I remember, had the belief that he was different from the other kids because his dad was in prison, and so it wasn’t ok for him to play baseball. When we did the inquiry process, in just a few minutes, he found his own answer within himself – that it was ok for him to play baseball no matter what was going on with his dad! He realized he wasn’t suffering because his dad was in prison – it was his beliefs that were causing his problem. He got that! His dad did some really important work, too. Anyway, if you can’t find the book, and would like to read it, write back to Eric with your contact information, and I’ll check out the rules where you are at for sending things, and, in any case, have it sent directly from the publisher to you, as that is the usual rule.

    By the way, later this month, I am going to a three day conference on Prisons, Peace and Compassion. The goal of the conference is to write a recommendation paper to be sent to an international UNESCO conference of the same name in Paris in 2012. I hope you are heartened to know that many people all over the world are concerned about conditions of prisons and are workng for their improvement. As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that whether an action is done in a group setting in Paris or by you working from the inside, it all comes down to one person, one kindness, one letter, one act of courage, one breath at a time – none more or less important than another. Best wishes. Kat

  5. shebear13 shebear13 says:

    “Facing my fears is what has made me able to feel such love and respect; it has strengthened me and I am proud of myself for it.”

    Enceno: You have more than earned your right to be proud.

    I really hate that you lost your place in the welding class and studies – duh? – and yet you’re not venting your head off at the injustice and stupidity of it all? You are a prisoner in a jail but you appear to me to be one of the freest people I know. Amazing. I’m in awe of the depth of your hard fought humanity, forged in the face of deprivation. Thank you for opening my eyes to life inside prison and keep on developing that inner strength you have worked and fought so hard for.

    I’m going my best to stand alongside you, to “be strong and stand firm” in my own attempts to break free from the prisons of my fears and limitations. You are one heck of an inspiration, I must say.

    Thank you for this and all your writings.

  6. Hazel1 Hazel1 says:

    Enceno, thank you for writing for us.

  7. jparoby jparoby says:

    Wonderful insight and exploration.

  8. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Thank you for taking on yet another difficult topic with amazing grace, inspiring eloquence and exemplarity sanity. Every time i read your words i am humbled. Every time i learn something. Every time you contribute to my growth. Thank you. You inspire me to appreciation and achievement.

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