Jason Arment

A Reprieve

Jason Arment reflects on some of the people he has interviewed or written about and the consequences of such close examination.

 

Throughout my experiences on this earth acting out my own designs in real life and translating them to paper, I’ve never talked about what it takes. And sometimes I wonder if I’m not doing myself and others a disservice when I remain stoic. Because I never stop to tremble when power towers up over me, and I rarely allow others in on my innermost reflections when it comes to that which is off the page. But I will now—I’ll break my own rules. I’ll let you see me bleed.

It’s not always so easy when a source goes to jail. Sure, some people don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves, but I am not one of them. So when a man who chose to work with me at considerable danger to himself ends up being indicted and thrown in jail for what could be many moons, I pause and reflect. Because up to this point I remain outside of the cages, and my freedom is something I cherish dearly. At the same time, another source who chose to work with me years ago and is now spending what is essentially the rest of his life in prison won’t return my communiques. Or maybe it’s not that simple and the censors aren’t allowing him my mail. I may never know.

I wonder what both of those men think of me now, as they sit in cells. On their journey I was nearly nothing, just someone to talk to—an interview. And although I will admit that in my moments of felicity I forget them, I can say that my mind returns to them.

Because prison in this nation isn’t something I really understood until recently, and I say that having first written about the prison industrial complex years ago. Until recently, when I discovered Curtis Dawkins’ work on Bull: Men’s Fictionover 100 book reviews—I had never corresponded with anyone in prison. Curtis is away for a long time, won’t be outside again, ever. And that is something I also think about: the way Curtis took a life and, because our only conception of justice is revenge, Curtis will now sit in jail until he dies. And although the state will not terminate him outright, the cruelty of iron, of which Villon wrote, will do so slowly. It will be a death of a thousand cuts, of that I am certain.

And although these sunderings have involved the law, the others involve only nature. The mother of the young man whose heroin overdose I wrote about contacted me not so long ago to tell me what a piece of shit I am—often times people are angry at my audacity to press pen to paper. This had something to do with a young woman who used to work for me when I was an opinion editor—it’s how she met Crain—setting the mother against me because the woman who worked for me feels she had a deep connection with Crain. Not so long after that Joshua Casteel’s mother, Kristi Casteel, contacted me to tell me what a good job I’m doing by telling the truth about Iraq. She’d come across the column I wrote about burn pit research going up in smoke where I speak highly of her son and his work. That was a good feeling, to hear from her, and I’m thankful for it.

I too stand in awe of the loss both of those mothers feel. Their grief, though similar to my own, is different. They knew their sons in ways I can never imagine, remember their voices, probably sometimes hear them calling and see them in their dreams.

My own losses are at times difficult for me to process—I consider all of the above among them—but one in particular happened recently that has troubled me. An old friend of mine, the first person ever to smoke bud with me, recently passed away in a tragic duck hunting accident. He left behind a widow and children. And although I also cannot imagine their loss, I know my own.

I feel nothing. I think of Adam Nixon and it’s like trying to walk over a vast field of mud to find something I left lying in the grass before I started my journey. I remember him as a boy, not a man. I think of all the other boys I knew who have flown free of this place. I think of how a few days ago a drone strike in Somalia killed a reported 150 people and few seem to care. I wonder if there is anything I can do, about any of it. I don’t know the answer.

Some of the losses I turn over and over in my mind are like enormous stones. Many people would claim to understand, but I know very, very few actually do. And so I feel alone. But in this solitude I do not feel weak; my course remains the same.

I came to fight.

 

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Jason Arment

Jason Arment served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Machine Gunner in the USMC. He's earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Lunch Ticket, Chautauqua, Hippocampus, The Burrow Press Review, Dirty Chai, and War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities; anthologized in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Volume 2 & 4; and is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, The Florida Review, and Phoebe. Jason lives in Denver.

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