My Tio Viga's Fish Tank in the Bronx

May 14, 2014

My Tio Viga had grand fish-tanks—huge glass ones right in his living room, filled with all types of fish and treasure chest ornaments and colored pebbles. I remember just sitting there as a kid, right in front of the huge glass for hours watching the life of fish, watching how they all eat off each other when they get hungry. Or how the big fish eat off the little fish. The “Suckers” or the “Chupa-Chupas” as I like to call them. These fish with hoovers as mouths and who dwelt at the bottom of my uncle’s fish-tank were the fish that cleaned up and ate all the other shit from the pretty little goldfish and Carps who swam up above them. And these suckers are parole. Because after the system has spit you out, as an ex-con, they’re the last to suck you dry.

Well, honestly and with a great resentment, I can’t say all of them. Some parole officers have been kind. Some are good, some truly care. I have felt some trying to truly help me succeed. But all in all, they’re just like anybody else, concerned with paying the bills and providing for families, for health and welfare, for maintaining a roof over our frail heads and to strive with that American Spirit for social advancement and what we like to call upward mobility. The system likes to view and promote itself as promoting public safety with us. The zoo-keepers serve to keep the wild beasts in their pens—to train them for public consumption, to show we can tame and hold the wild inside cages until they’re domesticated. At least, the media likes to think so, anyway. The people just eat it up through their television sets, through their reality shows, through crime dramas.

Who are we? We’re all humans, right? We all have to eat and live and procreate? We all have to co-exist and survive. We should all be helping each other get by, no? We’re the smartest beings on this Earth. We have critical thinking skills, we have tools and weapons, we have moral fiber. We think and pine for other sentient beings. We shouldn’t rip legs off of spiders. We should and must preserve the fauna, the air and the seas for future generations to come. These are the right and natural things to do.

However, a person like me, and other parolees like me, seem to be needed for the whole system to run and to keep it running efficiently for many years to come, that is, in order to keep the farm operating, shall we say.

You don’t even know how to fit in anymore. You want to. You try. You get a job. You get a small room. You put some food in your fridge. You pay your parking tickets. You strive for your little corner in this world. But you can’t even vote.  You can’t even walk the streets without cops harassing. You fit every profile for stop-and-frisk and live always with some fear of being incarcerated. You’re a sentenced, convicted criminal. You can smell the the traps now, but anything can be done to you once you’re tagged, and most likely it will be done to you. And you have to take it. The People versus your name on the dotted line has deemed you a traitor to the whole system. You’re an outcaste; you’d receive Thumbs Down in a Roman coliseum.

We humans, we are on top of the food chain. Nobody eats us, right? Not the way we do chickens, fish, cattle and mostly any other animal on this planet. But if you’ve been through the Criminal Justice system, parole feeds off you after you’ve been caught in its claws, after the broken homes, the failed schools, the social workers, the addicted blocks, the courtrooms, the juries and the judges, after the juvey halls, the county jails and upstate facilities. Parole feasts on your incarcerated carcass, off of the bigger fishes’ leftovers, the “Sucker” fish in my Tio’s house.

I know what it feels like to be eaten.


Photo: Big Fish Eat Little Fish, Pieter van der Heyden (Netherlandish, ca. 1525–1569),