Book Review:   A Prison Without Walls, by Kelly Bristow

As they’re manipulated by dominant partners, countless people become totally dependent on their abusers and lose confidence in themselves and their abilities. Anxiety takes over as their beliefs are eroded over time. They become stuck. 

A Prison Without Walls, by Kelly Bristow, follows Jenny as she experiences the trauma of living with an abusive partner. 

Bristow’s authoritative ability to capture the dramatic horrors of both mental and physical abuse is a clear indication that she is a survivor.

     I felt the tears well up again, I was in total despair now. “Oh God please help me!…Someone please, anyone…..” My voice trailed as the tears stung my eyes and trickled down my cheeks. I can’t take it anymore, I pushed all the tablets out of the packet ferociously, my hands moving rapidly as they popped out, it was urgent now, I had to finish this misery. I want out! 

Sadly, the way out for so many is suicide, or murder, but there is hope and help for people like Jenny. Read the book to find out if she finds the help, she so desperately needs, in time!

Please remember, the silent victims far outnumber the ones you hear about. Are you or someone you care about, living in A Prison Without Walls? 

I’m sharing this book because the story is close to my heart, and raising awareness about domestic abuse and violence is so important. 

Bristow’s book will empower victims to reach out and encourage others to reach in, to help those who are stuck, find a way out. Please read. Please share.  

-W. H.

QR code for A Prison Without Walls


breaking free

1.  I’m still alive in the IOMM, this lonely old place. I sit confused in my slippers. On my old bed. In my little room in the north wing. With no floor and no ceiling. And no sound.

Sometimes I push LB’s chair along the marble floors past all those doors, noisy in the night, but quiet today. We make our way down the long hall and out onto the terrace, to sit and look upon the icy, evil valley. And she lets me hear her voice in the gentle wind.

2.  We sat on the terrace watching 10:30 fly in from the north. I love that owl, the way she flies, the way she looks at me. She came in close, landing next to me on the railing.

“Hello 10:30, when are you going to teach me how to knit?” I said, reached over, and took the scroll from her leg and then unrolled it. “This one’s blank LB. It must be a secret note from Dr. V. To the reagent room!”

3.  Last time we were there, the reagent room was by the library- the only stationary room outside the north wing. So I pushed LB that way hoping to find it.

I hated these walks because the corridors changed the minute you past them and we always got lost. There were hundreds of identical doors in these halls, all closed, but we knew the reagent room door by the scratches in the paint.

The library door was open as usual, it always was. Cozy light was shining out onto the cold marble floor. I tiptoed toward it and stopped there in the hall to look inside.

Elo was there, sitting at the front desk intently writing as usual. She looked so virtuous and peaceful. I didn’t want her to catch my gaze, so I crept past and kept moving.

Door after door, I began to wonder if he maliciously changed the door on us. I stopped pushing and went around to the front of the chair.

LB was looking more transparent than ever. I sat on the cold floor, “Oh LB, why won’t you talk anymore?” I felt alone and lost, and I began to cry.

A pulsing wind came down the hall and through my body. Gently pulsing. The lights flickered and dimmed, and I heard voices but couldn’t make sense of the words.

There was a rather loud creaking sound like that of the ropes on a sailing ship. The floor pitched and LB’s chair began to roll toward me.

I quickly stood up out of the way and jumped on the back of it, as we picked up speed down the corridor! “Whooo! This is fun!” I said. LB raised her hands, almost invisible now, and I thought I heard her say “Whoo!” too.

I caught a glimpse of the reagent room door as we sped happily past it, “Hey there it is!” So I put my foot down to slow us to a stop. And there he was, standing there and holding his belt.

All happiness died then and there. “No No No!” I cried, “Please!” And I saw a flash of red light and felt the hot blow as he slapped me unbalanced and pushed me to the floor. And then came the sharp stings of his belt.

4.  When he was done with me, I peeked out and watched him walk away carrying his belt in one hand and my scroll in the other. I hated him.

There was blood on the floor getting dirty and I wished I could put it back inside me before it turned black. I felt humiliated, worthless, but I got up to check on LB. I walked around to the front and found a black cat in the chair. LB was gone.

The cat was looking at me as if to say, “Okay, what do we do next?” I took out my watch, it was 2:16. A pleasant voice from behind said, “Who’s your friend?” I turned. It was Elo. She was pointing at the cat.

5.  “Um..this,” I muttered sniffling. Elo knelt down and wiped my tears, smiled, and picked me up.

I tried to hold on for a lasting hug but she put me in the chair. 2:16 jumped on my lap.

And Elo pushed us back to my room. She always knew the way.

6.  Elo opened my door, “In you go.” I got up and started inside, “Will you come in? Please? I don’t want to be alone. I’m afraid.” Elo spoke softly from behind, “I’m afraid too. If we’re not careful, she’ll be the death of us.”

“Elo?” I turned. Elo was gone.

2:16 rubbed against my feet and I picked her up, carried her into my round room and placed her on the windowsill, not sure if the floor would hold her. Then I trudged to my bed and sat on the edge. I peered down past my feet and noticed my crying face reflecting in the dark water, maybe one hundred meters down. Maybe it was a thousand. Sometimes I felt I had the strength to will myself through the floor and let myself and everything in the room fall. Sometimes I felt my reflection calling me to do so. This was one of those times. I looked over and 2:16 was watching me. Waiting.

I laid in the bed and looked up at the white light so far away, way up past the trees that grew out of the top of the walls. And I noticed 10:30 perched up there. Way up there. She was watching me too. Waiting. I loved her. And I hated her too.

No one could speak. All I could do was lay there and listen to the kundalini sound.

7.  I hugged my pillow and closed my eyes for a long time, just listening to the quiet noise of my body and the ripples in the air carrying far away voices. And then I heard the rain at the window. I looked over and 2:16 had fallen asleep on the sill. I looked up and 10:30 was still intently watching me with her beautifully wise owl eyes. Expecting. I thought about the kindness in her heart and about the way she used her magic to heal. And I thought about going outside to look for her. Uncertainty came and carried me off to sleep.

8.  That night I dreamt I could fly. I found myself on a field of grass amongst rolling hills of woods under a dark purple sky filled with bright stars. I felt vulnerable there and needed to find shelter. So I began to run and flap my arms and I became airborne. My legs were still running but my feet had left the ground and so I stopped running and flapped my arms harder and harder to gain altitude and I was able to see for miles all around. I was flying fast and felt desperate. I was searching. I had a sense of where all the holes in the trees were, holes big enough to house a cozy nest and I was flying from hole to hole. Searching. Every hole I visited had owls nesting cozily and there was no room for me. I wanted to squeeze in and stay each time because it looked so safe and comfortable, but I was constantly being rejected and turned away. And my searching became frantic and I was flying and the night was so beautiful and there was some other presence there, sometimes flying with me, sometimes just watching, but I didn’t know who or what it was and I felt threatened and so alone. And that’s all I remember about that dream.

9.  When I awoke the morning sun was in the window but the sill was empty. I looked around the room for 2:16. She was gone. I looked way down at the black water below hoping she hadn’t fell through the floor. I looked way up into the trees and the branches were empty too. No sign of 10:30 either. I laid there in that old bed for a while, worrying about my friends and what that scroll from Dr. V was about, and then I felt hungry. Out of habit I considered pushing the chair to the dining hall, but the chair was empty now so I went alone. I ate good and took an extra plate of pancakes and maple syrup and some orange juice and headed to the library to see Elo. The library door was open and Elo was stationed there at the front desk as usual. I paused in the doorway for a moment to watch her work. She was writing and the concentration in her face was beautiful to me. I stepped in and placed the pancakes and orange juice on the counter above her desk, “Hi Elo, have you seen 2:16?” Elo looked up at me and smiled, “Thanks, and no I haven’t.” I turned to go and added, “Hey Elo…um…do you know where I can get some paint?”

10.  The card catalog had lots of books on paint with call numbers in the three-tens so I went over to that shelf to browse. I selected a book by Dr. Sean called Battleship Grey, and wrote my name on the borrowers card. Elo took the card, looked at the book, and smiled, “Happy reading.” There was never a question, but sometimes I wished there was. This was one of those times. She watched me watching her as I walked out into the cold hall. The stark difference made me shiver and I hurried back to my room, eager to paint. He was there, standing in the hall in front of my door, holding his belt. I stopped a meter in front of him and basked in all his misery. I decided to stand there and take whatever he was dishing out. I let him slap me. I let him push me to the floor. I tightened my body and patiently waited for the wasp to stop stinging me. And I watched that motherfucker walk away with his belt in one hand and my book in the other. No one came. I stood my worthless body up and carried hate into my room and laid down with it in that old bed. No one watched me from above. The branches were empty. And it started to rain. I leaned over the bed and watched the drops fall way down into the water below. My reflection was there, and the rain distorted it in a way that somehow brought comfort to me. I rolled off my bed to let the floor decide whether or not to give way. Maybe today. Maybe I would fall way down there and float away. But the floor held me and I laid there looking down with the rain on my back. No one was watching.

11.  When the rain stopped I was soaked and lying on my side looking under my bed at the yoga mat 10:30 had given me before she turned into an owl. I laid there listening to my memory of her sweet voice and wishing she never threw me away. I turned and looked up, way up, and noticed her. 10:30 was up there, perched on a branch, watching me. I wasn’t sure if I hated her or loved her. I knew her well and yet she haunted me. I favored her eyes over my own. I wanted to climb inside of her, to be her, and yet somehow there was an independent strength forbidding entry and rifting my dependent spirit. She turned me inside out, or outside in, and her parting words echoed in my mind, “You need help.” I grabbed the mat, unrolled it and sat on it, and I breathed. And stretched. And rocked. And tuned into my center. And I was kind to myself. I felt good. And so I opened the window. And I went out. The sun was shining and I could hear the noises of nature. The birds, I loved the birds. And I ran with the rabbits through the wind and the piles of hay shaped like gumdrops. A lane crossed the field and I took that around to the hat factory to see Dr. V. I had so many questions! The receptionist announced me via a brief conversation in French on the telephone, after which I was told in English that Dr. V wasn’t available. “But…the scroll!” My urgency was dismissed. “Would you like to leave a message for Dr. V?” I nodded and left. And I followed the lane to the edge of the park and sat on a bench. A little bird landed on the wall beside me and looked at me. I heard those words in my mind again, “You need help.” And I sat there. Alone. And I cried.

12.  I was afraid to get help, but 10:30 was right, I needed it. And there I was at the edge of the park just steps away from it. Help. The bird was still looking at me as if to say, “Well…go ahead.” Nudging me as if 10:30 put her up to it. I laughed to myself, wiped my tears, and walked over and pressed the doorbell of Dr. B. The room was cozy, the couch comfy, and everything began spilling out. I wanted to get it over with. I looked at the floor and let her enter me, and I felt like a whore. I was crying, and when I looked up she was crying too. Could it be that she actually cared?  She was asking questions. No one ever asked me questions! I felt like a child holding on to Mama’s hand while walking back to the ice cream truck after the bullies took advantage of me. I wanted to put my pajamas on and spend the night on that couch.

13.  Dr. B had told me to leave and come back in a week. I walked my self back through the gumdrops and slid my self through the window. And I laid my self in that old bed and climbed in too. And I gently hugged my self. My eyes were closed, but I felt eyes upon me. This time I took my time looking up. 10:30 was up there. And on that same branch, a kitty. It was 2:16! I was happy she was still alive, but I felt different about my old friends. I wasn’t sure if I could trust them anymore. I closed my eyes and tried to shut them out. I rolled to my side and noticed a sandwich on a plate on the nightstand. Egg salad. And a glass of milk. And a book! Battleship Grey. “Oh Elo,” I loved her. I got out of bed and crouched on the floor and dipped my paint brush into battleship grey. And the color dripped through the floor. It wasn’t working. The strokes of my brush left nothing on the floor. I tried to pour it out. Down it went. My paint was worthless. Dr. B had told me to leave and come back in a week.

14.  Every week. Every. Fucking. Week. And I lay in that old bed and I wonder how. How? How am I supposed to be moderate? How can I be moderate? When I’m not wired to be. Moderate. When my normal is being inside other people. Running. Jumping in. Being. Jumping out. Being ripped out and thrown onto the cold marble floors. Face down. And brushing my self off, my curious self. And jumping in again. In someone. Into someone. Everyone. When moderation means spending time on that cold floor. In those empty halls. With all those closed doors. Just lying there. Alone. Bleeding. And looking up into those branches shouting, “Fuck You! I hate you!” And seconds later, “I love you!” There’s no response. Just eyes. No understanding. No connection. Just me. Alone in that old bed. A silent tear. Not knowing how to be. Moderate.

15.  The terrace sun brings lonely warmth

And curiosity still cries from the cold halls

Running about.

As I sit there hugging myself.

And listening to the voiceless and loveless wind

Being without.