A part of him had always known that this was prison; but when you're born in a prison and have spent your whole life there, you'll go to extraordinary lengths to deny that you are, in fact, in prison.
It wasn't a bad prison, as prisons go. There was a comfortable bed, and decent food, and only occasional beatings from the other inmates. Most importantly, there was a television.
His whole life had revolved around that television. On television, there were other places, other lives, other things a person could be. He lived for that television. Every spare moment he had (and there are a lot of spare moments in prison), he turned his attention to the luminous box of wonder and the marvelous stories it told. He lost himself in those stories. At night, he fell asleep in front of them, and dreamed himself inside them. His dreams were the best times.
Still, it's not like he was delusional. He knew that television was television and reality was reality. All those incredible stories and beautiful places and different lives – those were mere fictions. Reality was here, this place he had been born into. These were the cards he had been dealt, and he would just have to deal with it. That was the mature thing to do: accept that all of life existed inside prison, and spend it watching as much television as humanly possible.
Then, one day, a crack appeared on the wall above the television.
It was the tiniest of hairline cracks at first, so faint he couldn't be entirely sure it was there. But, as the weeks and months passed, it grew and deepened. It never widened much, but it delved deeper and deeper into the gray stone wall, as if somebody were oh so slowly driving an invisible nail into the wall.
One day, unmistakably, a pinpoint of light shone through the crack.
He began spending less and less time in the television's thrall. Now his hours were spent worrying at the little hole in the wall with the plastic spoon that was his only utensil. Each day, he never seemed to have made any visible progress, but it was undeniable: the hole in the wall was growing larger.
Finally, several years after the crack had first appeared, he mustered all of his courage, approached the hole, and pressed his eye to it.
What he saw astonished him. Not the bleak, impassable void he had assumed must (if anything must) surround his prison; but color and wonder and excitement, a bustling metropolis full of people and noise and smells, a veritable scene from the television lay all around.
Dazed, he reeled backward from the wall. His dreams, he realized, the television – it existed. Not all of it, of course. But some of it. The parts that mattered.
With new eyes, he looked around the cozy little prison that was all he had ever known. He began walking, past the television set, past the comfortable bed, to the door of his cell. He put his hand on the door. It swung open, as a part of him had always known it would.
The bright light dazzled him. Standing on the threshold, he shielded his eyes, and turned back to take a last glance at everything he knew. My God, he realized, I have been in prison my whole life.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped outside and entered his own life.