I’m not sure which was higher today; the sun in the sky or the humidity. What I know is it was hot and sticky!
Today was my first summer class for incarcerated fathers. Passing through one of the checkpoints at t, e jail I saw a man who was in our spring class. “How are you?” I asked. “Still making good choices?” “Yes,” he replied. “How’s the weather outside?” he asked me in return. “Hot! and Humid!” I exclaimed. He had to go and I was hit again how isolated the jail keeps the inmates. One of the hottest days of the year and all he knew was the inside of a hallway and his jail pod. Nothing on the outside except what he learned from others who have the freedom he only dreams about.
A little while later I talked to the class about excuses and illusions we use to justify the choices which led us to where we are in our lives. “Until we learn self-awareness and the real reasons we think, do and live like we do we will never be free.” Many of the men I work with have been prisoners most of their lives, even before they were arrested and placed in the county jail. Imprisoned by their habits, poor judgment, and worse decisions learned from parents and peers. Teaching them how to think differently and ultimately be different is the difficult goal of the folks who invest their lives with these men.
Freedom cannot be given it must be found within and brought to the surface of our lives.
Earlier today I was dropping off a list of names for the incarcerated father’s class to one of the corrections officers at the jail. Usually, there are a few pleasantries and I do my best to stay out of their way as they do a hard job with immense pressure. However, today was different. When I handed the list to the corrections officer he was rude and said something unkind. The biggest part of me knows the responsibilities of the position requires focus and a mind which can make quick decisions. The residents are often attempting to “get away with something“, they work long hours, put up with a lot of harsh treatment and there’s not a lot of “thank you’s“.
I tried to ignore it as I walked away from him. These things don’t happen often but as I got further from him I noticed a small part of me was upset at the way I had been treated. It didn’t last long because as I walked by the cells and buzzing doors which led to my class a question formed in my mind; “Are you going to let what was said imprison you? Will you allow the hurtful words of another coerce you into a bad mood or will you choose to be free?”
By the time I go to the classroom I had decided that I would be not be captured, imprisoned, held captive by the words of another. I let it go and it lifted off my shoulders and disappeared.
Residents in jail can earn the right by good, respectful behavior to work outside of the walls of the correctional facility. They do everything from road maintenance, to landscaping, to animal rescue, assembly line positions, and more. I heard one of them say the other day; “It’s great being able to get out, feel the breeze on my face on the ride there and back but coming back into the jail, putting on the uniform and being surrounded by walls again is the hardest thing I do each day.” According to him, it’s feeling like one has freedom but ultimately, it’s an illusion.
I’ve reflected on his words since then and think it also describes a lot of people who are not residents of the local county correctional facility. We are confined by the walls of our making. We allow others to set the standards of our lives, we worry about presenting ourselves the way we think others want to see us. We overextend ourselves financially, work extra hours, take out more loans, place ourselves on the precipice of financial ruin to; “keep up with the Jones’s.” Social media, instant weather, on the spot news updates and opinion pieces, chain us to our phones. We separate us from them in our politics, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, city vs. country, refugee or citizen, and countless other ways we wall off those different from us.
To be truly free is to recognize these parts of ourselves that are imprisoned, see our illusion, be awakened and empowered to tear down the walls that make us and others prisoners.