My Prison Time
Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was founded in 1896. It was known to me in childhood, as a maximum security federal prison. Legend said no inmate had escaped. Locals said it was a dark place where the worst of the worst spent their “time”.
It was rumored that James Earl Ray (the man sentenced for shooting Martin Luther King Jr) spent his sentence there. The razor wire, the high fences, and even the armed guards were not the most insurmountable security measures. Brushy Mountain Prison was built at the bottom of what can only be described as a bowl of mountains. Steep mountain sides on three sides. Escape was not an option.
Thirty years ago, there was some religion that thought my being there would help the inmates. My suspicion is that the director of the program knew it would help me more. This was the beginning of my understanding that the help I offer in life, is only the help I am offering myself. The origin of my thoughts, that what I have to teach, should take second place to what I have to learn. In retrospect, it was the beginning of my understanding, that to judge a thing, any thing, is to bring judgement on myself.
As to the interaction with those who called Brushy their home… our only directive was not to ask why inmates were there. Not to ask the question, the crime.
What happened was a game of basketball and two teams meeting on some common ground that was just beyond their normal. I cannot remember who won. I do not remember any names. There were no great revelations and I doubt anyone remembers my being there.
It was ominous and frightening on one level, but it was also just basketball on other levels. Nothing good or bad. Nothing great or small. Just experience. Just the running up and down a court with other men, noticing only who was on what team in order to score, pass, and play, and not to judge. And then I left, and those I had just met stayed.
The prison closed around ten years ago and they turned it into a tourist attraction. Former guards and inmates give tours, there is a distillery and restaurant, and tourists “experience” what it was like to be there.
As for me, I have no desire to go back. I might visit the prison, but I do not want to go back to those days. A lot of life has happened since. Nothing on the scale of spending mandatory time in a maximum security prison, but life none the less.
I often hear others say, “I just feel trapped,” or “I have no choice.” Sometimes I read a prisoner’s account of where they really spent their time… in their minds, in some beautiful place. We often create our own cells or our own paradises.
It could be that during this time of world quarantine, we feel trapped. It could also mean that we feel lucky to have more time to ourselves. Nothing about your situation is fair game for me to comment on, just as nothing about my situation is any of your concern. But, there is an offering of thought I will share. A tip, if you will, for dealing with any occurrence in your life.
Describe everything with possibility in mind. Rather than saying, “I have to wait in line,” say, “I am choosing to wait in line.”
Instead of saying, “There is nothing to do,” say, “I am choosing to do nothing.”
What we tell others and ourselves affects what is and what will come.
Above all, in your interaction with yourself and others, do not do prison time. Do not believe for a minute that your current situation is a “result” of anything you have done to this point. Even those in prison, who are tempted to say, I am stuck here because of what I did, are missing the idea. We hear it from prisoners, employees, spouses, public servants, religious leaders, and all manner of media outlets. Simply put, you are not being punished.
There is possibility. There is hope. Nothing is written in stone for those write their story anew each day. Share the good parts. Tell the good stories. Feel the freedom of choosing to do a thing rather than create the illusion of burden when “having” to do a thing.
I do not understand character, or what it takes to lead, or even how to be a good team member. What I do know is that “lucky” is a matter of perspective, and that “lucky” may only be determined by an individual. When I hear someone say, “you should feel lucky,” I always want to say, “you should concern yourself with your luck and not the luck of others.”
These are times for encouragement. The world seems to be on fire, as if we are just noticing it for the first time. I am not recommending guilt, but recommending possibility. I am not suggesting the abandonment of free will, I am suggesting responsibility for that same free will. Not for what we have done, or for what we will do, but for what and where we are now.
You do not have to feel lucky. You do not have to do anything. If you want to feel trapped, you will feel trapped. If you want to feel free, you will feel free. This is up to you.
When I leave this world, I will not go into the next life with the burning question of how others lived their lives. When I pray, I do not ask for others to change. As I see the world unfold, I understand that I know so little about what is good or bad for anyone, including myself. We are all in a prison of space and time… plain and simple.
The question becomes, are we in a place that is known to have housed the killer of dreams, or are we in a future tourist destination with moonshine and spare ribs.
Either is true. By blessing it all and expressing gratitude, we will help create what it might become.
As always, I encourage you to see, the good in yourself, the expression of love in your smile, and all of the wonderful events you have created.