In my last post (The Virtue of Pain, Part I), I touched on how the
experience of incarceration can make us stronger. In fact, prison
allows us to become the strongest possible version of ourselves.
Of course, I’m not referring to physical strength, but overall
strength: the ability to endure and resist.
During the first couple of years of my bid I was constantly angry,
frequently to the point of bloodlust, at much in my new confines,
especially staff. What do you expect when a strong-willed
teenager with a serious intolerance for authority is placed in a
restricted environment of petty, often antagonistic authority?
Gradually, though, I began to understand things better.
As my outlook matured, my attitude became wiser and more
productive towards the numerous incidents and encounters that
once made me furious. All the lousy-ass people, dumb rules and
power-abusers created a kind of weight room for my character
and spirit. Every trying experience became an opportunity for
We spend years living in closet-sized rooms with people we hate,
while obeying and being treated like children by people generally
no smarter or ethical than us, and listening helplessly as our
loved ones detail special moments we’ve missed and pain we’ve
caused or could’ve at least eased. Then we get out and can’t
handle having to take a bus across town at 7 AM in the winter for
work or we give up because we haven’t found a job after several
months. After being tested hourly by the DOC, there’s no reason
we can’t endure and resist any trials that freedom has in store.
A lot of us currently and formerly incarcerated individuals pride
ourselves on being able to handle “real pain”; we feel hard lives
and rough neighborhoods/ families have left us with thick skins,
while those from good neighborhoods/families can be devastated
by misfortune. Yet we’re thin-skinned towards more common
inconveniences and everyday dramas, despite having endured
them repeatedly in prison. (“It’s not the load that breaks you
down, it’s the way you carry it.” Lena Horne). We may be able to
get over traumatic experiences with relative ease, but if we think
someone’s trying to cheat us or we can’t afford some material
possession, we lose control and put our freedom, lives and loved
ones at risk. Our inability to cope with more common
disappointments is much sadder than others’ inability to cope
with less common, larger ones.
Even if we spend all our time sleeping, eating, and watching TV,
we can still leave prison much stronger than we came in.
Hardships on the streets don’t compare to hardships while
incarcerated. Whatever happens we should remind ourselves
daily, at least, that we’ve been through worse and are always at
risk of re-experiencing that awful journey if we allow ourselves to
lose focus. “On particularly rough days, when Im sure I can’t
possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for
getting through bad days so far is 100%, and that’s pretty good.”
Charles F. Kettering
Keep boxing temptation.
Tip: Check out prisondharmanetwork.net . It allows individuals to
post comments, questions, requests, etc. to a network of
individuals sympathetic to anti-mass incarceration, including
many formerly incarcerated people trying to maintain a healthier,
corrections-free lifestyle. It’s a good resource for anyone looking
for assistance or to assist others in regards to succeeding upon