LET US REMEMBER WHAT WE ARE
E-Mail by Calbraith MacLeod Bio/Address
I am a machinist by trade. I live in
one of a range of prison cells housing the former owner of an industrial supply business,
a truck driver, an apartment manager, a baker, a building contractor, a coordinator of a
day center for the developmentally disabled, a scientist who's worked for NASA, a window
glazer, an auto-body technician, a radio disc jockey, a professional piano tuner, a house
painter, and a cabinet builder. Four of my neighbors have general education diplomas, five
graduated high-school, and four hold college degrees. Seven of my neighbors are veterans.
We've all been married. We all have children who love and miss us, and all but two of us
owned homes. All of us owned cars when we were free. Cars that were registered, inspected,
and insured. We didn't steal them.
On the street, we'd awakened in the mornings, disliked the idea of getting out of bed but had arisen nonetheless. We'd driven to our jobs, swore at the traffic, and stopped to buy a pack of cigarettes or a cup of coffee along the way. We'd all worried over making our house and car payments and wondered how we were going to pay the electric, phone, heat, and credit card bills. Some of us had drank too much alcohol, acted belligerent and felt bad about it afterward. Some of us hadn't drank alcohol at all.
Today, in America, we daily face the hatred of a billion people toward us. Perhaps no group of people since the American Indian has been assaulted by such a concerted effort of hatred. Everywhere, newspaper writers, television reporters, former coworkers, former neighbors, politicians we'd supported, police our taxes had paid the wages of, professionals we'd respected, prison employees, and occasionally our own family members refer to us as scum, losers, predators, and animals. As convicted people, we are caged, beaten, and on occasion systematically killed by our fellow human-beings. It is ironic the very tools of hatred most convicts had employed to impair their empathy enough to commit a crime are also the very tools non-criminals use to impair their own empathy enough to deliver anguish, humiliation, and death to convicted people.
Year upon year of disparagement and ostracism, year upon year of being caged, randomly striped naked, our belongings arbitrarily searched or taken, pressures us to believe ourselves to be no more than animals. As the years pass it becomes harder and harder to remember what we are. There are more than a few unfortunate souls who have forgotten. They become so indiscriminately violent they need be isolated from the rest of the prison population; or they become so distanced from reality they squat -- dirty and disheveled -- in the corners of our prisons, talking to imaginary listeners and smoking cigarette butts they've rescued from the ground.
Most of us will be released from prison in the future. It is important we remember we came from a social world so we have some chance of returning to live in it as human beings. No matter what the media, our captors or their agents refer to us as, it is important we do not think of ourselves as scum, predators, and animals. It is important we do not adopt the idea -- they treat me like an animal so I will become one. For the moment we give in to either of these temptations, we dramatically reduce the chance we will be able to get back on track toward the wholesome visions we all once harbored about what our lives were supposed to be about.
None of us wanted to be criminals. We did not sit in our fifth grade social studies class and dream of spending our lives in conflict with the law. We dreamed of having homes and jobs and grown up toys. We dreamed of leading serene, sane, non-destructive lives. Although many people, both in and out of prison, do not want convicts to be at peace in prison (Some Convicts refuse to even think of becoming at peace while incarcerated.), it is our early dreams of serenity we as prisoners need to re-discover. It is only in developing a feeling of inner peace, we can hope to live in society for long as non-destructive citizens. In fact, regardless or our optimistic fantasies of being able to control ourselves when we get out "this time", if we do not develop a sense of serenity in prison there exists small chance our behavior as free people will be any different than before we were imprisoned. The inability to create a feeling of serenity while living on the street is what initially sparked most convict's criminal exploits.
Fortunately, even when we've fallen far from the mark and face the hatred of a billion people, as long as we remember we're humans, we maintain the capacity to redirect ourselves toward sane, non-destructive, happy lifestyles. I believe the fact we each own the ability to lead ourselves to a place of self-respect, self-command, and serenity while under any adversity is the most awesome power we as humans possess. In my continued editorials, I plan to spell out how most anyone who has lost their way can actualize their potential to redirect their life into something they really want it to be.
Calbraith MacLeod is author of the self-help book -- Practical Reformation (available from Audenreed Press) -- and is currently serving a 40 year prison term. He may be contacted at: