[Previously, I've shared here about my friend, Obie Weathers who has lived on Texas' "Death Row" since he was 19-years-old. He is 33. His personal transformation comes through in everything he writes. The following is from his most recent correspondence. I pray we abolish "Death Row" in Texas.]
It’s one of those sort of days here I experience from time to time where I feel my soul being slammed repeatedly against the prison walls, similar to the way a ship moored to a crag with too much slack would be in a strong stormy gale, threatened to be smashed under.
Today, I discovered prison walls are not made of concrete alone. Prison walls I found, in the intimate relationship between the pulsating warmth of life and this cool lifelessness, are constructed of fear. Prison walls: the physical manifestation of the fears of the prisoners and the prison administrators.I’ve always imagined fear as being a hot, trembling, and excitable thing, so it’s curious that it would reveal itself in this cold, calm, and indifferent state. But perhaps it’s just the way of the frenzy of fears. In the prison setting, anxieties crystalize into compressed and fired clay.
Interestingly, the Creator formed us –prisoner and prison administration alike – out of clay, but with the creative spirit He breathed into us, we’ve learned only to shape and bake bricks in the ovens of our minds.Cooled and stacked high, they become a fortress – one in which the prisoner views as impenetrable and the prison administrator as to be defended. Each play their roles obsessively – despite the irrationality: the prisoner resigns to a life limited by the walls, where even the considerations of the tearing them down has been utterly banished by thoughts of what the administration would do; the administration out of fear of breaking with custom and seen as soft on the prisoners in the distorted and perverse light of the colleagues, also along with the prisoner, maintains the walls. The result?
Nothing.Except that a lot of dreams die in prison. I’ve met men here who, when sent to death row, arrived with the aspiration for self-betterment intact, and I have watched over the span of years as the prison, which appeared only poised ready and all too willing, to take every opportunity to grind them down –beyond the bones of their souls – along the grated edges of these walls, leaving all prior aspirations, a pile of dust.
I’ve also witnessed prison administrators enthusiastically enter the criminal justice field and witnessed the zeal for their professed calling so overwhelmed by the prison culture of degradation and the devaluation of prisoners’ lives that soon, their once robust sense of humanity is whittled to an emaciated specter of spite aimed at any prisoner they encounter. Unwittingly, they begin defending the walls, becoming just as much a prisoner to the prison as any prisoner here.These walls are false, I know. And being so, I strive daily to not allow them to solidify, to become real, because prison can be more than a place of punishment. These walls can be a haven for healing, reconciliation, a place where prisoners and the administrators can work together to facilitate the healing and personal reconstruction process necessary for a truly civil and deeply humane society.
Some days, like today, it seems that despite all efforts on my part to bridge the gap between prisoner and prison administrator with peace and an open willingness to encourage positive change for everyone I encounter here – the administrators can but muster no more than flinging me against these walls – over and over… by ordering me, for instance, during lunch time today while serving a meal to me here in the cell:
“Obie, do you want to eat?”“Yes.”
“Okay, well, I don’t want to do this, but it’s policy. If you want to eat, you have to kneel with your back to us and cross your hands behind your back.”“Kneel?!”
“Yes, on your knees. It’s policy, and I’m just doing my job.”Well, I will go sit and meditate now: tomorrow can only be better.