I went to visit a loved one in prison today. In anticipation of the visit, I was excited, and a bit nervous. Excited to see someone I have not seen in almost a year, and have missed terribly. And, nervous about what it would be like to have to enter a portion of the penal system, its rules and structure.
In a way, I felt like I knew what to expect. I visited my older brother twenty four years ago, when he was in prison in California. It felt foreign and punitive, even to the visitors. I remember distinctly having to walk between the yellow lines, without variation, lest you be mistaken for an inmate. I remember the strict rules about what I could, and could not wear. I remember feeling scared, and small, and very vulnerable.
I experienced similar feelings when I entered the facility today, although I have to say, I didn’t expect to have such a visceral response to it. My body felt tight; my throat felt as if it could close up. I felt so watched, which of course, everyone is. I felt like I was being treated as a criminal. I wanted to be human, free, open and loving, and yet I felt as if there was little humanity to be seen, at least the aspects of humanity that I usually enjoy.
And then, I saw my beautiful friend, who hadn’t even known that I was coming. She was happy, emotional, and so ready to receive us. It was amazing, and tearful and our hug lasted much shorter than I would have wanted. I still felt watched and scrutinized, yet I breathed a bit easier, knowing that the real reason that we were there was now the person sitting right next to us.
The next two hours passed so quickly, and then, it was time to leave her there, while we stepped out to freedom. I had watched all of the other inmates saying goodbye to their loved ones as their visits ended, and then they would wait to reenter their prison, literally and figuratively. It was our turn now, to say goodbye, just for a few weeks more, until her true release from there. When she can walk out, no longer in the state issued brown jumpsuit, but in clothing she chooses and feels good in. She can enter her freedom once again.
The truth is, stepping outside the yellow lines, leaving behind the prison walls, isn’t the only path to freedom. The truth is, whether we are in a concrete prison that we are confined to, or a self imposed prison on the outside, we all have the capacity for freedom. We only need ever look as close as our thoughts, what we keep in our minds, to know what truly being free means.