This is obviously not all that recent, but I was writing letters to various prisoners yesterday, and I thought this letter of Andy’s was really moving, as well as inspriational. I think we sometimes become prisoners in our own lives. This is nothing like being a prisoner in an actual prison, but for me, at least, reading what Andy wrote reminded me that stepping outside of ourselves can give us a glimpse of freedom, of beauty.
November 22, 2006 Writing from Prison
This will mark the second letter I am sending out for all of you to read. Before I turned myself into the Bureau of Prisons it was suggested that I mail out weekly diary entries to be posted for all of you to read, and to keep supporters and people who follow my case informed as to my well being and my case. In many ways I liked that idea of a sort of journal or blog where I can editorialize on my surrounding, my case or on current events. Then I liked that idea of having such a platform to be vocal from.
But now, it’s been almost two months since my surrender and I have only written out once and it was a meager attempt at best. I found it hard to write out to you, to my supporters, to the outside world and remain optimistic. If I write I want my words to leave others feeling empowered. If I can craft my words right, I can make it so that my sentences leave the reader feeling as then should… leave the reader with an overwhelming sense of self worth, because I believe in all of you… Never doubt your ability to single handedly change the world. Each of you can move mountains within our political landscape and with your hands mold a brighter future for every living thing. That is not cliché, it’s not esoteric, it’s real. I believe it. So each day as I write I need to find a space where my negative surroundings will not pollute my words and in turn be passed to you the reader. It is for those reasons that I have not written as frequently as I first planned.
I won’t sugar coat any of this. These past two months have been hard on me and perhaps even harder on my loved ones. I have spent almost half of these past two months in solitary for either reasons related to my being transferred, or because of security classification issues. Now I have made it to my designated prison and I have many more privileges. I have access to a large yard and compound, a library, and a salad bar where I can eat as much beans and lettuce as I can stomach. I realize that it takes seeing a very dark place before you can find so much happiness in a lawn, in a plate of lettuce, or a bowl of kidney beans. I’ve felt as if I have seen so much darkness recently that to me this feels almost like freedom. It’s here in this new space that I have found much more room to write, and with these words I am also beginning to find myself. My walk through the dark has not made me angry, instead I have cried more than I have ever cried before, I feel like I have purged anger with the saline and I feel humbled. I cannot recall ever feeling this humbled. I can’t find room for pessimism anymore, but instead I see blessings in everything. I find myself praying more now than I have have, and often I give prayers of thanks. In these prayers I give thanks for all of you, for all of my supporters, to all of the people who have written me and told me to keep my head up, or written me to tell me about the even they planned in their community, for the people who are raising money for my appeal. I pray each night before bed that there be an end to the conflicts in the Middle East and an end to the genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan. I pray for all the animals who call a factory farm or laboratory their home, I pray for peace, and with that I pray for their liberation.
I find myself praying that as my friends and loved ones sleep they can dream of a familiar place we share and that I can tell them just how much I love them. I pray that I can say and write the right words so that even if my body is locked up I can still move those mountains while shackled. I pray that this time in jail won’t change me into a cold and angry person. I pray that I never get lost in those dark spells, but that I will walk out these gates in a few years wiser and able to smile an inch wider than before.
So I am taking these next few years to better myself. I’m writing a whole lot and have been given a couple offers from publishing houses. I have submitted an application to teach the jail GED program. Maybe I can use this time to better a few other people’s lives in addition to my own. I’ve also gotten back in to running every day. I try to run at least five miles around this trail that surrounds the compound each day.
Yesterday I ran that trail and experienced something beautiful. I just purchased a radio from the prison’s commissary store, but it was not until yesterday afternoon that I found some music that I really liked while surfing the stations. As I set out to run my five miles I stumbled upon a loval college station with a theme show called “The Revolution,” I had a laugh a little. They ran a PSA between songs with a narrative of how “the federal government has enacted an acapella is best act and banned all music produced with any instrument other than your god given vocal chords.” It went on to say that “violators of this act who either produce such music or distribute and play such music will be sent to Federal Prison.” I can’t begin to describe how appropriate that PSA was at exactly that moment. I thought about my situation and other similar situations all around this country; these strange Orwellian times we are living in. I could have felt sad or gotten angry, but instead I cracked a smile and started my run. The station’s hostess, a woman by the name of Ashlee played some of my favorite music, Fugazi, The Explosion, The Postal Service, and one of my favorites, Minus the Bear.
Minus the Bear is known for a unique sound, a mix between bass guitar finger tapping, wandering guitar and keyboard parts, and jazz drumming. Their songs are about their drinking exploits with their friends in the Seattle community and about communing with nature. Its for the later that I love them so much. The song that played makes references to driving out to a lake in Bellingham and swimming out further than you think you can possible return from and just lying back, floating, drifting underneath a canopy of stars, drenched in the lake’s water and the smell of forest and open air. I too cherished the smell of open air, and I thought to myself how long it had been since I have seen wildlife. Even though this prison is set in a forest it is clear cut around its border and its yard is bordered with man made burms. I had yet to see an animal on the compound since my arrival here. Just as my luck changed with my finding this radio show so did my luck with the wildlife. As I was running a sparrow landed in front of me and as I ran closer to her she darted further down the path some 30 feet ahead. There she was joined by some ten other sparrows. As I neared them they too hopped ahead and ultimately there were 20 or more sparrows that lined this trail that circumnavigates the fence line of the compound. They went from hopping ahead of me to almost following me as I made my rounds. As this music played and as I watched these birds more it seemed like a choreographed sequence. As I ran so followed the birds darting between the coils of razor wire to my right with such ease. I ran and watched as they zigzagged playfully between the coil’s dangerous barbs. I saw in those birds a rhythm that matched my steps and heartbeat. I saw a purity that I once had as a child and have spend most of my young adult life being nostalgic about, I saw an invitation to be part of that purity, to be part of that freedom, and all that I had to do to get there was to follow my heart. I felt so lucky to be there with those birds at that moment, they showed me something that most people work their whole lives hoping to achieve but are too distracted to grasp. They showed me an unbridled freedom, a flawless purity and I had to wonder what would drive any human to rob other beautiful animals of that?
I went out today in hopes to see the birds and hear the same radio show while I ran. The temperature was 40 degrees and it was drizzling. On my second lap the sky opened up with a cold rain, I tasted it on my lips, my nose felt the bite of the cold humid air, and there they were the birds began the same dance. On came my favorite song “On the Air” by the Casket Lottery. I thought to myself that the contrast of coincidence was so vibrant that it transcended all words. We all need fresh air, we don’t need choreographers to breath, we need not be raised by wolves and we need not view the world as sheet.
As I mail this letter out I include a simple request. Tonight step out into the open air of fall and close your eyes. Try to isolate the noise of every passing car, and human made noise. Listen for the world as it too lives, breath in the open aireand try to see yourself as an equal part of it. No wall or cage can contain you, because you’re always free. As we doubt ourselves we lock up our hearts, let that doubt go and never look back. See yourself in rhythm with history and then change it. We will do this together, we will win, we are winning and this is just the beginning.
Our paths may be staged with razor wire, but like those birds we will dance playfully between its dangers. We will always more forward.
Love and Liberation,