Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Sermon (Doing Time)

¡Hola! Everybody…
Things are quiet here, which is a good thing. The Ex from Boston, who got in Friday night, played herself and now has been reduced to a conversation with my answering machine. She called several times yesterday, but has apparently found her pride and has ceased.

I haven’t called back. You might think it’s mean, but it isn’t, it’s called self preservation.

Today's blog song was sung to me by my one of the women in my prison workshop. It made me cry...

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Doing Time

Many of my readers know that for most of the past twelve months, I’ve struggled with finding suitable housing. Due to a combination of factors (the insanity of NY real estate, my procrastination, and financial realties), I spent most of the last year without somewhere I could call home. In fact, I was evicted and in the process, I was robbed of property whose worth I stopped counting at $5,000. I was fortunate in that my sister let me stay in her upstairs section of her Riverdale duplex for about four-five months, and eventually I would rent a room. In that sense I couldn’t say I was homeless, but many times I felt I could identify with the utter sense of rootlessness that comes with not having a place to call your own.

One night, I needed to be by myself. I ended up riding the subway train all night. It was then I saw many homeless people also riding the train, and I got a glimpse of what that culture is all about. I rode that train all night; sometimes dozing off, sometimes reading a book I took along with me. I was different from the others only in that I still had more options than they did, but I understood what it felt like. What it felt like not to have a home…

When I rented my room, I laughed that I had inhabited cells larger than my room. After putting in all my books and clothes, I literally had about a 3’x3’ square of room that I could change in.


Not having your own place is hard. It seemed like I could never truly relax, and the simplest things, like taking a crap or shaving/ showering became problematic in the sense that you were in someone else’s home. Sometimes, I would have to hold my pee, because the apartment I had rented the room had only one bathroom that seven other people used.

As most of you know, I have been incarcerated. My last prison stretch was at Sing Sing and my cell was larger than the room I inhabited for about two moths. And I would laugh at that because it was funny. Yet, my worst day as a free man is a million times better than my best day in prison. As I reflect on that, I reflect on how we create our own prisons. I reflect on how, in a very real sense, we’re all doing time.

It was true that my rented room and my having no place to call my own was a hardship. You may not be able to appreciate this, but take my word for it, not having your own place creates a lot of psychological strain that saps you of energy and has a physical consequence. I joke that the past year has aged me more than the previous seven years combined. And I see it. Yet, I was far happier than I ever was in my little comfortable cell at Sing Sing. I often tell people I learned to be free while I was incarcerated and this is true. I learned that you could be comfortable somewhere, in a nice home and well fed and still be unhappy. And I discovered the reason for this unhappiness.

The reason why I was happier in my cramped room was that I wanted to be there. In prison, I didn’t want to be there. That was the difference. And the reason I say I learned of freedom while in prison was because I discovered that secret. I became free the day I stopped fighting the fact of where I was and became present in my life. The day I awoke to the fact of prison, my cell became a sanctuary – a tool for my liberation -- and not a prison.

I became free while in prison.

Any place you do not want t to be, no matter how comfortable, is a prison for you. In effect, this is the real meaning of “prison.” If you are in a job where you do not want to be, you are in a prison. If you are in a relationship where you do not want to be, you are in a prison. If you inhabit a body that you do not want to inhabit, then that too is a prison.

Simply put, a prison is any situation where you do not want to be.

This doesn’t mean that you should go out there and eliminate all these things and situations. I couldn’t escape my physical prison, but I was able to transform my relationship to it and in that way I transformed the experience. I once met a person in prison who will probably never see the light of a free day in this life. By the time I had met him, he had already served twenty-seven years. He had a saying -- a teaching – that I still carry around with me today. It was the only conversation that man allowed me. He said that in prison you still have a choice: you can do the time, or let the time do you. What he meant was that you can allow the years to slip away without having anything to show for it, or you can use (“do”) the time you are given in this life to become an awakened and free human being.

I have since learned we’re all doing time in one way or another. The real question is whether you will use this time, or let time do you…



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