Yesterday I visited a prison in Illinois—the Menard facility—located along the Mississippi River about 80 miles south of St. Louis. It looked like something out of the Middle Ages. The stained red stone structure reached, menacing, into the blue sky while the air was filled with the sounds of bars creaking as doors opened and shut.
Getting in was something out of the Middle Ages also. I was patted down, the bottom of my feet were searched and the doors had huge locks in them as I went from one building to the next. I waited for one door to open when a guard yelled at me, “Push and Pull, Push and Pull!” So I figured that meant I opened and shut it myself… (in Missouri prisons all doors are automated).
I visited a gentleman who has been locked up since he was 15. He is now 42 (that’s 26 years). He is in for “natural life”. He’s a very gentle sort—has taught himself Japanese while in prison and is now studying Quantum Physics. He said he’s been there so long that he actually did most of the physical repairs on the building.
I was talking to him about the upcoming booklet I’m working on “Being in Prison” and how it referred to the prisons of the mind as much as physical prisons. He laughed. He said he was watching television the other night and saw the news for St. Louis. There was a big traffic jam and people were sitting in their cars at a dead stop. This traffic jam lasted a long time. He said he felt so sad for those people—being in the prison of their cars and the prisons of having to drive long distances to jobs they really didn’t like, to pay for the prisons of material addictions, etc. He said he actually felt more free than these poor people. I had to laugh.