A Message to My Fellow Prisoners

“Scattered thunderstorms predicted throughout the day”. I roll my eyes as I close the weather app on my phone. “Always a chance of storms,” I mutter as I head to the closet to pull out my running shoes. I undo the double knots, resisting the urge to jam my heel into them while they’re still tied. Once I’m all laced up, I open the door. I see the clouds, blackest at the edges and try to gauge their direction. “Uhggggh,” I say as I set off down the street, desperate to see some light.

It was 12 years ago when I injured my back, and there have been very few pain-free runs since then. Machines have documented every jacked up bone in my body. Smile, spine! You’re on camera. Doctors have poked and prodded my every vertebrae, Does it hurt when I do THIS? Physical therapists have twisted me Cirque du Soleil style, Step right up folks, see a real-life Gumby!And despite all of this, I run anyway.

And as I run, my eyes inventory the world around me. The woman pulling weeds from cracked concrete — knees resting on the Welcome mat. The man with the sweaty blue work shirt — checking his watch as he flings his briefcase into the backseat. The young girl with her backpack on one shoulder — standing several feet from the cluster of other kids at the bus stop. Each of us carrying aches and pains that hail from different sources.Each of us serving time in our own ways. We all know about life on the inside. We’ve all been contained.

Some of us? Prisoners to our parents — the adults who could have coddled our sense of magic and creativity but instead seemed hell-bent on scrubbing it out of us. Some of us, prisoners to an internal well of loneliness that we attempted to fill with food, alcohol, sex, drugs — anything but self-love. And some of us prisoners to a misguided sense of success that led us closer to filling our mansions and our jewelry boxes but further from filling our hearts.

Universally, though, it was these vacancies-these empty spaces- that landed us here in our cells. We share the one smudgy mirror. They cover it in thick plastic to protect us, but it distorts the reflection to the point that we’re indistinguishable. Business attire long since replaced by orange jumpsuits. Hair, once Clairolcolored and smoothed just right — now a tuft of gray frazzled roots. Formerly contoured cheeks, flesh-fattened— stuffed daily with potatoes and macaroni served from ice cream scoops.

And when you serve time, you lose things. Possessions, friendships, marriages, self-worth. And at some point your heart gets so hardened-so black, that feeling nothing becomes the norm. There’s a safety in the monotony. A cadence to the humming florescent lights. A comfort in eating from the same trough everyday.

And after years of wrapping ourselves in these blankets made of ice, we realize we have two choices. We either stay in the confines of our cells or we escape. The answer seems so obvious. “Escape, of course”, says our heart. “It’s so blank in here”.

“You’re better off staying put,” says that other voice — the one that’s gotten much louder since the the day of our sentencing. “You’re safe here. You have a routine. You have a roof over your head and 3 meals a day. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s a helluva lot better than what’s out there.”

This dialogue goes on for hours, days, months, years. And for some — until coffin lids close and darkness bathes us. Others of us, though, still feel our mouth corners turn up at the mention of sun. Some of us want out. We’re an elite group of plotting escapees, whispering through floor vents, collecting tools beneath our mattresses. Co-conspirators in a den of lemmings.

The moment arrives. The day we’ve all waited for. The guards backs are turned. The door that leads to the gate is cracked. We look back at the cells one last time. A landscape so memorized, so soul-etched that we’ll see it in our sleep for years. And then, we look at each other. It’s go time.

One by one we shuffle out the door. All gripping the various tools we’ve collected along the way. All desperate to feel the rays beat down on our sun-hungry skin. But it’s overcast. We see the clouds, blackest at the edges. A chance of storms in all directions. Shoes laced, hearts braced — we run anyway.

Originally published on Medium.com

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