Monday, April 10, 2017


Well Friday was the big day, the day for which I had been waiting for what seems forever. Yes Friday, April 7 was my release date! And yes. It was.....euphoric! The ability to finally get back to some sort of sense of normalcy, the finality of a lengthy and incredibly stressful ordeal was quite possibly one of the best moments of my life. While in many ways it was anti-climactic simply because I was released from the actual federal prison camp over six months earlier, the end of this ordeal was significant in so many ways.
It is not lost on me that my release very closely coincided with the holiday of Passover, the time that celebrates the redemption of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian slavery; the time of freedom. This got me thinking about what freedom really represents. Anyone who has read the Bible knows that the Jews, a small nation had to migrate from Israel to Egypt because of a famine that swept the region. Egypt alone had food and the Hebrews, invited by Joseph moved from ancient Israel down to Egypt. Over time, as outlined in the book of Exodus, Joseph was forgotten and the Hebrews were enslaved. The Exodus was simply a return the the status quo on being a free people. Yet, even upon their redemption from Egypt, the Jews were destined to wander in the desert for 40 years. And yet, this is considered to be one of the most important if not the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar, when all it really represents is a return to a state prior to oppression.
For someone who has been formally released, the reality is not much different. He was once a free person enjoying all of the liberties this great country has to offer. Often, because of an error in judgment or simply because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even if he knowingly committed a crime, he finds himself stripped of his rights and removed from society. Eventually, be it after a period of months, years or decades, he is released effectively restoring him to his status prior to incarceration. And yet, this date, for anyone who has just been released is a day to be celebrated. I find myself asking why this is the case. Why do we celebrate returns to normalcy more so that some of the most important events that take place in our lives. Why is the date of the Hebrews' freedom from bondage; the return to the status quo, celebrated more than the date 40 years later when they actually entered that land of Israel.
Anyone who has been incarcerated be it in a camp or a higher level of facility will tell you that prison is an extremely unpleasant experience, to say the least. Anyone who says that going to a prison camp was "easy',  or a "piece of cake" is either lying or has a miserable life outside of prison. Sure, most prisoners do make the best, but that is out of necessity. Someone who has been incarcerated has been removed from his wife, his children, his parents, his siblings and his friends. The longer he is away the more detached and forgotten he becomes.
True, camps are less restrictive than the other facilities, but at the end of the day, someone is prison is still in prison. He is not free to come and go as he pleases. He cannot have dinner with his family at night. He cannot watch his son's little league games. He cannot go to his daughter's ballet recitals. He cannot celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. He cannot go out with his friends. Even the time spent speaking on the phone is restricted. He is forced to leave the comforts of his home and share facilities with hundreds of other people. Gone is the big closet and in its places is a small 2 by 4 locker. Gone are the home cooked meals and in its place is the same semi edible food over and over again. Instead of sleeping next to his wife he is sharing a bunkbed with another inmate. Instead of seeing his friends and family every day, he is now limited to visiting days only. His bed time will probably be earlier than his teenage children.
In my time at the prison camp, I had the opportunity to speak to many inmates who came from all sorts of backgrounds. I often asked what do they miss most about being free and what they will do when they are released. Some of the answers were very surprising. One inmate, who had been inside for 10 years told me that he cannot wait to take a bath! Another said, he cannot wait to be able to just sleep in silence. Another said he wanted to be able to cry when he is sad instead of being afraid to get emotional. Yes, to an inmate, even the right to be sad is a luxury. Most of the answers focussed on how they want to just enjoy their families. Not one inmate told me that they cannot wait to finally buy a Bentley, buy a massive house, or even get the newest iPhone. They simply desire what most people consider to be boring and mundane. They desire normalcy.
Too often, those of us who are free are focussed on what comes next. We focus on what everyone else has instead of what we have. We do not appreciate what a luxury "normal" really is. We are enslaved to our own whims and desires and not free to enjoy what we have. For the newly released former prisoner, normal is something to be celebrated. The return to normalcy is a rebirth if you will an also represents the opportunity to once again celebrate all the blessings that were taken for granted when he was a free person. Similarly the message of the holiday of Passover is that yes, more so than the enhancements in life, the return to the status quo is to be celebrated. A state of normalcy is a prerequisite and therefore a precursor for all of the "bonuses" that life will offer us. This is why the prisoners celebrates his release and this is probably the true message of Passover.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating - you can't really know this stuff without having experienced it. Which is obviously your point. :)



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