Week 1: Two Essays
"Freedom to Do as We Will"
We each have a measure of freedom
To do as we will.
We can debase our life or dignify it;
We can fill it with doubt or faith,
And with hate or love.
We can disavow our heritage or proclaim it.
In as much as we are free to think and act,
We may seem to have broken away from nature.
But I believe that is part of nature’s design.
Wholly within nature, human nature is in the making.
It has risen above the beast,
But its destiny is nearer to the stars.
By Rev. Dana McLean Greely (1908-1986), from his book Forward Through the Ages, published by First Parish in Concord in 1986.
By Gary, CLF member incarcerated in North Carolina
Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Obviously, Janis never served time in a prison. The biggest pain in prison is the way you are assaulted psychologically and emotionally, how you are robbed of dignity as a human being and told in countless ways that you don’t matter.
Then there is the endless aggravation—the craziness, the madhouse atmosphere—that stems from stupidity ruling your world. People in supervisory positions in prison are often not selected based on skill, experience or ability, but due to politics or cronyism, which means that utter fools are often placed in positions of power.
Stupid people tend to make stupid decisions and do stupid things, and it is this aspect of prison—the loss of freedom compounded by the ignorance, childishness, self-destructiveness, irresponsibility, self-centeredness and criminality of many prisoners—that makes daily prison life maddening.
And stupidity takes no day off; it is woven into the very fabric of prison life. There is also the monotony, and the unparalleled boredom it breeds. Finally, there’s the emotional deprivation—never being genuinely bonded with anyone or anything.
American prisons foster a culture of violence, hatred, bigotry and dominance. They take the criminally inclined—and the not-so-inclined—and turn them into hardened convicts who, after having freedom denied for years, become dangerous. Such is the sad state of American corrections, a disease that permeates America’s prison system.
Truly, as Thucydides suggested, the secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage. And anyone who takes the freedom of another into his keeping is destined to become a tyrant.