ESSAY

Week 1

A Hazardous Country

by Sal, CLF prisoner member

I like the comfort I find when I’m able to be vulnerable. That comfortable space, though, is not easy to find, and from within a prison it may not be the best thing to be vulnerable. Now, I’m speaking from an emotional standpoint here, and not from nor about a physical one. Physical vulnerability is something wholly different, though allowing oneself to be emotionally vulnerable leads to becoming physically vulnerable. One follows the other as a normal and natural course.

How vulnerable a person is with another is a measure of how accepted that person feels. The more vulnerable, the greater the feeling of being accepted. It’s a cycle: be a little vulnerable and see what the response is. From there, you can seek comfort with those who allow you to be vulnerable. It seems to be a constant testing of the water.

Vulnerability, then is akin to trust. Vulnerability, being connected to trust and comfort, can build bonds with others. It allows us to be seen for the person we are, without all the layers that may have built up over time from wandering through the onslaught of life’s demands.

People want to be accepted. Acceptance brings comfort, which is nice, but when people aren’t genuine trusting others can be a liability instead of the asset it is naturally meant to be. Society is becoming an unnatural place, moving away from a familial or tribal social construct and toward an escapist and comfortable, yet numbing, path through digital means. The impersonal nature of communication does not allow for the building of trust so vulnerability can happen.

Proper bonding does not, then, happen. People are left to create layers of themselves, fictional masks, different faces that they show to the variety of people or groups they encounter throughout the day. These are defenses built up to defend against being harmed. It’s the opposite of vulnerability and is uncomfortable. People can become lost under the layers life has caused them to create, with seemingly no way to take off the masks and be honest and real.

There is, though, the adage that “comfort kills.” Since I’m in prison there’s a critical need to protect yourself from emotional and physical harm. Being vulnerable can make a person a victim. Act like a victim and be a victim; talk like a victim and be a victim. Predators are everywhere and there are all sorts of them around. Not all can be easily identified.

Also, every time you share something with one person, they generally will repeat what was said to three other people. And those three people will repeat it to three more people. So, this can make the idea of becoming vulnerable and finding a modicum of comfort even more fleeting or distant.

I’ve been in prison for 16 years, and currently have two life sentences to serve. I feel that I am “on” all the time and am unable to trust anyone. I’ve been hurt enough throughout life, and usually by people I trusted. My own experience tells me that people may be trusted, but on different levels. What one can be trusted with, another cannot. It’s so tiring that I see not only myself but many others simply stop trying to be genuinely social, in a sense that would create the vulnerable state needed to gain real trust and bonding.

Instead, we find some fleeting common ground with a variety of the people forced to be here, which with luck may create an atmosphere that isn’t too difficult to navigate. I am a painter, a writer and I still (though I don’t understand why) enjoy trying to help people. I’ve tried to surround myself with like-minded people for those activities, or I just remove myself from everything. Honestly, I find it’s better to be by myself, which is sad in some base way. I’ve found that being vulnerable here is impossible, and should not—in fact, cannot be done in any real sense.

In all, prison is a lonely and unnatural place where a lot of bad things happen. It’s probably best to not be vulnerable, or not too vulnerable. That is sad, huh?! But it does make me appreciate the rare moments when I can tell my truth, connect and be vulnerable.