Wow, this is beautiful! I think that so far, this text and The Time is Now are my favorite writings by Kenneth Foster. When you see the title Beautiful Innovation in Ugly Segregation you might not expect to find beauty, love, and hope in this text, but when I finished reading I felt moved.
Finding grace in a world of ugliness is no easy feat. Tough times either make or break you. Read on for another great post by Kenneth.
Beautiful Innovation In Ugly Segregation
For those prisoners who are housed in Administrative Segregation, they are living under the most extreme, controlled, and oppressive conditions throughout the Penal System. Your immediate and surrounding conditions are harsh. In most cases, you are held in a cell around 23 hours a day and you live behind piles of concrete and steel.
And while many have succumbed to these conditions (falling into depression, violent or suicidal tendencies) many have held strong and continue to thrive, like Tupac said: “The rose that grew from concrete”.
Ad Seg pushes the human mind to its extremities. We know that the mind is the most powerful weapon in the world. We can look at modern technology and architecture to witness the magnificence of the mind. Prisoners have not lost this ability. In a place that seeks to crush creativity and life, it thrives 100 times more powerful. For those that have not surrendered their humanity, they find ways to defy the odds for interaction.
While inner peace is a noble and fulfilling level to attain, most prisoners are not monks or apostles. Most – like the rest of the world – thrive off human interaction. The ability to talk and express, listen and learn, see and understand, touch and experience is the cornerstone of humanity.
Where one is forced to endure isolation, abuse, indifference, an abnormality will develop. Those that turn into delinquents were usually pushed that way. They wouldn’t have chosen to pull into it. But, many on the inside fight to keep their humanity.
This oftentimes comes about through the beautiful innovation of the mind. Whereas concrete and steel have been resurrected to stop the flow of life, it is constantly being transcended through the pure passion for life.
In many of the Texas Ad Seg living areas, the prisoners are closed in by large steel doors. Some of these doors are sealed on the sides by steel plates keeping prisoners from looking out the sides. Some of the cell doors (in more restricted areas) are covered by plexiglass or sheets of steel with holes drilled into them, making sight very obscure. The strain it puts on the eyes to look out pea-sized holes is grueling.
The bottoms of these doors have been covered by steel plates as well. There’s generally a half of an inch space that keeps the metal plate from scraping the floor. The space is usually no bigger than the size of a pencil. I’ve seen even lower where barely a few pieces of paper could fit under them.
But, on the sides of the doors there are always small cracks and spaces where small items can be maneuvered in and out of the cell, though for cells like above interaction is the hardest. Nevertheless, the prison pushes on.
Prisoners have created a line and pulley system that allows them to communicate with each other and share things – maybe food, maybe a magazine, maybe family pictures. These lines – beautifully handcrafted by someone – are fitted with weights at the end of them (usually a small pole [made from tightly rolled-up magazine paper] or something like a toothpaste tube that has been cleaned out and filled with wet paper to make it move when slid against the floor).
What a prisoner must do is get low to the floor (or if professional enough at what’s called “running line” he’ll simply throw it into the desired direction) and slide the line out on the walkway. The prisoner he’s seeking to make contact with will do the same from his end and the lines will crisscross. Once done, the lines will be jerked, thus entangled, and a pulley system begins. Penitentiary Fishing at its best!
I’ve seen better than that. I’ve seen prisoners braid rosaries out of old socks. I’ve seen picture frames be constructed out of potato chip bags. But, what I’ve really seen is Love coming out of the hearts of men. While men do these things to survive – perhaps earn a pack of cookies or a bottle of shampoo – many do it because it brings them peace. It brings them joy to bring someone else joy.
Some of this meticulous work is worth 5 times what they charge. I’ve seen men do portraits of amazing artwork and charge only $5 when it was worth $15. But, one struggler understands the next. We know we can’t afford to splurge on anything in prison, thus blessings are granted to one another.
While this isn’t an article about spiritual issues, there’s definitely an evil that resides in some people (inside and outside of prison). It often forms from some sort of negativity that has been instilled into them. Therefore, we see cruelty inflicted upon our fellow human beings. Then there are those who have decided to oppose it and at the very least resist it.
Every day I see a beautiful innovation come from ugly segregation. It’s what allows me to keep caring, to keep giving, and to keep going. And as long as there is one person (just one!) that can carry this on then it’s like a candle in a void of darkness. Once those little candles come together into one you get a sun! From these little cells we are trying to be a sun. Be the brightest sun you are and follow the good path and don’t be afraid of the darkness for that is when suns shine the brightest. Shine on!
By Kenneth Foster
Did this story move you as much as it moved me? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below please.
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