The presence of prisons

When I think of prisons, my first impression is that of locking away people who might cause me or others harm. Prisons exist to keep us safe. Prisons are used as a deterrent in an attempt to dissuade people from committing crimes. Evidently, the absence of freedom is thought to be terrifying enough to keep people well within the confines of our laws.

At night, I securely lock the windows and the doors. I set the security system to engage should anyone attempt entry into my home. These days, I would not dream of leaving a window open downstairs, nor would I sleep on my lower deck no matter how inviting the night air might be.

I start creating a whole different prison system now. I am becoming more the prisoner who locks herself away so that others cannot harm me. It keeps me safe.

And this is just the physical prison I might create to keep me safe. There are intellectual and emotional prisons that I have created to keep my absolute best, most pristine essence of myself safe from harm. I know this because I am still not using all of my gifts and I am existing on the fringe of respectability within the prison of common sense.

I can hear the gasps already. Common sense? A prison!? Oh, my!

But think about it. It made perfect sense those many years ago while I was a baby, a child, a teenager, so fragile and desperately trying to survive the nuttiness that was my family in a world that made no sense to me. There was no one – read that again and believe it – NO ONE who I could turn to for help in reconciling the poverty of love, affection, and support against my parents’ admonitions that they were being good parents. They might have been in their own weird ways. They were as overwhelmed as anyone with life and had no coping skills so how could I expect them to raise me with any?

My common sense saw right through them, though, and knew that I was not in a position to be negotiating my sanity or my physical safety. My common sense ruled that I needed to stay alive. To do that, I needed to stay safe. To stay safe, I had to lock some parts of me away.

Essentially, I looked at my parents and said “it is not safe for me to look to you for that [“that” being anything along the lines of love, acceptance, nurturing, etc.], therefore, I am going to lock my need for love, acceptance, nurturing, etc., away, and I will never have it and I will always be this [“this” being lonely, unfulfilled, depressed, angry, etc.].” The keys are the decisions I made at various points in my life to deny that I needed anyone, to not display my acute intellectual point-blank opinion of how life was being run, and to not be the person I truly am.

I repeated the pattern throughout all of my relationships. If a person I love did not respond to me as I think he or she should, I would take my toys and run away. I lock my toys away from that person perhaps not realizing that I am locking the toys away from myself as well. In the end, I have to ask: Who wants to play alone?

I don’t think it is possible to imprison our true presence. Rather, we lock our human consciousness away while our presence waits patiently for us to wrestle ourselves to the ground. Well, I wrestled myself right into a place where I felt absolutely nothing.

That was a long, long time ago. For over 30 years I have been intent on finding my missing toys, my gifts that are inherently mine and no one else’s. I have found many of them locked away inside my body, inside my head, behind emotional bars of steel and walls of concrete. I used writing, art, psychotherapy, exercise, meditation, travelling, loving, accepting, and a thousand other techiques. Freedom has sometimes required a separate key for each and other times, one key unlocks a bundle of me that comes tumbling out like belongings stashed away in an overstuffed closet.

I cannot regret or waste a moment of living on wishing that anything had been different. This was my path that I chose for whatever reason. I may never know the reason, but I know this is MY path. Because it is my path, then I am the only person who can find my keys, unlock those locks, and celebrate in the joy that I still am.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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10 Responses to “The presence of prisons”

  1. holessence Says:

    “… I would take my toys and run away. I lock my toys away from that person perhaps not realizing that I am locking the toys away from myself as well. In the end, I have to ask: Who wants to play alone?”

    I love this observation! You are one heck of a wise woman — I’m so glad to know you.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — yes, I’ve been known to throw a hissy fit occasionally. While I love my solitude and do alone pretty well, life is so much more interesting, rich, and delightful with a few people thrown in to keep me on my toes.

  2. sandiwhite Says:

    Barbara, I’d say that you’ve done a fine job of raising yourself and then have the courage to go on and explore those other avenues of thought that most of us would probably not want to go down again. You are a bright and interesting personality who is constantly giving of yourself to others, shining a light to show that the way is not as scary as we might have thought. I will admit this though, now that you are so grown up, I sure do miss those music videos you used to find, with all the cute guys in them. Rock on!

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      There has got to be a way for me to load YouTube videos here. I know I can link to them . . . must study this further . . . I’ve seen it on other blogs. You say the nicest things, Sandi. Thank you for your affirmations. I am going to be peeking in on your blog here soon because I heard a rumor you were going to be writing something.

  3. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    Celebrate the Joy!

    Were we walking on that same path? Sounds to close to home to me!

    I thought you goning to talk about the Criminal System and then WHAM it hits between the eyes! Your story flows very well….


    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim — while I think that there are probably fully integrated human beings (the Dalai Lama comes to mind), I think that the human condition is one of self-imposed imprisonment. Anthony de Mello (a Jesuit priest) said that the key to enlightenment is “Awareness. Awareness. Awareness.” And with regards to the criminal prison system, nearly all of those people chose to be there, too.

  4. Gil Says:

    It is true that you can allow yourself to become imprisoned by hate and fear. I find it amazing that we live such similar lives. I read your blog every day and resonate so much with what you are saying. This morning on the TV news they were interviewing some people that know Nelson Mandela. The one guy was relating a story about Mandela when he was asked if he was angry when he was released from prison. He replied that yes he was both angry and afraid. He decided to let go of those feelings because if he held onto them he “would still be in prison”. Sunday is his birthday, I will be making a pot of soup for the homeless.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      good morning (American time which I guess is actually good afternoon African time), Gil. When I talk about how we (as humans) are doing this (i.e., living) all wrong, you pretty much nailed it. We live imprisoned by hate and fear. We have so much power to create a better life for everyone, but all of our energy is spent maintaining the current system even though history has taught us over and over that it does not work. All of this earth’s monarchies will fail and fall, and someone will come along and try to reconstruct them. It is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

  5. ntexas99 Says:

    barbara – this was an interesting look at how the prisons we construct to keep evil or danger away from us, can sometimes become the prisons we build around ourselves instead. I also liked how you said: “Freedom has sometimes required a separate key for each, and other times, one key unlocks a bundle of me that comes tumbling out like belongings stashed away in an overstuffed closet.” I love the mental picture you associated with finding personal freedom. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Nancy — I have a little essay about monsters that I need to publish here which is similar to how we lock away our toys and aspects of ourselves. Sometimes, we lock away parts of us that we think are dangerous or have been told are dangerous. We turn them into monsters that we actually become afraid of and it is usually because of something someone told us about ourselves. The unfortunate thing is that when someone tells you something about you, they are really talking about themselves else how would they recognize it in you? I’ll have to go hunting on the hard drive for that essay and take a fresh look at it.

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