Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Prisoners April 25, 2013

My long time yard man is in jail again.  He had left given me a paper a few days ago with a list of treatment facilities and told me that his probation officer told him if he wasn’t signed up by the following Tuesday, it was back in the clinker for him.  The list made little sense, but I called around and discovered that a) there were no Level II treatment facilities in town and b) they cost more than he made a month, especially since he would not be able to work.  I tried to get back to his overworked probation officer, but it when I did, it didn’t change anything.  He was going back to jail.

One of my dearest friend’s husband threw her off after a twenty-five year marriage.  My friend is a gentle, bright woman, who trained in Europe to become an architect, and then got a landscape architecture degree while raising her child here.  Her husband didn’t want her to work, wouldn’t let her get a green card.  So here she is in her fifties, with a punitive ex-husband who is living with a woman her daughter’s age, and no career or means of support but a lousy low level tech job.  She is facing impoverishment.  No matter how she looks at it, there is no way out, only frustration and anger.  She feels the prison cell walls for give, for a possible way out, but can’t find one.

I’ve been sequestered indoors for a month due to allergies that add to my body’s already overburdened immune system.  Never healthy, the added feelings of illness and inability to get outside has been increasingly demoralizing.  My daily walks with my dog and  sitting in the garden have been curtailed.  These small things make my daily routine pleasant, and take me out of the kind of neurotic preoccupation with my own health ill people are prone to.  My sense of isolation increases, and I feel slapped up against my body’s limitations again.  It is hard to see a way out.  I forget that this illness waxes and wanes, and all I see are the walls coming closer.

The poet Ellen Bass, in her poem, “In Praise of Four Letter Words,” writes: In lockdown within our own skins/we’re banging on the bars with tin spoons/screaming in the only language strong/enough to convey the shock/of our painful need…..

I’m reading Bonhoeffer, the biography by Erix Metaxes.  ( Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the German theologian involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler). I’m currently at the end, when Bonhoeffer is in the Gestapo prison in Berlin.  There is a very moving description by another inmate of how, despite the fact that they were in solitary cells, the doors of the cells remained open in the morning and evening as the prisoners returned from eating and washing.  “During that time, we were eagerly talking to one another through the slits in the hinges of the doors separating us….we seized every opportunity to inform each other of our thoughts and experiences.  Only somebody who has been in strict solitary confinement is able to understand what this chance of talking to somebody meant to us during those long months….”  He goes on to report how Bonhoeffer “always cheered and comforted me…” and how he was always full of hope.”  (pgs. 498 &499).

I find this passage very moving.  I think, to some greater and lesser degrees, we are all in the solitary confinements of our own experiences, circumstances, thoughts and feelings. We can not always change the facts of our circumstances, but we can “inform each other of our thoughts and experiences….” and in this way find relief in the telling. If we can learn to be the ear the other needs, we my also give comfort.  There is always the possibility in this kind of exchange, of hope.

I am hoping my yard man is released soon, and that my friend finds a job suitable to her abilities, and that the insurance company will finally approve the treatment my doctor has been trying to get me for a year.  But in the meantime, I’m keeping the door of my cell open.   1296078708DvVAx0


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