I AM AN INMATE IN MY
WHO AM I?
I am a volunteer at a maximum security prison in Jackson, Michigan. For ten years I have been teaching a weekly course designed to give my students greater inner freedom through self-control. After I put my belongings in a locker, I’m wanded, go through the metal detector, and I’m issued a panic alarm for my belt. Then the 1-inch-thick iron gate rolls shut behind me and I am within an atmosphere of power and a technology of control. I have signed away my freedom while I am inside. I am under the control of the system. I must do as they direct. This is not anonymous power. Once while attempting to gain entry to a class in a prison in Pennsylvania, because of mistaken identity, I was strip searched. If you teach “self-control” one must be able to practice what you teach.
WHY AM I HERE?
There is no obligation for inmates to attend my class. No college credits. I am a volunteer and unpaid. There are no rewards for attending. In a sphere of control and power, where men earn time off for good behavior or must attend court-stipulated programs about addiction, anger management, and so forth, they choose my class freely. Some think it will be entertaining, but it’s not. It’s a ten-week course and, by the end, only about 25% of the original enrollees remain. The exercises are simple, but self-control means controlling your responses to outer pressures and impulses from within. It takes a lot of practice. The exercises were created by Rudolf Steiner: control of feelings, control of thinking, control of will (or equanimity), positivity, open mindedness and then balancing all five at the same time.
I teach this course because I practice along with the inmates. After all, I am an inmate in my own self-created power systems: marriage, a family and a job. And I live in our modern, “free” society.
WHAT DO I WANT?
This is an age of power. But every age has its own Medusas of power who attempt to control the hearts and minds of men.
Anonymous power in media and technology is every bit equal to the power of prison walls. Satellites whiz overhead and create an unseen and unknown net around us for purposes of control that we can’t even imagine.
And we who are not behind walls are impulsive. We may be too quick to give away our freedom when we hear the words “I love you,” and find ourselves held captive in abusive relationships.
And men and women sadly give up their freedom, their fortune, their families and their lives for heroin or other addictive drugs, liquor, or cigarettes. My state, Vermont, now has an epidemic of babies being born who are addicted to heroin and not by their choice.
Viktor Frankl survived the Nazi concentration camps and discovered a place of freedom in the human soul, a place of personal power in which we all can be free. The men I met in prison began to rediscover their power through self-control, but, as I said, it takes a little practice. They also discovered one another, and a little dose of community gave them encouragement and hope. Perhaps the second secret about overcoming power and finding freedom is community. That takes practice, too. And a whole lot of self-control.
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