Notes from the Inside features writing by inmates serving time in Iowa prisons. Little Village editors have made only minor adjustments for style.
Parades, picnics, family gatherings and fireworks! All are America’s traditions that celebrate our independence on the Fourth of July. This is our national holiday recognizing our freedom. Yet exactly what does freedom mean to us as individuals? Do we live in a “free” country at all? Does government determine your freedom? Is freedom an illusion? Is there such a thing as total freedom? Some may interpret freedom as everything being allowable, including evil; but that’s not where this article is going.
There is so much diversity in our country. A spectrum of factors including people’s history, lifestyle, social status and belief systems all shaping our individual perceptions of freedom. My perspective is unique to the average American. I am a prisoner.
In youth, my perception of freedom was simple: doing and going wherever I wanted. Even as a kid, I never felt completely free. Years brought more consideration to my views. I became mindful of outside influences; laws, careers, opportunities and social ranking. Life experiences, good and bad, have changed my perception of freedom over the decades.
Today, my freedom involves physicality, mentality and spirituality. I recognize that I am part of something immensely greater than myself and all of humanity. I am one small part of all things in existence. My freedom allows me to join in the life and energy of humanity and all creation. I am active in the unending possibilities that my imagination and creativity can take me. This is huge, right? This is an awakening. It’s a total shift which loosens me from correctional or manmade constraints. My liberty reaches far past geographical boundaries or physical limitations. My independence extends beyond the limits of men or a prison cell.
I believe we are all connected in this universe. So I choose involvement with the universe around me. I desire to connect with humanity and the universe through one thought, one paragraph, one prayer, one act of kindness; resting in a beautiful sunset, swimming in the beauty of a star-filled sky or spending time with my favorite pet. The possibilities are endless. Presently, I pursue positive avenues of energy in my immediate sphere of influence. Yet this does not limit my influence to within these fences. I send out artwork, write inspirational letters to my youngest two kids. I write articles for our paper and constantly read to gain others’ wisdom for sharing later.
My freedom involves accepting my circumstances while understanding I remain able to be involved in the world beyond this prison. Instead of allowing this “time” to destroy me, it has been a means to discover a much deeper and more satisfying freedom and self-awareness. Prison has inspired the expansion of my mind — initially for the purpose of self-preservation and inner peace; yet in the end, it has led me to a deeper, more appreciative revelation of freedom, individuality and self-sufficiency that will be lasting.
I asked other prisoners their opinions regarding freedom. Mike C. said, “Being able to watch a movie or eat dinner with a loved one; simple priceless things.” Raul S. and Kenneth W. both told me their faith allowed them freedom. They said their freedom was eternal. Rick S. expressed freedom as “time with his family and a balanced life with work and play.” Shannon G. said, “to go where I choose and not let people bring me down.” Mike F. went deeper and said, “I want to be a healthy, moral, peaceful, trusting, kind and productive man in society, not accepting anything less.” One even said, “I ignore the loss of my freedom for now and I wait.”
The most powerful inhibitor of my freedom is definitely myself. My ego, selfishness, closed mindedness, intolerance, anger, frustration, guilt and envy all oppose my freedom. The single biggest force resisting my personal freedom has stemmed from one of my own choices: meth abuse. It’s not the courts, fences, laws or what other people have done to me. I was truly a prisoner in my addiction!
My freedom shouts within me and flows outward. I choose freedom. The door that opens the path to freedom for me is to constantly recognize my connection to all of humankind and the creation I exist in. Possessing the universe’s energy and applying it to my life is liberty. Independence is using everything and everyone around me as energy to be a positive force even while knowing what a tiny part of creation I am. I am self-determined to share my thoughts, ideas, skills, artwork, music or just my positive attitude with the world. I appreciate nature, peace in silence, a pouring rain, the dark of night, loving others, human engineering feats or reading some unknown’s personal victory. Freedom is absorbing the world and humanity from all the resources available to me to gain insight, understanding and knowledge about all that exists, and then sharing what I’ve gained with others. Freedom isn’t selfish individuality; it is the generosity of self with the world.
Freedom isn’t realized by a lack of physical boundaries but is born through the revelations of the universe, our understanding of others and the outward expression of our heart and spirit. Yes, I am a prisoner physically for a bit. Yet mentally and spiritually my freedom is without the limitations of space, time and materialism. No bars or razor wire fences can contain my liberty because my freedom reaches outside and beyond myself. Freedom is a mindset, a decision. My choice is to pursue it, stretch it and embrace it wherever I am. Of course I anxiously anticipate my release, but today I’m grateful for all the freedom I enjoy and hope you embrace yours also on this Fourth of July and always.
By Thomas S.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 202.