The oldest man on the cell block is also a first timer who is learning how to be in the here and now.
As of October 17, 2014, I live with 18 men who range in age from late 20’s to mid 50’s and they are as diverse as the population on the streets of any large city. They are extroverts for the most part; therefore, they spend their time talking…sometimes yelling and sometimes fighting. When they all talk at the same time, the sound reverberates in this concrete box, off the walls, the floor, and the ceiling.
The sound gives me a headache. It is very similar to the sound you hear in an enclosed swimming pool or a basketball court. The noise starts at 8 in the morning and stops around 1 the next morning. I have been here for over a month and I am still not used to the CONSTANT NOISE!
I am the only one in here who has never been in jail before. When a new man arrives, it is not uncommon to see high fives and hear
“Hey, man, what did you do this time?”
This is a culture I did not know existed! And I don’t understand it, yet. These old friends seem genuinely happy to see each other. They sit for hours and reminisce about the crimes they have committed and how they are certain they will not get “caught” next time. I am continuously amazed and dazed by the community in which I find myself.
I have heard talk about how to properly burgle both a car and a home. When it comes to transporting drugs, the advice is to put them in a box that attaches to the undercarriage of your vehicle. If you get stopped, you can say
“It’s not mine, anyone could have put that there.”
Apparently since the drugs are not inside the car, it is a reasonable assumption. However, one I will not ever test! This group of men are not educated in schools as we think of them, yet they are infinitely creative and they have been well-schooled, of that there is no doubt.
At 67 years young, I am clearly the oldest tribe member. Some call me OG, which I think means “Old Guy”. Others call me “Old School”, “Pops” or “Dad”. They treat me with respect, for which I am grateful, and some seek my counsel.
From time to time, someone will approach me as I sit on my bunk. The question is asked?
“Is the doctor in?”
Sometimes this becomes a session of idle chit-chat and sometimes it’s something more heart-centered. I imagine I am thought of as someone with whom they can ease their bravado, no need to impress Pops! There are moments when I feel like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon strip; however, instead of receiving 25 cents for my time, I get an extra apple or orange, maybe a banana.
Not knowing what the future holds for me has been a real challenge! The uncertainty has driven me to depression and despair at times. A few weeks ago, my daughter sent me three small books by a Buddhist monk named Pema Chodron. I started reading When Things Fall Apart and, as I read the first chapters, I realized I was spending my waking day of 16-18 hours sitting on my bed, thinking about the past and the future. Pema suggested that I spend some time HERE in this moment of NOW.
I gave it a try and find that it is actually quite pleasant. NOW when I find myself spiraling into the past or disabled by fear about my future, I do a little mindful meditation. I cannot be “in the present” and lament the past or worry for the future at the same time! Today I am choosing…more and more…to be here and now.