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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 37 AFTER THIRTEEN DAYS INSIDE A CELL, all I wanted to do when I got outside was look up at the blue sky. It would have been nice to enjoy a passing cloud, a bird in flight, or the wind rustling through the trees on a distant hill. But I was one of more than a hundred inmates—for us, looking up was forbidden. We had our hands cuffed be- hind our backs, and for every pair of us there was a tactical team member dressed in riot gear, carry- ing a heavy stick. “Keep your eyes on the ground,” these tact mem- bers barked as we filed out of the cell house. Then, outside, we were escorted through a gauntlet of even more tact members who were stomping a black-booted march all the way to the chapel at the far end of the institution. Just ahead of me I could hear the labored breathing of my fif- ty-eight-year-old celly as he half shuffled, half limped along, try- ing to keep up with the line. I could only imagine the pain he was in, forced as he was to keep his eyes glued to the ground de- spite a broken neck for which the institution had done noth- ing in the past five years except give him ibuprofen and a neck brace. Would he actually make the walk to chapel? And what if he didn’t? Would he be dragged off to the side of the line or left where he lay for the rest of us to step over? There was no telling. Once we were inside the chapel, the tact team officers led us single file into the main auditorium and into our waiting seats. Then they bellowed at us to sit back—a particularly sadistic thing to order, because leaning against the backrest meant the steel cuffs binding our wrists dug mercilessly into our flesh. Since the cuffs had not been double-locked, I quickly realized that as powerless as I was to loosen them, it was regrettably easy to tighten them if I sat back too fast. “Look at your feet,” the of- ficers barked again. For the next thirty-five or forty minutes we sat there uncom- fortably, with the chapel fans pointed away from us and toward the clusters of officers. Within minutes my shirt was soaked through with sweat. The poor guy next to me was so badly off that he was trying to wipe his eyes with a raised knee—an exer- cise in acrobatics that did not go unnoticed by the officers who belted out an order for him to “sit the fuck back!” Several thoughts rolled through my head. First was the fact that none of us being put through this ordeal had actually done anything to warrant it. The Department of Corrections was sim- ply grandstanding in response to an incident for which those re- sponsible had long since been taken to segregation or transferred out of the institution. The second thing I thought—which I often think at times like this—was that, whether I directly deserved it or not, the very fact that I’d committed a crime that landed me behind bars meant I’d have to go through things like this from time to time. Like it or not, this was part of the life I had earned for myself. Welcome to karma. And lastly, I thought about how I had an obligation to live what I had earned as fully as I could. At the moment, it happened to be rather difficult. So I decided to sit with the difficulty, opening myself as fully as possible to my situation, whether that was the numbness growing in my fingers due to the cuffs, or the almost jo- vial banter of the officers as they picked several inmates out of the crowd for a strip search, or the groans, coughs, and covert attempts at shifting positions that everyone was making around me. Sitting with Difficulty Prisoner SCOTT DARNELL finds compassion on the inside. SCOTT DARNELL is a prisoner at the Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois. PHOTOBYLEONARDFREED/MAGNUM NOV 18-39.indd 37 NOV 18-39.indd 37 9/1/08 12:18:40 PM 9/1/08 12:18:40 PM