Hi folks, I woke up from a series of rather unpleasant dreams one morning and one of the big images that came to mind was that of a prison and a maximum security prisoner, and while I've been wanting to write about something to do with this topic for a while, the whole thing poured out of my mind rapidly and rather forcefully, and I knew I had a multi-part series on my hands again.
This part will deal with what I typically think of when I hear the word 'prison', a place of containment, of limitation. Future parts will discuss other aspects of prisons that we might imagine when we think of incarceration. It is also important to note that everything discussed here is a creation inside my own mind and was created by myself almost exclusively.
You'll have to bear with me though, I'm going to be more open than I have been in the past. I want to be... I have to be. Even while writing this I read another post that encouraged me to just let myself be known. So here it is, some days I just feel trapped inside my own mind and here's what I'm going to try to do about it.
When I imagine a prison, the first thing that comes to mind is bars and walls, sometimes steal bars and sometimes solitary confinement boxes made from concrete. It doesn't matter too much however, because the point is that these are a tool to contain the occupant. My container is not made of steel or mortar but instead it's made of lies and false beliefs, it's what prevents me from being able to reach out and fully engage with the freedom on the other side of the container, because that's the purpose of prison walls, to separate the occupant from the freedom of the outside world.
My history is what it is, I don't talk about specifics much, but I feel that to provide the context I need to be open about what it is that my cage is composed of.
I was bullied at school, a lot, by the time I was 16 and leaving school it had become a daily thing, it was verbal, emotional, psychological and physical. The guys would trip me to the ground and kick me while I was down, punch me in the gut as I passed. In gym class, one dude would pin my arms behind my back as the others would take turns punching me in the stomach, where no one would see the bruises.
The girls were no better, one time a girl invited me to join her at an event, only to later turn around and exclaim "I was only kidding, like I'd invite you anywhere!", many girls in fact would pretend to talk to me and express concern, only to not talk to me the next day, or simply spread rumours about me throughout the school.
If one member of a social group had fallen out of favour with their usual group of friends, they'd sit with me for the day, much to my annoyance, I knew they were only sitting next to me, because sitting next to me was better than sitting alone. Well, to them at least, I didn't enjoy their company much.
I don't remember much of this at all, the memories occasionally come back when I'm dreaming, but for the most part they have been expunged from my concious mind.
At college, I was ferried to and from the campus by buses that the college provided and someone decided to set my hair on fire. This placed the lives of 60 other students at risk because the seats were highly flammable and had the individual been careless the whole bus might have gone up in flames.
At university someone I passed in the street smashed my face in for no reason.
Another time, supposed "friends" left me with a concussion and forty minutes of lost memories on my own, the injury occurred in the context of a uni social event and if I was taken to A&E their insurance premium would go up. I had to be escorted to A&E after the event had formally ended.
That is what it is and it can't be changed.
The result is that unfortunately, I don't know exactly when, but I began to realise I believed the lies that had been spoken over me or that I had determined based on the behaviours I was used to and I found patterns in the events that I experienced.
That I'll never be smart enough.
That I'll never be strong, or fast or tough.
That I'll always be unwelcome and unwanted.
That I'll always be unloved and unappreciated.
That I'm not important.
That anything bad that happens to me is deserved.
That no-one really cares.
Right now, in this moment as I write this, I believe these words are axiomatic.
And that's wrong.
Each lie, each little whispered word of pain is another bar, another limitation in my life, another steel obstacle that I can't get over, around or through.
Eventually, so many form around you that you are, surrounded by them and you find that you can see glimpses of the free life that you're always supposed to have... It just feels like you're kicking and punching and shoulder barging yourself against the inside of your own head, trying to grasp the freedom that you know you're supposed to have.
It gets tiring, it really does.
The question is, how to we begin to disassemble the prison from the inside out?
At this point, I think the first thing I'm choosing to do is begin by looking at the bars, what are they made of? What weaknesses do the walls have? Can a rock hammer slowly chip away at the stone, piece by piece?
Remember how I said the bars were lies?
That's how I'm tackling this. Even if the lesson I learned is 'truth' there's still an inherent lie, the lie that states that the particular truth can separate me from the life I'm supposed to be living. It can't. We are more than conquerors, and we can't be separated from God.
Romans 8:37-39 reads: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I mean, that's pretty explicit and does cover the physical as well as the mental prisons I imposed upon myself: "Nor anything else in all creation", that's got everything covered.
The first step in breaking tearing down the prison in my mind is to begin by realising that God is bigger than the prison I am in and it is important to note that Acts 16:26 details the fact that Paul and Silas were in prison, and they were praising. This forms the second part of an escape strategy, because I'm pretty sure that Paul and Silas lived with the knowledge that God was bigger than the situation they found themselves in and God showed up, freeing them from the containment they found themselves in.
Or more concisely:
#1: Know that God is bigger than the prison we find ourselves in.
#2: Praise God in the midst of your incarceration.
#3: Wait for God to show up and break the doors wide open.
It's hard to keep all this in mind when your prison exists mentally, but it's absolutely essential and it's something I know I need to hold myself to doing each and every day. My head is a mess at the best of times and even when remembering what I have to do, I want to scream inside my own head and smashing against my own limitations from the inside, but it's not going to help.
It doesn't help.
Only God can.
Til next time folks.