In July of 1990 I was released from a county jail on an island after serving ten days as a federal prisoner for illegal trespass on a naval subase to raise concsiousness about possession and deployment of nuclear weapons. I was inmate number four in a cell block intended for three. Constant chatter, and piped in heavy metal music from the likes of The Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, provided a fitting backdrop for drug dealers, identity thieves and pacifists. Or so they thought. I coped by sitting on the floor against the gray cinder block wall and breathing myself to an inner world beyond the mayhem. “You’re meditating, aren’t you? Cool. What ya in for?” my companions asked. One day they brought in a sorry excuse for library books, one of them scarred with horrific racial slurs. I slipped it to the guard and asked her to remove it. She did. Ten days passed quickly. It was nothing.
On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island Prison in South Africa after surviving twenty-seven years. It was a sacred and unbelievable survival. One wall of his tiny cell had been painted white to reflect the blazing South African sun. Mandela walked out partially blinded. This was one of their more subtle tortures. With concentrated effort, I could shut out mayhem for ten days. I didn’t suffer constant torture and debasement. It was nothing. Mandela held onto these words from the poem, “Invictus” to hold him together in his suffering. While they could touch his body, they could not touch his soul, if he did not allow it. I am in awe of his strength and commitment. Amanda!
Invictus – the poem
by William Earnest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
photo credit: http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1374898/nelson-mandelas-struggle-freedom-inspired-world