“Leave your front door and back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.” —-Shunryu Suzuki.
Life is full of decisions no matter where you find yourself. For you the daily decisions might be what time do you get up? What should you wear today? What will you have for lunch? Will you go to the grocery store? What will you buy? Should you go to the gym today? For one such as me, it might be will I go to recreation today? will I exercise in my cell or while outside during my rec time? Will I wait all day and evening for my turn to shower? Or bathe out of my sink in my cell? Will I write a letter today? Or two or three? Will I read a novel or self help book? Maybe the newspapers and magazines I’ve let pile up? We also have major decisions to make in life. Should you go to college? which one? what; career path should you pursue? Where would you like to live? Is marriage an option for you? Do you want
children? If so how many? For me it might be do I trust my court appointed attorney? If so, should I cooperate with her? Should I accept the guards coming into my cell and confiscating my typewriter because they decide it is “altered” and thus contraband? Or should I retaliate and get into very serious trouble that could affect my daily life and legal appeal status? It is critical, life and death even to be able to evaluate the situation and options before us in the light of their potential consequences. What a blessing and benefit it is to know how to make good positive decisions in the moment. The ability to make such decisions is called wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as intelligence. Intelligence can be measured by your IQ and usually refers to your ability to learn facts. Wisdom usually comes from life experience, and is more like a skill of living, knowing how to navigate the difficulties of life in order to maximize the success resulting from your decision in life.
“Naturally…attempting to remain sane in an insane situation (such as life on Texas death row) would quickly drive one crazy. Far better to adopt a complementary approach to said situation and truly accept it, thereby sacrificing one’s sanity but retaining one’s wits.” –unknown.
I think back to when I was sent to Texas death row at the age of twenty-nine. I may have been twenty nine years old in age but closer to nineteen years old in terms of maturity. Several factors create this – DNA/genetics, I’m an American of Mexican descent, a child of two latino parents who were prone to showing their emotion. Excitable, quick to anger and always willing to argue and fight. The effect of drug use at an early age while still a child affected the development of my brain (the frontal cortex which regulates impulsive behavior) and my decision making. Not to mention the fact that I’m a ruff and tumble Texan – both me and my peers were the same in this regard, quick to perceive something as a slight or disrespect and resort to violence as the first response instead of it not being an option period.
I was that type of person when I was put in a cage on Texas death row and had to go through the process of finding some way to cope. In the beginning of my journey through this neo-concentration camp, there was no time for me to stop and weigh the consequences of the actions I was about to engage in. Some betrayal, sleight or disrespect might occur and I would impulsively respond with a negative act, but one totally accepted and even approved by society in general on Texas death row. Not to mention that we live by a unique set of rules that can be called the law of the land. #1: Never show weakness, never cry, no matter what. #2: Never snitch. Never tell the cops or guards anything, never do it no matter what. #3: Revenge. If betrayed or disrespected always get your back. Always.
As I reflect upon the rules I find they are just an extension of the rules me and my peers played the game of life by in the free world.
Now add solitary confinement to the mix and you have an insane situation without a doubt. And the thing about solitary confinement is that for many prisoner one of the side effects is an aversion to communicating with others. When in your 60 square feet cage you often feel bothered and annoyed when others try to engage in conversation with you. It feels like they are imposing on your “personal time” while in your cell. Never mind the fact that you spend literally your entire life in this tiny cage, yet it feels like they are imposing on you. And if you do not talk to friends and associates you do not know if your thoughts are balanced, if you are staying centered in what you are saying or doing, or getting sideways with it all. For me that is insanity.
And how can anyone make rational, proper decisions on what to do or what to say when enduring long term solitary confinement, a situation that has been found to be inhuman treatment – torture by human rights organizations across the world? The most insane about it all is that the devils who created this solitary confinement incarceration called administrative segregation in Texas prisons knew the effects it would have on the poor souls who were subjected to it. That’s absolute inanity. As the years would slide by I would do my best to learn and become more focused, aware and loving of a person but it was not easy. It took decades of work within myself and maturing to get to the space where I could see life, take in what was happening and have time to weigh the consequences of my actions. I’m far form perfect and seem to relapse at the worst possible times with those I love the absolute most, but I”m trying very hard. And in a lot of ways I think I continue to sacrifice part of my sanity (because I’m becoming more and more convinced that the truly sane individuals here lose their minds because they can’t cope! Can’t adapt!) to retain my wits and the ability to function in a reasonable manner. This too has come at a high price. It is difficult for me to feel balanced emotions. When I’m sad I don’t cry, I pour. when I’m happy I don’t smile, I glow. And when I”m angry, I don’t yell, I burn. Try managing that while locked in a cage 24 hours a day! Recently I’ve been working very hard on mindfully holding challenging emotions. Here of late I’ve been going through a series of earth shaking unanticipated events in my life. To the point that my entire world quakes and it is in these times that I fight with everything that I am to remain in control. One way to cope with this is to label the emotions that I am feeling, anger, fear, dread, regret, guilt, shame, grief etc.. By naming them while attending to my emotions trying to take in what I’m feeling by being specific on what I”m experiencing helps. Stomach plummeting, pulsing throughout my body that seems to come from an adrenaline rush, a flight or fight response type of situation, tightness in my chest and so on. My goal is to experience these extremely difficult emotions and allow them to pass through me life weather patterns. while doing this I am dis-identifying with said emotion. This is very difficult for a person who has issues with having balanced emotions but it is a must. I must dis-identify with these powerful thoughts and remember they are not me. They are just emotions that are passing through. And as I disentangle myself from these painful thoughts and feelings I lam going from, “This is my thoughts or emotions”, that I’m entirely caught up in to, “this thought is moving through me”. By achieving this shift in my way of perceiving life and all that is occurring I separate myself from what is painful within me, but still experience it.
For dis-identification from my painful thoughts and emotions is a must to keep me from ruining my life and the relationships I have with others. It is not easy but it is a worthy goal and I am on the way to reaching it and I’m grateful for this. For my entire life these issues with having balanced emotions has caused me pain and suffering and I’m thankful that I’ve seen the need for change and been given the tools with which to make this change a reality in my life. As I continue to go through this fire and forge process and attend to my lacking become more a more fire proof. I also develops more emotional intelligence which will allow me to be the best friend to those I love and to myself. For me my relationships with those I love is what keeps me together. I am and always have been a man who is made complete by those around him. Applying this wisdom in my life helps me make the best decisions possible. It also creates peace love, and joy as I grow more focused, aware and loving as I go!
Love Peace Hope!
Charles Don FLORES _ #999299