Enemies, allies and tests

Posted: September 6, 2008 in prison, general

This week we talked with the guys about the stage of the journey when the hero has crossed over the thresold from the ordinary world to the new world where he will finally begin his adventure. Upon arriving in this new world the hero has to as quickly as possible orient himself to the ways of the new world, assess new people he meets as to whether they are friend or foe and then face many new tests as he begins his journey in this new place. Chris Vogler writes of this phase of the journey, “here the hero is a freshman all over again in this new world.”

I wrote in the previous post that I feel prison is a good example of crossing a threshold into a new world. These men literally walk through a set of doors and are surrounded by new rules, new expectations and new people. No one knows who is a friend or who is an enemy. New prisoners come and go. Guards rotate assignments frequently. There is order and there is chaos all at the same time. It is important to find your allies. It’s also important to identify your enemies. There are the prison rules and then there are the prisoner rules. Don’t cut in the chow line, for example, is an offense punishable by violence.

Much like being a freshman these guys have to try and establish their place within the prison hierarchy. Power is as important on the inside as it is on the outside. Having the right kind of power can keep you safe and make the time easier. Not having power makes you vulnerable and a target.

I’ve been thinking since Wednesday about how so many of us look forward to new adventures, leaving our old worlds behind and striking out on our own to do something new. Prison is clearly not that sort of adventure, yet some who find themselves behind the walls learn just as much, if not more, than those of us who have the freedom to choose our next path (and yes, I understand that in some way the men do choose prison by making the choice to commit a crime). It’s not all the men who struggle to come out better than they went in. I’m even willing to admit it’s probably a small percentage of the prison population. But I can’t get over the fact that the men who come to our group come because they are trying to answer the questions how the hell did I get here? and how the hell do I make sure I never have to come back? And isn’t that what we on the outside want them to be asking? Aren’t those the questions we want to encourage? If so, then someone has to be there to listen and to encourage them to keep asking. Just keep asking.

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