I just returned home from an interesting discussion with two fellow islanders about how to use the hero’s journey to work with verterans. Is it possible that there are similiarities between prisoners and soldiers (is it possible there are similiarities between all of us?)? It seems there may be.  Stepping back from the labels of soldier and prisoner, aren’t we talking about individuals who have journeyed away from home and experienced or witnessed something that they cannot easily relate to others upon their return? That is a hero’s journey. And aren’t we talking about people who may or may not be able to see themselves as heroes? The prisoners certainly struggle with such an idea (and many of us on the outside would struggle to apply the word “hero” to a prisoner, wouldn’t we?). Where in our societal mythology relating to the story of prisoners do we ever refer to them as the hero of the story? With veterans you would think it would be obvious — of course they are heros. But do they see themselves and their experiences that way? Do they embrace the label or shy away from it? Shouldn’t we give them room to explore the issue rather than demanding they be our heroes, act as we expect a hero to act. Doesn’t a soldier have a right to his personal story? To have a story different from other soldiers? To tell a story other than the one many us of, perhaps, would be comforted to hear?

I wondered too about how difficult it must be for a veteran to choose what to share and with who. I experienced this restraint in storytelling with the men at Monroe. They have to know first that you can handle it, that what they tell you is not going to scare you away. Returning from war must be like that. I think soldiers must assume most of us cannot handle the “real” stories. And maybe we can’t. But someone has to be able to listen, someone has to be able to stand in that space with them and say, the story you have to tell me does not scare me. Someone has to say to them, tell me your story. I want to listen. Not to comment, not to judge, not even to presume to help you heal. But just listen.

The people I was talking with said, we are trying to figure out what it might really mean to support the troops once they return home. I don’t know that I can think of a more honorable way to support the troops than honoring their individual stories.  They certainly are not prisoners, and yet I bet, if you asked, you’d find most of them are familiar with feeling as if they have locked away parts of themselves. Many of them must feel the pressure of being defined by their experiences at war.

Again, I find myself thinking of prison as a state of being, not a place. What parts of ourselves do we lock away and why? What stories do we not tell and why? Who are we trying to protect? Ourselves? Our family? Society? What is the purpose of this protection? What do we fear would happen if we unlocked those stories and let them roam free for a while? What systems of support do we need to feel safe enough to speak? What systems truly rehabilitate? What systems truly heal? These aren’t just questions for the US correctional system. These are questions for each of us, everyday.

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