In 2015 I taught black men in medium and maximum security prisons. I taught them African-American literature, and though I was commissioned to teach as if we were in college more times than not we would have counseling sessions. Literature has the power to free the oppressed, I’ve learned that during my time with the incarcerated, but I didn’t realize the connections to my life until I stopped teaching those brilliant minds. Literature, made in the image of God’s word has the freeing power because it is from the I Am.
I’ve been imprisoned to so man things over the span of my life, things that I never thought I could break free from such as sexual immorality, profanity, and even occasional stealing when I was younger. No matter how steep I would be in the act, at some point I would rise above it. Physically being in prison, teaching those men put my life in perspective. It taught me that I could be bound and liberated simultaneously depending on my perspective.
When I would enter into the prison I would turn in my keys and I.D to the prison desk and wait to be escorted back into the classroom. Once I handed over my identifiers I became a number just like the inmates. I was often referred to as a J1 (personnel–a free person entering in and out of the prison walls). Officers were responsible for me and at all times I must submit to their command. So, though I was a teacher who willingly went inside the prison, once I handed over my personal items I was on the same playing field as the inmates. Willingly I came in and unwillingly I left sometimes.
This is how much of my spiritual decisions worked: willingly I would commit a sin or do something I knew I had no business of doing and unwillingly I would stop doing it. The cycle of walking in and out, being in something but not being of it, knowing the truth but the reality looks frighteningly different. Double consciousness sets in when we know one thing but we are perceived to be something else. Though outwardly people would place identifiers upon my person I knew that I wasn’t what they were saying.
But there were several times where I myself placed those identifiers. Attempting to be someone I wasn’t, look a certain ways, behave like certain people. I became imprisoned to the thoughts and objections to people I didn’t really know. I taught to conform and I was their prisoner until they decided to let me free from their gaze. Losing yourself is a tragic task but not being able to relocate yourself is even worst. There are moments in everyone’s life where we ascribe to ideals that don’t sustain u. If we’re lucky we will catch it soon, but if we aren’t we entrap ourselves. There is no formula to getting free from those things that so easily beset us, it is a simple yet complex decision. You can choose to be free but it is after you’ve made the choice that the journey begins.