Greetings! Today I’m sharing a blog post from a favorite blogger of mine. (With his permission)
I hope that you find it’s message as timely as I did.
This Is What a Prisoner Knows About Life | John P. Weiss – Blog
This Is What a Prisoner Knows About Life
Sometimes dreams don’t come true. The best of plans unravel and life takes you on an unwanted detour.
For Benjamin Foster, that detour led straight to the Barstow County Correctional Center. As most prisoners know, “correctional center” is just a softer word for “prison.”
Benjamin used to be a good kid. He played little league and was a decent student. He loved computers and drawing and dreamed of becoming a video game designer.
But things changed. His Dad ran off with his secretary. After his parents divorced, Benjamin lived with his mother. Dad infrequently visited and Mom had to work more to make ends meet.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop
Benjamin used to walk home after school and usually had the house to himself. He’d try to get his homework done but often got distracted with television and doodling.
Then one day after school he ran into Sid, a fellow high school student who lived in the neighborhood. Soon the two were inseparable. It wasn’t long before Sid introduced Benjamin to alcohol and marijuana.
Benjamin’s grades began to slip and arguments ensued with his mother. She lacked the support needed to raise Benjamin.
Marijuana and alcohol led to mushrooms, LSD, rave parties and then methamphetamine. Benjamin’s life was quickly unraveling.
They say idle hands are the devil’s workshop. If that’s true, then methamphetamine is the fuel that powers the devil’s workshop. Benjamin’s addiction to meth led to shoplifting, burglary, and crime.
Benjamin’s mother was at her wit’s end. Her son had been in and out of Juvenile Hall and even participated in a substance abuse program. But it was all to no avail.
In his early twenties, Benjamin worked part-time at a car wash. The perfect place to deal drugs. Until he got ripped off by some dangerous clients and ended up owing money to his suppliers.
The bank robbery was supposed to be the answer to Benjamin’s predicament. How could he know two off duty cops would be in the bank that day.
The court process played out and Benjamin’s public defender did what she could. In his favor was the fact that Benjamin hadn’t used a gun (only pretended to have one) and didn’t hurt anyone.
Benjamin’s mother cried at sentencing and when her son was escorted out of the courtroom in chains. He was sent to Barstow County Correctional Center. He was no longer Benjamin Foster.
He was now Inmate 27409.
Prison frightened Benjamin. Everywhere there were hardened men with tattoos, built-up bodies and hidden alliances.
The prison noise was relentless. Alarms, slamming doors, arguments, buzzers, screams and yelling. A concrete hell.
Navigating this new world required effort, luck, observation, bartering and time. Unfortunately, his four-year sentence provided plenty of time.
Benjamin sought jobs that helped him stay out of trouble and pass the time. His favorite job was working in the prison library.
Years later, he would reflect that the job in the library probably saved his life. Because that’s where he met “Rembrandt.”
Benjamin’s first encounter with Rembrandt was near the rear of the prison library. It was there that Benjamin found this seventy-two-year-old inmate, seated at a desk with several art books opened around him. Also on the desk was a sketchbook filled with amazing pencil drawings.
Benjamin struck up a conversation with the old man and learned that everyone called him “Rembrandt.”
“It’s funny because I don’t even paint,” Rembrandt told Benjamin. “The prison budget cut back on paints, so all I’ve got are sketchbooks and pencils!”
“Yeah, but those drawings are amazing,” Benjamin offered.
“I like to copy from the masters. John Singer Sargent. Caravaggio. You can learn so much from these old artists,” Rembrandt said.
Old letters and regrets
It wasn’t long before Benjamin and Rembrandt struck up a friendship. Rembrandt was sort of like a father to Benjamin. Especially since Benjamin never heard from his deadbeat Dad.
“I told you about my robbery, but I don’t think you told me your story?” Benjamin cautiously asked Rembrandt one day in the exercise yard.
“Murder. I caught my wife having an affair with a coworker. I suspected it for some time. But then one day I found her car parked at a motel.” Rembrandt shook his head.
“That’s terrible. I’m sorry.” It was all Benjamin could think to say.
“Back then I was an alcoholic. I was drunk. I kicked in the motel door and lunged at the dude. We fought. He fell, I grabbed this marble statuette in the room and bashed it on the guy’s skull. Killed him instantly.”
Rembrandt looked at Benjamin and added, “And that was that. The prosecution said it was premeditated. I got 30 years. My wife left me. I had a grown daughter, Sarah, but I lost her too.” Rembrandt swallowed hard.
“I’m sorry. What happened to Sarah?” Benjamin asked.
“Oh, mostly time and disappointment, I guess. She used to visit every other month and tell me about life back home. But then she’d just write. For a while, anyway. Now she’s down to only Christmas cards.”
Rembrandt sat on the yard bench beside Benjamin and looked him directly in the eyes. “Benjamin, it’s okay. I’m at peace with it all now. I may only have old letters and regrets left of my family, but they have their own lives to live. I have my art and faith in God.”
“I wish I could get where you are, Rembrandt. I used to have dreams, but I’m stuck here for three more years,” Benjamin said.
“Well, Benjamin, if you’d like, I’ll share with you some hard-earned prison wisdom. I’ve come up with five life strategies that work both inside and outside prison. I think they can help you.” Rembrandt smiled at Benjamin.
“I can use all the help I can get,” Benjamin said.
The next day in the prison library Rembrandt opened up a notebook in front of Benjamin. On the page Rembrandt had written his five life strategies:
- Let go
- Forgive yourself
- Own it
- Emotional maturity
- Give thanks
As Benjamin gazed at the list, Rembrandt spoke. “When I got to prison I started to notice something. All the newbies were tense, nervous, angry. You could see it on their faces. They were grappling with fear, but more than that. They realized all the things they lost on the outside. Affection, status, approval.”
“Yeah, that hit me too,” Benjamin said.
“What happens in prison is that we build mental toughness to survive. Our worlds shrink to television, exercise, reading, maybe chess. But over time we realize we never had much control over our lives. Even on the outside.We learn to let go. The guys in here that learn to let go, they’re relaxed. They smile more. Letting go and acceptance can be freeing.”
Rembrandt pointed at his list and said, “Number two is forgiveness. For yourself and others. If we keep blaming ourselves and others, it’s like emotional quicksand. It will consume us. Forgiveness opens the door to personal growth.”
“Third is learning to own your own life. Too many people blame everyone else. Most of our lives reflect our own choices. Yet people constantly deny this. They blame their spouses, children, parents, bosses.”
“Yeah, I’m guilty of that one,” Benjamin said. “I still blame my Dad.”
“Your father has his own demons,” Rembrandt said. “You know why I love the library? It’s not just art books. I like to read the classics. All the stuff I should have read when I was young. Greater minds than ours have left wisdom on how to live life, but we’re too busy being petty and superficial to go deeper.”
Rembrandt returned to the list. “Fourth on the list is emotional maturity.How I wish I understood this years ago. Emotional maturity means not making excuses for yourself, taking responsibility and avoiding the shortcuts in life.”
“And last but not least,” Benjamin said as he read number five, “Give thanks.”
Rembrandt closed the notebook and said, “Yep, gratitude is frequently forgotten. We grouse about everything. The food. Traffic. Our lousy bosses. We complain with such indignation. Well, how would your petty complaints sound to some guy in the terminal cancer ward? Or to a couple who just lost a child in an accident? Learn to give thanks for your health, your life and talents.”
Benjamin put his hand on Rembrandt’s shoulder and said, “Thank you, my friend.”
The angels closed their eyes
In his remaining years at Barstow Correctional Center, Benjamin adopted Rembrandt’s five life strategies. He studied daily in the library, consuming classic books. He began a course of study in computer science and design.
Rembrandt passed away six months before Benjamin’s release from prison. Benjamin mourned his friend’s death but felt a deep sense of gratitude for all Rembrandt taught him.
Benjamin wrote letters to people he hurt in his life. He wrote to his father to forgive him. He wrote to Sid and shared Rembrandt’s wisdom. He even wrote to Sarah, Rembrandt’s daughter, to tell her who her father became.
As Benjamin signed the forms and changed into civilian clothing, he said a quiet prayer of thanks to Rembrandt.
In the prison parking lot, Benjamin’s mother said a prayer of her own. A prayer of hope, that Benjamin had changed. A prayer for the future.
As Benjamin and his mother drove out of the parking lot, the angels closed their eyes. They said a prayer of thanks and redemption for the prisoner, Rembrandt. For in saving the life of Benjamin, Rembrandt had saved his own soul.
(Originally published at FineArtViews.com)
Elegant writing & fine cartoons
- Let go
- Forgive yourself
- Own it
- Emotional maturity
- Give thanks
Much to think about.
Until next time …