Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Indecent Exposure

"Frankl came away from Auschwitz convinced that there are two basic types of people: decent ones or indecent ones. Here's the interesting thing, decency and indecency do not fall along national political lines. There were decent Nazi guards just as there were indecent inmates." --Oliver Thomas (USA Today)

I'm not comparing this state penitentiary to a Nazi prison camp, but as I read this paragraph today in my newspaper I thought, "Couldn't have said it better myself."

I've been struggling a bit lately dealing with my anger when I come across an "indecent" personality. First of all, we all have our own perceptions of what defines "decent" along with "indecent." Some of my associates both in prison and out are most likely considered "indecent" by someone's moral standards. In fact, I think it's fair to say everyone on this planet has been thought of as indecent at one point in their life or another. But what is it that actually defines a decent or indecent person?

In the past I've mysteriously embraced a life of crime. I've done some things that most definitely had more negative effects than positive. I've run drugs and guns, stolen things and have sabotaged many would-be meaningful relationships in the name of drugs, alcohol and the instant gratification of selfish oblivion. I trashed excellent job offers, abandoned musical and artistic talents, not to mention a wonderfully "decent" family. Am I a decent person? I still think so.

I sit in a cell now 23 hours a day. My fate depends on my arch enemies - correctional officers. They bring me food, books, paper, pens and toilet paper. They bring me clean sheets and clothes. They walk me to a phone to call friends and family five times a week and to shower three times a week. Every time I leave my cell it's in handcuffs. I'm paying my debt. My "indecent" behavior has caught up with me.

I haven't felt the sun on my face going on seven months. I'm allowed two books and two newspapers/magazines in my cell at a time. I love to read. There's a hole in my wall, so sometimes I talk for hours with my neighbor. His name is Thumper. He's been incarcerated for five years and in all that time he's been visited only once. I'd say he's a "decent" enough guy. Some of the interests we share are in politics, history and exercising. We exercise a lot.

I thought it would be nice to choose a book and then both get a copy of it sent in. We planned to read during the day and have a discussion regarding what we read at night. Kind of like a book club. We chose an anchor of a book on the old British prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Since Thumper doesn't have much, if any, family support, I asked my family to send him his copy. I received my copy a few weeks ago and we've been awaiting the arrival of his. Today the property officer, a guy named Gonzales, came up to my cell and instantly began to play what I call "cops and robbers." He started ridiculously interrogating me about the book as if Winston Churchill had recently transformed into a bag of crystal meth. He asked why my family sent us both a copy. I told him it was none of his business. He stormed off, refusing to give Thumper his copy. No more book club. That, my friends, is what I call a prime example of an "indecent" person... to say the very least.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ship of Fools - on Vonnegut's Galapagos

"Leon! Leon! Leon!" he implored. "The more you learn about people, the more disgusted you'll become. I would have thought that your being sent by the wisest men in your country, supposedly, to fight a nearly endless, thankless, horrifying and finally pointless war (emphasis: Vietnam) would have given you sufficient information into the nature of humanity to last you throughout all eternity!

"Need I tell you that these same wonderful animals which you apparently still want to learn more and more about, are at this very moment proud as punch to have weapons in place, all set to go at a moments notice, guaranteed to kill everything?

"Like the people on this accursed ship, my boy, they are led by captains who have no charts or compasses, and who deal minute to minute with no problem more substantial than how to protect their own self-esteem."

These words spoken to the haunting narrator, Leon Froutsky Trout of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Galapagos, by his even more dead father, Kilgore Trout, are part of his plea to Leon to end his days of haunting the world as a curious decapitated ghost and join him by agreeing to enter the squirming blue tunnel into the afterlife.

"Had enough of the ship of fools, my boy? You come to Papa right now. Turn me down this time and you won't see me again for a million years."

None of us knows exactly, if it does exist, what awaits us in the afterlife. But imagine for a minute you are Leon, a conscious if not living soul, having been undead for some time already when your father appears in a blue portal for the fourth time begging for you to leave at once this senseless, confusing, at times diabolical "ship of fools" and join your family and friends in something that might or might not be paradise, but is certainly the answer to that internationally common question, "What happens after we bite the dust?" What would you do? If I had to guess, I'd say most of us would gladly skip into the portal without thinking twice or even looking back.

As it turns out, this is a much more difficult decision for our friend Leon the Ghost, and whose second option - to continue haunting the Earth for at least another million years - might hold the answer to the equally as popular, possibly as important question, "Why are we here?" To Leon this question is much more interesting than the former, and he is willing to pay the million years of ghostly existence to research the paradox of human nature.

And a paradox it is. I love the perceptions Vonnegut shares on human nature. Some are pessimistic and most are critical and sarcastic, but in my eyes, overall soothingly funny. He has the effect of say George Orwell's 1984 while replacing the headache with a gut laugh.

Unfortunately, the human race is far from perfect. We all might have given up on the idea of a paradise utopia. But does this mean the world is any less lovely? Sure there's alot out there that isn't right. Nobody would choose genocide of peace if they had a choice (save a few particularly special maniacs.) But that is essentially human nature - Insanity. We are all a maniac at one point or another. We are capable of atrocious actions and thoughts while at the same exact time beings just as capable of beautiful, loving deeds. It's the process of denying this inevitable oxymoron that hurts people the most.

It's ok you didn't think a joke was funny (Could you help it?) It's ok that you slept in all day long. It's ok that you're not really sure if there's a God listening to your prayers. Quit worrying about that look someone gave you. Quit losing sleep over the atom bomb. There's a whole lot more fish in the sea... That could have been you... We've all messed up sometimes, ok? Give yourself a hug.