1. Background Statement
About thirty seven years ago I was both unlucky and lucky enough, to be incarcerated for five months in a Greek prison during a military dictatorship. Myself and many other foreigners were swept up by the military government in an attempt to rid the country of “undesireables”.
I say “unlucky” because even though I was never charged with a crime, I was forced to live in harsh and dangerous prison conditions. I say “lucky” because I met some of the finest people in the world while in jail, and learned much that has sustained me in the rest of my life.
I’ve decided to finally share some of my Greek stories with you, in the hope that you might benefit from what I learned “the hard way.”
I would love some feedback to get a sense of how these stories reach you and touch you. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s story is offered as a gift to S. Roger and C. Scott.
2. On becoming a man
My first day in jail I met an unshaven Greek man in his sixties. I had been placed in a holding cell, and spent 48 hours with this gentleman by the name of Stephan, and one other man. As it turned out, Stephan wound up in the same prison as me, and he was to become my benefactor and friend.
After sizing me up for an hour or so and saying nothing, Stephan sidled up alongside of me and offered the following gems of wisdom.
“You’ll need to learn quickly in here” he said, “You have no choice.”
“Life is not fair. If anyone led you to believe it’s supposed to be, then they’ve badly misled you. Getting angry about what’s unfair will not serve you. When you hear an angry voice in your head, know it as an enemy. Anger will only tend to make you act without wisdom.”
“If you’re not angry then you’ll tend to have a good relationship with time. In jail, time is an ally. Time is all you have and you have to spend it wisely. When you’re not angry and you’re getting along well with time, you’ll tend to get along well with people. Good relationships and strong bonds of friendship are crucial.”
“If you’re in a good relationship with time and people, you’ll tend to be more patient. Patience is another important ally. The more you try and hurry the more likely you are to stumble. If you’re patient you’ll have more peace of mind, and you might even occasionally feel happy. The more you watch others who are impatient and try to rush things, the more you’ll understand that impatience is a cousin of fear.”
“It’s important to cultivate a heart that’s free from fear. When you’re fearful you won’t have the courage it takes to defend yourself and do what’s right. Fear is not something you will easily overcome but you need to do your best no matter what, because you’ll need to learn to endure pain and suffering rather than trying to run away from it. There is no place to run.”
“When you’re fearful you lose the ability to speak the truth at the times when truth is most important. In here you’re going to need to learn how to live amongst thieves, murderers, and con artists. These people will talk all sorts of nonsense to try and get what they want from you. Because of this it’s important you speak in a clear and simple manner, so people can feel the truth of your words. You need to defend the truth as if it was your child.”
“It’s not the bars on the windows and doors that keep you in jail, but rather the thoughts you hold in your head and in your heart. If you want to be free, you need to be thankful for the time you have to spend here. I really mean that! You need to have a sense of gratitude no matter what happens, and express your thanks by being kind to other people. You see, it’s the expression of gratitude and kindness that will strengthen you to endure physical and emotional hardships. Gratitude and kindness reconnect you to the spirit that animates all of life. In the process you learn that even as there might be more pain and suffering in the future, there will also be more of you.”
“And finally, it’s important to know it’s a strength to weep for others, while all the time never feeling sorry for yourself.”
Stephan paused and stared into my eyes.
“Take some time with all that I say here. Sit by yourself if you need to. Breathe deeply and take in the signs of life and spirit, that are all around you. Find a way to ask for the things that cannot be spoken of in words.”