As I’ve said before…
When I was 23 years old I had the good and bad fortune of getting arrested in Greece during a military dictatorship. Here’s another story about this time in my life.
I fully realize the tone of my prison stories are rather different than what I usually write about. These stories might not be comfortable reading for you, but I hope they help you learn some of the same life affirming lessons I did at that time.
2. The math just doesn’t add up
There I am, my first day in jail in Greece…
Trusting no one.
Not even myself.
A guy ambles over and offers me a cigarette, as he simply says, “Hi, how ya doin?”
I wasn’t a smoker in those days, but somehow a cigarette seems like a good idea, and I reach for one as I answer “Fine.”
In retrospect my reply amuses me, because “fine” could not have been further from the truth.
My new found friend introduces himself as Gus, and says he learned English by working as a deckhand on cargo ships.
As I offer nothing in the way of matches,
Gus lights my cigarette and then his own as he gently says,
“If you don’t have your own cigarettes, you should at least have your own matches.” “Lighting the other person’s cigarette is a sign of respect, and in here it’s good to let people know you respect them.”
I’m thankful for his advice, and at the same time surprised by his kindness.
“How did you wind up in here?” Gus asks.
“Oh” I say, “Sort of a long story. How about you?”
Me?” Gus says, before taking a long drag on his cigarette,
“I’m a drug addict.”
His eyes are friendly yet intense as he looks at me, and I get a sense he’s trying to measure my response.
“You see, the more drugs you do the more money you need. When you’re doing drugs, you can’t afford to be poor.”
“But the more drugs you do, the less able you are to work and make money. The math never adds up, and that’s how you wind up in jail.”
Usually I’m a rather talkative guy, but in this instance I have no idea how to respond. So I take a drag on my cigarette, try my best to not cough, and say “Hmm.”
“I’m not sure if it’s the drugs that keep me feeling strung out, or just that I can no longer see myself having a regular job and getting up early every morning. I have no sense of a future that might actually work for me.”
“That’s why being in jail is helpful. It slows me down, and gives me a chance to think about what I really want.”
“If the government would give me a daily ration of drugs, I’d be quite happy staying in jail.”
“There’s a lot less stress when I’m here, because I don’t need to worry about what will happen, and what I need to do to stay out of trouble. I don’t need to try and do away with my illness. I don’t need to try and be healthy.”
“Yet when I’m not in jail I spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to stay away from here.”
“Is any of this making sense to you?” he asks.
“I know what I’m saying doesn’t really add up, but somehow it makes sense to me.” “Maybe that’s my problem. The fact that what makes sense to me, doesn’t really make sense.”
“Being healthy is beyond what I feel capable of. Having this illness is the only thing I seem to know. The only thing I wind up believing in.”
I take one last drag on my cigarette, toss it to the ground and snuff it out with my foot. I know he’s said something profound, and yet I’m quite clear the math just doesn’t add up. His words sound quite logical, and yet his words don’t match his emotional experience. To some degree that’s a challenge all of us sometimes face.