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Ed. note: Have you ever watched that lighthearted show about colors called “Orange Is The New Black?” It’s a fictional prison show. If you want to know a bit more about what really happens behind bars, please read these excerpts from my most recent letter from Gideon.
The morning in question (in the kitchen line), I had been working the key spot in the smuggling system. I won't steal. Period. I'd been subjected to a ton of verbal abuse. (I can't relate most of it here! ) Finally, I verbally snapped at the primary troublemaker, and we got in one another's faces, arguing, very intensely.
After (breakfast) service was over, I went to him and apologized for my words. (This, in itself, is unheard of, inside. One never apologizes. It is viewed as weakness or cowardice.) A few minutes later, the young man apologized to me, as well. I sat down at a table, thinking all was done.
After some time, I saw him approach me as I was still seated at the table. He told me he was still upset that I was keeping them from their “hustle.” Then he said, because I'd stood up to him, that he felt we HAD to fight anyway.
I sighed. I stood up and put my glasses on to find a passage in my prayer book. I tried to explain that we didn't have to fight, that we only had to fight if we let ego and pride be primary, that fighting is easy, but that we can rise above, and be better, be different. I looked down at the book in my hands, and opened it to find a suitable passage. I started reading aloud to him... when, according to a couple of guys who were watching us, as my head was bowed downward, he took a half-step back, wound up, and sucker punched me in the face with a left hook.
I was midsentence when I felt the crushing blow to my face, basically at my right eye. My eyeglasses were shattered, and the right lens was fragmented, with the largest piece basically pushed into my right eye. The lens sliced my face in several places under the eye. The frame cut the bridge of my nose and the temple was pushed into the upper orbit, near the eyebrow, opening up a deep cut there. Very, very annoying.
Now, I’ve taken punches before, and have been in many fights, more than most people would realize. (Government combat training, boxing, competitive martial arts, combat-arts instructor, etc.) So, I was still standing, while he danced back a couple of steps. I looked up at him, blood streaming down my face, dripping onto the floor. I sighed heavily, shook my head, and set my prayer book on the table. One of the onlookers said “Uh-oh.” I started slowly walking toward the young man as he began to retreat across the chow hall.
Larry, I can't tell you what I was going to do, just then. Honestly, I didn't know. I knew it was expected that I respond with violence. Indeed in this world, this is the smart thing, the socially accepted thing, for to not respond invites further violence in the future. A part of me wanted to hurt him because I was angry. I also felt exhausted, at my end emotionally, ready to simply sit down and give up, stop trying to be “spiritual” or “different.” There’s very little support in here for morals. I felt alone...
I kept walking. He backed away. I said “Stop. Just stop. Take a breath.” He finally stopped. (He was a little wide-eyed as I think he expected to knock me down or out.)
I said, “Are you happy?” He said, “What?” I said, “Are you happy now? Do you feel better?”
He said, “No... I feel bad, now.” I said, “Well I hope you're satisfied. Are you satisfied now or do you need to hit me again?” He said, “No, I'm good.”
Then these words came out of me... “Well, if you need to hit me again, to feel satisfied, I'll let you and I forgive you for both.”
Hmm. Then I found myself extending my hand. He flinched, then realized my palm was open, waiting for him to shake my hand. After a moment he did, then he quickly turned and walked away.
I was, frankly, surprised. If you had asked me how I'd handle such a situation a few weeks ago, I would have likely told you that I would have pounded the guy.
Perhaps, even after living all these years in a place like this, I can still let God's light and love shine through me, even when the world around me is dark and hateful.
And – if that's all true – then maybe, just maybe, we ALL can do some incredible things we tend to believe are more metaphor than real… turn the other cheek... love our enemy, pray for those who use us... give away our coat and cloak... walk according to the Spirit... respond as Jesus would, and not as the world. Perhaps we CAN.
Love and light, Gideon (Who I proudly call my friend!)
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