Why Exist?


Why Exist?

Throughout the years of my unjust incarceration in Virginia’s Department of Corrections, I have experienced great hardships. Many of these hardships have been endured with my fellow prisoners, however, some have been specific to me. Prisoners must persevere hourly punishment, day after day for years or decades, seemingly in atonement for having committed an offense. Although there are increasing numbers of people who believe there are more just and humane ways to resolve crime and to restore those affected, offenders in prison know that their criminal behavior led to their predicament. How, do you suppose, is imprisonment different for those of us who were wrongfully convicted?

I have tried hard not to feel sorry for myself, yet, in hindsight, I believe I succumbed at times to a passive self-pity. Additionally, there was anger and resentment towards various people whom I blamed for the terrible situation I am in, towards society as a whole for failing me, and even towards the divine. The tremendous loss I experienced and the abysmal shift in my existence was so overwhelming that early on I was only kept afloat, kept sane, by my closest loved ones and later through the addition of my spiritual transcendence and the many strangers who have recognized the injustice done to me.

Beginning over twenty years ago and slowly decreasing since, I was treated like an animal. Not figuratively, but literally. What is the logical result of the dehumanizing loss I experienced in conjunction with daily inhumane treatment? I don’t want to detail some of that which I endured because I feel like it would take something away from the innocent reader.

It has been said that hardship perfects the soul. Although my soul is surely imperfect, I have learned a few things on this journey and would like to share one of these things with you. Fortunately, it does not require you to spend most of your existence in prison to apply this to your life.

When existence has become so burdensome, so very painful, depressing, or confusing that it seems unbearable, there is an uncomplicated solution: serve a purpose. Be useful. Instead of dwelling on what or who you need, think of who needs you. Figure out what it is that you can contribute, what the world needs from you.

My understanding of this evolved over the years. I began tutoring guys who wanted to achieve their GED, Hispanic students who wanted to learn English, and even teaching illiterate men how to read. I worked with fellow prisoners to help get them in better physical shape. I taught guys to focus not on what is unavailable and absent from their lives, but to maximize and take advantage of the limited resources that we do still have. Of course, in order to aid others I had to adequately prepare myself, so I read, studied and exercised veraciously.

Over time I started becoming cognizant of what was missing in offenders’ lives and what had led them to criminal behavior. Physical and intellectual elevation was helpful, but it sometimes led to stronger and better educated criminals. Many of these men required moral and spiritual transcendence as well.

By coming to the realization that there is a difference between existing and living, one’s suffering and aimlessness can diminish. We exist by taking up space; its purely a physical thing. A chair exists, a blade of grass exists and your Fitbit exists because they take up space. Our life, on the other hand, is a spiritual thing, it is our purpose, our function and contribution to the world. We cannot let life suffer just because our existence is not what we desire it to be. If you put all of your energy into existence you will have nothing left for living. If you put energy into living, your existence will take care of itself.

This is, no doubt, an oversimplification and we may find parallels in various religious traditions. Yet, if I can do this from within such an inhospitable environment – of which I could write exhaustedly on its miseries – surely you can too. What is your function and your purpose? If you wish your existence was less painful, if you want to be less depressed, less disoriented and more alive, focus deeper on what you can do, what you are needed for and less about what you need.

This, too, may help us answer that age old question, ‘Why do I exist?’ So that you may live! Existence is quite mundane and often profane, but LIFE! Life is sacred!