Traveling the prison circuit, everything looks run down with decay. It’s a desolate concrete landscape, dry and treeless.That’s not much of a surprise. San Quentin is the oldest prison in California, clocking in at 163 years old. I spent the majority of my time fourth oldest prison in Cali; CTF Soledad on their central yard (buildings closer to the left side of the picture below.) I remember rolling past CTF on the bus on the way to Salinas Valley, which is basically across the street, and thinking to myself, “damn I hope that’s not me.” It was my stop.
The outside of the facility had this old, rundown look to it. All the wings were 3 tiers and that meant cell living. Yet, I had just arrived from a 22 year old reception facility which was also run down. I figured, well, this is just how prisons age. I mean, most county facilities are essentially dumpsters where people sleep, so it was not too surprising.
I don’t know if it was a year away from most of the real world, but I was surprised when I got out. Riding the train I noticed that many buildings, roads and structures appeared worn down and ragged. Driving through Sacramento, it was as if I never noticed the structural decay of the city. I’m not saying everything was a wasteland, but I’m saying, it was a lot more worn down than I had previous realized. Akin to walking around an apartment or house for the first time. If a quick cleaning was completed recently, the signs of dirt are there on the floor boards, under lips and ledges and in dark corners. One just has to know where to look.
All that got me thinking about people. Humans. The body, mind and spirit require maintenance. “The body is a temple”. Well, shut your hippy mouth, but you got a point. When people age and die, they’re just run down and worn out and the ol’ ticker finally gives up. I don’t mean that everyone ends up just giving a sigh and saying “fuck it”. Even those crotchety ass kickers who keep throwing punches until that guaranteed day are in this category. The world wears on us, the sun cooks our bones, our life machines eventually have to seize and stop. That process begins the opposite side of where it ends.
All that is a fact of this life. Yet, sometimes it saddens me.
Hold on, let me explain. Mortality is a given, I get that, but sometimes the fragile essence of it all hits me in the face like a ton of bricks. I recently met up with a fellow from Seattle who traveled out here for a brief visit. The last time I saw Chris was about 7 years ago in Portland. He’s the same age as me and a very successful programmer. When we first met up, he was also so skinny he could stand next to a phone pole and you couldn’t see his profile. When I saw him recently, he had put on some weight. A lot of weight.
I’m going to ask that you put all those body positive activists out of your mind for a minute. I haven’t yet figured out if those “I’m a bison and proud of it” people fit in this category and I don’t plan to waste much time thinking about it. When I see someone like Chris in his current state, I see, yes poor impulse control, lethargy, but I also see depression and fatigue. Why is he depressed? I don’t know. But I see that depression in it’s physical form as added body weight. Thus, as an effect of that extra cargo, I see early stressed structures. He’d probably not say he’s depressed, but that’s how those things work. When you’re in it, it’s all you know and you can’t see out to greener pastures. Self actuating the reality of what is going on is an elusive process.
Much like the above, getting a grip and moving forward with a weight loss plan is an elusive process as well. Yes, I know, people are doing it every day, and people are very successful at it as well. Put down the fucking spoon fatty. Have a little self control. Sure, screaming those things on your blog or on twitter in all caps is easy. Especially if you’ve been practicing self control / discipline for a while or naturally skinny. Side note: if you don’t think genes play a role in body weight, then we won’t see eye to eye on the subject (I also believe in genetic predisposition to things like mental illness and disease). At any rate, sure all it takes is a single step, but that’s fucking hard to do in the first place. I know, as I have fought with depression for most of my life. Weight gain has been an issue since I was put on psychotropic medications. So I was on antidepressants, fully depressed but not aware of it and up to 300 pounds. I was fucking miserable but I spent about 6 months at that weight before I finally took that first step. “I’m sick of being a fat ass.” Well do something fatty, put that fucking spoon down, go for a walk.
Thus when I see these bastions of brilliance in a state of disarray I get hit with a wave of empathy and sadness. When I see my friend pouring his days down his throat, I’ve got love for him. When I see a friend chain smoking out of blind habit, I’ve got some empathy. When I see my homeboy for the first time in 7 years and he’s put on about 100 pounds, I feel some empathy and I feel sadness because life is incredibly short and even more precious.
I spend and have spent an AWFUL amount of time in self reflection so I’m mostly aware of my self destructive habits. Times when I grab a smoke, or have an extra serving, drink to the edge of oblivion or beat myself up the block with my own thoughts. I recognize those things in other people and it makes me sad to see them taking their lives for granted. It makes me sad for all those times I’ve done the same because sometimes I don’t know I’m doing it.