September 26, 2008. Day 114 at the Holliday Inn. 116 miles of walking logged so far, 5,775 sit-ups, and 2,020 pushups. By now, the routine is clear. Up at 6:00 a.m. with my plastic bowl and plastic spoon waiting to hear the familiar rattle of keys. First one door, then another, and finally, one more. And there stands one of Doc Holliday’s deputies with morning breakfast; a gallon jug of milk in one hand and a box of cold cereal in the other. Frosted mini-wheats. Every day. Each of us in the “bullpen” stick our little plastic bowls through the “bean hole” to get our breakfast. We sit silently at the steel bench and table and eat, the same place where we play cards, sometimes until 2 in the morning, write letters, or just sit and watch television through the bars. By the way, the TV is suspended from the ceiling with cables out of our reach and we have one remote among us. I’ve lost count how many fights have erupted over that silly thing by now. Breakfast is over in 5 minutes and all of us return to our steel bunks to sleep some more.
Some days we get out before lunch arrives to exercise, as it were. Our “exercise area” consists of a nearly square concrete slab measuring 27’x24’x27’x24′. That’s where I walk, and after allowing for 3 feet on each side, I cover 90 feet in 1 “lap”. 60 of those comes to roughly 1 mile. You get the idea. I’ve got it all journaled. Overhead about 12 feet are steel bars covered with two layers of steel mesh. One wall is common with our living quarters, all concrete, and the other three are steel bars spaced about 4 inches apart embedded in the slab all the way to the roof. No glimpse of the outside world, absolutely none. A basketball goal is mounted right-center on the south wall and has no net. One of my favorite pastimes while I was a guest there was shooting countless baskets with a ball the guards gave us, nearly devoid of any grip but still worthy of bouncing and shooting. The Hispanics use it as a soccer ball when the rest of us aren’t shooting.
Lunchtime. Like breakfast, the same thing every day; 2 PBJ’s and a small bag of plain Lay’s potato chips. That’s it. Nothing to drink. We all have our own jail-issued plastic cups that we use to get water from one of 2 steel sinks in the bullpen, 1 for each cell. Each “cell” houses up to 4 inmates, 8 total. Some nights we had as many as 12 “guests”, most of them overnight who slept on the concrete floor on a 1 inch mat they were given. The square footage of our entire living quarters in the “bullpen?” 270. That’s right, TWO HUNDRED SEVENTY SQUARE FEET. I would guess on average during my 158 day tenure as a guest there, the average number of inmates was 6. That figures out to less than 50 square feet per person. Keep in mind there was ONE shower, TWO toilets, ONE steel bench and table, and ONE television. Keeping one’s mouth shut and practicing an extreme amount of patience was paramount in preserving not only one’s bodily safety, but most importantly, one’s sanity, especially me. After all, I was one of the few who was in there the longest and was one of the oldest by far. One last thing. The television AND the lights were on TWENTY-FOUR hours a day. I’m not kidding.
Fast-forward. September 26, 2010. I’ve now been in northern San Diego county for a little over 6 months now, arriving from Kansas on March 17th. Started the accelerated paralegal program at the University of California San Diego on March 27th. 12 weeks and 39 credit hours later I graduated on June 18th, after which I began searching for work. Just last week I began training for a position in the insurance industry. I was offered the position in July but, because of “background” issues related to my time in Kansas over 2 years ago, it’s taken until now to work its way through the “system.” Like two years ago, I’ve also developed a daily routine. It’s funny though how some things don’t change. When I shop for groceries, I always make sure to stock up on one of my favorites. Frosted mini-wheats! Although I usually save those for an evening snack these days, substituting my beloved fruit smoothies for breakfast. PBJ’s aren’t part of my staple any more but one thing is for sure; my “exercise area.”
However, unlike two years ago, my “exercise area” isn’t confined to that 90′ foot concrete slab where I logged almost 150 miles, nearly 9,000 sit-ups, and over 3,000 pushups during my time at the Holliday Inn. Now its nature in all its beauty. Moonlight Beach is only 3 miles away from where I live in Encinitas, CA. and on days when the weather’s good, I check the tide charts to see when low tide is. And that’s where I go on my “walkabouts.” Just me, my trusty music and headphones, sand between my toes, sea gulls over head, children frolicking in the water, and the sun.
FREEDOM. Most people, when they hear that word, think of the freedom they enjoy because they live in America, what their country stands for, and what their armed services protects for that right. Don’t get me wrong, I do as well. Obviously though, FREEDOM holds a much greater distinction that is forever embedded in my soul and memory. Never again will I take that right lightly. In truth, it isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. One that we should all hold sacred and never ever take for granted. I see too many people who do so these days. They think just because they live in America or in “paradise”, as the locals here like to call Southern California, they have some sort of God-given RIGHT to do and say as they please. They lack respect for others, respect for themselves, and treat their world in an undignified and unworthy manner. In a sense, I used to as well.
No more. I’ve been humbled, unlike most people, because of circumstances that were unfortunately of my own accord. Today, I don’t take FREEDOM for granted and, in fact, honor and respect it almost as much as life itself. It is my hope then that, through the gift of writing and sharing of my experiences, that people will read what I have to say, take a look at how they live, their families, their loved ones, and ask themselves this question. Am I truly HONORING my freedom? Am I treating it as a privilege and not a right? That, in order to do so, I have to treat others with respect, act humbly, look for the good in others, and am always willing to lend a hand or ear to help my fellow man? What am I willing to give up in return for that privilege?
I’ve “rambled” long enough. I’ll let you think on that one but I’ll close and summarize this latest post with this thought. It’s all about the Golden Rule, treat others as you would be treated. If everyone did that, and I mean EVERYONE, think of what a wonderful world we would have.
P.S. Almost forgot. That remote and TV business I mentioned? Not a problem in my new world. I have neither the time nor the inclination to watch it these days. I can count on ONE hand the number of hours I’ve actually sat and watched the “boob tube” since the 17th of March, 2010. Why you may ask? Why should I? I want to LIVE.