Greater Than Our Worst Mistakes

This is a paper that Daniel sent.  He initially wanted it to be included with the last blog post, but I thought that it deserved to be its own entry.  It was written by a fellow inmate, Peter M. Dunne, as part of his coursework for the BARD College Program at Green Haven Correctional Facility. 


If you surveyed the average individual and asked them their opinion on prisoners’ intellectual levels and ability to empathize, there would be little, if any, ambiguity in their response.  They would, most likely, tell you that all prisoners are unintelligent savages devoid of emotion.  They would tell you that all prisoners are killers, robbers, burglars, rapists and thugs.  They would tell you that all prisoners are sociopaths who, as children, took mind-altering substances, tortured small animals and occasionally mistook paint chips for Pringles.  And they would tell you that all prisoners are menences to society, civilization, and must be locked away forever.

Like subjective reasoning, nothing could be further from the truth: behind these walls – barriers less newsworthy than the ones in China and Berlin – are individuals who possess MENSA-levels of intelligence as well as a thorough understanding of how pretentious “MENSA-levels” could sound to biased and privileged individuals who, subconsciously, fear autodidactic “criminals” that know when CNN talks about The 1%, they are not referring to low-fat milk.  There are individuals who know wisdom not to come from booksmarts but to come from empirical knowledge, life experiences – better yet, other’s experiences.  There are individuals who are magnificent artists, actors and musicians.  And there are individuals who write breathtaking prose and poetry, that know the differences between the active and passice voice, skillfully emoloying both in their writing – able enough to know that a semicolon connects two, closely-linked, independant clauses; and innovative enouh to challenge literaty standards and knock down intellectual walls.  These unpolished dimonds cannot be ignored – cloudly symbols of a high will, they shine bright as Osiris.

In the Land of the Lost, the Realm of the Dead, the Forgotten, there are legends waiting to be born.  To be Reborn.  Behind these walls live Tony Morrison, Junot Dias, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Che Guevara, Tenzin Gyatso, Ghandi, Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha.  Behind these walls live fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, and sons and daughters. Behind these walls live men and women who bleed and cry, laugh and smile.  Behind these walls live individuals that care deeply about others – even the society that’s casted them away into a metaphorical gutter, like used condoms and crack stems.

If you took the average individual on a tour through this concrete jungle they might realize that they’ve been living in an abstract civilization, a world disconnected from reality, like reality shows on a stolen Wi-Fi signal. Would you show them how deep the rabbit hole goes?  Would you tell them the truth?  What if they already knew the truth? What if they already knew but told themselves they didn’t?  Could they know the truth?  Could they handle the truth?   Tell me: what is truth? And, tell me, what would happen to their perfect little worlds if one day they made a mistake, a big mistake, that lifted them off of their feet and threw them out of heaven?  What if they closed their eyes and woke up in hell?  Would they go back to sleep and hide in their nightmare or would they stay awake and face their reality?

Imagine if you could show the average individual that heaven and hell are no different, that there is no “use” and “them” but we. What would the average individual think about that?  WOuld they feel saved?  Saved from what?  What would they think if our worlds converged and they discovered that we are alike yet also unique, like a dysfunctionaly family?  Imagine if you told them that we are all a part of that dysfunctional family, that humanity is a dysfuntional family, a house of children without adult supervision.  IMagine if they understood how exceptional and significant we are, how we are anything byt average.  “Average” is for robots and gods.  We are somthing different – something different that wants to be seen differently than before.  We are human.  Mortal. Imperfect. Perfectly imperfect.

Not all of us are lost, not all of us are found.

But we are all greater than our worst mistakes.

Peter M. Dunne is an inmate in the New York State  Department of Corrections serving an 18 year sentence for manslaughter.  You can write to him at Peter M. Dunne, #11-A-0671, Green Haven Correctional Facility, PO Box 4000, Stormville, NY 12582. 





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