Ross sent us this beautiful letter and poem. It gives insight into who he is.
He wrote: An old friend of mine recently sent me the following poem…
By William B. Henley (1875)
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond the place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
It struck a chord with me and I’m currently committing it to memory. I share it with you because it touches on an aspect of my imprisonment that has helped me grow and get stronger.
The scope of my life became very narrow once I was locked up. My contact with the outside was limited to an hour visit each week, 300 phone minutes, letters and whatever was on TV and the radio. My diet was, well…let’s just say it’s not what I’d like it to be. And my social circle became the 99 other prisoners in my unit and a handful of regular guards. This was shocking on a visceral level, like being thrown in an ice bath. The contrast with freedom was especially intense because I spent the first six weeks in different levels of isolation.
Once I’d been released from solitary into the general population and somewhat settled into my new reality, the war within truly began. It started with boredom. There were very few things to distract me during the many hours of the day. I did what I could to prepare my defense. I played ping-pong for hours on end. I had textbooks sent in to study. I read several books every month. I took up yoga and practiced diligently for months and months. Eventually the distractions wore thin and a kind of subtle panic set in.
This was the crossroad I’ve since seen many prisoners reach. Some retreat toward stronger distractions, like gambling. It gives them something to chase, something to occupy and drive them. Others break and become miserable.
There’s another route I’ve seen some men take in here and I’ve done my best to emulate them. The first who taught me how to do time had spent 12 years in maximum security penitentiaries. I noticed he was never in a rush. Crossing his path could turn into an hour-long conversation about anything, either serious or funny, but never dull.
He taught me acceptance. “You have to confront the horror of your situation, come to grips with it and accept where you’re at,” he said to me one day, as we sat chatting in his cell. “Give yourself a pass for a few days, maybe a week. Don’t worry about anything else and just feel the sadness, the fear, the loss, but don’t wallow in it for too long either. Get back to your yoga and the rest of your routine when you’re done.”
That was a turning point for me and set me on the path of acceptance and growth. By accepting my circumstances, I’ve come to find myself in a position where I no longer worry about when, or if, I’ll get out, or what I’m missing out on. I’ve found that within my constraints there is still opportunity for my soul to flourish. With no point of reference except for my fading memories of freedom, I can even be thankful for the life I have and love it. My neighbors look at me like I’m crazy sometimes, or assume I’m being sarcastic when I talk like this, but it’s the only way to win the most important battle of all, to make your soul unconquerable.
This hit home recently when I was locked in my last cell mate. The facility I’m in is widely regarded as one of the most constrained and difficult to live in. I realized, even if I spend the rest of my life behind bars as I’ve been sentenced to do, I’ll never be worse off than right now. “I got this,” I thought. “No matter what happens I can get through it and come out better on the other side.”
I looked over at my cell mate, who was looking kinda bored, and a silly impulse hit me. I kneeled next to him where he lay on his bunk and held his gaze in mock seriousness. “We got this,” I whispered intensely.
“What?” he replied.
“We got this,” I repeated louder. “Whatever happens bro, we GOT this!”
“Yeah, WE GOT THIS!” he played along, pumping his fist in the air. We kept repeating the phrase to each other, getting louder and more boisterous until he, in his dry, humorous way, said, “You’re weird,” and lay back down with his book.
I guess why I’m telling you all of this is because I want you to remember, or realize if you never have, that no matter what life has thrown your way, the deepest, most important part of you can’t be broken. It can’t be taken. And you can always find ways to be thankful, to love and to be loved.