The other day I found myself confessing to the prison psychologist, that over the last 14 years I have smashed three televisions and gave away two.
I’d like to believe that this rarely happens, but I sometimes begin to speak with the intention of delivering a profound truth, only to come across as a total lunatic…
As the words left my mouth like a run-away freight train, I immediately registered, with panic, the concerned expression on the psychologist’s face.
I tried to soften the blow…
“Actually, ‘smash’ is the wrong word, it was more like destroy…,” I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.
“Well, you must have been angry?” he interjected.
“No, no, I wasn’t”, I replied, feeling like I was just digging myself a deeper grave, by exchanging the impression of a man who destroys televisions out of anger, with that of a cold-blooded psychopath who calmly dismembers them.
“Well, why didn’t you just give the T.V to another prisoner? You could have easily left it at the front of the unit, and told the guards that you didn’t want it?”
I tried to give an explanation, but midway through, surrendered to the fact that I had just stuffed my foot all the way down my throat, and waited for the executioner to deliver his blow, in the form of a report diagnosing me with some sort of mental disorder. Fortunately, however, the Psychologist abandoned his line of inquiry, and graciously allowed me to move on to another subject.
Nonetheless, I’m sure you’re still wondering why I destroyed the televisions in the first place?
Given the fact that for the last 14 years I’ve had to spend an average of 20 hours a day, locked in a small cell not much larger than a walk-in closet; Why would I destroy my only source of distraction and entertainment? Why would I shut, as one prisoner put it, “the only window that I had left to the outside world?”
To answer this question, it might help to go back to the circumstances surrounding the execution of my first victim: a 15-inch Citizen flat screen.
I began serving my life sentence at the Special Handling Unit, the most dangerous prison in Canada. Almost every convict there has stabbed or killed someone inside. In short, it is a place where the end of the day fills you with equal amounts of gratefulness and dread; gratefulness for the fact that you survived, and dread for the fact that tomorrow, you will have to do it all over again.
When I first arrived, I was told that I was simply there for a 6-month assessment, and so I was almost certain, that my good behaviour would get me transferred out in half a year. But to my dismay, the administrators decided that I was a “radical threat”, and recommended my indefinite placement in the SHU, with reviews to take place every 4 months. My hopes of embracing my family, especially my wife and young daughter, were crushed, and as time passed, I began to fear that I might never leave this place.
This hopeless situation, along with the apathy and cynicism of the administrators, pushed me back into the arms of my radical ideology, which had simply gone dormant. Yet despite this, there was always a part of me that wanted to grow. Beneath the radical mask, there was still a deep spiritual yearning; almost like a glimpse or a vision of what I could be, if only I undertook the journey.
But I couldn’t…shackles were holding me back.
The wise often say that our lives are nothing but a collection of our days; how we spend our days is how we will spend our lives.
And so when I looked at my days, I noticed that I was spending them in distracting myself from my painful reality, that I was not actually watching anything, but simply browsing from channel to channel in order to emotionally numb myself… in order to escape my reality.
Soon, I grew frustrated with myself. Each night I went to bed feeling guilty for wasting my day…for not having grown in any way… for decaying; mentally, spiritually and physically.
Like a drug addict who tries to stop his habit, I tried to control my T.V consumption by unplugging it, leaving it under my bed, covering it with a towel, or leaving the cable cord with one of my neighbors, only to beg for it a few hours later.
When all of this failed, I tossed the cable cord in the garbage, only to ingeniously create my own, out of copper wire and two staples…
It felt like an endless wrestling match. The struggle went on for months, until it all came to a head after a visit with my mother and sister…
Coming back from family visits was always devastating, but this time was different. As I lay alone on my bed, I told myself that if I was going to spend the rest of my life away from my family, then I sure as hell will have something to show for it.
No way, I told myself, as I resolutely got off my bed, placed the television on the ground, and smashed the screen with one foot, leaving it cracked and caved in.
By breaking the television, all I did was break some of the shackles that held me back from growing into the human being that I was meant to be.
Cultural commentator and critical theorist Neil Postman wrote a book aptly titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, which paints a pretty accurate picture of what modern forms of “entertainment” have done to us as individuals and as a society. Amusing ourselves to death is exactly what we are doing; not because we want to, but simply because we are made to. The process of our mental and spiritual enslavement began before most of us could even speak.
I believe that deep inside, we all wish to grow. That we all have a vision burnt into our souls of what we could become, if only we freed ourselves from all the chains that tie us down.
So how sad is it then…
for us to live…
and then to die…
without ever getting to meet…
our true selves?