Day 23 began with me saying, “I don’t think I’m going to get my walk in today,” and Johnny (the man who runs the prison arts programs I’ve been visiting) saying with a laugh, “Well, you could walk in your mind!”
Let me back up. Day 23 didn’t begin with that interaction – it was actually about half way through the day when it happened. Let me back up even further.
On a Monday night a little over a week earlier, I had gotten very little sleep (4 hours). I left the next morning for a journey that included trains, cars, airplanes, and a 2-hour walk in Chicago, and arrived in Oregon after midnight in the time zone I had just left. After another short night (about 5 hours of sleep), I was on the road for an all-day visit to a prison, arriving back in Portland at about 2:30am (ie, 5:30am to my still-struggling-to-figure-it-out body), crashed for a few hours, then up again to visit a second prison. I had one day off (July 4th), then a weekend of more driving, prison visiting/rehearsals, driving, staying overnight, back in Portland in time to pick up a borrowed car, then drove to Seattle that night. Spent one day in Seattle, saw two good friends, then drove the next day to Port Angeles to visit another friend.
The following day, which happened to be my 23rd day of this 28 Days of Walking project, I awoke early and drove back to Portland, arriving just in time to drop off the borrowed car before Johnny picked me up, and we headed out on our 3-hour drive east, back to the prison.
This, really, is what led me to say: “I probably won’t get my walk in today.”
a) My day was already planned out, with little time left over, and b) I was exhausted already and it was only noon.
Johnny wasn’t so far off in his somewhat joking idea of “walking in my mind.” Through my work with Feldenkrais, I’ve learned a lot about what our minds can do in tandem with our bodies. Throughout that day, when I found myself stressed or tired or restless, I used those Feldenkrais skills to pay attention to what I was physically feeling, to imagine the movement of walking efficiently and freely – and I felt my stressed/tired/restless feelings dissipate just a bit.
“Walking in my mind” wasn’t such a bad idea.
What I didn’t know earlier was that I would be receiving a tour of the prison that day as well. I had requested the tour, but had thought it would happen the following week.
On this walk, I struggled a bit – just as I did when I visited an Arizona Border Patrol station in May and they showed us what they called the “fish bowl” (a term which, quite frankly, made me very sad). In both cases (at the BP station and in the prison), I found myself wanting to gather information about the situation. Were the people there being treated humanely? What is their daily existence actually like? What makes up the environment? Do they have what they need in order to sleep, to eat, to survive at a basic level? Are they crowded? Are they warm/cool enough? What are they experiencing?
But also in both places, I felt uncomfortable with the fact that I was looking at people, and it felt a little like a zoo. In both cases, I wanted to respect their privacy, what little they have. And yet, I wanted to be informed about their living conditions. I didn’t know how to let them know that I was there to gather information about their environments – not to ogle them like animals. I would have preferred to talk to them, to have conversations, to ask about their experiences. I know they are people, that they are human beings, but they didn’t necessarily know that I know that. All they saw was me (a stranger) looking “in” as they looked “out.”
On my prison tour, I was shown the medical facilities, a small library, the kitchen, a huge laundry facility where some men were working the “good” jobs, the various yards where men were able to walk (not run), lift weights, and sit outside for a bit and talk. I walked through hall upon hall upon hall.
I was shown an inmate’s cell while he was out (although I’m sure he was nearby, quite possibly watching me look at his only and very small space that was “his”). It was one of very few that house only one person – most tiny cells house at least two. His desk was neat, there was artwork on the wall, the bed was made, there were a few books on a small shelf.
I was led through a couple of different kinds of living units (during which I knew that I was being watched as much as I was trying not to watch the men gathered at tables talking with each other). I saw men whose units had been fit into old offices with their bunks pressed up against windows that looked into the hallway by the guard’s booth. I saw a dorm-style room, which was seen as an “incentive” unit, but which afforded even less privacy than the single/double occupancy cells.
I smiled at the men but it felt so… strange. We’re all just people. How would I feel if someone paraded people through my bedroom, my living room, my backyard – especially one with all the baggage and lack of privacy/autonomy as a prison.
I wondered if the men knew about the “walking in your mind” trick. I hope they do.
That night, heading home, again set to arrive back at 2:30am, when my eyes were buggy and dried out, and my mind and body both were tired and restless, we stopped at a gas station a little after midnight. I went inside just to move my legs, but it wasn’t enough. I tried “walking in my mind” again, but it didn’t quite cut it at this point in the day (night). I needed to physically move my legs, move my body.
So I began jogging back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the store while I waited for Johnny to come back out. Jogging and loosening, shaking out, back and forth, back and forth. Letting the day(s) go, the thoughts go, making use of the freedom of movement I do have – even on a day filled with too many hours in cars, and a lot of hours inside a windowless complex.
In the middle of the night, fellow travelers were empathetic.
“Tired?” one man asked me with a smile, as he headed in the door.
“Restless,” I answered.
Then we got back in the car, and headed west.