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This could be my last night with my cat
Musings on incarceration, Part V
This could be my last night in Berkeley for the next few years. The last time I get to walk my dog, Oliver, who is the love of my life, for a long while. The last night I see my friends and family over the holidays, perhaps ever with my dad. (He’s 74 and suffering from health issues.) But with Joan, the little cat whose bravery inspired me from the moment he was a kitten, if I get a long or even moderate sentence, it will probably be the last time we see each other before he passes.
That’s the hard bargain when you adopt a non-human animal into your life. They bring us so much joy; then so much pain when they are gone. I’ve written previously about the strange circumstances that allowed Joan to come into my life. And just a few days ago, I wrote about how hard it will be to see that (possibly) come to an end. But I want to write this last blog post in Berkeley, before I fly to North Carolina tomorrow morning, about why I am grateful for this opportunity. After all, today is Thanksgiving. It’s a good time to think gratefully and optimistically about the days to come.
Meditation is the first thing I think of, when I think of how potential incarceration could help me. My practice has been crucial to my growth over the last 20 years. But the urgency of the work we do has left that practice sporadic and often, frankly, quite broken. Time is something I will probably have too much of, when incarcerated, and I am interested to see how much that practice can grow.
There’s also the book. After I broke my promise to Lisa, a few days ago, I made a new one to replace it. The first draft of my book by the end of 2022. The problem with writing, especially writing well, is that it takes long periods of reflection and peace. With all the rescues and protests and prosecutions, it’s been hard for me to find that time to really deeply reflect. I’ll have to practice writing with my hand again, as most state jails and prisons do not give the inmates any access to digital tools. But I expect that I’ll have time to write. And when I have time, I can write well.
But maybe the most important thing I hope to get out of prison, if or when that day comes, is the opportunity to share in the suffering of those who have been forgotten. The plight of inmates in this nation, which has the highest per capita population of imprisoned people in the world, is one that is almost always ignored. This includes many people who are in prison for crimes they did not commit; people who were put in those prisons, falsely, by some of the most powerful people in the world. There is something important about understanding this experience, understanding how power has been wielded so dangerously, for so long, especially since I hope our movement will some day hold that sort of power. Only the wisdom of experience, of being the one on the other side of power’s abuse, will teach us to wield it well.
But then of course there is the other class of beings in cages: our animal friends. A day does not go by when I do not think of the cage that Oliver was raised in, as he waited for brutal men to kill him. Or the cage that Joan was placed in when he was briefly ripped from his family, and placed on the list of cats who were destined to die. It’s so hard to deal with that feeling that my mind breaks, a bit. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I shout out in a combination of fear and horror. Sometimes, I feel like my consciousness just blinks out, briefly, because of how inconceivable it all seems. To think: We put the most gentle and loving creatures on this earth in a cage!
I don’t know what the outcome of trial will be. But the worst I can receive is 38 months in prison. And even 3 years in a cage will be so much better than what each of my other family members endured. I will probably not fear for my life every day. I won’t wonder if food will come. And, perhaps most important, I will know that I’ll someday get out, and that I’m not forgotten by the world on the outside.
When I think about the experience in those terms, it doesn’t seem so scary. It seems, rather, almost redemptive, both for me as an individual, for the many weaknesses and failings I’ve been afflicted by, and perhaps even (representatively) for our species.
Perhaps to truly understand why freedom is so important for all animals — to avoid the tears and screams and aversion of my eyes and mind that even I partake in, when I think of the horrors we inflict on our animal friends — I need to risk and lose my own freedom. If that is the price, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.