By Acharya Samaneti
I pull into the parking lot and take a moment to watch the sunrise.
I see the sunrise everyday, I reflect on how lucky I am to see the sun greet me each morning. I look at the colours bounce off the clouds: bright orange, purple, pink.
I take a deep breath, exit my car and walk towards the penitentiary. I listen to my boots hitting the pavement; it is weird, but I feel something calming about this sound. I look at the towers, the fences, the barbwire as every step brings me closer.
I go through security, scanners and metal detectors—every day for me is airport security before taking a flight. I walk through the last little courtyard, and I hear the birds singing. The birds seem to sing different songs in the morning, as if they are greeting me into their home. I am always taken by the image of a bird singing on a piece of barbwire, really feels like the image we want to cultivate within these walls.
I then begin the gradual entry into the penitentiary.
I watch for doors and gates to open, I practice my patience, I feel invisible, I wait… The gates, the doors, the barriers seem endless; I counted them once, 16.
I finally arrive to the chapel, unlock the door and smell the staleness that is hard to describe—this air, the drabness is everywhere inside these walls. I look at the space, filled with Christian imagery; no one else is visible or acknowledged at all. This is yet another reminder that multi-faith means very different things to many people.
I unlock another door to get into the office. Everything is under lock and key here. I make myself a little bit of coffee; I sit down in front of my computer and catch up on what has happened since the last time I was here. I look at my messages, I feel negativity washing all over me, I feel like I am the only one that sees this place and its residents the way that I do
I see a complaint; someone wants to have disciplinary measures put on me.
I look at the complaint and feel sadness and a tinge of self-righteousness take over me; I remember how I went above and beyond for this resident. That they did not follow protocol, but I still ensured that they got what they needed. I now feel that maybe I did not get the cooperation of a colleague, which may be why everything was not done as if it should.
I realize that I work with some folks that continue to deny people their humanity; the contempt creates this suffering, this basic need to feel seen stifled. The repercussions, like this complaint against me, not even an after thought, because why would they care about this person’s right to practice their religion? This humanization seems to be a never-ending project that make some days hard.
There are days like this, where you only see oppression, violence (it is not always physical), and de-humanization on a grand scale. It is not even 9 am and I sit here drained, discouraged, beaten down, just struggling to get through this day…
I take a moment, sit in the chapel, a sacred space that may not look sacred to me, but seeing the reasons why we are called into this space I can see a little of the sacredness through my practice.
I sit in the silence that is continually interrupted by doors slamming, residents banging on their doors in anger and frustration, keys unlocking gates and doors just to be slammed again. I feel immersed in grief, in its most pure form. I sit in it, and I feel my self-righteousness burn me. I let go and I let my heart breathe. I dig deep into my innate goodness, I recognize everyone around me and their innate goodness (even if it may not feel like that right now).
I breathe deeply
I breathe into this moment
I breathe into to the hurt, the grief
I breathe into my heart and it softens and opens to this moment
I name grasping to “I” and “mine”
I see how my identification creates self-righteousness
I see the suffering all around me and within me
I let my heart breathe…
We like to share our victories as chaplains. We like to show others what we are capable of facilitating in the hearts of others, but I think that it is important that we also share our days as they actually happen…
What does the rest of the day look like for me? Who knows, if there is one thing that I have learned in chaplaincy is that if we do not have expectations—then we will never be disappointed.
So, breathe everyone, let that heart breathe.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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