The world lost an icon in Nelson Mandela this past week. He was known to have an indomitable spirit despite the injustices he suffered for decades. For 27 years, he resided in a cell on Robben Island and although he was physically trapped, he remained an understated but effective radical for the causes in which he believed so passionately.
Being locked up behind bars occurs because of judgment. Whether it is justified, in error, by a jury, a judge, or yourself, feeling condemned is different than being condemned. Even when in prison, you don’t have to be imprisoned. You own your thoughts.
You might be shackled with worry, anger, or jealousy. Continuously rehashing those hurtful emotions are as useful as yelling while buried in the dank environment of solitary confinement. Doing this is not productive, nor does it gain you early parole.
Even when your jail is a physical impediment, you can decide to do something for someone else versus “sitting in your cell” moping. Every situation is ripe with potential. When your time spent is not clouded by tallying everything you don’t have, you can more easily see the slivers of light emanating through the bars – you can be genuinely happy for those that are free.
It is natural to feel fear when locked up. It is important to know that you can triumph over that fear and move forward even though the steps are small and incremental. You have the power to choose your perspective- to choose your language with every indignity that befalls you and in every moment.
Being Mandela-like does not mean that you are a saint. It means that you are a human and that despite feeling bad, you can effect change with positive thoughts and ensuing action. It means that no matter how small and cold your cell, you can learn, and teach. It means that no matter how long your sentence, you matter, and how you journey through your circumstance becomes an example for how others can carry on through theirs.
Prison is a place – prisoner is a state of mind. Choose not to be your own jailer.