By: Gunther Fiek
Posted by: Bob Chatelle

My uncle, aunt and cousin came to visit me a couple of months ago. They had traveled from Peru, my home country, to be with my family in Atlanta for a joyous occasion: my brother’s wedding. This was my uncle and aunt’s second time visiting me, they both came a couple of years ago, but this was my cousin’s first time visiting me since my incarceration. Last time I saw and spoke to her was roughly 17 years ago. After the visit we were able to speak over the phone a couple of times before her return home.

During the visit and phone calls we had lots to share and catch up as one can imagine. I can’t remember her exact age but she is probably about 5 or 6 years younger than I am. (Umm, I hope she’s not reading this). One of those things she shared was what impacted her the most from the visit: how young I looked compared to her brother and other friends my age that I grew up with in Peru. Her brother and I are three months apart and most of our mutual friends are around our same age ( give or take two or three years younger or older). Even many guys here seemed shocked after finding out how old I am since most would place me at around 10 years younger. I really do feel like 10 years younger and some days even more. But those few times that I decide to exercise, the full weight of every second, minute and day of my life leans me.

Back to my cousin … So my appearance is what impacted her the most. I told her that prison can do one of two things to you: either destroy or maintain you. Some individuals have asked me how I’ve been able to cope with, maintain myself together, every day knowing that I might never get out. It’s not just a matter of how one decides to do their time in a place such as this. It’s a matter of how fit you are physically, mentally and spiritually. You lack one or the other and you WILL fall apart. Its like three pillars holding together the foundation of who you are. If one of those pillars is to weak and in time crumbles, it will then bring everything else down with it. No one person is the same. We are all different. Therefore, the strength of each person’s three ‘pillars’ varies thus, the strength or weaknesses of each pillar does too. There needs to be a balance.

Mind, body and spirit. It’s what we call it in the martial arts. The strength of all three its what determines how much you can achieve and become as a martial artist. Anyone can learn how to punch and kick. But, does your techniques have power and are you physically fit to last a round or two? Are you mentally prepare to face any adversary? Do you have the will to keep going regardless what the outcome may be? In life, especially the one those of us endure in the environment I’m in, we face adversity, challenges and struggles everyday. Everyday is like a new match — a new fight.

I’ve been serving time since November of 2000. The month and year I got arrested. And the key to having been able to serve every day of that time is by taking it one day at a time — one match and always ready for the next one. I believe that what has greatly contributed to that is that I was already working in building those pillars even years before my arrest. My faith and my martial arts training helped shape and give strength to what I call my ‘pillars of life’. Granted, we all reach a breaking point. An individual’s breaking point depends on the strength of each pillar and the balance between them. What holds your pillars of life together is call inner peace.

You see, unlike the ‘free world’, prison does not have a place where we can seek refuge from anything that may disturb that peace. We can’t move to a different home, neighborhood or city to find that peace. Here, we are surrounded by individuals with all kinds of personalities and beliefs. You are stuck here 24/7. When that peace in you is disturbed, it sends shock waves that threatens the integrity of one or all three pillars. That peace is like a shield that prevents external forces that may cause any of the pillars to tremble. And that peace can only be achieved by having peace with God.

Yes, I’m a religious person though I judge no one. My belief is how I’ve been able to achieve that inner peace, maintain it and continue to strengthen my pillars of life so that I’m able to continue building the foundation that sits on them. This philosophy is how I’ve managed to do every day I’ve already served and is preparing me for what is yet to come.