By: Gunther Fiek

Posted by: Bob Chatelle

Since I began serving my time I have met many individuals who I have learned much from including how each overcomes emotional struggles. Regardless of where you may find yourself, whether prison or somewhere out there in the free world, everyone faces emotional challenges and we all find ways to deal with them. The difference between our two worlds apart is that there are many ways out there that one can seek relief from those emotional conflicts. (I went through that — Who hasn’t? But that is a topic for another post). You find ways to escape various feelings but we are limited of how we can handle them here. The strength of your state of mind and the ability to handle a storm of issues inside one’s head will determine the downpour that comes with it.

Aware of my lengthy sentence, I enjoy conversations with men who have already spent a few decades isolated from a world where we no longer belong. By their appearances you can often tell how they have dealt with the challenges that a lengthy prison sentence can do to a man’s emotional state. You have those who seem younger than their actual age, those who look their age and those who appear to be much older than what they actually are. The latter group of men gives the impression that they have lost all hope, are no longer concerned about life and are just waiting for nature to take its course. A lot of it has to do with a sense of abandonment or being forgotten that one may feel — or lack of faith. Over the years some have lost all family members or all contact. They ride through this ‘solo’ as one guy recently told me. The strength of their mind and the peace one may experience has tons to do with how well they may live the rest of their stay here.

Nonetheless, no matter how strong one can be, the mysteriousness of the mind can play with one’s emotions when caught in a weak state. On one of those occasions, a few months ago during one of the summer months, I read an article by Jessica Szilagyi, a south Georgia journalist. I took note of the contents of the article because I learned something that made me get lost in thought. I tend to not be concerned about the things of tomorrow because everything is uncertain. I just focus on living my days in preparing for what tomorrow may bring hoping to not be caught off guard.

Szilagyi described her road trip to a state cemetery off Highway 178 just outside Reidsville in Tattnall County: “[The] state cemetery sits on a beautiful, windy country road off the beaten path about ten miles out of town. The grass is a glorious solid green, sits atop rolling South Georgia Hills, and nearly every time I’ve been by, the sun is shinning down in a glorious brightness unobstructed by the clouds”. She then continued, “Graves are marked with pristine white crosses. The crosses, however, have no names”.

Those white crosses mark nameless people. Only a number can be seen in each cross. The cemetery off Highway 178 is where the Georgia Department of Corrections bury inmates “without family, friends, or a care from the world.” I couldn’t help but wonder whether that would be me one day. Or, any of the men I have met over the years. I tried to shake it out of my head. I prayed.

I’m thankful that I have my family. But the busyness of the world and all the distractions that come with it prevents them from visiting me as often as I would like or from doing things that I need. When they can’t respond to a phone call or take long to respond to a message the mind wonders. I have to stop and remember that their lives don’t evolve around me. And getting worried is a weakness in faith. I’m content with what I have, for many here are not as blessed as I have been. We are all blessed in different ways though. Everything I do I keep my family in mind. Most importantly, I make an effort in living everyday in a way that is pleasing to God. It is my way of dealing with my emotional struggles. And, whether one day a number or my name is on a cross, I pray that I find myself in a place of glorious brightness.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” – Thomas Merton