Days we look forward to; sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.
My wife and I look forward to the anniversary of our first date with excitement because we’ve been together since. That’s nearly 37 years! On the other hand, I feel a level of sorrow as the date of my older sister’s passing rolls around. She wasn’t even in her mid-40s when cancer took her. Then there are those anniversaries that perhaps bring both good and bad feelings, maybe birthdays as we age. I know I’m not looking forward to turning 55 next year, yet at the same time I do enjoy the recognition the day brings for me.
Recently, two anniversaries came hand-in-hand, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about them.
The first was the two year anniversary of my incarceration date. On the one hand, it was exciting in that it meant that, in essence, two-fifths of my sentence was over leaving me with the challenge of getting through the remaining three-fifths. I felt good about that. On the other hand, it brought back into sharp focus the years of productive life I was losing and a reminder of the crime I’d committed. So… some excitement and some sorrow. It made me wonder: How will I feel at the half-way point or even the three year anniversary? Will I look at my time remaining as all downhill or will I feel even stronger about the wasted part of my life?
The second anniversary that followed immediately on the heels of my incarceration date was the 20th anniversary of this institution’s entry into operation. We inmates were put on lock down for an entire day while the staff celebrated the day. And it made me wonder: Should we celebrate the life of such an institution or mourn its very existence? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that I, and the others here, have a debt to pay for our transgressions. Yet I still cannot see the joy in a society for having such places. In the U.S. alone there are about 700,000 inmates incarcerated somewhere with about 50,000 waiting in holding locations for their institution assignment.
Isn’t celebrating the anniversary of such institutions sort of like celebrating the fact they’re all overcrowded with lives losing productive years? When I made this connection I became upset. I looked around at all the people who are capable, and willing, to return to society as productive, law abiding, citizens and yet are stuck here in punishment (the truth is that there is no real rehabilitation for anyone within the prison system so it’s all punishment).
My personal conclusion is that no one should ever celebrate the life of a prison but should instead mourn the need for and existence of, such an institution.
I wanted to check my outlook and so asked those I know inside for their thoughts around the staffs celebration. Unanimously all said it was ridiculous to hold such a celebration because it couldn’t happen without the inmate population. Several said they felt insulted and minimized beyond the scope of being punished for their crime. Yet not one said that punishment was unfair or unnecessary except that all agreed that sentences are too long across the board. But that’s another issue altogether unless you stop to think that maybe more reasonable sentences would actually reduce the number of prisons – and thereby reduce the number of institutional anniversaries.
I also asked one staff member how they felt about it and was told that it was really a day to recognize the staff itself. My thought: Hold a staff appreciation day and call it that, even if it’s an additional day of staff appreciation for the year (they do hold multiple staff appreciation days already).
All these thoughts of anniversaries brought to mind something I was told by the psychologist I was working with prior to my incarceration. I was growing anxious about the anniversary of the start of the investigation into my case and wanted to work through those feelings with her. It was then she said: “There’s no such thing as an anniversary. There are only days we attach importance to, sometimes unnecessarily and unhealthily.” When I challenged that statement she replied, “Then tell me how today is actually different from yesterday,” and I couldn’t. For example: When you get married, that day is different from the day before because you became legally bound to another. One year later, however, you do not become unbound the day before the ‘anniversary’ so that on the ‘anniversary’ your status changes again back to being legally bound to your partner. It actually makes a lot of sense.
And that’s why I’ve written this post.
We all have a choice to make about ‘anniversaries.’ We can invest whatever amount of emotional energy into the day we desire. It is a choice. I’ve decided not to invest negative emotional energy into the sorrowful ‘anniversaries’ that lie within my lifetime. It’s not worth it. My daughter was married on the second ‘anniversary’ of the start of the investigation into my transgression. Should I feel sorrow and regret over my actions or excitement and joy for her new life each year on that date? Wouldn’t the former taint the latter? And why punish myself each year when I can celebrate my daughter and son-in-law instead?
Do yourself a favor, let go of the negative, sorrowful, ‘anniversaries’ and throw yourself into the joyous ones instead. Life will become easier and more exciting. ~jdoe