Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the September, 2006 Newsletter

Sights That We Ignore

Every day, you and I move in a world of color and variety, without taking particular notice unless we see something highly unusual, and sometimes not even then. It takes an extended period of deprivation or an imminent threat of blindness, for us to appreciate the sights that enter our eyes almost every hour of every day.

Below are extensive excerpts from an article1 by a prisoner who spends every day in a grey, nearly featureless environment, but was treated, for just a few hours, to the visual richness of the world outside. For your newsletter editor at least, it was a reminder of commonplace wonders that we ignore.

Freedom for a Day

By Al Cunningham

Because I am behind bars, I very rarely have the opportunity to interact with nature or experience the sort of things that most people come in contact with every day … [but] today was a day filled with wonder, excitement, mystery and new experiences. Today I was able to leave my cold concrete, asphalt and steel-bar encasement, free to experience the outside world - if only for a few hours.

… As soon as we left the prison gates we blended in with the thousands of other cars on the busy California highway; most of the travelers resembled ants navigating crisscrossing lanes. I spent a lot of time wondering about the people in the many different cars we passed. Did they give any thought to the two guards in their green uniforms and me sitting in the back in a bright orange jumpsuit? Could they possibly see how chained and shackled I was? … I directed my attention to the environment, soaking in the details I have missed so much in my life over the years of my incarceration.

There were many different and beautiful trees, some showing their colorful little budding flowers, the apple blossoms with their pretty pink buds. At one point we were surrounded by water, seas and lakes and all the different sized boats, both sailing and docked. I stared at buildings and houses; I even took the time to notice how different the clouds looked in the sunlight. There was green grass covering the hills and rolling mountains, some with weeds so tall that I bet you could stand in the middle of the field and become invisible to the eye! Once we got off the highway and entered the city streets, I was amazed at how many people were just chattering away on their cell phones. Everyone was out and about. Mothers were pushing their babies in carriages; dogs were being walked on leashes. I even spotted a junkie looking for his early morning fix.

We arrived at the medical center much too soon. The visit turned out to only be for a dental examination and evaluation. … before I could absorb the doctor's comments and conclusions, I was back in the car and returning to prison.

[As] we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on the ride back … [m]y thoughts filled the silence of the van. All of the images from the morning floated around in my brain;

… I've experience[d] the day-to-day drudgery of prison life for more years than I care to acknowledge. The sights and wonders of my trip to the dentist slowly settled into memory that night, but my dreams allowed me to enjoy the world beyond these walls - your world - in mine.

1. Fortune News, Spring 2006. The Fortune Society is an organization that helps to rehabilitate people who are currently in prison or have been released after serving their sentence.