Institutionalized

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption.  It’s the story of a man named Andy Dufresne who is convicted of murder in 1947 and sent to serve a double life sentence at a maximum security penitentiary in the state of Maine.  As it follows Andy’s experiences with friends and foes, the movie presents a bleak view of life in prison in the 40’s and 50’s (including a couple of disturbing scenes) and demonstrates in a very tangible way how difficult it is to maintain hope in such dire circumstances.  For me, one of the most powerful parts of the movie involves a loveable old inmate named Brooks Hatlen.  Brooks has been in Shawshank for 50 years – almost his entire life.  He is the prison librarian, and it’s hard not to like him.  Part way through the movie Brooks gets the amazing news that he is about to be paroled.  After spending all his long years in this prison, he is finally going to taste freedom.  So how does he respond?  Does he celebrate and dance about the prison yard?  Does he rush to pack his bags?  No, Brooks Hatlen panics.  Brooks Hatlen is scared spitless.  Why?  Because prison is all Brooks Hatlen has ever known.

Like every other inmate, Brooks came to Shawshank against his will.  He hated the bars.  He hated the food.  He hated the company.  Most of all he hated the confinement.  But as days turned into decades, things changed.  What he used to despise became acceptable.  Discomfort became comfortable.  The idea of freedom was foreign.  Hope was irrelevant.  Prison had simply become ‘home’.   Freedom was for someone else.  Brooks Hatlen had become ‘institutionalized’.  When Brooks was finally released from prison, all he could do was think of ways to get arrested so that he could return.

As insane as that seems, we are not so different.

About three years ago I was finally ‘paroled’ from the prison of my desert.  I tasted hope for the first time in years and it was sweet.  I left the bitter cold of a long winter and felt the sunshine of freedom on my face.  But with my transition came feelings of uncertainty.  My newfound freedom felt strange.  My spirit had learned to be jaded, and at times my fledgling hope seemed foolish and naïve.  There was so much to risk outside of my prison cell.  At least in there I knew where I stood.  I was suffocating in the stale air of my confinement, but I had learned how to live on minimal oxygen.  To step into freedom involves the possibility of failure.  My dreams had been crushed before.

A few months ago I met with a very dear friend who speaks into my life with love and authority and he challenged me about leaving my prison behind.  He pointed out that when David left the cave where he had been hiding from his enemies, he left the cave for good.  He did not go back.  “Tim, you have tasted freedom.  Now you must live there.”

My exit from prison has at times been a hesitant one.  But I must come out.  Fully.  And I must not return.  There is only death there.

Are you in prison?  How long have you been there?  Are you becoming ‘institutionalized’?  If that is your story, I plead with you to find help and fight through.  You were made for more.  Discouragement is not where you belong.  Depression is not your inheritance.  ‘Imprisoned’ does not define you.

You were made to be free.

 

Comments

Posted On
Jun 05, 2011
Posted By
Alain Caron

This entry feels to me like a milestone in your journey. You’re a great inspiration!

Posted On
Jun 06, 2011
Posted By
Crystal

Something I really needed to hear right now. So many things just make me want to retreat farther into my prison rather than even remotely try to get out.

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