Monday, June 07, 2010

Creative escapes

Just before GWB started GW II, I wrote an essay that proposed it was time for peace. In it, I used the daisy as a symbol for peace. Unfortunately, even though the article was published, peace did not prevail.

But it was with the same sort of optimism that I took the photo above. You might not guess it, but those wildflowers are growing just outside the walls of Matsqui, a federal penitentiary here in western Canada.

Once again, I was part of a group of writers who dedicated Saturday and Sunday as a time to work on – and share – our writing. The writers included both 'insiders' (those who reside in the prison) and 'outsiders' (those who get to return to their families and homes once the retreat comes to an end).

It seemed ironic to learn that while I was ‘in prison’ this time, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, as follow-up to a "peace jirga" held in Kabul, announced a review “…of Taliban-linked prisoners and other militants and said [that] those held without grounds should be released.” And in contrast to this positive-sounding initiative, I consider Barack Obama’s pre-election promise to close Guantanamo. Yet sadly, a year and a half after his inauguration, that institution remains in operation.

This mishmash of thought was compounded today by an op-ed piece in this morning's Vancouver Sun. In the article, SFU criminologist Neil Boyd points out that our government’s current “get tough on crime” policies are continuing to get stricter, despite the body of logical evidence suggesting such actions as backward steps.

I hate the fact that when it comes to our policies on prisons and prisoners, we seem to be drawn only further and further into the vortex of the U.S., a country with the highest-per-capita rate of incarceration in the world, hardly a model to be admired.

Because cameras (aside from those of the surveillance variety) aren’t allowed inside the prison, I couldn't take photos of the workshops. If cameras had been permitted, I could have shown you a group of men and women reading their work aloud, asking questions, laughing, exchanging ideas. But instead, you get flowers.

If you look again at the photo, you’ll see that besides those daisies standing tall in the grass as a symbol of peace, there's a preponderance of springtime lupins. And I've learned that in the symbology of flowers, these are associated with imagination.

So as I come away from my weekend at the penitentiary, what better image could I offer? Today I am filled with thoughts that even those of us who live on the ‘outside’ may not truly be free. But those lupins remind me to turn to my writing, just as the ‘insiders’ do, as one sure way of really being free, through the creative powers of imagination.


Anonymous said...

In our group on the 1st day we talked about conceptual prisons -- bad relationships, bad mortgages, bad choices, depression -- and how we are trained to 'choose' to live in prisons, even on the 'outside.' Thanks for this post. See you at the next retreat! -alex.

hg said...

I'd have to add 'bad jobs' to your list (though I suppose 'bad choices' would cover that). Next time, Alex, I hope I'll be able to spend at least part of a day in a group that has you in it.