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Christopher Anthony Boys
THE VISION IN PRISON
About thirty miles outside of Austin, Texas there is a Federal Correctional Institute. It is located in the small town of Bastrop and is known as FCI Bastrop. For various reasons I was fortunate to enjoy a two-year vacation at this paradoxical place. Paradoxical, because it was unfathomable by the mind, frustrating to the persona, generally considered aggravating as hell to most of us who inhabited it, but nevertheless, certainly perfect. My stay at Bastrop was part of an interesting nine-year vacation with the Bureau of Prisons – the consequences of a benighted attempt to manufacture one metric ton of the drug ecstasy.
I have never been a happy fellow. To be honest, I am basically miserable. I am certain that this too is perfect, but somehow rarely known as such. Just another story – my story – simple, without much ultimate profundity. I share the common lot of mankind. Everybody has a story. And as with everybody, at times my story assumes its harrowing dimensions, and too, at times its sublimity.
In the summer Bastrop is hot, but in the evening it cools and can be peaceful and sublime. The sky is clear; the light is no longer harsh but pleasant to the eyes. There can be beautiful sunsets. One such evening, something unusual happened – an experience that was neither harrowing nor sublime. The experience is difficult to categorize with a single word. Ironically, I would say that it was most probably “ecstatic”.
I worked in the chow hall. I had a cushy little job that only took a couple of hours twice a day. After the evening meal I cleaned the tables and the floors. About seven o’clock the guard would release the workers, and we could go to the library or to the rec yard or to walk the compound. This particular evening I walked back to my Unit and stood outside and looked at the sky. But though I looked, I saw nothing. My story was rattling on like a snake. I was blind except to my love-hate relation with the cigarette I was about to smoke.
How can the question of whether or not to simply smoke a cigarette feel like venom coursing through the veins? I don’t know. I mean, it still often feels that way; the pain of it all – the question, the actual smoking (or not), the after effects. I think of my father and his alcoholism. Perhaps things were the same for him when he was about to take that first drink.
This evening I lit my cigarette and heard the voice inside my head. Somehow for the first time I knew it as the mind. I said to myself, “No that is just the mind.” I took the cigarette to my lips and then looked up at the sky. Something broke inside me. It broke physically across my chest. Now I weep when such breaking occurs. Now I enjoy the feeling of a broken heart. But then I was not so familiar with the space. And too, I allow myself to acknowledge that the guy I was then had known too much pain for too long. As the armor broke, something flooded up to my eyes and lifted my head up. I looked higher into the blue sky and then at the clouds. I found myself leaning back, and even saying to myself softly, “Just lean back, just lean back a little.”
The sky opened. It opened because I had opened. I saw with new eyes, and what I saw was magnificent. There was the infinity of consciousness. With a zillion tiny geometries, the sky was alive with consciousness. I was thrust out of myself. Nothing mattered anymore. I think I took one puff of the cigarette and then dropped it from my hand. I looked in awe. God, it was true. Yes, it was true. I said softly to myself, “Oh my God.” And lo, when I said this, consciousness rushed forth into the sky even denser, so that I was struck still by the divine vision.
Slowly I began to move away from the Unit to walk the path that circumambulated the compound area. My head was looking into the sky. And again – “Oh my God.” And again the sky became pregnant with the consciousness, dense and utterly, undeniably real. I felt saved in a moment from a lifetime of pain. I knew I walked in a miracle, the only miracle that matters – that God is all there is, and in an instant the vision of God vanishes the mind and a lifetime of pain, swept away as by a wilderness fire.
After I had a walked some time, occasionally finding myself saying “Oh my God” and then marveling at the brilliant intensity of consciousness, I had a thought that seemed to express the physics of things. I thought, “To see God is to proclaim God, and to proclaim God is to see God.”
I walked this way for perhaps twenty minutes. Slowly I noticed that accompanying the miracle there was a tiny strain. The strain became more noticeable. What was it? Then I knew. I stood still and softly, slowly said, “Okay, my friend, okay my friend; let us see.” I looked into the density of consciousness and said firmly to myself, “And I am God.” And lo, the consciousness in front of me began to swirl. It formed a vortex of dense, visible, moving consciousness that suddenly thrust toward me and shot into the right side of my chest. I stood utterly still and felt my body begin to swell with consciousness. I felt it penetrating the cells.
As the body swelled in ecstasy, the mind reappeared. It reappeared as the pressure of consciousness rose against my skull. Quickly there was a rapid series of thoughts, so rapid that only later did I remember them more precisely. The thinking was like a compressed burst of electronic information. But it was powerful and stopped me. The mind was saying, “No, this is not allowable here in this place. If you allow this you will be mad in God, and they will take you to the psych unit and shoot you so full of Thorazine that your nervous system will be destroyed and you may go crazy. Not crazy in God, but thrust back into a wretched, drug-filled body where the pain drives you to solitary and insanity.
Slowly, I stopped the swelling. I pushed it away. But I could not bear to return to myself and to the world I was familiar with. Instead I lifted my head again to the sky and lingered with the vision, which by Grace was still available. I walked the compound staring into infinity. Infinity present. Present to me. The gift was still being given, and I rested with it. After perhaps another twenty minutes I returned to my unit and stood next to the entrance. I began to wonder what to do. I thought a thought and it hurt; it hurt so much. I became aware of my brain. The two hemispheres of my brain were two half domes of gray matter, nothing more. They were simply there, open, utterly open. They were coincident with, and somehow necessary for, the vision of God. I could not think. I knew I must not think. But what to do?
I became aware of the other men standing next to me. They had moved closer to me. I looked at several fellows. They were fascinating. They were the only things in all the world that were comforting. They were so human and beautiful. They were intensely attractive. And they were attracted to me. They moved closer to me. A few began to talk to me, fellows I hardly knew. I was silent and then able to say a few things in response. One man began to talk to me about his life – sweet, friendly words were flowing. I understood that he was relating intimate details of his life from the heart. I nodded and listened. I understood – the men were feeling my compassion. They knew the safety of my love. Yes, they were so attractive that I was loving them. The love was effortless.
Finally came the time for the guards to close the Unit. I moved inside. I talked with some of the men for a short time, but soon we disbursed. Guys went to the TV room to watch television. I followed. What else could I do? I had to follow these beautiful beings. I needed them. They never knew how much I needed them. In the TV room I watched some television, but the conditional world was reappearing. I knew no means to prevent it. Slowly the vision receded and things were again as they had been. At count time I returned to my cell. I hung out with my cellie. I wanted to clutch him and ask him to never leave me. I wanted to tell him about God and love and the infinity of Grace. I didn’t. I can’t remember why I didn’t. Now I know it was not meant to be. I really had not much say in the matter. The play of God had given me the gift, and the play of God had taken it away.
So be it.
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