My cellie Kevin and I got along well enough. He worked out too much, in my opinion, but it could just be that his extreme dedication made me feel both shame and guilt over my decidedly more lackadaisical approach to exercise. Regardless, we each had our own ways of doing time, our personalized and unique perspectives, and one day he took me to task for mine.
“You think this is how it’s supposed to be? This place sucks, man! You’re messed up! You don’t even know how bad it is; they’ve got you fooled. You’ve been here so long that you’ve got Stockholm Syndrome. You’re just messed up!”
This rant was railed against me as a reaction to my stubborn optimism and (according to Kevin) my annoying tendency to focus on the positive aspects of any given situation. Kevin, on the other hand, chose to embrace negativity and complain about EVERYTHING. Stockholm Syndrome, as I understand it, is a phenomenon which occurs when a person has been held captive and subjected to varying degrees of mental and emotional duress until they begin to sympathize with their captors, as a psychological defense mechanism,. In more extreme cases, these individuals actually take sides with their captors and fight to defend them. According to Kevin, I was the hostage, and the prison we were being held in was the entity to whom I showed sympathy.
Kevin was practically a professional complainer, and as such, his distorted outlook tended to determine his outcome. In my experience, I’ve found that a sour attitude is a self-perpetuation and self-fulfilling way to approach life. Sometimes I had to find that lesson out through painful experiences, but at least I did learn it. The same can’t be said for Kevin, which explains why he thought that I was suffering some cockeyed form of Stockholm Syndrome.
The prison we were in at the time was a disciplinary joint without much movement outside our cell or many privileges of any kind. This gave Kevin license to take issue with just about everything. When he went to gym, he’d complain that there were too many people and not enough weight machines or not enough time allotted to really get a good workout in. When gym was cancelled for no apparent reason, Kevin complained about being denied his recreation period.
A two hour yard was inadequate to him, meals insubstantial, TV reception not clear enough, available television channels too few. For Kevin, going on lockdown was akin to an apocalyptic event. Seeing only the bad kept Kevin in an interminably lousy mood. He could smile and laugh and have fun, but the undercurrent of abrasive annoyance—like a despicable default setting—was never far from display.
Where Kevin saw nuisances and aggravations, I identified blessings. Although gym periods were often crowded, that was good motivation to keep pushing through fatigue for the entire hour, because halfway through gym most guys fell off and there were plenty of weight machines available. Two hours of yard was plenty; free TV was lovely. I’d become accustomed to only three showers per week with other cleansings performed while standing over the sink and toilet, so that didn’t much bother me either. To me a lockdown wasn’t a curse, but rather an opportunity to focus on my writing with few interruptions. At times I’d even hope for/look forward to a lockdown because I craved that chance to give my work some undivided attention.
Despite Kevin’s opinion, none of my upbeat outlook was a result or example of me sympathizing with my so-called captor, but rather me making the most of a rough situation. Lemons into lemonade, as the adage goes. In the end I honestly didn’t think we had it all that bad.
Finding something to endlessly complain about is easy no matter where someone lives. From the bedsprings that make your back ache, to the chair that stubs your toe most mornings, to the latest horror show the news has waiting every day; there’s always something to find fault with. Consciously, continuously, and adamantly counting one’s blessings and thereby refusing to get dragged down by the hate and negativity that so insidiously permeate this world, especially enveloping the environment of prison, is an admirable way to live. I daresay—the right way to live.