I went to jail Saturday

I went to Jail Saturday


Last Supper Mural in Beto Chapel  by Mario Ayala painted on concrete block 1998

Actually I went to the Kairos community Christmas party in the Chapel of the George Beto Penitentiary Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Palestine, TX.

Cherry and I worked several Kairos weekends until a few years ago but always try to make it back for the Christmas.

Kairos (Greek for God’s special time) needs to be experienced to fully understand. It is a 3 day Christian retreat in the prison that demonstrates to society’s forgotten that God loves them. It is one of the most powerful emotional experiences imaginable. And for my agnostic and atheist friends, I would challenge you to experience it before you knock it.

Briefly, sixteen whites, sixteen blacks, and sixteen Hispanics are brought together, hostile and suspicious. They only come because they have been told, correctly, that the food is great – Barbecue, lasagna, taco salad, fried chicken, salad, ice cream, cake. But through talks, singing, and forgiveness exercises over the three days a transformation takes place that is unique.  Suffice it to say, lives are changed. Not perfectly and not 100% but a sense of purpose and community is formed that replaces isolation, anger, depression, and gangs. Many experience love and acceptance for the first time in their lives.

So I arose at 5 AM Saturday and drove the 120 miles to Tennessee Colony, TX. Seventy five of us entered the Beto chapel around eight and were soon joined by over 180 of our “brothers in white.” All wore beltless button-less uniforms with a nametag clipped to the front pocket. Clean cut, no facial hair. Many were tattooed from the top of their heads to their fingertips. As I wrote in First You Pay:

Time and how to fill it is the second problem facing the incarcerated—staying safe and alive being the first. Many pass the time drawing on paper or on each other.

 But what I heard from several of my “brothers in white” at Beto astounded me. There is an epidemic going on there and, as I found after an internet search, in the free world as well. AND I HAD NEVER HEARD OF IT! Here is one brief story.

He takes a single puff of potpourri, called K2 in here. He immediately sheds his clothes and races out of his cell, one of one hundred and seventy on this wing. He wrestles the keys and pepper spray from an officer and puts the officer’s hat on his head. He streaks down the wing, three floors of cells on either side. He pushes another guard aside and climbs to the second tier of cells. As officers close in, he leaps across the hall to the opposite row of cells, dangling from the railing on the second level. He is sprayed with pepper spray but it has no effect. He begins using the pepper spray on the officers who must retreat until the K2 wears off. He eventually drops to the floor and is subdued and led away to administrative segregation.

Scenarios like this are repeated daily at Beto. For the last two to three months smoking K2 has caused psychotic breaks, violence, bizarre behavior such as jumping off elevated wings, and a few deaths. It is known by other names K2…Spice…Potpourri…fake weed…Yucatan fire…Skunk…Moon Rocks…Synthetic Marijuana…and its cousin Bath Salts.  You can look it up on the internet. 

In a perverse way that behavior has something in common with Kairos.

Andrew Weil in his 1972 book The Natural Mind popularized the human need to alter consciousness. From childhood dreams or spinning around until dizzy to Walter Mitty fantasies to alcohol and drugs – all have one thing in common – to alter our reality or consciousness. And I would add religious ecstasy to the list.

Walker Percy spent his literary career writing about existentialism and the human need to get out of “ordinariness” and find meaning. Borrowing from Kierkegaard he basically asked us in his novels to come out of our ordinary lives and recognize the Wonder and Uniqueness around us – without drugs. The hypnotist Ted Barber told me that he thought that most people needed to be brought out of hypnosis, rather than induced into it. Look at the person next to you at the next stoplight and you’ll see what he means (unless they have a phone in their ear!). Not present!

K2 and Kairos both offer an emotional high that takes us out of the ordinary to alter our consciousness. Certainly one is dangerous and the other can be positively (OK or negatively) life transforming but both begin with an alternate focus of reality.

So it seems to me that altering our perceptions or consciousness is part of our human condition or as BF Skinner said:

The object of life is to gratify yourself without getting arrested.