Recently I watched the History Channel Documentary ‘Alcatraz: The Search For the Truth’- a revelatory show about the infamous 1962 escape attempt. It revealed new information about what really happened that day and spurred memories of my first journey to Alcatraz.
When I was a teenager in the mid to late 1970’s, our family went on the first of many tours to Alcatraz island (we went many times, as different relatives from back east arrived—as part of San Francisco’s ‘can’t miss’ excursions).
I vividly remember one particular aspect of that first visit. Our knowledgeable guide solicited volunteers, those willing to be locked up in solitary confinement. My hand instantly went up and I was one of 3 people chosen to ‘endure a tiny glimpse of what it must have been like’.
In most prison movies, at least one scene portrays the ‘bad guy” -or good guy wrongly incarcerated- getting moved into the dreaded hole, aka= solitary confinement.
I spent 1 full minute in that dark, cramped and dank cell. The first thirty seconds I literally held my breath as a hundred different scenarios shot from my head. The next ten seconds I spent wondering if rats or other critters were crawling on me, and the final 20 seconds the pure horror of wondering if the cell door was broken because I had certainly been locked inside at least 5 minutes already! I sprang out of that hole like an Olympic 100 Meter dash runner. It was amazing to witness how much ruckus the mind can stir up in 60 seconds.
Today, if I had a chance to sit in solitary confinement at Alcatraz again, the physical discomforts of a long sojourn there would certainly be less than thrilling but I would revel in the silence. And silence is available wherever we are. It is our closest companion, most intimate friend.
In a world gone obnoxious with ever-increasing mixtures of loud, jagged noise disguised as entertainment, many have lost the ability to tune into the stillness that is a precursor to real sanity.
Yet, silence and stillness are always available. The breath is one doorway leading to a different type of incarceration. This type of convict, enraptured in the vital force, is not the least bit stirred by outer circumstances. They know the truth of being and are happy to rest in that all-pervading peace.