Thursday, February 26, 2009
Eighty-Two Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
I recently had an opportunity to read some of the work by Plato. I remember being introduced to Plato during my undergraduate studies, but at the time my focus was on playing third base and enjoying the college experience at USC. Contemplating philosophy was not keeping me awake at night.
In prison, however, at least for the past several months, I’ve limited myself to reading nonfiction. One of the library shelves in the Taft library included some modern translations of ancient philosophers. As I began reading through the stories that Plato wrote, I felt myself identifying with his message.
The first story I liked described the trial of Socrates. He had been convicted for breaking the laws of Greece. The law didn’t seem to make much sense to me. It made a crime of teaching. The purpose behind the law, I surmised, was to keep power in the hands of the elite. Those who controlled the state considered an educated populace as a threat to their control. Hence, the law.
Socrates understood the law, though he continued to instruct anyone who would listen. As a teacher of others, Socrates believed that he had a higher duty to serve his fellow citizens than to abide by laws designed to keep people as ignorant slaves. The authorities charged Socrates with breaking the law. After a trial, he was convicted. The powers in charge sentenced him to death, requiring him to drink a poison that would kill him.
What moved me most about this story was Socrates’ response. He had an opportunity to evade the death sentence by escape. Everything was in place for him, and there was no risk. Yet rather than taking the easy way out, Socrates chose to abide by the sanction and surrender his life.
As I read Socrates explain his reasoning for drinking the poison that he knew would kill him, I really developed a sense of the meaning behind such virtues as character and integrity. I’m ashamed to admit that those concepts were not high on my list of priorities after I graduated from USC. As a young athlete they were, and I certainly saw them embodied in my family and friends. Somehow, though, I lost sight of them when I forayed into the world of money management. It’s somewhat ironic that I would come to appreciate the intrinsic value of good character and integrity while in the midst of a federal prison system. Perhaps those were the lessons we were supposed to learn through rehabilitation. In a later blog, I’ll describe the reasons I intend to pass along these lessons I’ve learned from prison.