April 1, 2014

Reading is helping me thrive through this prison experience. While it is helping me I must own that it does not come easily to me. Of course, I can read! What I mean is that aggressively pursuing my business interests in my 20s and 30s did not leave much time for reading the classics or books that would help me become a better man. But the past is the past. Anyone can change and begin improving on areas in any part of their life. Reading is like golf in a way. It requires practice, a deliberateness. Like golf, the more I practice the better I become. I also enjoy the experience more.

For purposes of this blog I would like to write about a fascinating story I came across in the library. The story reminded me of the need for perspective, of staying strong through all ups and downs, including those that happen in my daily prison life. Now I will admit the story is not totally new to me. While reading a book that helped prepare me for prison I came across this story. Still, I did not internalize it the way I did today. Perhaps living in this environment made the impact feel more significant.

The story I flipped through in the library between breakfast and my exercise routine was The Myth Of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. Camus, for those that do not know, was a French philosopher, journalist and novelist. According to this book, he also won the Nobel Prize. He died a young man at the age of 47. Still, he left his mark and I suspect centuries from now we will be still talking about him, and specifically The Myth of Sisyphus, published in 1942.

In this short story version I learned that Sisyphus was a man who was sent to Hades (underworld) as a result of his wicked acts. Sisyphus was required to roll a boulder up a hill forever. Every time he reached the top, the boulder rolled down again, requiring Sisyphus to start anew. In reading this story I realized that prison in many ways can feel like a similar punishment. As soon as you think you are adjusted, disappoint and shock can strike.

For example, last week, without warning, my 70-year old roommate was suddenly taken out of our room. A correctional officer strolled in, got my roommate, and left. Just like that he was gone. Why, I wondered? The immediacy of the event shook me. Suddenly, I felt vulnerable, confused. Was I next? Where would they take me? Will I be moving further from my family? As much as I was concerned for his wellbeing, I must admit I was concerned for my own. This punishment has been hard on my family and more instability would only make matters worse.

Naturally, rumors about my roommates removal were abound. People love to talk and spread gossip in federal prison. To thrive one must learn to ignore most of what is said around you.

I wondered: Did he have an old warrant? Was he cooperating and the govt needed him in court? Did he get transferred to a medical facility? I am still unsure. I’m sure, however, that the incident reminded me that prison can be uncomfortable. Like Sisyphus, I was working my way to the top, but got knocked down. I must start again and keep climbing until these doors open for me.

While this experience was tough, I am proud of my response to it. Before surrendering to prison I regretted some of the ways I handled setbacks. I locked myself in my “man cave” with only my thoughts and cigarettes to keep me company. I did not handle my time before surrendering to FCI Petersburg as well as I would have liked. This prison term and the books I read are helping me understand that. I cannot go back, but I can learn from it. I can improve.  Like a punch to the face I was quickly reminded that prison life can be a tough life and that disruption is as normal as someone getting their morning cup of coffee at Starbucks. But we must continue rolling the boulder up the hill, pursing goals and interests that relate to the values we identify as being important to us. For me the highest value is my family. I must continue adjusting in a way that will make them proud of me. They inspire me to work harder and to become better.

Andy Rothenberg


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