The World in a Tunnel

Can the whole world shrink to the size of a walking path tunnel in Chaska, Minnesota?

On our morning walk, while Barclay sniffs his way along the path for signs of smaller creatures who might not have made it through the night, my eyes were drawn to the graffiti on the both sides of the tunnel. Boldly painted in black or red, the logos belonged to gangs or gang wannabes.

Eight years at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis left me we a knowledge of graffiti and tagging. Our defense attorneys sometimes defended “taggers”, self-proclaimed creative artists who used public space as their canvasses. Other times the graffiti was posted by a gang member to announce the gang’s claim to a block or a neighborhood. Often the gangs were competing for control. In that case, there were at least two “tags” and sometimes many: Latin Kings, the Crips, or the Gangster Disciples. The graffiti meant, “Don’t mess with us. We own this neighborhood.”

In Chaska this morning the tunnel walls were filled with gang symbols, most likely by kids who are gang “wannabes”, kids in a small city pretending to be gangsters the way my generation used to play cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians. You couldn’t be both a cop and robber. You couldn’t be a cowboy and an Indian. You were either in the one gang or the other. We’re all in some kind of gang where we get our sense of identity and the security that comes with belonging to something.

Walking through the tunnel was like living for a moment in a microcosm of the world where the small town folks’ claims of ownership and the threats of violence mirror and replicate the power of greed, the lust for power and “the good life” that filters down from The Boss, Trump’s Tower, Wall Street, the Mall, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Washington, D.C. where the will to security and power is the motive force.

Meanwhile, six-month-old Barclay, the 10-pound puppy on my leash ignores the walls and sniffs the macadam for a mouse that has already died, unaware of handwriting on the walls of the superior species of his master.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Saturday morning, November 16, 2013

Escaping the Inner Prison

Corinthian Avenue Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA

I once worked outside this prison as a street worker in North Philadelphia. Young gang members and I played “stickball” on the lawn outside the prison wall. I thought then that the prisoners were inside, and that the gang members were headed for the inside. The rest of us were free…on the outside. Now I see it differently.

We’re all in prison. Yet we’re free. We’re in the prison of deregulated corporate capitalism.We’re back in the Roman Empire, where Paul and Silas were thrown in prison because they dared to interfere with the free market. They freed a young slave-girl who had been put on the street corner as a fortune-teller. She lived on Main Street; all the money from her fortune-telling went to her slave owners on Wall Street.

By rescuing the slave-girl, Paul and Silas were challenging the morality of the prevailing economic system. So the folks from Wall Street seized them, dragged them “into the market place” before those in power and the judges — who were in the hip pocket of those who owned the marketplace and the market — beat them and threw them in prison for advocating “customs and practices” that were unlawful, according to law of the Roman empire. It’s all there in the New Testament Book of Acts. It was unlawful to be moral, unlawful to mess with the economy of a free market.

After beating them to a pulp, the judicial system ordered the jailer to lock them up in the most secure part of the prison — “the inner prison.” It’s always “the inner prison” — the one in our own hearts and heads — whose walls are the thickest. The people who challenge prison security are put in the “inner prison” — solitary confinement.
As Paul and Silas sang and prayed “at midnight” from their inner prisons and all the others were listening, there was a kind of earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. All the prison doors swung open and everybody’s chains fell off! Everybody’s! And when the jailer woke up to what was happening and drew his sword to commit suicide, Paul and Silas declared that he, too, had been set free from the prison he had guarded.
In September-October 2008 an earthquake rocked the foundations of deregulated corporate capitalism. The earthquake, of their own making, shook the prison walls owned by the big investment brokerage houses and the big banks and AIG, and the inner cell doors had begun to swing open in the hearts and minds of the American people.
But instead of leaving the prison, we stayed in the “inner prison.” We rebuilt the prison, gave the keys back to Wall Street, and chose three square meals a day, a roof over our heads, some chump change for candy and cigarettes, numbed ourselves TV entertainment, and gave the slave-girl back to her owners so we could all dream about a different future. We rebuilt the Wall Street Prison.
What to do? For me, this is a matter of faith. I’m still an inmate of the Wall Street Prison, but my “inner prison” is free. I’m going to keep singing out loud at midnight about human freedom from the prison economy of a deregulated corporate free market that is anything but free. I’m going to walk out of that inner prison by taking my chump change out of the big banks that give $1,000,000 bonuses to the very people who foreclosed on the family of that slave-girl, and I’m transferring all it to the local credit union which belongs to the people. Then I’m going to invite everyone else to do the same.
I’m going to join Paul and Silas and song-writer Timothy Frantzich until everybody’s chains fall off and all the prison doors swing open.
Questions for comment and discussion:
  1. What is “the inner prison”?
  2. How does “the inner prison” work?
  3. Do you agree, in part or in whole, with the commentary?
  4. Where do you agree and disagree?

I’d love to hear from you. Others would, too. Thanks for coming by.