Escaping the Prison Industrial Mindset

Tonight I realized that I feel safer in cars that look like I can afford them. That is a sad awareness that I need to work on more deeply.

How I realized this was that I had to rent a car. I had a coupon that enabled me to get a compact for the same price as an economy and I jumped on it. There was also an offer to upgrade to a standard for $2.41 more but I declined it since I only needed the car for a day and figured I can do something else with the $2.41. But, when I got dropped off at the rental car place, it turned out that they didn’t have a compact or even an economy. What they could offer me was a minivan or an SUV for the same price. I decided to take the SUV. It turned out that the only SUV they had available was their most expensive vehicle on the lot with all the bells and whistles. The agent told me that the cost was $70k.

Now you would think that my first thought would be excitement and a hallelujah! For receiving this super nice vehicle for the price of dinner for two at Chipotle. But instead, my first thought was, “I hope the police don’t see me driving this.” When I witnessed the thought arise in my consciousness, I have to admit that I was disheartened that my first thought couldn’t be happiness for myself.

It feels discouraging when, despite years of working on shifting my mind away from the social constructs projected upon people who look like me and into an awareness that only God and I have any authority on who I am, I still must frequently work on my mind to push out images of myself in jail away from my family, disgraced for some crime I probably didn’t commit. Or worse.

“DELETE. DELETE, DELETE”, I say to myself not wanting to give any energy to this false future. But memories and secondary traumas from exposure that I have not been able to fully heal from still wrestle for space in my mind.

The promise of my faith that tells me, “perfect love casts out all fear,” is tempered by “Black boys out at night are nothing but trouble.” That’s what the police officers told us as a justification for why we were taunted by several white people one summer night. In other words, no one would have bothered you if you were in the house where you were supposed to be.

“I keep an extra gun on me just in case I shoot someone who wasn’t armed.” Yes. I heard this directly from the mouth of a white Louisiana police officer. And when I asked him if he thought that was wrong, he said, “No. Because chances are that the person probably got away with a crime that no one knows about.” This is something I can’t forget. And this is what goes through my mind when I am out at night. And it annoys me. How is it that I can know with all faith that I am free indeed in Christ and still navigate this world like a runaway slave? DELETE DELETE DELETE.

Thankfully, I have developed many thought exercises to draw me away from those thoughts when they arise. They include praying, using my imagination in constructive ways, and–when necessary–being honest with myself and others when thoughts like this arise. Writing helps tremendously. And that’s why you are reading these words right now. I also take the time to look for ways that I can use these awarenesses to help envision a more equitable society where future generations will not have to wrestle with these thoughts. I ask myself, “What will it take for me to experience myself as free as God sees me? And then I make moves toward that.

With the case of this vehicle, I was able to move into a place of enjoying the vehicle for the last five minutes of driving it after I passed a police officer, did my prayer, and confessed to a friend who is also a minority that I had this thought messing with me. As a person of color, he was able to relate to how I feel as a black person. And we were able to laugh it off a bit. Once the air was cleared so to speak, I was able to connect with the gratitude for having the vehicle for this day and to tell myself that, should I ever find myself in a position to have a vehicle that is beyond my current standards, that it is perfectly fine.

I know some people may wonder why I even had to go through this process. All I can say is that at some point, when some of us have heard enough negative things about ourselves or people like us—whether directly or indirectly—our survival mechanisms kick in and we try to anticipate negative reactions in order to preemptively figure out how to get around them. Some of us unfortunately buy into the false narratives and either surrender to them or actively resist them and try to distance ourselves from the projection in a multitude of mostly unhealthy ways. And I am sure there are people who deal with it in healthier ways. My way is to surrender to the belief that God is the author of my being. Not this system that feeds off of friction produced energy that relies on us being as divided within ourselves and against one another as possible. And so I keep cleaning house and being grateful for the day to day discoveries that allow me to eliminate the false ideas that take me away from me so that I can wholly return to God.

Psalm 139:13-16 
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

2 replies »

  1. Thanks for sharing this Pedro, for your sharing what one of your days was like, and the hopeful way you have of letting go of past hurts and confusions. It’s helpful to hear how you navigate the process of living your life.


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