Posted by: ritagone | November 2, 2016

One Man’s Prison…



One of my new fprison-barsavorite reads recently has been Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety,” written in 1987 to critical and commercial acclaim, and yet, strangely, it has never been a well-known or celebrated book, at least in the circles in which I move.

As I read it, there was a passage that particularly moved and fascinated me, and I’m reprinting it here because I think you’ll enjoy it too. Here it is, written by the speaker of the novel, Larry Morgan, a young English professor trying to make his mark as both an academic and a writer, learning to juggle professional, family and friend responsibilities in his young career:


“In graduate school, with more to be done than there were hours to do it in, with obligations and deadlines to meet, with classes to take or teach, papers to write or read, exams to prepare and proctor, meetings to attend, books to locate, charge out, and read – with all that haunted routine of preparation and testing, I used to dream, perhaps beguiled by the examples of Sir Walter Raleigh and Jawaharlal Nehru, of the pleasures of solitary confinement. It seemed to me that nothing could do as much for a man as a good long jail sentence.

         To have all of one’s physical needs taken care of by specially appointed assistants; to be marched to and from meals with neither choice nor cooking, payment nor dishwashing, on one’s mind; to be sent at stipulated times to the yard for exercise; to have whole mornings, afternoons, evenings, of freedom from interruption, with only the passing and repassing of a guard’s steps in the corridor to assure and emphasize it; to hear the clang of opening and closing doors down the cellblock and know that one needn’t be concerned, one still had months to serve – who could not write the history of the world under such circumstances? Who could not, in a well-insulated but austerely padded cell, think all the high thoughts, read all the great books, perhaps even write one or two?”



At first I thought, yes, he’s captured what I’ve thought myself at various times of my life: who wouldn’t like the borders and boundaries of a life like this, where someone tells you where to go and when to do what you’re supposed to do, where there was little you had to be responsible for, so that your mind could soar to accomplish some of the great works that the chores of daily life prevented you from getting done? (Hence the appeal of monastic life.)

Then I thought of one of my favorite movies, “The Shawshank Redemption,” where inmates spent the entire movie dreaming of and wishing for escape, where prison seemed the harshest of environments, and everything on the “outside” was more desirable until and unless you were released to try to live and survive there after decades of living under just such circumstances that Stegner described in the above paragraphs.

What creatures we humans are! Whatever we have, we don’t want, and whatever we want, what we continuously dream will make our lives so much better, when and if we get it proves to not be true.

What “grass is greener” are you confronting, perhaps, today, looking out around you and wishing for something that you don’t have and feeling that, if you had it, your life would thrive? And is that a myth you need to debunk right now, before you waste another minute or hour of the life you do have? I am thinking through these very questions right now myself, and I encourage you to join me in doing the same.

It’s an exercise worth participating in.







  1. Just now had a chance to finish your blog. Wow, deep thoughts. Funny when Don and David were sick there was nothing on the calendar. It was nice in one-way. There’s always that fine line of being too busy or not busy enough. When we’re too busy we want solitude and when we’re not busy we want action, like you said, we are a strange bunch of creatures.

    Are you winging your way toward New York right now? Have a great trip. I will be eager to hear all about it.

    Sent from my iPhone


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