May 22, 2016
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #436: Christopher and Mogly Inseparable
Soon after arriving at this prison, I went through the customary medical tests and examinations to determine my health care needs. This facility has extremely limited medical care available on-site. Thus, they do not want to house anyone with chronic health issues. For anything beyond a headache or hangnail, they transport you to a nearby prison with a full medical facility. During the post-exam consultations with the doctor, he looked at my health stats, compared them with average acceptable standards, and told me I’m a total beast! Well, at least that’s what it sounded like. His ancestors most likely are Asian, so I had him repeat his compliment of my physique. This time it was pretty clear he wasn’t complimenting me: at 218 pounds, apparently I’m borderline obese. Yay.
My good friend on the upper bunk next to mine is Sako’s bunkie who came on the bus from La Palma with me and goes by “Mogly,” a variant of the name of the main character from The Jungle Book. From our first day out at yard together, he asked me if I wanted to start working out with him. “Why?” I asked him. “Does my body look like it wants to work out?”
“No,” he retorted, “but it will keep you looking young.”
I told him I couldn’t possibly look much younger, since I’m rockin’ the biceps of a seven-year-old.
Well, a lot of late-night grilled cheese or grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at La Palma wasn’t so great for my health, it turns out. They tasted great, but that undisciplined “soft” choice began to give me an hourglass figure. Like the type of hourglass blown by a novice who puts the biggest part in the middle. That belly fat that is adorable in babies and beagles isn’t good at all for forty-somethings, apparently, especially for us forty-somethings who hope to be ninety-somethings someday.
With this in mind, I heard someone with my voice agree to begin working out with the Jungle Book guy. Poor thing, he has no idea what’s in store. Snapping back into reality, I heard Mogly tell me that he was willing to help me begin working out as long as I lasted: “You’ll probably quit within the first week,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Problem was, his fact-lys weren’t straight. I corrected him. “No, I definitely will NOT quit, but I assure you that I WILL complain. I’ve never complained about ANYTHING in prison, EVER. But if I sign up for this myself, because it is an optional activity, I will do my fair share of complaining.” Hey, at least I agreed to begin working out five days a week. Nobody said I also have to like it, right?
My initial health and fitness goals for myself had less to do with a certain number of push-ups or a certain amount of weight lost and more about not dying while working out. Seems reasonable, right? It would have been a good idea to get Mogly on the same page as me with my goal, however, because he has seemed intent from Day One to kill me a million different ways.
The first day was brutal. I succeeded in sort-of jogging four short laps around our mini-track before needing to walk instead. Since eleven-and-a-half laps is one mile (I later painstakingly measured it), I ran approximately a distance of complete failure that first day. On my first day of doing “burpees,” an exercise where you simulate an ancient torture routine by spastically jumping up then dropping down to do push-ups before popping up again, I couldn’t do very many in a row without my entire being screaming at me to stop. I’d scream back at it that we had forfeited that option, and I’d just press on. I was so exhausted by the end of my first push-up workout that I could not push my face away from the pavement any longer. With Mogly laughing, I rolled to my side and then sat up instead.
In these first six weeks of working out, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I have a severe “weenie complex” that needs to be overcome. That is, I don’t think I’m capable of something, so I just don’t even attempt it. Note to old self: those days are over. I’ve learned that my body tends to exaggerate and misstate the facts. That is, it tells me that it is shutting down, in serious trouble, or cannot possibly go on, and yet I’m able to get way more activity out of it. I’ve learned that I can be grateful for something painful, especially when I can begin to see how it is benefiting my life. I don’t have to like it, but I have to accept it.
Every day, I listen to Christian music as I hate the pain I’m putting myself through. And every day, there’s a message in it meant specifically for me. A few times, Mogly has seen me, exhausted and overcome with emotion, yet pressing on. He’s asked what I heard that got to me, and I’ve explained the message God spoke to my heart. He claims to not believe in God, but I’m not letting that stop me from talking about my relationship with the One he doesn’t believe in. (I’ve told him, “That’s okay for now … He believes in you.”)
Making lots of little “soft choices” is what brought me to prison, and continuing to make soft choices is what gave me a gut I don’t need. This time in prison should be all about my reformation and renewal, battling the attitudes and behaviors that defeat me, no matter the personal cost. And so far, so good: six weeks in, I can run 23 laps, which is two miles, nonstop, and keep up with Mogly on every other workout routine. I’ve lost my gut and the 17 pounds that put it there, but I’ve got a lot further to go, because I don’t quit, and Mogly doesn’t leave for another three years, unfortunately.