457 | Miles and Miles of Circles

October 16, 2016
Sunday, 11:30 p.m.
Letter #457: Miles and Miles of Circles


Dear Family,

You know how you want to make sure your house is clean before guests come over? The neighbor kid, not so much, but friends you haven’t seen in a while, or your pastor and his wife? The house gets all dolled up for the occasion, as if your dearest friends or Christian family would care about you any less if your house wasn’t up to their expectations. Or is it because we want to present those we love with the best of us, the nicest decorations, the grandest welcome, the best cooking? In any case, we prepare eagerly for the arrival of our special guests.

As a prisoner, I don’t have many variables that I can change in regard to “getting ready for a visit.” The part of my “house” that gets visited (the Visiting Room) doesn’t belong to me, and I’m not even the one who cleans it. The food available for snacks or for a meal if my guests are hungry comes from a vending machine, and it’s not my treat. My clothing choice is made for me, so no need fretting about what to wear. The only variables I get to tamper with are all based on what I look like, such as facial hair and hairstyle.

Recently, the Rees family from Virginia told Art and I that they would like to visit us sometime soon. They’re already approved to visit me but only recently sent in forms to also visit Art. We are hoping to receive permission to do a special “combined visit,” with Art and I both seated at the same table.

Meanwhile, as we are eagerly anticipating their visit, Art decided to join me for my daily workout routine with my workout buddy, Mogly. Like cleaning house or cooking a great dessert, working out is the prison world’s way of getting ready for a visit. You can feel as if you’ve been doing something with your life that has a tangible outcome, and you can hope your visitors notice how healthy you look.

Everyone assumes that prisoners have nothing to do all day but work out, so you don’t want to disappoint the stereotype every other prisoner before you has worked so tirelessly to cultivate. You must work out. It is a prisoner code.

I live in a concrete box with no windows to the outside world. I eat in it, sleep in it, work in it, study in it. My outside world consists of a postage stamp of dirt enclosed in chain-link, dog-kennel-style, if you were kenneling 350 dogs per yard, and if those dogs were interested in basketball and handball. The key to making workouts effective in such a small space is to either get a buddy who is way more fit than you and let him drive you like a Marine recruit or get a buddy who is highly competitive, who will try to outdo you, and let that fear of coming in second drive you. Me? I have both, with my personal trainer friend, Mogly, and now my competitive best friend, Art, joining us for daily workouts. I will probably die.

I’ve begun running. You know, not to particularly arrive someplace, but just to do that thing that fit people do for no apparent reason. I think that if I run enough, I’ll maybe become fit—or at least understand the reason. I have not run enough, that’s for sure.

So that I could set measurable goals, I calculated the distance of each “lap” around the yard by painstakingly walking one foot in front of the other ever so slowly. I walked the route I planned to run, then determined how many laps make for a mile along my route: 11½ laps, to be exact. Just before Art began to work out with me, I’d achieved a personal milestone of sorts and ran nonstop for 3 miles. It took me 25 minutes, which is no land-speed record, that’s for sure. I’ll keep working at it, so I get under a 7-minute mile, but for now, I’ve been working to achieve distance/endurance goals.

Art ran track in high school, so he knows the mental game behind long-distance running. (For me, anything longer than running down your street a couple of city blocks is considered “long distance.”) Art volunteered to take over the running portion of my workout regimen, since Mogly isn’t too cracked up about running. I agreed to it, not because I wanted to run but because it would have been easier to just jog on my own, and I’m not allowing myself to make easy choices, soft choices, these days.

For starters, we ran just 2 miles, and a couple of days later, we ran 2½. Then 3, then 4 a couple of days after that. The next time we ran, we got all the way up to 5 miles, and as we were closing in on the goal, Art asked how I was feeling. I couldn’t let him know that it felt as if my legs were made of wood. I told him I was fine, and he told me he felt as if he could keep running.

I asked him if that was a statement or a challenge, and when he said it was more of a challenge, it was on. We blew past our previous record that day and recorded a new distance of 6 miles. We were elated, but we couldn’t just relax once that was accomplished. We immediately began planning for how and when we’d do our next goal of 7 miles together, on our way to 10.

With Art running right next to me, the time flies by. Goals are easier set and reached together.

All of this effort, just to look healthy? It feels like I’m dying instead, running in circles in my kennel. Miles and miles of circles. Our guests had better notice! But no, they won’t. It’s why I’m doing it for God, part of being a faithful steward and not taking my life for granted. Along the way, I’m learning about myself and what I can do. That’s healthy.