When I speak to people about my prison experience, those that are truly trying to empathize invariably wonder, “Was it lonely in prison?”
To be sure, you’re rarely alone. You long for solitude at times, just for the peace and quiet. Hundreds of men within shouting distance tends to result in – well, a fair amount of shouting. It’s jarring for many people, particularly those introverts that find themselves locked up.
But anyone who has experienced trauma in life knows that being alone is not a prerequisite for being lonely. It’s quite easy to long for solitude while feeling isolated.
I had some rough days early on. As you might expect, the first night was the hardest. The bunk was cold and hard though the heat was oppressive, my wife could offer no comfort or touch, and the sounds of four grown men sleeping in the same room is… let’s just go with “different”.
As time passed, this didn’t improve much. I still didn’t fit in with most of my fellow inmates. While there were some fellow white-collars, they tended to engage in more activities that required financial participation (be it group food or gambling), which I couldn’t afford to take part in regularly even if I wanted to. There were the fellow Christians, but they came from so many walks that relating was difficult (and that wasn’t made easier by my leadership role). There were the guys who worked out, but most of them did that too much for my taste. And there were a few sarcastic, laid-back personalities like mine, but few of those shared my faith.
I found no kindred spirit in Avonlea.
So I was left to my own devices, and that could always result in seeking solitude inside myself, isolating myself from the “inside” world like I’d been isolated from the outside world.
Each day I awoke apart from my family. Even on visitation days when I knew I’d see my wife and son, the loneliness was a dark cloud that awaited me as soon as I gave farewell hugs and prepared to be searched for contraband.
It’s very difficult to let God’s love shine through you and feel isolated. Loneliness cannot abide in love.
As always, God revealed His focus on relationship and His vulnerability in drawing me in to a closer relationship and understanding of Him while equipping me to draw closer to the people around me. While I read God’s words to me, I wrote letters to my wife. While I studied His precepts and sought wisdom, I ministered to the men around me who needed more of God. While I entrusted my spirit, soul, and body to God, I forged trusting relationships with unbelievers, feeling more of His heart toward the lost sheep.
You know what I learned? It’s very difficult to let God’s love shine through you and feel isolated. Loneliness cannot abide in love.
I would have argued that point before prison. I’ve served and served and served in the church, exhausting myself and my family, and never feeling any return on my investment. I would feel the burnout. I would feel no love in return. I would be isolated.
What God has shown me, upon reflection on this aspect of my Joseph Journey, is that the isolation of serving comes from the absence of love. Sometimes love means saying “no”. That “no” might be because granting a “yes” could cause someone more harm than good (I’ve had drug-addled family ask me for money, for example), but that “no” can just as easily be because granting a request could prevent me from effectively fulfilling my calling.
So often, I’d feel lonely because I was everyone’s go-to man, and I lacked the time and energy to engage in anything. I’d do all the work, but once the work was done, I’d move on. I’d never stop and live life. I’d never appreciate the moment. I’d always be Martha, and never Mary.
Mary was never isolated. And, if you look closely, neither was Joseph, despite being imprisoned, enslaved, and betrayed. He wasn’t even lonely in prison. The Creator was always with him, and through him, He was always with others.