Community is the backbone of humanity; it’s what sustains our sense of self: a patch work of individual relationships, both diverse and complex, uniﬁed under a single goal. That is the actual definition of community. It’s a grand overview of a simple topic that most of us take for granted. Being born within one community or another, surrounded and swaddled by the comforts and convenience therein, we tend to overlook the importance of community. It shapes and builds us from the inside out, providing us with the experiences, either our own or those of others, to create the person that we will ultimately become.
The idea of community is different to every individual, as is the actual experience of community. For some, community is tied together by religious beliefs; Jews, Christians and Muslims living amongst themselves in segregated enclaves feel free to worship, celebrate their traditions, as well as participate in their rituals and in the process they forge a cultural and spiritual community that nourishes their sense of humanity.
The non-religious aren’t left out of experiencing community for themselves, although I’m not aware of any living atheist or agnostic communities where people populate their neighborhoods based on their disbelief in or indifference to the existence of god, there are plenty of on-line sites where the “god skeptical” can gather and converse about their personal philosophies and connect in other ways.
This new medium, the internet, provides for a new type of community where people from all over the globe can come together and share in each other’s experiences; an expansion in the accepted idea of what a community can be.
My community is a dichotomy of light and dark. It exists on two separate planes: one of solitude on an ocean of negativity and another of rehabilitative potential. Living in prison doesn’t fit the exact deﬁnition of community; there is diversity and complexity galore but unity under a single goal is difﬁcult to attain in an environment where suspicion and individualism reign supreme. In here, for 98% of the time, my community is self. My interest, hopes, and aspirations are kept locked away in my mind in order to protect the most precious thing I have: my humanity, from the corrupting forces around me.
But there is another side of prison that most people aren’t aware of: small pockets of light where like-minded people can come together and for an hour or so, once or twice a week, creating a community that is brieﬂy insulated from the greater prison complex. This for me has been the Arts-In-Correction program here at New Folsom State Prison (CSP-SAC 4). AIC maintains a number of programs to help inform and educate inmates through the arts. I currently participate in two writing classes (poetry and prose) with a small group of “diverse and complex” inmates unified in the goal of fostering an environment of supportive understanding in order to cultivate a craft.
This craft, writing, has been a saving grace for me allowing me to be able to express on paper what I’m not able to in my everyday surroundings. Here, in the AIC, l can feed off of the experiences of others, learn from their mistakes, incorporate their years of accumulated knowledge and be given the space to find my own authentic voice. Not the stereotyped voice of the bitter and angry prisoner, distrustful and untrustworthy, but the sincere, inquisitive voice of the mature man I’m becoming.
Although it’s taken me my incarceration to find a sense of community that connects with me ultimately that’s what community should be: a supportive and understanding environment that feeds the potential of the individuals within it. Whether that comes from love or a general respect for human beings it goes hand in hand with cultivating peace, because peace needs supportive ground to grow, and makes the possibility of justice more promising when everyone is working towards the same outcome (the advancement of the community through the uplifting of the individual), the desire to be just is increased because the opposite would be detrimental to the community as a whole.