|I know where I’ve been, but where I am going can be a complete mystery. Sometimes, I plan for where I’m going, but, other times, I just let events carry me along. When I was in journalism school, I planned my entire career in advance. I would start as a copy editor for a newspaper or a magazine. I’d work my way up to the position of arts reviewer and would, eventually, become the editor of the arts section.
That was my plan.
Unfortunately, plans have a way of not happening.
Journalism jobs were in short supply when I graduated from journalism school back in the early 1980s. I worked part time and as a freelancer. I felt as if I were scraping the bottom of the barrel, and nothing was there.
|I had been relatively relentless in seeking my goal. I gave up everything that took my time away from writing for the mass media. I gave up drawing and painting. I gave up theater. The only thing that I did not succeed in giving up was music because music is life, and I couldn’t give up life.
When my career plans failed to materialize, I became depressed. I didn’t know how I had gotten to that place of darkness. I was nobody, and I was nothing, and I was going nowhere.
I tried clerical jobs but they were complete failures. Following verbal directions and sitting still at a desk were things that I was never good at. I did not know why. I became convinced that I was stupid.
I had to prove to myself that I was smart. I saved up my money and went to language school in Guatemala, where I was totally immersed in the Spanish language. I absorbed the language like a little sponge.
When I got back home, my steady decline into career hopelessness continued.
But then, almost by accident, I learned why I had so little success with work.
I learned that I had been struggling with an undiagnosed learning disability. Actually, I had been struggling with several undiagnosed learning disabilities. These disabilities were called sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, and hyperacusis. In my clerical jobs, I didn’t actually hear the supervisor (or boss) give directions. The phones rang and the machines whirred, and the voices of the people speaking were lost in the chaos of the background noise.
I went to seek career help with vocational rehabilitation, but that did not work out.
Things, however, can change in ways never expected.
The last thing on my mind when I went to federal prison for protesting against the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation at the gates of Fort Benning was a new way to work. I was more focused on what had brought me to those gates and what motivated me to cross that fence. One of my classmates at language school in Guatemala, Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz, had become a missionary teacher in the highlands of Guatemala. One day, two years later,when she was at a religious retreat, she took a walk and she was kidnapped by Guatemalan military. She was taken to a secret location, and she was brutally tortured and gang raped. Apparently, the person in charge of the torture had a North American accent. He was called “Alejandro.” No one seems to know who “Alejandro” really is.
Dianna managed to survive her terrible experience, but she suffered from memory loss and all sorts of other issues connected with post-traumatic stress disorder.
My friend was one of many people who had been tortured and gang raped. Others were “disappeared” and killed during the time of terrible dictatorships in Latin America. Many people died in horrible ways. Democratically elected governments were overthrown in coups, allegedly orchestrated by the U.S. government. The United States was giving military aid and training to those dictatorships.
There was no accountability for these crimes. No one had been brought to justice for the killings, rapes, and disappearances.
I read Dianna’s book, Through the Blindfold’s Eye. I became determined to carry through with the protest at Fort Benning, even if the most likely result was prison time.
|I was sent to the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, the one made famous by Piper Kerman’s book, Orange is the New Black. I found out that I had to get a job there because it was a “working camp.” My first job, as a tutor in the GED program, ended up by being a total failure. In fact, I actually ended up in segregation because of that job. The staff teacher had said things to the students that could be considered “sexual harassment.” The students were not encouraged to develop a love for learning in this classroom. I tried to go “on strike” to encourage the teacher to fire me but he just got mad and sent me to the “special housing unit” instead.
After I was released from segregation, I was reassigned to a job in “ground maintenance.” I worked in the greenhouse, propagating plants. I weeded flower beds and learned how to prune shrubbery. I also walked the prison grounds and picked up litter. A few times, I was told to walk down a trail to the waterfront and pick up the rubbish. The forest was thick and seemed primeval to me. While doing this work, I discovered that I had a passion for taking care of plants and for the forest. I came to the realization that the outdoors was my office and, in this office, I could thrive. No more echoey buildings and loud machines.
It was the road not taken. I remembered Robert Frost’s words, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”
I crossed the fence at Fort Benning three times. After the third time, I felt that I had said everything that I had needed to say. I had expressed what was in my heart.
Taking the road less traveled has indeed made all of the difference.