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A Tale of Landlord and Tenant: Shelter Life, Pt. 3
With conviction in his voice, our on-site Manager has said on more than one occasion that, "this isn't a prison". They never miss a beat, in fact. At each and every house meeting, between inspections, they make sure we're aware that "if you don't like the rules, you can leave - this isn't prison". And go where Sir?
Be here by 10 pm each night, or have a nap on the baking concrete outside. Sign out before you leave, sign in before you enter, get escorted to your room, smile and thank your guards. Gracefully walk through metal detectors, but God forbid - please, God please, don't compare us to a prison.
All walks of life roam through these halls. Recovering and practicing addicts. Ex-convicts. Mentally and physically disabled. The elderly and their grandbabies. Young married couples. College students. Runaways. Middle-class professionals. Nurses. Teachers. Burger-flippers. Muslims and Christians. LGBTQ. Black, White, and Brown. It's a reminder that at the end of the day, anyone can fall through the cracks.
Regardless of that, no, I do not believe I live in a prison, but believe me when I say that my neighbors sure do. Similarly to prison culture, there is also such a thing as shelter culture. Believe it or not, it's not necessarily being treated like a prisoner that gets to you - I mean, sure, it marks the skin, the metaphorical shackles, that is, but it's your neighbors that crawl their way into your head. They ooze defeat and helplessness. They are beaten without the bruises. You can see it in their irises; you can hear it in their voices. They're always tired, angry, and anxious. They sleep all day and only come out for meals. I can hear them screaming, crying, and making love late into the morning.
When you're on the outside, of course, you'd say, "I don't think I could do it. I don't think I could handle it." You'd be surprised, honestly. Humans are resilient - we know how to endure, sometimes even gracefully. Shit, I keep surprising myself. I didn't think I had the willpower. I didn't think I had the mental strength. I can sense myself getting pulled in before I step back and throw the line out, reeling myself back in. There is still me somewhere in there. She's refining the metal; she's reinforcing my armor.
I've been on both sides. At times, I contemplate if this life is even one I am willing to continue on living - this life is simply not worth it. While other times, I become so angry and renounce this life I am living. In essence, I simply refuse it.
Eventually, you begin to learn that everything really does come down to your attitude on life. It really is all about perspective. You can see the world for what it is, and still not bend to its will. That doesn't mean you shouldn't fight for justice, just that, you can't do that if you've already let the world conquer you.
© 2017 Jocelyn Figueroa