Freedom Takes Many Forms

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Barbed Wire, Iron Bars and Closed Minds

My father was a prisoner of war.  Knowing him all of my life, it’s something I’ve thought deeply about many, many times.  What was it that happened?  How was he captured?  How was he rescued?

Some of this I know, and most of it I don’t.  You see, he would really only gloss over the topic of his own incarceration if the subject arose.  He would never sit down with me and openly speak of what happened to him.  He was unwilling to provide anything but the most perfunctory information.

But some things I did learn.  How he was kept in a cage.  How he was forced to eat tiny rations and those were filthy and insect-ridden.  How he was almost killed during the Allies’ emancipation of his captivity.

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I’d Like To Thank My Dad

My father was very much changed by his experiences.  He was a tireless advocate for Veteran’s causes and through his constant work on their behalf came to know many persons both great and lesser, but none that were unimportant to him.

To say thank you in this way was not possible during his lifetime.  Our complicated relationship didn’t really allow for that simple act.   We came from different sides of the fence, he and I, and if there was anything I have inherited from him it is his penchant for argument.

Now, after all this time has passed and he has been in his grave for twenty years, I think I have come to understand some of what he may have felt and thought.  I do not pretend to know these things with any intimacy.  I do not pretend to know what it is like to have someone with a sub-machine gun loaded and aimed at your head awaiting instruction to put a bullet in your skull.

But he knew.

What can you do once you’ve gone through such an experience?  How can it not change you in ways that you cannot anticipate?  What is the outcome for your life once you’ve been through such a terrible event?

No one knows, really, only my dad knew for himself.  Still, in considering his circumstances, in considering the peril in which he found himself, I can only admire his spirit and his dedication because rather than submit to terror and pain for his remaining life, he did something to help all those that came after him, all the veterans within his reach.  He became an advocate.

And that is something I can understand quite well.

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There’s More Than One Kind Of P.O.W.

This is a photo of a mental ward in the State of Louisiana taken by the famous photographer Richard Avedon.  These people are behind bars, bars of their own making, and kept behind thick walls to prevent their escape into the general population.

It is a haunting photograph.  No matter how far we believe we have moved forward with treating mentally ill people, we are sadly barely one step beyond what this photo illustrates.  We don’t understand the brain well enough to treat each and every individual so that they aren’t required to be imprisoned.

And they are imprisoned just as surely as any prisoner of war would be.  They are very much held against their will, whether by a criminal court or judge.  They are unable to speak for themselves as to their experiences with any complexity or depth of understanding.  These men and women who are victims — yes, victims — may never fully integrate into our society for two reasons; they may not be successfully able to do this on their own or society will not accept them after treatment.

Let me be clear, I do not condone an violent act done by anyone, whether mentally ill or not.  But when mentally ill people act out their frustrations and problems in a criminal way, they either go to jail or are sent to a mental facility.  Either way, success at changing their situation is limited at best and horrific at worst.

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Why We Need More Knowledgeable Professionals

There are many dedicated healthcare and psychiatric professionals that work with the mentally ill to make life a more reasonable and worthwhile experience.  They should be lauded for their extraordinary work because that work is quite difficult and often without satisfaction of a patient’s recovery.  Sometimes the only thing they can do is to help to restrain those unfortunate victims from hurting themselves, and often that’s as far as they’re able to help.  That fact shows us just how far we have yet to go to understand the causes of mental illness and to effectively help those that are mentally ill.

Just as my dad did for Veterans, these professionals work on our behalf for freedom and change, for betterment, for just cause.

If it were not for these professionals I would not be sitting here typing this.  I’d either be hospitalized or dead.

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A Cell Is A Cell Is A Cell, No Matter What It’s Padded With

I could very easily have been calling this place home rather than being safe and sound here in my quiet little town.  I could easily have been restrained, been forced, been kept behind walls so that I could not be a citizen among free peoples.

You think that view dramatic?  I say not.  I was heading down a path that was destructive and it was leading to hospitalization as surely if I had broken a leg or my spine.  You see, I was broken, I was keeping myself prisoner (and I mean that in a literal sense) since I was agoraphobic and for years hid myself behind walls of my own making.

It was only through the tireless efforts of others that I finally understood that I had the key to my prison all along.  All I had to do was insert it into the keyhole, open the door and exit the cell to freedom.

And as all things that involve freedom, it had a price.

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It Cost Me Nothing But Losing My Fear

It is fear, it is hate, it is disapproval that lock someone up.  These things can be self-inflicted, and that’s even worse.  When you can’t see beyond your pain and fear, just how little you can see is where the seemingly impenetrable walls are placed.

It took years of work, a partial hospitalization program and the right medication before I understood just where the bars of my case were located.  And once I realized I had the key in hand, I opened the cell and clambered out into the sunlight.

But those fears, those self-torments come back to visit.  Sometimes daily, and even hourly.  It is because of the allies that I have that I can look back and choose to remain free rather than stay in that padded cell in unending, searing pain.

I have my dad and all those that serve our country to thank for my rights and freedom.  I also have my mental health team to thank for helping me to understand what real personal freedom can mean.  These two forces allow me true liberty.

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To All Those, Soldier or Doctor, Dead and Alive, Who Bring Personal and Political Freedom Both National and Individual to The Citizens Of The World, Thank You

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