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is our direct connection to the universe. We grow when we follow its wise
counsels; we shrink and regress when we manipulate it with our mind, oppressing
and hushing it, and when we allow the twisted part of our ego to direct
our actions. … From childhood we learn to manipulate it, and some of us
become masters in that dark art, to such a degree that we are able, unfortunately,
to go beyond ourselves and to acquire the power to manipulate the consciences
of others. …
Our minds also have the resource of the subconscious, as psychologists have called that mental suitcase in which we toss our “bad experiences”—those experiences that we are not able to digest with our reason, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of ineptitude or crass irresponsibility, so that we wind up freezing those bad experiences in time, throwing them in with all that advice from our consciences that we do not follow, or that we ignore and repress—for those, too, go into our subconscious. …
Spiritual awakening consists of shaking out of their lethargy all those things that we have packed into that suitcase, and understanding the process by which we are able to keep reality at arm’s length, to alienate ourselves from it, to live in the pseudo-reality that convenience, laziness, ignorance, and our ego constantly declare to be valid—for by becoming fully aware, and using that knowledge and our will, we will be able to avoid falling again and again into that limiting process. …
Growth consists of finally being able to digest both our past and our present, of being able to extract the lessons and intrinsic knowledge that all those experiences contain, while still being able to identify the genuine voice through which our conscience speaks to us—constantly distinguishing it from all those other voices that come from that dark shadow-land inside all of us. To the degree we are able to identify that voice, value it, and follow it, we possess the key for growth. . . .
Collectively, as a society, we also have an enormous suitcase in which we keep all those citizens of our land who do not obey the laws that govern us, and that enormous suitcase is called prison. . . . There we toss them and lock them up for the amount of time our laws and judges say, and case closed. . . . We forget about them. . . . Every day in the press we read about the crimes that have occurred; we regret them, we thank God that we were not the victims of one, and we turn the page, looking for more pleasant news to read. . . . We forget about them. . . . They do not exist; we do not want to know how many of them there are, or what conditions they live in. We toss them into our subconscious as we do with our bad experiences. . . . We hold reality at arm’s length. . . . Let the prison guards keep them locked up. . . The longer, the better. We tell ourselves that they are monsters, the most abominable members of our society. . . . They deserve all the bad things that may happen to them. That is how we justify our distance from them, our lack of pity, our forgetting about their existence. . . . But along with them, we lock up a part of ourselves, and in our self-inflicted alienation from them we perpetuate and increase the number of those imprisoned human beings that we call monsters. . . .
We must understand that we will not be able to secure a better quality
of life, material and spiritual, unless each of us does something, however
small, so that those members of our society can have the opportunity, and
the conditions, to be able to rectify their wrongs and learn how they must
behave, how to respect the principles and laws that govern our societies.
It is imperative that that period of confinement aid in their spiritual,
social and intellectual improvement. …
It is necessary that the same magnitude of human and financial resources that are assigned to law-enforcement agencies for the prevention of crime and the enforcement of our laws be assigned also to the improvement and development of prisoners. We must become aware that it is those human beings who are most in need of help in our societies. We must understand that ignorance, lack of emotional control, and human weaknesses are the real causes of the actions for which they are paying their “debts to society” with the restriction of their freedom … and that to one degree or another those same characteristics exist in each one of us. We must become aware that under certain circumstances, there is always the possibility that any one of us might find ourselves a prisoner. . . . We should recall how far we are from perfection. They are not monsters, “they” are us.
So long as we do not understand this, so long as we do not listen to our consciences and act, a part of us will remain locked up, imprisoned, castrated—and our societies and ourselves with it. Every day we waste the opportunity to be more fertile because we do not face that reality that we insist upon holding at arm’s length. . . . We worry about, we visit, and with love and patience we care for our sick in hospitals—those who are sick in body. . . . I would tell you that the prisons are filled with people sick in body and in spirit; they are doubly sick, and the fact is that we do not worry about them, or visit them, or, as a society, give them the care and attention that they deserve.
And the reason for this letter is to awaken consciences. . . . so that we might search for and find the solutions to our problems. More than anything else, we must be aware that these problems exist. We know that poverty, the disintegration of the family, ignorance, the lack of spiritual guidance, discrimination, inadequate public education, the squandering and misuse of public funds, and many other social problems that beset us around the world are the reasons—along with human weakness itself—that crime exists. We should become aware of that our collective apathy, our lack of pity and compassion, our alienation from the reality of the prison and from the impossibility that the current prison system will be able to achieve the human and spiritual improvement of those other “us-es” are also to blame for the perpetuation of the cycle of violence and victimization that has plagued us since time immemorial. We must understand that there is a part of us that is also—equally—responsible for that, just as there is a part of us that we lock up with each of those members of our societies that we put behind bars, and for whom we do nothing.
Juan San Emeterio