In addition, Troy and his partner Maryann Gorman published a newsletter, Inspirit, for three years from 2001-2004.
Below are samples of Troy's writing. You can enjoy even more at Troy's blog, Sacred Matters.
1. The YES! magazine article mentioned above is available here.
2. "Why I Love My Jailers" was published by The Other Side magazine in November/December 1999. Scroll down for more articles.
Why I Love My Jailers
by Troy Chapman
The Other Side
I never wanted to be enemies with my jailers. I've spent my whole adult life in prison — eighteen years in all — and will be here for whatever of it is left. Why would I want to live all those years at war with the keepers? I don't. Never have.
But like every other aspect of prison, what I want or don't want doesn't amount to much. The jailers are indeed my enemies, like it or not.
I've never done anything to them that would warrant this state of war. I mind my own business, do my best to follow the rules, and spend my time trying to understand myself and the world around me — what brought me here, and what I can do to change this in myself and in others who might be on the same path. When I deal with my jailers, I do so politely and with genuine concern for each of them as a human being.
I've learned that it doesn't help. I've learned that as much as I might like to, I don't get to choose my enemies. If I could, I would have none; my jailers would be fellow workers. Together we could reach out to those here, and to those children who will fill these cages after I and my fellow convicts are dead.
But this is not to be. The people who make up the prison population — not all but most, and especially those in charge — have appointed themselves my enemies. Their vision is not one in which we are reconciled, joined together for a common purpose, but one in which I am crushed as a human being. Their task is to inflict suffering on me, contain me, reduce me, to stop me from spreading — like some cancer.
It doesn't matter that none of my keepers have any idea what I did to be put here, or even who I am now, so many years after my crime. In a strange but truthful way, the pain they inflict on me, the campaign they wage against me as a human being, has nothing to do with me. Of course, some jailers are more aggressive and zealous than others. But even those who take personal pleasure and pay particular attention to inflicting suffering don't see me as a person. They see me as a criminal — just like any other criminal. And that's the way criminals are treated.
Their view of me as "the enemy" arises entirely from a predetermined way of thinking, an ideology in which all things and people are accounted for before they are encountered. I committed a crime and yes, I am guilty of my crime — therefore I am the enemy. This was determined before I committed my crime, even before I was born.
It's odd, to say the least. That a whole group of people could think themselves an enemy to someone they have never met and who perhaps doesn't yet exist, then take up arms and engage in battle the minute this person appears. Can it be called anything but odd?
Yet it is so. I won't try to prove this by detailing a long line of evidence. I'll ask you simply to choose between an abstract perception of prison and my actual experience of it. The abstraction claims to be based on some "good cause," some promised "justice." But I've experienced this abstraction in action, and I tell you that no such good arises from it. That is the truth, and I have had to find some way to deal with it.
Back before I understood this, I was vulnerable and got sucked into their war. I responded to their attacks with counterattacks. I filed grievances and writs in court, tried to make my case with public officials and the public in general. I worked to use their laws against them, to inflict some form of hardship on the institution, to "get even," In short, I responded the way prisoners habitually respond — by engaging in conflict, by entering into this war.
It didn't take long for me to realize that this was hopeless, and to grow tired of the perpetual conflict. My jailers have shown that they have no intention of stopping, that they will continue to punish me until the day I leave this earth.
What's a person to do in the face of such facts? What would you do?
I've seen all kinds of responses — rage, insanity, despair, suicide, distraction, apathy, numbness, denial — but none of them is very inviting, Instead, I have a strong urge to want to exist and grow, to realize whatever potential I can with my life, to move forward, not backward, to rise up rather than plunge down.
As I saw that none of the apparent alternatives could fulfill this desire, I began to search for one that would. It didn't take me long to get through the material responses. I saw them being applied all around me and recognized their ineffectiveness. I abandoned them and began examining spiritual responses.
The teachings of Jesus had always been presented to me in ethical terms. The Bible and Jesus' life and teachings were about being a "good person," "getting saved," avoiding eternal punishment and earning eternal reward. You were supposed to love your enemies because that would get you into heaven. That's how I'd always heard Jesus' teachings, as a moral matter.
This is true, I suppose. But to be honest, heaven didn't matter to me. Immediate problems so consume my life that I have no energy left to worry about heaven or hell in some other life. Besides, I figure that God can see my life clearly and will probably have compassion on me.
I also decided that any God who couldn't do this, who could only threaten me with punishment for my mistakes and sins — well, once I died I would tell that God what I thought of this method and take my chances with the outcome. I've lived my whole life under the thumb of such people. If God were just one more jailer who considered me the enemy, that wouldn't be much of a God.
But I've realized that there is much more to Jesus' teachings than the simplistic white hats/black hats scenario. These teachings may well be a map to heaven, but more importantly — at least to me — they are specific instructions for responding to the real problems of this world. Sure, I want salvation in the next life, but I really need to maintain my sanity in this life. I need something that will help me stay whole, that will keep my soul, my humanity from being destroyed. What did Jesus say about this?
He said, "Love your enemies." And I began to consider the possibility that this was not just another hole punched in my ticket to heaven, but a way to deal with these enemies in this world.
Some words are so charged with various meanings and connotations that they tend to get in their own way; for me, love was such a word. It meant being nice, cuddling, feeling butterflies in my stomach. It was the feeling I had for my grandmother, my mother, my dad, even my dog. It meant doing things that others would appreciate, maybe even reciprocate.
That wasn't the feeling I had for my keepers. Most of them were either petty and mean or outright indifferent to me. If I were to love them, it had to be more than warm feelings and appreciative "thank you's." To get this clear in my head I dropped the word love, and replaced it with goodness. "Apply the power of goodness to your enemies," I heard Jesus saying.
Now this was something I could examine. And when I did, I found a surprising logic to it. Yes, applying the power of goodness works for the benefit of others, but that's only a side effect. The deeper logic, the truer meaning, is that it serves the good of those who embrace it — by profoundly transforming them.
So yes, I love my keepers because they need it; there's no question of this. They are lost and afraid and have forgotten who we are. I've been there, and even though I attacked those who tried to give me love, I know it was the thing I needed most. Ultimately, the love of those who would not be driven away by my attacks was the only thing that kept me from perishing.
I also love my jailers because it might change them. I can see the slightest glimmer of hope that love might reach them if they could only experience it and remember how good it is. I've tried everything else. Maybe love can succeed.
But here's what's incredible: It doesn't matter if love succeeds or fails in this regard. I love them because I need to love, and this need isn't fulfilled by loving something abstractly, something far away. It's fulfilled only by loving real things in one's real world. My world is peopled by enemies; loving them fulfills my deepest human need.
The Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, "If you bring out what is within you, what you bring out will save you. If you do not bring out what is within you, what you do not bring out will destroy you."
What is within me is a deep need to love. I have learned from experience that if it isn't brought out, it will turn to poison. It will destroy me.
In the final analysis, then, I love my jailers because it is my last refuge. I have run from their hounding into many hiding places, only to be rooted out and to have my humanity lashed and kicked and beaten. This is what prison is all about: hating and fearing someone's humanity to the point where you want to destroy it. That's the reality of prison (and, I suspect, of all war and oppression as well). Hatred and fear caused me to commit my crime, and it causes prisons to continue committing theirs.
But precisely what is it that we hate and fear about another person's humanity? After everything else was stripped away, I realized that the essence of my humanity is my need and ability to love others. Take that away, and I'm destroyed. Leave it, and I'll be eternally safe, eternally intact, and I'll have no need of any other defense — even in jail.
So I love my jailers for the simple reason that I don't want to die. It isn't because I want to be a "good person," but because love, the power of goodness, is the only political and personal power I possess. I want victory over death. I love them for reasons of self-preservation; to protect my essence, my core, my soul.
It's been a long road to learning this, but I thank God for every stone, every briar, every thorn along the way. And I bow to the irony that prison — which despises justice by wielding it as a club — has led me to the greatest justice of all, the one thing my jailers try so hard to deny me: my very salvation.
3. Want more? After publication of "Why I Love My Jailers," Troy wrote a follow-up, "How I Love My Jailers," which did not see publication. Scroll down for more.
How I Love My Jailers
by Troy Chapman
Some time ago I wrote an article for The Other Side titled, “Why I Love my Jailers.” Since then I’ve set out to examine much more consciously the question of how I love them. What exactly does it mean to love those who stand in opposition to our very life? Those who for ideological or economic reasons identify us as “the enemy” and set out to destroy us?
Jesus clearly tells us to “love our enemies,” and if I was able to answer the question of “why” in that first article, I am still left with its troublesome sister, the question of “how.”
How shall I love those who relentlessly attack every good thing I’ve ever known? How shall I love them as my family connections are ripped apart and stamped under their angry feet? As my sense of well-being is assailed daily until some days it’s all I can do to get up and go on hoping? How shall I love them when the very target of their aggression is my ability to perceive beauty, my ability to love anything?
What Is Love?
In search of an answer I’ve had to ask another even more difficult question: What is love in the first place? As I asked this question I found myself turning to the one who uttered the crazy command “Love your enemies.” What did Jesus think love was?
The first thing that comes to mind as I look at him is that we can forget about modern popular ideas of what love is. Forget about emotional “pink clouds” and “I’m-okay-you’re-okay” psychology. Jesus, from what I see in the gospels, wasn’t looking for or advocating that kind of “love.”
Forget also about the dominant Christian concept of love which portrays Jesus as “meek and mild,” a sort of religious Melvin Milquetoast. I just don’t see that Jesus in the Gospels, despite what I was taught in Sunday school. And I’m glad I don’t because if that’s what he was offering he would have no significance whatsoever to my life here. The meek and mild are devoured in prison and if Jesus is telling me to smile sweetly at my soul-executioners and politely carry my neck to the chopping block, I simply don’t have “ears to hear” that message.
So what is he telling us? The only definition of love we get from him is that of his life and what we find there is an extraordinarily complex answer. Love, it seems, is “whatever it needs to be in the moment,” and this answer, as unsatisfying as it is to our “need-to-know” minds is all there is.
Jesus lifted love above all other law when he said “On this hangs the fulfillment of all the law and all the prophets.” With these words he defined love as the ultimate good, the only true morality, and the very purpose of human existence. He said, in essence, if you don’t get this right, nothing else you do will matter.
St. Paul, in the famous “love chapter” (1 Cor. 13) later said it directly, calling himself a clanging gong and a banging cymbal without love. And if love is the ultimate good and Jesus was who he claimed to be, we can assume that he never acted outside of the ultimate good. Everything he ever did or said was an act of love. This makes him the answer to the question, “What is love?”
It means that whatever we can say about him, we can say about love. What can we say about him?
Jesus was unpredictable. He was enigmatic, mysterious. He was subversive and troubling to those in power. He was kind and forgiving of those under power. He was committed to the outcast, the rejected, the captive. He was “in the face” of those who considered themselves righteous and wise, cutting them with his words, flipping their money tables and putting the whip to them.
He was a teacher to those who wanted to learn and a confronter of those who didn’t. More than anything else, he was a yeast, a force that would not, and will not even today, leave the human spirit to its rest. Whoever truly met him, truly encountered him, whether we see the encounter as “negative” or “positive,” walked away shaken. No one found peace as the first result of meeting Jesus and he himself said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace.”
Yet through it all he was serving something. A clue as to what this was can be found in the Aramaic phrase, “rukha d’koodsha,” which we have translated as “holy spirit.” “Koodsha” is the word from which the Hebrew “Kosher” is derived and means “that which conforms to divine intent for humankind.” “Rukha” refers to spirit, wind, and energy, and always carries a quality of “force.” Thus, “rukha d’koodsha” is “the force behind God’s intention for humankind.” This is the holy spirit of our Scriptures.
It is also the key to understanding Jesus and his love. His life was a service to God’s intention for humankind and he literally became a living force for this intention on earth. Love then, is to serve, to become a force for this intention, just as Jesus did.
The fact that God’s intention for us causes “unpeace” can only mean that we stand in opposition to this intention. We, with our plans and visions and strivings, with our “morality” and empire building, and even our religion, are standing in a place that receives God’s intention as an interruption, a disruption to be stamped out. In killing Jesus we attempted to kill God’s intention for us, the very act that Lucifer committed so long ago in heaven — the act of trying to become God rather than submit to his will, his intention.
But God’s intention cannot be thwarted and every attempt to do so is suicidal. It is the ultimate act of self destructiveness. The love of Jesus, then, really is salvation because it is living opposition to our impulse toward self-destruction.
How Do I Love?
And what does this say about how I can love my jailers? It tells me first that my love must be an expression of God’s intention for us and must oppose anything that attempts to thwart, twist, or divert this intention. It must be a love that sees beyond categories and social roles, one that refuses to accept the place of victim or victimizer, yet still acknowledges the reality and force of these perceptions in the mind of others. Enemies are real, even though there is a reality beyond that. Love must never forget either the lesser or the greater reality in any situation. It must confront this lower level of reality and those who cling to it, while at the same time revealing the higher reality and inviting — no, demanding — that the world acknowledge it.
So I will love my jailers by never allowing them or the institution to erase from my mind the vision of this higher reality.
Prison attempts to impose its reality of hopelessness, violence, cynicism, apathy, and despair upon its charges. It is so overwhelming and all encompassing that it often drives out of the mind and spirit all other possibilities. After a time, it becomes the ultimate reality in the mind of the prisoner — and even the keepers — until it is no longer an external, but an internal reality. When people who have been caged for many years look at the world, they see only a larger prison because prison with its sick ethos has become the world for them. It replaces the reality of God’s intention within the mind and spirit.
Love says no to the loss of this reality. So I will love my jailers by never letting it go. When they say, “We are your killers,” I will say, “No you are not. I know you and I do not accept that lie about you.”
Jesus said to his killers, “There is one place in all the universe where you are not killers and that is within my own heart.” He would not let us be killers there. There we were children of God, and as long as that definition exists in his heart it will eternally call us. We can deny it but it will eat at us, forever demanding that we either embrace or reject it.
I will love my jailers in the same way. I will hold God’s intention, his vision of them — of us — in my heart. I will see my self-appointed enemies in both realities — the small and the large.
I will love them by rejecting their small vision of who we are and who we can be. I will love them by subverting smallness, violence, and mindless compliance, by sowing seeds against their comfort and their spiritual security, by being a living question, a breathing challenge to death.
I will love them by becoming a reflection, not of what they are but of what they could be, what we all could be, and what God intends for us to be.
When they come dressed in their helmets and flak jackets I will speak to them by name. I will greet their hostility with humor. I will engage them at every opportunity in normal interaction, refusing to stay in my place of “prisoner” or leave them in theirs as “keepers.”
They may kill me in the end, but never my spirit. If I die today or a hundred years from now, I can say with certainty that I’ll go out remembering who I am. Even more, I’ll go out remembering who they are. I can live for that.
4. "My Neighborhood" was published by The Other Side magazine in March/April 2003. Scroll down for another article.
by Troy Chapman
The Other Side
Most people have childhood memories of their home, their neighborhood, the place where they grew up. I've never been in one place long enough to acquire such memories.
My family moved nineteen times before my sixteenth birthday. We were poor rural people, what others called "White trash." Moving from one place to another was just a normal part of our lives, as we were unable to come up with rent payments, or landlords decided they wanted us out for some other reason.
At age sixteen, I was arrested. I was shuttled between jail and juvenile detention, and finally sent to prison. With the exception of about two weeks spent on escape in 1984, this has been my "home" for the past twenty years. During that period, I've been transferred twenty times to various sites in the state system — part of a deliberate Michigan policy to undermine any formation of prison community by transferring prisoners constantly from one facility to another.
As a follower of the gospel, all this mobility raises the question for me: Who, exactly, is my neighbor? Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself" — this from a man who seems to have moved around even more than I have. Who was he talking about when he spoke about loving our neighbors? The Jews? The Romans? The Samaritans? The priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious groups? Or did he mean only his small circle of friends and disciples?
This question of my neighbor makes me reflect on the growing "community movement" in our society, which I've observed from inside prison. In this highly individualized culture, it seems we are recognizing the value of community and our own longing for it. More and more, people are talking about building and sustaining community.
This is, no doubt, a good thing, but there's also a dangerous side to it. Much of what gets called community is really less about "coming together" than it is about separating ourselves from "others," and drawing a line between "us" and "them." Too often the boundaries of community are drawn along racial or class lines. Many expressions of community include "security" measures to protect the inner group from outside threats — whether in the form of fairly reasonable initiatives such as neighborhood-watch programs or more elaborate gated and heavily guarded residential complexes. The concern of such communities seems to be less about determining who is the neighbor and how they ought to be treated than about keeping out intruders.
Christian communities aren't usually much different, I'm afraid. While I can't speak about the intentional Christian communities around the country, I do know that our churches and congregations usually operate with their own exclusivity and sharply etched boundaries. Sometimes these boundaries are denominational, but often race and class come into play as well. At the very least, a pressure to believe and behave in very specified ways marks many congregations. People with different sexual orientations are also often ostracized from many Christian churches. Among some congregations, these believers are evidently not neighbors. Sometimes simply searching for truth in an "unacceptable" way can result in the same fate.
I remember one particularly odious incident in the Christian congregation here in the prison. A brother who admitted to reading the Qur'an and associating with Muslims was taken to the church elders and the prison chaplain. He was eventually driven from the service and the community. He no longer merited the definition of neighbor.
Obviously, a community needs some sense of definition, some common bond, even some standards to which a person must adhere. But we need to ask ourselves: What are these bonds and standards? Who defines them? Who regulates them? How do we determine who is part or not part of any given community? These are all variations on the question the lawyer asked Jesus (Luke 10:29): "But who is my neighbor?"
My experience of being shuffled from one place to another has had many negative consequences. But at the same time, it has forced me to find my own definition of community and to rethink who is "my neighbor," who are "my people." Having never been around any one group of people for more than a year or two leaves me with two choices: Either I shrink my definition of "my people" down to exclude everyone but me, or I expand it to include all people. I've chosen the latter. Though difficult, I believe this is the path we are called to take as human beings and as Christians. As Jesus' followers, we are invited to a new understanding of the earth as our neighborhood and all people on it as our neighbors.
Here in prison I live with predators, violent people, mentally ill people, and people of every race and every level of development. I live under the thumb of prison staff, some of whom have scant regard for human life. Often they are cruel, insensitive, and ignorant. Even those who are personally more enlightened work for a system that attacks the human spirit at every turn. Yet all of these are my people. They are my community.
Sometimes they drive me crazy, sometimes they annoy me, sometimes they steal from me, threaten me, and even do physical violence to me. When these things happen, I do what I can to best address them. What I don't do, what I'll never do, is disown them. I will never exclude them from that place in my heart which is the root of all community.
I don't say this because I've gotten rid of all standards, but rather because I've expanded my standards. I've looked for a larger common bond upon which to build community, and I've found it in our humanity.
After all, didn't Jesus die for everyone? He died for the priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees whom he chastised so harshly; he died for the Samaritans, the Greeks, and the Romans; and yes, he even died for Pilate, Herod, and those who nailed him to the cross. These were, and still are, "his people."
If they are his people, they are my people. They are my neighbors. However long I remain in prison, however many times I may be moved from one place to another in the future, I will remember that wherever I end up, that place is my neighborhood.
5. As mentioned above, Troy wrote for Inspirit newsletter, which he founded in 2001, for three years. Below is a sample essay from that publication.
On Being a Sacred Person
by Troy Chapman
In the 13th century, Jelaluddin Rumi wrote, “There is one thing in this world that you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there’s nothing to worry about. But if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.
“It’s as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come into this world to do a particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person.”
I’ve been thinking about these words lately as I contemplate the war in Iraq. I wonder if the major players in this war think this is the thing they’ve come into this world to do. Or is this just one of the “hundred other things” we do when we forget why we’re here?
I look a little closer to home at children dressed up as corporate billboards with logos plastered on their clothing; at adults desperately amassing money and property; at racism, two-sided political posturing, hatred, conflict, violence, despair, drug addiction, deception and game playing, the destruction of the earth for profit — and I ask the same question. Is this what we were made for? Is this our purpose?
The fourth principle of The Lifeful Way says: “The purpose of human life is to encounter and become a potent expression of Lifeful Intelligence.”
Lifeful Intelligence is the deeper intelligence of the universe, what we think of as “the sacred.” To encounter it is to become aware of who we are and to know that we’re here for a sacred purpose. It is to see ourselves in reference to eternity rather than the various circumstances of our lives.
It is to know that though we are “American,” “black,” “white,” “rich,” “poor,” “male,” “female,” “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Buddhist,” and so on, these things are really all just circumstances. When we define ourselves according to these things we’re talking about our “circumstantial self.” Beyond this is the sacred self, the part of us that exists beyond all circumstance.
When we see this other part of who we are, we understand that circumstances are ultimately irrelevant. They do not tell us who we are any more than the color of our eyes or the kind of clothes we wear.
Really seeing this changes everything. We stop identifying ourselves with small fragments of humanity and begin to see ourselves as “human first.” Our purpose as Americans is no longer to uplift America, but all nations; as Christians or Muslims we no longer pit ourselves against other religions but see all people as brothers and sisters; we do not fight for black rights or white power, but for the betterment of all races; we are not feminists or chauvinists, but rather seek the communion of men and women.
When we recognize ourselves as “sacred people” we return to the truth about ourselves — the truth that we are bigger than any of these fragments. Our purpose becomes clear: We are here to encounter and express our sacredness. That’s what Lifeful Intelligence is. It’s the knowledge of our sacred selves.
When we come into possession of this knowledge it sets us free. All the circumstances of our lives, all the things we think identify us, are really just entanglements. They’re like seaweed wrapped around our legs in the ocean of life. To kick free of them is to regain our mobility, our ability to swim freely and with joy.
I am not American, but rather a human being who happens to live in America; I am not white, but rather a human being who happens to have light skin and Caucasian features; I am not male, but rather a human being who happens to have a certain gender. Every time I see and abandon one of these aspects of my circumstantial self I’m kicking free of the seaweed that’s pulling me under and keeping me stuck in one place.
I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be “a prisoner,” even though I am in prison. So many people here are prisoners and I’ve seen what it does to them. I’ve decided I will be a sacred person who happens to be in prison. The decision changed my life. It put me in proper context to history and life. Dostoy-evsky was in prison, but he never was a prisoner; St. Paul was in prison, Gandhi was in prison, so was Martin Luther King — but they were not prisoners by any means. They knew that they were more than any circumstance and their lives reflected this knowledge.
Being a prisoner is a state of mind. I’ve learned that any circumstance can be a prison if we let it tell us who we are. Encountering Lifeful Intelligence is a matter of stepping outside the prisons of our circumstance and calling ourselves sacred people. It’s a matter of knowing that we are more than we think we are.
Becoming a “potent expression” of this knowledge is the natural outcome of possessing it in the first place. All of the crazy things we do to ourselves and to one another and to the earth are the result of not knowing that we are sacred beings. Our children dress up as corporate billboards because we’ve told them this is who they are — or we’ve simply neglected to tell them anything and allowed others to tell them who they are. They take rifles into schools because they don’t know they are sacred beings. Racists are able to feed them hatred for the same reason — there’s an empty place where sacred self-knowledge is meant to be.
We adults find meaning in material possessions, anger, fear, cruelty, war, and all the rest because we don’t know who we are. We become addicts and alcoholics for the same want of knowledge. We destroy the earth from a poverty of sacred self knowledge. People who know who they are do not do such things any more than they would eat rubber pellets when hungry.
The Lifeful Way is about embracing the truth of ourselves, stepping into and living from within our own sacredness. To do anything else is to forget the task we were sent here to do. To forget our purpose is to lose our way and we have indeed lost our way on many levels.
To become a potent expression of Lifeful Intelligence is to see not only our own sacredness, but that of all others as well.
It is to remind ourselves and then become a reminder to all people we encounter. Could anything be more “potent” or “lifefully intelligent” in these times?