Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash

As a person in prison, I rarely paid much attention to natural disasters. Yes, I had seen the news and heard all the stories about earthquakes, tropical storms, scorching wildfires and so on,  but I had never felt it to be something important to me.

In the early 2000s, I was housed at Pitchess Detention Center, also known as Wayside Jail, in Castaic, Calif. during a wildfire season. At one point, the facility turned off our air intake from the outside due to the large volume of smoke being released into the air from the fires. At the time all this was happening, I could not care less about this wildfire or its impact on whatever it was destroying. I was oblivious to it. Instead, I was mad because my cold air was shut off and it was hot and stuffy in my cell. 

While people may have lost their homes, property, and maybe even their lives to the wildfires, I remained disconnected from the real world all because my life revolved around the four walls containing me. That’s how big my worldview was. I can make a thousand excuses for my thinking, but the truth is, I had closed myself off.

In our cell door, we had what is called a tray slot through which we receive our meals and other items.  The guards eventually opened our tray slots for us, so we could get air into our cells, and I was elated when it was opened up. I felt like I had won a million dollars to have that airflow. Once all the slots were opened, we all started talking, not about the natural disaster but about our situation, such as how hot we were. We never once explored the topic of what was occurring outside our facility. 

As I think back now, the actual fire was not mentioned even once. I feel ashamed by my self-centeredness. My mild discomfort only caused me to think of my immediate surroundings and nothing else. I wish I could say that we contemplated the suffering of the people in the neighboring community, but that was not the case. We sat there and grumbled over our lost yard and the elevated temperatures. 

I guess we all get wrapped up in our own perils, but there is a difference between being a passive passenger on the voyage of life and being an engaged traveler who is always looking outside their window even when things get bad and ugly. 

Now, I can say that I look at the world with different eyes and even feel guilty that I was so mindless back then. I have never been enveloped by such a situation before or since then. But reflecting now, I know that what I go through compares nothing to the daily struggles of the planet.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Damian Miguel Cantu

Damian Miguel Cantu is a writer who was raised in southern California, grew up on the streets of La Puente and Highland Park and is trying to rehabilitate. He is incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison in California.

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