STAYING HEALTHY IN PRISON

MY HEALTH PROFILE (as a Prison Officer)
I am 57 years old and in a few months, I will be turning 58. I was born in 1954, that time when Elvis Presley was about to conquer the world through rock and roll music. There was of course, on top of the billboard that year Bill Haley’s signature melody, “Round around the clock.” I would hear it hummed by those in charge of lulling me to sleep. Years, later when I could already pronounce some words, I would be able to sing it without even looking at the lyrics! Talk of auto-suggestion.
It was in a quasi-middle class home I was nurtured early on. The economy that time was not as difficult as it was years later. There were instances of surfeit and surplus courtesy of hard work. Nowadays, hard work is incomplete, even if one adds slavery into it; just the same fortune remains elusive. Anyway, I along with several people who were born that year are by now already in the late 50s. There are those who fell short and was claimed by ailments. As early as when I was in the secondary school, I remember a classmate died of heart attack. In my college years, two of my classmates succumbed to a freak vehicular accident. They died on the spot. By and large though, most of my peers would go through life’s ups and downs smoothly as possible. Some were blest with good jobs, while the rest were still fledging. Majority however were not in good health.
Luckily or is it pure cautiousness, I have never been in the hospital except when I accidentally stepped on the blade of newly opened can we were then using as dipper to wash our ass. I was then 5 years old. My small toe had 7 stitches to close the wound. And a few years later, I was again brought to the hospital operating room to be circumcised. That’s about everything I knew as far as hospitalization is concerned. I have never suffered any sickness since then, except for colds and bouts of feverish hours. I got through a freak vehicular accident, when the car I was riding was bumped and it turned-turtle five times sending the car several meters up in the air, landing on the side where I was seated. Five of my companions suffered bloodied head bumps, and hematoma all over their bodies, one was even shocked and was able to regain consciousness the next day in the hospital. In my case, not a bruise on any part of my body but just the same, I was rushed to the hospital to take care of my companions. The car was a total wreck. That was in 1994. Since then nothing, not sickness nor accidents would visit the years ahead.
I have never felt anything weird nor suffered any inconsequential ailment. My blood pressure according to our clinician is that of a young college athlete. I have no sport to preoccupy my leisure time except when I was a teener when I was the toast of our basketball team. When my team mates grew up physically and I was literally left behind in the height department, I shied away from the sport for big men and tried my hand on chess. For a while, I was one of the wonder kids in our convent where I double as acolyte but a few months after, I got wary and bored. Sedentary activities were not so attractive to my adventurous spirit. I tried mountain climbing but mountains in our place were so hard to negotiate. Besides, it was a costly way to trek. Hence, I settled on stretching my hand crafted body building contraption to sculpt my body. That was the nearest sport I could handle.
To be physically fit, I merely trimmed down on my meals. I was a choosy eater anyway. I disliked anything in excess. I was not fond of feasts. I merely wanted to spend the day munching on something crispy and not much. I have never even tried staying late, as in hopping from one night club to another. I am never fond of intoxicating drinks in the first place. I never gamble. I tried buying a lottery ticket once, twice but that was only to satisfy my concern for philanthropy. I have never even for once tasted drugs or the weeds. Neither would I get into some peer inspired adventure in foolishness. The only vice I admit which I cannot do away is smoking. But I smoke not to inhale the fume but merely to puff it. I could see some inspiration in the nebulous formation of smoke whenever I am contemplating. I never even eat to get full, just to whisk hunger only. I read often at this time and such sedate lifestyle does not require too much intake of food, just a couple of glassful of coconut juice for purposes of hydration.
I never indulge in any serious tasks nor get into activities that require too many pressures although from the start I was already immersed in every contentious and stressful work. I entered the prison service at the age 24 and was already commanding a facility at the age of 26. From there on, I would administer one big prison facility after another. I have had a lot of troubles, got into a lot of anxious moments, charged with concocted cases—17 cases administratively and 2 cases in court (all the cases were dropped one after another in a stretch of almost ten years), threatened repeatedly and sent to floating status most of my command career period. Those with a sensitive heart may suffer a stroke already given the pressures. Those with vulnerable physical condition would just wither away. Prison work with little appreciation from administrators on top of the ladder would be the most rigid and straining work there is. Fortunately, I was able to hurdle the obstacles easily. The way my peers in my juvenile years handled any serious instance through humorous ways was a good lesson I had internalized early on and had handily used it in crunch time. Result: I had so much fun dealing with the most intricate situations. Work has become an amusing endeavour and I literally thrived.
Life in the most hardened community and its surrounding serious façade where people are trained to be cruel became a charming locality where I could easily derive incongruities that made me laugh. Laughter became my shield and it also became my guide in every serious incident. Not that prison work should be approached in a light manner but one’s perception must never be dulled in utter sombreness. No I never laugh like a boisterous fellow, I merely giggle and share the fun with anyone around me. That is where the boisterous laughter would come from.
Whenever I would encounter people my age, be they farmers, labourers, managers or academicians, I could see the lines and wrinkles defining their complexion. They could not hide their ages. Although their eyes may display a bit of youthfulness, the years they have gone through are revealed on their skin. (A recent study even suggested that skin health reveals the state of health of one’s bones.) Well, it could be the genes but my features never had that in amplified form. I could still pass myself as one twenty years younger and nobody would mind it at all. My father when he passed away at the age of 86 had a good silky complexion and he was already at that time battered with a lot of ailments. I probably inherited his skin tone although admittedly, my father is better looking than I was. He had Spanish features. In my case, everything is native. But what sets us apart, and it also true among my peers, is that I easily could find something worth laughing at. My father shouts a lot like any Spaniard, on the contrary, I smile and laugh a lot like any indigenous native in remote jungles.
Sometimes, well, once in a while, it is some kind of a journey if one ascends the organization very early in one’s career. I was in the mid 20s when all my fellow officers were already about to retire and majority were almost in their senior years. As I progress from one post to another, years later, I would learn that a colleague has been claimed by age related diseases. One after another until I would realize that the next generation officers would still be far from my age group. Now, those officers whom I would rub elbows with were once before still babies and at that time, I was still starting to have a name in the organization. Now they are my colleagues. One was even a grandchild of one of my officers! How time flies and how looks would determine one’s consistency in the organization.
In a few years, I would be able to appreciate the landscape of that office where at present I am literally strolling on. From afar, I could objectively assess on what part of history I once was active. When that time comes, my hands would also be filled with lots of books to read. Lots of topics to write about. Lots of places to go, visit and appreciate. Lots of instances to indulge on. And lots of time to waste by sharing the past and determining the future through lectures. Sometimes, my thoughts are visited by the same thoughts my father entertained during his senior years. He would nervously confess to me, what if he will not die at all! Well, he passed away three years ago, twenty years later after his surgeon declared that my father’s life would not transcend more than five years. The surgeon died three years later after his prognosis; my father went on to live more than twenty five years later. He would not have died had he felt that he had more things to do, let alone more books to read and lots of ideas to write about. But he probably thought that rest is preferable than any other activity. What I am sure of is that he has forgotten that there are so many things to laugh about!
Prison for me is a bank where I could draw a lot of laughter. If only prisoners could do some reflections like Napoleon, Thomas Moore, Miguel de Cervantes and all great men who spent some time under incarceration and how history treated them well, having laughed and had laughter during their hurting period while being penalized, life could have a wonderful tone. There will be laughter everywhere. And life will never fade.

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About Ven J. Tesoro

writer, prison officer, artist
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