Every political unit forms some means to detain its citizens. Cities and counties have jails. The feds have penitentiaries. Countries have prison camps. The former Soviet Union had its gulags.
In these iterations of imprisonment, the incarcerated no longer own their lives. The jailed are informed when to sleep and when to get up. They are fed on the institutional schedule and not when they are hungry. They eat what is in front of them or don’t eat. There is no Las Vegas smorgasbord. Prisoners only wear prescribed identifiable numbered outfits determined by the prison and not fashion. They get bare haircuts, and all use the same kind of soap. They are told, not asked. They don’t vote or decide for themselves. They are in prison.
While boot camp has some similarities, serving your country is not the same as serving a sentence.
That is the tightly controlled life of felons. Then there are others who have not been charged, arrested and convicted. How often do they go around acting like they are in jail? Too often they exist waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
They are the ones who stand ready to adhere to orders from non-existing guards. Further, they may act in a self-destructive fashion because their internal warden didn’t tell them to stop. The behaviors of excess, be they eating, working or slothfulness, are perpetuated as if fellow prisoners surround their prey and the dessert tray, chanting, "Eat, eat, eat." Other accomplices may shout, "Drink, drink, drink," or "Stay away from home and family longer" and "Hide, hide, hide."
Too many act like their daily routine is dictated by prison rules, not realizing they, and not a parole board, are the guardians of their bodies and time. No one stops anyone from exercising. No one stands in the way and demands others to eat unhealthy foods.
Armed guards do not escort us to the common area and command us to spend hours in front of some numbing, light-emitting screen.
A person alone decides not to perform a push-up or a sit-up. Individuals take the elevator, not the stairs. They are the makers of their schedules and stewards of their time and talents. They read or don’t. They select their words and commit their own crimes, be they illegal acts or mere actions of thoughtlessness and stupidity.
So the next time people complain about their weight, health or state of mind or body, remind them that they alone execute their self-imposed sentences. They are the masters of their lives, not a judge. They are the ones who buy fresh foods or processed sugar, fat and salt. They serve the portions and ultimately put the spoons into their mouths. They eat the desserts first because life is short. Or is it that life is short because they eat too many desserts?
They are kind or not. They went through the red light. No one commanded them to put others at risk. They spent their money on moth food, the junk that moths corrupt. They substituted things for time. They called a friend or not. They did the work.
So look around and decide if you are in prison or just visiting. If in, escape; if visiting, keep walking.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. Email: [email protected]