Best decision of my life
The best decision of my life.
How evolution theorist Charles Darwin helped snap one Longford scholar out of a stupor whilst incarcerated in the US. After studying at Cambridge, here he considers his life-changing decision…..
Sounds like the name of some quaint resort set among lilies and lilacs, tall trees and lush grass. The reality is more sombre. Great Meadow belies its name. Instead it is a rough and raw maximum-security prison in upstate New York. It was here, behind the imposing concrete walls of this prison, I made the best decision of my life, to enroll in college.
I was pushed toward my decision by a fellow inmate who walked up to me one grey morning in the equally grey and grim prison yard. He looked at me momentarily before asking what I was doing. I didn’t know what he meant until he clarified that I could and should be spending my time more productively, namely by enrolling in the prison’s college programme. I looked at him, then looked past him, up towards one of several guard towers overlooking the yard and its prisoners.
Before long I was in a classroom, listening to a history professor discussing Charles Darwin and the Victorian crisis of faith.
For me, as perhaps others, education is enlightenment, a recalibration of thinking, a refocus of perspective. The ability to see oneself and the world as not just ordinary but extraordinary.
Before college, I was adrift in prison. My thinking was adrift, and limited. I was like someone sitting in the crow’s nest of an old whale ship. On the lookout for whales, yet unable to see anything save miles upon miles of undulating blue sea rolling over and onward towards oblivion beneath an endless expanse of blue sky. Like the natural elements, the flow of routine days in prison can have a hypnotic effect on the mind, on one’s outlook. The tedium can render you drowsy and numb to the point where you’re unaware of this, forgetful of that.
Education snapped me out of my stupor and instilled crystal-clear awareness.
Following my release and deportation to Britain, I was relatively confident of getting a decent job. But after two years of working in a restaurant, I’m still searching for that ever-elusive decent job. In the interim I have attended and graduated from the Institute of Continuing Education, an adult college which is part of Cambridge University. And, while I’m still looking for a better job than the one I presently have, I’ve been uplifted and fortified by my Cambridge education. Uplifted and gratified, for although the job search is necessary, it’s not primary. The accumulation of knowledge and wisdom is for me the only sensible goal in life.