“‘So every bondsman in his own hand bears the power to cancel his captivity.’” To me, that’s empowering, that we can free ourselves at any time — psychologically, I mean.” Prisoner Newton, quoting Julius Caesar

I recently read Laura Bates’ book, Shakespeare Saved my Life about her time teaching Shakespeare to maximum security prisoners. One of her prisoners says:

“When people ask me, ‘How did you stay sane all that time in seg?’ I just say, ‘You do what you gotta do.’ People say, ‘I think I’d go crazy,’ and I say, ‘You don’t know what you’re capable of.’ That’s what I say, but in my head, I attribute a lot of that to….the fantastical walks.” Prisoner, Newton in Laura Bates’ book Shakespeare Saved My Life

“Fantastical Walks” is the term he used to describe something that could be described as part hallucination, part fantasy, a coping mechanism he used to get through prison.

“The ‘fantastical walks.’ That I was able to leave, in a way and live a different life while all this crap and turmoil was going on around me.”

It’s an exit strategy. You sort of live in your own reality. Everyone does this, not just prisoners.

What some might call delusion, I would simply call escapism. A common stress response. We all do it. Some more than others.

The “fantastical walks, “ as he calls them were more about survival than inspiration. He later turned to Shakespeare. He was really able to relate to stories like Macbeth and King Richard. His enthusiasm was a contagion that spread around the prison. He created worksheets, study guides for the groups which met regularly.

Similarly, Ralph Lauren was able to use it to create a successful brand. Growing up poor in the Bronx, he would escape to the movie theaters, and fall into the story, the lives of the people portrayed onscreen.

‘That vision, that ability to step into a fantasy world, Ralph brought to the fashion business.’

It is important to note that both of these were not just escaping [like I was], but that their dreams of escape led them to action. I’m sure that many disparagingly thought, oh, there goes ralph to the movies again…. or who does that Lincoln think he is, putting on airs reading Shakespeare…he’s just a prisoner…

The ability to escape is necessary for our well-being, indeed, survival. Some have even proven to channel it into something very profitable. It might be automatic for us to escape, but channeling those dreams into something productive is an art.

c. 2015