Guest Contributor: David Annarelli
As the world continues to descend into assorted and varied madness, the word freedom is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Ukraine, clearly, but also those political dissidents such as Mr. Navalny, as of June 15 disappeared into a Russian maximum security prison, and those American citizens such as WNBA star Brittney Griner, also held in Russia. We can speak of economic freedom, always an underlying problem in the U.S., especially where the poor and impoverished are so often the fodder that feeds the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex. Economic freedom, as of this moment, has begun (again?) to take on a whole new meaning where it costs $10 to drive a couple of miles, shelves are bare of food, and other supplies and amenities slowly become scarce, expensive, and more commonly both. We spent two years asking “to vaccinate or not to vaccinate,” and that was a question of freedom.
Perhaps we can speak of reproductive freedom, or to be more concise, the freedom to choose what medical procedures to have, and when. Roe v. Wade has brought that convoluted conversation to the fore. We can, and most assuredly should, continue to talk about the 2.2 million captives held in the United States. This represents a full 25% of the entire world’s prisoner population, who are held in what is generally agreed upon as one of the worst prison systems in the world. Approximately 40% – and that number ranges higher – of those captives are mental health sufferers being warehoused who should never have been put into prison. Then, after we discuss the finer points of “freedom” in the world and in America, we can all gather ‘round the grille at twilight, blow things up – fireworks mostly – and celebrate our so-called freedom. So, what is freedom?
“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose…”
– “Bobby McGee,” by Kris Kristopherson, sung by Janis Joplin
I’ve heard it said that if you really believe you are free, try going someplace without money. Like many of our so-called rights, freedom is a subjective, fleeting thing and often revealed as a misnomer. There are a great many “if this, then that” conditions applied to freedom. It is for this reason, among several I suspect, that even in the “freest country in the world,” less and less people believe themselves free. In fact, a very volatile argument about freedom is playing out, and is at the root of our domestic problems, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. So what is freedom? How far does that freedom go? Who, or what entity, dictates those definitions and the lines drawn by them? Taking an objective look at our country and the world today, it seems increasingly obvious that none of us are actually free. It looks more like an Orwellian nightmare, “slavery is freedom” scenario with every passing week. There are people, born and raised in the U.S., acting in a manner unbefitting the label of “citizen.” And there are those who not only struggled to get here, but have struggled to stay against all odds – and derisive hatred – who are most deserving of being called “citizen,” and are not. All of this, conversely, under the auspices of “the American Dream.” The late great George Carlin once warned, “it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it,” and let me tell you this, being “woke” does not necessarily equate to being awake and aware.
What does freedom mean to me? I’m a political prisoner, wrongfully convicted in Virginia, a state with a 20% rate of wrongful convictions (PEW Survey). It is among the highest in the U.S., with around 6,000 people with no mechanism to get back into court and prove “the state” is in error. I am certain there is no need to detail the 400-year history for which Virginia is most (in)famous…I do not know what freedom really is, and I am experienced and self-aware enough to say so…but I think it looks something like this:
“The political belief that there should be no government and that instead ordinary people should work together to improve society; specifically, sociopolitical theory holding that the only legitimate form of government is one under which individuals govern themselves voluntarily, free from any collective power structure enforcing compliance with social order.” – “Anarchy,” Black’s Law Dictionary, Tenth Edition
That is what freedom looks like after six years as a political prisoner. I look forward to a day when all of humanity evolves so mature a philosophy and practice as defined above. Then, we can all be free, one human family, in peace.
David Annarelli is a father, musician, activist, and contributing writer at Prison Journalism Project. You can read his submissions to Prison Journalism Project here and follow his Twitter, @davznothereyo.