Turn the key

Lockdown, restricted, confined, small, narrow, tight. None of these concepts sit well with us. Our natural inclination is a yearning to be unlimited, free, unhindered, unhampered, yet, here we are. Locked down, our movement restricted, we are mostly confined to our homes. On a bad day, it may even feel as though we are under house arrest or in prison.

Talking about prisons, according to the latest edition of the World Prison Population List (WPPL), more than 10.35 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world. Since the year 2000, the world prison population has grown by almost 20%, with the total female prison population having increased by 50%, while male prison population has increased by 18%.

At the moment, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of the earth’s population is in ‘prison’ (lockdown). This amounts to 3 billion people.  When I finished school, I started my career as a warden at a medium-sized prison. I ended up spending two years at the Department of Correctional Services, working at different penitentiaries in the country. One of the lasting impressions of that period is a deep sense of appreciation for the freedom of movement and the privilege of choice. I will never forget that sensation of freedom when my shift ended and I could step outside the prison, get into my car and engage with life outside the confines of that building. The sense of relief at not being restricted and controlled and confined to a dull, small living space with little choices.

The other vivid memory I have of that time is the clattering sound of keys against the prison bars in the hallways, as we used those huge keys to lock and unlock the doors of the different cells. Even then, it made me realize what a powerful instrument a key is. It can lock someone in, or set them free. It can restrict, confine and limit, or it can set free, open, and remove limitations.

At the moment, we feel restricted, confined and limited, and we are without a key. Our freedom has been compromised: our freedom of movement, our freedom to go to work, our freedom to visit friends and family, our freedom to play sport. It feels like we have lost our freedom, but in a bigger sense, it is impossible for us to lose our freedom. This is because the key to real freedom is inside us. Always. As the Holocaust survivor and Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl reminds us: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude, to choose one’s own way.”

Let us not allow the situation we find ourselves in to overwhelm us. Let us remember we are always free because we can choose our attitude. We can, therefore, be free, and feel free, even if we are locked in or locked up because the key of choice is on the inside. The only way we can really lose our freedom is if we surrender our power of choice to another person or a situation. That is the secret that kept Victor Frankl alive.

We are faced with a choice of attitude now. We can give our power away and feel trapped, frustrated, agitated and imprisoned, or we can look closely at our situation and recognise that the key to our freedom is always within our reach. It is a matter of choice. You can stay in the cage of frustration, anger, unhappiness, fear, and worry. Or you can set yourself free. Look at the door of the cage. Can you see the key? On the tag, you`ll see the words ‘how do you choose?’ Now turn the key and step out.