The Two Sides of Freedom

For a number of years, I’ve corresponded with women in prison—‘hard-timers’, I believe they’re called, and it has been a very satisfying experience for me.  To-day, I am very excited because one of ‘my girls’ is being released from prison after a fifteen year incarceration.  I believe she did not get a fair shake from the justice system, but she has never protested her conviction.  She’s a brilliant and spectacularly talented woman who seems to be able to do just about anything, and do it very well.

While I’m very excited that she’s left the twilight existence of prison and returned to the World, I’m also a bit apprehensive because I’ve known a number of ex-offenders who have adjusted to their release from prison with varying degrees of difficulty.  To have lived in such a structured, regimented and narrow environment for so long, and then suddenly to be in a comparatively unstructured and limitless world can be frightening.  We are defined in part by our environment, a sudden change of environment can lead to upset and distress.  Service men and women returning from deployment can attest to this, I’m sure.  Anyone who has suddenly lost a job will agree.

Thinking about my friend, I began to wonder about the nature of Freedom.  What is a freedom for you may be a liberty for me.  (Interesting, isn’t it, that a synonym of ‘freedom’ is ‘liberty’, yet we have the expression ‘to take a liberty’—a presumptuous remark or action.)  That suggests that there is such a thing as too much freedom, but another way to understand that is your freedom may encroach on mine.  That’s problematic.

So, my friend may be ‘taking a liberty’ by doing something that is perfectly fine for the rest of us.  If you want to spend time with an old friend, you can; if you want to go out for a couple of beers, you can.  However, most of her ‘old friends’ are women with whom she’s done time, and to associate with convicted felons (old friends) would be a violation of the terms of her parole.  To have a few beers—another parole violation.  The definition of freedom seems flexible and quite subjective.

I can’t imagine how infuriating it is for law enforcement to defend people’s legal rights, including the rights of criminals not yet convicted of a crime.  Many of us know the term ‘technicality’—an un-dotted I or uncrossed T, resulting in setting a guilty defendant free because his/her rights must be protected.

Parents and teachers raise children to be smart and independent; they must accept that at some point, they have to let these children make their own decisions (which is to say, make their own mistakes) and not interfere.  Some parents never learn that there are limits to their involvement—their freedom becomes restricted over time.

There have been instances in America’s history in which fighting forces were reviled by the people they were defending, at home and abroad.  Those people were able to do so because the military being reviled risked everything to preserve that freedom.

We look at other cultures and see that women and children are subjugated and ruled.  In some cultures, the patriarch’s word is law, and among my personal acquaintances, it has infuriated me to see potential quashed by the patriarch’s greed and selfishness.  However, within those cultures, those we think of as subjugated frequently feel that this is their role and the regulation of their lives is perfectly acceptable.  It may actually provide them with a sense of security.  They do not understand our objections—do we have the freedom to object, or judge, or are we taking liberties?

We talk about freedom of religion and freedom of expression.  Just as there are those who are flamboyantly ‘religious’, there are those who are offensively atheistic—no matter how objectionable to us, it is the atheist’s right to openly (dis)believe as s/he does.  I heard about a group that wanted to erect a statue of Satan in Washington DC—freedom of religion and expression say that they could.  (I also understand they were prevented from doing so, but I don’t know what legal instrument allowed that.)  There really is no issue I can think of in which the opposing point of view, no matter how disagreeable, can be prohibited, because we all are free.

So I think about the nature of freedom, and how it is subjective, relative, but all inclusive.  I’m proud of people who face freedom’s nature and still defend it, because what’s free for me is free for you, but your thoughts on freedom may not be the same as mine.

I’m even prouder of the people who can embrace it.


If you enjoyed reading this, please take a look at my eBooks on

Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral Could Tell :

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  1. I think freedom is all about respect. Impinging on the space and dignity of other people is impinging on their freedom. Whether it is taking too much liberty for yourself or denying them needed liberty they are seeking, lack of respect is rude. As long as people are respectful to each other, things will go smoothly!

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