Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
There’s a consolation that flows from this parable, “the seed grows of itself,” that I’d not found before.
Day to day life here is dominated by the experience and the effects of scattering. The collective that makes up this cellblock – any cellblock – is just about as far from an intentional community as could be imagined. Everyone here has been torn up by the roots, violently and unwillingly, from his community of choice. We’ve been cast together, literally on top of one another, haphazardly. The only intentionality apparent in how we’ve been assembled by the jailer (the farmer?) is in the separating of friends and co-defendants. It might be argued, or even assumed, that the randomness is specifically intended to prevent the possibility of healthy community living. For the past 45 years, no nation has invested itself in the prison industry with the vengeance of the United States. Not only does the per capita size of our prison population dwarf those of other countries, but we have developed the incarceration project into a finely tuned experiment in anti-community.
The prison staff here, typical of thousands nationwide, are highly trained in managing our dysfunction, but completely unequipped to deal with anything substantive within these walls that might resemble unity, mutual empowerment, or even rehabilitation. They are so skilled at anticipating and responding to our violence that the promotion of an agenda that fosters it is a foregone conclusion. And yet, irrepressibly, community happens. The Rastafarian plays chess with the Aryan Brotherhood guy. The violent misogynist and the peace activist read scripture together, praying from the heart. The Mexican awaiting deportation draws an incredible orchid in blue pen on a postcard for the gringo to send home to his wife, and politely refuses anything in return. Food changes hands at meals; one homesick guy gives his place in line at the phone to another; the old man held here for over a year without bail rejoices with the twenty-something who expects to get to a halfway house this
We are seeds, scattered. Nothing good is supposed to grow here – that’s against policy. When it happens – and wherever they’ve tossed me, it always happens – they inevitably dig it up and scatter it again. And we sleep and rise, night and day, and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, they know not how.
There’s a sign that keeps appearing at immigrant’s rights marches back in New Haven. I think I saw it first with the families of the disappeared students in Mexico: “They thought they buried us. They didn’t know that we were seeds.”