I never thought that sitting in an eight walled room would make me into the person I am today. I was 16 years old, sleeping on a cold concrete floor, in a cold concrete room. I can still remember the woman assigned to watch me for the night asking, “aren’t you cold?” I was in pepto bimsol pink shorts and a thin canary yellow cotton t-shirt. She had her personal heater pointed directly toward her, gloves on, and parka pulled tight over her ears. As I shivered there, watching my toes turn purple, I could only smile and utter, “no I’m just fine” I had been in that room for 6 days watching the snowfall on the skylight and daydreaming about the life in southern California I’d left behind. In my mind I was warm, in my mind, I was zooming down PCH after a long and beautiful day watching the sun set along the ocean.
They said I could’ve come out whenever I wanted, and perhaps most of my fantastic daydreaming was due to the enormous doses of serequol I had been given (also known as quetiapine tranquilizer, to help “calm me down”). I spent most of my days slipping in and out of consciousness. Often I would rock myself to sleep in the corner of my small closet-like room, wondering how to get out. I was asked if I wanted to shower once, and was told I declined, after which I begged for a shower, just one warm shower, and just one chance to finally be out of the cold. I was getting sick, sneezing, coughing, headaches…my body ached from days of shivering.
On the fifth day the nurse who had been delivering me my pills refused to do it any longer. She told the head administrators it was cruel, I could hear the argument ensue in the middle of the night. That what they were doing was “inhumane”, that it would lead to an investigation, that someone might get sued. She wouldn’t do it anymore, even if it did mean her job.
I’m pretty sure that she had been delivering me a lower dose that day, things started to become clearer, and the haze I had been in started to raise. I stayed in that cold concrete room one more day, this time out of principle. If I couldn’t be free outside of this room, at least I was free inside this room. I could say what I wanted, do what I wanted, and be whom I wanted in that room. There was no worse a punishment they could inflict on me in there. I had nothing to loose. My last day in that room I realized I had something that no one could ever take from me: my dignity. This I believe, there are some things in this world no one can take from us.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.