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The Chain Gang

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in rural north Florida, I saw things that we wouldn’t see today. One common sight on Hwy 301 in front of our restaurant was the chain gang - prisoners who were actually chained to each other doing work along the roadside. Being chained together pretty much eliminated the possibility of the prisoners escaping. But even so, there was always a guard nearby armed with a double barrel shotgun, and of course, who wore reflective sunglasses.

Back in those days, the government didn’t use power mowers or any kind of mechanical equipment to take care of the roadsides. Instead, prisoners used sling blades - a hand held tool that has about a 2” by 14” piece of flat steel, sharpen along each of the 14” sides and attached to a 3’ wood handle. The prisoners would swing the tool left to right and then right to left as they walked along the shoulder of the road and ditches “mowing down” all the weeds and tall grass as they progressed.

From our restaurant, I usually heard the chain gang coming down the road as they would often sing some sort of tune, usually religious and I would run out to the front driveway so that I could see them better.

As a child, I was mesmerized by it all. Why are these men, having to do such hard and gruesome work? Who were they? Why didn’t they just run off like they do in the movies?

My dad noticed my curiosity in the chain gang and asked me an important question.

“Do you know how to best get out of a chain gang?” he asked. Of course, as a small boy with a big imagination, I thought he was going to tell me a foolproof way to make a big escape!

When I shook my head and answered “no” - awaiting his brilliant escape technique - he replied, “Never get in one.”

My dad’s advice was sage. At the time, he was teaching me a moral lesson - don’t do anything criminal, and you won’t be in a chain gang. And this is so true in other ways.

Many people walk through life in a metaphorical chain gang, dragging emotional chains they forged themselves. Old resentments, hurt feelings, guilt and regret. These are links in a chain that you claimed and put on yourself. Are you working at a job you dislike? Are you in a relationship that is toxic and weighs you down? Most of these chains weren’t forced on you - they came by decisions you made. You took them, wrapped them around yourself and joined the chain gang.

Regardless of how you “locked yourself up in these chains” (thank you Winston Phillips) and whether these chains were forced on you or not, you can break free.

Chains can be broken by loving yourself enough to make new, positive choices. Eating healthy, exercising, removing yourself from unhealthy situations, and treating yourself with love and respect are all positive ways to free yourself from the chain gang.

Some chains are there because we cannot accept people for who they are. When we accept that most people will not change, and that, in fact, we are the one that needs to change our thoughts and accept others as they are, the chains will fall away thus allowing yourself to move into a loving, kind and accepting place.

Release yourself from the chain gang; you are not destined to be anything other than what you choose to be. It is your choice. I encourage you to choose to live the life you love and break free from the chain gang.

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