Today was our visit to Robben Island. It was a powerful and moving experience today and the words from chapter 25 rang in my ears as we walked through the hallways of the prison that held Mandela and so many others who were fighting oppression and injustice for so many years. We were led around the island by two men who were themselves imprisoned on Robben Island as political prisoners. There are so many stories that could be told about what we heard, but one that stands out is a pile of stones that was laid in the middle of the limestone quarry where the prisoners were forced to do hard labor. At a reunion in 1995 of prisoners of conscience who had later been released, Nelson Mandela was giving a speech in the quarry and he picked up a stone and placed it on the ground a sign of the freedom that he now celebrated. The many others each took stones themselves and laid them around the first one – stones of many different colors and shapes and types were laid in a pile that still stands today. In fact, it is now illegal to remove any of the stones laid there.
Shortly thereafter we were given the opportunity to walk through the cell block where Mandela was held and to look in his prison cell which I have pictured. There was a powerful contrast to me of the color of the inside of the cell (a dull green), the red pot, the green table, and the brown blankets that were his bed – contrasted with the colorlessness of the hallway and the bars. As one reads his autobiography, one finds that there was definitely life in the midst of the cell even in the darkest days. I found myself outside his cell, in the grey and the dull whites of the hallway looking in and wondering what I will do with the freedom with which I have lived my entire life. Mandela spent so much of his life on the run, in hiding, and in jail and yet did so much in spite of it all.
We heard many stories today of those who took their talents given to them and multiplied them. I also thought of the words about “I was in prison and you visited me…” To me, what I hear today is that its not just about visiting and saying hello, but seeking release and freedom for those unjustly imprisoned and for those who are crying out for justice and for freedom.