A Reading for an Inmate

A few months ago I was asked to do a Tarot reading for a man (I’ll call him Ray) serving time in a federal penitentiary for a gun violation. A few weeks before he was scheduled for release, a cellmate had lunged at him with a knife. The violent struggle  ended when Ray wound up killing the man. Ray was found guilty of murder, received a long sentence, and now spends his days in solitary confinement. I have never seen or spoken to Ray but I held his highest good in mind as I shuffled my Tarot cards and did a reading in my office, which, at 9x 10, is 4 feet larger than Ray’s cell.

There were no surprises in the cards that turned up. They depicted the frustration endemic to incarceration, the sense of missed opportunities, the yearning to be delivered from present circumstances. While the majority of the ten cards showed the obvious, two offered hope.

The card at the top of the spread, a position I call Higher Self Advice, was the Knight of Wands, reversed. The risk-taking and bravado symbolized by the Knight of Wands gives life an edge, spurring us to flirt with danger and push the rules—qualities useful for an entrepreneur, for example, but disastrous for a gang member, which Ray had been and for which he now suffered the consequences. The fact of the card’s reversal pointed to the need for him to develop the opposite of these shadow impulses, namely a cool head and the discipline to think before rushing into action— not an easy path to follow in a cellblock, but a path to karmic betterment just the same.

In the Outcome position of the layout was the Hanged Man, which I assured Ray (in my letter to him) was not an allusion to capital punishment! At face value the Hanged Man, shown suspended by a rope from one leg, is about waiting and restriction—the very definition of prison life. Yet the Hanged Man’s head is encircled in a halo, and his expression is serene. I wrote to Ray that this aspect of the card showed him evolving toward a sense of calm acceptance amidst his circumstances, a feeling of peace within the restriction.

A few weeks later I received a letter from Ray thanking me for the reading yet saying nothing about its impact. And yet, what could he have said? “Thanks, I’ll do that?” or “Got it–I’ll try to be more accepting?” Life gives us messages all the time, and in many different ways. It’s not always easy to hear them; acting on them, if we feel there is value in doing so, is something we can only do in our own way and time.

© Contents of this site copyright 2009. No portion may be copied or reproduced without the express written permission of Paul Quinn.