On Tuesday, September 26th Ryerson University hosted The Jehangir Saleh Lecture: Imprisoned Bodies: Liberation In The Midst Of Limitation. The lecture honours the life of Jehangir Saleh, an extraordinary student of Philosophy and graduate of the Arts & Contemporary Studies program at Ryerson. Jehangir passed away from cystic fibrosis in 2013 at the age of 28.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Drew Leder, a Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland, who writes frequently about the intersection of philosophy and medicine. Dr. Leder made a profound comparison between the experience of living with chronic pain or chronic illness with the experience of incarceration.
Among the similarities, of which there were many, the most insightful were that of social isolation and mental freedom. Dr. Leder noted how those living with chronic illness often feel alone. This is especially true for the CF experience, where those living with cystic fibrosis cannot interact in-person with each other without risking sharing harmful, and potentially fatal, bacteria. While the internet has made it possible for those living with CF to connect and form a social community, the feeling of physical isolation still persists.
Similarly, those incarcerated are not only physically isolated from their communities and those they love as a sentence for their crime, they are also experiencing social ostracization by those who keep their distance out of fear or judgement, both during their sentence and after.
Mental freedom was also a theme that Dr. Leder discussed. A panel of those who have lived the experiences of incarceration and chronic illness were present to share their stories and respond to the similarities. One of the women representing the incarcerated experience said she found silver linings each and every day, and that she kept reminding herself: “They can take my body, but they won’t have my mind.”
CF warrior and successful double-lung transplant recipient Wally Speckert was on the panel and agreed with the comparison, saying that adaptability is an important quality in accepting and living with chronic illness. He noted how important it is to practice compassion and gratitude, especially in the face of illness. The panel emphasized how important it was to make something positive of their experience.
The most obvious and meaningful shared experience between chronic illness and incarceration that Dr. Leder discussed was the theme of time. Those on the panel who had been incarcerated repeated the phrase “Do the time or it will do you.” It was a phrase that helped them during their sentence to understand that although their sentence seemed to last forever, it was only temporary and that they had to use it to rehabilitate and learn. Wally discussed the idea of premature death and limited time while living with chronic illness, and that it’s an opportunity to do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do, even if you have to wear an oxygen tank while doing it.
To view the lecture online please visit: https://ryecast.ryerson.ca/67/Watch/11780.aspx.
The Jehangir Saleh lecture is made possible through a gift from the family of Noorali & Saker Saleh and friends, in partnership with the Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy and the Arts & Contemporary Studies program at Ryerson University.