When We Live in Self-Made Prison Cells

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I blogged the other day about a wedding I was just about to photograph. The piece was entitled “What’s REALLY Going on When I Shoot Weddings”. When I wrote that blog, I had no idea how I would be impacted by that day.


Awareness #1: Often we believe we know what’s coming and we feel our eyes are wide open — we don’t remember that things can change in an instant (either by choice or circumstance).

I was getting ready, packing my gear and about to leave.

Like many times in life when heading out into the world, I wasn’t really feeling it. Obviously, I was already committed and I do love photographing weddings so I embraced the day completely. That’s what I chose and what was required of me as well.

As stated above in the first awareness, often when we wake up, get ready and head out in the morning, we have no idea what circumstances will come to pass.

I truly had no idea what that day would bring, however I chose to face it full on with a positive attitude, knowing that it would serve me, and everyone else, well.

I continued thinking about the contrast between the celebration of a happy wedding day and the sadness that can set in for some people attending. I knew what my mission was and I moved forward.

This particular wedding location was carefully chosen by the bride and groom. It was held at a beautiful place called “The Middlesex County Courthouse”. I had heard of this venue due to its growing popularity, although I hadn’t shot there before. The scenery was perfect for photos and I was looking forward to capturing some great images.

To give you a bit of history, this castle-like structure with Gothic details was finished in 1829 and is a National Historic Site of Canada in London, Ontario. The courthouse building is an early example of the Gothic Revival style, pre-dating the earliest important Gothic Revival public building in England.

To help you see the beauty of this masterpiece, here is a photo I took on Saturday. the photo foes not do it justice in my opinion.

The Middlesex County Courthouse in London, ON.

This site is so amazing to me — over the years I had often driven by, marveling at its magnificence.

It nicely paralleled the beautiful day we were spending celebrating a couple beginning a new life together.

We took some amazing photos out front and at the side of the building.

I was enjoying the mood, laugher, scenery and beauty of the wedding party, especially the bride.

It was an overcast, rainy day — much to the bride’s discontent. She was such a sweet girl and had expectations that were not met. She did her best to remember the beauty and meaning behind the day, regardless of how the weather showed up. I saw the sadness that came over her and she made a choice to put love first. It was a happy day and I admired her for choosing that.

I was also happy — and at peace.

You know when you’re in that perfect emotional space and it feels so good?! When you are filled with joy and tranquility, knowing you’re in the right place?

That’s how I felt in that moment.

At one point during the photos, the Wedding Coordinator came out and told us that we could go down to the jail cells for photos.

“Jail cells?” I didn’t even know there were any jail cells — and that we could take photos in them! (Later on the Emcee would joke about these cells, the ghosts that roamed the venue and the stories of what had gone on there).


Awareness #2: Things are not always as they seem and sometimes great darkness can be hidden beneath a beautiful exterior.

We went down to the basement and walked into a scene that can only be described as ‘haunting’.

When we walked in we saw “The Dark Cell”. This was the solitary confinement cell where people would spend days or weeks suffering alone.

Then we went in a little further and saw the main cells — each one being about 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

It was a really sad scene and I felt a heaviness in the air. Even the groom struggled with the energy there and was eager to leave.

I imagined there were a lot of people, often innocent, who spend many months or years in this place. There were stories on the wall that corroborated my thoughts.


Awareness #3: Even on the most beautiful and happiest of days, a heaviness can set in that takes us into a different emotional or mental space for awhile — and that’s okay

As interesting as it was to take pictures down there, it was also extremely sad and in many ways it felt wrong.

Since I had just written about the sadness of some people attending a wedding, I realized a parallel in that moment.


Awareness #4: When we are looking for something, we very often find it.

How many times do we present a castle like façade of beauty, grace and stature, only to be haunted by the prison we keep ourselves in deep down inside?

How often do we stuff everything down into the basement of our soul, hoping people won’t see it?

When do we keep ourselves locked in a prison of our own making, not seeing the beauty even though there is so much?

People in these cells couldn’t see the beauty in them, above them or outside of them because they were trapped.

Have you ever kept yourself trapped?

I have.

I have missed the beauty that was already there because I was locked in my tiny cell, focused on the sadness.

Just beneath the surface of this amazing structure was that dark place that stays hidden.

What if we broke out of our self-made prison and brought our sadness, struggles and darkness into the light?

What would happen if we removed the bars we so often keep ourselves behind and looked at things from a different point of view?

Would we be able to see the beauty?

I think so.

I think that sometimes we are so close to our own ‘stuff’ that we don’t take the time to see the amazing beauty all around us.

And the beauty within us.

What are we missing when we keep ourselves locked up?

Are we missing great relationships?

Are we missing a chance to be vulnerable and let people in?

How about the option to feel free and be authentic about who we are and what we struggle with in life?

Are we closing ourselves off to the help of others? The love of others? The support of others?

When we attend a wedding, party, social event and are stuck in our own sadness, telling ourselves that we can’t have what they have because we aren’t good enough, is that a type of prison?

I believe it is.

I believe that many of us spend our entire lives locked up.

Some of us throw away the key.

We don’t let people see us.

We stay closed off.

We don’t believe we’re enough.

We keep ourselves behind bars.

And then one day we die.

And we never truly lived.


Awareness #5: When we keep parts of ourselves locked up, we stay in a prison of our own making.

I, for one, desire to see the beauty that I can’t always see.

Actually, I beg for it — especially within myself.

When I saw the contrast between what at first appeared to be so magnificent and the darkness hidden beneath, I was sad.

I was in that place at the beginning of the day — unhappy, unmotivated, feeling alone, wondering when things would get better in certain areas of my life.

I unlocked my prison cell and chose to see things differently. I broke out of the prison I was keeping myself in and saw the amazing beauty of the day.

Not only that, but I learned a valuable lesson through the experience of being in the world, open to whatever gifts it had to give me.


Awareness #6: When we choose to embrace life with self-love, vulnerability and authenticity, we get the opportunity to be free.

That day was a gift — and one I will never forget.

What prison can you break out of today?

Choose to live free.

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