HOW ARE YOU DOING?

How are you doing? I mean really doing? Anyone ever ask you that? My counselors do in here. My former wife asked me that and I wished I would have thought about it more and given her an answer – or at least been more real with her when she queried.
Inside corrections you basically do what you are told. People do not care how you are feeling. What would it matter anyway, you still end up doing what they want and tell you to do. Hey, that could be why so many fail once they get out. They are so used to not thinking for themselves, being told what to do, that they are not used to thinking past the next hit, drink, fling, buzz, hook-up or whatever. Not much place to hide anything in here. You also do not want to ask what some guys are up to, and most of the time you really do not want to know what they are truly thinking. Of course that doesn’t stop some guys from doing things they ought not to do.
Like the ones who make hooch from old apple juice or anything else they can lay their hands on. Or the ones who make tattoo guns from radios or other electronic gadgets. Or the ones who find ways to bake things without an oven. Or cement things together without tools, super glue or duct tape. In most all cases, you would never even know this type of thing goes on till someone goofs up, tells the wrong guy or gets caught somehow. If this country really wanted to get things done they’d ask inmates to solve the problems. Not only would they get multiple responses, they’d also get it done cheaply. But I digress.
What I was up to was no good when my wife asked that question prior to my incarceration. I just didn’t want her or anyone else to know about it. So, like others in here, I kept secrets and didn’t let anyone know lest they try and stop me, which I didn’t want because I was enjoying myself too much even though I wanted to stop but couldn’t on my own. Hence, if I really answered that question, I would have had to look at the ugliness of what I was doing and stop, which as I said I wanted to do, though deep down I needed help to do it. Understand? Probably not, unless you have been there before. How could I risk so much, my wife, family, job and career for lust? Why indeed.
One reason was because I could. Being my own boss meant no one was supervising me or overseeing me as almost constantly occurs in here (yet they still misbehave!!) Another reason was because it gave me a high, a satisfaction, a sense of being needed and wanted even though I knew it was fake, contrived and wrong. Because I felt unworthy, the guilt pushed me to feel better about myself. So I acted out, which made me temporarily feel better till the guilt returned and the cycle started again. The time between those cycles grew shorter, and the need to act out grew stronger, a fatal mixture for sure. Fortunately, in here most times, I see the cycles getting broken before they go around – at least much of the time. As with most secret activities, one has to observe very closely or be close to someone to know when anything out of the ordinary is occurring.
So now, when someone says “how are you doing?”, I can answer with a clear conscience. Not having to lie or conjure something up is actually a big relief and feels quite liberating. I truly had a huge load lifted from me as a result of being so transparent as they say, though a little too late. Of course in here one never knows who is lying or telling the truth. After all, 99% are innocent, right?
My hope and prayer is that whenever someone asks that question they a) really care and mean it, and b) no one covers up anything or shifts in their seat because of being exposed. I am learning again how my God sees it anyway, no matter how much we try and hide. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden couldn’t hide from their sin, no one can. Even me. My joy comes from being able to share everything at all times as I work to keep my life in the light.
As you know or come to know if you are reading this, it was not always so with me. I made a good living, unfortunately living in the dark – or at least the shadows. I was no where near this lucid before on things that matter, only things that didn’t matter or have consequence, except to me. Hence my self centered behaviors.
As you read on, and I hope you do, you will get a sense of what I went through when my world, my flesh and the devil collided with the world of God and required inside corrections.

LETTER TO PASTOR CHERYL

(Editor’s note:  Pastor Cheryl was the pastor at the Presbyterian Church I attended on the outside)

Dear Pastor Cheryl,
I am sure you have been exceptionally busy in this Lenten Season, plus having Peter home. Hopefully it was as wonderful as I imagine it was, even with this strange weather.
I wondered if you could share the enclosed with the congregation via the newsletter if you feel it appropriate. This “bazaar” life I am leading does have a purpose, one I am working to unravel. One thing I do know is that it has and will change me and many of my beliefs and thoughts. I certainly have lots of time for reflection and meditation here, and who knows of the future for any of us.
Peace & love to you and all your family,
Van

Hello to all.
After a very difficult transition, I find myself in a reception area of a maximum security prison in Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York. Although the timetable is unclear, I hope to be relocated to where I will do my “bid” (one of the many new words I have learned) or sentence in the next week and a half. If you have never been incarcerated, let me explain that this facility is as you might see on T.V. or in the movies or maybe read about in the papers. Tight rules, strictly enforced by overly aggressive c.o.’s ( correction officers) in a cold, sterile environment where each has an individual cell, approximately 8’ x 8’ or thereabouts, complete with a paper thin mattress on a cold steel frame; toilet and sink combination, one fluorescent light and half a locker for your state issue green clothes. The food is, well, nothing like I am used to in my health conscious life. Mostly starch, carbohydrates, overcooked vegetables and, if lucky, once a week, fruit. But then again, as I am constantly reminded, I am in prison. (Complete with high walls with strands of razor wire on top.)
We recently celebrated Easter. Happy belated Easter wishes to everyone. I wanted to celebrate the resurrection so I again went to a service here in a small “chapel”. It was a Catholic service as I had previously attended a protestant one which I will relate at another time. The priest was a wonderfully happy man with origins in South America and truly had the blessings of God shining through him. He spoke of a time of rebirth, reawakening, starting over and leaving the past behind, and going forward with new life filling our hearts with joy of forgiveness, and asked each of us how we would “feast with joy on this festive day.” It almost felt like he was speaking only to me. How am I going to share this joy of the resurrection? How COULD I? Me, the sinner, who has disrupted so much, hurt so many, thought only of himself? It brought up again all the pain I had been experiencing. But I felt an honesty in his eyes, his words and his ways that told me I too could be forgiven. I broke down. As I finally gathered myself, pushing my soaked sleeves up to join hands in the Lord’s Prayer, I knew I had to share this joy of rebirth with you all. I now have hope where formally there was only despair because of what Jesus did for me and us all on that cross: dying, being buried and rising on the third day to conquer death and sin. The eggs that little children seek on the Easter days he said represent hope of the future, that there indeed will be a future for us all, so we must carry on knowing if we so chose, we can be a part of it with Him.
So I now carry this joy with me as best I can in here, hoping that no slap happy guard, no fence, no bars, no restrictions of rules or orders will take away. It’s a process, but at least I am on the road and moving in a better direction. This is what I wanted to share with everyone this Easter season. Peace be with you. And hope.

Van

NO MORE MEDS

I know time has passed because my meds have decreased. One reason is the counselors say so and the other is I do not swallow them anymore. Yes, the same rebellious attitude which helped cause my fall is now being used for positive effects of leading me mentally out of this hole – at least cerebrally.
I noticed little yellow and orange debris outside the dispensary and learned guys would hold their meds in their mouths in such a way as to hide them from the omnipresent C.O.’s who have to check in your mouth and under your tongue to prove you swallowed them. Guys would then depart and deposit them on the bare trodden earth outside, mainly to the right of the concrete walk, something in which I also learned to delight. I could feel the difference physically and mentally after a couple of days, though emotionally I was still iffy. With my counselor’s final permission, I was able to wean the system from giving me any, though that also took time. Even after her approval I had to go three straight times and refuse the meds, protocol for such situations, relieving the facility of any liability I guess. So now one charade ends while another – that of me pretending to be all right – continues.
How could I be? I was in prison, yearning for my old life of family and friends around whenever I wanted. I longed to eat and drink what and as much as I pleased as well as to play basketball again. I was afraid things would never return to those days and was more correct than I knew. The latter wish was partially filled on a half court indoor court during twice a week rec times. Fortunately, though time had passed, my court skills had not. Many a young buck was led to the slaughter by this “O.T.’s” hand. Even the C.O.’s took notice, which gave me a little leeway, which I later exploited, having not outgrown my selfish ego of pushing the limits – another trait that landed me here.
Other than that precious half hour on the court, much of my time is still spent thinking of thinking and working at controlling thoughts. I often fail at that as well, adding that disappointment to the seeming endless list of items which keeps the downward spiral close at hand. Is this all I have to look forward to, a continual repetition of this negative cycle? (with a little b-ball thrown in to tease me?) Is it worth it to be off the meds?
One way I plan to escape other than reading – I devour books here – is to write. I now need to carry out new actions to replace old, move forward in my turn from negative to positive, do something good rather than bad, stop pushing the limits and stay within guidelines and make a mark for others to follow, especially in this darkness. More importantly I need to give up the reins to God, something I never have really done before. Even though I acted like I did, I was what I now call a ‘smorgasbord’ Christian, liking this and this but not that or that, believing what I wanted rather than His Word. True discipleship, my Christian friends tell, me does not work that way. Too many in here continue on the same path. They return through prison’s revolving door to a system that welcomes them back on a new “bid.” (that is a whole separate chapter) Unless something new is presented which they can accept and adopt, they will continue the cycle away from the light.
I now can more clearly see my desire to do whatever it will take, to move toward the light and out of continual darkness. That arrogant attitude of entitlement, with a dash of selfishness coupled with a pinch of impulsiveness and recklessness that brought me here is a sure recipe for disaster, sure to lead me back or in some alternate world of hurt for me and everyone around me. It all starts with a thought, then moves to action and resulting consequences.
For myself as well as future generations and anyone willing to read I will continue to pour out my inner thoughts from the inside. Who knows, it may serve to aid someone else besides myself which is in itself, a new and delightful thought. How clearly I can think now that the fog of meds has cleared! A huge weight gone. That is another step in my recovery of a thousand steps. The only way I can correct is from the inside, with God’s help.
So here I go.

DOG DAYS OF PRISON

Today was a Sneaker day. We couldn’t go to the gym/library and spent most of out time locked in our cells. I am not sure what was going on to cause it as they didn’t consult me or other inmates.
To say that things are tough would be an understatement. Some days are better than others, but all a dull gray. Weaning off the meds doesn’t seem to help my mood as I thought it would. Father Domido, whose visits have diminished, says the only thing that will sustain me is Jesus living in me through the Holy Spirit. Right now I do not know anyone who would want to live in or near me. I don’t even want to. How could He forgive me and accept me after all I have done and the wreckage I have caused to so many?
Yet life goes on, even in here. Count, breakfast (or some facsimile thereof), cleaning, another count, lunch (ditto) maybe rec and library time, still another count, dinner (more of the same) then rec and bed with yet another count thrown in there. Hey, they wouldn’t want any of us getting out through double locked doors, through locked hallways and outer doors and over the high walls with wire on them would they? Some days it is different, broken up by counselor or priest visits or a call out but I cannot recall details of when. I don’t really care. That old darkness of ending it all still looms over me. Then I think of my kids and that is replaced by further sadness and shame, most of which I have to hide from others around me so as not to be taken advantage of by the vultures in here. Any weakness shown is like blood in the waters around sharks, so either act tough or like nothing is bothering you.
Phone time, if I can manage to get to one and actually catch my wife and have her press 3, (to accept the call) is another challenge. With about 30 guys in here for two phones I get maybe one try per night if lucky. I try to remember when she said she would be available but it is foggy in my mind, clouded also by the fact I want to talk with her all the time. That is odd too because I wasn’t much good at talking before I imploded and much of the time I am crying and telling her how sorry I am and asking her to forgive me. It must seem like a broken record for her. I really do not have anyone else to talk to. Father says pray and talk to God, but I think He is too busy for the likes of me right now.
I don’t remember who suggested it, my counselor I think, that we set up a word or phrase that would tell those I call how I was doing since we don’t really want to broadcast it to the inmate population – as if they didn’t know when they see and hear a sniveling old guy banging the wall and wailing into the receiver. A phone booth would help but these phones are just stuck here on the concrete wall.
So my wife and I came up with code words, not like we are hiding anything or spies. After all, the calls are all monitored and even recorded so I am sure the Gestapo has already figured it out. We use dog names to tell of my moods. Sneaker, our old Golden Retriever who was aptly named because he ‘sneaked around’ as the kids used to say, became code word for a bad day. Yogi, our present Golden, who by the way is my best dog ever and I miss terribly, is used for good days, or at least tolerable ones. It goes without saying that there have been more Sneaker days than Yogi days. Even our best day in here is worst than anyone’s bad day out there.
I’m not really sure why we play this charade or if it is even healthy. Hiding my feelings and pretending it is a Yogi day when it really isn’t doesn’t seem right. I know why I was cautioned to do it, because of those inmates around me who will ask for everything and anything that we have, which isn’t much because we are in prison! That doesn’t seem to hold them back even when I am on the phone. “Hey, ask your old lady to ……” or “can you get…” or some such. Money, phone calls, letters information are just some of the things requested. Or they’ll sidle up and feign concern only to later ask something of you especially if my commissary buy is coming up.
Of course mentioning my dogs name sets me off in a way too. Sneaker is dead, buried in our acreage behind the house. But he was a good dog and fun. Then we got Yogi Bear, aptly named because he was roly poly like a baby bear who became my prize even though the kids were supposed to care for him. My daughter did some, especially when she dressed him up in people clothes and took pictures. I trained him in sign language and to run along side of me on the bike so he would get enough exercise. All the people in our small town knew Yogi as I took him with me all over. The Post Office workers, who would feed him treats when we visited, caused him to wander down there sometimes on his own if left loose for too long and I was not around. Right now I hear Yogi isn’t doing well since I left, kind of mopey like his master I guess. So bringing up their names just as when my kids names are mentions can adversely affect me as well.
I know I must deal with all of this and I guess I am as I am still here. Yep, still here and rotting away on the inside having Sneaker days.