GIVING IT UP

So, off the meds. New digs. Now what?

I know the first step (of many) is to repent, to God and everyone for my sins of selfishness, pride, lust and acting out the ways I did. Actually why stop there? The greed, arrogance and hatred I felt that fed my ego were also transgressions against God, others, as well as myself that need His forgiveness.

I cannot see how God can, as Father Domido tells me, forgive me for what I have done. He tells me stuff I already know about Jesus dying on the cross for sinners like me. I knew that but the proximity of Easter just passing makes it more real to me now and in these circumstances. On the outside I was often just going through the motions, not truly believing what I read or knew about God and Jesus. That They love me no matter what now really floors me. The creator of the universe takes time to love me? He sent His son to die for people like me? How could that be? Yet I have been assured by Father Domido and other chaplains in here that is the case.

Because of my situation, I guess I look at things totally differently than I did before when I thought I was in control of things.Of course I only thought of myself as a Christian, not always walking the path of one, that is for sure, lest I would not have done the things I did. I was only and most usually seeking my own pleasures, cost be damned. I was what mattered most, not others, and certainly not Jesus. I learned a new acronym that makes perfect sense and would be great if more people followed it – JOY standing for Jesus, others, yourself. I usually went to YOJ, with Jesus a distance away if at all. Oh I talked a good game, and often believed it but rarely lived it. Big difference.

So now I have taken the crucial second step after the first step of repentance and given my life over to Jesus. The church service I attended today seemed different, and had what they called an altar call. The sermon seemed to be aimed right at me, as if the pastor knew my sins and situation. So I went forward, not really sure what it was or what would happen, but when the Pastor asked if there was anyone who wanted to turn their life over to Christ and have a new beginning, I felt something inside of me stirring. I just knew I had to go and didn’t care what others thought, which I now think was a big step for me in here as you really have to be guarded. It wasn’t the blind following that I did when I used to go for meds but rather an excited urge I wanted to complete and felt I just needed to do.When I got up there one of the worship guys came and put his arm around me and asked me what I needed. I didn’t know quite what to say but finally mumbled something about turning my life over to Christ. He then started praying for me and then asked me to repeat after him what he called a sinners prayer. My head was full of his words as we said them. It felt so right to give everything I had over to the one who was there when I was created and who died for me on the cross. I do not know at what point I started crying but knew they were tears of joy, true joy, coupled with a relief I had not felt for a very long time. I felt lighter and closer to this God I never really knew.

I returned to my dorm on a cloud, smiling all the way. I think I was even singing one of the praise songs they had when we left the sanctuary. If this was what being a Christian was going to be like, I definitely wanted more of it and wondered why I had waited so long for it. Would it last? I don’t know but I truly felt I was starting the long road of inside corrections.

6-1-07 LETTER to JACK

EDITOR”S note: Jack was a good friend on the outside and my pastor’s husband who wrote regularly and visited when he could.

Fishkill
6/1/07
Hi Jack,
Pardon the yellow paper but that’s all I could buy at the last commissary. Thanks for another great letter. You’re right, this does cause me to work on my penmanship. (spelling still doesn’t count!)
I am now out of 4-2 reception and into a dorm like setting, 55 guys on a floor with various room sizes and cubes. I am in a 4 man room, one older gentleman who is “showing me the ropes” as he had been in here at least 25 years! Then there are 2 younger guys. The floor is a mixture of the same. The 4-2 on the envelope gave me a free pass of 5 letters a week while using these. Now I’m on my own, that’s why stamps are like gold, just like cigarettes. The older guy & I made a great dinner on the stove top last night as the mess hall served processed meats (cold cuts) which I do not eat. At lunch there were hot dogs and hamburgers (Memorial Day teat) but I was fasting till 4. It was suggested on church and coincided so nicely with the meals, funny how those things work out.
We did have a great visit together. (Editor’s note: wife visited) The weather was cool but sunny. It really didn’t matter as I would have done anything to see her. It is much looser here and we could get up and move, even go outside to a small yard with picnic tables. We had a little over 3 hours which was great, but I could always use more. No telling the next time.
I have been going to the Protestant services here in the PM, actually double dipping with the AM Catholic service which I will now discontinue. It is too dry. I also notice everyone, including the priest, says the ritual sayings, even the Lord’s Prayer, so FAST and with very little feeling, almost in a toneless monotone. Very odd to me. They have some sayings I think are great, but they rush through them so. About 40 people typically attend. The Protestant service starts with a lot of great music and ends similarly. If your feet and/or hands are not moving with the music, check your pulse. In between, the Hispanics have a go at it which reminds me SO much of what I heard in Buenos Aires. The minister is right on the money and, like your wife, goes deep into the scripture and its application to our lives. No skating easy there. The place is packed each Sunday, over 140 people. I could use a few less Amen’s and hallelujahs, but the place is filled with God’s spirit. I can see prison drives people to believe and offers HOPE, something so many of their lives on the outside lack. Even in here. It can also offer a form of control which is missing, and forgiveness. I can see why you may struggle for men’s group attendance. One, there is so much to do they feel. Two, opening up may be hard. Here, people let it hang and are open in the church setting. Some carry it outside, some I see do anyway. I guess I am saying there seems to be more purpose for us here to do Bible/book study & things of that type. I have often thought lately that I should form a group for sexual offenders to meet and talk. The transition from inside to out is abrupt, and from my short time here I can imagine without some follow-up and guidance, same as with drugs, alcohol, etc. may just repeat. Believe me, I am not interested in EVER going back on line and will work NEVER to return here for ANY reason. However, the recidivism rate for S.O.’s, mainly Class 2 & 3 (I am class 1) is high I am told. That tells me something isn’t right and maybe should be changed. The State agrees with the former, so they 98% of the time simply keeping s.o.’s in jail longer that the minimum even though the results continue to show that DOESN’T work! (You know the definition of insanity right?!!) I am hoping I might help work to a better solution, although what that is right now is not clear. Suggestions welcome! Haha.
I will keep your men’s group in my thoughts & prayers. I guess this crisis definitely has illuminated what is and isn’t of importance more than ever, like any tragedy or death might do. Of course at the time, some people say and do things that fade after time while others make changes. We all know how difficult that can be for any of us.
For that matter, how do you get more men to even attend Sunday services? What is lacking? We have the best “preacher” in town – and I ‘m not saying this cause she’s your wife or because I was on the PNC. She has a gift and it’s odd to me why others do not attend more regularly. From here (my house) there is for too much going on in people’s lives, a lot of it bunk. I know and have probably shared with you my frustration of Sunday sports & practices. The family is not sacred to many families despite their verbal mantras that it is, lest changes have to be made….
I also talked with my son via phone last weekend. Needless to say we both cried a lot. I’m in hopes to hear more from him via mail.
I will be working in the Grievance office 6 hours/day starting next week, and maybe split it with 3 hours in Transitional Services for guys getting ready to leave. They do not have the S.O. program here that I need, so I know I will again be moved, probably in 6 months or more. Till then, I am keeping busy volunteering and thinking of ways to help guys like me in and out of prison. My first parole review comes up 12/08, so that is my goal.
I too have seen the human beings of which you speak. That is part of what makes this place SO bizarre. If they all snarled and gnashed their teeth or had tattoos (wait, most Do have tattoos!) it would be different. The place is like a dorm, with a TV & kitchen area like most colleges. (no microwave or fridge here. So to think of us as evil is difficult, even absurd. A counselor today said the system wants chaos within to keep the system going – it’s their (C.O.’s) livelihood. Without it, they wouldn’t have a job. Anyway, when you think about it and study it, which I do, it drives you crazy.
Take care. Peace and love to you both,
Van

STAYING FOCUSED

Okay, so this is my new normal. That’s what the counselors are saying and the pastor here is echoing. In other words, get used to it. They say I will get out (eventually) and have to stay focused to keep out of trouble and pass the time. If I give up or get off track, it will just add to the time and misery, they counsel, so stay in the game. Well, to some extent I have.

And not. I am in a four man room with the ‘lead’ man being Arthur, a lifer who’s been down 26 years. I cannot imagine going through that much in here with no real idea if or when I might ever get out. He seems to take it well, but then what is his alternative? He reads the Bible daily and I see him praying. He also snores, as does one other in the room which I am not used to as yet. Worse, he plays his radio all night. Yep, all night. It’s one thing to fall asleep to soft music, it’s another to wake up to it and not be able to get past it and fall back asleep. He has said he would turn it down but I hear no difference. A couple of times after he falls asleep and I lay there awake, I go turn it off while he snores. Ultimately in the morning when I roust for count it is usually back on. The pressure I feel being in this situation is mounting I feel. “Pressure bursts pipes” says Arthur. Sooner or later he is correct.

He has taken me to the Protestant worship on Sunday evening which is truly wonderful. There is singing, praying, sharing and a good message usually from the pastor. When the Spanish band takes over the music really gets you going. The messages seem to center around Jesus accepting us where we are and forgiving ourselves so we can move forward, a familiar theme it seems from those who have counseled me. Again, easier said than done. I want to believe that God has forgiven me, I just cannot forgive myself for all that I have done.

So church is wonderful, but it is not something that makes me feel ‘normal’ yet. It’s different from what I am used to, and while I get into it and loose myself for the time I am there, I don’t forget I am in prison. The only thing that truly does that for me is basketball.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to play my whole life and do it better than some but not as good as many. When I first got here, I immediately went to the outside court to play and shoot around. Surprisingly, no one else had checked a ball out and I found myself shooting alone many afternoons. I practiced many shots, ran like a crazy man full court and enjoyed myself for the almost hour I had there. One day it was even sprinkling as I did this but I was not deterred. Even the uneven concrete where grass grew up did not keep me from loosing myself in two on two or three on three when I was lucky enough to get games. At first they left me out, thinking what’s this old geezer doing out here. But once in, I was able to demonstrate some good reasons for picking me up earlier.

I also did something most did not do very well – pass the ball. But I did lose myself in those games, sorely hoping they would never end as it truly was something I knew and could get lost in. I may as well have been in any gym or outside courts I’ve played on because my mind kept me focused.

I was also fortunate enough to get put on a team in the summer league that was still going on when I arrived. It also turns out some guys were watching me from their windows as I played alone and word spread about an OT (old timer) who played and had a pretty good shot. The league is a trip too. Well, a literal trip as I rolled my knee running on that uneven concrete and am out for a couple of weeks with what I think is torn cartilage. Nevertheless, I so love the game it keeps me mentally away from the heartache I am living and gives me something to look forward to everyday. I shoot off to the side and am taking it easy right now, hoping to get back soon, and staying focused on being focused in the moment.

I went to the infirmary when it first happened and learned what most already knew. Don’t bother. A couple of ibuprofen is the treatment for just about everything in here. Just getting to the doc is difficult to accomplish, but we were luckier than many facilities as there is a hospital here with real doctors and nurses. In fact my roommate Arthur comes here three times a week for his dialysis, something he’d have to continue for the rest of his life it appears. (But he can’t get parole because he might abscond. Where would he go between dialysis appointments?)

But getting any type of wrap or knee brace is out of the question right now. Guess they think I’ll hide weapons in it. I can order one to be sent in but by the time it arrives I will be better anyway. I cannot have my wife send in one of the ones I have from previous tweaks as it has to be brand spanking new. So I’ll take it easy and see how it feels. At least that is the plan.

Reading can also keep my mind occupied. My work is easy and leaves a good deal of time for me to do other things, so getting lost in a good book helps. My grievance office is right next door to the library and I am getting to know the staff there pretty well too. Mostly non-fiction right now. Hey, I am living what I consider a fictional life, certainly unreal to me. Only new books can be sent in to us from the outside, so I’ll exhaust the library for now.

Whatever I do to pass the time never seems to make it go fast enough save the basketball games. Those 4 quarters pass so quickly I truly rue the final horn, win or lose. Concentrating for those 32 minutes really takes my mind off the figurative chains I have here. If you’ve never been involved seriously in some type of sports you may not comprehend what I mean.
So between work, church and basketball I am managing to survive in my Jumanji world by just staying focused on what I am doing.

Praise God!

THE DANCE FLOOR

How ever do I interpret what happens in here and what my “real” life was on the outside? As much of a toll that this train wreck has caused me I see some of the damage when my family comes to visit.
When at the maximum security facility, where you can have a visit at any time, I was drugged up much of the time that it wouldn’t have mattered if anyone came or not. As I was weaned off them I only had one visit, My pastor’s husband was in the area and scheduled a visit. It was good to see him though I honestly do not remember what we talked about and remember doing a great deal of crying. Just the whole visit procedure was scary. Escorted by a guard from my dorm down the maze of hallways to the visiting room. Strip searched going in to make sure we were not smuggling something out I guess. Then sit looking at the guard with legs fully under the table, hands resting on it at all times. Not knowing anything different, I made the mistake of initially sitting in the wrong spot and immediately was yelled at to move. Then the wonderful strip search with the mandatory bend and spread on your way out, the escort back to the dorm and resume “normal” life.
When I was moved to this medium facility it is much easier though maybe not for visitors. Only on weekends or holidays are visits scheduled, and then only as room allows. There is an outside courtyard with tables and chairs and real grass, mainly where the smokers go. Once I received the call from my dorm CO, I would make my way unescorted down the halls and outside walkway to the visiting room, or “dance floor” as inmates have for some reason dubbed it. The same preparatory procedure applies to the inmate as before when we prepare to see our loved ones.
I had to contain myself as I went down through the whole procedure and waited patiently to get in and see my family. During this time, I would attempt to prepare and “suck” up my emotions as others had told me to do so as not to have them think I was not being treated okay in here. They were also going through a very rough time without me and it was better, I was counseled, not to unload on them all that went on and all that was happening to me. So I “put on a happy face” and did my best which usually during this time wasn’t all that good. Kleenex were in short supply but required when people came to see me. Nothing was mentioned about fights or near misses or CO’s who unloaded on me or others close by.
Here I was in prison because I was pretending everything was all right in my world on the outside and it was seriously not. Now I am on the inside, again pretending everything is all right when it is not. How is that progress? I had felt such an unburdening when I confessed to God, clergy and counselors my crime and arrogant, self centered actions, freeing myself from the chains of the secret life I had led. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt the relief even in my chest.
Now I was again hiding from my family my true feelings, acting as if I was simply “away” from them for awhile, in what my daughter aptly named a Jumanji World, soon to return and wasn’t it great to see you again? We have to keep playing the “game” in order to get out. And like that story, we have to put up with all sorts of craziness along the way. What was wrong with this picture? Dare I tell them of the horrors I feel and had seen, how scared I often am or man’s inhumanity to man that I witness almost on a daily basis and have to look the other way? Or the grievances which I preside over that made my gut wrench because I know there must be some truth to them? After all, not all of the complaints against authority can be written off as bogus especially when the same CO’s names keep popping up. But I am not to get involved, not my job.
That certainly was not my nature. I was more like the good Samaritan who took pity on the downtrodden and helped those in need in whatever way I could. But in here I was another person, inmate 07AVW1651, not really myself. Would that ever change and I become a really free man? I am not all that good I admit at totally hiding my emotions down here in the dance floor though that too was at my own peril. Maybe that is how the name came to be, as everyone “dances” around issues with their visitors – as well as the guards who patrol there.
For you see, any weakness is sooner or later exploited in here by someone, inmate or guard. Inmates will cozy up and feign friendship to get something. Some threaten if you do not comply. Others use your weakness, showing fake compassion again in order to obtain something even if it is over the long haul. Others know far better than I that we will doubtfully ever see one another again so take all you can right now. Guards use it as a control measure and to keep us weak, especially against each other. It makes their job easier if we are fighting one another rather than turning our rage against them. Weakness displayed is like blood in the water to sharks. It attracts them and makes them a little crazy. That certainly is the case in here.
So I guess I let down too much at times, on the phone, in my bunk or on the dance floor. Heck, we could easily wash the floors with the water we shed when my family gets together. I try with limited success as did they, trying to hold it together, keep feelings in check, wear our masks and trudge onward. But the schlepping is difficult, for me and for them, so we talk of old times and what they have been doing and how I yearn to be out with them once again.
I do not have frequent visits because of the distance – about 5 hours from home– but I am grateful for what I get. My son is closer, about 2 hours. I was all ready last weekend for his planned visit, waiting for that call, in the dorm rec room looking out the windows as if I could will him there. Hurry son, before count or they shut off visits for about 45 minutes while the count is verified and no one has escaped.
Well, soon I reasoned, the train up may have been delayed or he had trouble getting through clearance to get in, often a lengthy process. I waited, waited and waited. I am still not used to waiting but am getting more and more used to it having to do that in here all the time. Was I going to have to write my own grievance because I could not see my son? I waited. Only one hour left but I would cherish any time with him. He was going to be traveling away soon and not be available for several months. So I waited till the end had come and gone and no trip down to the dance floor.
Late that night I was able to connect with him on his land line that he had installed just for me as we are not able to call cell phones. Turns out he lost his wallet on the train ride up and only realized it when in the taxi to the correctional facility. He had a harrowing experience, trying to figure things out and get home. Far worse than mine and the phone call gave him an outlet to express his anger, disappointment and hurt. I was hurting too but I masked it best I could.
I work at staying positive and looking at the bright side. For him I am sure it is difficult. It was for me too, but at least I didn’t have to fake it for him, strip twice for guards to peer at me and “dance” on the dance floor. Progress I guess.