WORKING IT OUT

More of the same it seems. Eat, work, eat, back to work, eat, basketball, work out, volunteer work or Bible study, sleep, repeat. Other than Arthur’s radio which he plays nightly, I do seem to sleep better than at the max. He tells me to turn it off if it bothers me when he’s sleeping. So I do. Then I wake in the morning it is back on with some talk or discussion going on. Quite annoying I must say.

I’ve tried ear plugs made of Kleenex which do help some, but real ones would be better but, of course, they are not allowed. So I muddle through and hope I can get a nap after lunch, before we have to return to work. Or before supper. We do not have far to go to the mess hall, and it’s all indoors. We just go down two flights of stairs around some corners and hallways and there we are. To get to the yard is a similar route but more twists, turns and hallways.

When I use my evening to work out, I go to the outside yard, the only place where there are basketball courts. With the summer league winding down, I cannot access the courts during game nights. So I work out with weights which are also outside, mostly covered by an overhang of a building. It was there I met this one guy who was doing katas. They are sort of shadow boxing for martial arts guys, practicing moves both offensively and defensively.

Because I had studied karate on the outside when I first was a high school English teacher out of college and knew several katas and moves myself, I asked him what type he was practicing. There are numerous types, all having some typical signature combination, move or style to set it apart. He told me and we began chatting. He told me we were not supposed practice any style as the facilities viewed it as dangerous. It obviously was as he had beat up four or five cops on the outside to get his free trip to this correctional facility. Authorities were called to domestic dispute when the fight ensued. It ended with him being taken down with two stun guns.

It happened that I began seeing him on other occasions and we always talked easily with each other. I finally shared my crime and desire to get to a facility which had the program. He did not seem to be affected when I told him, maybe because he was quite sure of himself and confident. He gave me some pointers on staying safe and also encouraged me to write letters to aide my transfer. It was always good to see him in the yard or around the facility.

Work also seemed to continue, more of the same just changing names and numbers of the guys bringing the grievances. Officer abuse, lost packages or inmate complaints over and over. The outcomes were also similar. Findings in favor of the facility, officer or the institution. One particular case grew quite contentious during the hearing, with the sergeant even standing to talk very sternly to the inmate who was getting quite aggravated and loud. I had attempted to keep control of the session, my job, but to no avail. Sitting at opposite ends of the table to the inmate, his focus and comments were primarily directed at me. I reminded him I had no vote in the outcome and that we would let him know the results by mail in three or four days.

After the hearings that day, the sergeant approached me and asked me if I wanted to have an escort back to the dorm. I guess he understood the threats the inmate had made better than I had, and since the decision had gone against him, the officer was concerned for my safety. I was very appreciative but declined his offer, feeling it would draw more attention to me. They couldn’t give me 24/7 coverage unless I went into PC (protective custody), so I felt it was better to find my way on my own. He then gave me some tips to ensure I was aware of my surroundings and the people I was with, and cautioned me to be on the lookout for him or guys in groups approaching me.

I returned to the dorm that day for lunch thinking and watching extra carefully, wondering if I had made the right decision. I did not want to get paranoid, so I mentioned it to Arthur. He agreed I had made the correct decision but cautioned me to be careful, maybe even walking with guys when I could on my outings. Just another thing to give me pause, make me work out another change and remember I was inside corrections.

MAKING PLANS

Having given my life over to Christ, I seem to have found a new reason for living. While I still cannot fathom the destruction I have caused everyone nor understand how God (or anyone for that matter) could forgive me my transgressions when I repented, I have a sense of relief about things. The meds have fully worn off for sure, and I feel like there now is a purpose to my being in here. It is to make me a better person who will serve the Lord. I do the best job I can at all I do, whether work in the Grievance Department, playing basketball, helping guys write letters, or going to Bible study. “Do it as unto the Lord” I have read and been told, so that is my new mission.

Now having said that, I still am in a state “correctional institution” and want to get out. Arthur tells me the only way to do that is to complete all the requirements for my crime, stay out of trouble, and make my first parole board. The Sex Offender Program, which is required for crimes of my type, is unfortunately not offered at this facility, so I will have to get to one that has it. He suggests writing people inside the institutions or out to get there sooner than later. My first board appearance will be in March of 2009 and it’s already July of ’07, not a lot of time according to him, to get everything accomplished.

So, I write to the facility administrator to request a transfer to a facility that offers a SO Program. He has a secretary write back which basically says “not my job”. So I write people in Albany and have a doctor friend from the outside also pen a letter to them telling them I need to get to a new facility that offers it as soon as possible. I hope that will do the trick as the program is one of the requirements for me to make parole.

As for the staying out of trouble part, so far so good. That’s easy you say? Well, believe it or not, there are people in here who just love to get other people in trouble. Some are lifers so they do not really care what happens to them or others, (read the Upside Down Kingdom) while others just seem to get pleasure out of tripping someone up. That is one good reason not to spread your news around and have other people know your business. There are always guys feigning friendship and I have to learn to guard against offering too much information of any kind to them. Obviously I do not tell them my crime as the counselors and even Arthur has suggested. I have only let a select few know, and then ones I have gotten to know, like Arthur.

I have also shared a bit with Prince, as he likes to be called, one of the guys at work, another guy with L on the end of his bid – signifying life, as in 25 years to life. He shared things with me so I felt safe in reciprocating. We also are working on a program he is trying to get off the ground for inmates called Straight Talk. We work on it in our spare time and even some nights when we return to the grievance office to do so. The Grievance supervisor doesn’t care if we come back at night when she isn’t there as long as we get her work done first. I like the idea of the group Prince is devising and he likes my skills on the typewriter and with words. He is what I would call a functional illiterate, having dropped out of high school early and never finishing his GED. He is still working on it now and I help him with that as well some of the time at the office.

His group idea is to have a place where inmates can go to vent to each other and “be real” as he says. Too many of the programs available now have restrictions on topics as well as civilian interaction. Guys will not open up and tell what is really on their chest or mind in those circumstances, so Prince wants to have a real dialogue with no one limiting it. Being in for over 18 years I guess he knows what he is talking about. While we work on it, he tells me of some of his past facilities and things that went on there, mostly about fights, gangs and drugs and what to look out for here. He asks me about what life is like on the outside now and seems amazed to learn of cell phones and the internet, things that have already passed him by.

So Prince has his plans and I have mine. When asked, he retells his Protestant background, derived through his grandmother but never cultivated as a youth. Now he goes to the same services I go to, but I’m not really sure where he is on his walk. I know I have to continue my walk, and get to a correctional institution that has the program I need sooner than later.

FAMILY VISIT

So, once or twice a year the prison here holds a “Family Day” type festival where you meet in the gymnasium for some special food and and some type of religious event. Once cleared via the normal strip search method you are ready to enter the gym and meet your guests. Unlike the visiting room, you may sit anywhere you want and move about more freely. The food is specially prepared and is not the normal mess hall fare. Bar-b-cued items are the favorite. Guys will pay the money for the weekend just to get the food.

Of course you must sign up weeks in advance which means planning for your guests as well. Their names will have to go on a list too and verified upon entry. No last minute switching allowed. Photo identifications required. But once accomplished and your name and theirs on published, you are good to go. Fortunately I had my roommate help navigate the sign up process as he had done it many times before.

So there we were, my wife, son and I in the gym, talking and adjusting as best we could to life inside corrections together. When the regional director of protestant religious services for this area of Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) was speaking, we were all listening intently. I thoroughly enjoyed their presence and doubly enjoyed them hearing his message of salvation that I had now adopted. “You are forgiven,” he kept repeating. While I did not totally feel it, the idea of somehow possibly receiving it from them as well as myself was joyous.

So when the altar call came – an opportunity for people to come forward, profess their faith and surrender to Jesus – we all went up. There were many tears all around and I felt they were now a party to my new hope, strength and life. We hugged while the director made his way from group to group, hugging and congratulating people.

The end of the visit came too soon with never enough time to say good-bye. They went on their way and I headed down stairs to a room set-up for quick processing of over 100 inmates. Temporary curtains were strung up, and we were to perform the normal strip search process for any of the numerous officers collecting overtime for an easy bid while also enjoying the fine food. Unfortunately for me, I had received a food package the day before and had overdone it on the fresh fruit and vegetables– squash, cherry tomatoes, blueberries and peaches to be exact. The mess hall had served another tofu concoction that I bypassed in favor of the veggies and fruit that just arrived. Sharing two refrigerators with almost 50 guys gets hairy, and you might not find your food in future days if not guarded carefully. Sure you lock it in a net bag which bears your name and ID number, but that means little to someone who really likes the contents. So you have to eat it while you can and it’s fresh.

So I had really chowed down on them to the point of having at first mild then major diarrhea, the evidence of which was plainly visible in my state issue boxers. I had to excuse myself a couple of times during the whole afternoon event to relieve myself, but the explosions keep coming. So now when it was time for me to perform the ‘ol drop ’em, bend and spread routine I was a little, no very, embarrassed even scared.

But God was with me. I muttered something to the young CO about my new diet and the resulting diarrhea and I guess he had pity on the old guy. “You’re all set, get dressed,” he said as he turned away and left the make shift tent, not wanting to see what I didn’t want to show. Another small but important blessing inside corrections that I was noticing more and more. So much so I cried. I do not know for how long, but I cried for my wife and son, the CO and what he had done, the mess I was in and everything. I didn’t think I was heard outside, but some CO used his night stick to bang on the temporary tent curtain to tell me to hurry it up.

There will not be another such opportunity for such a festival till near Christmas. If here, I definitely want to partake.