SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Life seems a dull routine and I am fighting the darkness of old. I have not heard anymore about my needed transfer to a place that has the required SO program, so I feel I will never emerge from this place. God seems to have deserted me once again and basketball seems my only diversion. Work is the same, with inmates 98% of the time on the short end of everything. Fortunately I have not to date had any repercussions from any decisions handed down. Even the Straight Talk Program Prince and I had submitted to the Institution was shot down. They said it was too similar to their Transitional Programs already in existence. So I use the evening time to work out, type letters from the grievance office to people, or work on an idea I hatched for when I get out – if that ever happens.
I used to do some maintenance on our house and others when on the outside, so I figured I could start a company to do that. I had heard how difficult it was for felons to get work once released, so I thought working for myself might be the best plan. I wanted to name the company Doc’s Home Maintenance – a play on the name of Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). So I am working on a brochure with that in mind. It is a bit tricky on the typewriter rather than a computer, but it helps pass the time and occupy my thoughts.
And that is what I have to work on most, controlling my thoughts. It seems the devil is attacking me, telling me again how I am not worth being saved, I should look out for myself and that I am getting just what I deserve just like he did when I first was arrested. The Bible studies I attend speak of a Holy and just God, offering grace to those who but believe. I guess prisoners are low on His list at this point, as the economy is tanking and there are far more important issues for Him to work on. I know men in the Bible were in prison and remained faithful, but it sure puts me to the test. And I think I am failing. Haven’t I been here before? Proverbs tells us if you faint in times of trouble, your faith is weak. I know that is true, but how do I build it up? I always was in control of things before on the outside, but inside corrections I have little to no control. The only thing I can control is my mind, and that is proving almost too difficult. Why not just do what everyone else in here does, look out for themselves? Do the minimum to get by, do your time (so it does not do you as I am repeatedly told) and move on. What’s so difficult about that? Isn’t that what I have been doing?
Well, I am already tired of being in here and want my family and friends back. I am sick of the food and all the restrictions. And I still feel the shame and humiliation of my crime, though I guess it will never go away. Sure is tough to get used to life in here.
One thing happened the other day that was a happy/sad affair. While walking to work on the walkway (which really is the roadway used to walk up and down the campus here) the other morning a few of us spotted blood on the ground. There were a few spots of it leading to the hospital it appeared. Later the news came that a CO had gotten beat up by a new recruit (inmate) who was working in the porter pool. That was where the CO I had issues with worked. He was the one with the big mouth, trying to get action against me by speaking loudly to me in the food lines about my crime and how everybody would know. Guess he mouthed off to the wrong inmate, who reportedly broke a mop handle and went after him. Of course then four of the officer’s buddies went after that poor guy and did a real number on him, giving him more than the normal shampoo as they call it. I am sure he had a spot in the hospital when they finished with him. I had to fight off the mirth I was feeling that the CO finally got what was coming to him, but sad to learn people were hurt. But that about capsules life inside corrections – up and down all in the same moment.

UNSTEADY

So, work is a little boring, the meals are also boring and similar, and my faith, while growing, is bothersome to me. I guess I am not really sure what to expect from it, but I guess an easy road inside corrections would be nice.
I have been told that just because I am a believer in Christ as my personal savior that all roads will not be smooth or without problems. While I hear that and know it is true – just take a look at the Biblical characters that were way more spiritual than me and still had problems! – I guess I am having a small pity party again as I want to stay safe, move, get through the program, and make parole in ’09. Add to that fact that I am not real comfortable in here and still do not feel truly safe. Guess I am not fully adjusted to green being the new black, to paraphrase a new book/television show. I am unsteady.
I have an experienced roommate who tells me to keep mum about my charge as no one likes a sex offender. I see what he is talking about as inmates and guards seem to target us every chance they get. Hey, I thought CO’s were not supposed to know our charges and why we are here. Yet many do know and treat us accordingly, which usually is bad news for us. I heard many tales from other prisoners in here, I dare not call them friends, as well as from the number of cases in the grievance department. Some of the cases are the ones in which I preside, others are ones I have to type and catalog from the past. I also have to do research for my boss sometimes to study and see if there are similar cases with comparable outcomes. Throughout all this work I notice numerous similarities of actions in different cases, often by the same officers, yet yielding an outcome nearly always the same – in favor of the institution.
I unfortunately have witnessed part of fights and incidents where inmates have attacked other inmates, sometimes because they are sex offenders. Incidents like property thefts, stabbings or bed burning seem threatening to me in here. The former shows there is no honor among thieves, just like the saying says. The second shows the inhumanity of man against man. The bed burning seems very unusual because I do not see how it can be accomplished without someone witnessing it. Or maybe it is a group effort.
Starting a fire is one thing, but keeping a mattress burning is another. I found out that baby oil is great at doing just that, so all one needs to do is ignite something that would carry the flame to the empty bed. Burning a bed sends a signal that they were not wanted there, that moving is the only option, and worst things can occur if not careful. Knowing these things and, as I say witnessing them kind of, also makes me unsteady. Would it happen to me? Hey, my Sergeant at work thought it may and he had over 20 years on the job.
So why wasn’t I “rejoicing in all things” as the Bible tells me I should be? Is my faith that weak? The book of Proverbs tell me that if I faint in times of trouble, my faith is small. I am learning boatloads of things in here, often that I don’t know what I don’t know, but I guess I do not see my faith growing at this time. Does that disqualify me as a good Christian? Was I going to be the next victim, whether because of my crime or my duties at work? Or was I just pissing someone off I didn’t know just because I was here?
So many questions, so much to think about, all of which added to my angst. For now I know nothing else to get through than to “buck it up”, put on a happy face, lean on my Lord and continue inside corrections.

FEELING LIKE A SCHMUCK

I am such a schmuck. I received another wonderful letter from my daughter who will be a junior in college this fall and I feel joyous and terrible at the same time. I truly messed up her life as well. She is at her summer job and her letters are filled with the brightness of the summer fun she is having and imparting, despite the incarceration of her dear old dad.

I am blessed in that she writes so often. I return letters almost immediately, answering her questions and telling her about life inside corrections. It is not the same as speaking with her or being with her, and I do miss her terribly. I do not know the reaction my letters generate, but I am so very grateful for her constant correspondence back to me. I can only imagine the pain, shame and embarrassment she is dealing with, explaining to her friends why her dad isn’t visiting. Once she returns to college and resumes playing collegiate volleyball, people will know something is amiss when her dad isn’t there cheering her on in the home games which I rarely missed even though it was three hours away. There I’d be with my Cat hat, meowing for the good blocks or kills she made to the amusement of many. But no more. I try not to dwell on that fact as it saddens me too much, so I am sure it affects her too. How could anyone harm an innocent, young, beautiful girl the way I have? What a schmuck.

So I write her at least two letters a month, sometimes more, not even waiting for her reply to my previous one. I “put on a happy face” as I have been counseled to do, not troubling her with the minutia and pain of daily life here. We do share a faith that is growing in me and had more developed in her, most likely as she had no choice. Either sink or swim, and she has chosen to swim with the Lord to get her through, a wise choice. At least that gives us another topic to talk about and share. She tells me that things happen for a reason and I am still struggling with this whole situation.

At first she didn’t write, so I was not sure what she was thinking. It was not until later at the maximum security facility, about the time I was weaning off meds that I received my first letter from her and found she wanted to keep our relationship going. It took me over ten minutes to read it, mainly because I couldn’t stop crying as I read it. She did comment that we now have an opportunity to dialogue more than we might have otherwise about things. In this day and age of electronic communication it is getting rare for anyone to pen a letter anymore – I mean with a real pen and paper. It warms me so much that she takes the time to do that, especially because I feel so unworthy.

Yes I know I am a child of God and loved by him and all that. It’s just in this world, this side of heaven, my crime is a serious thing and has affected many, my children being the more affected ones. I pray so often for us to stay connected, for us to stay close and not lose the relationship I lived with them through her first 19 years. I remember catching her as she was born during our planned home birth that very early June morning, such a small bundle of joy, so quiet and calm. Nothing can take that or the thousand of other moments together we have experienced away, thank goodness. I just want an opportunity to build more, but not from here. I am also concerned that we will be able to keep her in a private college with me in here, not out there earning and paying bills. She doesn’t deserve to be pulled out because of my actions.

I know the Bible, specifically the apostle Paul, teaches us to be us to be happy in all situations. Right now that is difficult. What my mind knows often doesn’t reach my heart as I yearn for her to be with me, hearing her laugh and talk so easily as we have in the past. Having her brother here for the festival that day was so wonderful and spoke volumes to me about his intentions for our future together. He wants to work through this mess and stay close. My dear hope is that my daughter will also, and it appears by her letters she is. I know I have to keep making the inside corrections to stay on the right path, and I fully intend to do so. It is just I feel so terribly right now in causing all the grief and heartache I have for her. It is a constant battle for me to stay positive and focused and not get pulled down in the self-pity or self destructive mire I was in before, especially when I know I was such a self-serving, egotistical, arrogant schmuck.

HUSTLERS

Inside corrections, guys all seem to have their hustle. Some create specialty cards of all types, for birthdays, anniversaries or just thinking of you type. They sell them for flags, cigarettes, food or anything they can. Others make things out of whatever they get their hands on – from figurines to trinkets, many of which are illegal by the institution’s rules. Some make tattoo guns out of old radios or electric clippers and to do their trade. Some give haircuts. Some provide a service, from homework assistance, game tutoring or other services I don’t want to mention. Some get extra food from the mess hall and come around selling it to the highest bidder.

It was these latter guys with whom I developed a continual relationship. Bananas or other fruit on the rare occasions they would have them were one of my best buys. As were boiled eggs. This one guy from New York City would bring around a five gallon pail filled at least a third of the way with them. I wondered how guys could get them out of the mess hall, and I learned in this facility the civilians just looked the other way as long as the guys do their jobs. I know one ingenious inmate who dons a white T-shirt, as the kitchen crew is dressed all in white, stands at the end of the line giving out silverware, and brings back extra food to barter.

Now, again, we have no money to deal with directly, so this is where flags, cigarettes or other food comes into play. I always traded away my cold cuts, burgers (generally made of soy), hot dogs and things of that type for other food. Problem was because these traders and hustlers generally want pay on the barrel head – right away – I have to use those golden cigarettes from the package my sister-in -law brought or stamps purchased from commissary. Unfortunately you cannot get flags sent in from the outside, I’m not really sure why. And you can only buy a certain amount in your commissary buy twice a month.

I even heard about guys who would do “dirty deeds” for a price. Arthur, who had been down over 25 years had seen it all by his own admission. Guys cutting someone for another guy, getting in a fight with someone so both would go to the box, setting someone’s bed on fire or other such destruction. All in the name of getting paid in some way. Want someone out of your dorm? Have a score to settle for some real or perceived slight? There were inmates who could arrange it for a price. Sometimes deeds were done simply to create the old diversion while some other devious deed was being done so the officers were busy corralling the guilty. It was amazing. Things I never even thought of or would consider took place right under my nose almost on a daily basis. No wonder the sergeant at work had cautioned me.

I even heard of guys willing to perform sexual acts as a trade, something I found interesting yet repulsive at the same time. Guess some guys put no limit of what they would do for money, cigarettes or other things. When you have no basis for truth or value, it is easier to give everything up for something else.

I pondered what I would do to make extra money or get other things. Would I compromise my new found faith for the sake of an apple or orange? Could I use my religion as a cover as some seemed to do, citing Biblical verses while acting anything but Biblical. I felt I was grounded in my budding relationship with Jesus and wanted Him to lead me as my new mantra from Proverbs 3:5-6 cited: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path”. That was my desire as I made new and improved inside corrections which were required.

9-1-07 LETTER TO JACK

Hi Jack,
Got your letter tonight (along with 4 others, feast or famine) I thought I’d start tonight and finish tomorrow.

I am not so sure writing parole letters is as big as you say. The blind leading the blind. Six months ago I did not know anything about them – or the process for that matter. Now it’s an everyday thing, and something that is constantly on my mind for me as well. But thanks for the many compliments in your letter. I thought about it & writing is a gift I should share, you are right. Heck, half the CO’s, even half the Sgt.’s could use a grammar & writing course. I told my wife I was amazed how poorly they are educated it seems. Not that it’s not a job you grow up wanting to become-“ oh yes, more, please I want to be a prison guard when I grow up!” Sorry, my sarcasm is showing & I digress. I guess it’s because of the several grievances I’ve read or been involved with lately (or still) having to do with guards messing – physically or emotionally – with inmates, then lying to cover with others lying & swearing to it. ALL inmates can’t be lying or fabricating these things. The guards may not speak or write well, but they sure know how to play the game and get away with things. Fortunately I am not in the areas (the box or other such areas) where most of that takes place. I also am (pardon the pun) on my guard around them. Ha ha.

I will confess my wife and son’s visit lifted me a lot the weekend of the festival. Though fading some, their faces and expressions & hugs are still vivid in my mind. The second day with my wife felt so “normal” – just like getting together with her somewhere. Then my son joined us, as she had not seen him since his last visit here either. Boy, lots of hugs & tears all around. He had a good time in Thailand, not the great one he had hoped, but still wants to live over in Asia somewhere…

I can identify with those five words too Jack – Go, Sell, Give, Come, Follow. As the district pastor, Reverend Lewis, told us at that festival and has been telling us, if we put God first, all else will follow. Sometimes I am not really sure I do that – surely I didn’t for a while during my dark stage which brought me here. But now I am more conscious of being “Christ-like” , giving thanks in my prayers all day long for my little blessings & joys. It is such a juxtaposition to smile & be happy in prison. He also (Rev) preached about the 10 lepers healed by Jesus, and only the 1 Samaritan returned to thank him. He left us with “Am I like the 9 or the 1?” So that has been on my mind a lot too – being the 1. That sounded funny, but you know what I mean.

Now as you say we have to work on people! Crisis management – man, I am learning THAT on the fly. But you are so right – oh I can see the start of the healing for me. Or maybe I am just coming to grips better with all that is happening – still an adjustment. I am also starting to see some thawing in my wife & that relationship. She has been so supportive – and full of grace that is like no other. Experiencing it is hard to describe, but we do enjoy each others company and will remain committed in some shape or form – even if I AM committed here – ha ha.

Speaking of action, I am sending her a pamphlet with a brief outline and info on the Career Preparation & Mentor Program my buddy and I are trying to get off the ground here. We’ve submitted all the info & paperwork, we are just waiting, hopefully to get an audience with the right people to push it through. Just the action of working with Prince (my partner) on it has been therapeutic for us at least. He also wants to work on a counseling type men’s group for guys who need a place to talk freely – regular counselors write things down or “rat them out” so guys do not always feel safe. The mental health people just want to put you on meds (drugs make the world go round) He just got hit with 2 more years when he went to the board, so he wanted to talk and found it difficult. We have some, but I only see him at work. It’s not like we can get together at other times, so we are working on that too.

Oh, don’t know if I told you both but it looks like I will be transferred to Mid-state C.F. in Marcy, NY. I am sure you can find more info on line. My counselor & I had a quarterly review & she told me. It is the when no one knows – when they have an open bed. That sounds kinda like bunk to me – there are about 1500 or 1600 spaces, you can’t find a room at the inn in that place for 1 more guy? Hey, I WOULD take the stable! It probably will be early to mid October. but could be tomorrow. I’m hoping my wife will call Albany which may help, though my counselor says not. I do know the squeaky wheels gets the grease in this big facility. After all, it is State run – like one big committee. You know what committees do? They tried to make a horse but ended up with a camel – and it was 12 months late! Well, I am up later than I thought. I need my rest as I am fighting a cold so many other dudes have, ya heard? Ha ha. More later (or in a second as they say)

Wed. PM Hi again. Was supposed to go help with a parenting class but it was postponed till next week. I am loving this fresh fruit my wife brought – yum! Such a simple pleasure. My hospice work at Pines of Peace work may pay off here believe it or not. They are taking applicants for hospice work in here! I hope in a way I at least get interviewed, but then I hope to move too. I know “whatever will be, will be” .Thy will be done.

I feel numb in many ways now as I plod though the days. Monday actually seemed like it would never end – I was in each moment, it was just long. Now here it is Wed. PM already. A friend from church wrote a great letter that had me in tears. She has been a good support also and a true friend of our family. My daughter really enjoyed her time with them and vice-versa.
God works in mysterious ways, and I hope I am prepared for His next one – I am much more aware and recognize the feeling as having had it before. Now I am examining the changes that led me from this comfort zone. It is work, let me tell you. Thankfully I am getting some help through my dream work, Rev. Lewis and the support of my family & you all and others. Thanks!

Hope to write you again soon. Keep up the running. By the time you receive this you’ll be well into your vacation. Enjoy!

God Bless,
Van