GO

So, Wednesday dawns and I am awake early, in the dark, wondering how I will spend all my time today and how I will rewrite the Thanksgiving plans. Breakfast is as dinner was, file down, no talking, eat fast then pick it up and file back to the dorm. I feel kind of numb, so out of control which seems to be the new normal I am experiencing inside corrections. Hurry up and wait type thing with no input to the outcome, save how I think and act. I laugh to myself that I need to put on a happy face, that God is still with me whether I make to Mid-State or not, or even if I make it home when I think I should.
I re-read a passage that has stuck in my mind, Jeremiah 29:16: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says the Lord, “thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Well, that’s what I surely need right about now, a hope. Under the present circumstances it doesn’t feel that close.
I guess I am so engrossed in that thought that I drift off to sleep. I dream I am with my two kids, getting a Christmas tree, a ritual we performed since they were born. In fact, one year when my daughter was a little over a year old and asleep in her car seat, I went a short distance away with my four year old son to cut down the tree. Well, in this version of the dream, all was going well till some guy was calling my name, for what reason I do not know. Finally, I awoke and an inmate was calling my last name over and over. I then realized there really was someone calling my name here in my cube. I was to report to the dorm CO immediately as he had been calling my name repeatedly and I wasn’t answering, a big no-no in here.
Thinking I would be in some kind of trouble for not responding, I hustled to his desk, half awake and clinging to the memory of my kids being with me. He told me to wake up, pack up and accompanying officer so and so right away. Returning to my cube I wondered where I was going now? Did they move transports to a special place where they would be whisked away early? But tomorrow was Thanksgiving, so how could that be?
Complying with his directions, I returned to his desk where officer so and so said to go with him. He cautioned me not to walk with him or behind him, but always ahead of him, something I heard many times before. The reason being they could then keep an eye on us when we were in front. We were not to be trusted behind them, and not equal to walk with them. Hey, we were inmates and they were guards.
We were joined by two other guys who were in another part of the dorm. I wondered again what I had done, what they had done and where we were all going. Being naive and curious, I inquired as to our destination. “No talking” was what the CO barked back. “You are getting your Thanksgiving early” was all he added.
Not really sure what that meant, I noticed we neared the building I was in for several hours the previous day when I arrived. Were there beds there I hadn’t noticed? Were we in some kind of trouble? I did notice a couple Greyhound type buses parked there as well. But they do not transport on Wednesday I had been told over and over.
Well, long story short, this was an exception. Since there would be no transports tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, I was informed movement had to take place today. The bullpen was already full of singles as well as guys chained together. After the obligatory strip search I was joined to another guy presumably heading to Mid-State. We then did what you do so often inside corrections, wait.
Another bus arrived during this time, unloaded some inmates and I was unsure where everyone would fit. Then pairs were called out to go to another room – sort of a staging room for boarding. Finally I and my chain mate were called, so we walked stiff legged the best we could to make it out. We were not in the second room very long before they boarded us.
I confess I was excited. I so wanted to get there, get into the program, complete it and get home, so this was the first step in that process. I laughed to myself ever doubting God and his provision for me. Why was I so blind in seeing it? Was I doomed because of my past mistakes and actions to doubt and question Him when all along it was me that was changing and following the wrong road? “I will never leave you or forsake you” it is written in the Bible. I guess I was the one leaving and forsaking people, not Him. I thought again how I was told that precious book was a guide to living – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – so why was it so difficult to follow the wisdom within?
Before too long and only after some guys needed to use the bathroom in the building they had just left did we depart. Again, it was difficult to see where we were going, so I tried to relax and enjoy the ride. However, because there were a couple of loud guys on this bus – and we were not supposed to talk – I stayed a little nervous. The guard who climbed in the back of the bus with a shot gun kept yelling “no talking” and “no turning around, look ahead.” Got my attention.
After awhile I could make out we were on a divided highway and going through the toll booths to cross the Hudson River. That was sure a long way from Mid-State. But we meandered here and there, stopping again at a couple of facilities to load and unload certain pairs. At one stop we were unloaded and led to a small room – all of us – where we waited on benches but at least were able to use the bathroom. Now peeing with someone chained to you is a real art or treat, I am not sure which, but I managed. Later we were fed the infamous bag lunch where I again was able to trade baloney for cheese. Then some of us lucky guys were transferred to a smaller bus and fortunately not chained to anyone. We headed back out the highway as it was getting later in the afternoon. By now we were in my sales territory of old and it was good to see familiar landmarks and areas again. It felt like I was safe because I knew the lay of the land, when in reality I was so out of my element inside corrections and not safe. We continued our way finally on the Thruway and headed further west, finally getting off in Utica.
After leaving some people at the Marcy facility we literally headed across the street to Mid-State. Finally at my destination. It was dark and only a little after 4 o’clock, but then is was November. We disembarked and headed inside where we were strip searched and a CO was to go through our bags. Fortunately with all the buses, my layover and the various stops my bags made their way with me, both of them. I really didn’t have that much stuff compared to some though others had only one.
The CO in charge was not in a good mood, though I doubted he ever was. Going through my bags he took several items and said they were not allowed in the facility. When I protested the previous one had allowed them he said take it up with grievance. From my previous experience I knew what good that would do. None. Gone were my headphones because they had volume controls; gone was my new hoodie that I recently received because there was a faint Champion logo visible on the front of it; a pair of gym shorts for the same reason; ditto some socks; and some food items he never said why. Now it is difficult enough getting clothing in because it all has to be new and the right color. No red, yellow, grey or black because they were gang colors. Also no blue because that was reserved for CO’s. And now I find no logos or writing on the clothes for this place.
But I was here where the SO program was available and I could make my way toward the end of this unforgettable train ride. All of us newbies were escorted to the reception dorm where I fortunately had the bottom bunk rather than the top. I immediately stood in line to call my wife and give her the good news – I had landed and was ready to make final preparations for my trip towards home.

GET SET

Upstate is a maximum facility so things are run pretty tightly. We file everywhere we go, accompanied by at least one, if not two CO’s. We march outside and down about a quarter mile to the reception dorm. It is a very large, open room with dividers between some bunks, but not all. The resident CO calls out bunk numbers for us and an inmate escorts us to our respective new home. Since I do not have a change of clothes or even a towel, I am not sure how I will get cleaned up. But since it is a little more than an hour till supper, I have time to figure it out.
Fortunately I have a divider between me and others, though it is open across the isle way. I estimate probably 50 beds here though not all are occupied. I ask the guy across the isle if he is also a transient. No, he replies, just coming in on his second bid. I inquire what he knows about transports the next day, figuring he ought to know something as he has been on this corrections merry-go-round before. He says don’t get your hopes up, no buses on Wednesdays.
Great. How could this happen to me? Was I wrong in planning for a visit and package? How could I be the only one going upstate that did not get on the bus? Where was my God in all this? Had He forgotten me too? So many thoughts swirling through my head it was difficult for me to sort them all out. Would I be able to call my wife and alert her to the new plans?
Count time. All rise and stand by your bunk, no talking we’re told. Finally the count is announced “clear” and we can resume whatever it was we were doing prior. So I immediately return to my fretting about my situation. I decide to attempt a phone call to see if I can call home, only to find out the phones are shut off until the evening. So I return to my bunk and just stare. What am I to do? Panic is setting in, and I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs, but that has never gotten me anywhere so I abandon the idea.
“On the chow” the CO bellows. Everyone files toward the door, most grabbing their coats since it is late November and cold outside. I go back and fetch mine then get in line, again, no talking we are cautioned. We file outside (it is cold!) and walk single file up the road toward the dining hall. As we enter I see many men already inside in various stages of dining. It seems everyone is checking the new guys out so I make an effort to avert my eyes. I do not want any trouble so there will be any reason to keep me here longer than necessary. I have heard of guys risking even time in the box to thwart another’s fortune of going home or being transferred somewhere – even another dorm. I try to remember how many guys I mentioned I wanted to get out of here and on with my journey to the next facility. Would I become someone’s target?
Another meal with rice. I am not really sure what it is with it – some type of stew, probably soy made to look like beef – a prison staple, overcooked beans and jello again. Hey, at least I’ll have strong fingernails. I eat swiftly, something I have become accustomed to inside corrections because you never know how much time you will be allotted to eat. Sure enough, I barely finish when our escort CO barks “pick it up”, which means take your trays up, show the CO your silverware, then place them in the pan and line up to leave. I comply as all do, thank goodness, no need for trouble now.
It’s already dark as we file back to the dorm. I ask when the phones are turned on and find they already are, though there is a line of course. After I don’t know how long I get to the phone. To my delight it goes through and my wife actually picks up, a crap shoot really when not planned in advance. It is difficult after all I have been through not to completely break down and ball the whole 20 minutes but I capsule the situation for her and tell her I most likely will be stuck there till Friday, as there are no buses on holidays either. She sympathizes, though I hear some relief in her voice, especially when she says she has not had time to even think about a package for me. “You have 30 seconds” comes all too quickly as it usually does on these calls, but I relax now a tad having made the necessary connection with someone other than the guys here who couldn’t care less.
Now comes trying to figure out how to get cleaned up with no soap or towel, and of course no razor. They are only issued on Fridays to guys staying in the facility, not transients. I approach the CO, who has a house porter, one of the guys who maintains the dorm, get me a towel. To my surprise, it is only a hand towel. My protests are met with a blank stare and a undecipherable remark, something about no gots. So I guess I will spin dry. Of course, that is only part of my dilemma. I have no other clothes to wear than what I have on. Besides, I do not know how long I am going to be kept here, so maybe I should save it to shower another time. Finally I decide to go for it and hope my boxers dry by the AM. You see, the shower room is visible to most through a large glass window so the CO’s can make sure there is no hanky panky going on in there, and everyone showers in their boxers, briefs or whatever else they wear as underwear, no “free ballin’” as they call it, showering wearing nothing. I figure I will wring them out best I can, go with the summer trousers till I find out what’s what in the morning.
At bedtime, I ponder what has happened to me today. Up early, long trip, being denied a transport to my destination, and the angst of not knowing what will happen next. I try to read my Bible, but my mind is so unsettled I cannot concentrate on any passage. I turn to the Psalms again, as I feel like David did so often, that God has forgotten him and lets all these bad things happen to him. That is exactly how I feel.
Then I get to the end of his writing, like Psalm 13, and find a familiar refrain for David, one echoed in many of his writings. God is good, he is sovereign, basically he will worship Him and trust Him. He knows what He is doing and we need to still worship Him throughout the pain and suffering. Easy for him to say, I think. But then, he went through great deal of difficulty and threatening situations and still turned to God. Does that mean I am a bad Christian because I so easily give up? Is my faith in Him solely determined if I get to Mid-State on time and get my visit and package? Or do I, like David says in Psalm 34, “bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be on my lips.”? Doubtful. I wrestle with these thoughts as I start to drift off to sleep.
Guess I am still too selfish and have a truckload to learn as I process these inside corrections.

ON YOUR MARK

So, I go to work on Monday and tell my co-worker he can have the jacket and will have to owe me his payment. I know it will never come, but at least I feel I have kept my end of the bargain. Besides, it was given to me, so I am really not out anything and keep to the prison mantra about not selling anything that was given to you – even though I performed work for the guy who gifted it. I also give away open containers of peanut butter, chips, cereal and cookies.
Monday after my last basketball game I and several others are summoned to the building where you pack up to leave. I am told to bring all my stuff there for inspection. To my great surprise, it is a couple of inmates who do the checking of our belongings. I ask the guy doing mine about the open containers. He says he doesn’t care but some facilities deny you bringing them in, but it is purely a facility decision, no strict rules across the state. So I feel badly in a way about my food, but then again I have blessed the needy. Why don’t I feel better about it?
The process is quick and really painless, except now I have only the clothes on my back, my coat and a set of bedding and toiletries for the night. I am to report to the reception dorm for early morning departure. All of these belongings are packed in the net bag given to us when we first got initiated into the State system. It is big enough to hold the little I have left. I sure hope my baggage gets there – kind of like when you hope you do not lose your luggage on a flight.
There is nothing to read in the dorm except my Bible which is the one thing they let you carry all the time. I turn to the Psalms as I recently completed a ‘read the Bible in a year’ program, so they are fresh on my mind. It sure passes the time and keeps my anxiety about the move down. Guys are talking about the facilities where they are headed. The inmate who repacked me told me that I am going to Mid-State to which I think I am glad. From all I have heard about it, it sounds like the best place to be for the near future so I can take the Sex Offender Program offered there and get home as soon as possible. However, guys are also recounting stories of moves gone bad and things that happen on such journeys, the least of which is lost baggage. So now besides reading I am praying for safe travels for us all. I call my wife to tell her the good news and firm up plans her Thanksgiving visit, two days away. I was told Mid-State allows weekend visits and all Holidays. She is glad as it is only about a two hour drive and she will bring a much needed package of fresh fruit and vegetables as well, a true blessing especially because I am low on food and will not get a commissary buy for at least two weeks. The institutions say it takes that long for our money to catch up to us.
Tuesday morning we are up at 4:00 AM to load on the bus for departure. Of course there is the obligatory strip search – wouldn’t want any property smuggled out now would we! We are once again have our legs chained together with people we do not know and shackles on our wrists. At least this time I am a little more familiar with the drill and can anticipate. I am better at walking with someone else chained to me as well, but I still do not talk much at all. We all take our net bags and board, headed to different destinations upstate.
Now as a manufacturers representative, my business when I was outside corrections, I traveled all across New York State and know most areas at least a little. This part of what people refer to as downstate is somewhat new, as my territory of coverage did not protrude that far south and east. Little did it matter as the windows were up high on the bus and you couldn’t see much even standing. If you were lucky enough to get an isle seat you could see out the front window through the mesh screening that locks us in. I am blessed with an isle seat – I do not believe in luck – so at least I can see some of the road ahead, although I know very little of what really is to come.
We depart in the dark and head over to Downstate to pick up some more lucky fellow travelers. I get the shivers as I think we will have to unload and I would see that slap happy Sergeant again, but we are told to stay put. After a few guys get on we catch a whiff of the eggs and hash browns the guards take with them. Nothing for us of course.
We head north and wind through many back roads to another place where prisoners are exchanged this time. I am not sure where we are, but it is done quicker than the last stop. Then we head out again. I dose and dream of being on the outside, free and back to normal, whatever that will be. Then we drive around a castle like structure that guys say is the Upstate facility, not a great place to be. But then we are only there for a pit stop and to reload.
We pull in next to other big Greyhound type buses and, after what seems like an eternity, disembark, all 55 of us or so. Inside the large open room, or bull pen as it is called, already seems overflowing with green clad guys. Many of us have to use the bathroom, which for our convenience is located right there in the room. Oh, it has a half wall separating us, but when you go up two steps to use the toilet you are more visible to everyone. But, hey, this is prison and you make do.
Since it now is well after 12:30 by the clock on the wall we are all handed a bag lunch – two baloney and cheese sandwiches on white bread, a huggy (juice pack), two sugar cookies and an apple. I quickly shout trade meat for cheese and get two takers. I much prefer a cheese sandwich to cold cuts even if it is on white bread. I need the carbos as I have already lost over 25 pounds since the start of this ordeal. I trade the cookies for another apple for later, as I think it will be good when I get back on the bus.
After what seems like an hour, though the clock on the wall hasn’t changed, some guys are called out, chained two by two, to load another bus. The rest of us wait expectantly. Then another round of guys being called to go out. No mention is made as to where they are going, but some guys whisper facilities names more hopeful I feel than accurate.
Then my name is called and I file with my chain-mate out to the waiting bus. It is chilly, but with my State issue heavy coat I am all set. The line gets shorter to board, then stops as I get ready to walk up the steps after my new mate. We are returned to the bull pen where we are unchained. He goes, I stay. What kind of deal is that? They are full the guard says, no more room. I’ll get the next bus, but then it will not be today as all have left. I try to explain I am supposed to have a visit on Thanksgiving Thursday, two days from now. I know they do not run buses on Wednesdays, so the panic sets in and I feel like crying. I am told I will be spending the night here at Upstate, so get my things and follow the few other lucky guys with ‘reservations’ at this fine establishment. I feel sick and wonder if I will be able to call my wife, not knowing where I am going or where I will be staying.
I try to explain my situation to the guard escorting us but he silences me and says welcome to life inside corrections.

ON THE DRAFT II

I am on the draft. That means I will be moved to the reception dorm until I get transported to wherever they are sending me. The rumors as to where abound. Everyone agrees it will be upstate, probably the Oneida hub, which means one of three facilities – Oneida, Marcy or Mid-state. The latter two have an SO program, so I think it is one of those. Others at work think it might be Marcy, a smaller one and a newer facility. All are medium security ones, meaning fencing with barb and razor wire tops some 15′ in the air with a shorter version spaced 15′ inside, dorm type living, and similar movement restrictions to here. I ask everyone to tell me everything they know about each facility, even my friendly Sergeant at work. Of course moving is only part of the problem.
Since the only time I moved, other than from the county jail, was from the maximum security reception facility to here, I do not have a great deal of experience. My work buddies tell me what I should and shouldn’t be aware of. Of course, I have no idea if they are truthful or not.
The newest member of the work staff is a replacement on the inmate investigation team. He is a guy in his early forties who has been around a dozen years or so. He tells me several things about the movement I need to know. One, they do not transport on Wednesdays. Two, they will not allow you to take open containers of food, like cookies or peanut butter. Third, they will not let me take the great lightweight jacket I was given. I wasn’t sure of any of this and had the feeling he just wanted all he could get from me.
Normally, you cannot trade or give people anything inside corrections. I can see some reasons each way, but it sure makes things difficult when some guys have very little and others have much. I was given the jacket for helping a guy write letters and learn math for his GED. He was being transferred, so he gave me one of his two jackets. It was a great fit and was perfect for cool evenings and to take the place of the only jacket, a heavy winter one, the institution supplied. However, I am now being told these jackets were only issued through 1996, and since I arrived in 2007, the CO’s would confiscate it when they performed their pre-movement check. Only lifers would still have such an item.
Turns out before being moved back to the reception dorm from where all movement out of any institution takes place, the guards make you pack everything up in gunny type sacks so they can unpack it all, go through it and tell you what you can and cannot take. It’s at that point they would take the jacket my new co-worker tells me along with any open food containers.
When fishing for some of these answers with my boss, Ms. Stone, she turns the topic as she somehow knows my movement is pending and calls me in her office to try and talk me out of going. She says there is no way to tell if and when I would be put in the SO program and it would be better to wait here until an opening occurs. She also mentions what good work I have done and was very thankful for all the organization I had added to the department.
I had heard through the prison grapevine the department was in a shambles prior to my arrival. Cases were lost, files misplaced, and the head of the department whose place I took had an affair with the lady CO who was housed in the department, bringing a great deal of scrutiny on the whole department. I knew from speaking with my boss when I got hired that a whole new team of inmates was installed, with me being the last piece. She also mentioned how he was caught in the back stairwell with the CO in a “compromising position” as they called it. That was why we now had a sergeant placed in the office. She asked if I like my job, to which I replied very much. However I wanted to complete all I could so I might get paroled at my first board. She said since I was a sex offender that most likely wouldn’t happen. At this point, that only fires me up to make sure I do all I can to make it, which at this point, means being transferred.
My roommate Arthur, the 27+ year veteran, says some of what I have heard very well could be true but it varies from guard to guard. He simply advises me to get something for any items I swap – like the jacket. However, he does say not to sell anything given to me, it is bad karma, kind of a prison thing I guess.
Now, Arthur is a Christian. He was the one who urged me to attend the Protestant services. He sits up front on Sunday, leads prayers often, and even shouts a hallelujah or amen frequently. What, I wondered, does karma have to do with anything? I was confused, having never seen anything about that in the Bible. It does say treat your neighbor as you want to be treated, but I do not know enough to challenge him at this point.
I casually mention my pending movement to the Sergeant stationed in our grievance office to see if he could enlighten me on anything. Of course I cannot tell him someone gave me the jacket, so it makes the discussion difficult and he doesn’t say anything to give me an answer one way or the other. I feel comfortable talking to him as we have had several discussions when he escorts me down to the copier for work as well as after our hearing sessions. He knows my crime, even asking me why I did what I did and how my family is handling it and other questions. He even has offered suggestions, similar to what most counselors have advised, to get me through this ordeal. In fact, he was very generous to me just last week.
I was called down to the packaging room unexpectedly from work. There was that Sergeant who explained a letter to me had fallen accidentally behind a filing cabinet some three months prior. He was very sorry for the mistake, but informed me that the letter contained five stamps, an illegal item to be sent in for any inmates. He said he wanted me to send them home. I was unsure what he was saying, as I knew they could only come from the commissary and not from the outside – why I do not know. Was he trying to trap me off? Then he said again, I want you to send them home, but added, am I clear? I said yes sir, finally understanding he was going to give them to me and not discard them. He said the institution felt very badly I had not received the letter. On the way back to our grievance office he said again, send them home, do you understand? When I looked at him probably with a dumb look on my face, he was smiling, and said even if it is one at a time!
So the next day at work I ask the guy what he will give me for the jacket in trade. He knows I like to eat healthy, at least more healthy than the facility supplies. He also knows I like real oatmeal, sort of a staple for some and available at the commissary. So he says he’ll trade a big bag of oatmeal and some cookies for it, to which I agree. But this was all before I knew I was on the draft, before I had to pack everything up and take it down to be perused by the guards. So I thought I had some time.
Wrong. Once they tell you to pack up, there is no adding to or taking away from your stuff – unless they do it. Since I was wearing the jacket that was not too difficult to keep. All open containers of food I gave to guys who I knew had little and didn’t get packages. It is very easy to notice who has what. Everyone knows I get mail, visits and packages. And most know who do not. Now I have to decide do I keep my word to trade the jacket even though I will never get anything in return. Tonight I have to pack up and will be moved to the reception dorm down the hill. I am not sure if I will still go to work in the morning or move, as it is Tuesday. Time will tell.