ISOP

Talk about culture shock. It was a big one just getting this far inside corrections. Now I was placed into a dorm of all sex offenders with all types of mental abilities or lack thereof labeled the Intensive Sex Offender Program. I was not really used to constantly being around people who were not always playing with a full deck, so daily involvement with some would be interesting to say the least. Of course I am sure many if not most were wondering the same about me.

By far the oldest guy in the dorm I guess I was a little put off by the young lads rifling through my belongings when I arrived. With the counselors there and not really controlling their actions kind of told me what I was in for. After we all were accepted in, a general meeting was held in a large room called the day room which also housed the lone television, microwave and toaster. The counselors went over the rules and what to expect. We were told they ran a tight ship and expected us to all tow the line, else we would be expelled, loose our good time, and could even earn that free trip to the SHU. (Special housing unit, also known as the box or solitary) We would eat together, go to program together and do activities together. Get used to one another they said.

Beds were expected to be made daily and have a quarter bounce off them. We were not to get under the covers except at night, with all program homework completed before any recreational or television time. Under no circumstances were we to posses any pornography, something I felt was evident. How or why would one want to get it inside corrections anyway? Then they added there would be no photographs of children except approved ones, and even then, not posted or hung up in rooms. This bothered me in a way, but I understood. Mine were both over 18 so I felt not really affected. There were some other minor regulations, but others would be covered on Monday the 7th when we would be matriculated in and programs would be resuming for others. Be honest, be real and the program will help you they advised. Otherwise, it will be a waste of time for all.

We were showed our rooms, a six or 12 man one. I lucked out in the six man one, and not surprisingly I was again assigned the top bunk. Here we go again. I had not even heard back on my first request from the last dorm and was again put in the awful position on the top steel platform, where any movement made by either bunk bed party was felt by the other. When I groaned at climbing up, guys reminded me I was in prison and didn’t matter to anyone, better get used to it. Of course they were right.

Out in the day room guys were congregating and talking, some watching television. All of the sudden the dorm CO yelled out my name. Surprised and anxious I went to the ‘bubble’ or room where he was housed to inquire. He asked if I was going to be a troublemaker, or “one of those type of guys”. I really had no clue what he was talking about so I said no. He said I better not be. Then he handed me a pass and was told to report to Ms. Sowich in building 1 where I worked.

It was late morning by the time I made it there, relieved I was not headed somewhere else. Turns out my fellow co-worker in the call-out office was having computer problems and the CO there had contacted my boss to get the job done and out as it was late, hence her SOS to me. Still a bit shaken at how everything was going that morning, I took a look and after rebooting the computer, managed to get corrections made. The CO approved the list, then remarked that maybe my co-worker should go back to the paper cut and paste method he had done before, as this type of tardiness from the department would not be tolerated. I was going to explain I was not involved anymore, but decided to simply give the old “yes sir” response.

I returned and went over a few more basic things with my fellow worker and some tips on correcting any future snags like the one he had experienced. I guess he really didn’t understand it all as he previously indicated he had, or maybe I went too fast, so I printed up some blank lists he could copy and write on to help separate and visualize each individual organization and department on the call-out list. About that time, just before lunch call back to our dorms, an angry Ms. Sowich came and explained I would be returning there until I started on Monday because this type of work would not be tolerated, so whatever the problem was it needed to be fixed. That would be fine with me as there was nothing else to do with my time until then really, and I didn’t care to sit around the dorm. Guess the poop was really running downhill.

After lunch, before returning to work, I lay on my top bunk reflecting on my day so far. Lost bag containing my radio, glasses, cooking stuff and who knows what else. Loss of several food items upon moving into a ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ type environment where I was given another top bunk assignment, only to be called out by an angry CO to go back to work where an angry CO greeted me before my angry boss finished me off. I cried on that top bunk of my new six man room, not just for lost items but also for all the losses I had caused and experienced. It was a good cry.

Somehow the thought that this must be the kind of times St. Paul was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 when he said “in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,” came to me, as did what James writes in 1: 3-4 that “knowing this testing of your faith produces perseverance, and let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Today’s activities show me I have a long way to go. Hopefully I will make the necessary inside corrections to emulate those righteous saints. Otherwise, no telling what might happen without any hope of a better life inside or out.

WRITE A GRIEVANCE

It is said, and I believe, “there is no honor among thieves.” From my experience, there is none between criminals inside corrections as well, no matter their crime. Given an opportunity, people revert, it seems, to their default position – lying, cheating, stealing, putting themselves before others (especially God), taking advantage of others, whatever.

The end of the year was coming quickly and my new job, hardly a month old, was also coming to an end. Ms Sowich promised me my job back when I got out of the program, whenever that would be, so that was some relief. But I truly was ecstatic about my fortune of getting so quickly into the program, and hopefully on the track to getting back home, righting the ship I had so badly keeled over, and getting on with my life.

I was feeling so happy that on New Year’s Eve, not a big holiday inside corrections anyway, I once again heard my name to “pack up.” By now I had accumulated some stuff, not only food, but some dishes and cooking implements as well as many more clothes. My wife and I had finally figured out the system of what was and was not allowed so we would stop the postal merry-go-round of getting something sent in only to get it sent back because it was the wrong color, style, had logos or initials on it, or some other reason causing it to be returned. I had also been journaling quite a bit since emerging from the fuzz of meds, even before as best I could. It is a therapeutic way for me to create a record and means of tracking the history and measuring changes, hopefully progress, through my “epic” journey inside. I write dreams, opinions, nudgings from the Holy Spirit, happenings almost too unreal to believe and just random thoughts. I found a sense of relief writing down these things as it released them from my memory thereby lightening my load as the baggage I carry is enough. I even, at times, contemplated a book culled from all of this that might enlighten others and perhaps guide their path away from the pitfalls I have had. (Prison For Dummies anyone?) This too, I feel, is a prodding from the Holy Spirit, to use my light provided my none other than Christ Himself, to shine brightly for others, not hidden under job, family, fears or other “baskets” that I, in a weakened state, use as an excuse to hinder others view. But I digress.

I had still managed to accumulate four gunny bags full of stuff. Of course one was mainly books and other reading material, a second cooking pans and items, reading glasses and radio with ear buds. Another was mainly food as I had just received my money and finally had a commissary buy and used all $ 40.00 to my advantage. The other two were a mixture of clothes, state issue blanket, sheets and a towel, plus my Bible. So when the call came, I madly stuffed everything inside and readied for my move. If you are lucky, you get a mate or someone you know, as well as you know anyone inside, to assist. Interestingly, few stepped up. Actually, no one did, so I would have to make two trips. I knew no one wanted to get any closer to those sex offender program dorms than they had to for fear of reprisals even though in a month or two or ten they would most likely end up there, the nature of this particular facility. There comes a separation when certain truths are uncovered in life, where some people, not being able to understand or accept differences whatever they may be, distance themselves from those of opposing views/beliefs/circumstances. It happens all the time in here, and on the outside as well.

It happens in politics all the time. Red state, blue state, dyes of the aisle. At a party or gathering you hear someone espousing views to which you disagree and you detach yourself even if only mentally from that person or group. Similarly, religion can cause riffs in people, even families. Once one is born again or revived in their relationship with Christ – what religion is all about really in my mind – a parting from others may need to be endured. Even in sports guys especially slide to the side of a fan of their favorite team while shunning a hated foe. They are not even ON the team or profiting from it, yet simply because they wear the colors of the “other side” they are hated. I won’t even get into the distancing of yellow, red, gray, black or other gang colors because again I digress.

So there I was, four sacks of stuff quickly thrown together and guys scattering everywhere going to their morning programs, avoiding me as if I was a leper. Well actually, to them I was. They may have felt if they went to that special program dorm – a whole scarlet letter in itself – that they may get branded themselves.

Just a week earlier I had helped a guy move there on my way to work, carrying two of his bags thinking I wanted to get a better look at where I was heading. We both heard cat calls on the way there such as diaper snatcher, rapo, predator and others I do not want to mention. Fortunately I could leave while he had to stay.

There were actually four dorms for SO’s, two on the first floor and two on the second. They looked just like all the other dorms, but then, I was only in there a few seconds and had to leave to get to work before movement stopped or risk a ticket. No tickets, my mentor had cautioned if I wanted to leave early with all my good time. Any infraction would sacrifice some of that time making my release date further down the road, something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

So I had to take my bags downstairs as my house was closing and everyone had to get out. I struggled taking two trips, asking for help from the downstairs guys who reacted with similar hostility when they found out where I was going. Even a trip to the box seemed preferable. So I placed the bags near the downstairs outside door where I asked the CO monitoring movement if he could watch them for me. My first mistake.

I got an ear full from him about cluttering up his hallway, causing others to gawk and mill about which actually only served to alert everyone that I was moving and couldn’t take all my stuff in one trip. Thanks a lot. Some guy volunteered to watch them for me, saying he was destined to move there next week. He kind of looked familiar, but I was in a bind so I consented. Second mistake.

I dragged a bag in each hand about a quarter of a mile away to my new, upstairs dorm and deposited them inside the door asking if they would be safe there. Yes, replied a counselor who was welcoming other lucky soles with me. I explained about my other baggage and rushed back to retrieve them before movement was over, not running of course, as that is not allowed.

To my surprise – not really – the guy was gone and so was one of my bags. No one in the area knew what had happened to either one, the guy or the bag, and the hall CO rained down the typical “who do you think you are” speech, then told me to get a move on before movement was over. As to my missing bag, I got the usual “write a grievance”. What was it the fox said as he ate the gingerbread man as he carried him across the swollen river? After all, I am a fox. They are thieves, putting their needs and desires above all, profiting off someone else.

So I sulked back to my new dorm, wondering what I had just “donated” to the system once again. Inside the dorm, it seemed as if I was leaving the frying pan for the fire. Inmates were collecting newcomers bags and dumping them out on tables to go through per and under the direction of the counselors. “Oh, can’t have this,” said one inmate as he put a book aside. “Lost something” said another as he helped himself to some cookies from an open bag. I winced knowing I had an open bag of chips and cookies and who knows what else.

Soon my turn came and they emptied out my stuff. I watched out of the corner of my eye while telling the nearest counselor about my lost bag. She suggesting filing a grievance, surprise, surprise. Then she began asking me about my crime and what brought me here. While this was going on I noticed not only other inmates going through and helping themselves to my food but also what they did not uncover. Obviously my radio was gone. All my cooking stuff as well as a couple of journals plus my reading glasses. You would think getting the latter back would be easy, but not inside corrections. Later when telling my new home dorm CO about my lost bag and lost glasses predicament, I go the usual “write a grievance.”

So I knew what I was in for all ready. But my radio! I had only just received it a few weeks earlier while in Fishkill and enjoyed it so much. News, sports, weather, NPR programming and more, all connections to the outside world I left and made me feel “normal.” I thought maybe it might turn up because all electronic property had to have the inmates DIN number (department identification number) inscribed on it by the facility personnel.

The inmates finally finished going through my stuff and just laughed when I suggested my lost bag contents timely return. They echoed the counselor and CO, write a grievance.

So my good fortune getting into the proper facility, then quickly into the program had an auspicious start, that was for sure. But then, where was my faith? Proverbs says if you faint in time of adversity, you faith is weak. Well, guess I am no Charles Atlas in the faith department at this point. I prayed it would get better and that God would provide me the strength to carry on and do good for His glory. Is it any wonder God wants us to focus on Him, forsaking all others, even ourselves just as Jesus did, not even thinking of Himself but dying for us and covering our sins? What a role model for me and others to follow. Do it and all else seems not to matter.
Meantime, I had to live the reality of what was now. Welcome to the ISOP. Certainly no honor among thieves here. For all the good it would do this time – my word against who? – I wrote a grievance.