THE NEXT PHASE

Well, the honor dorm seemed to be as good as advertised. The two man room is great, and a single room is off that, none with doors of course. I started with the bed near the hallway, then will move inside later as vacancies allow, then to the single room depending on seniority. You can watch television 24/7, shower alone, fix food in the spacious kitchen with two microwaves, two refrigerators and a toaster oven, do your laundry, all anytime you want. Moreover, you are called out as a dorm first for meals, rec and all programs, giving you a head start on the crowded walkways. It also means you can take your time and not have to rush on the walkway as before. Dawdling can risking the wrath of any CO who might want to hassle you and push you along so they can leave their little guard houses and do who knows what till the next movement time.

So I was happy to meet new people, all who had been selected because of their good record, not based on their crime. I knew several guys because of outside activities, from sports to religion to work. So I was not starting off completely new which was nice. I found there were several chess players too, so I would have a chance to practice my skills. Since Mid-State was basically a sex offender and ASAT (alcohol/substance abuse treatment) facility, most guys were here for one or the other, or both. After conferring with some, I quickly found most were here for the ISOP. I received many questions about “the program”, as guys had heard I just graduated from it. Word travels very quickly inside corrections, and, as we say, someone is always watching. In fact, I was not the only inmate to have a large eye drawn on a notebook or put up on the wall. I know the freedom that comes with this housing could easily be taken away, so I need to be on my guard continually.

Work back at Transitional Services is starting out well. There were a couple of new guys doing call-out, but my boss put me there temporarily, saying she had some changes coming up. One, William, was on a violation and had gone through the program before and was waiting his second go round in it. He was from Park Avenue in New York City, well educated and trained as a french horn player in the Philharmonic Orchestra. He had traveled the world playing, so he too had a world education and view of things, leading to many great discussions. The other, Charles, had just started his bid at Mid-State, though he had been in the system for some time and was what you might call ‘hardened’. He was great to talk with as well, and after hearing his story, I could understand why he might be bitter toward the system.

He was a black man from New York City accused of rape, but swore his innocence. He was thrown in a lineup when they gathered people near the scene, and a hysterical girl picked him out. He had passed a lie detector test, but this was the early nineties, so no DNA could be processed. Later, after the process was more utilized, his lawyer requested the garments with seamen on them be tested. Somehow they miraculously disappeared in transport from storage to the lab.

He seemed a mild manner guy, having attended The University of Kansas on a track scholarship. Unfortunately racism caused him and his twin to return home here he worked menial jobs till the incident. During his incarceration, his twin brother died, but the authorities would not allow him to attend the funeral.

So there we were, three guys in a cramped office with little work to do. William was a computer whiz, so he had improved on the things I had previously done and really done more streamlining. Consequently, we finished our work early and usually were waiting for departments to bring their lists of call-outs to us for entering for the next day or week. Once finished, we usually had to almost draw straws to see who would take the half mile walk down to hand-in the list for printing. Often Charles would decline, leaving William and I the task of delivering the list. The CO in charge allowed the two of us to go, which not only was a great gift but also very unusual as well. It also gave us plenty of time to talk.

It was actually the next week when I was moved with William into the Phase I program to be trained in facilitating it. There presently was a Spanish guy there who Ms. Sowich wanted to move to the Phase II Program, leaving a void which we would now fill. We were to observe, participate as necessary, and look for ways to improve the experience for the inmates. We thought this was interesting, but reasoned if it was more interesting with more involvement, guys would get more out of it. Jose, the existing facilitator, could not be happier and often went who knows where.

In Phase I, inmates are presented with all the various aspects of their new facility, having just arrived here within a week. All the different disciplines, programs, work and recreational opportunities were presented by various faculty and staff. It was our job to introduce them, then answer any questions after they left that guys were too afraid to ask or knew would get a stock reply. We noticed right away this was often the best part of work, as guys would have simple but direct questions that they knew would get glossed over by the staff. True, a CO was not too far outside the room, but conversations would be kept low and often code words or phrases would suffice.

We learned to tell the skinny on who was straight up and who was blowing smoke, though sometimes that was readily apparent. I had a difficult time finding out that in each class, there were several who completed their previous bid, even parole, and now were on a new one, not just a violation. It was difficult because I could not see doing something that would ever bring anyone back inside corrections. While there were many on second bids, some were on a third or fourth. There were always plenty of guys who simply violated parole and were sent back. They too had to repeat this week long class even though they may have been here before.

So my new phase of life looked good right now and I was looking at my parole hearing in March. I had talked to a number of people who advised getting together a parole packet for the board. In it you would list your IO, repentance of it, any accomplishments you had inside and letters of reference that were pertinent, showing your change since incarceration. This was something I wanted to do and do well, so I was beginning to put thoughts together and pen to paper. Being near a computer was a great aide, and I again felt the hand of God directing my path. He had helped me through the program and guided me in my daily life here. I needed to continue to put my faith in him, not myself, working and training to do the next right thing, following the apostle Paul’s advise in Philippians 4 v 8-9: “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever thins are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report…meditate on these things… and the God of peace will be with you.”

May it be so.

MOVING ON

Well, it’s amazing how quickly time can pass in here despite how the weekends drag along. The repetition of things makes time go quicker at times and slower other times. I so look forward to the next phase of my life inside corrections.

Maybe I look forward because I am around so many fakers, who say what people want to hear so they can advance. Fortunately, the counselors are wise to their ways and hold them back. I also tire of their lying and tales of innocence. I know some may be correct in saying they were framed because of spiteful people getting back at them, or calling it rape when it really was consensual or other such circumstances. After all, the system has been wrong before in convicting innocent guys.

Maybe because I have been moved yet again to a six man room and placed on the bottom bunk bed. Joyous. At least the guy above is older and thinks I am the quietest guy he has ever been over. I believe him, as he has already served over 20 years and was finally put in the ISOP. He figured that must mean good things for him, maybe even eventual parole, though he has 25 to life. He had been on cocaine when he raped a girl on a high rooftop in New York City, then threw her off, though he didn’t remember doing the latter part. Regardless, he is now in his mid 40’s and seems repentant, even attends church and a Bible study with me. He also is an excellent chess player who taught me many things about the game. Nevertheless, I am in this room and want so badly to get out of the program and in the honor dorm.

Fall basketball leagues are starting to form as the softball season is over and the flag football season half over. Watching the latter gives me something more to do on certain evenings in the yard and is a great distraction. I have no desire to play, though the inmate officials get paid, so I am contemplating pursuing that as added income. I am continuing to work out in the weight room, but inside basketball is sparse as the gyms are very hot, so most guys go outside. I did find one who would play one on one full court just for the exercise. We actually do have a blast and often laugh as much as we run, putting up trick shots or other foolery just for fun. We joke about how the time flies by when we are there doing that and pledge to repeat again the following week.

The great news is that I had successfully completed my clarification on my first attempt, no small feat I was to discover. I am soon scheduled to depart the ISOP dorm for higher grounds. I had put in for the honor dorm but have not heard as yet. Guys say it often takes some time to get in as there has to be an open bed. It is mid September and counselors say I would probably be moved out somewhere before the end of the month to make room for others. I can’t wait! Our Friday Structure meetings take on a different tone now for me as do most things in the program. I just want to “lay low and leave whole” as guys say, more about prison than a program.

I can feel the Lord’s hand over my life in many areas. No one, I was told, had ever completed the program in less than a year, and here, nine months after beginning, I was ready to leave. I had completed a gospel retreat weekend with many of the Bible study mentors who come in from the outside, and thoroughly enjoyed the learning and comradere, continuing to work on the inside corrections I need. My brother keeps his monthly visits toting a food package each time. Other than the strangeness of my wife, things seem great for being inside corrections. I am also working on a couple of Scriptural correspondence courses set up for incarcerated guys like me. They are pretty basic, but I still learn from them. Despite being here, I have now pledged to make the best of it.

One roommate I got to know some had cautioned me about our outside relationships while incarcerated. If your wife took off her wedding band, as his had, it was a bad sign. Mine had not, as yet, but her aloofness gave me pause, and I guess I couldn’t blame her if she did. I had really turned her world upside down too. I knew the trek here, a two hour drive, could be daunting for her as well as the personal time she gives up to do it. I keep repeating how grateful I am for her efforts, but it seems she has something else going on, though she denies it when questioned.

I am blessed also with surprise visits from parishioners from my former church at various and unexpected times, as well as a bunch of former ‘Noon hour Warrior’ basketball teammates. For the previous 25 years or more I had played pick-up basketball at a local college at noontime at least three times a week. During the summer we often conspired other raucous events way before but similar to present day iron man competitions, though with sports such as golf, bowling, tennis, track and, of course, 3 on 3 basketball, all in one day. Needless to say we grew close. So to have four of them visit at one time was a joyous celebration. Once I stopped crying that is. The mix of emotions was crazy and I had trouble sorting them out at the time. Shame, guilt, elation, pride, everything rolled into a single surprise visit. For them to travel that far, take a Saturday off to go inside prison, that just was a great deal to process for me. All were well over 6′ tall, with one being 6’7”, so I was teased by the CO’s for a while after that about starting my own traveling team.

So as a whole, life is good. At the beginning of the last week of September I received word of two great things. First, I would be moving out, and second, I would be going to the honor dorm! Double hallelujah! No shortage of volunteers to assist me on my move this time. Guys were wanting to get out for a bit as well as see what the honor dorm was really like. I can hardly contain my joy. I am moving on toward my goal of making my first parole board, and the pieces seem to fall into place with His help.

God is truly good, and I continue to thank Him for his many blessings.

CLARIFICATION

One of the guys I had met from Transitional Services when I began working there was a decent enough chap who I saw fairly regularly in the weight room. We always enjoyed chatting and I particularly liked he had no apparent issue with my charge.

The last time we talked he mentioned the place he lived, the honor dorm, and said I should write to get in it when I got out of the program. It was a special place, on the third floor in the education building, so it had a great view of things. Also, it had two day rooms with televisions, one strictly for sports which you could watch any time day or night. The kitchen had two refrigerators, a toaster oven and two microwaves. You could do your own laundry. You could also shower 24/7 in one of two shower rooms, meaning you could shower alone. No more bathing in your underwear! As with the bathrooms, one was for smokers. Although the official rule was no smoking inside a dorm, no one enforced it there. Not that i was a smoker, but it definitely sounded great, and I made a mental note to write and get there as soon as I could.

I was beginning to think about what might be next after the ISOP. I had run into Ms. Sowich a couple of times around campus and she was always pleasant. And yes, I could return to work for her in Transitional Services when I got out. So that would be a big help when that time came.

I was hoping that time might come soon as I was gearing up for my final presentation in group, my Clarification. In it, we recount what happened and why we think we when AWOL. If the counselors and psychologist don’t think we are being truthful or accepting full responsibility, we have to do a redo sometime in the future. I wanted to get it right the first time, complete the program, and get out. To do that, I had to really prepare myself and include all necessary information, all of which we covered in our classes in the various levels. I was finishing up level two, going through the last few modules, so I wanted to be ready for my presentation when the opportunity came. The psychologist was only there one day a week, so presentation times were booked in advance. Plus, the silly tournament put us back a week and there were some summer “games” coming up to further bond us, plus he was planning his vacation. With all these delays, I needed to be ready as soon as I could.

I had learned a great deal since beginning level two. We studied thinking errors, sexual deviance and social norms, core values and beliefs, decision making, understanding and addressing problems, problem solving and finally, cognitive restructuring. Much of the information went right over the heads of many as demonstrated in their discussion of the material, or lack of it. Talk in the dorm confirmed the saying “fake it to make it.” They had no idea of their issues, and/or didn’t want to come to terms with them. I truly never wanted to come back to a place like this let alone offend again, so I wanted to deal with all my issues and figure myself out, then begin anew. This state enforced time out gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. And besides, that was my only job right now.

I had also paid attention to the others doing their final Clarification, what they did, how they said it, and how the counselors and psychologist reacted and quizzed them afterward. There weren’t that many I had seen, as the special Thursday class for it was only people in the final stages getting near to their own presentation, about 10 inmates when I joined. Coupled with the time push backs, we were into August before I got in the group. I had already made my mind up I was typing mine and making it a full report, with cover page and re-entry plan.

Each Clarification was to clarify your abuse, including a short history of your life three to six months before your IO specifying pre-abuse feelings, thoughts and behaviors, family/friend relationships, patterns of behavior and deception, then the same during your offense as well as after it occurred. All told, everyone hearing it would know the hows, whats and whys.

As I worked on the material, old feelings of shame and guilt came back. Why did I think like that? How could I do what I did, especially to my family? How could I ruin everything for something so temporal? How could I ever face people again, let alone put any kind of meaningful life back together?

I battled these thoughts and the depression that came with them, and without the meds that gave me the temporary respite before. Now I turned to my Savior, a lasting solution, one who not only knew my crimes but accepted me, warts and all, because I had confessed and repented from them. It wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t easy, but reading the Bible and remembering things the people in those Bible studies said helped me deal with the reality of my present situation. I was more than my past, and I was able to make a legacy that could outshine any previous misdeeds. That was surely my goal, starting with doing the best job I could on my Clarification.

As on the outside, playing basketball or lifting weights only gives me a temporary diversion. Praying and concentrating on the Truth of Christ gives me more lasting relief, and I have to continually put my mind on Him or it is of no use. I have the proper tools now to deal with the many issues affecting me, both from the program and church, but again it was up to me to use them.

There were so many distractions in here, reasons not to believe, excuses guys used to rationalize their beliefs or behaviors I had to carefully examine, as Romans 12 v 2 says, each and every thought and hold it captive else I would simply be of the world and think as so many in here do. I had done that, thought like others, that I deserve this and that, that it would not hurt anyone but me, and on and on and look where it got me. Now it was time to put my faith in one greater than me, one who could truly control my life for the better and help me begin anew.

I truly felt prepared now for my opportunity – I don’t believe in chances – to present my Clarification, then move on to the next phase of my life inside corrections.

SOMETIME IN ’08

Well, I imagine by now you may have forgotten or the curiosity of why I am inside corrections is perplexing. Why are you there? Why would you do that to yourself or let others do that to you? How long will you be there? Are we there yet? All good questions, all understandable.

It started in a place far, far away, but not out or reach of the law. There were no kids of mine around anymore and I was desperately feeling the empty nest syndrome. My wife had just started working full time, something she had not had to do before and was new to us. I truly felt, I realize in retrospect and after course work in here, abandoned and unappreciated. So I dove into my work more, expanding my sales territory, taking on more work and putting more responsibilities on myself, as if that would somehow compensate or help. With both my children in college and my wife unavailable, I grew lonely for attention I previously had received. I did not get what I needed even when she was around. Her job consumed her whether she was at work or home, talking and worrying about it constantly. It seemed so that nothing else appeared to matter. I became a poor listener and increasingly more defensive – even from what I already was! Of course these are all consequences of my poor choices, or lack of any meaningful ones, like conversations or discussions about our situation.

Now as an educated adult with countless friends and associates one might think I could turn to any number of them for insight, solace and/or guidance during this drought of affection. After all, what are friends for, right? Why wasn’t I praying to God for guidance or consulting our very good pastor?

Well, I tried but was not very successful (re-read my section on try vs train) because it felt very selfish and I was not very good at asking for help of any kind. What I wanted was my wife’s affection and approval not only of what I was doing, but of me. Despite being a former educator, I was not good at voicing these needs to her, as it brought up childhood perceived inadequacies. I longed for and looked to my father to fulfill those needs, but he was definitely old school and not adept at providing them, through no fault of his own, just never trained as most of us are not. Because it was personal in nature, and oft seemed silly when I thought about it, I turned away from talking about it with anyone – even a therapist – in fear of “airing my dirty laundry.”

The internet provided an anonymous place to safely, I thought, explore my needs. After all, it was only a virtual world and wasn’t real. Well, after a few months of viewing places that were not wholesome, I began to talk to women about inappropriate things and sharing indecent adult pictures and videos back and forth. I found myself going to chat rooms more and more, kind of like the daily television show people get addicted to, have to watch and cannot get your mind off of.

I chatted with several women, often multiple at a time, from anywhere and almost anyone who wanted to indulge me, giving me the attention and affection I craved – even when I later realized that it was not real or true. Nonetheless, I would gravitate daily to seek the emotional and increasingly physical satisfaction.

One such person who responded and chatted said she was 14 despite her picture revealing a much older looking girl. She was still very interested in adult talk, pictures and situations. She, more than any other, seemed more responsive and attentive, drawing me in more and more. As others came and went, she remained, staying constant. Being the adult, I needed to be responsible enough to X her out and act appropriately. I was too selfish, arrogant and thoughtless. It provided a high getting this type of attention from her for the last month as I talked with her about adult things, sharing those inappropriate adult pictures and videos called pornography. It was reckless and totally wrong, even though I did not see it that way at the time. My self-centered and impulsive ego drove me onward to the disaster that awaited which anyone else with a brain could see would happen. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. You may think what happened is despicable and heinous as some do. I would agree with you as I too immensely dislike that person who acted that way and made those erroneous, selfish and unwholesome choices.

We thought it would be cool to meet in person, talk and get to know each other better, so I suggested a public mall. Hello, she is a minor. Hello!! Still driven to go further, she suggested an ice cream stand. It was there I found out she was really a 26 year old policewoman who had pretended to be the young teen, a sting operation to lure in sick fishes like me. I was arrested and ultimately ended up inside corrections, charged with “attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor.” Big words for something I ought never to have done. Back then I cared only about myself, feeling better and getting the attention I wanted, not what effect it would have on my family, friends or myself. What about my God? How was I making Him feel about sacrificing his only son for the likes of me? Questions like that and the situation I put my loved ones in drove me to that darkness I never have felt, of wanting to just end it all and be done with this “mortal toil”.
Since then I have learned so very much about so many things. I also have been “born again” through the sacrificial lamb of Jesus Christ who died even for my selfish, ugly and reckless sin. I have found a new life with Jesus as my Lord and Savior. You may well not understand it all at this point, this rebirth stuff and how it is possible. Because Christ died for all our sins, he takes away the guilt and shame of those inappropriate things we have done, even terrible things like I did.

There are those who say they have heard it all before, that “jailhouse religion” is a common cry of those incarcerated and used to garner pity and relief. I cannot speak for others and can only say I only have to answer to my God and not other inquiring minds. It took several months for me to accept this, that He gave me a clean slate, a fresh start and new beginning if I accepted Him and lived according to His ways. So even now after I accepted Him, it will be many months before I can fully accept His blessings for me and fully realize this. I have nothing but time to accept it and begin training as a new Christian who truly follows the Son of God.

I can say my darkest days of wanting my world to end are gone. The shame, guilt and humiliation have lessened as I retell my sordid tale of disgraceful behavior. I am off my meds for over a year and want my world to be real, be a true disciple, help others grow in their faith and keep the things that matter most close to me. No one regrets my actions more than I. It has caused me to continually recite my new mantra – no more secrets!! That is difficult in here where telling people your crime can be a real problem and safety issue, and where you are never sure who is telling the truth. However, I know it will also have an impact when others discover the truth outside the fences, so the practice is good. Some may never accept it. As I thought in the beginning, it will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Because Jesus is my focus, I more readily see the consequences of such actions and work to think and “take each thought captive” before I act as the Bible tells us to do. While some may never get to know the new me and dwell in the past, I forge ahead rerouting my path as I go to conform to His. That is why the Bible and its teachings are so important and relevant to me. No longer am I a lukewarm follower who picks the times and places to utilize my beliefs and behaviors. Been there, done that as they say. We call them “smorgasbord believers”, ones who think they can pick and choose when and what they will believe and do what is right according to their own needs. I was one and am continually training for the rest of my life not to ever go there again. Admittedly in today’s world, it would be easier and is often a temptation. Make your own truth. “Because straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matt. 7 v 14. No justification or rationalization either, just the cold hard truth in an open manner for all to see. That is one purpose of these letters written regarding my own inside corrections.

These last few months have been a heavy learning experience, and my education in this is far from complete. This is written as I prepare to recite my clarification to my counselors. I would not wish this setting on anyone. The experience of finding God and His love for a “wretch like me” as Amazing Grace says is irreplaceable, though, the best experience I never wanted to have I have said. I hope and pray no one has to go through any crisis such as mine to know and fully accept Him as I do.

May it be so.