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.

12-07 LETTER TO JACK

Thursday 12/27/07

Hi Jack:
First I want to again thank you and your whole family for a great visit last Saturday. I was such an unexpected pleasure to see the whole family when I stepped into the visiting room! They too obviously sacrificed a lot on the Saturday before Christmas having just arrived from points all over. Many thanks.
Also, I should have gotten this out way before now, but I was really feeling down after your visit. I was so hoping my family would come up, but they were unable to make it, so I will not see Ben till who knows when. I may be able to see Cat on New Year’s Day – I hope. I have to realize it is so difficult for them for many reasons, more than the normal person. They hate to see their dad locked up. They also are still working through everything, especially in Ben’s case. They have to drum up the energy to come to a place like this, which, during the holiday, proved too difficult. Here they were home from their other worlds, trying to come back “home”, but that has surely changed and lacks a great deal, turning it into a bittersweet event. At least they are talking to me – I ran up the phone bill in the last couple of days – so I know what they are thinking. When I didn’t see them, and of course I couldn’t hear from them unless I called, I was really down. If I lose their affection and caring, I most definitely would be lost. Time, Ben reminded me, is about the only thing that will help, time to work through the pain, etc. and for me to build back the relationships, though they may be different. All three of them agreed, and when I talked to them last night, it finally put my mind at ease. I feel a whole lot better today and am be able to write this to you. The hurt is still there knowing I have hurt them so deeply and irreversibly. All I can do now is try and take care of myself so they will have a healthy father whenever I do get out.
Sorry to unload on you, especially when you are probably still riding the holiday high of having your family together again. But I was in no way able to do much from Sunday till today, and my sleep suffered as did my work. I was snapping at people, kept to myself and just wasn’t good company at all. I now am typing this at work in the afternoon mod as all the preparation for tomorrow is done and I am waiting for the dot matrix printer to finish it’s job. By the way, there is no right margin or correction tape in this typewriter, so no grading for errors!!
I am not sure when you will receive this with all your planned travel. I do hope you find your brother doing better and his family coping as best they can. From my vantage point the travel weather looks to be OK, I know my nephews from Virginia wanted to come up to snow this holiday, but my brother, who you met after the visit, said that Sherburne lost all of it’s snow with the previous rains. We did get 1-2” today, but now it is raining again.

Interestingly enough, when I was really down yesterday, it was sunny so I decided to go to the outside yard in the afternoon since I was off work. After walking around the track ( ½ mile or so) a few times, I sat on the bleachers and cried my head off. Later, another inmate walked by and commented on the weather or something, then later sat not too far away and started talking. At that point I was or had been telling myself to give it all up to God and watch for what comes. Then here comes this guy talking about his parole, his family when he got out last time, and the death of his mother and father close together, kind of a love ‘em when you can type of thing. I knew there was a reason he walked by and we were talking, and I knew I had to call my wife and the kids that night where previously I didn’t want to do it. Who wants to call and find out no one wants to come visit them! I enjoyed the day so much more after that, and walked around the track more before heading back. The call, as I said, was so worth it, and I know I probably wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t talked to that guy in the yard. Truthfully, I could fall over him and I wouldn’t know him – one of the many angels God sends, I think, if we are open to them. Believe me, I was sitting out of the way, overlooking a snow covered soccer field, and here he came. I guess I am telling you this because you also have helped me think through a lot of things when you write and I may not have told you how they helped me get through things at the time. I guess I am a little slow sometimes when it comes to critical thinking, especially when I am involved!! Reflection is good too, and the good weather helped clear my mind a bit yesterday too.

Well, back to pen in my room. I felt good in our playoff game tonight, scoring well, rebounding real well, but my pride was in my numerous steals. No one figured OT was the factor till the end, but now they labeled me the “best cracker (white) big man in the jail!” Well, the semi-finals will tell as we play a much younger team all around rather than just 2 or 3 young ones. I had to play the whole 40 minutes as we only had 6 guys, so I guess I am in shape. I want better, but then that is the way with everything – better food, shorter sentence….
Let’s hope ’08 brings peace and joy throughout the land and relief in those may parts of the world with civil unrest. Pakistan sure is a mess now with the assassination. Unfortunately not too many intellectuals to talk politics in here, but NPR is great to tune in at various times when I could.
Thank your whole family (and you) again Jack for your continual support and “walking the talk” of spreading the ministry outside the church walls.
Peace,
Van

TRANSITIONS

I definitely had landed. Why had I had such little faith that I would? I guess I am not real good at trusting the Lord at this stage, still relying on my own efforts even though my mantra of Proverbs 3 v 5-6 are constantly running through my head: “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.” I chuckled as I remembered how I tried to reason with the CO’s and how I panicked when I was not on the last bus out that Tuesday. God must have been chuckling too, knowing all the time what the outcome was going to be.

Who knew I would so soon be playing organized basketball again. I may not have been moved down from the top bunk a week and a half after landing here, but I am on a team in the over 40 league. That is what happened after I finally had a chance to showcase my skills during rec time.

I remember back when I first got to the reception dorm, remember returning to my new dorm after supper and talking with others about what was available at night for activities that Thanksgiving night. I sure was not one to lie around on my bunk or watch television. There were actually two TV’s as we were joined to another dorm, kind of in the shape of the letter ‘I’ with the bathrooms, microwave room and television rooms in between the dorms which were on the outside. They also had a laundry area where you could do your own. But the best thing was the individual showers. No more wearing underwear! I was told we could sign out to the yard, gym or library, so I headed to the gym hoping to not only check out the facility, but also get some hoop in.

Once in the building, you had to change into your sneakers in order to go to the gym. Going in one of the two weight rooms that flanked the CO’s bubble did not require any shoe change. I checked out the free weights, then looked at what machines were available in the second room. Then I went into the gym which I had already noticed was packed.

It was a full size gymnasium with two games starting going cross court. Teams had been picked as I pushed to the front of the crowd, but of course nobody knew me and even though I was tall, after all, I was OT – old timer. So I waited and watched. The obvious better quality games were down on the right interestingly enough where the baskets were more level and seemed newer. The games on the left had so many turnovers and air balls I did not think they would ever end. Winners stayed on, so I had to get picked in the next five to run. Guys had already picked ‘next’ and I was not included in either game. So I did what I am getting used to in here, wait.

Finally I got in a game though it was on the weaker side. I felt if I showed well, I could “graduate” to the quality side soon enough. Problem was, guys didn’t pass very much, trying to dribble through two or three guys or just jacked up shots from anywhere. Fortunately, being 6’3″, I was able to procure several rebounds. After passing it away and never seeing it again, I finally did my own thing and took it down, shot and scored. Then again. There were several whoops and hollers about OT which I had gotten used to at Fishkill. All I wanted to do was get in the better game at the other end. But, alas, it was time for the go back, time to return to your ‘home’ for the night. How did I know? The CO’s came in and turned off the lights!

But as with most things inside corrections, word must have spread. In this case that OT was a baller. Soon after that first week of recreational pick up games where I finally was chosen and given a chance – on the better end – to showcase my abilities, I was approached by an inmate asking if I was on a team and if not, would I like to be on his. I had no frame of reference or alternative options at that point so I said yes, jumping at the chance to play organized basketball again as I had at Fishkill. Now I had been playing at least three times a week on the outside in two different leagues as well as pick up games at a local college. The latter I had been doing with the same core group of guys at lunch time for over 25 years. The idea of playing one night a week in league play was nothing for me as I prided my self on conditioning if nothing else. More obviously, it would help pass the time and make this Jumaji world seem more normal if only for the 40 minutes the games lasted, not to mention any connections with others I might make.

Work was also going well, with my boss pleased with the way her call out office was now running and me pleased with the freedom the job provided. I was no longer tied to a desk, but could roam some when going or coming from the delivery of our product. Some times I could also visit the transitional services office just across the large lobby from my new office. It was there all the phase facilitators had desks and worked on stuff for their classes, even sometimes in the evening like I had done in Fishkill’s grievance department. Once again I was back on the computer, able to use my free time to type letters for myself or my co-worker. I also was teaching him about using the pc and what it could do even without any internet connection, and more basically, how to type. I never thought “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” would come into play again, but here it was, a primary tool used to teach him the key board.

Turns out he was down for an alcohol related crime, so I knew he’d be heading to ART at some point, a mandatory class for all drug and alcohol inmates. He said he had no problem with me and my crime, as he knew several others also waiting to get into the program. Seems other inmates would often make fun of guys in the sex offender program dorms and, then after a few weeks, end up there themselves. But I still kept most of my cards close to the vest as previously advised.

I did manage to get on the religious call out for Monday and Thursday night Bible study where outside people came in to teach us various Bible studies. You can attend Sunday religious services without being on the call out, but all evening studies required your name being on the list, so I made sure I went through the proper channels to do so. A couple of guys with older numbers – meaning they had been inside corrections for a while – told me the nights where the civilians coming in were really good, so I signed up. It took about a week before the pastor brought the list down to our office for his religious call-outs. He actually remembered me from church and we had a decent conversation before he left. I was quite looking forward to the studies and he even suggested I check out the Sunday night one as well. Wow, three nights of it might be a bit much, but I knew I could only attend Thursday nights when I didn’t have a basketball league game, so I thought Sundays would be fine. Besides, what better thing did I have to do?

Other than that I was laying low, hoping not to make any waves as suggested my my old roommate back at my previous spot and get in and out of the program as quickly as I could so as to hopefully make my earliest parole opportunity. It had only been a little over three weeks since I arrived and I knew government wheels turn slow so I was pleasantly shocked when my boss, Ms Sowich, came and told me she had heard I would be going into the facility’s Intensive Sex Offender Program, ISOP for short, right after the first of the year. Another prayer being answered and I surely didn’t deserve it. She said she didn’t understand it, how I was being moved so quickly, but that was good for me she guessed and that I would have my job back whenever I graduated from the program. I thought it must have been all the letters Albany had received over the past few months from me, my friends and family trying to get me in it so I could get out.

That would mean another move into the SO dorm and all day classes, so no more work or roaming around. Total structure, but a means to an end in my book. Things at home were strained as my wife was not only still adjusting to me not being there but my income loss as well, so a quick completion and early parole might help. But my manufacturer’s representative company that I had started and built up over the last 16 years would have to be sold and proceeds used to keep my daughter in college and my wife in the house and four acres I had bought. To that end I had recruited a guy, with the help and guidance of an old business partner, to take over my business and pay me and my wife over three years. I had been working on the plan the last few months once my head cleared from all the initial trauma and drugs. The latter was done but the former kept gnawing at me, keeping me pretty focused on getting out as soon as I could. Selling my business to him would ease a burden I had little control over inside corrections. In reality, I had few alternatives.

So this last week we had inked a deal where he would buy me out and pay monthly to my wife just as I had hope and prayed the deal would be worked out. Hallelujah! So many blessings happening all at once it seemed. My nightly prayers included a review of the day, and it really was another day of thanks giving. I had recently seen my wife, received a good package, got to work out, show some guys what I could do on the court and even get on a team, besides hearing I would be getting into the sex offender program sooner than anyone thought. Also, I was not being hassled about anything at this point. So much to be thankful for, but I was embarrassed because of my doubt, my unbelief. That brought with it more shame about even being inside corrections and my instant offense – my crime. I kept letting God know how grateful I was and found myself in an old position, crying myself quietly to sleep, knowing that God was surely good and I wasn’t.

NEXT

Why is it so hard for me to believe God has His plan for me? I still feel like I am the one to make everything turn out all right, even inside corrections. But here I am, in the facility I wanted to be in, getting the job I wanted, closer to my family and none of it because of me, as far as everyone tells me. I am a pawn in the system. And a system that doesn’t care about anything or anyone but itself I am also told. Keep it rolling, keep ’em coming, keep our jobs. So I obviously do not have much say or pull in this system, and in reality, can only rely on God. I am learning to. Slowly.

So Monday comes and I report to the building where I was told to report, where Transitional Services is held. In the New York State Correctional System, Transitional Services provides the same programs in each facility. Phase I is an introduction to the facility and what to expect inside corrections there. It is a week long and, as I experienced the last two places, facilitated by inmates. It runs every week as guys are constantly coming and going, so there is always a demand, even if the attendance is low.
Phase II is a more intensive program, running anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks, (usually about 12 but depending on the facility) and covers life skills such as decision making, moral values, life planning, family beliefs and other relevant topics, also facilitated by inmates and thus, subject to their whims and desires. A civilian counselor is usually present during these daily sessions.
Phase III is right before inmates are getting released, usually at least 6-8 weeks prior, and lasts about a month, again depending on everyone’s schedule. In this phase, again facilitated by inmates with a civilian counselor usually present, guys learn job and interview skills, resume work, and work on reintegration skills and topics. Outside people often come in to help discuss different reentry issues.

ART is aggression replacement therapy, not art as everyone thinks at first, although that might be valuable to some. Here, inmate facilitators work on different strategies for releasing aggression in appropriate ways, especially working on new skills that will carry to the outside to avoid reentry. Again, a civilian counselor is present during these daily sessions.

All of these programs are mandatory for all inmates with the exception of ART, though most end up there by the simple reason they are in prison and obviously need to control their aggression however subtle it may be. There are other drug,alcohol and sex offender programs, but they are run by the counseling departments.

Another department under the auspices of Transitional Services is the call out office. Here inmates put together a list of names to be called out the next day or later in the week for all activities and classes. Things such as all Transitional Service classes, Bible Studies, any musical meeting, physical educational activities such as games or meetings, any clubs or organizations, church services, counselor meetings and the infamous grievance hearings are all put on a daily log distributed throughout the facility to let everyone know who is and who is not allowed to go to these activities and functions. Name not on the list? You don’t go, no matter how much crying, whining or fighting you do. Inmates send notes to the required departments in advance to get on the list, and a counselor or civilian director has to sign off on each person prior so they may attend. Most all other activities such as the law or regular library, any medical needs, or recreational workouts and the yard are handled on an individual basis with passes from the dorm CO. So this is an important job. Screw up a name on the list and things can become heated from many directions – inmate, counselors and CO’s. Putting someone on the list that doesn’t belong can earn you an all expense paid trip to the SHU – special housing unit, aka the box, hole or isolation as had just happened before I came. That is why I was needed in this office as an industrious gentleman was putting unauthorized guys names on lists for a fee. That was his hustle. Obviously, as with most departments, people were scrutinizing our every move and double checking to make sure things run smoothly. I guess he was smooth and ran it for a couple weeks before being figured out.
So I reported and was told the basics of the position. Another inmate and myself were to gather all the necessary data, arrange it on a sheet, have it reviewed by the CO outside the small office, then take it down to the printing office where it was duplicated and later distributed to all dorms and offices for the next days call outs to the various functions. Pretty simple really. My organizational skills of teaching and running my own business kicked in right away.

First, I suggested to my new co-worker who was hunting and pecking at the keyboard that maybe I could do that job while he organized the various lists since I type much faster. Then, instead of cutting and pasting paper lists which was done previously, I set up various templates on the computer for the days of the week so we could save re-typing time since many lists were duplicated for a week or more – such as the Phase classes mentioned before. It was fun and different, and I felt like I was serving a valuable function. I ran all the changes I suggested by Ms. Sowich, my new boss, who stopped in regularly to check on us and often verify different lists. She had no problem as long as everything was checked and double checked and it was done on time. Inmate names and ID numbers had to be accurate or guys wouldn’t be allowed to move, so that was really important. It had to be done in about two hours so it could be delivered to the printing office. Before I came I learned this was often a problem, getting it done in time. (That’s also how my predecessor was able to sneak names on the lists – last minute add-ons after the CO had approved it.)

After a final check by the CO, which usually took some time, we were given a pass to take the completed lists down about a half mile walk to the printing office which was right behind the package room. What a cake job I thought, even including a free walk outside! I thought things were starting to look pretty good for me right now save my living arrangements.

I also had been moved to a new dorm, out of reception, which wasn’t too bad. The thing was, I was placed in a six man room on a top bunk. Now I am pretty athletic and in fair shape, but at going on 57, I didn’t like climbing up every time I wanted to sit as there were only two chairs in the room, or sleep. I had heard there was a rule about not having to get a top bunk if you were over 55, so I inquired with my dorm CO. He said he’d look into it. Right.

A week later I was still up there and found I needed to write medical to get excused from climbing up there because of my age. Now I normally do not like getting older and even put off joining AARP on the outside because I said I wasn’t THAT old. But this time, I readily used my age to hasten getting closer to tierra firma. Hopefully that will work and Mid-State would live up to the rules of Corrections, and I would see another manifestation of the hand of God smoothing the road ahead for me.

I SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS

Editors note:

This letter was previously published but is timely, so it’s worth another go.

I say Merry Christmas. To me, the day is to celebrate the one God who was born, the Christ in Christmas. The reason for the season for me. So I say Merry Christmas.

Now if you are of differing opinion, as I might be if you said Happy Kwanzaa, then you nod and move on just as I would do if you were greeting me with your religious views. Oh, I really would probably say Happy Kwanzaa back to you, not because I know much about it or believe in it, but rather because you do and it seems important enough to you that you name it. I would want to wish all the best back to someone who at least believes in something or someone besides themselves. (oh, did I write that out loud?) and truly hope they have a happy Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, or birthday (well maybe no one is objecting to that one – yet) anniversary or Thanksgiving.

I would want that other person to feast on all the joy and wonder that particular day (or season) would bring. Why dilute that for them or me? Why blandize it (that’s a word isn’t it) and genericize it (ditto) and say Happy Holidays like I am going to celebrate them all, attend all the ceremonies, eat at them all, well, you get the idea.

Merry Christmas and Merry Kwanzaa are totally different celebrations, especially to the participants. Lumping them all together with all other holiday celebrations just isn’t right. How far do we go? Do we go back to include Thanksgiving? Columbus Day or Veterans day? Do we go forward to include Martin Luther King Day? (How about my birthday, that’s in there somewhere too)

Are we that bland, general or universal that we cannot use some thought when remembering dates important to some particular people? I would want to have my wedding day remembered because it brought me great joy. Similarly, the birth of Christ to me is important and, in my mind, needs to stand on its own. Are we so incapable of feeling for that other person that we just lazily quip some general holiday greeting?

As mentioned before, Christ’s birth day celebration is special to so many. (I know it’s not his true time of His birth as it was lambing time, with flocks in the field – important because He was the ultimate sacrifice, the “Lamb of God” who came to save all believers from their sins) Thanksgiving is also important to me, though it may be lost in the general “Happy Holiday” salute. It’s a day (actually one of many) when we need to reflect on all the many blessings we have and most often take for granted.

Let’s be specific. You are not harming me with your “Happy Holiday” greeting as I do not know of anyone who died after hearing (or saying) it or Merry Christmas for that matter. Don’t you hear other things during a typical day that offend you? Do you ban the radio or television? Or do simply change the channel? (BTW, it’s a great teaching moment for young people as they say when any of the above greetings are said) If you did hear something you didn’t understand or know about or appreciate, you probably move on and don’t apply it to your particular life or beliefs.

Do you not say gesundheit because you do not want to offend people that are not German? Or manana or adios because of Hispanics? No more merci or Ciao then! Nope. Gots to robotically reply “my name is” or, as they say in My Fair Lady only talk about yourself and the weather. Pretty boring.

So let’s resolve to be real as well as tolerant this and any holiday season celebratory time, for all our sakes.

And I do wish you a very Merry Christmas.

WHAT’S NEXT

The first week in a new location is pretty much the same for everyone – attend all day meetings on what to expect in the new facility, the rules and who is who. Counselors and civilians are paraded through according to their position so that we are given a view of not only the players but what they do as well. So I joined the other roughly 30 guys in a large room to listen and learn.

The director of each department came or sent an inmate to describe what they do there and the procedure for getting into each area. The education department came and talked about GED’s and similar work. Industrial arts came with similar information. An inmate from grievance came and talked about the life I had led at Fishkill with a few twists and turns particular to this facility. There were several others throughout the week, with morning sessions breaking for lunch and returning for more in the PM. In between presenters the inmates facilitators would give some talks, pointers and answer any questions guys might have. Rarely was their a CO or civilian in the room during this time, so some of the questions hit real topics. Of course, most of us newbies didn’t know if they were blowing smoke or not. It seemed like a pretty cool gig, one I thought might be a great change from grievance. Besides, we were told there was no opening presently there anyway which made my decision easier.

So after about the third day when the head of Transitional Services gave her talk, something awoke inside me and urged me to go talk to her about a job. I approached her during a break to tell her of my background and interest in working in the department, and of course my crime. I wanted it all out in the open up front. I had been warned that she was a no nonsense woman not to be underestimated despite her very short size. Moreover, her husband was an sergeant in a nearby facility and she was well versed in all the rules. In fact she really lit into a guy for what she deemed his “eyeballing” her, having him removed from class. I was wondering if he would come back but realized that was his problem and I had to keep my focus.

After talking with her briefly she instructed me to write all this down and send it to her via internal mail. Nothing would happen before next week anyway, so that’s what I did. I felt a bit of excitement as she had indicated they did need a couple of guys for the call out office, something I really didn’t know much about but was willing to learn. Besides, she liked that I could type 45 – 50 words a minute and knew my way around a computer. When I told her of my desire to get into the SO program as soon as I could, she said that would take some time and not to get my hopes up.

Despite the cold temperatures I enjoyed the long walks from the reception dorm up a small grade to the mess hall and our daily class. With meals and sessions each day I figured I walked over five miles well before working out in the gym or yard. I was able to check out the yard on my first Saturday. It too was over a half mile walk and had several grumpy CO’s checking us in through the gates. A pass from our dorm CO was required, so I presented mine and walked through the metal detectors and entered.

I was told this was a typical yard for corrections, with a weight pit located under the far end of an open pavilion which also housed several picnic tables and a couple of fuzzy, old televisions. There were two basketball courts, a volleyball court and a softball field, and other green areas all surrounded by a dirt path that served as a track for some willing to tempt their luck on the uneven surface. The double 15′ fences spaced 15′ apart topped with razor and barbed wire were a constant reminder of where we were. Plus there always seemed to be a couple of CO’s walking around the track path as well to keep an eye on things as well as at least one CO in the guard tower. After my first visit I figured I would be out here often, enjoying the outdoors and ability to look skyward without interruption. I knew my programming and/or work would keep me occupied during the days, but weekends – the days I hated the most because there was no real schedule save meals – would include treks outdoors to keep my mind busy and help pass the time with something that seemed “normal”.

The week finished with nothing going on much of Friday morning and nothing in the afternoon, but we were still scheduled to be there. I had met a couple of guys that were interesting to talk to, so in the afternoon I sat closer to them so we could continue to talk. I hadn’t realized someone else was sitting there in the morning session, and since there were no assigned seats I saw no problem. He did. He was big, and had a real gruff look to him and an even gruffer mouth. Partly egged on by my new friends, I said it was open seating and I wanted to be near my new pals. He started talking real tough and I wondered what I was getting myself into. I figured if I stood up he would take it as a sign I wanted to give it a go, so I remained seated and didn’t give him any eye contact. Fortunately the facilitators came to the rescue and asked him to find another seat as there were several. I hoped I had not made an enemy and done something I would later regret.

Later that evening, I reflected on it and saw what a bozo I was. I definitely didn’t call on the Holy Spirit to aide me or even initially consider any consequences. How was I being a Christian once again holding my ground, doing my own thing, using my own strength. While I was definitely taller than he was and know my way around a fight, this was prison and guys didn’t fight fair or with any consideration for anyone’s future. Besides, both parties would be awarded a trip to the box and things only sorted out weeks later. So I made another of many mental notes to pray more and use His guidance more than just in the major decisions like my work or getting on with my bid so I could get out.

Fortunately one major decision was made real when Ms Sowich, the head of Mid-State Transitional Services department, called the dorm CO and said she wanted me to start Monday morning in the call out office. Hallelujah. Some things seemed to fall into place. Thank God – which is exactly what I did.

SETTLING IN

I definitely had landed. Why had I had such little faith that I would? I am not real good at trusting the Lord I guess at this stage, still relying on my own efforts even though my mantra of Proverbs 3: 5-6 are constantly running through my head: “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.” I chuckled as I remembered how I tried to reason with the CO’s and how I panicked when I was not on the last bus out that Tuesday. God must have been chuckling too, knowing all the time what the outcome was going to be.
So, here I was in the new facility in the reception dorm with about 30 other guys. Some guys were young and green (hey, I was green too!) while others were savvy, returning for another bid or on a violation. Once released guys returned on violations of many kinds, often not that long after getting out. That fact often puzzled me as I thought I would never want to come back so I would do exactly what I was told to avoid any possibility of it occurring. Seemed simple enough, yet there were many violators among this crowd.
Thanksgiving came with some turkey roll for lunch, but I was at my visit and missed it. I did not like the cold cuts but the potatoes and dressing would have been nice. The visit with my wife went well considering the circumstances. It was difficult for her being away from her family and not having any celebration or thanks giving. I was giving thanks for my new temporary home and the fact that God seemed to have me on the right trail so I could make my first board. So there was some tension with that and the fact that this was her first visit in some time. She was happy about the closer location which meant less driving. Plus there was a Wal Mart just down the road which made getting food for my package much easier. While I am not a real fan on that behemoth of retail, it sure does serve a purpose. Her visit seemed to fly by and parting was more difficult than usual I felt, even if only on my end.
Returning to my new dorm I talked with others about what was available at night for activities. I sure was not one to lie around on my bunk or watch television. There were actually two TV’s as we were joined to another dorm, kind of in the shape of the letter I with the bathrooms, microwave room and television rooms in between the dorms which were on the outside. They also had a laundry area where you could do your own. But the best thing was the individual showers. No more wearing underwear!
So I headed to the gym Thanksgiving night hoping to not only check out the facility, but also get some hoop in. Once in the building, you had to change into your sneakers in order to go to the gym. Going in one of the two weight rooms that flanked the CO’s bubble did not require any shoe change. I checked out the free weights, then looked at what machines were available in the second room. Then I went into the gym which I had already noticed was packed.
It was a full size gymnasium and games were starting going cross court. Teams were being picked as I pushed to the front of the crowd, but of course nobody knew me and, after all, I was OT – old timer. So I waited and watched. The obvious better quality games were down on the right interestingly enough where the baskets were more level and seemed newer. The games on the left had so many turnovers and air balls I did not think they would ever end. Winners stayed on, so I had to get picked in the next five to run. Guys had already picked ‘next’ and I was not included in either game. So I did what I am getting used to in here, wait.
Finally I got in a game though it was on the weaker side. I felt if I showed well I could “graduate” to the quality side soon enough. Problem was, guys didn’t pass very much, trying to dribble through two or three guys or just jacked up shots from anywhere. Fortunately, being taller, I was able to procure several rebounds. After passing it away and never seeing it again, I finally did my own thing and took it down, shot and scored. Then again. There were several whoops and hollers about OT which I had gotten used to at Fishkill. All I wanted to do was get in the better game at the other end. But, alas, it was time for the go back, time to return to your ‘home’ for the night. How did I know? The CO’s came in and turned off the lights!
Once back I showered and ate some nuts before turning in. I was told Friday would be a free day, free of programs and school, none of which I was scheduled for as yet, so I could go back to the gym for more of the same. So after I returned from breakfast and the half mile walk each way I planned to do just that.
My nightly prayers included a review of the day, and it really was a day of thanks giving. I had seen my wife, received a good package, got to work out and show some guys what I could do on the court and was not being hassled about anything at this point. So much to be thankful for, but I was embarrassed because of my doubt, my unbelief. That brought with it more shame about even being inside corrections and my instant offense – my crime. I kept letting God know how grateful I was and found myself in an old position, crying myself quietly to sleep.

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.

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

WORKING IT OUT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKING PLANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAMILY VISIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SIMPLE THINGS

So, to paraphrase a Groucho Marks joke; there I was in prison, staring at a deer in my state issued greens. How he got in my greens I’ll never know!

A simple thing like walking from my dorm to the grievance department twice a day for work – we returned for lunch – afforded me some great outdoor time. While only about a quarter mile, it was outside and the view was great. It expanded over several fields, down a little valley and up the opposite hill to where you could even glimpse a bit of the super highway. I could smell the fresh cut hay of those farmer fields and, if lucky, see deer grazing as I slowly walked to work. I could hear and see birds of all kinds. It reminded me of my childhood growing up on a dairy farm in central New York. But then I would think of my father and what he would have thought knowing his son went to prison on a pornography charge and I have to think of something else.

I grew up on a dairy farm, working hard for a kid. But it really was enjoyable work for the most part. Even the shoveling of manure, cleaning the gutters in the barn wasn’t that bad. Only in the cold weather were things difficult when we tried to stay warm performing our work. The barn, with over 60 head of cattle, was actually warmer than our big old farmhouse. But the summer time made it all worth while.

When I now walk to and from work, I remember working in the field like the farmer presently was doing. Cutting, raking, baling and hauling the hay. That was then, this is now, and I had kept going through all those youthful times and progressed forward, so I now must do the same. One more step at a time toward getting out just as I had done one more thing at that time to get through, doing any number of things farmers do to get things accomplished and finished.

Another similarity I noted were the strict rules and their enforcement. It was just like my strict and authoritative father. His way or the highway, similar in both places. Unfortunately, I transferred the traits of my earthly father to the Heavenly Father I hardly knew and was more afraid of than drawn to. Only now since I have given myself to God have I learned more about Him and His unconditional love for me. Maybe that is why it seems so overwhelming, that anyone could love me despite what I have done. Growing up on that farm gave me a great work ethic and taught me the value of working for what you want. Regrettably, often as a kid and later as an adult, I tried to take short cuts and get the results I wanted without the regard for others, quite different from the family atmosphere in which I grew up. I often worked at circumventing the rules but now had to conform to them. Trying to reconcile all that has happened, all that I have done and the resulting consequences made it hard to see how my dad, or my Heavenly Father, could look favorably toward me. It is still especially difficult when visitors from that past come to visit.

As when my sister-in-law came to visit last week, another simple thing but  a total surprise. And she came bearing gifts. My wife had told her how valuable certain things are in here and can be used to trade or barter for other things. Since real currency is difficult to come by and is only put in your account, not handled by the inmates, anything of value and negotiable was prized very dearly. Like cigarettes, flags (stamps) and even toilet paper, especially in the maximum security facilities I found out. I had recently learned to roll cigarettes, rollies as they were aptly called, to trade for food. I bought a pouch of tobacco from the commissary and proceeded to acquire whatever quality food I could by trading the rolled cigarettes. Fresh fruit, chicken or even the coveted coffee cake when they would serve it in the mess hall. Fresh vegetables or other healthy treats from guys packages was what I went for mostly. Oh yes, and those great little dixie cups of Bryne Dairy chocolate ice cream! It was amazing what guys would trade for a simple rollie. And real cigarettes were better. So when she brought me a whole case of Marlboro’s –Thank you Jesus!

Again I had the problem, though, of reconciling the past and present. How could she be so gracious to me after what I did to her sister? Why would she show such favor to a selfish egomaniac like me? Take time out of her busy schedule, drive over two hours and bring me a gift? Could I have done that if the situation was reversed? Is this the love of God showing through His people that all the Pastors in here were talking about? Wasn’t I supposed to do the same? When you begin not liking yourself, it seems it is often difficult to fully appreciate others and their kindness to you. I was certainly overwhelmed.

On the walk back to the dorm, carrying that brick of Marlboro’s, smelling the fresh cut hay, seeing God’s beauty and abundance all around, I could, for those few moments, cherish His love and the simple things that I felt even here inside corrections.

7/13/07 LETTER TO JACK

Editor’s Note:  Jack was a good friend and my Pastor’s husband on the outside. He wrote often and visited when he could.

7/13/07
Jack,
Thanks for your letter – whenever you send it, it’s appreciated. No pressure believe me! I have way more time to respond – no grass to mow, places to go, things to do so I take it as it comes – that is one thing this place hammers home to me. There is nothing I can do BUT go minute to minute, working with what is given. God had a plan, & I, like Solomon & many others, strayed, attempting to make my own plan. I am grateful I didn’t suffer some of his wrath as some Biblical figures did! This feels like quite a lot however, I’m sure these are things you realized & lived a long time ago, attempting to live outside God’s plan for you. I realized that, tried to do what was best at times, but obviously failed miserably. I am grateful for another opportunity – not chance, as that sounds too much like it’s ify or having to do with luck. I believe we make our own luck and create opportunities now, whether we like the ones we create or not is truly a different story, but we nevertheless have to live them. That is another thing I know!

Pardon my rambling. It might be the 98 degree temps we had today (95 yesterday), the state of fatigue of playing a full game tonight (basketball) and I am on my 3rd letter as I await a phone opportunity to call my wife. With 55 guys & 2 phones, it’s tough. They shut off @ 11 pm – 8 am & various other times during the day, but I am only able to call her collect and haven’t been successful lately with catching her. It’s frustrating, but then again it’s a lesson in faith and acceptance. Deal with it. Pick the file cabinet up off Rte. 104 and deal with it.

Yes I miss people like the ones you mentioned, though the shame & guilt return when I think of people I have not had an opportunity to talk to since this “train wreck” happened. I used to see & talk with him @ Reading Buddies – something else I miss & probably will not be able to resume. But I am working on a couple other projects for inmates that will carry over to the outside if we (another guy from work & I) can get it off the ground. God works in those mysterious ways. Then there’s that book of course…..

It is interesting with all the guys going home or being transferred – or even going to the box – the flavor of our floor here @ B Center has changed a good deal in the last couple of weeks. A lot of new faces, many younger guys who are already very experienced with prison life. It definitely shows in the selection of T.V. shows. It is not so much that I watch, but I use the day room to write (like now) as I do not want to turn on the light in our four man room with one guy asleep. It also attracts bugs and there are no screens on the windows. (hey, we’re prisoners, we don’t need no stinkin’ screens!) The smells of the kitchen behind me & the heat of this large (40’ x 16’ ish) room is a bit much at times. Unlike others, I do not like to hang my clothes on the drying racks less they smell like rice and beans or jack mac – hard especially when it’s my pillow case – makes me hungry when I go to bed!

Wed. Feel pretty good today (my knee) considering I played the whole game last night – it’s sore, a little swollen, but worth it. I find the confidence I feel on the court helps off it. Guys I don’t know come up & compliment me – they usually call me O.T. (old timer) or Bird! I realize now how shaky some of my decisions were in subsequent months after my arrest. Should I do this or that, choose this or that. My choice of guys to work my business was aided by my former partner thank goodness as I was off the mark myself. While right in it, I thought I was okay. Months later I realize that and other choices were not my best. Now I am building back up to, as Cheryl says, “do the next right thing.”

You mentioned ESPN & the Hot Dogs. (my son took his first trip to Coney Island recently) I am amazed there is enough stuff for all the channels on cable. No wonder picking your nose through a picket fence makes headlines as they have to find something to fill it up. The AM news has depressed me so I do not and cannot watch. NYC has so much crime, but I remember Rochester had equal amounts.

The guy I’m working with on a program we want to start here behind the wall has been here for a murder during a robbery – since 1987. He was in his early 20’s so he doesn’t know cell phones, internet, lots of things. It is like a time warp in some ways, and hence our program basis. (among others)

As I re-read this letter (and yours) I see how scattered I am. – haha. Guess that speaks to my mental state!

Take care Jack, and not to worry about the frequency of writing. I thoroughly enjoy your letters as you get to them.

God Bless & Peace to you,
Van

LIFE INSIDE CORRECTIONS

It has been pretty difficult lately as I struggle to keep an even keel in these troubled waters inside corrections. I guess it I am still learning what I don’t know.
The Bible says to know what you are supposed to do, but doing according to your own will results in the person” being beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know yet committed things deserving of stripes shall be beaten with few.” (Luke 12:47-48) Guess I will receive slight chastisement as I know what I need to think and feel, but do not fully know things. In here if one is not careful, the response may be far worse. Because I knew better on the outside, guess I am getting what I deserve – the many stripes – so to speak by being inside corrections.
Of course the Bible speaks of spiritual and mental warfare. Behind the fence and wall I notice it is more physical. If we are not getting it from the CO’s, it is from other inmates. It is so surreal to see such behavior, truly man’s inhumanity to man. It is always a punitive atmosphere, always assuming the worst in someone, that we did something (or will do) wrong and thus are treated accordingly by most CO’s with a negative attitude. I can only imagine the next rung up as being true war.
I see guards exercising their authority with such malice and actually getting enjoyment out of it. Now that is not to say all are that way as I have encountered several who really do have an interest in being fair and under control. The problem seems to be in here that there are always those who take advantage, on both sides, and cause problems for all. It is not bad enough that some who are in control are on power trips, but then the good ones get pushed to their limits as well.
If you do not like rules, never come inside corrections that is for sure. There are rules for everything: when to get up, when to lay down, how to stand and when and even where to stand, how to get there, how to look and even how NOT to look! And those are just a sampling. And yes, they capsule them all in a little yellow book of some 40 plus pages, but about a third of the inmates are illiterate and 50% do not have a high school degree or GED so the use of it is debatable.
Por ejemplo – yes, I’ve relearned some Spanish and wished I’d paid better attention than the D I received in freshman college Spanish, a lesson there – there is a rule about not destroying or altering State issue property. Now while that makes sense, you would think it would be administered with a little common sense. But as Buck Henry so aptly said and it definitely applies in here, “common sense ain’t so common.” I do not take issue with not breaking the furniture or state issue dull green clothing (no bra burning!) But a friend who, upon getting in behind the wall at 18 with a 25 to life bid, was so distraught and, coupled with his slower mental abilities, tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with his state issue boxers. Well, let’s not bother with any why’s or suppositions or offer counseling, let’s write him up, called a ticket, and send him to the box, that omnipresent threat of an all expense trip often threatened in Cool Hand Luke.
Fortunately I have never been a guest there but have heard enough about it that I do not want to venture there for a visit, so maybe the threat does work for some. Stories of CO’s spitting in the food – if they actually deliver it –or withholding mail and other reading material are just some of the tales told to me of guys returning from there, thus adding to the “just wait till your father gets home” type threat they use in here.
So I follow the rules, or have learned to do much better. That is great when you know what the rules are. Problem is, they often vary from CO to CO and prisoner to prisoner. “You’ve disrespected me” is one key catch-all phrase that has caused many a fight or stabbing between inmates. What one guy means and accepts is not necessarily equal to all, especially when you throw in race and religion in the mix – or apparent sexual orientation, but that is a whole other chapter. I often feel this ‘disrespected’ saying is used as a reason to exhibit the toughness of someone so others will fear him and/or leave him alone, the old bully tactic. Underneath they often are really so afraid or do not really care of the outcome due to their presence in here. As I have mentioned before,any sign of weakness in here is seen as blood in the waters to a bunch of sharks. And they certainly are present in many forms inside corrections.
So I have struggled at times knowing I would be better off to keep my mouth shut, look away, or not even go someplace. Sometimes I get so caught up in my own grief, more of the selfishness that brought me here, that I fail to see the landscape around me and gauge correctly what is going on. It’s a continual learning process and I have been fortunate I have not gotten my butt kicked or worse. Thank you Lord! That is why I take solitary walks in the yard, (the large open space, fenced/walled in of course) often lost in thought or prayer and escape even if just for the briefest of times. This is my new normal.
I also find if I continually put myself in communication with Jesus and give it all to Him that situations work themselves out – definitely good advice for here or out there. I just have to process everything to see it. Fortunately I have nothing but time in here to do such contemplation, I just need to be conscious of where I do it. Others have their remedies or ways of handling the mental and emotional stress. But as Joshua said to the Israelites before his death, “…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) It has saved me as it has thousands of people down through the years. May it continue to do so for me here inside corrections.

UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM

I was thinking how normal it is to write a letter, one of the few “normal” things that go on in here. But as I may have stated previously, things are a little upside down.
But then I guess that begs the question, what is normal? For a prison – or correctional institution as they now want to call it though little correction occurs – what goes on is probably quite normal though I cannot tell as I have no reference. I know sleeping is normal, but when I do finally drop off, often after crying myself to sleep, then wake, it is not the normal I am used to seeing or hearing. That is if I do drop off to sleep, which many nights for a variety of reasons does not occur or, if it does, only for a while. There are guys talking, crying, snoring and making other bodily noises and radios playing. Then there’s the C.O.’s who check on us, generally without regard to being the quietest. As I have stated before, I do not know what I don’t know.
So I have to make a new normal for myself on what is and is not. That continues throughout the day. My new digs in the four man room are an improvement in some ways over our single cell of the maximum security facility. However that means little to no privacy either. We have a small locker next to our beds to store food and our extra clothes which really are not much as we only have state issue duds at present. So all in all, a bit different from the 2,800 square foot house that I left.
At work another inmate gave me a sheet that someone I do not know wrote some time ago how this place is a little mixed up – a different kind of normal. He entitled it “The Upside Down Kingdom” and I thought it is very appropriate:

If a prisoner isn’t careful, by the time he’s released from confinement his perception may become so warped that right appears wrong & the virtuous things appear distastefully unappealing. Anyone with half a sound mind entering a prison environment will soon discover that prisoners govern themselves by codes and rules that counter their own best interest. In prison, an arrogant man convicted of killing is respected above the intellectually sophisticated man or prisoners with moral conviction. In prison, you can’t afford to smile too broadly too often, nor dare possess a genuine friendly disposition for these behavior traits are considered unmanish and soft. You see, in prison the prisoner who displays a hateful, vengeful and vicious temperament is the one admired and notably recognized by his equally miserable peers. In prison, good men are despised while vile men are praised. Prisons are upside down kingdoms and it’s human subjects are manipulated by backward values, deviant codes and non-progressive criminal philosophies.
In prison, a prisoner is mocked and counted a traitor if he talks about his turning over a new leaf and legitimizing his life. He is ridiculed if he discloses a desire to become a faithful family man to one woman and maintain employment to provide for his household. A prisoner is frowned upon who devotes his energy toward education or acquiring vocational skills above the interest of wasting decades playing basketball or lifting weights in the yard with his dead head peers.
In prison, men are more concerned with appearing composed in the face of personal crisis than they are with being honest about their feelings or with learning to ask for help to resolve their conflicts. The average prisoner has no place for words such as love, compassion, loyalty empathy, sacrifice and commitment: according to their definition and vocabulary, these are dirty words. Networking or pooling resources together for the common good is a foreign concept and or met with suspicion and distrust. Trust, honesty, responsibility, integrity are more dirty words with no usefulness in prison – the upside down kingdom. Ideally, prisoners should fill each correctional institution’s educational classes until they are bursting at the seams. We as prisoners should engage vocational programs to where there is standing room only. If we as prisoners were working with sober, mental clarity, our prison environment could be transformed into universities of higher learning or monasteries to attain deeper insightfulness and spirituality. There exists among our ranks men with brilliant minds and high powered perceptions, men who have participated and can compete well in corporate America. Men who become so disillusioned with their peers that they’ve given up the drive to work with them.
They’ve questioned themselves – why bother, what’s the use? But as bleak as the answers to these questions may be, as educators and leaders our answer must echo the sentiments: “because we have a moral obligation to do so.” It will never be easy standing up against the forces of ignorance in the upside down kingdom. But easy or not, it is the thing that men of moral fiber are compelled to address in order to look themselves in the mirror.

I am not sure when this was written but it unfortunately still applies today. I hope as I get further into this enforced “time out” phase of my life I will be able to maybe make a change, however small, in this paradigm. Who knows, if I can bring some of my usually “normal” life into this upside down normal I might even be able to help some along the way. Wouldn’t that be great? After all, I was helped by a priest and I know I feel Jesus and the Holy Spirit helping me everyday to make required inside corrections. He has said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So I may be able to pass it along as the movie “Pay it Forward” shows.
Anyway, much to digest. Whether upside down or inside out it is my new normal and I must learn to live with it lest I come to harm. So far so good in that respect.

GIVING IT UP

So, off the meds. New digs. Now what?

I know the first step (of many) is to repent, to God and everyone for my sins of selfishness, pride, lust and acting out the ways I did. Actually why stop there? The greed, arrogance and hatred I felt that fed my ego were also transgressions against God, others, as well as myself that need His forgiveness.

I cannot see how God can, as Father Domido tells me, forgive me for what I have done. He tells me stuff I already know about Jesus dying on the cross for sinners like me. I knew that but the proximity of Easter just passing makes it more real to me now and in these circumstances. On the outside I was often just going through the motions, not truly believing what I read or knew about God and Jesus. That They love me no matter what now really floors me. The creator of the universe takes time to love me? He sent His son to die for people like me? How could that be? Yet I have been assured by Father Domido and other chaplains in here that is the case.

Because of my situation, I guess I look at things totally differently than I did before when I thought I was in control of things.Of course I only thought of myself as a Christian, not always walking the path of one, that is for sure, lest I would not have done the things I did. I was only and most usually seeking my own pleasures, cost be damned. I was what mattered most, not others, and certainly not Jesus. I learned a new acronym that makes perfect sense and would be great if more people followed it – JOY standing for Jesus, others, yourself. I usually went to YOJ, with Jesus a distance away if at all. Oh I talked a good game, and often believed it but rarely lived it. Big difference.

So now I have taken the crucial second step after the first step of repentance and given my life over to Jesus. The church service I attended today seemed different, and had what they called an altar call. The sermon seemed to be aimed right at me, as if the pastor knew my sins and situation. So I went forward, not really sure what it was or what would happen, but when the Pastor asked if there was anyone who wanted to turn their life over to Christ and have a new beginning, I felt something inside of me stirring. I just knew I had to go and didn’t care what others thought, which I now think was a big step for me in here as you really have to be guarded. It wasn’t the blind following that I did when I used to go for meds but rather an excited urge I wanted to complete and felt I just needed to do.When I got up there one of the worship guys came and put his arm around me and asked me what I needed. I didn’t know quite what to say but finally mumbled something about turning my life over to Christ. He then started praying for me and then asked me to repeat after him what he called a sinners prayer. My head was full of his words as we said them. It felt so right to give everything I had over to the one who was there when I was created and who died for me on the cross. I do not know at what point I started crying but knew they were tears of joy, true joy, coupled with a relief I had not felt for a very long time. I felt lighter and closer to this God I never really knew.

I returned to my dorm on a cloud, smiling all the way. I think I was even singing one of the praise songs they had when we left the sanctuary. If this was what being a Christian was going to be like, I definitely wanted more of it and wondered why I had waited so long for it. Would it last? I don’t know but I truly felt I was starting the long road of inside corrections.