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.

6-1-07 LETTER to JACK

EDITOR”S note: Jack was a good friend on the outside and my pastor’s husband who wrote regularly and visited when he could.

Fishkill
6/1/07
Hi Jack,
Pardon the yellow paper but that’s all I could buy at the last commissary. Thanks for another great letter. You’re right, this does cause me to work on my penmanship. (spelling still doesn’t count!)
I am now out of 4-2 reception and into a dorm like setting, 55 guys on a floor with various room sizes and cubes. I am in a 4 man room, one older gentleman who is “showing me the ropes” as he had been in here at least 25 years! Then there are 2 younger guys. The floor is a mixture of the same. The 4-2 on the envelope gave me a free pass of 5 letters a week while using these. Now I’m on my own, that’s why stamps are like gold, just like cigarettes. The older guy & I made a great dinner on the stove top last night as the mess hall served processed meats (cold cuts) which I do not eat. At lunch there were hot dogs and hamburgers (Memorial Day teat) but I was fasting till 4. It was suggested on church and coincided so nicely with the meals, funny how those things work out.
We did have a great visit together. (Editor’s note: wife visited) The weather was cool but sunny. It really didn’t matter as I would have done anything to see her. It is much looser here and we could get up and move, even go outside to a small yard with picnic tables. We had a little over 3 hours which was great, but I could always use more. No telling the next time.
I have been going to the Protestant services here in the PM, actually double dipping with the AM Catholic service which I will now discontinue. It is too dry. I also notice everyone, including the priest, says the ritual sayings, even the Lord’s Prayer, so FAST and with very little feeling, almost in a toneless monotone. Very odd to me. They have some sayings I think are great, but they rush through them so. About 40 people typically attend. The Protestant service starts with a lot of great music and ends similarly. If your feet and/or hands are not moving with the music, check your pulse. In between, the Hispanics have a go at it which reminds me SO much of what I heard in Buenos Aires. The minister is right on the money and, like your wife, goes deep into the scripture and its application to our lives. No skating easy there. The place is packed each Sunday, over 140 people. I could use a few less Amen’s and hallelujahs, but the place is filled with God’s spirit. I can see prison drives people to believe and offers HOPE, something so many of their lives on the outside lack. Even in here. It can also offer a form of control which is missing, and forgiveness. I can see why you may struggle for men’s group attendance. One, there is so much to do they feel. Two, opening up may be hard. Here, people let it hang and are open in the church setting. Some carry it outside, some I see do anyway. I guess I am saying there seems to be more purpose for us here to do Bible/book study & things of that type. I have often thought lately that I should form a group for sexual offenders to meet and talk. The transition from inside to out is abrupt, and from my short time here I can imagine without some follow-up and guidance, same as with drugs, alcohol, etc. may just repeat. Believe me, I am not interested in EVER going back on line and will work NEVER to return here for ANY reason. However, the recidivism rate for S.O.’s, mainly Class 2 & 3 (I am class 1) is high I am told. That tells me something isn’t right and maybe should be changed. The State agrees with the former, so they 98% of the time simply keeping s.o.’s in jail longer that the minimum even though the results continue to show that DOESN’T work! (You know the definition of insanity right?!!) I am hoping I might help work to a better solution, although what that is right now is not clear. Suggestions welcome! Haha.
I will keep your men’s group in my thoughts & prayers. I guess this crisis definitely has illuminated what is and isn’t of importance more than ever, like any tragedy or death might do. Of course at the time, some people say and do things that fade after time while others make changes. We all know how difficult that can be for any of us.
For that matter, how do you get more men to even attend Sunday services? What is lacking? We have the best “preacher” in town – and I ‘m not saying this cause she’s your wife or because I was on the PNC. She has a gift and it’s odd to me why others do not attend more regularly. From here (my house) there is for too much going on in people’s lives, a lot of it bunk. I know and have probably shared with you my frustration of Sunday sports & practices. The family is not sacred to many families despite their verbal mantras that it is, lest changes have to be made….
I also talked with my son via phone last weekend. Needless to say we both cried a lot. I’m in hopes to hear more from him via mail.
I will be working in the Grievance office 6 hours/day starting next week, and maybe split it with 3 hours in Transitional Services for guys getting ready to leave. They do not have the S.O. program here that I need, so I know I will again be moved, probably in 6 months or more. Till then, I am keeping busy volunteering and thinking of ways to help guys like me in and out of prison. My first parole review comes up 12/08, so that is my goal.
I too have seen the human beings of which you speak. That is part of what makes this place SO bizarre. If they all snarled and gnashed their teeth or had tattoos (wait, most Do have tattoos!) it would be different. The place is like a dorm, with a TV & kitchen area like most colleges. (no microwave or fridge here. So to think of us as evil is difficult, even absurd. A counselor today said the system wants chaos within to keep the system going – it’s their (C.O.’s) livelihood. Without it, they wouldn’t have a job. Anyway, when you think about it and study it, which I do, it drives you crazy.
Take care. Peace and love to you both,
Van

STAYING FOCUSED

Okay, so this is my new normal. That’s what the counselors are saying and the pastor here is echoing. In other words, get used to it. They say I will get out (eventually) and have to stay focused to keep out of trouble and pass the time. If I give up or get off track, it will just add to the time and misery, they counsel, so stay in the game. Well, to some extent I have.

And not. I am in a four man room with the ‘lead’ man being Arthur, a lifer who’s been down 26 years. I cannot imagine going through that much in here with no real idea if or when I might ever get out. He seems to take it well, but then what is his alternative? He reads the Bible daily and I see him praying. He also snores, as does one other in the room which I am not used to as yet. Worse, he plays his radio all night. Yep, all night. It’s one thing to fall asleep to soft music, it’s another to wake up to it and not be able to get past it and fall back asleep. He has said he would turn it down but I hear no difference. A couple of times after he falls asleep and I lay there awake, I go turn it off while he snores. Ultimately in the morning when I roust for count it is usually back on. The pressure I feel being in this situation is mounting I feel. “Pressure bursts pipes” says Arthur. Sooner or later he is correct.

He has taken me to the Protestant worship on Sunday evening which is truly wonderful. There is singing, praying, sharing and a good message usually from the pastor. When the Spanish band takes over the music really gets you going. The messages seem to center around Jesus accepting us where we are and forgiving ourselves so we can move forward, a familiar theme it seems from those who have counseled me. Again, easier said than done. I want to believe that God has forgiven me, I just cannot forgive myself for all that I have done.

So church is wonderful, but it is not something that makes me feel ‘normal’ yet. It’s different from what I am used to, and while I get into it and loose myself for the time I am there, I don’t forget I am in prison. The only thing that truly does that for me is basketball.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to play my whole life and do it better than some but not as good as many. When I first got here, I immediately went to the outside court to play and shoot around. Surprisingly, no one else had checked a ball out and I found myself shooting alone many afternoons. I practiced many shots, ran like a crazy man full court and enjoyed myself for the almost hour I had there. One day it was even sprinkling as I did this but I was not deterred. Even the uneven concrete where grass grew up did not keep me from loosing myself in two on two or three on three when I was lucky enough to get games. At first they left me out, thinking what’s this old geezer doing out here. But once in, I was able to demonstrate some good reasons for picking me up earlier.

I also did something most did not do very well – pass the ball. But I did lose myself in those games, sorely hoping they would never end as it truly was something I knew and could get lost in. I may as well have been in any gym or outside courts I’ve played on because my mind kept me focused.

I was also fortunate enough to get put on a team in the summer league that was still going on when I arrived. It also turns out some guys were watching me from their windows as I played alone and word spread about an OT (old timer) who played and had a pretty good shot. The league is a trip too. Well, a literal trip as I rolled my knee running on that uneven concrete and am out for a couple of weeks with what I think is torn cartilage. Nevertheless, I so love the game it keeps me mentally away from the heartache I am living and gives me something to look forward to everyday. I shoot off to the side and am taking it easy right now, hoping to get back soon, and staying focused on being focused in the moment.

I went to the infirmary when it first happened and learned what most already knew. Don’t bother. A couple of ibuprofen is the treatment for just about everything in here. Just getting to the doc is difficult to accomplish, but we were luckier than many facilities as there is a hospital here with real doctors and nurses. In fact my roommate Arthur comes here three times a week for his dialysis, something he’d have to continue for the rest of his life it appears. (But he can’t get parole because he might abscond. Where would he go between dialysis appointments?)

But getting any type of wrap or knee brace is out of the question right now. Guess they think I’ll hide weapons in it. I can order one to be sent in but by the time it arrives I will be better anyway. I cannot have my wife send in one of the ones I have from previous tweaks as it has to be brand spanking new. So I’ll take it easy and see how it feels. At least that is the plan.

Reading can also keep my mind occupied. My work is easy and leaves a good deal of time for me to do other things, so getting lost in a good book helps. My grievance office is right next door to the library and I am getting to know the staff there pretty well too. Mostly non-fiction right now. Hey, I am living what I consider a fictional life, certainly unreal to me. Only new books can be sent in to us from the outside, so I’ll exhaust the library for now.

Whatever I do to pass the time never seems to make it go fast enough save the basketball games. Those 4 quarters pass so quickly I truly rue the final horn, win or lose. Concentrating for those 32 minutes really takes my mind off the figurative chains I have here. If you’ve never been involved seriously in some type of sports you may not comprehend what I mean.
So between work, church and basketball I am managing to survive in my Jumanji world by just staying focused on what I am doing.

Praise God!

THE DANCE FLOOR

How ever do I interpret what happens in here and what my “real” life was on the outside? As much of a toll that this train wreck has caused me I see some of the damage when my family comes to visit.
When at the maximum security facility, where you can have a visit at any time, I was drugged up much of the time that it wouldn’t have mattered if anyone came or not. As I was weaned off them I only had one visit, My pastor’s husband was in the area and scheduled a visit. It was good to see him though I honestly do not remember what we talked about and remember doing a great deal of crying. Just the whole visit procedure was scary. Escorted by a guard from my dorm down the maze of hallways to the visiting room. Strip searched going in to make sure we were not smuggling something out I guess. Then sit looking at the guard with legs fully under the table, hands resting on it at all times. Not knowing anything different, I made the mistake of initially sitting in the wrong spot and immediately was yelled at to move. Then the wonderful strip search with the mandatory bend and spread on your way out, the escort back to the dorm and resume “normal” life.
When I was moved to this medium facility it is much easier though maybe not for visitors. Only on weekends or holidays are visits scheduled, and then only as room allows. There is an outside courtyard with tables and chairs and real grass, mainly where the smokers go. Once I received the call from my dorm CO, I would make my way unescorted down the halls and outside walkway to the visiting room, or “dance floor” as inmates have for some reason dubbed it. The same preparatory procedure applies to the inmate as before when we prepare to see our loved ones.
I had to contain myself as I went down through the whole procedure and waited patiently to get in and see my family. During this time, I would attempt to prepare and “suck” up my emotions as others had told me to do so as not to have them think I was not being treated okay in here. They were also going through a very rough time without me and it was better, I was counseled, not to unload on them all that went on and all that was happening to me. So I “put on a happy face” and did my best which usually during this time wasn’t all that good. Kleenex were in short supply but required when people came to see me. Nothing was mentioned about fights or near misses or CO’s who unloaded on me or others close by.
Here I was in prison because I was pretending everything was all right in my world on the outside and it was seriously not. Now I am on the inside, again pretending everything is all right when it is not. How is that progress? I had felt such an unburdening when I confessed to God, clergy and counselors my crime and arrogant, self centered actions, freeing myself from the chains of the secret life I had led. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt the relief even in my chest.
Now I was again hiding from my family my true feelings, acting as if I was simply “away” from them for awhile, in what my daughter aptly named a Jumanji World, soon to return and wasn’t it great to see you again? We have to keep playing the “game” in order to get out. And like that story, we have to put up with all sorts of craziness along the way. What was wrong with this picture? Dare I tell them of the horrors I feel and had seen, how scared I often am or man’s inhumanity to man that I witness almost on a daily basis and have to look the other way? Or the grievances which I preside over that made my gut wrench because I know there must be some truth to them? After all, not all of the complaints against authority can be written off as bogus especially when the same CO’s names keep popping up. But I am not to get involved, not my job.
That certainly was not my nature. I was more like the good Samaritan who took pity on the downtrodden and helped those in need in whatever way I could. But in here I was another person, inmate 07AVW1651, not really myself. Would that ever change and I become a really free man? I am not all that good I admit at totally hiding my emotions down here in the dance floor though that too was at my own peril. Maybe that is how the name came to be, as everyone “dances” around issues with their visitors – as well as the guards who patrol there.
For you see, any weakness is sooner or later exploited in here by someone, inmate or guard. Inmates will cozy up and feign friendship to get something. Some threaten if you do not comply. Others use your weakness, showing fake compassion again in order to obtain something even if it is over the long haul. Others know far better than I that we will doubtfully ever see one another again so take all you can right now. Guards use it as a control measure and to keep us weak, especially against each other. It makes their job easier if we are fighting one another rather than turning our rage against them. Weakness displayed is like blood in the water to sharks. It attracts them and makes them a little crazy. That certainly is the case in here.
So I guess I let down too much at times, on the phone, in my bunk or on the dance floor. Heck, we could easily wash the floors with the water we shed when my family gets together. I try with limited success as did they, trying to hold it together, keep feelings in check, wear our masks and trudge onward. But the schlepping is difficult, for me and for them, so we talk of old times and what they have been doing and how I yearn to be out with them once again.
I do not have frequent visits because of the distance – about 5 hours from home– but I am grateful for what I get. My son is closer, about 2 hours. I was all ready last weekend for his planned visit, waiting for that call, in the dorm rec room looking out the windows as if I could will him there. Hurry son, before count or they shut off visits for about 45 minutes while the count is verified and no one has escaped.
Well, soon I reasoned, the train up may have been delayed or he had trouble getting through clearance to get in, often a lengthy process. I waited, waited and waited. I am still not used to waiting but am getting more and more used to it having to do that in here all the time. Was I going to have to write my own grievance because I could not see my son? I waited. Only one hour left but I would cherish any time with him. He was going to be traveling away soon and not be available for several months. So I waited till the end had come and gone and no trip down to the dance floor.
Late that night I was able to connect with him on his land line that he had installed just for me as we are not able to call cell phones. Turns out he lost his wallet on the train ride up and only realized it when in the taxi to the correctional facility. He had a harrowing experience, trying to figure things out and get home. Far worse than mine and the phone call gave him an outlet to express his anger, disappointment and hurt. I was hurting too but I masked it best I could.
I work at staying positive and looking at the bright side. For him I am sure it is difficult. It was for me too, but at least I didn’t have to fake it for him, strip twice for guards to peer at me and “dance” on the dance floor. Progress I guess.

GRIEVANCE

So everyday I headed down the half mile or more on the outside walkway to the building where programs were held and signed in at the grievance office. We, the three full time guys who worked there, were a very fortunate bunch I must say as we were pretty much on our own. And we actually had an old radio to play while we worked! We all enjoyed music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s too.

My job was to schedule grievance hearings, then preside over them. After running my own business outside, being a teacher and presiding over Chamber of Commerce, Board of Education and other Community meetings I thought this would be a breeze and not that much different. Well, it was something different.

This procedure and department came about over the years after word got out that abuse was rampant inside and something had to be done. Similarly the inmate Law Library was started after the Attica Riots so jurisprudence was readily available to those inside as well as outside. We even had a Sergeant stationed right in our offices although he wasn’t always there.
The two other inmates were basically advocates for the abused and researched the grievance to see if it had merit. Sometimes it was already resolved, like a missing package or lost item. Many times the accuser was “indisposed”, in the box (solitary confinement) and would be unable to attend the grievance hearing. Part of my job was to preside over the grievance hearing, read the grievance and get the inmate’s side of the story. Although I had no vote on any outcome and tried to make that clear at each hearing, guys looked to me, I found out, as determining the outcome.
I also had to take hearing notes, type them up and then file each one to be kept for a number of years in case something happened down the road or a similar case came up. I took it upon myself to make up forms to use for various functions rather than recreate them by hand each time. Since I was a fast typist, the director gave me additional work to do in my spare time. We only had typewriters there and I told her of how computers would really streamline the process, but to no avail. At least I had something to do and didn’t get bored.

The hearings were held twice a week so I actually had a good deal of spare time. During those moments, especially when the head was gone, we inmates would work on personal things and helping others. One project one of the other grievance guys came up with was called Straight Talk and was a place and time inmates could come together to grieve and grumble amongst themselves only. I joined this effort as well as typing letters for myself and others. I even managed to do a mock up brochure he could take to the program committee to try and get backing to make it happen.

At the hearings, the Sergeant, the two inmate reps and a rotating member of the facility faculty sat in. Many times, especially at first, the head grievance lady came in though I later found out that was really against the rules. I would begin the meeting addressing why we were there and that the decision of the board would be binding. Decisions were by a majority vote of those present other than me. I then would read the grievance and ask for any additional comments or corrections from the inmate bringing it. He could have testimony from others if deemed pertinent, just as in a court of law on the outside. When he felt his case was fully voiced, he was dismissed and the panel discussed and voted on the outcome. Later I would have to type the results and make copies for the inmate as well as a couple of records for the state. It was during this copying time we inserted some of our personal work we wanted copied, projects we were working on. Ms. Stone, the civilian who headed grievance would look the other way at those times.

As with any legal system, there were certain “frequent fliers” who seemed to file grievance after grievance though sometimes with good cause. After a while you maybe begin to believe this particular inmate was targeted by certain CO’s who’s names kept popping up. I personally could attest to that and I had to give the inmate reps a great deal of credit for holding back sometimes when they knew more than they could share, especially with a Sergeant present.

Again, this was all foreign to me. At times I thought I was on a set of some dark movie hearing some of the things that were brought up. There was nothing “normal” about many of the cases and certainly nothing normal about the outcome. I don’t know what percentage but a majority went in favor of the state regardless of his testimony or of others. I learned first hand how the “system” was run and maintained, hearing such platitudes as “if we find for him on this, we open the doors for ….” or “what good would it do if he won” or “I don’t see how he could be telling the truth, you know how inmates lie” and numerous others.

What happened to the truth? So my world, already turned upside down by so much of what went on in here was further set in turmoil. When the Sergeant pulled me aside once after one controversial and lengthy case didn’t go well and asked if I wanted an escort back to my dorm I knew things weren’t okay. Not knowing any better but going with my gut that such an escort would heighten the tension, I declined. He then cautioned me not to travel in secluded stairwells where there were no cameras or in the yard, etc. What had I gotten myself into? I just wanted to go to work, keep busy and do my time so I could get out and not get shived (stabbed) because of something totally out of my control. A job in Transitional Services or even a porter gig didn’t look so bad right about now.

This nightmare inside corrections couldn’t get over quick enough, radio or no.

GETTING A JOB

It is difficult when on my own inside corrections. To put it mildly, I don’t know what I don’t know, so I don’t know. Strange sounds, smells, people. I will probably never see anybody from in here again once I leave – if I ever do. Oh, I feel better about that now than I did though it still feels such a long way off – two years till my parole hearing and then it is up to a three panel board. I do see guys leaving for other facilities and hear of some going home. Mostly this place seems like a wait station for other places rather than a jumping off spot for home.
I try to get my head around this new normal but it is so strange. I think I can tolerate it without my meds, then I get a visit from wife, son or other family and friends and that seems normal, even though the “dance floor” as the visiting room is dubbed doesn’t seem like the greatest place for it. At least here we can go outside to a courtyard and sit at picnic tables or on the ground which also feels more “normal”.
But I find myself actually pretending to be normal, that things are okay and will be fine when I know they aren’t and never will be again. The guilt and shame still hover even though I feel the hope of Jesus. I have to be honest and say that hope is for the future – especially after I die when I’ll see my maker face to face. The right now doesn’t seem to have a great deal of hope in it.
I get up for count, go en mass to breakfast, wait in line and sit with my dorm, then return and prepare for going to my morning activity, which is work for me. We go to out at around 8:00. If you are not in vocational training program or education, everyone has a job to attend even if it is only a “porter” position – custodian of some area. Since I was educated and didn’t need school and didn’t qualify for trade school because of my college education, the counselors suggested when I arrived and was housed in the reception dorm that I apply to Transitional Services, the school, or grievance departments for a job where they might use my talents. Since I have an education degree and taught high school for seven years I immediately applied as a teacher’s aide. (By the way, I found out that less than two percent of the over 60,000 inmates in here were college educated.) I heard right back and was interviewed, but I think I scared the lady with my credentials or something as I got the distinct impression she did not want me around. Or maybe it was my crime. Whatever, I never heard from her again despite my notes to the department.
My letter to the Transitional Services department also received an immediate response. When inmates interviewed me, they really wanted me aboard but there were presently no openings. They said they made the decision not the civilian counselors so hang tight and something should open up soon as guys were being transferred all the time. That job, helping guys transition in and then out of prison sounded very interesting as well as the courses offered while doing their bids appealed to me. But alas, nothing seemed to develop. You only are in the reception dorm for about a week and need to get something going and not just stay in the pool of porters that filed daily down to take care of general clean-ups throughout the main areas – mess hall, hallways, etc. where dorm porters did not go.
My letter to grievance also received an immediate response but I put that third on my mental list not really knowing what it was all about. I knew what grievances were but not in the context of prison and how they would get resolved. The head lady repeatedly called and I finally sat with her for an interview. She wanted to hire me on the spot. When I said I was waiting to hear back from Transitional Services and the Education Departments she said they may not hire “someone like me” which I took to mean with my crime history. When she called reception a day later and asked me to at least fill in till I heard, I gladly accepted if only to get out of mopping floors for a real jerk of a CO.
During your reception stay at this facility you file every morning down for work cleaning that building. You stand in line and get your orders for your work that morning. Usually it is nothing strenuous but definitely needed to maintain such a large facility. The CO in charge after a couple of days seeing me and sending his favorite inmates to spy on me and my work called me in to ask my crime and why I was there. I was concerned when he invited a fellow CO in his makeshift office that we were going to go around like my previous “dance” with officers who didn’t like me or my crime. He asked what I was in for and said he would find out anyway and it was better that I tell him now. Having been cautioned about discussing such things previously from counselors I debated quickly what I would say. I finally told him the truth and was sent on my way. No beating, no harassment, I thought it was over.
Two days later after having been sent to grievance to work, I was hoping never to see him again. However he also was a lunch monitor and when I went through the line, he yelled out “Hey I know what you did, I know who you are” which, to put it mildly, caused me great unrest. Everyone in earshot heard which could be a dangerous thing. Did that mean another beating as before? It turned out he was buddies with the main CO of the reception dorm and joined him as he prepared breakfast there. All of us could smell the fresh bacon and eggs being prepared and glanced at the parade of men coming to devour them before they themselves went off to their post. That CO again accosted me and said he knew why I was in there and I’d better watch out. I was so glad to be transferred out to another dorm and my grievance job that same day. Thank you Jesus!
The reason I was wanted in the grievance office was because I had an education and the job required a bit of that. The previous fellow had been there two years and had done a good job at his work as well as courting a particular female CO. When caught in the back stairwell in a compromising position, he was immediately sent to the box at another facility and she was transferred to another parish, er sorry, prison. So the opening was to head up all the grievances that come in at the prison, from CO abuse to missing packages to inmate problems of all sorts. To say I learned a great deal about the system in a short amount of time would be an understatement. But more on that later.

PASSING THE TIME

You might ask what do we do all day. So often in here one can simply be drawn into their own world and not interact with others. Thinking or daydreaming is always available.
Some pass the time by sleeping all the time, or acting like they are. Now I can understand that as no one bothers you, save the CO’s when it’s count time. (yeah, they count us 4 times a day to make sure we are all here – that despite the double perimeter 15’ high fences, sensors, cameras and constant patrols around the outside) Then it’s back to bed many times with a blanket, sheet or coat pulled up around their head, a sure DO NOT DISTURB sign. It is easier to do all that, even when not sleeping, than to answer a stream of questions or make small talk with someone you do not know and probably do not want to know and will most likely never see again after you leave.
Others hide by reading. Even trashy novels seem better to them than conversation with real characters – and there are sure real characters in here!! Again, it passes the time, and depending on how long your bid is, can expedite its ending. When not into the books they are pursuing new ones at the library, which also serves as a genuine destination and can make you feel almost “normal” because it is similar to any such facility anywhere in the country – periodicals, books of all kinds, even computers to use for looking up selections.
Some are tubers – constantly watching television, depending of course, on which facility you are in and what the dorm rules are for having the idiot box turned on. Most have certain hours for viewing, and then it’s consciences’ viewing. Of course to most guys in here, the what is not so much a concern as to something that can take their mind off their surroundings and away from here.
I’ve seen others in constant litigation, against a) the system, b) their charge c) some perceived (or actual) slight done to them either before or during their day here, or d) a combination of any of the above. They become “legal eagles” even if only in their own eyes, walking authorities on Article 73’s or Habeas Corpus or 440’s or whatever, spending every waking hour in the Law Library, if they do not already work there. (called ‘frequent fliers’ by the law library workers) Nothing against these types of folks, as much has changed in here for the better because of some of their findings. It just is another time passer for those particular individuals.
Some are physical fitness junkies, whether basketball, running, or weight lifting in the gym or omnipresent weight pits. It seems to occupy every waking moment so that they are either doing it, planning it, talking about it, watching it or getting ready to do it yet again or coming down from it. Some really have something to show for it, with muscles on muscles. I wonder what will happen to these gentlemen when they get out.
Now do not get me wrong , I am not judging but simply reporting some various diversions of those here inside. There are others – the suck-ups, the isolationists, or ones bordering on real or feigned mental instability – that I have witnessed in one form or another. Me? I mix a variety of many, but am quite focused on staying focused on Christ, putting Him first so that when I get out I’ll have a template to follow in my daily life. Maybe I can lead by example, though that is not why I do it. Jesus is my role model and it is important to me to follow the many examples He gave to me through His life deeds and word. To date I have a long road ahead of me to emulate The Master.
I was not always this way, definitely not before entering here. Oh I claimed the Lord and worshiped Him, especially on Sundays. I acted as a Christian most of the time, especially when someone was looking. Was I always filled with love for my fellow man? Hardly. Did I return anger with anger? Absolutely. I sure did not want someone getting the better of me or “one upping” me, eh? I guess I was like so many others that talk a good game, especially on Sundays, but then forget my walk much of the week. I also let the liberal media and viewpoint taint my ideas on what is acceptable and would be pleasing to my Lord. As my friend’s song says, “On Sunday I was shouting for revival, but on Monday could not find my Bible.” Basically I was a fair weather religious person, lukewarm, or a smorgasboarder – picking and choosing what I wanted to believe and do depending on my mood and attitude, not on His word.
So now I read and study the Bible to ensure I know what is wanted by Jesus. I attend studies and discussions of it many times a week which really ingrains it in me and reminds me I am not alone. That one book – the constant best seller every year and of all times – offers great examples of what to do when happy, sad, hurt, tempted, humiliated, sinning, giving and everything in-between. Where? Everywhere. I am finding references now for what I believe. It definitely is Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth.
In fact when I return, get out of corrections, though I will never be free of the need of inside corrections, one of the many plans I have is to make a line of greeting cards with specific verses and references on them for such occasions – when you are feeling left out, overwhelmed, down and out, or grieved in some way for example. So you’ll have to watch for those “spirit cards” as I think I call them to come to a store near you – or maybe an e-store by then. But I digress.
Or maybe I don’t. Anything that keeps me on track on my path to follow my friend Jesus is putting me right where I am supposed to be. I’ve had to make several inside corrections, a shift from my self-centered and arrogant ways and away from the direction in which I was headed. It is no wonder I had a train wreck. (and everyone loves to look at a train wreck, just not get involved or too close to one) Now my direction is clear, and hope is alive. And that is such a change from a couple of months ago.
Hallelujah!!

ON THE MOVE

So, finally the day comes when they tell me to pack it up. “25 out” the CO calls. When I report up to the bubble – the thick walled room that houses the CO on duty behind bullet proof glass – I am told I am on the draft. That’s prison lingo for ‘you’re moving’. She tells me to pack it up and be ready.
I am excited. I am not sure why because it is not like I am going home or anything, not even a visit, just moving. While the move here from county seems so long ago and fuzzy, I am quite excited to get out of this single room. I am not sure what to expect or where I am going, but I can easily pack my belongings in the one white mesh sack they provide as I do not have very much stuff. The little commissary I could afford easily fits on top of my state issue clothes and my Bible, the only thing they let you carry with you that you came in with and which they will not take away. I was counseled early on to write my addresses in the back so I would always have them with me.
So I am ready, let’s go. But in here, it is the old hurry up and wait. I still do not have that down, the waiting thing. Nothing is fast and everything involves waiting.
So I wait. It is lunch time and I go but I still wait. Evening comes with dinner and I still wait. Then I am called out and am led through a different maze to a room that looks familiar as it is the room we came into when arriving. I shivered at the sergeants door but fortunately was not called in though he was there glaring at anyone who passed. There were two other guys with their sacks also going somewhere. After the obligatory search of our property – what, I am sneaking something out that wasn’t mine? – and the shackling, not to anyone else this time, we are led to a van for transport to our new home.
The reason it is so late when we go and it’s a small van told the more experienced guys with me we were not going far. Turns out it was almost across the street to a medium B facility next to a female medium facility. Now there would be 15’ high fence with barbed wire on top with another similar but a tad lower fence 15 or 20 feet inside it as opposed to the 20 foot barb wired topped concrete walls of reception. There were cameras all around on the poles in between and sensors on the ground. Not likely anyone would make it through or around all that and get away.
Reception was one at a time and we waited in a large room once again joined by a couple of guys from another facility. Other inmates helped take our stuff to the inspection area where a CO roughly went through it before telling me to follow him upstairs to the reception dorm.
I was assigned a room with another guy, fortunately a single bed. There was a small locker for my stuff and I was in my new temporary home. Soon there was count, then rec time in an open area where most guys just milled around. There is an old television with a very bad quality picture showing Wheel of Fortune. Even the episode looks like a rerun and probably is because everything else in here is old.
I was told some of the things I could look forward to in the coming days most of which had to do with getting familiar with the facility. I was told I would get five free letters per week with the state providing the paper, envelopes and stamps. Hallelujah!! The excitement of this news refuels me and I start my writing. I have to be careful to put on a happy face in my letters as counselors and others have told me I have caused enough heartache and pain so not to burden family with more in my epistles. Makes sense I guess, so the game begins anew.
I will go though orientation prior to finding out my new work and schedules but know that for the first week I will be attending meetings most of every day. Beats sitting in a solitary cell. At least I am with other guys though none seem too friendly at this juncture. I hope I will sleep tonight as my head is still swirling with all the new around me. Much to look forward to and as well as much to fear.