THE STORE

So, I guess it doesn’t take much to derail me from being the true follower I desire to be. Since moving in the four man room I had become comfortable with life inside corrections to the point of taking advantage of my situation, just as I had on the outside prior to my offense. In other words, I was right back where I started. Now that I think about it, it sounds just like the abuse cycle we have been studying in our course work. Pretend to be normal, build up, act out, justification, repeat. I was in the first phase. Will I ever learn?

So I have been blessed many times over, especially compared to many or even most in here. With the sale of my business on the outside, I have been able to keep my daughter in college and my wife in our huge house. She even has enough to send a small amount monthly to my account so I can have a full buy at commissary every two weeks. That is more than many guys as some do not even have enough to purchase anything more than ramen soup or peanut butter. The State keeps the prices real low, supposedly at their cost, to help inmates who have very little. We do receive .15 per hour for our course work per week, figured on 30 hours, the normal work week. But that is only $ 4.50 a week. Even when ramen cost .15 each, it doesn’t allow much wiggle room, especially for smokers. Thank goodness the mess hall allows you to take out up to four slices of bread. But that is all, nothing else.

It seems some people go through their food supply before they can resupply. Their “eyes are bigger than their belly” as my dad always used too say. In actuality I have noticed very little impulse control evidenced. I have a feeling that is why we all are in here, no impulse control.

Now to the build up phase. At various times guys would wander down to the end of the hall and inquire if anyone had such and such to eat. So, being the entrepreneurial type guy I am and was on the outside, I decided to satisfy their cravings when I could. At first I joked they would have to pay me back double, as I too wanted those cookies or chips or tobacco (I don’t smoke but use for trade) or whatever. Two for one, no matter what it was. However, it became such a ritual for some that I planned my shopping around things I could “sell”, my acting out phase. This simply added to my stash to double again. Not a bad deal for me, and guys knew if they had to come all the way down to the end of the hall to get their fix on things, it would cost them. I didn’t even have to tell them, they just knew. If they wanted it that bad, they would have to pay the price. Maybe they would then learn. Yep, the justification phase.

Then I was nudged, something I couldn’t really put my finger on, but something told me I was not being the disciple I thought I was. One night while laying in repose just before sleep, I couldn’t shake the notion I was to stop my store. Was I being a good follower or just mouthing it on Sundays and at Bible Studies? Was my fruit what Christ would have wanted from someone sprouting off Him, with Him being the vine and me being one of his branches? Obviously not. I felt convicted and couldn’t sleep. I resolved to end the charade and make amends, repay much like the tax collector vowed to Jesus when confronted with his sin of overcharging his constituents in the gospels (Luke 19 v8)

It was truly amazing the first time someone came to do business and found me giving out stuff. Of course, then the flood gates were opened. I think they thought I was being a patsy, but I explained my motivation for those who would listen. Some did, many wondered and all were grateful at their new found fortune. The best thing was I was also blessed Seeing the look on some of their faces the first time it happened was priceless. Of course I then began looking at any thing else in my life where I was pushing the limits or thought of only myself, just as I had done on the outside.

What I came up with was my taking sugar out of the mess hall. Yes, stealing, one of the ten commandments we are not to do. As usual, I justified it as fodder to trade for items I liked or could use, whether from the mess hall or from packages. There were many coffee drinkers who were put out when I informed them I was out of the stealing business, something that went against my faith. I am sure some wondered why it took me so long to come to that conclusion – I did. Most were just pissed, saddened they had to find another source or go without, only thinking of themselves, just as I had been doing. But right was right and I had been so wrong, again being a smorgasborder of the faith when it worked for me.

How would I ever be an example for others inside or outside corrections when I had hidden sin? Since I had learned that all sin carries the same weight, one is no worse than another, it really didn’t matter which commandment I violated, because if I broke one, I desecrated them all. The ground is level at the cross,our Bible study leaders would admonish us, with all sinners being equally wrong in our transgressions before the Holy One. The only thing to do was repent and turn away from our wrongdoing. That is what I did, and it felt great, even better than knowing I was getting the finer end of the two for one deal. Now my customers would have that elation when they left, and I knew I was back on the road to recovery, and I could look everyone in the eye, knowing I was a better disciple for my efforts. Time to get off the abuse cycle.

I wanted to continue examining my behaviors for such transgressions, something I had not really done before, certainly not on the outside. There I was all about me and what others could do for me or my business, what I could get in return. It is amazing it had not caught up to me before this, but the Lord had other plans for me I believe. I do not think it would have stuck with me out there, not have made the impression it did inside corrections, seeing their faces and knowing I had helped someone with such a simple thing as say, giving a bag of chips.

It also returned me to my original mantra adopted after being arrested and coming to my senses: no more secrets. I wanted to be an open book, practice what I preached and continue to be so when I was on the outside after being paroled next year. What a better place to practice than with my fellow inmates who only thought about the here and now. I had not been careful and had fallen in the same thinking pattern as them when I am called, as a follower of Christ, to be better than that. It is a continual legacy we are leaving my favorite Bible teacher had said. “Bringing every thought captive” Saint Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10 v5. I couldn’t live with one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom of God. It just doesn’t work that way. I needed to be aware and not fall into being content or thinking I was doing alright because I was going to church and all that.

Keeping Christ with me at all times of the day and night, both feet in His kingdom, was something I found helped. If He was with me, would I really do what I was doing or saying? That was a powerful thought that began to serve me well. Otherwise I would not be able to help others avoid my pitfalls. I needed to take the plank out of my own eye before I could help my brother take the speck out of his as Mathew says in 7 v5.

So the store was closed, but my heart was opened.

A DECENT GUY

The new normal is getting old, just as it seemed to on the outside. Program, rec, sleep, repeat. Guys getting busted for porn or other infractions with free trips to the box. Repeat. Our Structure meetings on Friday afternoons do break up the program monotony as we seem to be repeating some of the earlier learned material. We go over it again because new guys are coming in to fill the vacancies left by those exiting to the box or going home.

To that end we have a decent new guy in our four man room, a Christian who I can share with and discuss many relevant issues, a big relief. He is older than most but not quite up to me. Guess I am one of the older offenders, one who never learned how to deal with his emotions early in life to avert this train wreck.

The ISOP basketball tournament is history, with us coming in second place. I thought I played well, but there were not really many ballers on the team. When I subbed out, it became more of a disaster, with guys running around not knowing what they were doing. I know more practice would have helped, but that is water over the dam right now. At least I made a good showing and that has seemed to cement my good standing with other inmates and CO’s alike. Hey, anything that helps my stay here is beneficial.
Even the new assistant superintendent took notice, though that is probably because he is from my hometown. He is a decent guy, and when I first heard his name I didn’t put two and two together, as he was a few years behind me in school. He had many brothers and one sister who was in my grade, so I am sure he knew my name. It truly was embarrassing, and I wondered if he was talking back home about my fall from grace. Only a couple of years prior to my coming inside I played on a high school alumni team with two of his brothers and a couple of cousins, winning the MVP T-shirt in a victory over other alumni. Now, here I was playing in prison for what, ISOP glory?

The summer basketball leagues are starting soon, and I am thinking of playing on a under 40 team, as I have played with many of those guys at rec and know I can stay with them. Maybe that will help with the new/old routines, The over 40 team will be guys I have met and know, not the same Muslim team of before. I wasn’t asked and their coach has left, so I felt is was time to move on. It will be interesting playing outside with new guys.

Also of note was the little excursion I took one Saturday night from the gymnasium. I went down to play, having lifted the night before and really wanting to run and play basketball, but there were not too many guys around. (maybe they had dates?) So I ended up playing with younger guys who really did not have great skills in basketball shall we say. Well, I payed the price, catching an elbow from one as he wildly tried to block my shot. Immediately I knew something was wrong when I felt something running down my cheek.

Sure enough, he had split open my left eyelid, right above my eye, the place boxers often get cut. The regular CO’s there who had seen me dozens of time just shook their heads and were angry, mainly because they had to do paperwork. Over the next few hours I had to repeat telling how it happened at least a dozen times. Other than the gym CO’s, everyone thought I was in a fight. The regulars had seen me play so often, even in the tournament, they attested it was just “an old guy doing his thing, which he shouldn’t have been doing, getting what he deserved.” Yes they said that. Then the sergeant quizzed me, then the infirmary personnel, the CO’s who volunteered to drive me to the hospital (as the infirmary did not have qualified personnel to stitch me up properly) and the nurses at the hospital. Long story short, it took roughly five hours for me to return with seven stitches. The two CO’s who transported me and ‘guarded’ me at the hospital were discussing if they should take me back before their shift ended at 11:00 or get some overtime and wait, as if they could control it. I just stayed on a bed, waiting to get someone to examine me and hopefully get me some ice, which I had requested when I first got there but never did receive. It was just another showing of how inmates don’t rate, inside or out.

Once back at Mid-State, a new CO on the night shift, one I didn’t know, drove me back up to my dorm. He must have known I liked to play as he cautioned me, not yelling or even talking down to me, that even though I was a good player, to save it for the outside, do my bid and leave whole, as these guys are animals in here and could hurt me worse that I got. I was a little surprised at that as I truly thought my injury was an accident, but I got the sense he knew what he was talking about. Then he drove me up to the sex offender dorm, not a coveted place to live, but again no judgment on his part. Heck, he even had me ride up front in the van, something I never saw anyone do before. Usually inmates ride in back behind the wire mesh grating. Quite a change from my interaction at Fishkill when I received a little scrape during summer league play there.

I was just coming off the outdoor court after a win and headed back to the dorm when a CO in the bubble called me over. Thinking I was in some sort of trouble I went in. He greeted me with “nice game”, then asked where I received the cut on my forehead. I didn’t even know I had one. I joked I must have hit it on the rim and kind of touched his arm jokingly and he smiled. It didn’t last long as his sergeant had come up at the end of our talk and saw me touch him. Immediately the CO turned away from me and concentrated on his paperwork documenting my injury while the sergeant lit into me with the “who do you think you are” routine, threatening me with striking an officer and being out of line and many other things I don’t remember, ending with I don’t ever want to see your face in here again.
My head had immediately gone down as did my spirits from the good game. He wouldn’t let me look at him anyway and told me so. After conferring with the CO, he finally gave me a pass to go back to my dorm as movement had ended before his tirade did. As I left, I saw part of the reason he was showboating, a rookie female officer was tagging along behind him.

So when this Mid-State officer took time to consul me, it felt ‘normal’, as one older guy to another. It truly was amazing, after so much of the abuse I had witnessed between inmates or inmates and CO’s. There are actually caring people inside corrections, real ones, decent ones, and I had just met one.

ON HIS PATH

Things have been going fairly well, with the program work humming along, life in the dorm tolerable, and as I get used to this new normal, life inside corrections passes fairly quickly and easily. It is difficult to explain that last idea, as being in here is not my number one thing to do, but it is showing me so many things I need to work on, namely myself and making the time pass. It used to seem to drag until I got into the ISOP.

The work continually humbles me, showing me what a prideful man I am and was when I committed my IO. No hiding that fact. I was thinking only about me and my well being, not looking at the big picture of my life and family, least of all my Maker. Here, I have not only the time to do that looking, but help in doing so by way of the counselors. The homework assigned as well as that we cover in class points us to answers for a better me. All I need to do is continue to train in such a way as to put others before me. After all, that is just what Jesus lived and taught and wants us to do as well, hence the acronym JOY – Jesus, Others, Yourself. Oh that others in here might do the same, but then that is their problem, though it affects me with their shenanigans.

Fortunately I was moved not too long ago to a four man room down the end of the hallway. It is great as no one just walks down here (usually) because there is no exit past our room, so they have to have a reason to venture down here making our room a bit safer, and hence, us. My roomies are pretty low key guys, no drama, with one going home next month. I enjoy conversations with a couple of them, though it is usually surface type discussions, nothing too deep. I’ve tried to bring up my beliefs and feelings about finding hope in Jesus as a guiding light in my life, but they seem to echo many others in telling me they are happy it works for me, but it isn’t for them. I later think I need to tell them I didn’t work with an ‘it’ but rather a who, Jesus, and maybe that would help them if they tried that instead of an it. But they wave me off before I can get any traction, so for now I let it slide. At least they know where I stand and aren’t sneaking up on me at night or causing any problems by day.

The league basketball is over for me right now, and we are actually getting ready for a ISOP tournament where dorms play other ISOP dorms for the ‘delight’ of all program guys. It is a mandatory event, something that is supposed to foster team building and camaraderie amongst all, hence all must participate in some way, on the court or in the stands. My league play kept me in great shape for this, as most of the other guys are a bit lacking in physical endurance. Fortunately we have numbers on our side, many guys. We have had practice a little during evening rec, but some chose not to do so as they would rather go to the yard where they can smoke than give that up to practice. I don’t hold much hope unless the other dorms face the same dilemma. Time will tell as we have till the middle of next week to form a cohesive unit. Unfortunately I am the tallest, so that makes me their center.

I do not mind playing that position, but that usually means you play with your back to the basket. I spent a great deal of time in high school, college and after perfecting facing the basket moves, but after a little practice it comes back. I had to do both on my league team, as the center we had often was in foul trouble. That team had played together at least two years and had never made the playoffs before I showed up, so all of us were pleased to make it to the semi-finals. I was surprised, by that time in the schedule, to find so many who were still out of shape. Of course the most common suspect was smoking. I have always prided myself on endurance and was rewarded with usually playing the whole 40 minutes, often because no one else was willing to go hard, or couldn’t, for the entire game. Regardless, we all seemed to part friends despite our religious differences.

So now I use my evening time for recreational basketball, working out, or attending my Bible studies. My days are filled with program work, my evenings are filled with those activities, so time seems to fly by quickly, with Friday coming too quickly. I say that because it seems to drag on the weekend, mainly because of no schedule. That is why I dislike weekends, quite the opposite of being on the outside I must say.

Unless I know I will have a visit, I have nothing to look forward to and often spend Saturday afternoon in the yard walking the dirt track mindlessly thinking of things to mentally escape. A couple of times on either weekend day I have been called to the yard CO shack to be notified I have a visit. Those are the surprise ones, friends I didn’t know were going to bless me, as I usually know when my wife or brother are coming and hang around in the dorm. Sundays after church is also a drag, even more so as most do not like to go out Sunday evening, probably because they want to rest up for Monday. With over 1200 guys here you’d think someone would want to do something besides watch television or smoke in the yard. Guess the latter is why I can stock up on good food and treats from the mess hall.

I still trade rollies for food, usually the rare fruit – apples, oranges or bananas, heck even prunes though most guys give me all of those I want for free – and even the ¼ chicken we get on occasion, usually twice a month. I also try to trade with guys getting packages, as when their own smokes run out I am a good source for their addiction and they are more than willing to trade away even a coffee cake or chocolate dixie cup of ice cream to satisfy their needs. After all, I am still trying to gain back some of the 25 pounds I  lost since first arriving.

I must say also, my spiritual work has helped my mental state a great deal. I now have that hope in Christ that offers eternal life in Him, far more than the freedom on earth provides. Sometimes, when in repose, I think about my new beliefs and scriptures will pop in my head, usually relaxing me and helping me know He is with me, such a wonderful feeling I must say. To think I am on the right path makes it all the more rewarding, and also helps the time go by as I work toward that payday of parole release next year. It is also quite humbling,something I need, to know the Maker of heaven and earth not only thinks of me, but forgives me even when I cannot.

While my wife is non-committal on everything right now, I think it is partly because we do not know what will really happen next spring and can only hope. I know what I would like to happen and know it will take a good deal of work on both our parts to put our marriage back together again. Rebuilding that broken trust will take time, the same time that is flying by now, and a continued effort to remain on His straight and narrow path. As the Scriptures say in Matthew 7 v 13-14, …”..for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” My goal is clear, to stay on His path.

TRAIN ON

Limping along, I continue to train in His ways, learning a myriad number of corrections that need to be made along the way, from the program, institution as well as on the court. I am thankful He is patient, or a term the Bible uses I like better in this case, long suffering. I picture God waiting patiently for me to return to Him, much like the prodigal son, and suffering because I am so slow to learn and don’t quickly get the point, even often for a long time. I know I must follow this path if I want to get through this program and make my first board next March. Not easy, and there are many naysayers, but that is the goal I am working towards.

I am learning new things daily from the counselors in the program. Cycles of behavior, things to look for and things to avoid to prevent re-offending. Often it is basic information presented in a way that makes us look at ourselves in a different light, even from our victim’s point of view. Of course each counselor is different in their discussing these things and leading us to a clearer vision. And while we are to focus on ourselves and not others, certain findings have affected our trust level of those instructing us.

For example, the lone male adviser had a wife and three young children we found out. Yet he decided to leave them and take up with someone he spent more time with: a younger, single female counselor in our program. And have a baby with her. Yet they are qualified, in the DOCS system, to instruct us on appropriate conduct, offender free actions, and owing our behaviors. Many discussed their hypocrisy rather than program material, and I could understand their point. The old ‘do as I say not as I do’ mentality does not sit well with many of my program mates. It was a hot topic back in the dorm most days. It was also why little respect is often shown them in class as well as during the Friday in-dorm program meetings, with side conversations, ridicule and sarcasm abounding.

It seems that type of inexcusable behavior is normal inside corrections with the CO’s as well. Tales of guards getting caught having oral sex performed on them by counselors or staff are well documented and even esteemed by some. I knew some indiscretions occurred as I had found back at Fishkill when I replaced the grievance clerk because of his affairs with a female officer. So nothing surprises me anymore, especially when I see CO’s show favoritism and rule breaking allowances toward some and harshness and even cruelty to others. I know the hierarchy and respect them even when they don’t deserve it, as that is what the Bible teaches in many places and forms, respecting those in authority. I have learned so much more about such things after my many Bible studies which delve into these topics. Oh that the CO’s would read and understood them as well. Not easy to always follow, but necessary, else chaos would rule. (although it seems it already does)

I am actually blessed in the supervision department as well as the CO who oversaw the call-out office where I worked those first few weeks here was a decent guy who actually liked me I thought,or at least was civil and treated me like a person and not just an inmate or number as so many do. In ISOP, there are the same regular officers most days. The other day one called me aside and asked me where I got that good jump shot he had heard about. I said something about God giving me a talent, but he said he and others had heard about it. I had never seen him before the program, so I knew they had their communication network just like the inmates did. Fortunately it was for good and not for evil. It seemed to me he backed off me after that, not giving much mind.

On the court, I also learned there were certain unwritten rules. The inmate referees had their own axes to grind I found, and used the opportunity to express themselves, shall we say, to their advantage. I continue to keep my head down and don’t comment to others – ref’s, CO’s or counselor by the way – about their behavior. But on the court, grudges seemed to be held. Maybe because I was in a sex offender dorm and program. Maybe because I was white and over 50% of the inmates in the DOCS State facilities were black. Maybe because we were winning and beating their friend’s team. Maybe a thousand other reasons. That is why I was ecstatic to find out civilians were officiating the playoffs which we were now in.

Daily life presents constant opportunities for me to show my new found faith – and way of being. As Rick Warren says in the first sentence of his book Purpose Driven Life, it is not about me. Since first reading that book I have attempted and trained to make that evident, though I seem to count the failures more than the successes. I just finished reading that book, having taken it out on loan from the Prison Fellowship meetings I had just started attending. In the program, I contribute but keep my mouth shut when I, in the past, would have made sarcastic remarks in the guise of being funny. Or in the dorm, keep my mouth shut when I could gloat or brag about my accomplishments of the past, or even of my work inside. After all, I reasoned, the only reason I was safe and hadn’t been beat up like other sex offenders was because of God’s protection, not of my own doing. I really had no other explanation. It definitely is not about me I had to remember.

So I feel if I can do the corrections in here, I can do them anywhere. Train, train, train. Once again, practice makes progress, not perfection.

TRAIN, NOT TRY

How exactly DO you change your thoughts to align with our Maker and trust Him exclusively? How DOES one acknowledge HIM in all ways in everyday terms? This is my challenge, and I have the time now to practice and train to get it right.

First of all, I know I have to train to do this as it is not something that comes naturally to me. After all, we are all sinners and want to be our own god, lord over our own lives. I cannot just try to do well, as to me that implies I attempt something, give it a shot, but try gives me an out if I might fail. It is so weak a word, has so many variables to the outcome that I know I must do better. If I train, then I know I can improve. It’s just like any sport I have participated in, practice makes progress as my wife liked to say. If you want to get better at any aspect of basketball, say, you practice it and train with the proper coaching to achieve success. You don’t try to get better, you train. Olympic athletes don’t just try to win a gold medal, they train. Doctors, lawyers anyone wanting to do a better job at anything must train in their various fields to improve, not merely try.

Also, with training, the idea of failure is viewed differently. Every time you do not reach your goal – don’t win the game, fail to medal in the Olympics, not save the person from drowning, whatever – you learn something that will serve you next time. When I only try and don’t succeed, the most common next step is to give up and do something else. Thank goodness Alexander Graham Bell did not simply try to make the telephone but trained so his mistakes would propel him further along the creative path to finally have success. Ditto Thomas Edison, who said “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”

So it is with following the Lord with all my heart. I cannot do it halfheartedly as I did before on the outside. I need to let Him be in control, then train to trust Him with my decision making. And how, pray tell do I do that? Exactly. Pray. The Bible tells us this life giving Spirit first gives life to our spirit (Romans 8 v10). Then from our spirit He spreads the divine life into our soul to transform us. This is why I go to all the Bible studies and read scripture on my own, to be transformed into that better being. I am training in each study, each service, not simply trying, just as if there is a prize at the end, which actually there is I believe: eternal life in Heaven with The Father.

As with any endeavor of training, it is a process, not an end. So I continue to train to be a better follower of Christ, to be more like Him. It seems I am often better at failing than at succeeding, but that is because the bar is now set so high. My thoughts are in need of control – take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”, says 2 Corinthians 10 v5. So obviously I have a great deal of work to do! As described in the book of Acts, I am equipped to do just that if I get out of the way and let Christ work in my life through His advocate, the Holy Spirit, which is given to us when we give our lives over to Him. What a blessing to have Him there whenever I need Him, and even when I don’t. So I find myself in constant training to make the necessary inside corrections and transform my life while inside corrections. It seems rather simple in a way but proves difficult often because of one’s surroundings.

In the program, one of the rules is no pornography. It is a simple rule that makes good sense since this is an intensive sex offender program, where other people, usually females but not always, are viewed as objects and not people. I have no problem following that and the other rules of the ISOP. Some do. In fact just this week a couple of guys were caught with pornography, Butt Man magazines to be exact. How they got them inside is still a mystery to me. Does the mail room allow such smut in here knowing the situation and programs run here, or are they oblivious and turn the other way after viewing them themselves, wink, wink, nod nod. Or are they complicit with getting them in here, as with the cornucopia of drugs floating around, any kind you want and can afford by the way? Not sure, but this I know: I was lost and now I’m found as the words from Amazing Grace tell us, and my eye is on the prize of eternity, not some magazine or other forms of pornography. I think of all that and cringe. After all, that is what started this whole downward spiral that ended up bringing me here. But the addiction reigns still in some and always will pull at the fringes I guess.

So I continue on this journey back to wholeness with the Lord’s help. It often feels, however, that I am on this trek alone and everyone else is just watching. A couple of guys in this program go to the same Bible studies I do which is helpful, but they don’t seem to carry it on back in the dorm all the time. So I crave all the support I can get as I know this is a life long journey that will have to continue on the outside.

Helping to that end it is a great joy when my older brother visits monthly and has coordinated with my wife to bring a food package when he comes. We are allowed two packages per month totaling 50 pounds, food, books whatever. (it used to be 70 but the CO union lobbied to lower it) His visit alone would be great, but then he tops it with real fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread and more (and sometimes chocolate chip cookies!) from the outside. Such a blessing since the food in here is still repetitive, bland and overcooked. It is amazing what one can do with a microwave when pushed to it. We had a toaster oven, but when it broke they have not replaced it. His visits are even more touching because he does not drive, so his wife has to bring him the hour or so up to spend time with his penitent brother. As I said, it is a true blessing to have their support.

I have also found a great Saturday Christian study that meets twice a month. Seems Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship when he was incarcerated back in 1974 for Watergate related incidents I frankly do not remember. The program is run by inmates with an outside pastor coming in with one or two musical accompaniments. It is great to hear and be a part of the group which is designed to help inmates stay close to Christ and carry that relationship to the outside. There is a vast library of books on loan that you can take out till the next meeting, something I have started doing.
No trying here. I am in serious training on my new walk in a relationship with and following Jesus Christ.

CARRYING ON

My first super bowl behind bars. Probably will note several other landmarks along the way of this bumpy ride, but this is the first after the ugly holidays spent inside corrections. Ugly because they were pretty barren, lonely and empty in here with little celebration save what the church tried to offer and well meaning friends provided in the way of Christmas cards. I remember I did have a surprise visit from my former pastor and her family, and my wife came before Christmas, but it certainly wasn’t the same as being home with all sorts of family around. The true meaning behind the Christmas celebration was all but lost for the majority of guys inside. I asked several why we celebrated the holiday and several really hadn’t given it much thought but remarked it was about some baby being born.

Yeah, some baby. Only the King of Kings, God in the flesh, our Savior born of a virgin as predicted 400 years earlier in Isaiah. The only bigger day of celebration is His resurrection from the grave, defeating death, sin and the grave, but that was way beyond the comprehension of most in here. Yeah some baby.

Also ugly was my birthday celebration, or lack of it. Oh I did get several cards from people on the outside, many beyond my family. At mail call the CO made a game of announcing my name, then waiting till I stepped back to announce it yet again, and again. Guys knew it was either my birthday or some celebration. But no cake, party or anything. Actually it was the first time in a long time I wanted to celebrate my day of birth, as usually I down play it. Guess it was the nature of where I am and my mental state.

Now it is one of the biggest days of the year on the outside, when so many televisions sets around the globe tune in to the final championship game of the football season. Many inside corrections are planning to watch, though it was destined to be shut off before the ending till an edict came out at the twelfth hour that would enable us to watch the game to it’s completion. I know several guys have bets on the game, more flags and food than real money, though I do hear some of that is wagered as well. Being a New Yorker, I favor the Giants over the new England Patriots. Some guys in here want New England, but time will tell this Sunday in Super Bowl XLII.

Meantime my program keeps rolling along. Each day we discuss various topics presented by the counselors in hopes of viewing determining factors that led us to our IO. We can then, hopefully, in their jargon, defuse any future potential incidents that might cause us to offend. We are to look for hidden triggers, watch seemingly unimportant decisions, and stay tuned to our thoughts and thought progressions. The work is basic but interesting, and I take copious notes. Along with the handouts they give I have already compiled a large folder full of information which I frequently review as I pore over information that helps me understand what I did and why. It isn’t pretty, that’s for sure, and I fight the guilt and shame everyday with God’s help. We have plenty of free time and it’s up to us how to use it. As mentioned previously, so many guys do so many things with their time, mostly wasting it. I have never been one to sit by and watch the world go by, so I am constantly active with working out, writing, reading or the above studying. I normally watch very little television not only because there is only one but also because it usually is tuned to stuff I don’t care to watch (cops, Jerry Springer, Wheel of Fortune, etc). The writing I have done is what you are reading now as well as letters, other thoughts, dreams and documentation. Unfortunately when my bags were stolen on the move to this dorm, a couple of notebooks were with the missing stuff. I know some of what was in there but am so sorry I lost the musings when I was on drugs and simply terrified of coming into a place I knew nothing about and was so foreign to me. I remember bits and pieces of things, but I also remember some things I wrote during that period didn’t seem to always make sense. Of course I was reading with a clearer mind things written when not so clear which matters little as they are gone now and I have had to recreate old news. I can imagine someone trying to decipher what I was talking about and not having a clue.

Dorm life is getting a little easier as people are getting to know each other. There are a couple of guys “graduating” from the program after over a year in it, one because he is scheduled to go home soon, so I hear rumors that there will be some room changes. It sure would be great to get out of this 12 man room even though I finally am on the bottom bunk. I actually have been pretty blessed – a term instead of luck or fortune which my favorite outside pastor always uses when he comes here on Thursdays – as my bunkie was in the infirmary for a few days and I was alone. No movements or noises to wake or disturb me, which was almost heaven on earth.

The Structure Team that governs the dorm has changed some people and I have just been named a Librarian, someone who generates historical data for the program’s in-house meeting and keeps track of any in-house books for circulation as well as a couple other duties. Each Friday afternoon we stay in the dorm for special Structure meetings and in-house work and discussions. Led by inmate leaders picked by the counselors, we sit in rows behind the officials and follow rules read at the beginning of each meeting. I guess that will be one of my jobs now starting this Friday the first. I am not nervous at all at being in front of this group of guys. Some get terrified. Others, I noticed, sweat profusely. Regardless, I have had tons of practice.
Being the boss of my own manufacturers representative company on the outside gave me numerous opportunities speak to groups, interact with officials as well as supervise my 1 1/2 employees I had at various times. I further was president of the local Chamber of Commerce, been a school board member and then president at the private school my children attended as well as chairman of various church committees over the course of my life. And I couldn’t forget the fact that I was trained as an English teacher, teaching and coaching in high school for six years. So I felt I would be able to represent any position in this Structure system of our dorm very well. I had read that less than one percent of all inmates have a college education prior to their incarceration, in fact over 50% were illiterate, so I knew I had to be careful not to ‘lord’ it over anyone. After all, they had degrees in street education that I lacked, and many had prison credentials that in here would trump any sheepskin I possessed.

So reading a sheet of rules did not seem to be a big deal to me when given the position by the counselors. They stressed the importance of these rules and seemed to want to make sure I was up to the task. I assured them I was, and since I think they are getting to know me in the program because of my responses and participation, I think they agreed.

My goal is still to complete the program and make my first board next March, getting home to get on with my life and make things right with my wife. I truly feel God is turning my life around and giving me new hope to carry beyond these prison walls. I’m not exactly sure how that will all work, but I know it starts with my family. I need to stay right with them, God and everyone or nothing will matter. So doing the right thing in here is vital. I keep below the radar and stay compliant in everything. Do the most menial of custodial tasks – cleaning toilets – and I make them shine, giving glory to God in everything I do. I do not want to get tripped up by anyone’s game playing or antics, so I steer clear of drama queens and the day room, as that is where most shenanigans occur, even though it is in plain site of the CO’s bubble.

Being here gives me plenty of time to practice my new mantra as stated before, Proverbs v 3-5, which requires inside corrections in my thoughts and actions. “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.”
It is so true, and I now practice doing it and not just thinking it, carrying on inside corrections.

TRUE POWER

One benefit of the Intensive Sex Offender Program (ISOP) we all now participate in is the reality of our situations. All of us in the ISOP are here, incarcerated, for some type of sex crime. There is no denying that, though several claim their innocence or being framed. The nature of some of their crimes goes beyond my understanding, but they are real, and here we are, face to face with that fact daily. Everyday we are learning about our IO (instant offense, the crime that brought us here) and what caused us to do what we did and why, although this would have been better to learn prior to doing what we did so as to prevent it. Regardless, for those of us who want to learn and change, and yes, there are a few of us, it is helpful and interesting. Some are just going through the motions and will say or do whatever is required to get through this program and get out. Fortunately the counselors seem pretty adept at picking those characters out, though not always. From some of the conversations I hear back in the dorm I realize some put on a very good act. I do not want to do that, an actual repeat of the make believe world I lived in that caused all my problems on the outside.

Of course I have always been interesting in learning. That was one of the reasons I became a teacher, to help others learn and enjoy doing so. I worked at making high school English at least pleasant, as it was a required subject, so all had to partake to graduate. In fact, my final year teaching I had all seniors and was named faculty member of the year, quite an honor at the time. It was a testament to my involvement with making learning all phases of English, even Shakespeare, more enjoyable. It also spoke to how I was driven to be the best in everything I did, though I thought I did it on my own strength.

So learning inside corrections about ourselves and the nature of our IO actually is enjoyable for me. Some is a review of psychology courses I had taken in college or information I studied at other times. However, all is directed toward our crime and why we did what we did with the purpose of preventing any further evil-doing transgressions against others. In my case, it is easy to apply the information I learn to what was going on in my head at the time of my offense as well as after. I am so interested in all this that I have taken to reading extra articles and even books on sex addictions outside of program reading. As usual, I am a sponge for something like this that interests me.

However, the magnitude of what I had done to so many people was once more made evident, and with that, the shame and guilt returned. I often do not feel like eating, though I am not sure if it because of the food in here or my emotional state. I just feel like running away (can’t) or quitting the program (shouldn’t) as we are constantly bringing up hurtful issues. If I did quit, however, I would lose my ‘good time’, get no parole opportunities and have to stay here till I maxed out, which would be seven years. Not an option for me, as each day proves a challenge let alone more years.

This time there are no meds or Priest to help as I had in county jail and maximum security prison when I first arrived. I do have my weekly Bible study people, though trying to talk one on one with them is difficult. The pastor of Mid-State is nice enough, but I don’t know him that well and don’t know how I might connect for further talks.

So I talk to the only person I know who will listen without condemnation: Jesus. It might sound odd to some, but I have learned that He is always available and actually wants to hear from us. So I pray often for wisdom and discernment as well as compassion and forgiveness. I feel quite low many days and nights due to my transgressions and need that connection with Him to steady my unevenness, be the anchor for my wayward actions.

And I have to report, it works most times. I come back to the dorm after program at lunchtime or after the afternoon session ready to bawl my eyes out and have to put my head in my pillow and just pray away all the drama I have caused. It still is not safe, even in the program, to show weakness, as word travels quickly and there are always lions ready to pounce. When I thought of that it reminds me of the verse in the Bible, John 10 v10 “The thief (meaning Satan) cometh not, but to steal, kill and destroy.” And yes, they are often dressed in sheep’s clothing in here, feigning help and comfort only to try and extort something – an advantage, procure a debt, or even something as base as food, all with the assurance of keeping your trouble or concern quiet. Right. Even a newbie like me learned that lie. After a good conversation with Him, or even quietly listening for His help, I feel better, more relaxed and able to go on better.

As my friend from Fishkill had taught me – and is a common phrase in here – pressure bursts pipes, meaning you have to take care of things or they will explode, often in your face, and cause more havoc. So I know I have to deal with these issues as they come up, no matter how painful they are. I attempt to contact my wife when I can, using one of the two wall pay phones out in the day room to reach her. But connecting with her is not always easy, nor is getting a free phone. Then, of course, your conversations are very public and anyone can hear, or at least watch your demeanor. Unlike the reception dorm when I first arrived here, we have no phone booths like they had. I enjoyed that privacy, even if it was only apparent privacy.

In the evenings, when not at Bible study, I venture to the gym for basketball or weight work, both taking my mind off the troubles of the day at least for the time working out. Maybe that’s why the time seems to just fly by when there. And of course there is game night which really serves to change my mood.

The team I had joined was actually made up of Muslims. Little did I know this when I agreed back that night soon after my arrival, though I was so anxious to play I didn’t care. Now I see guys I have played with in open rec and even some from the program on teams I play against. Fortunately we are doing well in the league, so I get lost in the game and not my troubles for the forty minutes we play. Everyone seems to treat me well enough, though one or two seem bent on doing their own thing, something that gets us in trouble in the game and something our ‘coach’ dislikes. He was the one who recruited me, so he’s cool with my Christianity, but I think those one or two others are not, hence their reticence to pass to me., though I did notice last game when crunch time came, I saw more of the rock.

So I guess it really takes a conscious effort to stay close to God, my true source of power. As the bumper sticker says, “You’ve tried everything else, try God.” I can attest the benefits of doing so are immeasurable and help me through this Jumanji world.

HOPE IS ALIVE

Yes, where IS God in all this? Have I again left Him out and taken the reins of my life back? It appears so.

When I was a youth, I was into church and studying Christ. I even taught Sunday School when I was in high school as the Methodist Church was low on adult volunteers. Plus the fact that I was into scripture and sharing it. Then I went away to college, a place where many turn from their roots, and I experimented with many different religions, attempting to find the one, true answer to why we were here. Of course, without Christ at the center, I was never really able to find any answers, only temporary solutions that pointed back to me being in charge. So I went about directing my own life, relying on my own understanding rather than God’s. I actually took it to a new level of arrogance and selfishness, resulting in my instant offense. (IO)

So now, inside corrections, I read the Bible and go to Protestant Services on Sunday. I attend Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night Bible study where I usually see the same group of guys attending, with some variation. A group of about 18-20 go to the various studies on any given night. The Sunday night leadership alternates between a volunteer lady and an outside pastor. Monday’s is run by three men who have been volunteering to come in and minister to inmates for about 5 years. Thursdays, my personal favorite, is hosted by a reverend from the outside who is really alive for Christ and been helping guys for over 10 years. So I am definitely getting inspiration from my studies. So why not give everything over to Christ? Why not make those necessary inside corrections and “Trust in the Lord with all my heart” as my new mantra from Proverbs  3 v5 tells me? Good question.

It’s so easy to fall into old patterns where I make the decisions and follow through, leaving little room for others. I do what I think and say most of it too, though I am much more guarded in here than on the outside. Only after the fact, in quiet meditation or prayer do I ponder the events of the past day or week and see how and if it measures up to a Christ like standard. I know it would be easier to check with Him first and avoid so many pitfalls, but I am still learning to do that.

In fact, with all this new intensive sex offender program stuff coming at me it would be advisable to do just that, pray first and seek direction rather than just plow ahead. So far in the program we have learned some new terminology and concepts, things we later will apply to not only our IO that brought us here, but also to our lives. At least that is the hope of the counselors and some of the inmates. I am one of them. But as I say, I need to involve Christ earlier in the process is what my Christian counselors tell me. I agree. But doing it is another thing.

So why is it so difficult? I never got to this point as an adult on the outside, not really being a true Christian and following His word, so I am definitely out of my league here. And it’s not like I do not know of the benefits of doing so. I have found a peace that defies logic. Less than a year ago I was terrified of prison, unable to function without drugs. I did not think I would make it through another day, even my bid let alone get to the point where I felt I was at peace with this place, all because of my new faith, the one and only thing that gave me hope. I could not give it. No one around me could. Even my family was at a loss. (understandably so) Only the hope in Christ that little Peruvian priest told me about made any difference, made me see that God had not forgotten me, not deserted me because of my actions as I thought He had, though I would not have blamed Him if He did. This peace allowed me to take pause during transitions into a new facility, new jobs, switching dorms, losing property and getting into the program I so greatly desired. It allowed me the peace of mind that nothing else could do.

That was the hope I carry today. The hope of getting through all this: prison, the program, daily life inside corrections, all of this. So it was important for me not to forget He who gave me that hope.

THE PROGRAM

The other thing that happened on Saturday was a total dorm clean-up, a regular feature here in the ISOP program I understand. First, the task leaders of the dorm, a part of the inmate governing body called Structure, assigned chores for everyone, from cleaning toilets and bathroom areas to day room and the outside covered porch where the smokers go. Everything was supposed to be cleaned, though some people’s definition of clean was different from mine.

The other thing that happened on Saturday was a total dorm clean-up, a regular feature here in the ISOP program I understand. First, the task leaders of the dorm, a part of the inmate governing body called Structure, assigned chores for everyone, from cleaning toilets and bathroom areas to day room and the outside covered porch where the smokers go. Everything was supposed to be cleaned, though some people’s definition of clean was different from mine.

I had grown up cleaning, whether it was in the house, cow barns or farm equipment. If my brother and I didn’t do an acceptable job for my father, we got to do it again, so I learned the hard way to do it properly the first time. It actually was a good thing as I carried it over through college and on to my future adult life in the many apartments and later houses I occupied. So cleaning here inside corrections was not such a big deal. After all, I lived here too, and as with most things I do, I take pride in doing a good job.

So, Monday came and the counselors came and we didn’t have to go anywhere, only to the large day room. They sat with us in a very large circle where all of us looked at each other. Since there were over 40 guys, some kind of sat behind the main circle. They were ones who had been in the program and us newbies, about 10 of us, had to introduce ourselves to everyone. Where we were from, our instant offense (our crime that brought us here), what we wanted to accomplish in the program and lastly, one special thing about ourselves or what we liked to do.

There were two counselors and one psychologist heading up the group, though the latter didn’t spend much time in the dorm, rather his main function was in the classroom. Turns out they worked with our dorm as other similar counselors worked with the other two dorms in the building, usually at the same time as our conferences. The counselors covered the basic rules once again as well as what to expect in the months to come. Our journey through the program would culminate with our self assessment and explanation of our instant offense, all explained in our story which would be read in a small group which included the psychologist assigned to us. No one, including me, was looking forward to that task, which probably accounted for the several moans and groans from the audience. Many inmates had been in the group for some time and were well advanced in the program, some almost ready to finish up and leave.

So here I was, among the other newbies once again, ready to do whatever it took to get out and get ready for my parole hearing next year in March. To successfully have credibility there I would need to complete the program, so I was all ears. Obviously others didn’t care, as they joked and clowned around behind the backs of the counselors and at every chance they could.

The counselors then began to introduce the new leaders of the Structure group that would lead us inmates, a process they renewed every two to three weeks or so. That way many people would get an opportunity to be on the so called governing board of the dorm and have a say, hopefully learning some skills along the way and not just abuse of power. There were more than just the community leader and his two co-leaders. There was an creative energy director, librarian, task leaders, and historian, each performing their special functions, I was told, and had obvious obligations that went with the office.

The community leader would run the meeting, using his two subordinates when he wanted to turn a topic over to them for discussion or leadership, or if a vote was required, the three of them could decide the outcome.

The creative energy director planned activities for our Friday meeting in the dorm sessions as well as any outside ones we may have by ourselves or with other groups, all done in conjunction with the counselors of course.

The librarian brought information on books and articles that might prove helpful in our necessary and periodic writing required in the program as well as managed the in-dorm mini-library.

The task leaders called us to meeting and attempted to keep guys in line, handing out writing punishments or the equivalent when they deemed it necessary. They also oversaw the cleaning in the dorms, assigning groups for each task and guidelines as they saw fit as well as approving all our work. You guessed it, the newbies start out on the cleaning crews, either mopping or washing floors, cleaning the bathrooms, or dusting and cleaning in the day room or any other part of the dorm.

The historian chronicled our meetings and acted like a secretary, though I think the name was picked as no one wanted to have a girlie title. He would also bring in relevant information from past meetings or outside information should he find any.

The counselors would oversee the whole thing but it appeared they let things run there course unless things really got out of hand or someone seemed to abuse their power, as was evident, I was told, with certain community leaders. The whole purpose of this hierarchy was to mimic societal governing bodies and give us all a taste of what it was like to be in various roles with varying amounts of authority. I suppose the counselors wanted to prepare us for the outside world where we would be subjugated to such power from others and give us a taste of the outside while inside, especially since most all of us would be on parole for some time once we left.

Even though over 50% of all State inmates were illiterate by DOCS statistics I had read, that did not mean they were stupid. So I did not mention to anyone my leadership background at this time, though I knew the counselors knew from my rap sheet and records. After all, they had degrees in street education that I lacked, and many had prison credentials that in here would trump any sheepskin I possessed.

So the meeting had an abbreviated schedule because of all the other changes going on today, but we were assured this Friday’s meeting would be back to normal. We broke for lunch and were told to report to the program building after lunch.

On the way to lunch some of my roommates gave me a quick overview of what would happen there – discussions of topics the counselors might bring up and other “boring” stuff they would relate. As a note we were called to the mess hall by dorm location and could walk there without escorts, though there were CO’s all along the walkway, always in sight of each other should they be needed. Once inside the hall, we went through a cafeteria type line, served food by other inmates who were supervised by a civilian, and sat by dorm at tables directed by a CO as he filled up the room of large tables. In this facility we were allowed real silverware, though upon leaving we had to show our fork and spoon to a CO prior to putting them in a dishpan. It sure made it easier to eat over the plastic ware we had in other facilities. We could leave when finished and didn’t have to wait for the entire dorm, another change from previous locations. However, we couldn’t take too long eating as other dorms came in and the room would fill up again, necessitating free space for them. Other than the quality of the food, it wasn’t a bad system – for prison.

So it was back to our ‘home’ and get ready for the “On the Program” shout from our dorm CO when we would all trudge out to our program in another building about a quarter of a mile away along a similar walkway many other inmates took to get various places. Some were going to the education building for GED classes or to assist there as teacher’s assistants, TA’s. Other service work assignments like my transitional service or grievance work necessitated inmate help. Some were coming back from food service duty, done till evening meal. There actually were several occupational classes held here at Mid State such as landscaping, welding, carpentry, plumbing and electrical, horticulture, and small engine repair which usually filled quickly from the over 1200 inmates here. So the walkway was a busy place, where much ‘business’ occurred.

As I went off to our program session, I wondered where God was in all this.

UP & DOWN

A small victory came on Friday, while also bringing with it a degree of angst. I was shuttled off to the 12 man room but assigned to a bottom bunk. So good and bad all rolled into one, up then down!. There was another hooper in this room who knew me from the court, so that made it a little better as he announced OT was okay. When the CO called me to the bubble with a couple other inmates, I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately it was all just relocation within the dorm.

I also received a note in that evening’s mail that I had won the grievance on my lost bag of items – not the recent one but my bag of items denied when I first arrived was sent home, or at least I thought it was. I should say, it was supposed to be, but I have a feeling the inmates working there helped themselves to most of the items and sent them home all right – to their home. The CO in charge had no explanation when I brought a grievance against him and the department. I had the paper of what they kept and were supposed to return. I also had my wife swearing nothing was returned. Turns out when the grievance department investigated, the facility had no record of anything sent out either. It only left one outcome available – repay me for the lost items. I needed a receipt for most items especially the expensive hoodie sent in, and fortunately my wife could supply a charge card receipt. The value of the other items was estimated, so I was informed the grievance hearing, which I did not even have to attend since it was pretty cut and dry, had found in my favor and I would be awarded the amount of the missing items. Guess my time in the grievance office and working with claims had paid off. So another up.

However, I knew my present grievance had little chance of success as no one person could be pinpointed. Plus it was my word against everyone else – the facility, grievance department, all other inmates, everyone. Was I now one of those “frequent fliers”, always grieving something? In reality I was most concerned about my radio and glasses, so another down.
To get my original pair of specs I had to go to medical to have them evaluate me for glasses. Unfortunately, that is only done twice a month when the optometrist visits the facility. So that meant getting up before 6:00 AM to go to medical and sign up for his next visit. Then I had to wait for the all important call out for that examination. I then had to again get up and down to medical by 6:00 AM to wait in line till called for my exam. When I had accomplished all that, I sat in front of a machine with dials and lenses that looked to be one out of the Smithsonian. Anyway, he confirmed I needed glasses and said good-bye. After about two or three weeks they finally arrived. Another 6 AM trip to pick them up, ones I really only used to read. I had actually used cheap ‘cheaters’ on the outside. Inside corrections, one pair is paid for by DOCS, the rest are on you. And no, you cannot have them sent in from the outside. Why? Because DOCS said so. So I would have to begin the process all over again. More down.

As for my radio, I had ordered it from a catalog approved by DOCS. It was a clear plastic transistor radio right out of 1960. Every electronic item – radio, CD player, clippers, typewriters, anything, had to be clear plastic so CO’s could check and make sure nothing illegal like a weapon could be housed inside. They could also check the item to be sure it was not tampered with in any way. I had also ordered a special headset with volume controls, but they were rejected at intake here at Mid State and were in that missing bag that was not sent home. Luckily someone had some unused ear buds they gave me, so I could listen again with pleasure up until I moved and lost it.

Music has always been a big deal with me, both vocal and instrumental.
I had sung in junior and high school chorus, been in the church choir since grade school, even sung and played in a couple of rock and roll bands. I was in the marching band and orchestra in high school and also played a short stint in a community orchestra. I loved music. I even took one semester of piano in college, trying the bass fiddle for a bit and even trying to learn the violin, an instrument my mother had played when younger. However the lessons for the latter were ultra expensive and I was very busy with college sports to keep it up. But the love of music stuck with me throughout my life, so listening to the radio and the various musical programs and talk shows was great. I was fortunate to have that radio at work back in Fishkill’s Grievance Department, but was not allowed to take my radio anywhere out of the dorm there or here. Long story short, I missed my radio. Now this is where I once again discovered how God works.

I was walking the walkway to the gym on Saturday afternoon when I noticed the friend I had often weight lifted with in the outside weight area at Fishkill. I guess I was kind of down and when asked the cause, explained to him my lost bag and content story. He surprised me when he said he’d look into it. Not really knowing what that meant but feeling uplifted that someone cared enough to lift my spirits even with a false promise I bounced into the gym for some pick up basketball. Buoyed by the possibilities, even slim ones, I played well, then went back to the dorm. Up and down.

On the way, a couple of guys I knew asked why I was talking to that guy on the way down to rec. I explained and they then explained he was the leader of the Latin Kings, one of the notorious gangs inside corrections. Right, I said, picturing the leader of the Latin Kings to be someone taller, bigger and meaner than my friend. But then I remembered he told me back when we talked in Fishkill how he knew martial arts and had beaten back four cops who were trying to subdue him before two more had to shock him multiple times to stop him, the crime that landed him here. Hmmm, maybe there was some truth to that rumor.

So in the yard on Sunday, a place I liked to go even in cold weather just to look at the uninterrupted sky and breath fresh air, I saw him in the outside weight pit where he motioned me over from my walking laps. He started walking and talking with me, telling me he thought he had found my radio, and that it he could get it back for a brick. (a brick was a pack of cigarettes) My glasses that I was worried about were long gone, probably a banger or shiv by now (weapons) as were any cooking items.
I was stunned. He knew the guy who had stolen my bag and now was extorting money from me for him? It was my radio, and I deserved it back. He said the guy who had done it didn’t know who’s bag it was and that he himself intervened when I had told him my story the other day. He added, think about it and let him know. I knew one reason the guy probably wanted to get rid of the stolen property was because it had my ID number on it, a ticket for sure should he be caught with it in his possession. The only person he could sell it to was me.

I returned to the dorm and spoke with a couple of guys who not only knew my lost bag story but who knew my friend was as well. We all understood there was no going to the authorities or grieving it. Right or wrong it was prison justice. They were just surprised he even bothered to help me with the whole thing. It sure didn’t seem right to me, paying twice for something that was already mine which I could prove. And a brick was not that easy to come by, something that I would have to buy on commissary or have someone bring in a package.

Talk about an education. It was an interesting situation, like nothing I had ever been involved in before. God seemed to be working even when I was not, or rather even when I couldn’t. Why was I again trying to take control and do it all myself? All I did was make it definitely more up and down.

ISOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITE A GRIEVANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12-07 LETTER TO JACK

Thursday 12/27/07

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

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

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

TRANSITIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT’S NEXT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SETTLING IN

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

GO

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

GET SET

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

ON YOUR MARK

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

ON THE DRAFT II

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

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Life seems a dull routine and I am fighting the darkness of old. I have not heard anymore about my needed transfer to a place that has the required SO program, so I feel I will never emerge from this place. God seems to have deserted me once again and basketball seems my only diversion. Work is the same, with inmates 98% of the time on the short end of everything. Fortunately I have not to date had any repercussions from any decisions handed down. Even the Straight Talk Program Prince and I had submitted to the Institution was shot down. They said it was too similar to their Transitional Programs already in existence. So I use the evening time to work out, type letters from the grievance office to people, or work on an idea I hatched for when I get out – if that ever happens.
I used to do some maintenance on our house and others when on the outside, so I figured I could start a company to do that. I had heard how difficult it was for felons to get work once released, so I thought working for myself might be the best plan. I wanted to name the company Doc’s Home Maintenance – a play on the name of Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). So I am working on a brochure with that in mind. It is a bit tricky on the typewriter rather than a computer, but it helps pass the time and occupy my thoughts.
And that is what I have to work on most, controlling my thoughts. It seems the devil is attacking me, telling me again how I am not worth being saved, I should look out for myself and that I am getting just what I deserve just like he did when I first was arrested. The Bible studies I attend speak of a Holy and just God, offering grace to those who but believe. I guess prisoners are low on His list at this point, as the economy is tanking and there are far more important issues for Him to work on. I know men in the Bible were in prison and remained faithful, but it sure puts me to the test. And I think I am failing. Haven’t I been here before? Proverbs tells us if you faint in times of trouble, your faith is weak. I know that is true, but how do I build it up? I always was in control of things before on the outside, but inside corrections I have little to no control. The only thing I can control is my mind, and that is proving almost too difficult. Why not just do what everyone else in here does, look out for themselves? Do the minimum to get by, do your time (so it does not do you as I am repeatedly told) and move on. What’s so difficult about that? Isn’t that what I have been doing?
Well, I am already tired of being in here and want my family and friends back. I am sick of the food and all the restrictions. And I still feel the shame and humiliation of my crime, though I guess it will never go away. Sure is tough to get used to life in here.
One thing happened the other day that was a happy/sad affair. While walking to work on the walkway (which really is the roadway used to walk up and down the campus here) the other morning a few of us spotted blood on the ground. There were a few spots of it leading to the hospital it appeared. Later the news came that a CO had gotten beat up by a new recruit (inmate) who was working in the porter pool. That was where the CO I had issues with worked. He was the one with the big mouth, trying to get action against me by speaking loudly to me in the food lines about my crime and how everybody would know. Guess he mouthed off to the wrong inmate, who reportedly broke a mop handle and went after him. Of course then four of the officer’s buddies went after that poor guy and did a real number on him, giving him more than the normal shampoo as they call it. I am sure he had a spot in the hospital when they finished with him. I had to fight off the mirth I was feeling that the CO finally got what was coming to him, but sad to learn people were hurt. But that about capsules life inside corrections – up and down all in the same moment.

UNSTEADY

So, work is a little boring, the meals are also boring and similar, and my faith, while growing, is bothersome to me. I guess I am not really sure what to expect from it, but I guess an easy road inside corrections would be nice.
I have been told that just because I am a believer in Christ as my personal savior that all roads will not be smooth or without problems. While I hear that and know it is true – just take a look at the Biblical characters that were way more spiritual than me and still had problems! – I guess I am having a small pity party again as I want to stay safe, move, get through the program, and make parole in ’09. Add to that fact that I am not real comfortable in here and still do not feel truly safe. Guess I am not fully adjusted to green being the new black, to paraphrase a new book/television show. I am unsteady.
I have an experienced roommate who tells me to keep mum about my charge as no one likes a sex offender. I see what he is talking about as inmates and guards seem to target us every chance they get. Hey, I thought CO’s were not supposed to know our charges and why we are here. Yet many do know and treat us accordingly, which usually is bad news for us. I heard many tales from other prisoners in here, I dare not call them friends, as well as from the number of cases in the grievance department. Some of the cases are the ones in which I preside, others are ones I have to type and catalog from the past. I also have to do research for my boss sometimes to study and see if there are similar cases with comparable outcomes. Throughout all this work I notice numerous similarities of actions in different cases, often by the same officers, yet yielding an outcome nearly always the same – in favor of the institution.
I unfortunately have witnessed part of fights and incidents where inmates have attacked other inmates, sometimes because they are sex offenders. Incidents like property thefts, stabbings or bed burning seem threatening to me in here. The former shows there is no honor among thieves, just like the saying says. The second shows the inhumanity of man against man. The bed burning seems very unusual because I do not see how it can be accomplished without someone witnessing it. Or maybe it is a group effort.
Starting a fire is one thing, but keeping a mattress burning is another. I found out that baby oil is great at doing just that, so all one needs to do is ignite something that would carry the flame to the empty bed. Burning a bed sends a signal that they were not wanted there, that moving is the only option, and worst things can occur if not careful. Knowing these things and, as I say witnessing them kind of, also makes me unsteady. Would it happen to me? Hey, my Sergeant at work thought it may and he had over 20 years on the job.
So why wasn’t I “rejoicing in all things” as the Bible tells me I should be? Is my faith that weak? The book of Proverbs tell me that if I faint in times of trouble, my faith is small. I am learning boatloads of things in here, often that I don’t know what I don’t know, but I guess I do not see my faith growing at this time. Does that disqualify me as a good Christian? Was I going to be the next victim, whether because of my crime or my duties at work? Or was I just pissing someone off I didn’t know just because I was here?
So many questions, so much to think about, all of which added to my angst. For now I know nothing else to get through than to “buck it up”, put on a happy face, lean on my Lord and continue inside corrections.

FEELING LIKE A SCHMUCK

I am such a schmuck. I received another wonderful letter from my daughter who will be a junior in college this fall and I feel joyous and terrible at the same time. I truly messed up her life as well. She is at her summer job and her letters are filled with the brightness of the summer fun she is having and imparting, despite the incarceration of her dear old dad.

I am blessed in that she writes so often. I return letters almost immediately, answering her questions and telling her about life inside corrections. It is not the same as speaking with her or being with her, and I do miss her terribly. I do not know the reaction my letters generate, but I am so very grateful for her constant correspondence back to me. I can only imagine the pain, shame and embarrassment she is dealing with, explaining to her friends why her dad isn’t visiting. Once she returns to college and resumes playing collegiate volleyball, people will know something is amiss when her dad isn’t there cheering her on in the home games which I rarely missed even though it was three hours away. There I’d be with my Cat hat, meowing for the good blocks or kills she made to the amusement of many. But no more. I try not to dwell on that fact as it saddens me too much, so I am sure it affects her too. How could anyone harm an innocent, young, beautiful girl the way I have? What a schmuck.

So I write her at least two letters a month, sometimes more, not even waiting for her reply to my previous one. I “put on a happy face” as I have been counseled to do, not troubling her with the minutia and pain of daily life here. We do share a faith that is growing in me and had more developed in her, most likely as she had no choice. Either sink or swim, and she has chosen to swim with the Lord to get her through, a wise choice. At least that gives us another topic to talk about and share. She tells me that things happen for a reason and I am still struggling with this whole situation.

At first she didn’t write, so I was not sure what she was thinking. It was not until later at the maximum security facility, about the time I was weaning off meds that I received my first letter from her and found she wanted to keep our relationship going. It took me over ten minutes to read it, mainly because I couldn’t stop crying as I read it. She did comment that we now have an opportunity to dialogue more than we might have otherwise about things. In this day and age of electronic communication it is getting rare for anyone to pen a letter anymore – I mean with a real pen and paper. It warms me so much that she takes the time to do that, especially because I feel so unworthy.

Yes I know I am a child of God and loved by him and all that. It’s just in this world, this side of heaven, my crime is a serious thing and has affected many, my children being the more affected ones. I pray so often for us to stay connected, for us to stay close and not lose the relationship I lived with them through her first 19 years. I remember catching her as she was born during our planned home birth that very early June morning, such a small bundle of joy, so quiet and calm. Nothing can take that or the thousand of other moments together we have experienced away, thank goodness. I just want an opportunity to build more, but not from here. I am also concerned that we will be able to keep her in a private college with me in here, not out there earning and paying bills. She doesn’t deserve to be pulled out because of my actions.

I know the Bible, specifically the apostle Paul, teaches us to be us to be happy in all situations. Right now that is difficult. What my mind knows often doesn’t reach my heart as I yearn for her to be with me, hearing her laugh and talk so easily as we have in the past. Having her brother here for the festival that day was so wonderful and spoke volumes to me about his intentions for our future together. He wants to work through this mess and stay close. My dear hope is that my daughter will also, and it appears by her letters she is. I know I have to keep making the inside corrections to stay on the right path, and I fully intend to do so. It is just I feel so terribly right now in causing all the grief and heartache I have for her. It is a constant battle for me to stay positive and focused and not get pulled down in the self-pity or self destructive mire I was in before, especially when I know I was such a self-serving, egotistical, arrogant schmuck.

HUSTLERS

Inside corrections, guys all seem to have their hustle. Some create specialty cards of all types, for birthdays, anniversaries or just thinking of you type. They sell them for flags, cigarettes, food or anything they can. Others make things out of whatever they get their hands on – from figurines to trinkets, many of which are illegal by the institution’s rules. Some make tattoo guns out of old radios or electric clippers and to do their trade. Some give haircuts. Some provide a service, from homework assistance, game tutoring or other services I don’t want to mention. Some get extra food from the mess hall and come around selling it to the highest bidder.

It was these latter guys with whom I developed a continual relationship. Bananas or other fruit on the rare occasions they would have them were one of my best buys. As were boiled eggs. This one guy from New York City would bring around a five gallon pail filled at least a third of the way with them. I wondered how guys could get them out of the mess hall, and I learned in this facility the civilians just looked the other way as long as the guys do their jobs. I know one ingenious inmate who dons a white T-shirt, as the kitchen crew is dressed all in white, stands at the end of the line giving out silverware, and brings back extra food to barter.

Now, again, we have no money to deal with directly, so this is where flags, cigarettes or other food comes into play. I always traded away my cold cuts, burgers (generally made of soy), hot dogs and things of that type for other food. Problem was because these traders and hustlers generally want pay on the barrel head – right away – I have to use those golden cigarettes from the package my sister-in -law brought or stamps purchased from commissary. Unfortunately you cannot get flags sent in from the outside, I’m not really sure why. And you can only buy a certain amount in your commissary buy twice a month.

I even heard about guys who would do “dirty deeds” for a price. Arthur, who had been down over 25 years had seen it all by his own admission. Guys cutting someone for another guy, getting in a fight with someone so both would go to the box, setting someone’s bed on fire or other such destruction. All in the name of getting paid in some way. Want someone out of your dorm? Have a score to settle for some real or perceived slight? There were inmates who could arrange it for a price. Sometimes deeds were done simply to create the old diversion while some other devious deed was being done so the officers were busy corralling the guilty. It was amazing. Things I never even thought of or would consider took place right under my nose almost on a daily basis. No wonder the sergeant at work had cautioned me.

I even heard of guys willing to perform sexual acts as a trade, something I found interesting yet repulsive at the same time. Guess some guys put no limit of what they would do for money, cigarettes or other things. When you have no basis for truth or value, it is easier to give everything up for something else.

I pondered what I would do to make extra money or get other things. Would I compromise my new found faith for the sake of an apple or orange? Could I use my religion as a cover as some seemed to do, citing Biblical verses while acting anything but Biblical. I felt I was grounded in my budding relationship with Jesus and wanted Him to lead me as my new mantra from Proverbs 3:5-6 cited: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path”. That was my desire as I made new and improved inside corrections which were required.