IT’S OVER

Now I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t a train! Only a matter of days till I returned to society as a semi-free man, still bound by restrictions though much freer than I am now. Four and a wake up as we say in here. I vowed to kiss the ground when I left as a gesture of enjoying the freedom of life outside corrections.

I had decided to give most of my stuff, clothes and everything but my Bible, radio, headset and a couple of other things away to some guys who had nothing. I would take advantage of the generous State offer of brown khaki’s and a white shirt for my trip home as well as practicing my being non-attached to things. True, many would see me and know where I came from because of the clothes, but many would not. Besides, my giving would help more people than my taking all that stuff home. This way I would be down to one bag, and that would only be half full with State issue boxers, t-shirts, socks and my other personal items. And of course the $ 40.00 the State gives you when you leave.

A friend from the church I used to attend on the outside had graciously offered to pick me up thereby saving me the long bus ride into Rochester. He promised we could stop along the way and get real eggs, bacon, cinnamon raisin toast and home fries, you know, a real breakfast, not the powdered eggs, no bacon and lousy white bread I had suffered through for almost five years. Then he would take me to parole and finally, the shelter, my new home for awhile. After that, who knows what I will be doing and if I continue to utilize the talents God has given me.

So I had something to look forward to even if it wasn’t what I really wanted. I basically was getting what I deserved I felt. After what I had done I was fortunate that anyone from my past life, especially my wife, was even talking to me. My son was very supportive, but he was living and working in New York City. My daughter was also very supportive, but was living and working at a mission in England for the past year and a half. Some friends had not wanted to have me contact them but most were still wanting a relationship. So I had plenty of opportunity to practice being non-resistant, even if I wasn’t very good at it much of the time.

In actuality I was in a deep depression. I knew things with my wife were bad, but I held hope of reconnecting when I got out. I knew it would be an uphill battle and would take time, especially because many of our differences had been highlighted the last couple of years. But she had made it clear we would not be reconciling. I thought once I was outside, I might have a chance, even though there were obstacles.

For one, my faith and beliefs were far different from when I first came in, and thus from hers. That would be a problem, as my guide book tells me in 2 Corinthians 6 v14 not to be unevenly yoked. She had made it clear on numerous occasions that I was too conservative in my views for her taste. Interestingly enough, others from the outside had made similar statements, even some so called Christians.

I had made financial plans to keep her in our house and my daughter in college when I came inside. Fortunately, both had worked out. But I knew the cost of having to not only parent all alone but handle the day to day issues had taken a huge toll on her as it would most any spouse of a incarcerated guy. So she had changed in some ways, gotten tougher as she had to do, almost like some of the inmates had done in here during their time. It was always said the ones on the outside do the time with you, and so she had.

Then there was the trust issue. I had broken all forms of trust with her with my many actions and offenses. From her statements, as well as her actions of not wanting me to parole to our home, she made it clear opportunities to build it back would not happen because she was not a willing participant.

So the last few days became a blur not only because I was thinking of getting out, but because of a phone call on 11/11/11. a Saturday night I will never forget as long as I live. Maybe those numbers were satanic. Whatever, it started me down into that deep depression.

I had played basketball and done really well and returned to the dorm feeling great. My shower was satisfying and I was next in line for the phone to call home, something that was difficult to do with over 30 guys and two phones. Fortunately they were in large booths which were more like closets with doors, so they were really private. Little did I know how I would need it.

My turn came late, well after the 10:00 count, but I was still feeling good, hoping I might use this one last time to change her mind on things, at least letting me stay in our 2800 square foot home somewhere until I could get an apartment or room elsewhere. The conversation was civil at least, until we were about to finish. It was then I heard someone in the background at our home. When I inquired, she told me who was there. She seemed very comfortable with this. They had just finished dinner and were getting ready to retire when I called. I was in shock and didn’t know what to say at first. I had long thought she had a boy friend, but friends and even relatives said no. Well, it now seemed they were wrong.

Regardless, I was devastated. It appeared she had been with him for some time, probably about the time she removed her wedding band I reasoned. In reality, when I meditated on it later that night, it was probably just how she felt when I shocked her with my betrayal of her. I could think of little else. Fortunately the classes were boring and didn’t require much action on my part which was good as I couldn’t concentrate anyway.

I remember crying and begging her not to go upstairs with him but to no avail. She was very matter of fact and simply responded this is how it was now. I am not sure how I ended the call, but someone was knocking on the door for their turn so I had to exit.

The main lights were off in the dorm fortunately as I made my way to bed. No sleep for me as my mind replayed the phone call all night long. I bounced back and forth between self pity, shame and guilt. The ripples of my offenses were still being felt in all our lives. And I certainly was not being non-judgmental.

For the next couple of days I existed in a fog. Further attempts to contact her went unanswered. I knew she was soon going away for work for a few days out of town and I wouldn’t be able to contact her. I wondered if he accompanied her or not. Truthfully, my mind played several games with me despite my attempts at prayer and meditation in scripture. It was not like I could talk to anyone here about it, and God was already aware of things – even the outcome. So I prayed and cried to him for mercy and help in still processing this whole train wreck. Only He knew what would happen after I got out and years to come, so I prayed for the wisdom to continue being faithful and holy, and ultimately after a couple of days, for His will to be done, no matter how difficult it would be for me to accept.

I still had so many inside corrections to work on, and this presented a huge one. The only thing I could do, the only thing I had to do, was to prepare for life outside corrections. Prison and marriage. I struggled with them both for the last four and two third years.

Now, its over.

THE LAST DAYS

Things seem to be humming along as far as the last days are concerned. The only hiccups seem to be from the outside.

My wife said she could not visit until mid October, so I had to fend for myself as far as packages of food went. At least I didn’t have to deal with her aloofness.

Fortunately I knew about a former inmate who started his own supply business for inmates and got DOCS approval as a supplier. I found one of his fliers and ordered some fresh fruits and vegetables, though the options were limited. Back at Mid State I remember a guy saying he wanted to start a business like that when he got out, and now he had done it. I knew by the prices he was not making a ton of money as yet, and I read he was adding new items as soon as they could get approved. He basically was buying the fresh stuff from the cheapest and closest place to each facility that he could. He also had a basic route for deliveries depending on which part of the state you were in. I had heard he was setting up a warehouse for some items that didn’t have a short shelf life and was trying to stream line the business best he could. I thought it was wonderful what he was doing, knowing first hand how difficult it could be when inside to arrange quality food packages. So it worked out that I could support him and also get what I needed, another test of being non-resistant.

When my wife did visit finally, she brought along a neighbor couple. I knew things were going from bad to worse for our relationship, and now she didn’t want to be alone with me. They chatted nicely like we were out to eat somewhere, except they didn’t have the special strip dance at the end like I did when it was over. Nevertheless, it was good to see them as well as my wife, even though she still refused any personal contact as well as to accommodate me when I got out.

That left me scrambling for housing lest I get shoved in the local shelter. The joke was they always had two tenants there, bed bugs and roaches. Needless to say it was not high on my list but looked like the only option left available to me. My wife said she and a friend went to check it out. Despite not getting past the lobby, they said it looked fine. Right.

Other than that the only excitement was when I went out to a Rochester court to get my level sentence. You see, each sex offender has a level that the state uses to determine the likelihood of re-offending. It is based on a point system, with the more points indicating a higher, more dangerous level (according to them) and more likely to return. From the various categories, I was overwhelmingly a level one, which would expire 20 years after my original sentence began back in 2007. The categories included things like was there any violence, any weapons, did you know the victim, was there actual physical contact, and if so, number of times, things like that. It also included whether you were a willing and active participant in the sex offender programming inside corrections. You received at least 10 points if you refused to take it, dropped out, or were kicked out.

I had been told by my counselor at Mid State that I was well below the 70 point total that started level 2’s. Anything over 110 was a level three. Twos and threes had to register every quarter for life upon release, quite a burden to carry. Many states were getting rid of the registration or starting to while others, like Florida and other southern states, were making it tougher. So while not worried about what would happen at that hearing, I was still a bit concerned. I prayed earnestly that God would watch over me and be fair and consider the changes I had made and was still making. I had heard horror stories of judges holding grudges against sex offenders and raising levels for spite, so my prayers were definitely needed. I asked family and friends who were willing to do the same. Sadly, my wife was one who said she didn’t know how to do that and it was up to the judge anyway.

From all the reading and studies I had read it seemed a majority of sex crimes, especially computer and other non-contact and even other non-violent sex crimes were better served with intensive counseling rather that imprisonment. The latter often simply hardened the offender rather than aiding or changing him for the better. But New York State at this time did not feel that way about sex offenders, or even drug dealers and other small, non-violent crimes. Lock ’em up was their answer. Of course it also created more jobs.

I had friends and relatives tell me my sentence was way too harsh. While in agreement in the beginning, it was after I got hit at the parole board that I began to see, while I agreed it was very rough, I truly was not ready to be released at my first board and wouldn’t have been a really cured individual, still working with one foot in the world and one in the Lord’s kingdom, still fighting for myself rather than a full surrender to Him.

Unfortunately, for many Christians today, it doesn’t work well that way, half in, half out, something I learned about myself in those intervening months. After recently re-reading my letter after failing to get the Work Release Program, I could see why the first board said negatory on my release. I still had a great deal of inside correction to do, was still arrogant and selfish and now had the time to accomplish it. Of course I thought the sentence was a bit harsh, but I needed correction. Guys now getting sentenced for my type of crime often got even longer sentences. And yet, we all marveled at how guys with rape or other forced sex were receiving lesser sentences. No rhyme or reason to me, but it forced me to practice being non-judgmental.

So I was more than pleased when I arrived at the court house and the judge seemed relaxed and honorable and said he saw no reason to assign anything other than a level one to my case. It made all the rigmarole getting there and back worth it, including the strip search on either end. Just another case of God looking out for one of His believers I thought.

To help me with staying on the right track I continued to attended Bible studies at the make shift chapel at Orleans Wednesdays and Saturdays and church on Sunday and Sunday evening. Outside preachers would come in for the Sunday services and I greatly enjoyed them. The limited Bible studies were good, but I thought not as good as the ones at Mid-State. However, the message was the same, and I needed to hear it over and over so it would become natural for me and not just a part-time thing. I saw that with others, especially the ones who sadly left their Bibles at the door, truly only a jailhouse religion for them.

While I was counting down the last days, I was blessed with a corner cube which offered windows on two sides. I always loved nature, having grown up on a dairy farm and seeing it everyday. Now I could see it whenever I was inside. With the move I also picked up the morning porter job of getting the cleaning chemicals for our dorm. The regular CO noticed I was always up early, around 6 (a habit I never lost from my farm days) and so offered me the position which required an early pick up of the chemical box. It also afforded me an opportunity to get an early breakfast without waiting in the long lines of the normal morning meal time. The added benefit of keeping busy was one I particularly liked as well as being excused from the dorm clean-up activities which usually was very unorganized and proved a disaster.

While some inmates loved to veg their time away, I longed for activity to help the time pass quicker, so this job was, as I say, a God send. It gets me out on these crisp fall days. Even the spiting snow didn’t deter me. I also get first dibs on the newspaper brought to the dorm as everyone else is usually at breakfast when it comes. I only have to fight the regular CO for the cryptograms, as she also liked those word puzzles. We worked out a great plan, as one of us would copy it down for the other to work on as the day went on. Another blessing.

So I was truly getting near the end of my bid, something I clearly remember thinking in the beginning would never happen. Here I was, a few weeks out of getting out, kind of surreal in itself, but actual. It seemed more so when I met my parole-officer-to-be during one morning of class. Because I think he was a little intimidated when I towered over his barely 5′ frame, he appeared tough in his talking to me, or maybe that was just who he was. For some reason he was accompanied by a lady PO who seemed rather pleasant.

After the usual outline of the conditions I would be under when released he also mentioned the likelihood of my paroling to the local Rochester shelter since I had submitted no alternate plan. More restrictions were mentioned, then time for questions. I mentioned my desire to start my own home repair and maintenance business, which he all but vetoed on the spot. When I mentioned my idea to get homes for sex offenders he snorted and said ‘where are you going to get money for that’ or some such remark. I did not mention that I was planning on cashing in what little IRA I had accumulated to start the process as I got the feeling he already thought I was nuts. The lady PO politely said that it was a NIMBY situation, people would say Not In My Back Yard.

So with somewhat dashed hopes I left, though I truly felt the Holy Spirit telling me, as He did to Hezekiah centuries before, God’s got this, not to worry. It gave me more practice on being non-resistant, and in my PO’s case, I attempted to be non-judgmental, though I must admit with little success at this time. I was still feeling some excitement of the last days as I returned to my dorm. So what if there were so many restrictions on me. It was only for the remainder of my parole, two and a third years. So what if they didn’t like my work plans or ideas to aide other sex offenders with housing, their biggest hurdle when trying to re-enter society. They weren’t doing a great job at it, and maybe my wanting to do something highlighted their inability to do anything about it.

Regardless, I was looking forward to life on the outside and leaving corrections behind. It now was a matter of a few weeks as we were getting to the end of October.

`

IN THE LAST DAYS

Well, the program was going along fine and guys were generally upbeat because we were all near the end of our bids. Each week guys were going home and new ones replacing them. It was that way that I didn’t stay on the top bunk for long and was moved to my own cube. Heck, at this point I would have slept in the hall for my last 90 days.

Some of the program was on computer, learning the basics and how to write letters and such. Because my IO was on the computer, I was “excused” from that work each morning. Truth is, I was glad as it would have been so very repetitious for me. I felt it was humorous that for the last three years I was working on a computer, developing forms and writing letters for staff and others but computers now were verboten.

It also seemed many guys wee taking advantage of the State Health plan and getting last minute check-ups and operations prior to departure. It reminded me of my knee operation back in Utica Hospital. Because it was after basketball season and I had nothing better to do that I felt I should get my knee operated on to correct the floating meniscus that was bothering me, especially at night while sleeping – or attempting to. Ever since I rolled it back at Fishkill on the outside uneven pavement it had bothered me and seemed to be getting worse. I hadn’t known what to do, and in truth had prayed about it since it happened. The thought came on me a morning soon after the parole finding, so I felt I could use a change of scenery too I guess. I knew it would be a big deal getting everything arranged and take some time for everything to be worked out no matter the outcome. My new job in OMH was not to start for another few weeks, so now seemed like a good time, and I felt the Holy Spirit guiding me to do it.

I went to an outside doctor who performed preliminary tests, then was sent to a specialist, who after reviewing my MRI, said I was on the borderline of operating or not. The tear was about 7 mm, the range where an operation might help, certainly not hurt, but could not guarantee full pain-free utilization. I felt it was worth the risk, so he ordered the operation. That would involve a special trip to a local hospital and actually would take the whole day. Other guys were going out on the same bus for various tests and procedures, so I had a good deal of practice in waiting. Each time I went out, it was a long day, with breakfast, if you wanted to eat, at 6:00, then down to the infirmary to wait for the bus. Obligatory strip search – wouldn’t want to smuggle out anything and give it to others – then handcuffed and leg irons attached, boarded the bus, then off to collect guys from the other two local facilities and finally arrive at the medical facility. Each time we went I felt I was getting better at doing nothing, practicing my non-resistance. I would often talk about my faith to others if allowed, but the CO’s usually kept us from talking, especially when they were trying to watch the television in the waiting room. Certainly on the bus talk was prohibited. So I daydreamed of life as it might be when I was finally released.

The date for my operation was set after the results of the MRI were reviewed and discussed, which involved yet another trip outside, to a real doctor. At least this time it would be a on a Van with two guards. The doctor, and I use that term lightly, at the infirmary there at Mid-State was, well, let’s just say, lacking in professionalism. He would set at his desk and talk to you about your problem, never looking at any notes or history, and not taking any notes of your symptoms or problems. Some rumors had him being fired from his previous outside position. Others had him being a failed veterinarian. Whatever, the secret was to push and push till he would recommend an outside “specialist” (never would he say doctor) to examine you and see if they conferred with his diagnosis. Right. He never HAD a diagnosis for me or anyone I knew who went there other than ibuprofen. Tooth ache? Forget the dentist, take ibuprofen. Cut? You don’t need no stinkin’ bandage, just drugs, etc, etc. I had been forewarned of his antics, so I persisted. Once I went out for an initial diagnosis, he was basically out of the picture and I simply went by the outside doctors wishes and timetable.

It was to be an in and out operation, no more than 20 minutes, the hardest part, I was told, was waking up from the anesthesia. It turns out I was to be number 4 of the 13 knee operations this doctor was doing that day, not sure how many were inmates. Of course there were two CO’s assigned to me at all times, except in the operation room. Guess they felt I couldn’t escape if under anesthesia.

So the day arrived rather quickly for state work and I was off to a local Utica hospital to go under the knife. The CO’s could have pushed my bed as they escorted me everywhere, but then I think they would have wanted double pay. The doctor came in, talked with me briefly and reviewed why we were all here (except the CO’s), even writing on my right knee “cut here” as a joke, but I think with so many on his schedule it was to remind him who and where to cut. Then I was drugged up, but not before the handcuffs that were on and off me so many times as I was prepared for the surgery were transferred to the bed. No escaping on their watch, drugs or no.

Next thing I knew I was slowly waking up. My leg was numb, but I felt good. Later the doc came by on his way to prep others and asked if I had any questions. All I wanted to know is what restrictions I had and what might speed up the recovery process. “Do everything you can, as soon as you can, as often as you can without causing any pain or discomfort if you can” was his advice. He also informed me of some stretches to aide recovery. Crutches? He advised them on an as needed basis, but certainly until I got back to the facility. After that, have fun. I wanted to remind him I was in state greens so fun was not on the menu, but felt it better to hold my tongue.

Before I got dressed, a nurse came by with paperwork and to ask me any if I had any needs. I said I was hungry since it was mid-afternoon and I couldn’t eat any breakfast prior to the operation. Thinking it would go no where, I asked if I would get a sandwich. The guards said they didn’t care as long as it didn’t take long as we were still waiting for the second inmate they were transporting to also finish. I had a real tuna fish sandwich with lettuce and tomato and chips, a real treat I must say over the usual bag lunch. I know the nurse saw my pleasure at receiving it.

Then I was uncuffed momentarily as the guards watched me dress, then cuffed my right hand to the crutch as I couldn’t very easily be cuffed hands together as when I came in. They also by passed on the leg irons that had been a fashion statement for me upon entering. Then off to wait for the one other guy, then very quickly onto the mini-van that brought us here and back home to Mid-State.

I was to stay in the infirmary that day, Thursday at least, and more if I needed. But because I was expecting my wife to visit on Saturday and bring a package, I knew I was going home Friday. I had not seen her since receiving the news of my being hit by the board, so this was an important get together.

Friday morning came, and after the paperwork was completed and I could get a nurse practitioner to release me, I prepared to leave. It would be great to get back to the Honor Dorm and my own room and bed even though I hadn’t been gone that long, it seemed like I had. I declined the crutches, and they were placed in a closet with at least 30 other pair. That’s the state for you. They could have easily taken a set with us to save, but now had to pay for more, for which the taxpayers would have to pony up.

My prayers were finally answered on what I needed to do about my knee, in God’s timing I knew, and I was feeling quite good as I walked, a little stiff legged but pain free and smiling all the way back to my dorm. Maybe following His plan wasn’t as difficult as I, and most naysayers, made it out to be. I was very thankful for what I did have and again vowed to make the most of my time left.

And that was exactly what I was trying to do now, follow His lead in all things. Of course I had to check out the basketball situation as soon as I could in the evening. Guys were picking up teams as I entered and, as usual, I was overlooked. I did recognize one guy who wasn’t a bad player but had a very big mouth, but he didn’t acknowledge me. Other than that, I had to prove myself once again. Once guys saw my game, I was a regular pick each night.

Because of the ever changing status of most inmates here, teams were being set up but constantly in flux. That proved good for me to get on a team, which was all I wanted as I would be long gone before the season was even half over. I was in good shape by now and it was so good to run and play, still running past the younger guys, most of whom smoked.

All I had to do was behave, follow the rules, work at the re-entry program and leave whole in three months time. That didn’t sound too hard, even for me. I was sure praying that all would work out for me and these other guys on our last days inside corrections.

THE RE-ENTRY PROGRAM

So, Albion here I come. Located about an hours west of Rochester, it would be my final home inside corrections, where I could gather last minute instructions and tips before leaving this enforced time out to whatever the new normal would look like.

The bus ride was so very long. I was reminded of my Thanksgiving debacle getting to Mid-State, but fortunately, with several periods of non-movement, this one was simply just drawn out. I and a few other inmates had an early breakfast after being called out for transport. “Van Wagner, on the move” was what I had wanted to hear for so long. Strip searched, packs inspected, we boarded the transport bus, a medium size one, wearing our favorite jewelry though not joined to anyone this time. Too many stops with single departures I guess.

Seemed like we stopped at so many upstate facilities, then headed down to Elmira in the southern part of the State. I only hoped we wouldn’t have to spend the night there. But again, we were fortunate to only discharge and take on inmates. After what seemed like several hours there, we departed. It was also there that we received the infamous bag lunch. I traded what I could and gave most away, though I was not really sure when I would eat again.

I would say most acted bored on this trip. They may have only been trading one facility for another while in the midst of their bid. I was looking forward to the end. But I knew I best not share this good news with others as there always seemed to be someone who wanted to derail any such departures while they were stuck inside corrections. Odd, but it was true. I knew of several, often lifers who had nothing to lose, who sacrificed time in the box to fight with someone so the other inmate wouldn’t go home.

Another sweet move was to plant something – a banger (knife) or other contraband in the belongings of the guy soon to leave so that he would get jammed up and have his time extended. What better time or place than when on a move?

Bags were placed around and moved from bus to bus. And though they had a seal type wrap around them so any tampering could be detected, it was not a fool proof system. Hey, these were criminals, they knew how to short circuit the system to get what they wanted. CO’s usually looked the other way any way as long as they were not in danger. Or they looked aside for other reasons. How else could so many drugs of all kinds, not to mention pornography, (in a SO Program Facility no less!) make there way inside if not with a little help from friends.

So I was as vigilant as I could be not to tell many where I was going and why as well as to keep an eye on my belongings as much as I could. As with so much of my time inside corrections of late I felt invisible to others. Or maybe I had learned how not to stand out better than I had when I first came in.

Finally, after the sun was setting we were getting close to arriving. I could see some scenery out the front windows of our bus and recognized where we were as we neared the small town of Orleans, about an hour west of Rochester. Thank goodness, as I was having a difficult time feeling anything below my waist from all the sitting. The few guys left who were staying here went to one of two reception buildings for the usual search practices. I gathered the re-entry program was separate and thus had it’s own areas for living since we all did not go in the same building.

Once through with the normal rigmarole of inspection I went to my new and final home inside. It was a large room, bull pen style housing, with small dividers separating beds and bunks. At least we had pretty good windows. I landed on a top bunk of course and politely told the CO of my age and need to be removed. The State had determined anyone over 60 should not be on the top bunk. Of course he did little to change things and informed me the regular CO would take care of it when he came back. I was just happy to have a bed at this point. Meals were long over, so I brushed my teeth, made the bed, climbed up and curled up for the night. Only to be awaken for the night time count.

It seems at this facility, unlike others, the early night count, around 10:00, was made by either standing or sitting up in bed, no exceptions. If you were lucky enough to have fallen asleep, a neighbor would help you arise lest the CO’s have to do it, usually by banging their night stick on your bed frame or even your bed, hence the preference to have someone close awaken you.

The next day I went through some orientation and was matriculated into the re-entry program. In it, we would learn skills to aid reintegration into society, to behave like regular citizens and act so as not to return. It seemed the State knew and was tired of the revolving door for felons and was trying to do something about it, oddly enough. This was a relatively new program, only in it’s second year, so they were still learning. A good deal of what I was told they would be going over was what I had done for guys in the Phase III courses I facilitated back at Mid-State. Resume work, job interviews, work norms, changes in society since there incarceration, things of this type and more would be covered I was told. No sense trying to change anything, so I smiled and agreed I would do my best.

What was new was we were going to meet face to face with the parole officer we would have when we got out. After all, we had to report to someone who would watch over us during the completion of our bid on the outside instead of the inside. This would be good and an opportunity to see what I would have to deal with out there. Would they be like the CO’s in here, or like regular cops out there? Time would tell, but it added an air of expectancy to the program.

They also said they would be helping us get housing so we could be settled before leaving. That would be a big help to me now that I was to be homeless upon leaving. I was actually banking on them assisting in that area. They also would help put us in contact, if possible, with employers who might hire felons and give us the second chance we so badly needed.

In truth I was practicing being non-resistant. I surely needed practice in this area as pride often got the best of me, even from way back. After all, it was a mechanism I had used to forge ahead during difficult times as a child on the farm as well as in school. Being proud of accomplishments and striving to be the best wasn’t in itself bad or a problem as it fueled the fires to be better and accomplish things in the next level, whether in academics, sports, music, or other things I was involved in growing up. I learned it also kept my father off my back when I did well, so that in itself was a motivation.

The problem was the arrogance that crept into my being as a result of doing things well. It led to my thinking I could get away with other things, that I deserved things, that the rules didn’t always apply to me and stuff like that which caused the problems. Only when consequences occurred or were threatened did I seem to change, hence my desire to be proactive and cut the dance short. I do admit, prison was the shocker that taught me something needed to be done, something had to change else I could be back or cause more harm as I had by doing what I did. It could not go on as before, and for some time I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to change.

It could only be done from the inside, from wanting to change, then doing it. All the programs in the world could not bring it about if I wasn’t ready and willing to change, so that’s what I was all about at this point. Now I would have help from these new counselors in planning strategies that would help me, and everyone willing to do them, outside corrections. So that was a good thing and I looked forward to it. Anything to help.

I truly believed God had a better plan for my life than the existence I had been living prior to all this. I just wanted to be ready when he laid it out for me and willing to lay aside my plans for His. All the work I had done and was continuing to do on myself in learning deep seated reasons for my acting out and selfish behaviors as well as learning new behaviors would be useful from now on. I knew He wanted me to do the best I could at everything I did, especially being a follower of His son, Jesus.

So I was including that as part of my re-entry program and went to sleep thinking of doing just that.

PLANNED MOVE

My transfer to the re-entry program was approved, so I would be relocating to a new facility for a fourth time. The date was set for early August, but no one would give me a firm date so, you know, we wouldn’t plan any escape attempts or other shenanigans.

I had definite mixed feelings on the move. I was in a real nice groove here at Mid-State and back in the Honor dorm 35 days after being removed. I had to start at the door bed in the two man room outside the single room, by the way, but I was back. Most of the same guys were there with a couple exceptions. One or two had gone home, a couple were in fights and won free tickets to the box. Also, one was admitted into civil confinement, something nobody wishes on anybody really as you never know if or when you might be eligible to get released from there. So we knew he had done something really bad.

I was still struggling with things though was feeling a great deal better after returning upstairs to the honor dorm. I had also had the ying/yang feeling of watching, actually helping, my best friend William go home. I was able to help him carry his bags to the building where he would be released – after being strip searched of course. Wouldn’t want him taking anything out, as if he would want to! We chatted for a final time, not really knowing if we ever would again. We hugged, and he received the normal $ 40.00 and a bus ticket, in his case, to New York City. And then he was gone.

I have been busy putting the finishing touches on my brochure for my home maintenance/handyman business I thought I might start when I got out. I had heard how difficult it was for felons to land jobs, and I knew self-employment would provide an alternative. Being near retirement I knew companies would not want to hire me compared to younger workers. So I had put together a tri-fold piece of literature to hand out. I though of calling my business Doc’s, as in the old bugs bunny cartoon, “what’s up doc?” In reality, it was a slam against DOCS, the Department of Correctional Services, my little joke. There was little to no corrections going on in here, and then only what individuals did for themselves. The programs offered good information, but if guys didn’t want to hear or help themselves, it was useless. So few were corrected inside corrections.

Another reason correction was low was because guys saw through the hypocrisy of the counselors. Aside from their affairs and out of wedlock babies, one sex offender counselor was living with an ex-inmate who was still on parole, a violation of their rules. Then the parolee started to blackmail her when she wanted him out, so he sent photos of his name tattooed on her derriere to her boss because she wouldn’t pay up or let him stay. The civilian I had worked for and grown close to showed me a copy and told of this and other sordid tales right after she was transferred.

One female SO counselor was popular among the CO’s, especially after a few beers when she would grant favors of a certain nature in the parking lot, or other places. Or at work after their shift. One also had a live-in boyfriend who was caught with 22 garbage bags of weed in their basement. She denied knowing about it the newspaper article said. Hey, the smell of that much marijuana would almost get them high. She was transferred to another facility. And these were only the ones I heard about in the sex offender program. I am sure there were similar stories in the ASAT Program. (Alcohol and substance treatment) So guys weren’t too keen on having moral-less people like these instruct them on doing the right thing, hence my claim about lack of correction inside.

But pretty soon I would be transferred to spend the last ninety days in a reintegration program where I could focus everything to get me back into society, specifically for the Rochester area. There was a similar one for the Buffalo area as well. The transfer would put me closer to home, but unfortunately farther from my brother. I thought it might offer aid on getting back to whatever normal would be, especially employment help and places to live. It was around this time my wife informed me she did not want me returning to our 2800 square foot house, the home I had worked so hard to get and enjoyed so much. I knew things were getting bad, but this was a big blow, as inmates had a much harder time getting out when they were undomiciled – had no place to go. Shelters were often at capacity, and finding an apartment was difficult enough from the outside let alone the inside, especially without having a firm release date and no idea of income. I had really counted on landing at home, then moving out as soon as I could find a place. After all, I had moved out after being arrested and out on bail, so I reasoned I could do it again upon release from prison.

I was all mixed up emotionally: high that things were getting close, low about most everything else. One constant amidst all of this was the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear to trust Him and not worry. Civilians at my Bible study’s or retreat weekends offered similar advice and said they would pray things would work out favorably for me. All I had to do was stay faithful, listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudging and pray myself. I had been doing a great deal of that for some time, not just about being released, and had seen positive results, so it was not a difficult thing for me to do. Still, I was nervous. Not anxious really where I couldn’t sleep or eat or concentrate, just nervous that I would find work, housing, a normal life, not be threatened as some had reported, and other factors.

Another thing that played on my emotions was the trip to my mother’s calling hours. It helped me in one way, especially in retrospect, put closure to things – like her death, prison life and my sentence inside almost coming to an end. At least the part at Mid-State, three years worth, was ending, but that also was a good/bad thing.

The trip outside to the calling hours was with a couple of CO’s who kind of knew of me and knew I had only eight months left, something we all agreed I didn’t want to screw up and have more time added. I was the only passenger in the State transport van as we went from Mid-State down to central New York and my home town. I had not seen it in over four years, so things looked a great deal different. I was amazed at some of the changes in houses and businesses along the way too, as I knew this area well because this was in the heart of my sales territory where I had spent a great deal of time traveling prior to my arrest.

Once at the funeral home, I was allowed to go inside, still shackled and handcuffed, but at least not hands to feet as when transported. I was able to view my mothers remains and visit for a short time with my siblings before others would show up. It was quite embarrassing for me, as I am sure it was for them, especially my brother who still lived in our hometown. He would have to deal with his convict brothers crime and punishment almost as much as I would in whatever area I landed.

I spent time with them, and time kneeling and praying at my mothers casket. It was very sad and I was sad too. My one sister had visited me inside a couple of times, but my oldest didn’t drive that far, so seeing her was a delight, jewelry and all. The time went too quickly, and then I was whisked back to Mid-State.

I was yet again blessed when one of the officers whispered not to tell anyone but to go ahead and leave to my dorm after the chains and handcuffs were removed. No strip search this time, thank the Lord. As I walked back, it felt like a dream and I wondered if the last five hours had really happened or I was just wishing they had.

So my emotions were all over the map. It was funny, I thought, how so many guys had told me when they returned on a violation or new bid and were close to getting out – again – that they would do whatever they had to in order to remain free and not come back, and here I was thinking the same thing. I did not want to return inside corrections no matter what.

As July neared it’s end, I began getting rid of a few things that I didn’t want to transport, basically carry in the small gunny sacks provided to pack up for your move. Cooking utensils, some clothes, books and other personal items went to guys I thought needed them. I have to be careful giving things away that have my din number etched into them, as guys could get into trouble having something with another inmate’s number on it. Fortunately,  these items did not have any ID on them.

So I waited for this special planned move and the day to arrive. I would be notified the morning of the move, I was told, so I could pack up and go to the reception area for checking prior to departing. There again inmates would go through my belongings to make sure I did not have any contraband (which they would keep) or items not allowed at the new facility (which they would also keep). Fortunately I knew pretty much how the game was played so I thought I’d not have any problems this time. Plus going home, or close to it, offered a different look on things overall, I had heard and we were allowed a little more leeway.

Summer was getting close to ending as was my bid. I can sense the similarities and feel the changes coming. I feel the transfer to the new facility will be like a practice run, where all things will be different and I have little control over most things and have to learn to deal with all the newness that my IO (crime) would cause. The same would be true when I got out of prison in a little over three months. So pay attention I told myself.

Now I would be moving into the last phase of my incarceration, a last move before getting out. At least this time, the first time, it was a planned move. I worked at not letting my mind get too far ahead, especially with where I would be living and working. I needed to stay non-attached to things, non-resistant to all the changes, and non-judgmental of good or bad and leave all in God’s capable hands. I knew what would happen if I tried doing it all myself – been there, done that too many times, even just recently. And I needed more time to get it right.

So now I was practicing that which I wanted to achieve on the outside, total reliance and dependency on God, and His work, not man’s. His will, not mine. Surrender and service, not arrogance and pride.

As the move neared, my prayers increased, and oddly enough, so did my peace. I knew I would get excited the day of, but for now, I needed to stay focused on the moment and make sure not to back slide, only listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. But as with all my work on gaining control of my addiction, practice will make progress, not perfection, and it is definitely easier said than done.

SURPRISE MOVE

Well, if you think there is no justice in here you are wrong. I sit in general pop, having been removed from the honor dorm, a victim of justice. It all was so simple.

I was showering, trying to get the substitute CO to turn on certain showers, two of the eight that worked well and didn’t just drizzle, which was what he did at first because, as I said, he was a sub and didn’t know what was what with all the shower controls in his office. I had shouted out “please turn on 7 & 8”, something I usually did to the regular CO who would comply directly. But this guy only turned on the first two, one of which drizzled, the second of which shot a single stream.

So I waited a couple of minutes, then repeated my request. Nothing. That was when I draped a towel around me and opened the shower room door to catch any passerby to have him relay my request. No one was around, as it was well after 9 o’clock. I had gone to the gym to play hoop and had a good work out and really was looking forward to my shower. I waited and peeked down the hall and saw the CO’s arm as he stood down at the end of the hall watching television. It was quite a ways down and I didn’t want to shout to him as blue shirts hate being called by green shirts. So I took matters into my own hands and went across the hall to the kitchen. The kitchen had a door that connected to the CO’s office, so I helped myself and turned on the appropriate controls. I then returned to the showers and did my business, thinking no one saw me.

About the time I was finished, an inmate knocked on the door and said to see the CO when I was done. I knew what was up and wondered what I ought to do. I had already taken matters into my own hands not even thinking of consequences. After all I had been through, all that had happened, all the growth I felt I had made I reverted to my default position, being master of my own situation, thinking only of myself and doing what I wanted. I knew I had to tell the truth.

Well, the CO rightly read me the riot act and said the sergeant would be contacting me shortly. Long story short, he did and I was told to pack up as I would be moving. Thankfully it wasn’t to the box, which it could have been, but rather to gp and a bunk bed, fortunately the bottom with no one on top.

A drive by. The CO was a sub from another facility who was simply filling in. Most of the blue shirts knew me and I them. I had never had any problem with any of them nor they me. It is very interesting that for all my prayers, plans and desires, I regressed to my old arrogant ways, and was once again paying the price. When would I get it right? Would I ever get it right?

I didn’t get it right at my second parole hearing either. This time it was only one woman and one man. There were supposed to be a total of three in case of any ties, but then again they do what they want. I did no preparation this time, no packet, no letters, nothing. It did me little good the first time, maybe even hurt my chances, and I just had a feeling I would not make it anyway. So I went with no apprehension, no pressure, and frankly, no hope.

The woman was maybe a little over four feet tall, and stood the entire time, walking back and forth as she did all the talking. She asked me about my charge and why I was here, my victim and what I was planning when I agreed to meet her in person. Nothing was mentioned about all I had accomplished since then, what I had learned, what I planned to do to correct and prevent future lapses of judgment. She then said something that told me the results were already preordained: “Well you CR in November anyway don’t you?” I wanted to say that was not why we were here today and other pointed things but decided to remain silent.

Guess after this most recent incident that bounced me out of the honor dorm I had not learned much of anything and was right back to square one, so I guess I deserve to still be here. Great job again, James. Sure didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit on that one. How was I ever going to do better on the outside with all the pressures and freedoms there?

The only good thing was time was still passing. It was late March, and November, when I would parole on my conditional release unless of course I continued being stupid, was only eight months away. Actually guys told me I made out pretty well with my faux pas, as I didn’t get a ticket, which could postpone my release, or go to the box as some have, and only received loss of recreation for 30 days. Oh I could still go to the yard, but after everyone else in all dorms were there, which reduced my outside time to roughly half an hour, as I was not able to stay for both mods. No gym or weight room either. And worse, no packages. No whole food and fresh fruit and vegetables for a month. So I planned to do a great deal of reading.

Maybe I was still messed up because my mother had just passed the end of February, though it was not a reason to be so arrogant. I was working in the OMH Ward when I was contacted by a CO and told to come to his office right away. I did and was told to go to see Father Weber directly.

Now I knew of Father Weber, the Catholic priest who conducted services for the Catholics, and actually had several conversations with him over my stay here, especially because I would sometimes visit Reverend Ellis who’s office was right next door. Anyway, he told me to come in and sit down and very quickly and sadly told me of my mothers passing the night before. He didn’t have any details, but told me he would call my brother so I could talk to him and learn everything I needed to know, and he did so right away.

I was in shock. I was too surprised to even cry at this point. I had just talked to her a week or so ago, and my brother had said she was wondering if I was really that happy and at ease with everything or was just faking. (My brother told her he thought the former)

Anyway, my brother told me she had died peaceably in her sleep from an apparent heart attack at the nursing home where he worked and didn’t appear to suffer at all. I asked how this could be as she had a pacemaker. He said he was told if she had had a new one with a defibrillator she might have made it. As it was, she died three weeks prior to her 89th birthday. The funeral was to be a couple of days from then.

Wow. I was still stunned and could only listen. The only saving grace for me was that she was a believer and liked my new born again beliefs. After I hung up with my brother, Father Weber instructed me on the usual protocol for attending such events. My request to attend would be submitted and I would be informed as to whether I could attend or not. I could chose to get a couple of hours at the calling hours or attending the funeral – complete with full jewelry of course – handcuffs, leg irons, and an escort or two CO’s. I opted for the calling hours visit where I could get some alone time with my mom and also my brother and two sisters.

Then it hit me and the dam burst. I cried like a baby right in front of Father and couldn’t stop. I think I was crying for many reasons, but manly because I had hurt her so much, and she would not see her changed youngest a free man again, something I had truly hoped for. Consequently I was very depressed.

It was during this time that I beat myself up pretty badly, still grieving my loss as well as feeling my pride had never gone away but had only been dormant for a while. Taking matters into my own hands was just what the devil wanted, what he urged. Just as he directed Adam and Eve, he assisted me on my original offense, with my consent of course, and now this latest escapade. His whispers in my ears were louder than the nudging of the Holy Spirit once again. I sure had a long way to go to solidify any lasting changes, something I thought I had previously accomplished and people on the outside would see, especially my mother. How disappointing. No wonder I was in a funk.

I knew I had to make this surprise move work for me and teach me to slow down and give time for consultation with God and, basically, common sense. As Buck Henry famously said, “Common sense ain’t so common.” It certainly wasn’t with me. I definitely needed more inside corrections and now had time to work at it while still inside corrections.

THE NEW LAST YEAR

Things have progressed toward my finish line, so much so that I have trouble remembering all of them. Several people visited me again during the holidays, yet nothing stands out. Well, with the exception of my wife’s visit which told me a great deal of what NOT to expect when I return. She had taken her wedding band off and was a bit standoffish, something I understand but did not want. My daughter and son also visited at separate times, such a great time each. And yet I go on, day to day inside corrections as if this will be my life from now on. Quite crazy to say the least.

I have heard about a re-entry program one of the other facilities is running geared specifically for guys from Rochester where I committed my instant offense. It sounds like a great program that I could benefit from greatly, as it centers on getting your life together for re-entry so you succeed and not come back, something far too many guys seem to do. It would mean leaving this honor dorm, my cushy life facilitating and doing resume work helping guys here that are about to renter, but it might help get me ready and prepared me for my new life outside corrections.

It’s amazing really how I have grown used to this life. Maybe it’s the peace I have with everything. Or maybe it’s knowing that sometime this year, most probably in November, I will finally be released. Whatever the reason, I go on with everything as if I were on the outside, except I know I am not in control of my life. It may be that giving up control over everything, as one has to in here, has made it easier to give up all to God as I attempt to do. Regardless, I work, play, worship and simply enjoy life as I go. Oh sure, guys are getting beat up around me. It’s a wonder I haven’t in so many ways. Most are SO’s, and some ref’s as I mentioned before. And there are always the gang fights that result in beat downs and cuttings. We also have had more self mutilations of late where guys will cut themselves. Then we are locked down while the haz mat guys come in to clean up the mess.

Unfortunately I witnessed the tail end of one such occurrence when I returned early from the yard one evening. Blood everywhere and the offender screaming loudly, nothing I care to see again. I guess matriculating OMH guys into general pop isn’t going as someone planned, with more such happenings and fights as a result.

But I have been spared from all it seems, blessed beyond simple understanding. Oh that these blessings would continue to my board in March, but I feel they will hit me simply because of my impending CR in November. Regardless, I plod along, helping all I can while here, knowing eventually my time will come to also be released.

My good friend, probably my only real friend, William is being released in May. He is very happy but reserved, as this is his second time here, having come back on a parole violation from his first bid. He knows the game, but despite that, has been beaten in his dorm of late. He spent a short time in the infirmary, but then returned none the worse for wear. It is such a shame guys get away with that, but I guess the authorities are too busy to be concerned with small altercations, especially when they involve sex offenders. Plus I guess they feel it serves as a warning for others, that everyone is a potential target, so be on guard, something that then makes their job easier.

Someone asked me what I focus on besides my spiritual work, which in actuality takes a good deal of my time, and I simply said surviving. I have planned produce purchases with guys who grow gardens this year, but mostly I do not plan too far ahead, not knowing exactly what will transpire. William’s situation has taught me that. Also, the Biblical story of the rich man planning on building new barns in Luke 12 v 14-21 has reminded me not to get too far ahead of myself, especially with material things, as none of us are promised tomorrow.

I also think I am coming to the end of my proverbial rope with this prison thing and just want it to end. However, I know from what so many have said, especially ones who have been out there and have come back, that the real test will be on the outside, where you have more freedoms and no CO’s to watch you. When you are on parole, it basically means you are finishing your bid on the outside rather than inside, but still under their control via a parole officer. There will be rules and limitations, probably more than I will like, but that is just part of this Jumanji world that I must complete to get off this crazy merry-go-round and get back to any kind of normal life.

I realize now that much of it will be uphill, especially without my wife and her support. My brother continues to be steady and a stalwart of support, as do my kids. But as in here, and with any repentance and turn from addiction, the decisions and outcomes depend on me and my actions, not just what I think or say. I will forever have to prove myself to God and others and not be defined by any labels this place or society puts on me. That will be the challenge. But then I am a competitive person and will put those attributes to work for my good rather that anything else, starting now in this a new and my last year inside corrections.

GETTING ON

Part of the danger of getting used to this life in green inside corrections is not paying attention all the time to areas of trouble. I have been safe for so long, at least staying whole as we say here, that I go about my daily business as if I am not in danger. While I am at peace with being here, and I haven’t been threatened, at least lately, and I feel pretty safe. And as I described before, it appears many CO’s are looking out for me as well.

The last time I really felt threatened goes back to early in my life here after transferring to Mid-State. I was in general population after being transferred out of reception. I wanted to use the phone to talk to my wife but it was count time. So after count I went to the empty phone booth to use it as one was already in use. As I began dialing, I noticed an ID card laying under the phone of the shelf. Not really knowing why it was there, I proceeded. Just as the recording was asking my wife to press three to complete the call a guy came and hung me up. He was medium height and ruggedly built and looked upset. He asked me if I saw his ID and what did I think I was doing? I said using the phone and he said let’s go to the bathroom.

Now at the time I didn’t know that was the place most things get “worked out” between inmates, as there are no cameras and it is out of sight of the CO bubble. (Just use your imagination) So I said sure and followed him in. He turned near the sinks and again asked me what I was thinking, using the phone when he had his ID there. I kind of noticed others had left when we entered and he was tensing his face, and I even thought he balled up his right fist. I simply said I did not know the rules and thought it was open and ready for use. I noticed I was a good foot taller than him but also several years older.

Now I know my way around a fight and have studied karate for a couple of years when I was younger, so I know good defensive tactics. I was not feeling like mixing it up with this guy but didn’t want to be branded yellow either, as inside corrections that label will follow and haunt you for your stay. However, fights inside corrections are no holds barred, anything goes. So we stared at each other for a couple of minutes, then he said he’d let this slide since I was a nubie. We didn’t exactly shake hands when we left. But neither one of us were letting the other know we were scared and I think both of us were happy it ended this way. I know I was.

I did notice the CO glance at us as we exited, meaning he knew something was up either because he saw the beginning of it or someone made mention. Often I have noticed they let confrontations play out when it’s green on green and only get involved when things get lopsided or threaten others, or turn on blue.

But since then, after learning many prison ways and keeping vigilant, I am still still whole and unhurt. The same could not be said for many SO’s or even some of my fellow referees. Yep, I was blessed that I had not been beat up after crucial games as other ref’s had when on the walkway home after the game. It left a shortage of referees as well, one that guys weren’t too anxious to fill. That put the burden on civilians and even the head of physical activity who filled in from time to time. On more than one occasion after I did a game with one of the civilians, I was asked if I wanted an escort back to my dorm. I guess I felt protected by greater powers than they could offer and didn’t really feel I was a target. Plus it would actually make things worse in the long run, giving the impression I was special. Nothing more enticing to some criminals than getting it on with a brown noser.

To date, through football and basketball refereeing, I have had no problems. However, that does not mean I can take anything for granted, especially as time goes on. Moreover, this facility also has a growing number of inmates with mental issues going into the OMH unit. You never know when one of them may pop off for who knows what as I had experienced in my work in Transitional Services early on. There, however, CO’s and civilians were always nearby.

So most days were business as usual: work, home to the honor dorm, workout, Bible study, work outs or even evening walks in the yard. Then more of the same. Weekends were often boring without any visits and usually resulted in time in the gym or yard. I relished being called in for special assignments at work. By the time Sunday evening Bible study comes I am ready for the week to start.

Of course I am also ready to get out of here but am more at peace knowing I will probably have to go to my CR (conditional release, 2/3 of your total bid) in November even though I go back to parole in March. Everyone gets another chance at parole every two years, though many guys skip the drama of going to the hearing, especially lifers. They know they’re getting hit, so why go through all the work and emotions. My friend William says I won’t make it this time either, so I am not getting my hopes up this time.

As we near the end of the year and my last Christmas inside whether I get hit or not, I have to say I am used to this life and working on skills that I will use when I return to life outside corrections. I get to practice the fruit of the spirit the apostle Paul speaks of in Galatians 5 v22, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Believe me, that is a challenge, which I know will continue later in my life. I now believe God put me here so I could work on myself as I sure wasn’t going anywhere good in His kingdom out there and needed this time out.

I truly believe that, which is probably why I am more at peace with things now. I even told my mother these things the last time I called which I think also helped her mental state. Hey, at 88 with her youngest behind bars she needs all the reassurance she can get.

My solace is coming from Jesus and my growing relationship with Him. Despite all my problems, my location and place right now, He is giving me more than I thought would ever come.

TIME PASSES III

To tell the truth, I don’t recall all the time passing. I enjoy my work, especially in the OMH Unit. We flowed from the ART Course into Phase III, then another of the same for different guys preparing to be released. The walk down to the building over a half mile away is a delight in all types of weather. No one seems to bother me or even ask for a pass for my presence on the deserted walkway.

My other work in Phase III with the other inmates is also going well. I had reports come back that guys got jobs because of the resume I helped them generate. Kudos to God I continue to say, as He was the one who gave me all talents and knowledge I testify, confusing some and even allowing conversation with others.

My basketball playing went well again, getting into the finals in both the under 40 and over 40 leagues. Heck, I even played on a volleyball team just for something different. I also continue my refereeing, gaining a few extras bucks that help with commissary. I continue some basic weight training as well as my evening walks in the yard, in all seasons. All in all, I feel in good shape physically, mentally and spiritually.

Life in the honor dorm is good, having gained the respect of others and the day-to-day CO’s who work there. In fact, the regular day guard often asks me to perform cleaning tasks that others could do but not as painstakingly as I do, especially in his personal bathroom. I play chess with a few guys, help some in school subjects, and trade for fruit and vegetables with any who comply. In fact, I had a regular guy I was actually buying from, mainly peppers and zucchini he received in packages, until he was transferred to another facility.

He was working outside the fence in the administration building, doing cleaning and maintenance early in the day or later in the evening. Seems he and another guy I knew, who worked part time in Transitional Services, were very friendly with a civilian female secretary who worked there. Then they were transferred. Turns out my associate from work was caught selling sniffs of that ladies panties for a flag! (stamp) My veggie supplier friend and he were also caught having sex in the office with that woman. Guess they forgot someone is always watching, in this instance on a camera. Though she had a husband and family, she was dismissed, losing her pension also, all for a few quickies with inmates. I was told that sort of thing goes on frequently and my mind returned to the guy in the Grievance office at Fishkill also caught with a civilian. What bothered me the most was the loss of fresh vegetables!

Good things keep happening to me in many ways, whether being overlooked by CO’s or extended privileges. My boss at work, also a believer by the way, who had to print all the lists and schedules I generate, let me print and copy just about anything I develop. I told him about my idea, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to start a home maintenance and repair business when I get out. To that end, I had developed a tri-fold brochure for it which he reviewed and allowed me to print. Letters to home or friends were also done, as well as work and letters for him of course.

A real strange event that happened a couple of times that, at the time I didn’t understand, occurred while at work. The assistant deputy of the facility stopped in to see me in my office at work and ask how I was doing and if everything was all right! I didn’t put two and two together till speaking with my brother on a visit. Turns out he was a lad from my home town, a few years behind me in school, who obviously remembered me and was checking in to see if all was okay. I was stunned and pleased at the same time. That type of thing just doesn’t go on in here, with a clear dividing line between green, blue and everybody else. He even stopped me on the walkway one day to check up on me, with several CO’s and other admin guys around. So I feel really blessed and watched over even inside corrections. It caused me to remember back a year before I offended when I played in a high school alumni basketball game with a few of his brothers and a cousin or two, as he was from a large family in my hometown. I played really well that day and even went out with some of them to celebrate afterwards. So it was amazing I didn’t make any connection at first. It also left me wondering what he thought of how I turned out after all these years. What a disappointment for sure.

There was another blessing of having my own office. When we had moved over to the program building, things were chaotic for a bit, but then rooms and offices were assigned and I was given a 8 x 10 office with a window. So cool. I even was given my own computer, with no internet of course. It was still strange considering my charge but not when considering all I was doing for others, inmates and blue shirts alike. It was there I work on guys resumes, letters for many, including some of my own, class lists and anything else requested of me. It was where I would get called to do work on holidays and even weekends when needed by staff, something I didn’t mind as long as it didn’t interfere with a visit, which it never has yet.

So I was beginning to see there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and prayed it wasn’t a train! Guys were going home all around me and I now believed it was going to happen to me, such a change from when I started or even a few months ago after I was hit by the parole board. There was a guy who went to civil confinement, a place no one wants to go where they can keep sex offenders indefinitely, but I really didn’t fear they would take me. You had to be a repeat offender and have other issues as well. Time is continuing to pass, no necessarily flying by, but at least passing.

What would life be like when I got out? Would I be able to reconcile with my wife? What would I do for work? Would I be shunned as I heard so many other sex offenders were in communities all over the state? Would I be able to continue my faith so none of this would matter? As time continued to pass I prayed I would stay strong every day, but knew the biggest test of my life would be outside corrections.

YOU MIGHT ASK

While facilitating Phase III one day and working on a resume for a guy, I was asked why I am so passionate about Christ being the answer for my addictive behavior. I would offer that is the answer period. Because He is. Not just for any particular type of behavior or lack of it, rather anything and everything. When your focus goes off me and onto Him – not just something else – true healing and growth can really begin, I told him. I don’t remember how the subject came up, but I am getting better at taking opportunities to mention my faith.

It took several years for me to genuinely believe that I was truly forgiven,  that Jesus died for me and took my sins to the cross, even if I did nothing but believe in Him. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have moments of shame, guilt and doubt. The joy I now feel, though, because of His guidance and love is what I would want for ALL people, addicted or not. Because He works even on desperate sinners like me is why I need to get the word out about my transformation and what Christ can do for everyone. After all, I am in good company because the twelve apostles, those closest to Jesus, went through the same transformation as I have gone through.

Now let’s also be clear, nothing about my being born again is easy. Any child birth, even with an easy labor – if there is such a thing – is difficult. A new life emerging, all that pain and discomfort, proves worth it when you behold the new life created. Similarly I feel, God looks at a born again Christian the same way. Christ said he would leave the 99 to search for the one lost sheep and rejoice when he comes back to the fold. (Luke 15 v4) I can now behold more fully God’s handiwork first hand in me and other believers. “For you formed my inward parts, you covered me in my mother’s womb.” (Ps. 139 v 13) He knew what lie ahead for me and needed to let me experience it so I could grow into the new life.

Because of your rebirth, you may lose friends as I have. “Jailhouse religion” is the common term for many who come to Christ inside corrections, then leave it at the door upon leaving. Time will tell if this rebirth lasts outside corrections. Many may believe you are only playing a role and do not believe or trust it. They may not even like the new you. It is too much for them to grasp that you are no longer addicted to the same things as before or as they still are, or that you act and think differently now. Putting Christ first will do that, change your total perspective on everything, just as He meant it to be. This transformation is needed to move you out of your cocoon and become the beautiful new creation God intended you to be. If that caterpillar could talk, I bet he would say he‘d rather go to sleep and simply awaken as a beautiful butterfly than having to go through all the tedious work of spinning a cocoon around itself after finding the perfect spot, then waiting many weeks later to transform into that new creature.

It is, however, the journey of a life time, one so worth the cost. I feel it is also important not to forget the pain along the way, where you have come from and what you have gone through lest you slip back and forget the price you have paid, which is so easy to do, and neglect the eternity you have gained. I know it is difficult to contemplate doing all this for the next life, especially if you do not believe in a Heaven or Hell. But Jesus reminds me in my guide book, the Bible, that if I keep silent “even the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19 v40) Worldly things begin not to matter as much and following Christ does. Romans 12 v2 tell us “be not of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. So giving up a few things will be necessary, as is following your own desires as it was for me. Again, Proverbs 3 v5-6 is still my mantra.

Besides, we know where our addictive behavior, sooner or later, will get us. Been there done that. Yes, I thought I could get away with it, live a double life and did for longer than I care to admit. Oh, you like it the way it is you say? Well, how’s that really working for you, your family and friends? Selfish me said I don’t care, I matter most, I deserve, I want, I need, blah, blah, blah. God said in Psalm 52 v “cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you in times of trouble,” which He sure has for me here inside corrections, although I didn’t believe Him prior to my being reborn.

Now I didn’t say all this to the inmate who queried me, but I did give him the main points. He seemed to understand, at least how it applied to me and gave him some pause I believe. Since he is on his way home, I hope it might help him and give him something to think about. All I can do is plant the seed and know God will water it. (1 Cor. 3 v6)

It also reminds me how blessed I am for being where I am emotionally and spiritually. Thank you Jesus! It isn’t always easy as the last year has proven, but is a great deal better than the life I was leading the last several years.

ANOTHER YEAR DOWN

So, the New Year begins much as the old one ended, with me using my time to practice what I preach about God’s goodness, giving me peace even in this place. Several people from home visited me around the holidays, relatives and friends. Even my hoop playing crowd visited me again, prompting more kidding about starting a traveling basketball team. Only one more round of Christmas/New Year’s Holidays to go.

My wife came but seemed a bit distant and sad in some ways which I can fully understand. This whole ordeal has taken it’s toll on my family in many ways. I was also blessed to have my son and daughter visit with her, so it was like a family again in a way which brightened everyone’s spirits. It’s never enough time, and parting is still very difficult. Fortunately I am able to wave to them when they depart from the parking lot on my way back to my dorm. I am not sure if there were any dry eyes between us which seems the norm for many during this time of year.

By now I have the trading for holiday meals down pretty good, giving up my turkey roll and similar deli food, the can of soda, and hamburgers and hot dogs of our New Year’s meal for something of value later on – the ¼ chicken, boiled eggs, bran cereal, fruit and even the coveted coffee cake. Oh yes, and Bryne chocolate ice ream dixie cups. Yum. There is a routine of viewing the weekly menu when it gets posted Sunday evening that starts the bartering here in the honor dorm as I know happens in other dorms.

I feel the Holy Spirit has been nudging me to inspect myself and my life even more. Maybe it’s the helpful civilians who come in for weekly Bible Studies that I attend who have acknowledged growth but push for more. It may be some of my reading on sex offenders or other addictive people that is working on me. Or maybe it is simply the Scriptures coming alive in my life which I take more seriously than I ever have before that cause me to pause and think. Whatever it is, I feel all this inward growth bursting out of me.

So I felt a nudging that I needed an outward expression of this inward change. I think it started when I spoke to my mom last week. I was able to talk with her when my brother “gets her on the extension”. You see, we are not allowed to call cell phones, yet that is all my mother has. My brother has a land line and is able to make a three way call so we all can converse. Because the powers that be do not like this type of call, I have to be careful how I do it. Also, calls are monitored and even recorded in some instances. I was told of a guy making a drug deal on the phone when authorities came and arrested him right on the spot. Big brother IS listening. So anyway my brother came up with the idea of saying he would go get my 87 year old mother “on the extension” so she could talk with me. Whether they knew about it and turned a blind eye or I was not of concern I will never know, but I am able to finally talk with my ailing mom.

She has always called me Jim or James as does one of my sisters. After all, it is my given name, James Van Wagner. Van became the nickname given me when there were too many Jims on the college basketball team. Heck, even one of the assistant coaches was Jim. I didn’t like Wags or Jimmy so that fitting one word moniker stuck. For years, I was Van to everyone. Many never knew my real name, even calling me Van Van Wagner. Since he was the guy who committed the instant offense as well as other undesirable behaviors, I got the idea it was worth it to change to my given name, showing a change not only in name but personalities as well.

My friend William understood but said I would always be Van to him, not because he didn’t appreciate the changes he is witnessing but because he was unable to see me as a James. Maybe a Jim, which I did not want, but not a James. Others were okay with the idea but were slow, understandably so, to make the change. Most would stumble when addressing me or leave off a name entirely. My family understood as did my friends, although that did not mitigate the fumbling over what to call me when greeting me.

I made the announcement in church one Sunday morning, telling the inmates gathered there my reasoning and desire to show a true change had taken place. The pastor had been having me give announcements every Sunday and gave me a fair amount of leeway doing it. In fact he said he liked how I tied songs or Bible passages together in giving the weekly notes and times of Bible studies guys could attend and the how to’s of doing it. Truth be told I would pray for the Holy Spirit to lead me that morning, having no idea of what I was going to say or how it all fit together. Several times I tried to pre-plan some elaborate idea or story all to have it change at the last minute when I felt a nudging to go a different way. It always worked out much better when I listened to those proddings rather than do it on my own. That in itself was a lesson.

So I felt it was time to announce the inside corrections in me that necessitated a change in names. I don’t remember how I tied it into all that I was supposed to say about Bible studies and other announcements I was supposed to remind guys of, but the Pastor later thought it was brilliant. I said give the glory to God who has been orchestrating these much needed changes.

And He surely had been good at doing it. Here I was telling even my mother I was okay with things despite being restricted, in prison and away from everyone. Such a lesson I do not think I would have learned any other way, much like what happened to Joseph and his family. Had he not gone through what he went through as I re-read his account in Genesis, the twelve tribes of Israel would not have made it through. Similarly, had I not been lost then found God, I would not be in the state I am in now. My goal is to carry it outside corrections which will be the difficult part.

Another year down, 22 months to go until that trial would begin.

12/09 CHRISTMAS LETTER

The following was a letter I sent to my former pastor on the outside with the hope of getting it published in the local church newsletter. I had been very active in that church, having served on several committees as well as Session, the governing body prior to my imploding and coming here to the State imposed time out. While some might think I was continuing to put on my happy face for outsiders, at this point I was truly starting to feel the joy and peace Paul talked about and live that existence even inside corrections.

12/09 HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM VAN

As we approach the joyous celebration of our Savior’s birth I wanted to send my greetings to all at the First Presbyterian Church of Ontario Center. It has been another year of highs and lows, joys and sorrows, struggles and transforming relationships for our family and me, as it may well have been for all reading this. (Feel free to drop me a note about yours!)

I cannot escape the lasting thought this year of the strength and faithfulness of our Lord and how he expresses it daily in so many ways. Though behind the fence, I can still take in his earthly majesty as displayed in nature all around this campus I am lucky enough to be able to walk. I also feel it in every letter, visit, prayer, package or call and am so very enriched because of it all. As my daughter “Little Wanderer” says in her blogs she is able to do, I too have learned not just to mouth how precious each moment is, but to live it and absorb it just as she reports she is able to do. Oh sure, I still glance ahead 23 months to my hopeful release, but knowing more fully my values and priorities. I try even in here to seize each minute and do something positive, something good or helpful, to do the “next right thing” as Pastor Cheryl counseled me so long ago. It has taken me a good deal of time and misfortune to fully absorb and implement, especially after being denied parole and work release in a short period of time, but the rewards are endless and worth it. Believe me, it sure proves a challenge in this, as my daughter has aptly dubbed it, my Jumanji World. I may get down, think this zaniness will never end as I am surrounded by bizarre people and events, often comical, sometimes scary, but I know I must keep playing this “game” to make it out and back to whatever normal will prove to be when I get there. Maybe the same is true for many of you in your own life. May you recognize as I have the one holding the controls, using Proverbs 3: 5-6 daily just for that.

Several months ago I was blessed with a single room, which really makes life here easier in many ways. Fortunately too, I have gained the respect of civilians, CO’s and other inmates because of my work in Transitional Services, the Mentally Challenged Unit, and leading the Full Gospel Chapter. All in all, I have it as good as one can in such a place. I make every effort to keep busy, and rue the weekends and days off, though I have projects for those times as well. Talk about abundance!

I can assure you, your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated and returned daily. I sincerely hope you all may enjoy the spirit of this season and allow it to continue throughout the New Year. I pray peace for you all and the world.

Your brother in Christ,
Van

WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT

So many things have been happening over the past few months. The best thing is time has been passing. I work, actually enjoying it, play basketball and referee, participate in three Bible studies, facilitate Full Gospel meetings twice a month, tutor, read and generally keep to myself. Sounds like my life outside corrections in many ways. Maybe that is one reason I am not panicking about life in here. If you would have ever told me I would be where I am right now and be okay with it I would have said you were crazy.

Most guys leave me alone even with my scarlet SO label. Most CO’s don’t even give me a second look when I walk around the campus as they know not only am I harmless but that I am on a mission – either going to or from facilitating classes somewhere, or running an errand for one of their own. Yes, I have been summoned to do that more than once. I also do letters for them as well as the weekly class schedules and data reports. Once you start those things, especially the latter which they definitely are not good at, there is no going back. They must have conversed with some counselors who informed them I was doing work for them such as form letters, data reports and class scheduling. A light must have gone off as a CO at work, familiar with my resume work on the computer, inquired if I could help him with something. It is not a good idea to tell them no, even if I didn’t want to aid them. Besides, it gets me out of jams I am sure as they know to be kind to OT. It also helps on holidays, even some weekends, when they still needed to do their reports and I could get out of the dorm to do them.

In fact there was one night, after reports of several gang activities, when we inmates were all on our way to a building that housed the gym, weight room, law and regular library when upon entering the building we saw a wave of blue shirts (CO’s) descend upon everyone, throwing guys against the wall, yelling and barking orders, night sticks waving, sometimes connecting. Too scared to do otherwise I kept walking, looking straight ahead. When I got to the weight room, normally abuzz with conversation and activity, I was the only one there. No one made it to the gym either. It was very bizarre and frightening. What was going on? Would they come after me too? After a few minutes, which seemed like forever, guys slowly started appearing but no where near the normal numbers. Guess there was a crack down to show who was boss inside corrections, and it wasn’t us. That I was the only one who appeared to make it through the gauntlet was also scary. Maybe my work for their compatriots had paid off.

There were other times of equal strangeness, generally good. Of course there are a few CO’s who want to show their power and control, but so many seem to go out of their way to be nice to me. On visits, for example, the routine is to be strip searched prior and after each visit. That protocol, especially on the before check, is many times overlooked which gives me a few extra minutes with whoever is visiting. The after search is often greatly shortened, except where a couple of tough CO’s are concerned, who want to go by the book, right to the very end of bend and spread.

So my feeling toward CO’s is quite different from when I first arrived inside corrections that is for sure. I was scared for my life from everyone and everything back then, terrified as to what might occur, not really knowing what I didn’t know. Now I am on friendly terms with several CO’s and doing work for them. I even have some congregate outside my classrooms when I facilitate to listen in because they are fascinate, I am told, as to what I am doing with fellow inmates.

I also am feeling very differently about prison in general. Time is seemingly flying by, with me going to work and evening activities just like on the outside. I am always on my guard, as you never know when someone will pop off and take you with them. Pressure bursts pipes was a common refrain in here.

But I also am seeing a great deal of respect from many inmates, probably because of all the work I am doing for them – letter writing, tutoring, resume work – and word spreads, as it does so easily inside, or outside for that matter. So in general I am getting comfortable and as a result, peaceful, about my extended time here. You might even say I am developing patience through situations where I had no choice but to be patient. Even though I have another two years till I reach my conditional release (CR) in November 2011, I am settled into life inside corrections.

Coupled with all the new I am learning about myself and working to apply, my life is in as good a place as it could be considering the circumstances. I am actually feeling how God is in control of things, not me. After all, I could never have orchestrated well how things were turning out since my getting hit. Getting a single room in the honor dorm, keeping busy with all types of activities, achieving success in many of those with recognition from staff were all part of His plan for me. My plan was to go home. But who knows how that would have worked out with my wife being distant and me not on solid ground with all I had done. The truth is I am still in need of more time out away from everything and everyone back home to learn those inside corrections that will develop me into a better person, a true follower of Christ, a disciple, not just one who talks the talk.

And more than ever before I enjoy that work of learning Christ’s ways and following them. It is not just a Sunday thing or something I do because it has benefits. Oh there are benefits for sure, as I know He is protecting me in here as evidenced by my mere survival amidst such chaos and cruelty, mental, emotional and physical. I do it because it is a greater satisfaction than I have ever felt anywhere or any time. Greater than any accomplishment I have achieved, longer lasting than accolades, more meaningful than any trophy or awards. But the greatest part is the peace that surpasses all understanding that the apostle Paul talked about in Philippians 4 v7. I can actually say I now am experiencing it, living it. My goal is to continue to do it the rest of my time here and carry it outside corrections where the true test would be seen.

Who would have thought I would be in such a place in such a place.

ONE DAY

One day

After working diligently to recover from all that has hit me in the past few weeks and having a great day where Ms. Sowich (my boss) was very complimentary, I was able to give my SA proposal to Mr. Smith (a post release sex offender program idea) and I had a good day facilitating Phase III, I returned all smiley and happy to my dorm where a letter from my daughter awaited. Always such a pleasure to hear from her and something I greatly look forward to, this one dropped my like a knockout punch. She very easily and honestly told me of her hesitancy to become a girlfriend to a guy out of fear of broken trust and betrayal, basically like I did to her and her mom. If it can happen after years of marriage, she wrote, it could happen any time to her.

Now years hence one may look at this and feel differently. Now as I re-re-read her beautiful letter, it hurts so very much to know I caused this doubt and pain in one so otherwise able and pure. To think what could be or could have been with her had this not occurred is hurting me also. She again said how her heart could not take any more pain so that right now she doesn’t want to get serious with him – or anyone. She said she had thought for a while she might want to, but then talked herself out of it like jumping off the high, high diving board. Sure, you can do it. But when you actually climb all the way up there and the wind is blowing and the air is so crisp and you can hardly hear the people down there talking or even hear the water it’s a different story. No thanks. She had told Jared let’s be bf/gf. Then she feared the worst – abandonment and broken trust as happened with me – and changed her mind.

I just felt so heavy like a ton of weight came upon me. I could not even cry it was so heavy, so painful and in some way even shocking. I was supposed to go to eat. I didn’t go. Then I was going to work out first mod and play basketball in the second mod but knew that would be too much. I write this after getting through the weight work out – more punishment for me which I deserved – and then felt the need to come back and write this. I wanted to process things a little more. In all this she had asked me what she should do and I wanted to be clear with her. Be herself, not thinking of what I did will necessarily happen to her. (again) Jared is his own person, and if it does happen again, she is experienced already and hence more prepared? Ugh. Even the sound of that stunk. She’s entering, actually is in, prime time and already skeptical about close relationships due to my infidelity and selfishness. Thanks Dad.

I also was very proud of her when I started out reading her letter as she was named honorable mention all NCAC conference middle player for volleyball! To me that was quite an accomplishment, especially due to her familial happenings the last two years with no direct father support. That she was one of the top 18 players in the league was so wonderful to me. Fourth best blocker in a league of 10 teams too at 5‘9” versus the other girls 5’10, 5’11, or 6’+”.

To me this seems to be a grown-up feeling I felt as a kid, that of being worthless. My dad would tell me that and say I should have done better or I was stupid for thus and so. It hurt so much, thank God my competitiveness led me to keep going or I might have killed myself way back then. Or him. I spent years, many YEARS working to get his approval. When I finally did, it was great, but felt a little empty at the same time.

As an adult I wanted to be the best damn dad there was cause my daughter and son deserved it. I worked so hard at it that it often overshadowed being the best husband – and that relationship suffered.

So I tried as the kids were older to please my wife. But I reverted back to doing things to try and please her to make her proud of me rather than facing her, talking with her and hashing out our problems or really working to fill her needs. I worked even harder, just as I had as a kid/youth with my dad.

Probably that is why it is so heavy on me – years of stuff weighing me down. I realize it at last now, but it is heavy none the less. My daughter is wise beyond her years and has her mom’s insight into people and relationships, just like her brother has. What a blessing. Of course it can also be a curse as it seems to her right now because she can see things clearly, not through the cloud of love or emotions only. That takes years for most people – almost a lifetime and major crisis for me.

All that is great in the big picture I suppose. It tastes like dirty water right now. And it is still very heavy.

LETTER TO THE PRESBYTERY NEWSLETTER

Hello from the Inside

It is with a great deal of sadness that I report the findings of my recent parole board appearance. I went into this endeavor rather prepared, or so I thought, with a great deal of hope, trying not to pay heed to the many naysayers and doomsday prognosticators. After all, I had completed all my programs, especially the dreaded Intensive Sex Offender Program, had a clean disciplinary record with no tickets. I had tremendous support from my family and friends and community, (many of you reading this) something I was told was essential for anyone about to reenter society. There were many accomplishments to my credit, including the recent acquisition of my Department of Labor Certificate of Counselor Aides I representing over 2000 hours of training and work. I had served, or would have at the time of my release, the minimum part of my sentence, 2 1/3 years.

The three panel board said that after a careful review of my record, my personal interview and with due deliberation, they determined that if released at this time there was a reasonable probability that I would not live at liberty without violating the law, and that my release at this time is incompatible with the welfare and safety of the community.

So the negative voices were correct, that no sex offenders make it out on their first appearance. They “hit” me with 24 more months. The “nature of my crime” and all SO’s are lumped together here, such that no one serves just the minimum sentence, but stays to their conditional release (CR), which is 2/3 of their maximum bid, seven years in my case, hence to my CR in 11/16/11. Although I go to the board again in March of 2011, it is highly unlikely they will release me then either, as evidenced by the numerous other SO’s who end up staying at least till their CR or longer.

Oh yes, I can appeal, but the grounds are shaky and the process equally grim, taking at least the amount of time till my next board. So much for being honest and owning up to your inexcusable decisions. Taking all and doing all that is required, even being effective while locked up gets you nothing. I now, once again, am faced with dealing with all the shame, guilt and humiliation I felt from day one, and am now reliving the pain I caused family and friends all over. To that, I am truly sorry. To all those reading this or who know me, I apologize. To my feeble mind, it was not supposed to be this way and I was to be out in July to help harvest blueberries.

So please forgive me if I am slow to respond to your mail. I am, as all affected by this, working through this decision the best I can in a very unfriendly, and for the most part, unhealthy place. If at all possible, I ask that you lift up and continue to support my family with prayer or any way you feel led, as they too are suffering. It is, and always will be, of my own doing, and would be so much easier to bear if it did not so impact them and others.

I know now more than ever I must rely on God, though presently I feel He has taken the last train out of my life as well. And I don’t blame Him. He may forgive me, but I still am paying the price and having a difficult time accepting that forgiveness. I am attempting to hang onto the scripture that says He will never leave or forsake me, as I need Him to direct my paths.

I also have to deal with being rejected for the Work Release Program. I had thought that might be a saving grace after being hit by the parole board, but I guess God has other plans for me. That is sure hard for me to grapple with and I need prayer support accepting all of this for those willing to do so.

I sincerely thank you for your continued support.

James Van Wagner
07A1651

DIARY of 8/16/09

                                             Diary of 8/16/08

I have been feeling pretty good lately – successfully completing the ISOP and ART courses – just received a package of whole food and also bought some cherry tomatoes and green beans from a guy who raised a garden in here. Work is going well. I applied for the work release, which I feel is tailor made for me at this point, and God has surely been good. (all the time) So I have even been smiling! So when my co-workers Raul or William are down and give me sad news, I feel guilty that I feel so good when they are so down.

What Raul says is true, that we are being tortured in a way with the crazy cube compliance rules and more, “legally being tortured and harassed” as he describes it. They (the people in charge) found a way to get at us that is within the rules. It is driving him crazy, like a caged animal and coincides with what William says about this institution (and prisons in general) which do not really rehabilitate or even care about doing so. Both independently say it is no wonder the recidivism rates are so high. I agree. The people here do not really care if anyone is learning or changing, it is just a job, even for the counselors. Make sure no one escapes or hurts anyone (especially other CO’s) and life goes on. Some staff, maybe even most, will even tell you that, a la Sowich in orientation, that our being here keeps them employed and food on their table – for generations. Our coming back is basically job security, so why change what works so well for them? (especially with those state benefits)

It is all so punitive, definitely not the atmosphere for any learning let alone rehabilitation to occur. I have to be careful not to let it, or Raul and William, affect me to the point I lose my focus. I will say I really do not think anyone wants rehabilitation, as the prefix ‘re’ means “to go back to”, “restore” or “do again” so that if one is transformed back to what one was prior to coming in they will, tada, go back to being the criminal they first were and thus perpetuate the whole system. Instead we, I believe, want to habilitate or change and prepare guys for employment, new habits, etc. So with the institution’s mind set, what do they really expect?

Society in general knows so little of what really goes on (or doesn’t) in here and because so many politicians and media outlets do not care, they have a great misconception of life behind the fences/walls. True, there is a great deal of nothingness that occurs – sleeping, card playing, working out, T.V. watching – that is all guys can sometimes do to cope with all this. Because everything is aimed at the lowest common denominator, little gets accomplished every day. Guys explode, get tickets, go to the box, but nothing is done to alleviate the problems. Just more band-aids. No thought is put into making the system better, rather just more controllable. It is almost inhumane the way we are treated – and I am in the Honor Dorm for goodness sake!

I guess it’s up to the educated men to help change the public’s perception as well as change the reality we have to face every day. Living “free” in one’s mind goes only so far, and takes the strong willed. I need to remind myself that every day or I can get pulled down by others moods. After all, it has taken me a few months to get over being hit at the parole board, with little to no help from any counselor or person inside corrections. The Pastor was little help, but the civilians who come in from the outside for Bible Studies were the most effective in getting me out the doldrums and dealing with reality.

Seems that is the real problem, dealing with reality in here. No one wants to face the true reason they are here or how long they will actually be here. It is just too difficult to face. I know a guy here in the honor dorm who heads up the law library who has been down over 28 years. All he has to do is take the bar exam and he could be a lawyer, a very sharp individual. He is upbeat and content, even though he knows he probably will never go home. I am not sure of his crime, probably murder for a 25 to life bid, but it sure doesn’t matter to him. He even stopped going to the parole board every two years, not wanting to face getting hit again. He deals with the reality of his situation and has moved on, having learned how to peaceably and gracefully live inside corrections.

I am slowly learning by giving it up to God. It’s not always easy, but I am practicing for when I get out, which will be far sooner than for my law library friend. Reading the Bible helps and reminds me others have gone through similar or worse problems and still maintain their faith in God, so I surely can.The peace that surpasses all understanding is my goal, just as described for followers of Jesus in the Bible in Phillippians 4 v7. Again, practice makes progress as I make constant inside corrections.

As for more reasons for my joy, I am earning extra money, about .20 per hour, refereeing summer basketball. I decided it was better for me not to play on those outside courts but rather make some money to help with commissary. I started my new job in OMH, facilitating ART for four guys. The civilian counselor turned everything over to me and simply sits there while I do everything, which actually is okay with me as my teaching background is being effectively put to good use. Plus he seemed lost the first day and hasn’t done much since.

I also was moved to a single room in the honor dorm, a real treat. While there are no doors and I have to walk through the two-man room, I do have a small closet and plenty of room with my own window with no bars on it! I can open it fully, smell the fresh air of summer and really enjoy the cool evenings. It faces west, so I get great sunsets as a bonus.

It also seems CO’s know me all over the campus, because my work often takes me all over, and most act as if I am invisible, which is great. (except when they stand outside my OMH classroom to listen in) My desire is to “leave whole” as most say, and learn more about myself and my God as the Bible teachers say. So despite being inside corrections, life is about as good as it can be.

LETTER FOR APPEAL ON DENIAL OF WORK RELEASE

Letter Sent on Appeal of Denial for Work Release Program

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but
Against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness
Of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6 v18

I appeal my denial of work release for many reasons.

First of all, I was already sentenced for my selfish, careless and impulsive instant offense, have paid a dear and costly price for it, so why is that being used again as a reason for denial?

Secondly, I am confused as to why DOCS thinks I would be a community risk. Do you not feel your Sex Offender Program is worthwhile or can successfully rehabilitate someone with a sex offense? Surely you must feel that prior to releasing an inmate (offender is the new politically correct term) they should successfully demonstrate certain skills and practices satisfactorily to the counselors and practiced in the programs. How else could they complete the program or be deemed ready to re-enter society?

Over a year ago I successfully completed all of the required programs including that very Intensive Sex Offender Program (ISOP) here at Mid-State even though I was deemed a low level offender. Also successfully completed are ART, which is part of that ISOP, ASAT, which was also included but not a requirement for me, as well as Phase I, II, and III. How then, if you value your programs, would I be considered a risk?

Moreover, I presented to the parole board in March 18 letters from community members who have known me a minimum of 12, some 25, even 35 years, all of whom have visited me at various stages of my incarceration and welcome me home, not feeling I would be any type of risk. I also had seven similar letters from family members who have also visited me. Wouldn’t they know me better than someone who talked to me for three minutes?

Okay, so maybe they are prejudiced. Why not consult with people who interface and work with me everyday here at Mid-State and have for over a year? Counselors like Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Sowich, Ms. Smith, Ms. Lamb, Ms. Virkler, Mr. Silverman, Mr. Rena, Mr. Drayton, Mr. Picente or Mr. DeJesus. Or program people like Mr. Buttimer and his numerous civilian staff, Reverend Ellis or Father Webber? Even officers Femia, Helmsley, Kemptner, Cooney, Dodge, Ally, Morse or Harrison just to name a few who would be able to talk about my character more positively and accurately. Add to that the several outside civilians who come in for PACE workshops, Bible Study or athletic events and you have people who really could tell you what it is like to work and rely on me on a daily basis any outside community would do if I was in a work release program.

But let’s look at the real issue here, the elephant in the room. No one wants to be accountable for allowing a sex offender, rehabilitated or not, to be released on work release of parole despite DOCS own statistics showing the contrary. They show there is no difference in recidivism for sex offenders released on parole or conditional release according to DOCS study from 1985 to 2007. Those who do come back are at an 8% level, with computer crimes such as my instant offense, half that. While any crime against another person is too much, does 4% probability constitute a community risk?

Who then is responsible for my actions once on work release or parole, who is accountable? I am. Can you detect from that some eloquent words in a three minute conversation or written in an appeal? Doubtful. As I show when I facilitate Phase III and ART, people’s values and attitudes are shown in their actions and behaviors. If you take a look at mine or talk to the numerous people, I know they will paint a different picture than the one of community risk as evidenced by my actions and behaviors. If counselors were accountable for each sex offender returning to a community, you would have more ownership in the outcome. Interesting concept isn’t it.

Barring that, you should study the individual to assure he is responsible and taking ownership of himself. My work in Mid-State, completing a 2000 hour DOL Counseling Aide I Program, a PET/HIV Education and Facilitating Course (enabling me to facilitate such programs in here or on the street) an 80 hour legal assistant course, passing the legal aide exam also good on the street, as well as numerous Full Gospel Weekend Seminars all while maintaining a clean disciplinary record demonstrates I am taking ownership of my rehabilitation, making use of the resources I have don’t they? (I did receive a ticket when a property bag of mine was stolen since it contained my State issue razor, but no disciplinary action was taken) Is this a person that poses a risk to a community?

Moreover, because of all this, I was granted an Earned Eligibility Certificate. While this does not guarantee release on the minimum terms of your sentence, there is a presumption that it will occur. If incarceration is for rehabilitation, what further good is achieved from more confinement save that of punishment? I have achieved all three, punishment, rehabilitation and an Earned Eligibility Certificate. What will change between now and my parole or CR? Does DOCS some how mentally “get off the hook” for responsibility it they make me CR versus a work release program? Or maybe it is just no one cares other than the inmates willing to appeal such determinations, and no one is accountable for the program results. What a shame.

I would also not simply receive a “get-out-of-jail-free” card, but rather would be supervised closely by parole whenever I am released. However, anyone of the previously named people who know me understand that my re-offending is something I would not do. This whole ordeal, train wreck actually, has been an ongoing nightmare. Not only while in the ISOP but long after it I have continued to work on bettering myself through reading, discussions, meditations and prayer so that I may, as my outside Pastor says, “ do the next right thing.” I daily work on necessary inside corrections to be that better person. I will always have the daily reminder of losing my wife, home and business due to my reckless, selfish and inexcusable behavior. (Not to mention the daily discomfort, often pain, due to a knee injury which occurred at Fishkill) No, I can safely say I am not a risk to any community I go to, and refuse to be defined by the label I will wear for the next 20 years out there. As my work in here has demonstrated, James Van Wagner will be known by far more than a sex offense or label.

Finally, if granted work release, would it not enable me to show others such a thing is possible, that if they work hard (as I have), keep a clean record (as I have), successfully complete all aspects of the program (ditto), that there is hope? You have a unique situation here for, as Stephen Covey states in his Seven Habits book, a win-win scenario. Obviously it is a case by case basis, and it would require a shift in thinking, to a glass half full rather than half empty, a positive reinforcement rather than a punitive one, moving forward rather than doing things the way they always have been done. As noted German philosopher Johann Wolfgang Von Gothe is quoted as saying (hanging in all the classrooms inside corrections by the way) “If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he out to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be.”

I respectfully request that my work release be granted. I similarly respectfully request enlightenment and edification of my questions.

5-2-09 LETTER TO JACK

Sat. 5/2/09
Hi Jack,

Well, down to 30 months – haha! Now I am in the long weekend, when my world often comes crashing down. The sun and fresh spring air tells me I should be outside gardening and/or other enjoyable tasks, Yogi at my side. Speaking of that you are probably tilling your garden. We have a roto-tiller should you need one, there for the using. Weekends are when the realization comes to me that it will be three more springs before I can plant and then harvest. After Friday, the time slows to a crawl and every minute seemingly reminds me of things I would be doing on the outside. Fortunately we have Full Gospel Men’s Business Meeting today 1-3:45, so that will help. It’s the 1st & 3rd Saturday of each month. That is the organization where I was elected VP, so I preside over most of the meeting, introducing and filling gaps. It is good fellowship, but sometimes I find myself “putting on a happy face” for it. Sometimes I do not and they get me like my miserable self is. Most there understand and then attempt to tell me all the reasons I should smile (c’mon) and praise God and clap and sing and yell (c’mon now!) Hallelujah and whistle and shout joy and “Amen”. Well, it often just ain’t there! Sometimes it is. Today doesn’t look good.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Sometimes I think, especially after talking with my wife, that I should do my bid in my own world. I think the intersecting of worlds is the most difficult. I so enjoy the visits and letters, but the transitions are difficult. This last week was pretty much in this world, and while difficult, things seemed to move along. I know it is all the emotional baggage I carry that affects me – I’ve ruined not only my life but my family’s as well – how could I do such a thing, I am the scum of the earth, etc. While I can sometimes battle it and know God loves me, I AM STILL HERE!! Thankfully there are no bars on these windows as I sit here on my bed & look out.

I think I can understand celebrities more now, whether sports or movie or even politicians. They are always being watched, scrutinized, analyzed, picked apart and studied much as I feel I am. Whether for good or negative, it goes on, whether by CO’s, civilians, even my family and friends. I am grateful I can safely vent to you Jack, and even cry my eyes out (which I am doing now) with you. Thanks. I am and will survive, I know that. It just is so difficult to do, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Being so close to everyone, yet so far, that crossing of worlds is so difficult. I imagine it is similar for you when you visit.

I probably am rambling. Definitely venting, but I recall you “asked for it”! Here’s something I have not really verbalized either. I know I betrayed our marriage vows, destroyed the trust of her, “cheating” and causing pain and turmoil in her life. We all (out family) are paying a terrible price for it. I think her shunning me and not wanting me back, which is understandable in one way, is also damming and a violation of our vows as well. There. Twisted? For better or worse. Oh yea, I strayed & broke them first. But are we keeping score here or what? Maybe I should just move on as she suggests, thereby putting to rest a good deal of angst. We have talked about how things will never be the same. They should not be!! Especially if this is the result of how we were – both of us miserable. I have taken a much closer look at me, and I think she has too. (both me & herself) Maybe that is why, ironically, she wants to go solo while my desire is to stay together. Maybe in 30 months that will change – for both of us. Sometimes, at the urging of the one or two guys in here I can talk to, I think it would be better to go somewhere else and start over fresh, clean, where nobody knows my name, crime or baggage. Syracuse is a good town. Rambling. Hey, at least it’s not hanging up! (that is definitely in the past)

Kentucky Derby Day – best Saturday in sports. And quickest too. I will be shaving my long beard – haven’t trimmed it since before I went to the board. KD is definitely spring in my book. Do you watch it? I do not know as much this year about the horses. I do know a little – a 76 year old owner who loves his horses – even washes them (like I would do). A 19-year old jockey. I may even cut my hair!

Another thing that bothers me. My wife obviously knows me very well. She may, in fact, know what is best, seeing the big picture so much better than me. This has been true for her throughout our marriage. Maybe you can relate as Cheryl seems to have that vision too. My big picture is more of doing – like I was trained back on the farm – do, do, do. She is more relationships and interaction vision with people, how she grew up in that huge family. Seemed like a marriage of two good, complimentary people. I do think there is enough blame to go around, so no sense going there.

Yes the trees are bursting out here. Last weekend when the temps were in the 80’s the forsythia just burst out over night. Gorgeous. The horticulture workers are preparing the flower beds around here which soon will abound with color. I am trying to find someone I can negotiate fresh vegetables with from that group. Last year I was very fortunate.

Guess as I re-read this I unloaded on you Jack. No need to answer or comment if you do not feel it. I am so mercurial it seems, up & down, hour to hour. I do not have the temper that sets some guys off at the drop of a hat, but have other things touch me and pull at my emotions.

Not sure if you heard about an inmate getting stabbed & killed at nearby Mohawk Prison in Oneida. He was an sex offender and they, two PR’s, were in a squabble over a domino game. No telling the real motivation. They went into the bathroom to fight – that’s where “real men” settle their disputes in here, away from eyes and ears & cameras. Kind of shakes things up, bringing reality to the surface so to speak. I am vigilant and not too concerned right now, although the flavor of this jail continues to change toward more mental health & SO occupants. You just never know when one will pop off because you looked at him the wrong way (or beat him in basketball!) The latter is what keeps me going and actually safe. That is the prison way, however, so I will embrace it. The love of the Lord is the way. I know that, and try to always put him first – Prov. 3:5-6 for sure.

late later – Had a good Full Gospel meeting. Was supposed to go one way but seems the Holy Spirit moved us in another. Went well, however, with many guys giving testimonies. It was good to see so many young, and I mean 18-20 year olds, give it up. We all encourage them to continue it both in here and out, which is often a major problem. The fellowship feels good. Interesting differences from Ontario’s church.

I may add some more tomorrow. I have several people to write back to as I have been postponing it due to mental illness. Temporarily thank goodness. Or not. Thanks again for lending an “ear” so to speak.

Peace & blessings to you
Van

LIVING ON

So what was I to do? No parole, no freedom to look forward to in two months, just more of the same. I could continue my pity party, but that was growing old pretty fast. Even William remarked about that. He was on a violation of his first bid, so he had seen many in my shoes and even been there himself. Now is when you see what people are made of, several Christian advisers from the outside cautioned me. When tragedy or hardship strikes, how do people respond? Do they blame God and give up? Do they dig down deeper, roll up their sleeves and go it alone, trying harder rather than smarter? Or do they pray for God’s will to be done and work with His agenda? I chose the latter, even though I previously did my own thing primarily, and even though it was not easy and I wasn’t sure of His great plan for me at this point inside corrections. I never blamed God for my situation, but I did think He might have given up on me.

Well, I called and cried to my wife for one thing. She was quiet most of the time, maybe already sensing I would not make it. She had to grieve and process it as well. I had turned her life upside down, and now the roller coaster was up and down again. Not being as spiritual, I wondered if she had been praying for me or just waiting to see how things worked out. I was too mired in self pity to ask at the time. From what she said, or more what she didn’t say, I gathered she would still visit and support me, but I felt a coldness start to creep in. Not that I could blame her.

My next call was to my brother. Normally guys get one call and when your time is up, the phone goes to the next poor guy waiting. I had forgone going out tonight on evening rec time, and since no one seemed to need the phone right now decided to call my brother to talk with him. I knew he would be able to relay the word of my being hit to my mother who had just turned 88 and was in a adult care home near him. I desperately wanted to see her and worried she might pass before I got out, another reason this whole result hit me hard.

He was disappointed as well and I think he understood how hard it hit me. He volunteered to visit a week from now on Saturday and bring a food package which I greatly appreciated though at the moment I could not think about food. It was true I had lost about 25 pounds the first few weeks of incarceration but had been able to gain about 10 of that back. Right now I felt I had lost that and knew I was obviously going in the wrong direction, not being very heavy to begin with. But his offering felt so good to me, the much needed solace I needed and craved right now. I had the feeling he understood the situation better than most, that loss of freedom which I so desperately wanted to gain back which had slipped through my fingers. Once again I learned to not take for granted that freedom that was now controlled by others and would be elusive for at least another 24 months.
He advised, as most others, to be strong. I knew it would hit my mother hard as this whole situation had. I had flown to Florida where she was living at the time of my arrest to talk with her and explain to her the probable outcome of my reckless escapades. I was not sure she fully understood everything, but she surely grasped that I was most likely headed inside. I was very careful in my letters to never hint at the pain I was going through, mentally, physically or emotionally and made sure I put a positive spin on things so as not to cause her more pain than she already had, knowing her youngest was in a state penitentiary.\

She was a strong Methodist, and often my letters, especially the last year, centered on my being born again and the strong feelings I had believing in Jesus as well as the wonderful results in doing so. Now, writing to her about my Bible Studies and church activities actually brought back those feelings and started to chip away at the rock of disappointment I felt burdened with. It is true, as the mind goes so does your will, and slowly I was working my way out of my self-imposed depression. What also aided greatly in that department was doing for others.

My boss told me the head of the Psychiatric and Observation of Mental health Department (OMH) was looking for someone to facilitate classes for her down the other end of campus where these guys were dormed. I think she knew a change would be good right now, and it was only three mornings a week. I eagerly volunteered, feeling it was right up my alley, as I had led the programs she wanted, Phase III and ART before. Most of these guys were not that far out, and many were almost ready to enter, or in some cases, re-enter general population. The lady who interviewed me was a little skeptical on hiring me, I felt, until I assured her I was not going anywhere, having just been hit by the board. In fact, I used some of my ”I am not the same person now who did those reprehensible things” speech on her. Something told me to concluded with my teaching background and desire to frankly, help others as I was sitting in a pretty dark place right now and knew giving to others was not only what I needed, but what Christ desired of me. I think she could see how honest I was being and said she would be in touch.

Otherwise I was starting to living on as before, just with a more reserved and, William told me, somber attitude: work, Bible studies, and working out with basketball or weights, with occasional walks in the yard in the evenings. I also continued my letter writing for others as well as more impromptu tutoring, another thing the Holy Spirit directed me to pursue. After all, there were so many needy guys inside and many earnestly wanted to improve themselves while here, and I certainly had the time. It seemed to take on a special feeling now. In fact, it made me grateful for all that I did have and helped shift my thinking from me to others and God, something I needed to do, a major inside correction.

THE OUTCOME

Interestingly enough when I returned to the Honor Dorm, not many guys asked me how it went. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t or just were too polite to ask, knowing what William had said about sex offenders not getting out on their first board.

Regardless, I kept to myself for the next couple of days until I would receive the news of my fate. In the meantime, I learned of a work release program that allowed inmates the opportunity to work in the community and transition back to society slowly, while working outside but living inside corrections. Gradually you would not only work on the outside more and more, but live there too. It was a step by step process that allowed inmates the opportunity to get used to the freedoms again while still having structure. Eventually the weekends would transition from staying inside to alternating outside, then full freedom after a determined length of time. Of course you would still be on parole for the remaining time of your bid, but you would be outside, maybe even home.

This appealed to me, as something seemed to tell me I was not going to be paroled, so I vowed I would apply if I wasn’t paroled. Maybe it was the way that lady turned the pages of my parole packet with her ruler. It might have been the way the older lady said nothing, as if there was nothing to favorable to say about my case. Perhaps it was just the parole packet itself, not only the length, but the audacity of me to present to them a recommendation that was contrary to the norm. Or quite possibly it was simply because I was not worthy of being released at this point, like William had said. Whatever the reason, I had a gnawing in my stomach, probably from not knowing as much as the fear of rejection once again.

After all, I had spent a great deal of my life working at being accepted, from my father, to my friends and then my wife. That was the competitive drive that kept me going often times, even in here, not only on the basketball court, but work environment and social platform as well. That ego driven desire to do better had served me well in several arenas and certainly helped me survive in here. Do better and people will like you. They, and even God, will overlook all your shortcomings if you just do and are better. Otherwise I will be an outcast, never measuring up to expectations and amounting to anything worthwhile. That was the outcome I worked against so much of my life, desiring to be recognized, respected and loved at almost any cost.

It carried over to my escapades on-line as well, continually working at being worthy enough to be accepted and desired. After all, it was not working all that well in my real life, or so I felt at times, so maybe in the make believe world of the internet it would. Strive for better, more, stretching beyond myself to gain a more favorable outcome, one I could control. Otherwise, if I left all things to chance or in someone else’s hands I would always wonder what if. So I would be my own master and help determine the outcome of my fate.

Well, that was more difficult inside corrections where I had little to no control. Especially where the parole board was concerned. I felt I had done my best, carefully preparing the best packet I could, attempting to appeal to the changes in me, the inside corrections if you will, and stressing my plans once released. So to wait on someone else and be held to their timetable for results was very aggravating to say the least. But then, I had no choice.

The outcome came in the mail Friday afternoon. The word spread quickly after the first guy everyone knew had gone to parole had received his sealed envelope of the results. Everyone knows pretty much everything on the inside, there are no secrets and someone is always watching. So my turn came, and I took the envelope from the CO’s hand and immediately went to my room to open it.

I had been moved in by the window in our two man room, so my locker afforded me at least the appearance of privacy and isolation. I tore open the envelope and began to read the outcome: “Blah, blah, blah ….after careful review of your record, it has been determined by the parole board of New York State that if released at this time you would not remain at liberty and be likely to re-offend which would not be in the best interest, safety and well being of the community at large.”

Wow. Re-offend? I would be a threat to the safety of the community? Not remain at liberty? Had they not been paying attention to my packet or anything I had said or done? How was this possible? How could this be? I would have to stay at least another two years before I would get a chance to plead my case in front of a new board? Unbelievable. I had done all I could and didn’t measure up once again. I was beyond disappointed. I was speechless and almost thoughtless. I knew my wife was expecting the results, but I couldn’t even talk right now.

Guys I knew pretty well came in hoping to hear good news from me. One guy, a huge guy aptly nicknamed Bear who had befriended me when I moved in and also from Rochester came in to find out. He was actually moved to tears as I was about the results. He also was a sex offender who had not gone through the program and didn’t intend to, choosing instead to max out on his time so as to forgo not only the program but parole as well. He just sat there next to the bed where I was laying, numb to the world. He said it would pass, that I was strong and would make it, and needed to rely on Jesus now more than ever or something to that effect, I don’t remember the exact words.

A threat to society? Re-offend? The words kept crying out to me as I cried into my pillow. I am not sure if others came in or not, as I was hidden below my locker and truly didn’t care. I don’t remember getting up to stand for the count as was the rule. I didn’t care. Throw me in the box, it doesn’t matter now how many tickets I get or what happens, I am not going home for at least two more years.

Our dorm was called to go eat but I was not hungry. The parole outcome took away not only my appetite but my desire to do anything. For a while, the darkness that had enveloped me when I first was arrested started to overtake me, but for some reason I started to pray. I asked God to help me through this unfair time and to take away the burden of having to do more time inside corrections. I do not remember all I prayed or asked of Him, I just know I was pleading. It didn’t occur to me to blame Him as I knew I was the one who had brought myself here. Mistakenly, I felt I was the one to get me out.

I must have fallen asleep as I cried and prayed, because when I awoke, guys were shuffling out to evening programs and recreation. I stumbled up and figured a long walk in the yard might be good, hoping I wouldn’t see anyone who might ask the outcome of a very trying and long week.

As I descended from the third floor to go out to the yard, it hit me how I had not really involved God in all this parole process that much. Oh sure, I had prayed a little for my release, but certainly not for His will to be done. I had once again attempted to do everything myself, by my own power, providing all by myself once again. Maybe the board was aware that I still was only working for and by myself and not really changed that much from the person who had initially, by myself, done all to get me here.

I knew God had already known the results, and now I had to figure out how I would involve Him in my next move or outcome. As I circled around the yard on the half mile dirt track, I prayed for forgiveness for keeping God at bay and not involving Him more. I pledged I would not do that again. I had, as one of the civilians who came in for Bible study had said, let my ego rule, and as the letters spelled out, I had Edged God Out.

Both outcomes, parole and leaving God out, now had to be dealt with and overcome. There was only one course of action I could see, one outcome, and I now was going to work with God to formulate a better plan to achieve it. I had to. My efforts were all in vain. It was time I listened to Him.

WHAT’S NEXT

So what’s next?

Waiting. All I could do now was wait and see. I am not good at waiting but am getting better. Prison has taught me that. everything we do here involves waiting. Nothing you can do but wait. What’s that old joke, I was going to be a doctor but I didn’t have the patience. Well, prison can help with that.

Do I not talk much in front of the board? Don’t talk too much. Hopefully my answers are what they wanted to hear. I need to stress the change in me. I hope my support packet is worthwhile. I am sure more nervous than I thought I would be, though this is a real important day in my life inside corrections. I knew my day before the board was coming, and sure enough my name appeared on the call-out to go in the morning, along with several others.

We were herded into a vacant old classroom atop the counselor building where one by one guys went in to plead their case. I do not know how they determined who went first or the order, but I do know all of us were nervous. Wait. Seemed like that’s all we did was wait inside corrections. If we were not called before lunch, we would be given the infamous bag lunch – baloney and cheese sandwich, two sugar cookies, an apple and huggie (juice pack) and would be seen in the afternoon. No one wanted to get a tired board after they ate who knows what lunch, so all of us were hoping for the AM version.

I have to admit in the state I was in it was not my first instinct to pray. I was so nervous thinking about the two possibilities, stay or leave, that I was caught up in the worry whirlwind that often envelopes me in such situations. I felt I had to do everything I could to get released, that no one else was really fighting for me. My wife was indifferent it seemed, hoping, but a little reticent about everything on her last visit. My brother wished me well when he last left. But now it was up to me I felt.

Regardless, there I was waiting with several others when a CO came and announced the names of the first two inmates, one going in and one on deck so to speak. It seemed an eternity till he returned and called two others. Interestingly enough, the rest of us did little to no talking. Finally, my name was announced with another and the two of us trudged down a hallway toward our fate.

He went first, so I had more waiting to do, stuck in a chair in the hallway a distance from the entrance to the parole room. Hurry up and wait I thought, finally allowing myself to smile at least at the paradoxical  thought.

I had rehearsed a million times what I thought I might say, and another million responses to questions I thought they might ask. I must admit things began to get a little blurry in those last few minutes waiting to face the board.

Then my time came. I was ushered into a musty smelling room with a few people inside, my counselors and a couple other faculty members I recognized there in chairs behind where I was directed to sit, right up front of course.

The three board members, a middle aged man on my far left, a similarly aged African American woman in front of me and an older lady to my right. I am not sure who spoke first, but they introduced themselves and ask me to identify myself, which I did, complete with din number as required. I had carried three copies of my parole packet and asked if they had it, to which the man replied he had seen it. I nervously passed two other copies to the ladies and sat back down. As they started asking questions, I could see them glance over it. The man flipped pages barely leaving any time to read. The lady in front of me turned the pages with a ruler, an image that stuck in my mind, not wanting to touch anything that might have my cooties on it I guess. The lady to my right said very little. They asked why I had done what I had done, especially at my age, basically saying what were you thinking? From other questions I got the feeling they could not fathom what I had done and how I possibly could be a prospect for release. What were my plans if released? Where would I live? What would I do? Things were definitely blurry, and then they asked if I had anything else to say. Here was my chance, my one and only chance, to state succinctly why I was a great candidate for release. Honestly, I do not remember all of what I mumbled, something about learning and changing, that my life long mission was now to repay those I hurt and offended as well as help others avoid the failures I endured, or something to that affect.

And the it was over. Thank yous all around. I was handed a pass to return to my morning program and sent on my way. It was so difficult to read the board, or the ISOP counselors I saw on the way out for that matter. Stone faces, no eye contact, kind of like you don’t want to look at me right now because I know something you don’t. Or maybe I was imagining it.

On my walk back to the Transitional Service office, I replayed it over and over in my mind. I should have said this or that, or brought up my Earned Eligibility Certificate, or something. Maybe begging would have worked, something to get a reaction rather than the feeling no one wanted to get within 10 feet of me, a sex offender, who might infect them or something worse.

Now it was hurry up and wait once again. Wait for the reckoning, outcome, verdict, future of where I would be residing. Work was difficult, and of course everyone asked how it went. William was his usual gloomy self saying yet again that sex offenders, 99% of the time, do not get out on their first board. I told him I was planning on being in that 1%. After all, I had come to Mid-State, gotten into the program quickly, successfully completed it quickly, and now would hopefully go home quickly. I also hoped positive thinking would hold sway with any powers to be, and prayed the one, true power, God, would help.

LETTER TO THE PAROLE BOARD

Letter To The Parole Board

I first and foremost want to sincerely apologize to my community, family, friends, and neighbors as well as you the parole board for my risky and reckless behavior. It was inexcusable. It could have caused extensive harm, and has caused the taxpayers excessive amounts of money to arrest, prosecute and imprison me all because of my selfish and heedless actions. I am grateful there was no real victim who could have suffered irreparable damage from this crime. It has caused me deep sorrow, physical and mental anguish, even to the point of suicide. I take full responsibility for my conduct and am deeply ashamed of my behavior as well as seriously affecting the lives of my wife, son, daughter and countless others due to my inappropriate and impulsive actions, even to the people in this room.

I have looked back to see how self-righteously I acted. The humility I now feel is far from the arrogance that allowed me to converse with a minor in the manner I had done with peer age females. It was this selfishness and lack of forethought for anyone but myself that affected my community, family, friends, work associates and colleagues. The shame, guilt and humiliation I feel is overwhelming. I now carry that as a reminder of what such hubris can do to a person’s life and as a safeguard for returning to such a high level of pride.

I began personal counseling after my arrest and later attended group work for sex offenders. Both were suspended after eight months due to my incarceration. I continued once inside, being an active and willing participant in the Intensive Sex Offender Program (ISOP) here at Mid-State, in fact lobbying to be placed in such a program as soon as I could be. I also continued my personal work and investigation into my actions by reading several current books and articles on the subject as well as corresponding with my outside therapist regularly. That went on more intensely after I successfully completed the ISOP to the point of me wanting to help others supplement their understanding of their sex-related crime. To that end, I put together a proposal for a 12 step program for sex offenders which was accepted by the head of Mid-State ISOP.

The knowledge I have gained about my motives and myself has spurred me on to obtaining my Department of Labor Training Certification in Counseling Aide I. I will continue this investigative work on the outside as well. It will aide me in my goal of working in the counseling field part-time upon my release. I am also going to resume my personal and group therapy and begin marriage counseling, which should have begun years ago prior to my IO, had pride not kept me from doing so. Replacing that feeling is a desire to build back the relationships and trust with all that I have hurt, showing one may fail, but can also remake themselves into a productive, contributing and working member of society once again.

Because of all the learning I have gone through on this my first (and last) time on the wrong side of the law, I know I cannot possibly forget what I have gone through and experienced in this foreign side of life. I have gained information that I feel could be appropriately used to benefit society and may help prevent others from doing as I did. Clearly I abandoned my morals for selfish reasons. By utilizing this knowledge in a positive way, along with my learning in the programs taken inside corrections, I know I am a better person, one who has grown to where I will again be a positive contributor to society.

I thank you for your time and consideration for my release.

This is the letter I included in my parole packet. I also had background information on myself, listing of specific activities while inside corrections, copies of recent work evaluations as well as the Earned Eligibility Certificate, a complete parole plan, letters of support from family and letters of support from various community members. All in all it was over 60 pages, all neatly typed with cover letter and table of contents. I used my evening time judiciously to make it as complete and professional as I could. I talked to some in the law library as well as others who had done or were doing similar work to get ideas. My friends at work, William and Raul, also gave me pointers as they had been in before and had experience with such letters.

On the one hand, I didn’t want to make it too long or boring. But on the other, I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned and miss my opportunity to show the lasting changes I had made. I was repeatedly counseled not to put much emphasis on religious growth as the “jailhouse religion” rational didn’t fly well with boards. They had heard it all before and felt it was overused to gain freedom, not a true representation of a lasting conversion.

The board itself would consist of two to three members who would ask questions and hear anything I had to say. My counselor would be there as well as a counselor from the ISOP. I gave three copies for the board to my counselor in advance so he could forward them appropriately. I also was going to take three more just in case they had not received them or hadn’t had a chance to read it. I was told the hearing itself would last probably 5 – 10 minutes at best, with no way to know the outcome till receiving the news by mail three days or up to a week later.

As I re-read the letters of support from friends and family I started to cry. Here were those closest to me, the ones I had hurt the most, writing to support me in hopes I would be released to return to their community. I was touched by the humanity written there. All the friends who wrote had visited me at least once, some more than that. Most were church friends, but some were just people I had known for a long time. It was true, I had been blessed in this way, having over 35 different people write and over 28 visit me at one time or another, pretty unheard of for most inmates. I was just praying the board would see the inside corrections I had made while incarcerated and judged me worthy of release.

One good friend from the outside, a prominent doctor, had told me he was working on my behalf and going to speak to a high level friend he had who oversaw parole boards. Unfortunately, on a recent visit he told me he was unable to get anywhere and confirmed that the person we all had heard that was arrested for solicitation and attempting to meet an underage female at a motel, a sting operation, was in fact that chairman of parole. He was now a sex offender himself, so there were law suits and all kinds of legal action from those he had supervised or judged while on the parole board. Obviously he was of no help, actually tainting all boards view of people like him – or me.

So I am on my own. But I feel God is with me and will pray without ceasing and asking others to do likewise. I feel that, my continued growth and my parole packet are all I can do to gain my early release.

GETTING READY

How time flies when you’re having fun – or keeping busy. Seems the latter is helping me pass the time and get me closer to my goal, making my board in March. From what I have been told by my counselor is that, should I make it, I would be released 3-4 months later. I would need an address to parole to, of course, and would be released to my county of conviction. My work preparing my parole packet is taking much of my evening even some day time. I do not want to waste an opportunity or have a situation where I would have to say “if only I had done more to get released” or I wish I ….”. So my packet is growing with letters of recommendation from friends and family on the outside and my list of accomplishments inside.

One major addition to the packet is receiving my Earned Eligibility Certificate, something that is required prior to being granted parole. It basically means I have earned my eligibility to be released, having completed all requirements, in this case, my ISOP program. That completion is my main accomplishment since being inside corrections. I have good work history, but no supervisor, counselor, or even my Pastor, whom I have a good relationship with will write much or put their name on the line for an inmate. So I have to rely on people who know me, have visited and see a difference since I came here.

Speaking of work, my job has once again morphed from Phase I to working with Phase III, where inmates are in the last part of their bid, getting ready to go home and face new challenges, some more than others. The long timers will face a new world they know nothing about while the parole violators and short timers will be getting back to where they left off. My job right now is to not only work with guys on resumes, but look for ways to improve the program. I facilitate little as there are two other guys doing that. My primary role is the resumes and I have access to a computer for that work. I utilize it in the evenings for that as well as my personal work, something that my boss cleared with me early on. She figured as long as I do some work for her in the off hours she can help me back. Further, I am doing a report or two for her and other counselors for whatever reason. I think it is because of their lack of knowledge in making a report as I am familiar with Excel, having made all kinds of documents for my work on the outside running my own business. I also do letters now and then for various people, inmates and civilians. Fortunately I still work with my friend William who is very adept at computer work and has taught me many additional things. We have become good friends since we have been working closely with each other for the past few months, as close as you can be inside corrections.

We recently found out that our Transitional Service Office will very soon be moved across the street into a building where most vocational and ISOP classes are held. We will change from a large room with multiple desks to three tiny rooms with fewer desks. Now guys who are facilitators will have to work out of their classrooms, keeping all material and forms there. Part of my new assignment is to update some of those forms as well as possibly generate new ones. I feel they are having me do this because of my background in education and business, tapping into my knowledge to assist these guys before they leave. It works for me, as it takes a good deal of my time and thought. I don’t watch the clock, that is for sure, as there is always something to do.

One of the by-products of this move will be the separation from the night CO whom I have come to know and like. We have several good discussions when I go there in the evenings to work on things. It is like talking with someone on the outside, not being judged or criticized. Because of the variety of my experiences and knowledge, we had no problem finding common ground to talk about. In the new building, I do not know the officers, and our rooms will be further away from his station than they are now, not that it will matter. As it is said, the only constant is change.

So there is preparation for that move, preparation for my upcoming board and preparation for hopefully going home. Most, if not all of this getting ready is mental and emotional work required of me. I have been praying on all three areas hoping God hears my prayers and helps me get released, as He helped me get through the program in a timely fashion. He has also been with me in my work, helping the administration recognize my talents to be used for His glory and helping me do the best I can do, whether for inmates, CO’s or counselors.

So I’m getting ready, ready for what’s next.

NOTES OF 1/5/09

Note to self: re-examine playing after the final basketball game in our “ol man’s league” – losing in overtime after blowing a 12 point lead with 2:36 left I might add!

I feel like I can identify with Dave Dravecky in his book Comeback. The miracle of God’s underlying love for us is the real deal. It’s all a gift after that – anything that happens. At 58 (1 ½ weeks shy of it actually) that I can still score 15+ in a game and be influential is gravy, win or lose. I am already in heaven. This is the “new me” as my friend William urges me to be.

It started because he was telling me I was going to be hit at the parole board next month so I’d better start thinking about that. He knew I had been laboriously collecting information, letters of support and doing all I could to show the Parole Board I was “ready to go” and “deserving.” But he also knew the reality of S.O.’s going to the board for the first time, they don’t make it. Maybe he was right in theory. Whether I get hit or not, whether I go home in ’09 as I hope – along with everyone in my family and numerous friends  – or receive another 24 months as he suggests will happen, I need to react the same. Non-resistant. As I read Dravecky’s book, it came to me that God was the true inspiration for my calmness. Giving it up, the control that I had always worked so hard for in my life and mostly felt I had, just had to be given over to my higher power – God. That was the large lesson in this whole “time out” period that I was going through, the main lesson, that I am not in control.

Day to day I was not so sure. Movement to and from programs in here only occurs if and when it is called – by someone else. Some days it is delayed. Other times we sit and may not to be called at all due to some incident. I have to be content to control the things I can control, doing the best I can in whatever it is I am doing, but in all things giving glory and praise to God.

Take tonight as an example. I played as hard and as smart as I could for my conditioning and, I hate to admit it, my age. Easily the oldest guy out there by at least 6 or 7 years I felt I upheld the “graybeards” as my pen pal friend John Domm has dubbed us who are older with beards. I hustled, shot well and did the best I could on 1 ½ legs. The rest is up to others near and far, Jesus being the furthest I felt.

In my facilitating jobs I prepare and take my work seriously, enjoying helping the guys get ready for the outside after 2, 6, 10 or even an almost lifetime of incarceration. That they come in not knowing where they are going or what they will do and leave with goals and practiced at things like interviews, letter writing and more gives me a sense of doing all I can for them, of letting my light shine through to them, thanks to God. I smile more lately because I realize and live it now, not just mouth the words. When they say the blessings go up and the glory comes down, it is so true. First things first.

It’s not easy “letting go” and it’s not a sit-back-and-he’ll-do-all-the-work kind of deal in my opinion. Not at all. There is meaning now in what I do, even if it is just between God and I, but I have to do the work before He does His. “Expand my territory” I pray daily, and He does just as He did for Jabez.(1 Chronicles 4 v10) I have to remember through my living, I can show and demonstrate my faith and Christian life. Do my best in all I do, treat others as you would have them treat you and love as Jesus did.

Win or lose, He is with me. Go home or stay, He is still here. Not necessarily what I want, but it is as it should be, His will be done. I will do all I can, doing my best and not put myself in a position to say “what if” or “if I had only…”. After that, what else can I logically do? Blame someone? Who? Get mad? Why? Have a pity party? Tried that, didn’t do very well with only one attendee.

Get busy doing, as my former Pastor Cheryl has said, “doing the next right thing” and things will take care of themselves. The negativity leads to a downward spiral and “permissive” thinking, that I “deserve” such and such, whatever my addiction of the moment is. I give myself permission to do, say or just think thoughts of negativity, retribution or evil. “Well, I deserve this because that happened”. Oh really? Says who? Even though society, particularly the media, tells us do it, we deserve it, go get it, me, me, me. As the church people say, it is the devil tempting us. I know, especially now, that way of thinking is definitely not productive. It’s like the guy who just scored on you because you didn’t take away the baseline on defense, or box him out or something. Get back and do your best to score or help you team score at the other end. Similarly in life I have found it is not failing, losing, or getting hit at the board that is the problem, rather dealing with it that is. My response to it. When I am so busy blaming, naming or complaining I am not dealing with it. Whoever said attitude is 90% of life is right.

I can more easily see now how we are not in control of much but our thoughts. I used to try so hard to control everything and everybody in some way or the other – what they thought – if I want your opinion I’ll give it to you type thing – or what happened next – I’LL take care of it. I mistakenly thought what being in control looked like, and if I was in control of my own business, I would be in ultimate control of everything.

In the end, did I travel across the state because I was controlling my own destiny in my business or did my work really control me and necessitate that I be in front of my customers quarterly? I may have thought I controlled my schedule daily, but overall I was a slave to it. It really is liberating to realize the truth, that the harder I try to control things, people or events, the less in control of anything I am! Sounds simple. When you are in the middle of that power struggle, believe me it is not. That’s why this mandated “vacation”, where I have so little control, has actually given me control of my mind like never before, the only real control I have. It has certainly given me time to make much needed inside corrections. As many writers, philosophers and statesmen have noted: if we stay in the moment, something we can control, you will have an easier time.

However, I could do without another 24 months of practice I believe, as I am a quick study. I have come to believe that it will be as it will be. As they say inside corrections, “it is what it is.” I then give thanks to the heavenly Father who watches over all and is with me every day, night, hour and minute. Thank you Jesus!

Sounds simple. Now, to work my plan.

THE NEXT PHASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so.