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.

MOVING ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLARIFICATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOMETIME IN ’08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so.

THE STORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A DECENT GUY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON HIS PATH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAIN ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAIN, NOT TRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CARRYING ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being here gives me plenty of time to practice my new mantra as stated before, Proverbs v 3-5, which requires inside corrections in my thoughts and actions. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”
It is so true, and I now practice doing it and not just thinking it, carrying on inside corrections.

TRUE POWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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