I was thinking how normal it is to write a letter, one of the few “normal” things that go on in here. But as I may have stated previously, things are a little upside down.
But then I guess that begs the question, what is normal? For a prison – or correctional institution as they now want to call it though little correction occurs – what goes on is probably quite normal though I cannot tell as I have no reference. I know sleeping is normal, but when I do finally drop off, often after crying myself to sleep, then wake, it is not the normal I am used to seeing or hearing. That is if I do drop off to sleep, which many nights for a variety of reasons does not occur or, if it does, only for a while. There are guys talking, crying, snoring and making other bodily noises and radios playing. Then there’s the C.O.’s who check on us, generally without regard to being the quietest. As I have stated before, I do not know what I don’t know.
So I have to make a new normal for myself on what is and is not. That continues throughout the day. My new digs in the four man room are an improvement in some ways over our single cell of the maximum security facility. However that means little to no privacy either. We have a small locker next to our beds to store food and our extra clothes which really are not much as we only have state issue duds at present. So all in all, a bit different from the 2,800 square foot house that I left.
At work another inmate gave me a sheet that someone I do not know wrote some time ago how this place is a little mixed up – a different kind of normal. He entitled it “The Upside Down Kingdom” and I thought it is very appropriate:
If a prisoner isn’t careful, by the time he’s released from confinement his perception may become so warped that right appears wrong & the virtuous things appear distastefully unappealing. Anyone with half a sound mind entering a prison environment will soon discover that prisoners govern themselves by codes and rules that counter their own best interest. In prison, an arrogant man convicted of killing is respected above the intellectually sophisticated man or prisoners with moral conviction. In prison, you can’t afford to smile too broadly too often, nor dare possess a genuine friendly disposition for these behavior traits are considered unmanish and soft. You see, in prison the prisoner who displays a hateful, vengeful and vicious temperament is the one admired and notably recognized by his equally miserable peers. In prison, good men are despised while vile men are praised. Prisons are upside down kingdoms and it’s human subjects are manipulated by backward values, deviant codes and non-progressive criminal philosophies.
In prison, a prisoner is mocked and counted a traitor if he talks about his turning over a new leaf and legitimizing his life. He is ridiculed if he discloses a desire to become a faithful family man to one woman and maintain employment to provide for his household. A prisoner is frowned upon who devotes his energy toward education or acquiring vocational skills above the interest of wasting decades playing basketball or lifting weights in the yard with his dead head peers.
In prison, men are more concerned with appearing composed in the face of personal crisis than they are with being honest about their feelings or with learning to ask for help to resolve their conflicts. The average prisoner has no place for words such as love, compassion, loyalty empathy, sacrifice and commitment: according to their definition and vocabulary, these are dirty words. Networking or pooling resources together for the common good is a foreign concept and or met with suspicion and distrust. Trust, honesty, responsibility, integrity are more dirty words with no usefulness in prison – the upside down kingdom. Ideally, prisoners should fill each correctional institution’s educational classes until they are bursting at the seams. We as prisoners should engage vocational programs to where there is standing room only. If we as prisoners were working with sober, mental clarity, our prison environment could be transformed into universities of higher learning or monasteries to attain deeper insightfulness and spirituality. There exists among our ranks men with brilliant minds and high powered perceptions, men who have participated and can compete well in corporate America. Men who become so disillusioned with their peers that they’ve given up the drive to work with them.
They’ve questioned themselves – why bother, what’s the use? But as bleak as the answers to these questions may be, as educators and leaders our answer must echo the sentiments: “because we have a moral obligation to do so.” It will never be easy standing up against the forces of ignorance in the upside down kingdom. But easy or not, it is the thing that men of moral fiber are compelled to address in order to look themselves in the mirror.
I am not sure when this was written but it unfortunately still applies today. I hope as I get further into this enforced “time out” phase of my life I will be able to maybe make a change, however small, in this paradigm. Who knows, if I can bring some of my usually “normal” life into this upside down normal I might even be able to help some along the way. Wouldn’t that be great? After all, I was helped by a priest and I know I feel Jesus and the Holy Spirit helping me everyday to make required inside corrections. He has said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So I may be able to pass it along as the movie “Pay it Forward” shows.
Anyway, much to digest. Whether upside down or inside out it is my new normal and I must learn to live with it lest I come to harm. So far so good in that respect.