Is Prison Good for Anyone?

I’ve thought about this question for a while now and even spoken to some other inmates about it. I think it’s interesting that I’ve learned to live with people in here with little or no regard for what their offenses were. I feel like on the outside, such information about a neighbor would be vital – you would WANT to know. Here, it’s universally recognized that ignorance is better.

I think there are inmates who’ve done and continue to be capable of doing terrible things; they should be punished. Is this particular type of punishment GOOD for them? I don’t know. But I think the world is probably a little safer with some of these people off the streets. I also believe that there are many people in this place who were over-prosecuted or simply made a bad choice at the wrong time. The difference between these two types of inmates is that the former laments getting caught, the latter laments their action. Prison is probably a good place for the former; I don’t know if it’s a great place for the latter.

For the over-prosecuted/bad decision-makers, I don’t know if prison does them any GOOD. Does it punish them more than they could punish themselves? Does it help them … help them with what? Help them by assuring them they’ve paid the price for the crime they’re convicted of? It’s hard to say. Then again, they’re convicted, as I am, of doing something against the law. Is prison supposed to be good/reformative for the inmate, or is the inmate’s incarceration supposed to be good for their victims/society? I can understand how people would think the threat of prison and the example imprisoned offenders set for others can be good for a well-ordered society. But I think that balance should constantly be re-evaluated. Is it? I don’t know.

I’ve noticed that often inmates distinguish between “good guys” and “nice guys.” The “good guys” have questionable convictions, or it is understood that they made a bad choice that doesn’t belie the type of person they really are. The “nice guys” are friendly and might help you out in any way they can, but they have a serious disorder.

There are also some people in here who recognize that they have, or had, a problem. They’re open about the crimes they’ve committed, sometimes too open because most people don’t want to hear about other inmates’ crimes.

Some people here should be separated from society – prison is probably good for these guys. They form their own community here, they’re taken care of. Some of these inmates are the “nice guys” who just haven’t been able to overcome their disorders. But this group also includes people with anger/control issues, people who manipulate others, who bully smaller, vulnerable inmates, who antagonize others for their own entertainment. These are the people who make me feel uncomfortable – I can only imagine how the guards, particularly the female guards who are often the subject of their attention, feel.

 

Getting Short

I asked Russ during our last visit to think about a few things he wanted to do once he got out. Here’s the list he came up with: 

1. I need to see my son, visit with my father, and somehow thank the friends who’ve stood by me throughout this whole ordeal. I don’t know about the mechanics of these things, but I’m aching to do them … I’ll have to figure out HOW as soon as I get my feet under me and get a feel for what this new chapter is going to be like.

2. I want to wake up on day one of freedom and go for a 5 to 10 mile run – maybe get lost. I want to just go out in whatever direction the wind takes me and get lost in the sunlight, the breeze and do something I love.

3. Also on day one, I want to eat my favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. I’m going to eat a basket of their rye bread with butter, drink a gallon of their passion fruit iced tea, and order more food than I will be able to finish, including cheese cake, of course.

4. Speaking of food, I also want to go to a mall and sit in the food court. I’ll gorge myself on some decadent fast food … Chick-Fil-A, maybe? But really I want to just watch the people go by.

5. While I’m still focused on food: I want to go to a huge grocery store and fill up a cart. I can only imagine the random assortment of food I’ll walk out with. I want to stock up on all the things I’ve gone without over the past three years: fresh fruits, dark chocolate, juicy steak … and a whole bunch of other stuff that I won’t know until I see it.

6. Since it’ll be August when I get out, I want to find a nice outdoor pool and dive in. I want to swim!

7. I really need to check my email. Somewhere among the hundreds of thousands of emails I’ve missed, there are probably messages from good people I’ve lost touch with.

8. There are practical things that are also on my list: buy a car, turn my cell phone back on (hopefully), and get started at my new job. I’m excited for these things because they mean I’ll be transitioning back to normalcy.

9. I also need to make up for some lost cultural experiences. I want to bar-b-q with friends, download all sorts of new music to my iPod, and reactivate my Netflix account.

10. If I can pry myself away from Netflix, I’d also like to buy a guitar. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in here, it’s that you’ve always gotta be bettering yourself in some way – teaching yourself something. You’ve gotta make a habit out of finding new hobbies. I think because life is so busy people forget how important it is to find new hobbies and get passionate about them for a while.

11. Along that vein, I’ve been thinking about ways I can volunteer. I’ve spent my whole life (minus the past three years) in a service-oriented profession. I think it’ll make my transition from the military and from prison a lot easier if I can create some continuity with my previous life by volunteering at Habitat for Humanity or something similar.

12. I’ve also been thinking I’d like to set a reachable goal for myself – who knows if I’ll be good at this new job I’ve got, if I’ll have a good relationship with my parole officer, if I’ll be able to manage this transition well. But I WILL be able to summit Pike’s Peak. I think I’ll need that sense of accomplishment  – so that’s definitely on my list.

13. Speaking of which, I’ll need to convince my parole officer that I’m not a dirtbag – that I won’t be a problem for him over the next few years.

And so many other things. So so so many other things. But that’s all for now.

Boob Toob

Russ told me during a visit that NCIS is by far the most popular TV show in the common areas. Not something you might have thought considering some of them were put in prison by NCIS-led investigations. Seems ironic, no?

Russ’s own favorite show right now? Fargo, on FX. I have to say, I agree. Fargo is awesome.

He also said a lot of inmates like Tosh.0, so I asked him if they’d enjoyed the bit Tosh did on making toilet hooch (see it here: Cooking in the Clink). He said he couldn’t remember, but, speaking of which … Someone recently got busted for making hooch! (Russ didn’t know if he was using Tosh’s toilet technique.) Apparently the dude was found out when his garbage bag full of ready-to-chug “pruno grigio” busted in transit from his cell to someone else’s. The smell of alcohol filled the hallway and guards came and caught him. He spent something like three weeks in the SHU (special housing unit) a.k.a. solitary.

Whatcha Cookin’

It’s funny the things you miss in here. Lately I’ve been dreaming about buying a car (my subconscious is getting way too far ahead of me, there). But I’ve been daydreaming/fantasizing about going to the grocery store. I cannot wait to go buy some food and cook a nice meal for myself.

I also want to reopen my Netflix account and catch up on some shows I’ve missed. I want to go for a jog with my iPod and get lost in the experience.

Simple pleasures. Don’t ever take them for granted.

Parole Dreamin’

Being granted parole has an interesting affect on one’s social aspect. I find I now have three types of social interactions:

1. Endless questions about precisely what my parole letter said.

2. Awkward congratulations from people who are now reminded of their failed attempts at parole.

3. Jerks who want to push my buttons to see what happens when they provoke someone who absolutely will not respond physically.

And while even the #3’s of the world can’t take away this precious little piece of optimism, there are some things that now swerve me towards fits of panic. I heard recently hat a guy who had his case overturned about a year ago is back in reception. I guess they re-convicted him or reaffirmed his case. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for my appeals process.

But then I think of a time not that long ago when I wrote of meeting my 100 day milestone in here and I think about how I only have 200 days left. That first 100 days seems so long ago … didn’t I weather those 100 days just fine? Sure. And I’ll weather the next 200 days just fine as well. Come what may.

Over the ho-ho-ho-lidays

The Christmas meal was a bit of a disappointment. We’re still eating in the gymnasium because the project to re-floor the dining facility is behind schedule. Shocking that a government construction project hasn’t finished on time. I don’t mind the folding chairs and tables as much as the heavy reliance on meager helpings of cold cuts. I used to enjoy lunch meat. Nevermore.

I did get an early Christmas gift. A guy who really annoys me got jumped by grinchsome other guy during dinner. It’s not surprising because, like I said, he’s annoying. It’s almost comforting to know that he annoyed other people – maybe that means I’ve not completely lost my mind. The best part, however, is that he was sent to the SHU (special housing unit, a.k.a. max custody) and will likely remain there well after I’ve departed. That’s one guy I don’t care to see again in my lifetime.

Mega-Million Jackpot

(Note: this post was sent to me in the form of a letter and I wasn’t sure Russ wanted me to post it. I waited until I confirmed he wanted it posted before writing it up, so it’s a few weeks old.)

I was woken up today after only two hours of sleep. A guard was standing directly outside my cell.

“A Miss called for you,” he said.

That’s not some prison-term. I think he was trying to tell me that a woman called for me, but the fact that he was making me decipher this message and its lack of real information annoyed me. I was exhausted from working the night before, but I knew that I wasn’t on the pass roster and I didn’t have any scheduled appointments. I pushed the button on the intercom in my cell so I could speak to the sergeant in the booth. He said someone had called, but the line had cut out before he got any details. I told him I was tired, I was going to bed, but if they called back to wake me up. About 15 minutes later, another knock on my door.

“The CJA office wants to speak to you.”

The CJA office is where you go for attorney phone calls and powers of attorney and I hadn’t made an appointment with them. So I was confused, but figured maybe my attorney was calling.

I came out of my cell and started for the CJA office. Halfway down the hall I stopped to chat with another inmate and he told me he’d heard the parole analyst requesting me. That made much more sense. So off I went, now at least semi-confident that this wasn’t going to be a wild goose chase, also very nervous that I was going to be told that my appeal to the parole board had been denied. It was too soon for that, though – they shouldn’t be getting back to me until mid-January.

In the analyst’s office, I groggily took a seat in front of the desk.

“I’m sorry to call you in so early, but I’m about to be out of the office for a few days. I wanted to give you the results of your appeal to the denial of your parole before I left,” she said.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I’d had hours to prepare myself emotionally for the results of my initial parole board and it still hit me like three tons of bricks. This was out of the blue … a full month early. Nothing happens before schedule in here. Nothing. I wasn’t sleep-blurry anymore. I took the sheet of paper she handed me across her desk and scanned it feverishly.

Reversed. It said ‘reversed.’

Suddenly I was tingling all over … I was nearing a cliff, but I couldn’t let myself jump just yet. I might not have a parachute. Did that mean what I thought it meant?

“You were granted parole on your appeal. Your release is about seven months from now in July,” said the parole analyst.lottery jump

Typically, they give you 90 days notice, not seven months notice, but I’m not complaining. I signed the notification and walked back to my housing unit on a cloud. I didn’t realize how thoroughly I’d abandoned hope of parole, but you can’t imagine the change in perspective I felt. It felt like winning the lottery.

Immediately I wanted to call everyone and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, I only had $3 on my phone account and calls are 32 cents/minute. Ahhhh!!!