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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Cray

This place is getting crazy. There’ve been multiple fights and a few housing units have gone on extended lock downs. So far, nothing has happened in the unit where I live — thank goodness. I think things are getting more tense with the holidays approaching.

Perhaps that’s why they chose to double up on guards this time of year. The National Guard military police unit is here for their annual two weeks of training. It’s amusing when this place has too many guards and not enough for them to do. Instead of one guard doing a daily search of my cell, there are three guards crammed in there climbing over each other to rifle through my stuff.

In other news, after getting denied parole, I’ve appealed the parole board’s conclusion. Should hear back no later than January.

 

SurREAL

Today I glanced over at a table in the chow hall and sitting there together were two of the more well-known inmates: Manning and Sgt. Bales (and a mysterious third party).

**Correction. I thought Russ was referring to Hasan as the third party when he wrote this post, but apparently he wasn’t. He couldn’t tell me the name of the guy he was referring to, but he said it wasn’t Hasan. It was someone else who’d committed a mass shooting, but he couldn’t remember the guy’s name. I haven’t been able to find someone matching the criteria Russ gave me. I’ll get some clarification next time I see him! Sorry for the confusion.

The Count (a Sidebar in A Day in the Life)

At this point in my incarceration, the count amounts to no more than a single sentence. The count happened, as usual, at 4 p.m. But I feel such brevity doesn’t give the count its due. So in this second installment of “A Day in the Life,” I’m going to break down a very small, but vital part of my day. The count.

Maybe you’re not interested, but let’s face it: I’ve got plenty of time to explain this. And honestly, the count gets under my skin some days.

The count happens every day at the same time. Every prisoner must be accounted for by two guards (separately) to ensure that the inmate’s still alive, in the right cell, and hasn’t had his face bashed in.

It starts with a little crackle over the guard’s radio in the control booth. He usually keeps the volume up loud enough for us to hear this initial warning. Less than a minute later, usually right around 4:03 p.m., the official announcement blares over the facility-wide PA system. It is followed quickly by a more localized notice from the sergeant in the control booth:

“Stand by for count!”

(In medium custody the Sgt. says, “Lock down for count.” Minimum custody inmates are allowed to leave their cell door cracked during count but medium custody folks have to “lock down.”)

The count procedure is always a little entertaining – or at least it’s what passes for entertainment in here. Despite its mind numbing predictability, at least a few guards and inmates are always unprepared.

The guards account for every inmate by marking their presence on a laminated sheet of paper. It’s pretty low-tech. Invariably, there’s a guard ransacking the control booth in search of a grease pen or looking around for an absent counting partner.

Without fail, at least one inmate refuses to hasten his toilette regimen or a game of pinochle is deemed too important to pause. So we wait. I suppose it’s a small way of asserting themselves – of making it seem like they’ve got something more important to do than be imprisoned. But that’s a damn small reward to balance against risk getting “charged” for interfering with the count.

While we wait, a chorus of heckling slowly builds. On the rare occasion when a female guard is doing the count, you’ll hear a few, “Let me get that’s.” It’s embarrassing. Often it results in an even slower count.

At some point, everyone gets to the right place. Inmates stand in their cells displaying their ID badges and guards make their rounds.

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 6.16.44 PM

In my minimum custody pod, people are occasionally reprimanded for pushing the boundaries of the SOP (standard operating procedure) by talking to other inmates around their cell doors. It’s sort of counterintuitive, but the inmates who push hardest against the count procedure are typically the ones who’ve only recently made it into minimum custody. It’s the mouse and the cookie, I suppose. Put an inmate in min. custody where he doesn’t have to be locked in his cell during count, and he’ll want to talk to his buddies as well.

The counting of inmates, once started, only takes a few minutes. But it’s always a little more stressful than it really should be. Not because of the depressing groundhog-day nature of it all or the annoying assertions of personhood, but because the inmates are never quite sure which standards we’re going to go by today. The count, more so than any other event, is the daily ritual with the most pendulous standards. Yesterday it was fine to just be sleeping in your bunk with your ID badge affixed to your cell door during count. Today, you must be standing at attention with your ID badge held at shoulder height in front of you. Tomorrow…who knows?

The inconsistency makes the whole procedure a little nervey. Like I’ve mentioned, small things – miniscule things – can get blown way out of proportion here. Inmates cling desperately to whatever tiny freedoms they have (like being able to take peanut butter packets out of the dining facility – when they stopped allowing us to do that, there was much grinding and gnashing of teeth). So when a guard tells an inmate who’s sitting on his bed, “Get up, you have to get up and touch your badge for count.” More often than not, the inmate will start arguing. And what is never a good idea when you’re in prison? Arguing with your guards, that’s what. I’ve seen inmates sent to the SHU (max custody) because they used “provoking words or gestures” towards guards who told them to get up and touch their ID badge during count. That said, I’ve also seen inmates give guards lip and have nothing happen. I’ve seen inmates sleep through count with no negative repercussions. I’ve also seen them lose custody and get sent to medium security because they were asleep for count, and rather just than wake them up, a guard submitted paperwork.

Me – I’m not playing these games. I’ve read the SOP and I do what it says. There’s no way I’m risking parole on this count B.S. So when I was standing at my door with my ID badge attached to my left breast pocket, as per SOP, and the guard doing the count told me he needed to see me touch my badge, at first I laughed – because obviously he was messing with me. Then he stared me down and that peach fuzz mustache he was trying to grow was pretty intimidating. So I touched my damn badge. That was attached to me.

Give a private a cookie…and he’ll want to lord it over every one.

Min. custody folks can return to the common room and get back to whatever time-passing activity they were doing before count started. Med. custody inmates, however, have to remain in their cells with the doors locked until the facility-wide count is complete. If it takes more than an hour to “clear the count,” then everyone gets locked in their cells and another count is conducted. Big sigh. And then everyone starts rotating through the dining facility for dinner. Another count complete.