Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Week 11 Summary

I have changed.

Actually, looking back, the change probably started about 2 weeks ago but it became clearer this week. Others have also noted it.

I have definitely shifted into cruising gear. Some describe this phase as apathy after the initial shock of prison life; a sort of indifference to life. While there may be an element of truth to that, there is certainly a sense of self-preservation or self-protection that enters into play. I agree more with another friend that it is really a change in perspective, a re-orienting of priorities that focuses on the essentials and no longer wastes energy on the trivial.

The change is most manifest in my desire to spend more time alone. I do not easily fit into the extrovert/introvert dichotomy. I am introverted in large groups and extroverted in small groups. I am not shy but neither do I need to be the center of attention. I have definitely become more introverted in prison. That is, more renewed through aloneness than through social interaction. I prefer to work alone or with one other person. I spend more time reading in my bed or in a quiet or remote location in the camp. I am comfortable in my routine.

Lately some friends have asked why I am "sad" when I don't think I feel sad. While not as cheerful as I normally am, neither am I brooding. I am calm, almost peaceful. Perhaps stoical is the best work. Everything around me has become background noise that I just tune out.

Maybe this is what inmates refer to as knowing how to do time. If so, I can at least understand how some of these guys have done 10, 15 or 20 years. It is amazing how resilient and flexible the mind is. In the same way the human body will hibernate or shut down less essential body functions when deprived of normal energy sources (food or oxygen), the "self" also seems to become more efficient when deprived of normal psychic energy sources.

Since I have less than 2 weeks to go, this change is only relevant to the following question: "How long does it take to return to normal after you get out of prison?"

I fully expect to be scarred by this experience but a scar is not a handicap, merely a reminder (in fact, maybe a tattoo would be a better analogy). Psychic injuries are not, in my opinion, the same as physical wounds. Because you always have a choice how to respond to stressful events in your life. Therefore, the trauma is ultimately a function of how you process the experience.

In any case, it appears that it has taken me about 2 months to hit my stride, although some inmates with much longer time say the whole first year is hard. Likewise I have heard that it can take a year to feel normal again although that will obviously vary by individual and sentence time and I expect it to be much faster for me.

Despite my new groove, I did however have a very frustrating commissary experience this week, which illustrates well the annoyances of prison life.

Several weeks ago, the commissary began opening during lunch (11:00-12:00) for inmates who do work on-site, like myself. This new policy helps relieve the congestion for the afternoon commissary time (4:00-7:00p). Inmates are assigned to either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for their shopping day. If you miss, you must wait until the next week.

B01, my work detail, recently had our lunch hour shortened to 30 minutes (11:00-11:30a). On Tuesday, my shopping day, I placed my order at the commissary by inserting my sheet in the window and waited outside with the others for my order to be filled.

The CO on commissary duty this week was one of the slow ones. As a result, my order was not filled by 11:30 and I had to return to work.

I re-submitted a new order during the afternoon commissary hours but was refused because the CO had filled it after I left and since I was not there, he considered my commissary privileges forfeited for the week. Making matters worse, the commissary was scheduled to be closed the next week and since I was leaving then, for all practical purposes, I was no longer going to be able to shop at the commissary.

I was angry and explained that I had had no choice but to return to work at 11:30a. He said loudly, "Not my problem." I asked for both of my order sheets back. He again said loudly, "No!"

Angry at this snub, I submitted a cop-out (schedule by the prison to do something else other than the regular schedule) to the head of the commissary explaining my situation and requesting an opportunity to shop on Wednesday or Thursday. As it turns out there was a different person heading up commissary duty at that time which was a good sign. I had also complained to my dorm counselor, who was sympathetic to my concerns and put a call in on my behalf.

I finally met with the commissary head during lunch on Thursday. He explained that I had violated the cardinal commissary rule of walking away from an order. Once I realized that my order would not be filled on time, I should have returned to the order window and asked for my order sheet to be withdrawn.

Fortunately, I had hedged my bets and had another inmate buy some essential items for me in case my request was denied, which it eventually was.

My efforts, however, were not totally in vain. It was then announced that lunch commissary time would be extended by 15 minutes for B01 work detail inmates. The things that become so important in prison!! At home I never even think about shopping times, that's my wife's specialty!

As for work this week, I continued to weed-eat. One of my supervisors has said on a couple of occasions that he is actually going to miss me. Nothing personal, but I can't say the same for him. I hope he understands :).

I did catch some relief from weed-eating on Tuesday ... or so I thought. I was assigned to a new task - breaking up concrete sidewalk segments with a sledgehammer and loading the pieces onto a front-end loader. Some relief. I guess this was my taste of the proverbial prison rock pile experience. Me and Jean Valjean. The opening song from Les Miserables was ringing through my ears.

The weather Monday and Tuesday was oppressively hot (high 90s) but on Tuesday evening thunderstorms seemed to take a little edge off the heat for the rest of the week.

I am half-way through Book 6 of the Harry Potter series and should finish it easily this week.

I have been waking earlier, anywhere between 4:30a and 5:30a, without an alarm. I am usually in bed between 9:00-9:30p, where I read and am asleep usually by the 10p count.

I still work out 2-3 times per week. I think I have lost a few pounds and gained a little muscle during my stay. I have a few ideas to discuss with my trainer when I return.

Part of the reason I have become more withdrawn is simply because I am ready to leave and I know my time is short ... mentally, I have already started checking out.

My wife returned safely from Spain today. I can't wait to see her this weekend after 4 weeks!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


You are a great communicator and writer, you should think of writing a book on your experiences. I do wonder how much of this is made to be dramatic for the viewing audience such as me, but then again I feel it must be all real since you have no vested benefit other then say how it is. On the outside we watch too much BS TV and news is not real news anymore, all we see is how Paris Hilton survived her 20 days in hell. The drama around her etc...

I am looking forward to reading your departure and house arrest episode. You did not discuss the circumstances of your plea deal and trial or your thoughts on trial, you did not discuss how you only got 3 months when the points were made to give you 10-16 months, What about the cost of defending? How did you find your lawyers? These are great details that make us curious in following your weekly episodes on this blog. I think that would be a great episode of hope and luck. I say it in such a way since each week to me is like an episode on TV.

Seriousely think about TV/documentry or a book deal...You would be very surprised how many people read this BLOG...