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).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Week 4 Summary

I have now marked off 4 weeks in prison and have settled into a routine that I hope will make the next two months fly by.

Last night, after 30 minutes on the exercise bike, about an hour before curfew, I walked out to the area of the camp near the abandoned runways at Saufley Field.

Across the cracked, weed-infested, asphalt runway are thousands of FEMA Hurricane Relief Trailers left over from Hurricane Ivan a couple of years ago. The deep blue, dark sky is clear. The stars are vibrant, especially Venus in the west (actually Venus is not really a star, but you get the point), and the moon is three quarters waxing. I sit down on a bench, no one else around me, and contemplate the surreal circumstances I am in.

My life is not physically uncomfortable. All of my basic needs are taken care of. The hardest part, I think most inmates would agree, is missing family and friends, especially family.

This is like a dream I know I will wake up from in 9 more weeks. Soon after that it will be a distant memory. That does not mean that it will not have left an indelible impression. After just 4 weeks, I am surprised at what I am feeling ... and not feeling.

First, I have not suffered from boredom or technology withdrawal. I literally do not have enough time to do everything I want to do - read, write, work out! and watch a few favorite shows (24, American Idol). I gave up trying to play softball for lack of time.

I do not miss mindless TV (i.e. watching TV just because it's on), cell phones, or even the internet all that much, although there are times I have questions that I could answer quickly if I only had a computer in front of me.

Second, the real changes are surprisingly darker. All of us at times I suspect suffer from crises of faith - experiences that shatter our assumptions about the way the world works, or should work. We rely on these assumptions - presuppositions really - to interpret and make sense of life. They provide comfort and stability.

When a traumatic experience contradicts our understanding of the world, denial sets in. But eventually that denial cannot sustain itself forever - it gives way to disillusionment. AW Tozer refers to this as dis-illusionment - a healthy stripping away of false, even childish views of the world.

While there were aspects to my case that I thought were bizarre and unfair, I had come to terms with that and accepted my situation for what it was. I am not into self-pity.

What I did not expect was to hear story after horrific story from the inmates.

It is an undisputed article of faith in prison that the federal government doesn't play fair. There is not really any rule of law. Prosecutors prosecute. Juries convict. Judges sentence. Arguments be damned. It seems that judges and juries just roll over and rubberstamp whatever the prosecutor says.

The stories I have heard are so disturbing I have not been sleeping well. I have absolutely no confidence that, when I get out, if I live a law-abiding life to the best of my ability that I still won't end up back in prison.

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