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).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Maurice Clarett Blogs from Prison

First, apologies for not blogging more. There is always so much more to say than I have time and then I end up saying nothing. I had so much more "freedom" to write in prison :)

Second, I just read that Maurice Clarett is blogging from prison.

For the uninitiated, Clarett was a former football great -- albeit for only one year -- at Ohio State University, leading them to the national championship over Miami in 2002 before making some really bad choices that landed him in prison. You can read his bio here:

The ESPN article is here:

His blog is here:

His purpose is somewhat different than my purpose. For example, he says:
I have no interest in discussing prison’s day to day operations. That serves no
purpose in my life. I created this site for other reasons. There are too many
young men and women that need hope and inspiration.
He is focussing on keeping people out of prison. I was, and am, focussed on helping people who were already caught up in the federal justice system, rightly or wrongly.

He states:
To a large degree, prison doesn’t exist to me anymore. I’m mentally
removed, on certain levels.

That is a common coping mechanism I observed in prison and I am certainly not going to judge it, especially when he and others had so much more time than I did. However, I took a different psychological approach. I "coped" by treating my experience as an "adventure" and I made a point of observing and recording every little detail I could.

It is something of a paradox that I could insulate myself from the potentially destructive aspects of prison life by essentially immersing myself in it. I created distance through proximity. By staying in "the moment" and focussing on the feelings and immediate experience, one can forget the larger "context" and create a different more positive meaning for your life.

The result I hope is that I have integrated my prison experience into my larger life rather than compartmentalizing it away. It has the added advantage that I have been able to help many others navigate the emotions of preparing for prison, a journey almost all inmates have had to make without a map.