We’re thrilled to congratulate our friend Martin Lockett on the publication of his second book, My Prison Life: A Blogger’s Insights from the Inside. I was honored to write the foreword, and so grateful to be involved in some small way in this project. You can find Martin’s book here on Amazon.
If you haven’t already read Martin’s first book, which I highly recommend, it is also available on Amazon.
Watch this space later this week, for a video of Martin, telling his moving and powerful story.
In 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.
On this day, which is almost nine years in the making, I wish to dedicate this AI blog post to Michael Henderson. Michael’s hearing is today (finally!) and I am in attendance (we are finally in the same room!).
I have known Michael for going on three years. The past two he has spent in the Pinellas County Jail, most of that time waiting on his Public Defender to show up. Very rarely did he put in an appearance, nor did he accomplish one single thing in 20 months to progress Michael’s case. With thanks to a benefactor, his paid attorneys have taken the bull by the horns and the hearing is finally taking place today, Friday, March 16.
In the time Michael and I have known each other, we have exchanged countless letters and emails (not to mention spent a small fortune on phone calls – you’re welcome GTL!). Though I am quite biased, Michael’s words are pure treasure. In honor of his big day, the purpose of this post is to share some of his words with you:
“I have been blessed with an understanding of the difference between what I need and what I think I need.”
“I can tell you, without reservation, that some of the best people I have met in my life have been here in prison. The stories behind each one are as varied as the individuals who live it.”
“If prison doesn’t teach you patience, tolerance, and humility, you probably aren’t teachable.”
“Keep strong in all you face, tempered with compassion, topped with love.”
“A slice of life only tastes really good when you share it with a friend; otherwise you keep eating humble pie.”
“I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I will ask the questions, and hopefully, that’s a starting point. As for my part, I pledge to have personal accountability and invite anyone to join me, whether you are in a prison or a palace, change starts with you.”
“No matter how long I’m in prison, I will not allow prison to reside in me.”
“It’s not rocket surgery.”
Please take a moment to send a blessing to whatever power you believe rules the universe for our incarcerated loved ones everywhere. And remember – do all things with Love.
My brother lives in an old farm house in Ohio with this great front yard of plush green grass that in the heart of the season is carpeted with the most beautiful and brightest yellow dandelions you’ve ever seen. I remember when my son was about 5 and he commented, “Wow!” as his eyes lit up so brightly they could only be matched by the beautiful carpet of nature that lay before him, inviting the run he couldn’t wait to get started on.
It’s been said that if you come out of the penal system a better person than when you went in, it’s in spite of the system, not because of the system. One thing that I’ve been able to have a perspective of gratitude for through this whole experience is the awareness I gained through the deprivation of basically everything beautiful. This awareness has not come without effort though, and I have found practices like meditation and limiting myself of the few distractions that are afforded prisoners such as television sports, television movies, television series, etc., etc., etc.
But one thing that snuck in through the periphery of my self-imposed safety line, was a commercial about a weed killing product that targets only certain vegetation in a given area. The computer generated depiction shows this fellow barbecuing on his plush, green back yard and he gets annoyed at one, yes one lone dandelion that supposedly could potentially ruin his entire experience. Cut to the spreader throwing the killer chemical all over the yard and this one lone beautiful creation, no matter where you think the creation originated, catches the bulk of this toxin, withering it to oblivion so the man can get on with his barbeque in perfection.
This is particularly sad and disturbing because this method of fooling the human psyche works. It’s not that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, but being misled to believe that we can ever achieve perfection even close to the beauty and intricacy of something as delicate as a dandelion while we are poisoning the air with chemically treated charcoal, our bodies with preservative based ingredients, and drug filled meat that has altered the course of development of the human body, and, the very ground that all life is dependent on to every extent for survival.
My hope for mankind is not diminished over my life or even through the horrific experience of the Amerikan system of injustice, but may have actually increased the need to see through the ruse knowing that perfection is not something we will ever be able to create as we double our efforts at destroying the perfection that’s been blooming right before our eyes long before the merchant quest for power, comfort, and separateness.
Shake down Go ahead and take it from me Shake down In the middle of the night Shake down I’m sleeping here can’t you see Shake down it’s not alriiiiiight…
Although this sounds like a parody from weird Al Yankovic of a famous Tom Petty song, it really is, by definition, criminal behavior perpetuated by prison and jail guards worldwide.
I’ve used the comparison of seeing your child, while playing with another, strike their playmate — and then as punishment, you spank or strike the offending tyke. I think that most rational people would view this as a negative feeding a negative. You cannot draw something positive from a negative. The message to your little one is not that it’s okay to hit in certain situations, it is more apt to be black and white. It’s okay for someone bigger to hit someone smaller.
It applies not just to small humans because — even though our thinking process matures as we grow — there are basic universal laws which cannot be adjusted according to the whims of humankind. That being said, there is only one logical outcome of producing an environment that is not only negative in context, but petty in execution.
Let me define the term shakedown for those who aren’t familiar. It is a search of property for contraband. Now, picture if you can a structure more impervious than an ancient castle, combined with Fort Knox and The White House. The — we’ll call them residents — do not have physical contact with anybody except those who conduct the shakedowns. It ain’t rocket science to figure out how contraband gets into jails and prisons. But that’s not the focus of this essay. The law enforcement mentality places an assumption of guilt on the inmates, and a superiority complex on the administration. It appears that the main objective is to punish those who are in their custody and control. At every turn, most officials do whatever they can to dehumanize the prisoners. Shakedowns are a primary vehicle for that, and are routinely performed by 20 or more officers charging into the dorm in the wee hours of the morning, turning the area into a stadium of bright lights, screaming at the top of their lungs to agitate the prisoners, just in case they were able to fall asleep on the slab of metal called a bunk.
You would think that with all this effort the haul would be everything from weapons of mass destruction to sophisticated communications devices. I’m not saying that it never happens that a cell phone or a plastic bag with homemade wine is found, but it is the exception. The big score this last siege produced was some fingernail clippers that had apparently found their way into my legal work upon transferring from prison to county jail for some hearings. Had it not been for the incompetence of the officers performing the intake, the nail clippers that inadvertently ended up at the bottom of a very full file would have not made it to the dorm in the first place.
It goes to a whole new level of petty when generally all that is harvested from these maneuvers of dehumanization is some extra sheets and a plastic bag being used to keep a t-shirt clean so when you appear in court you can present yourself as somewhat human. But the level of psychological warfare is evidenced by the seizure of items as benign as a rubber band holding some notes in an address book, or a paper clip keeping things organized – which is most difficult considering all the confusing rules for adhering to legal procedures in the first place.
But there’s more. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to purchase a bowl and lid from commissary and it is found with food in it, they will dump the food and have sometimes been known to break the bowl itself. God forbid you save some bread from your tray for the peanut butter and jelly you purchased from commissary. It’s another tactic to dehumanize and punish. This is in a county jail where most are pre-trial detainees who have not even been convicted of a crime.
I have personally seen guards slinging property and legal documents everywhere and squirting toothpaste onto it as it lies in the sink/toilet, smashing purchased food, leaving what semblance of order you may have had in shambles. A pile of trash. The purpose of this of course is to remind you who has all the power. Who cares if it perpetuates and reinforces the negative energy that brings people to prison? This is the oxymoron of the department of corrections. The staff, being undereducated, falls prey to the big brother mentality while continuing less than ethical or professional behavior by retaliation through shake downs. Prisoners have very little, and there is comfort in having a few personal effects around them. It helps to maintain some sanity. Until bang! Everybody up, we need to see if you have any of the contraband that our fellow officers are smuggling in! If it weren’t so annoying, it would be laughable. So every night, you go to sleep wondering if this will be your night. Until you make up your mind to detach from it. That’s a measure of success.
I read that in the 1930s, law enforcement were running amok and instead of arresting those involved in criminal activity, they would just shake them down, taking whatever they wanted, and many across the country were arrested and imprisoned. This resulted in prisoners employing the same behavior with each other on the inside. You don’t shine the light on these shakedowns and risk being called a snitch. I believe not only is there a duty to shine the light but also point the proverbial finger. These doubly negative actions will not change until we change them. That begins with personal accountability and understanding the importance of change.
Prisons may have come a long way since the 1930s but God knows there is much room for improvement. Conducting searches with some semblance of care to find contraband supplied by those who are considered the ‘good guys’ is a start to treating humans humanely – one shake down at a time.