Excessive Noise

Excessive Noise

We live in extremely hard times. The last year was certainly one of the more daunting of my life. The theme of 2020 was “If it can be shaken, it will be shaken.” And the theme of 2021 may be “transition.” Yet, whether or not 2021 turns out to be a year of growth depends greatly upon perspective. Where you stand usually depends on where you sit. Perspective can become difficult to apprehend amongst excessive noise. Allow me to explain.

In March of 2020, the Education Department was shut down because of a really aggressive outbreak of influenza here at E.O.C.I. Finally back to work on June 5, and then the first cases of Covid-19 are detected at the prison, on my unit. My housing unit goes on quarantine for what turns out to be over 60 days. By the time my unit comes off of quarantine, we had all contracted the virus, myself included, and although two men died as a result, the majority of us recovered fairly well. However, the coronavirus outbreak had become so widespread at E.O.C.I. by that time that the Education Department had been shut down until further notice.

In September, my job, visiting, and virtually all recreational activities had been shut down for 6 months. Football season began, and I started playing fantasy football with some guys on my unit. That turned out to be an unwise decision that would shape at least the next year of my life, perhaps even longer.

On December 19, I was handcuffed and escorted to disciplinary segregation, placed in a cell by myself, where I stayed until after the new year began. They informed me at the time that I was under investigation for gambling. I heard nothing about what was going on for two weeks. Finally, on the 15th day, I was given a misconduct report. On January 6th I went to my hearing and attempted to explain, but the hearing officer determined I had violated the rule against gambling by playing fantasy football. My 18 years of clear conduct made no difference.

While I do feel the direct consequences were fair – credit for time served in segregation and release that same day, the indirect consequences were disproportionate, in my opinion. I lost my 18 years of clear conduct; I lost my job as a tutor, which I had been doing for 13 years; I lost my level and incentive housing, and I lost my access to automation for schooling. I am now on a regular, non-incentive dormitory-style unit, and given the Covid-19 restrictions, I’m unable to do really anything but sit on my bunk, although I do have school stuff on which to focus.

Where I am is a warehouse for discarded, forgotten people, and I’m adjusting to my new reality. The ignorance and distorted thinking patterns of those who surround me are staggering, but it is difficult to blame them. Virtually nothing is being done to help them rectify the situation – and you can’t expect people who have never known how to change to suddenly and spontaneously know how to be different than they have always been. These men have no direction, no guidance, no objectives, and no reasons. They are unmotivated. The unit is chaos, and the men are aimless. And while I am certainly responsible for the mistake I made – I chose to play fantasy football, which is against the rules – these aimless men see that my 18 years of clear conduct did not earn me a break or even a benefit of the doubt. They see that although I spent 13 years helping others by tutoring them in the G.E.D program, it made no difference to those in authority. What message does that send to an increasingly younger prison population? Noise.

When I sought leniency after my hearing from the administration here at E.O.C.I., the man in charge of Rehabilitation Services was cold, self-righteous, and unwavering, which surprised me, given his own moral failings. A few years ago, this man, while married to someone else, had an affair with his boss, who was the superintendent at the time. As a result, the superintendent was fired, and his wife devastated. Yet, not only does he continue to work for the Department of Corrections, he holds a merciless paradigm toward the incarcerated. I don’t care that he made a personal mistake – life can be complicated and we all make mistakes. I just wonder how he can make such an egregious mistake and yet fail to exercise any empathy at all toward people like me… a man who merely played fantasy football. Noise.

Yes, I made a mistake. I broke the rules. I acknowledge it, and I take responsibility for it. I just feel the punishment is disproportionate, and the people in charge who set the standards of discipline for those of us who are incarcerated seem to set different standards for themselves, which seems to fly in the face of any framework of rehabilitation. Sure, they extend us the respect of professionalism, to a point, and the appearance of due process, but they do not extend the respect of humanity – because acknowledging our humanity is to accept we will make mistakes. Allow me to provide an example of the difference.

While I was in segregation, certain officers would pass books, magazines, or even various food items from cell to cell when asked. Then, all of a sudden, they would no longer do it. Apparently, the staff had a meeting, and the head of security told the officers that they are not allowed to pass items for inmates. He told them that if they find it happening again, the cameras will be reviewed and those officers seen passing items will no longer be allowed to work in segregation. The respect of humanity, in this particular example, is that the segregation officers were given a warning by those in charge – because human beings get careless and make mistakes.

I had 18 years of clear conduct, had been on incentive housing for 15 years, had worked at the same job tutoring others in the Education Department for 13 years – earned a Bachelor’s degree in 2015, a Master’s degree in 2017, and I’m currently about 20 months from completing my Ph.D. program… yet, I received no warning. I was placed in handcuffs, and everything I had earned over the last 20 years was taken away from me… for playing fantasy football. Noise.

It becomes difficult not to get discouraged. I see how we are treated in here every single day – even when we are following the rules and doing good. I see how the standards are different for those in authority. I see how so-called leaders politicize the concept of rehabilitation and prison reform. I see those who have worked in the prison system for decades and done virtually nothing to change anything, but when the lights are bright and the cameras are rolling, the pretend to be advocates for reform. I also personally experience unrealistic expectations of perfection in order to maintain my institutional incentives even after I’ve earned them. Noise.

Let me be clear: I am not the victim. I am not whining or saying I am entitled to anything. Yes, I feel the punishment is disproportionate, but I can overcome. I can shut out the noise. I can be greater than my greatest excuse. I can work harder, do more, and be better. That is not my issue here. I am strong-minded, emotionally intelligent, considerably educated, and highly motivated. I will succeed and defeat the hurdles in my path. My questions are not about me. My questions are about the men around me, the men who are young, impulsive, under-educated, immature, and without purpose. As they search for meaning in this dark place, can they black out the excessive noise? When they see that two decades of doing the best an incarcerated person can do simply does not matter at all to those in authority, why should they try? What positive examples do they see? They already don’t know how to change. Now… they don’t know why they should. It’s just too much noise

Why Bother

Why Bother

Any woman in a relationship with a man in prison can attest to the fact that there will, unfortunately, be many in their families and inner-circle of friends who don’t approve of their relationships. Many who are critical of these relationships, however, are not coming from a place of experience or personal interaction with the incarcerated man, and therefore would give them a credible basis on which to judge him as a person — no. Rather, they operate from the standpoint of preconception, bias, and prejudice toward him — and anyone who is in his shoes — based solely on the fact that he is incarcerated. Simply put, they believe their friend or family member who is in this relationship can do much better, particularly with someone who is not locked up.

This is unfortunate because the fact of the matter is many good people reside behind bars — yes, I just said that. Most of us came to prison while in our addiction; this, however, is not nor was not reflective of who we are at our core. When forced to confront ourselves in a place of confinement such as prison, we tend to come to a place of honesty, growth, and for many of us maturity. We are in touch with ourselves and possess more qualities to offer in relationships than ever before; all we desire from those in society is a chance to be judged on who we are today. Unfortunately, many people disallow us this opportunity.

How sad it is that women who are in love with men in prison are denied the opportunity to talk to their girlfriends or family about their latest visit, phone conversation, or the amazing drawing, card or letter she recently received from her man. She knows any mention of him will be met with a scathing rebuke by some in her inner-circle. So, she is forced to keep it all to herself.

Why does she stay? they wonder. Why not leave him and find someone out here? they’ll ask. She tries to tell them she has met the man who understands her like no one else; that he is caring, sweet, and doesn’t judge her like many others do. She pleads with people she loves to just give him a chance to show he’s a good guy, but they’re not interested. Their minds are made up. As a result, she again shuts down and keeps them from her relationship lest they bring her down.

Here’s what I have learned: People with hardline positions who are not willing to have their positions challenged through experience are not going to budge one bit. They are intellectually lazy and emotionally stubborn. You can try to convince them to see something differently in the most direct or subtle ways, and they will refuse to be open-minded. So, for women in this type of relationship, when it comes to trying to get them to accept your man the way you see him — as a person deserving of a second chance — I would offer one rhetorical question: why even bother? You are wasting your time, energy and effort in trying to move an “immovable object.”

The best approach that will provide you with the most peace and serenity is to accept that they will be who they are; they will not give your man the benefit of the doubt. But, truthfully, that’s not what matters. What does matter is the fact you are happy and secure in your relationship. What should keep you going is the confirmation you get every time you talk to him, visit him, or receive a letter expressing exactly how he feels about you, how he tells you he can’t wait to spend every day outside of prison with you by his side. Let these sentiments carry you and comfort you in the midst of the unwarranted judgement and condemnation from those around you. Remember this: what others think about you is none of your business. What ultimately matters is what you think about yourself and your relationship. If both give you peace and happiness, then rest in that. Why bother trying to convince others they should feel the same way?