New Year’s Eve Prison Party!

New Year’s Eve Prison Party!

At WSRU (my gated community), we get one day out of the year to turn up — on New Year’s Eve. Unlike the free world, though, our New Year’s Eve venues are “party of one” (or two if you live on the 4th tier and have a cellie) from inside our cells. Still, our open cell bars provide us auditory portals to celebrate together in true WSRU spirit and fashion.

To be honest, my first New Year’s Eve at WSRU caught me off guard. I was surprised when guys started turning up their portable stereos full blast, which is normally prohibited throughout the year and noise violators are punished with potential 48-hour confiscation of their peace-disturbing electronics. But it was like a collective jam session across four tiers.

The festivities began with a “volume 12” mashup of bass-laden rap music, fast tempoed and trumpet-blaring Mexican music, guitar-thrumming country ballads, and head-banging rock music. There was even some foreign music in an unknown language. Our Monster Ball lasted from 9-ish p.m. and went on till about 1:30 a.m. And to be honest, the late-night raucous was unexpectedly liberating.

The manner of celebration reminded me of the tribal nature of Lord of the Flies. The children were free to answer the call of the wild, a form of expression that’s muffled by the cultured refinements of civil society. Likewise, New Year’s Eve serves as a modality for guys to engage in unfettered, etiquette-less expression.

Guys scream-sing the lyrics to songs (losing their voice in the morning). And as midnight approaches, the noise increases in intensity. Minutes before 12 some will start slapping their cell signs against their bars, and some signs are broken in the morning.

At 12 a.m., the celebration crescendos with Happy New Year yells to one another, as though members of a de facto club of time walkers, walking (or marking, rather) off one more year before they can return to society and rejoin loved ones. It’s a remarkable moment of joy, as well as a saddening reminder of their separation from loved ones. So, in one sense they feel a connection, and in the other, deep and abiding loneliness.

Some years, WSRU administration tried to stamp out our fiery celebrations because things got out of hand. As with any group celebration, there is always the potential for the group to develop a mob mentality and celebrations going from constructive to destructive.

Before they installed cameras on the walls across from our cells, guys would get caught up in the hoopla and throw toilet paper, shredded magazines, water, and even condiments from their cells and onto the floor. There’s also a few things I won’t mention that they jettisoned. I’ll let your imagination color what they might have been. Lol.

I woke up one morning after and it literally looked like someone blew up a parade float, leaving one foot of debris everywhere. It was funny to the guys, but the sergeant was far from amused. She threatened to infract anyone who threw stuff from his cell but refused to join her cleanup crusade.

Some years we played cat and mouse games with floor staff. Administration wanted to stop the loud music one year. So they ordered staff to find out who was playing music and confiscate their stereos. But guys would hold their mirrors outside their cell bars, and when they spotted staff approaching, they’d quickly turn it off. Staff were virtually tiptoeing then running down tiers to catch guys. But other guys would alert them with short, loud-pitched police siren noises, indicating staff was coming (our very own neighborhood watch program, lol). Exhausted from sprints, the guards sensed the futility of their efforts and gave up. Ohhhh, those were good times.

This New Year’s Eve will likely be much more subdued relative to past ones. Nonetheless, I look forward to our quasi-Breakfast Club opportunity to let loose without Big Brother crashing our New Year’s Eve party.

Well, that’s how we throw a New Year’s party at WSRU. It might not be as extravagant and eventful as we’re accustomed to in the free world, but it has special meaning to us who look forward to getting one year closer to those we love.

In light of COVID-19, remember to party hard but safe.

Happy New Years! =)

Mail Fail

Mail Fail

So many people who become incarcerated have no idea that just because we are behind the fences doesn’t mean that we have no rights. One of the most important rights is that of communication. We can, for all intents and purposes communicate with our lawyers and loved ones, and letters to state agencies and media are also protected rights.

However, the penal system that has no oversight and has a culture attempted through the excuse of penalogical interests and even by power drunk staff can and does read and withhold mail that may incriminate those powers that be by simply rejecting or censoring incoming and outgoing mail.  But it goes further when they use your mail against you under the guise of being a threat to the order and security of the institution.

If any of you are familiar with the Uniform Commercial Code and becoming a sovereign citizen of the United States, there are real patriots out there that have legitimate companies helping people with a myriad of complex filing issues. I had written to such an organization out of Georgia. I’m not aware of other state’s decisions on this but the Florida Department of Corruptions, with their statutorily given right to make their own rules, has by rule and threat of punishment, made it an offense to even possess the Uniform Commercial Codes. Not being as knowledgeable, I am curious, so I wrote to this organization. My letter was rejected and sent back under the fallback go to that I was “being a threat to the security of the institution”.

Something about pursuing any legal means necessary to expose them for the cruel culture that has been prevelant for so long buys you special attention. So I was called to the gang Sergeant’s office because I apparently became part of a security threat group seeking out information to help gain my freedom. I am 55 years old and have never been in trouble in my life, but now I am supposedly on an FBI watch list. Normally I would laugh this off but later, I applied to be placed in an honor dorm with mostly age-grouped inmates and was denied as being a gang member.

Is it overkill?  Probably so, but beyond that it’s motivated by fear that someone may draw attention to the American plague that is our prisons.

More Than A Number

More Than A Number

Inmate 1-2-6-6-4-1-7-5 — that’s my other “name.” The name I’m forced to answer to on a regular basis lest I be found in disobedience of a direct order by refusing to answer to a state-issued number, insisting on being called by the name my parents gave me at birth. In others words, when you come to prison your personal identity is no longer considered central to your existence but rather something you forfeit the minute you were convicted and sent to a state or federal prison. Perhaps it was designed to dehumanize prisoners, make them feel they are no longer worthy of being afforded the same identity as those outside these walls; but this would be pure speculation. Whatever the case, I refuse to accept the degradation and institutionalization that becoming a number over my name places upon me. And thank goodness countless others don’t accept this inhuman form of treatment either.

I am continually encouraged when I walk in the visiting room and find it full and vibrant with family members and friends who are there to visit a bunch of “numbers.” They find great comfort in spending quality time, laughing, crying, and holding hands with their “numbers.” It confirms the notion that people truly can be gone but not forgotten. How easy (theoretically) it would be for those who love us to get on with their lives when we come here. Surely they could find enough things to do throughout the day to occupy their time; they don’t need to accept our calls, come visit us, and write us letters, right? I mean, who in their rational mind would waste their time on a number, anyway?

I am also perpetually in awe at the sheer talent that exists in such a restrictive, callous dwelling. One would logically suspect that prison would squash and squeeze the life out of anyone here, rendering them useless, unmotivated, and devoid of interest in doing anything productive and challenging for the years they’re here. Thank goodness this is anything but true! To the contrary, it appears that prison has a way of producing any and all hidden talents that people never knew they had, often to their amazement. Artists create pieces that have rendered themselves speechless. Mechanics and builders learn their crafts from a technical aspect that they never understood before, enabling them to land good-paying positions in their respective fields when they are eventually released. Musicians: where do I begin? It’s always mesmerizing to actually watch a guy pick up a guitar, harmonica, or keyboard for the first time, study and practice the foreign instrument diligently for months and years, finally reaching the point where he can play inspiring, crowd-pleasing solos.

As a tutor I have had the privilage of working with men on their formal education for over 11 years now. I always find it remarkably touching to see a man begin the GED curriculum with zero confidence and even come within seconds of quitting out of frustration; then months (or years) later I see him at his graduation donning a cap and gown, hugging and crying with his family who are there to celebrate their momentous occasion. They are invigorated about life for the first time, understanding they now have more opportunity than life had ever showed them prior to that point. Tell them they are nothing more than a number. Tell their families that their loved ones are nothing more than a mere state identification number.

Clearly my examples of human potential and value could go on for pages, but why belabor the point? Instead, I will close with this: it is true that I am referred to as a number — a statistic even — but I also know I am so much more!


Letters From Prison: I am no longer intimidated

Letters From Prison: I am no longer intimidated

Support for people who have been convicted of a crime is not a popular cause – but only because we’re not looking at it from the proper perspective. Support does not mean providing cable tv, video games, and haute cuisine – it means humane treatment and care, mentorship, education, and outside support, so that each incarcerated person emerges whole, equipped to live a productive, crime-free life. The most common reason that people end up in prison is that they have no positive social networks. The inherent darkness and isolation of prison only exacerbates that – which in turn leads to high rates of recidivism. Ninety-five percent of incarcerated people will be released into our communities, so their success and well-being directly impacts all of us.

Suffering is the problem, not the solution.

Below is a note I received today from one of our adoptees, Josh.

My name is Josh and I have been in and out of lock up facilities since I was 12 years old. Throughout my life I have had little or no support from anyone in my family. Due to that I went in search for support from the wrong people such as drug dealers, gang bangers, and other kids like me.

At the age of seventeen I commited a robbery and was sentenced to six years in the Indiana Department Of Corrections. At seventeen! I have been locked up for over five years and during that time I have had no support from my family. No visits, no phone calls, no letters, no love. In my five years I have seen so many people go home and come back to prison because they had no one to help them adjust to society.

After being locked up for so long, people forget how to function in the real world. MOST inmates are intimidated by the thought of going home. That is so sad and wrong. I used to feel the same way. Then I was introduced to a wonderful family called the Adopt an Inmate family. They introduced me to a loving, caring, and supportive mentor. Because of the support she has given me, I am no longer intimidated by the thought of getting out — because I know there is someone who will be with me and help me.

The saying goes, ‘Two wrongs dont make a right.” How is condeming someone to life behind a wall, alone, right?

Image credit Yoann Boyer

Letters From Death Row: You Have Friends Here

I’m still feeling a little down about last week’s execution. They killed Mark Asay on the 24th. I had honestly expected him to get a stay. Florida was using a new drug, etomidate. Mark was the guinea pig. I sincerely believe the courts would let them shoot us full of rat poison, but this is the first time a new drug was used without hearings.

The media said Florida changed drugs because they were concerned that midazolam had the potential to cause unnecessary suffering. This is total bullshit. They changed drugs because no one would sell them midazolam. It is a nationwide problem which, unfortunately, Florida may just have solved.

The media made Mark out to be a white supremacist and this is also false. I can’t say who he was while free, but I’ve known the dude for 26 years and he wasn’t the person they made him out to be on TV. Mark walked up to my bars in ’91 while coming in from the yard. I had just been moved onto a permanent wing, and still wasn’t allowed outside. He said, “You have friends here.” That meant a lot to me.

Prison is a place full of people doing creepy shit, and some of them like nothing better than trying to take advantage of anyone new. Dudes who go out of their way to make you feel welcome, especially when you don’t know what to expect, stand out in my mind.

I also remember singing a Hank Jr. song, Family Tradition with Mark in the visit park. That had to be in ’92, and it stands out as I am not a fan of country.

It took a lot out of Mark when his mom died in a car accident, and by all accounts he had lost the will to live at the end. That is why we still don’t know how the high court may feel about expanding the retroactivity, as Mark did not raise the issue. Still, it is a hell of a thing when a state can execute someone after having their death penalty statute declared unconstitutional twice in the last 18 months.