Mission Statement

Seeking the good, the light and a smidgeon of sanity out of tragedy.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Day in the Life at the USDB

My brother has now been in the USDB for three months. I asked him to share with us what his daily life is like.

My brother's most recent three-page letter shares a snapshot slice of daily life in the USDB. Here are his words:

People get into their routines around here. They might sit in the same place every day, do the same activities, even talk with the same people about similar subjects. Before you know it, it's 20 years later and you've found Jesus and maybe you're good at drawing. Some people get bitter, some people get content. Some swear they're innocent, and some have forgotten that there's an outside world.

Dear Sis,

These are our meal times:
Breakfast – 0530-0630
Lunch – 1200-1300
Dinner – 1630-1730

Now, there's also "early chow" for people who need to eat early for any reason, like if they have a special job to get to or if they're going to sick call in the morning, or if they're on crutches, or maybe if they're a "Trustee"...

So chow is an hour long, but we've got 20 minutes to eat. This works out because there are 6 Pods to feed and they kinda overlap. There's an order to who eats, like we're after "K Pod", but every day the first of yesterday becomes the last and #2 moves up and so on. This way it's all fair as to which Pod eats when.

Oh, another thing, you don't have to go to chow if you don't want to; you can stay in the Pod if you want.

Normal job hours are between 0700-1130, (lunch), 1300-1600, and they lock us down for "head-count" for about a half hour every day before lunch and dinner. Sometimes they have "special counts", and sometimes they have fire drills.

There are activities that we can do after dinner, from 1800-1945 and 1945-2130, there are choices of activities available to us outside the Pod, like the weight room, the gym, the "Rec Field" (which could be compared to the Yard in Prison Movies), you can go to the library, there are chapel services, if you're on a sports team, like softball and they have a game, sometimes they have an unusual time and you can go to that. When I say unusual, I mean it's still within standard rec-time, just not the early or late blocks. Saturday and Sundays, the rec-time is a lot longer and they play movies that have just come out on DVD, like "Planet 51" or "Couples Retreat". I saw "New Moon" last weekend.
I must say, not the greatest collection of movies. Ech.

People watch TV, listen to their radios, read books. A lot of inmates are on medication and sleep half the day. Some guys draw and paint. Some guys play board games or Dungeons & Dragons. I'm not into  Dungeons & Dragons; it's just not my thing.

So I wake up at 0500 every day, unless I have early shift, and start my morning routine. I do 100 squats, 50 push-ups, brush my teeth and shave, then take a shower. I dry off, put on my "browns" and meditate until they call for chow.

I go to work at 0345 or 1030, depending on my shift. When I get back, I stay in my room and read, or meditate, or go to chapel or rec field or whatever. Sometimes I'll go downstairs (I live on 2nd tier) and play chess with one of the guys.

People get into their routines around here. They might sit in the same place every day, do the same activities, even talk with the same people about similar subjects. Before you know it, it's 20 years later and you've found Jesus and maybe you're good at drawing. Some people get bitter, some people get content. Some swear they're innocent, and some have forgotten that there's an outside world.

I've got a nice view outside my window. I'm looking away from the DB. I can see the sunrise, I can see a parking lot, I see a road, I see woods. Sometimes I see birds. I love the birds.

I think about God. Justice. Family. Society.

I meditate. I've been practicing this Kundalini awakening yoga exercise and it's pretty cool.

I masturbate 2 to 3 times a week. My raging 20-year-old hormones want me to do it more, but I'm trying to stop. If I go too long, I'll get irritable and can't focus. Focusing is so important.
I just noticed. My brother signs his full name with his middle initials as well. I talked to him briefly this past weekend, but I was in the middle of something and couldn't focus my attention on him. It's such a shame. Focusing is so important.

Switching subjects, we received word from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The decision:

We denied your claim for pension benefits.
VA can not pay benefits to a veteran while incarcerated.

In fact, the VA and the Social Security Administration share their information. Smart cookies. Bummer news.

VA may begin payments effective the date of your release from prison if you are eligible and if notice of your release is received within one year of that date.
Guess I need to write Dad again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

All About Dad

The logistics of my father's pending release cause problems.

I broke radio silence today and wrote my father. I have not written him for 6 weeks now, significant given the fact that I wrote him one to three letters a week for the first 14 months of his incarceration. But business calls — though the thought crossed my mind to have my cousins relay the messages — but then that makes a simple task cumbersome. So, I wrote.

Taking a cue from my father, I will start with the good news first. After coordinating materials back and forth for three months, I submitted Dad’s Veteran’s Application, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged its receipt and is reviewing it now.

My father is, in fact, an honorably discharged – and medaled – veteran of the Vietnam War. He was also an officer, on fast track to Captain, but he didn’t want to go career Army. I often wonder why. He excelled there. The military temperament suits him.

Anyway, it appears my father is eligible for a Veteran’s Pension. Much needed given his financial state… or lack thereof.

Really crucial, because I did not know this until recently, but a imprisoned felon can not receive Social Security Benefits, and the Social Security Administration has not only yanked his last token source of income, but are now demanding all monies back! (Since the time of his incarceration.)

There is no money to give back. How do you think I maintained his canteen account and all those Amazon books and magazine and newspaper subscriptions, not to mention, all the small bills I did pay on his behalf! Sorry, I do not have deep pockets and I have my own family to support. It was the SS money that made the difference.

So, that is gone. Hopefully, token Veteran’s Pension will kick in.

Which brings me back to my rant about 10 days ago, and to my father’s pending housing issue when he is semi-released in October.

My father’s original sentence listed a release date in March 2011, but we quickly learned that a fraction of his sentence could be served in say, a halfway house — or given my father’s status (super-low risk) and age (70 this year), he can go directly into home confinement. But the address needs to be an acceptable “home” address with a hard-line phone connection.

I told my father a year ago that he could not live with us for any extended period of time. I made that crystal clear. To put it mildly, he was a bad guest when he stayed with us the two months prior to his imprisonment. He made our lives miserable.

So, that is where the battle begins. He’s been using our address as his home front for all this time, yet we will not allow him to officially move back into the guest bedroom. Certainly, not for four or five months.

What I was willing to do was this: I had pre-scouted furnished apartment rentals in our area; I had sent him the address of a halfway house near us; I had talked extensively with my significant other about buying a new car and loaning my father my still in top-notch shape, but 19-year-old Toyota convertible (which is perfect; mechanics constantly tell me to hang onto it); I had located an excellent dentist who specializes in permanent dentures and even spoken to their office about financing; I had chosen shops to get him some new clothes; I had picked out a new 27-inch screen to die-for Mac which I was going to set up and load with my most current software; and in general, I was planning to be of assistance to him while he got back on his feet.

I had one caveat: if instead of coming to California, he insisted on heading back into the heart of Manhattan and living a lifestyle beyond his means once again, then I would just send him his things and wish him luck.

Guess what he chose?

Yup, he insists that New York is where he has to be. Or for an interim, he’ll accept Philadelphia, where I grew up, but only because it’s so close to New York. Because New York is where he has to be.

How does he plan to do this?

With my Lost Brother’s inheritance, of course.

Now, note, he would not even ask for anything from his son, my Lost Brother, if Lost Brother was not coming into some significant monies! But oh, how convenient for my father. And my father, and my Lost Brother, will lose no time in burning through the inheritance together. I give it 6 months and all the money will be gone.

But here’s how selfish my father is: he’s almost dictating to my Lost Brother where and how they will live. My father holds this ideal of where I grew up in Philly, but the facts are these:

1. It’s been over 20 years since my father and I lived there. The tenuous connections he has are to people I grew up with, my peers and their parents.
2. My Lost Brother has no connections, or roots, or friends in this area.
3. This area of Philly is a well to-do area, but segregated into the “haves” and “have-nots.” We were part of the “have-nots” that long time ago. My father will certainly not have much to begin with, and I don’t think people are really going to buy that he’s on sabbatical bit for too long. He will not fit in.
4. My Lost Brother will definitely not fit in. His peers, in this neighborhood, are all attending Ivy League colleges. My Lost Brother has one semester of community college under his belt.
5. Decent employment will be hard to come by for my Lost Brother as well. This is an area built on nepotism and money, but the good jobs are few and far between in this community. A six-month stint will not entrench him into the carefully guarded realm of Real Estate in this area. My Lost Brother will not want to live here for a decade. He does not think that way. He wants it quick and he wants it now.
6. How a felon and debt-ridden son are planning to get by credit checks and set up home and household is beyond me. But now I understand one statement in my father’s February letter — he said he needs a pre-paid apartment before his release, so he can list it as the needed “home” address. But why should my Lost Brother fork over (a minimum of) $3000 to hold an apartment just so my father can have a cubbyhole for his release? Why should my brother waste his money like that?

And that’s why I’m angry with my Dad.

I had the chance to speak with my Lost Brother briefly recently, and I spilled out my thoughts in under two minutes. The next day, Lost Brother sent me an email and said he’s thinking on what I said and will not go to Philly if it doesn’t suit him, but he will check it out. He also said he will choose what’s best for himself, and Dad can live with him wherever he lands.

So, okay. I made a dent into his thought processes. I can live with that. I just don’t want my brother to be taken advantage of, and I know him: my Lost Brother will feel like the man of the house for all of five minutes if he takes care of our Dad, but the two of them both have no restraint on budget management or spending.

Point in fact: my father is almost 70 and has zero assets.

Lost Brother and girlfriend visited our brother in the USDB again this past weekend. Third visit for his girlfriend, second for Lost Brother. Seems like no big deal now to pop into a maximum-security prison for a weekender. Except then I tried to call their website visitation phone line and the number is not connected. So much for ease. I have to take time off from work and fly there to visit, so I will damn well make sure I speak to an authority before I book my travel. But his birthday is coming up…

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tsunami Warning

Brief communications with both my brother and father from their respective prisons send off a wave of emotions.

Workday. I return to my desk from a meeting with my boss that was supposed to last only five minutes, which stretched into sixty. I would say my boss likes to hear his own voice.

I notice I missed an unknown call from Kansas. I easily surmise it was my brother attempting to call me, and I’m bummed… yet maybe relieved. My workplace is not the best place for me to take his phone calls. In fact, not a soul in my office knows my predicament, i.e. that two of my closest family members are convicted felons. In the two years I’ve been here, I know less about my fellow coworkers and they about me than I did in one week of managing a 50-man film crew (my old life). One reason I may have my foot mentally half out the door already… but all in due time and another story. Just no bond.

My phone vibrates, and I’m shaken out of my reverie. Caller ID says Kansas, so I’m halfway to the warehouse again while answering it.

My brother. I smile. Unfortunately, I have to keep this call short. The last call lasted 45 minutes, and I don’t have that luxury of time right now.

I know his girlfriend and our brother, the brother I’ll now dub as our “Lost Brother,” visited him. The two brothers have not seen each other for a good year and a half, and that last sighting was across the compound of the Army base. It has been a full two years since they’ve been allowed to communicate face-to-face. The case details and trial prevented them from seeing each other, though they called and wrote each other diligently.

I ask my brother how the visits went, and he says excellently. Lost Brother bear hugged him, to which a guard did call him over and whisper that that was not allowed, but the three of them were together over two days, four visits, each three hours apiece. There are games in the visiting room, but they only talked. He said there was so much to catch up on. And it was good.

I'm really glad.

He enthusiastically talks about yoga again, and I mention I sent him his latest book requests. The conversation then sort of falters — I mean, we’re not exactly used to chit-chatting, though I feel pleased he wishes to reach out to me now. He notes that not much changes day-to-day there. I tell him I would like him to send me a letter about A Day in the Life at the USDB, and he agrees.

I tell him I love him, but I have to go. He sounds a wee disappointed but quickly tells me goodbye. The hang-up sounds hollow. I wish I had more time.

Yesterday, I received a one-page letter from my father. Now, I have not written my father for three weeks, though I still do his maintenance tasks from afar — wire monies to his canteen account, send Amazon books, the daily check-in, and deletion, of emails, etc. I have not totally dropped his ass though the thought is really, really tempting…  His letters rather kill my sense of generosity — rather like the hurling of bulbous, shiny water balloons to the concrete below.

Splat.

I’ll give my father one credit — he thanks me at the top of every letter for my “extremely competent support,” and then he lays into me. Oh, it makes a fun read.

Except if I lay into him, it’ll just be the battle of the alphas; I got that much from him — a strong will, and I come out fighting.

So, to fumigate the poison that’s seeping into my pores, I will vent, and I wish to particularly challenge two points that I strongly oppose in his last two letters. The first is how he’s entitled to my brothers’ inheritance, and second, on how he was such a wonderful father to me growing up. This was the man who disowned me twice in my life — the first time when I was an eighth grader.

I had just transferred to a boarding school in St. Louis for the eighth grade — a partial attempt to escape my former all-girls’ private school where I did not fit in — and the school administration was seriously considering skipping me a grade because it appeared I was ahead of the curve. I was a smart cookie, but I was caught cheating (self-sabotage maybe?), so all bets, and skipping, were off. Yes, not exactly a super bright move, but who would expect a father to turn to his then 12-year-old daughter and tell her that he was disgusted with her, he would not be speaking to her again and that he disowned her?! My mother bears witness.

I’m not quite sure when he “owned” me again, because I was at boarding school most of that year, but the memory strikes a harsh chord.

The second time occurred after I had taken a “time-out” from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where I had 3.75 G.P.A., but also where my bills were not being paid. My father had promised me my college would always be taken care of, but it was not to be. I had not prepared for financial aid, and it was difficult getting by, so my intention was to return at a later date under my own steam. (I paid for and eventually finished my college education from UCLA's Film School.)

I packed up my belongings, my two cats and literally hitched a ride in a fellow college student’s van to California. I had only $50 to my name and a phone number given to me by my father of a “family friend”, who was also a photographer, who would help me get settled.

That settlement deal lasted all of three weeks. The photographer, who on day one I found out was swinging two residences and two girlfriends, was also a cocaine dealer. I was settled in with one of the girlfriends until the s#*t hit the fan, and I told her about the other, and the drugs. He pulled a gun on us and chased us out of the house and onto the street. We both moved our things the very next day. We were both alive and untouched, but my father did not believe the story one bit. In fact, he called me a liar — and yes, disowned me again. It was not until six months later that he finally admitted that what I said was true, and that that so-called family friend was up for charges of statutory rape as well.

My loving and supportive father.

And that's just the tip of the frigid iceberg...

Now, how my father feels he is so entitled to my brothers’ mother’s father’s monies (aka, my brothers’ grandfather) is just beyond me! He is not even blood related to that side of the family and he was not so very kind to their mother — or her father. Yes, I do wish to discuss the legitimacy of this supposed claim.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mind Over Money Matters

After sending my brother a six-page letter, mostly detailing the struggles going on behind-the-scenes over his (and his brother's) inheritance, he responds. Will he disagree with my actions and viewpoint?

Oh, Lordy be! I'm gaining first-hand experience on how a windfall, or more specifically, an inheritance can cause so much strife in a family. I mean, it's not like my family are millionaires. We're a modest middle-class unit. And I'm not getting anything — it's my brothers' grandfather who passed on and named them in his will. Oh, the mess.

Without getting into too many details, let's just say, I, like others, have a strong opinion on how my brothers' monies should be managed, but I'm really trying to stay behind-the-scenes and be helpful and not a hindrance.

My brother who is in the USDB — well, I took it upon myself to send him a long missive detailing a time line, the key players' viewpoints and actions, some direct quotes, and some of the obstacles, er, people (cough), at hand. I attempted to be objective in my play-by-play, but yup, my feelings did creep in.

My brother responds:
I greatly appreciate the letter you sent me. I'm sure you can understand that it can be hard to stay in the loop from prison, but I've got at least one sibling who is mature, responsible, grounded, and can keep me informed about these important matters.

Thank you for being the solid anchor for our stormy little family. I know you've been steady in these high seas for quite awhile, and... I know you've got our best interests at heart. I recognize that.
He continued on to say he spoke with our other brother, who's still trying to find his way in life, and that he'll speak to a few of the other parties mentioned, but he's "out of juice" on the phone account but will have that rectified in a couple of days.

Then, for the first time in two years, he actually asks me to send him some titles. In the past, he's been rather laid-back and reserved about making such requests. It's an odd and interesting collection he wants:

  • Tales from the Perilous Realm, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Jesus: The Unauthorized Version
  • The Colored Pencil Artist's Drawing Bible
  • The Kundalini Book of Living and Dying: Gateways to Higher Consciousness

He also enthusiastically says he'll want art supplies soon, such as pastels, colored pencils and maybe, watercolors, but he has to get them approved first.

The Kundalini book actually looks interesting.

"I experience death and, paradoxically in death, I awakened to a new life..."

Spiritual rebirth.

I wish another family member of mine was that enlightened.