Mission Statement

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

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Solitary

My brother reveals he’ll be in "The Hole" for the next month.

When discouraged or disappointed, I always try to find the upside. The positive of my brother wanting to see me only during the afternoon visitation time – I get to sleep in. Blessed sleep. I like my sleep.

I languorously get up, shower, pack my little overnight bag and sample the hotel’s breakfast buffet downstairs. The drive back to the Fort Leavenworth base is uneventful, but I enjoy passing the Canadian Geese who seem to congregate near the town of Tracy off the 92.

Normal check-in at the USDB. My brother chooses the table we sit at after our hug. He enjoyed his morning visit with the mother and son, but wryly notes that they were late in coming. Personally, I feel it’s super-important to be right on time for these guys in prison. Visitors are a treat and every minute counts… they’re also military. They’ve been bred to respect time.

But one tidbit I learned (from the mother and son) and did not do on my first year visit was to bring in a plastic baggie of change for the vending machines. It seems that my brother appreciates that treat as well. I get us a couple Dr. Peppers, diet for me, with my baggie of quarters. I try for chips – twice – but the snacks get stuck – twice. With the nod of the guard, whom I’m informed can’t do anything for us, we shake the stubborn machine. Finally, I shrug and give up. I’ve run out of change.

I sit down with my brother when another fellow visitor kindly gets up to make a go of it. We hold our breath as he attempts to push for the same snack a third time – and voila, all three packages tumble down.

We gratefully thank him for our two.

Let me cut to the core of my brother’s and my conversation that afternoon: I discover that the following day, Monday, he’ll be going into Solitary for a full month. Yes, that means, he’ll be in a new cell for 23-hour lock-down with only one hour out in "the cage."

The reason: my brother quietly refused to change pods.

He reflects on it and says it was probably silly, but he didn’t want to move and said "no." Initially, they were going to give him a kinder punishment, but somewhere along the line, they upped the ante to a month in Solitary. He doesn’t know why.

A note card from him about ten days after my visit shares this:

Today’s day 7 of my disciplinary segregation experience. It’s not so bad. Sure, I’m doing solitary time, but I keep myself busy and don’t think about all the other stuff I could be doing, which is also pretty much how I do my time in General Population too. There are many disadvantages to living in solitary confinement, but there are a few advantages, like the extremely stable atmosphere where I can really focus on something with minimum distractions.

So I just "nail my scrotum to the chair" and push through monster books 'cause when you’re in solitary confinement, 8 hours of reading a day is not uncommon. Heck, you could do a lot more than that if you put your mind to it…

But I also exercise and meditate and yell at people across the room.

He tells me it’s not the first time he’s done Solitary. He was confined several times in County, but for lesser amounts of time. The turnover is so high in County that they have to push through the inmates and their punishment times. A fight in the USDB will land the inmates a full year in Solitary, he tells me.

At County, my brother got busted for sharing one cigarette with five others. Three got caught. He also told me that he learned how to make moonshine from oranges and bread yeast. He got in trouble for that one as well. He notes the irony that he only learned that trick by being on the inside with hardened criminals/repeat offenders.

This is his first time in Solitary at the USDB. He has no intention of getting more time.

This visit is more serious in tone than the day before, but I give him my love and hugs and promise to be back in about a year’s time again. I would like to visit more, but it does take time and money, and I would rather be a steady soul than to make unfilled promises.

I will never know what it feels like to be incarcerated, much less to be confined 23-hours a day, so I can only be grateful that my brother faces it with a brave face and a calm demeanor.

His Buddhist philosophy emphasizes living only in the "now," the present moment – but this is the time I most wish for the future, for him.