Mission Statement

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

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Moving into the General Population, Part 2

This is a continuation of my brother's experience after he was moved from the "Receiving Area" of the USDB into the General Population.

I'm learning that there are some good people here, and some not so good people here.

I did some power lifting with a couple guys from my section. I'm glad I stayed in reasonable shape in County, because boy, did they work me. I can tell that they were testing me a bit to see what kind of person I am, but I could also tell that they cared. I guess in this hyper masculine environment, it takes some kind of guys a medium like this to channel man's natural compassion.

The culture here is certainly different than outside, but not drastically so, or maybe it is and I don't notice it because I grew up in a very masculine learning household and my entire adult life has been either in the Army or confinement.

Note: my brother is only 20.

I sense a low sexual energy level, but that might just be because the average age here is early to mid 30's. They ship people to federal prison after all appeals are through. Nude magazines, like Playboy, are allowed but nothing hardcore or homosexual is allowed in the DB. Personally, I'm trying to suppress and maybe snuff out my sexual desires. I feel some pain at the loss of female intimacy, but I try not to think about it right now because it does me no good.

Probably my greatest fear right now is waking up 20 years later and still being here or in a different (federal) prison. Like just waking up and seeing that I've spent more than half my life in prison and never have done anything in/with my life and just being a complete loser. That scares the shit out of me and it's like there's nothing I can do to stop it.

My brother then questions whether he should have taken the plea bargain, and basically lied. See, he certainly didn't believe his actions were the real him, and most of us didn't either. So, no, he needed his day in court. And sadly, the jury did not buy the drug defense. Not one iota.

I wonder sometimes if I made the right choice fighting it, or if I should've done something else. I wonder if it's ok to lie to get what you want. I think people may feel that way; I don't want to feel that way. I grieve so bad sometimes. Sometimes, I don't care. I've been practicing zen meditation.

I'm not reading the books you sent me at the moment. Don't get me wrong, I love the books you sent me, I'm just doing several things at once and using most of my energies adjusting.

I love you sis.

Now speaking of book shipments, I could not have been more tormented over such a small detail. I had placed my second order with Amazon that very day, and based on my brother's letter, I canceled it. And modified it.

Let me go back one month to when the defense witnesses were being shuttled to the airport post-trial. The atmosphere was strained and sad. "What next," was the question lingering in the air.

Someone in the van asked me what my brother liked to read, and I answered, "Science fiction and fantasy."

"No! You can't send him that crap! You can't fill his head with magic or any of that nonsense. That's what got him into this mess in the first place!" That was another strong-minded parent jumping in.

"But I was asked what he liked."

"No! It's all wrong."

We were on the verge on getting into an explosive argument when we arrived at the terminal. My cheeks, and ego, stinging, I realized how wrong that parent was...but not until now.

Allow me to paint you an image of my home life. My man is professional full-time magician! Our lives are literally and figuratively filled to the brim with magic. We have bunnies and parrots and doves. Our living room is decorated with pirate swords and other swashbuckling paraphernalia. Harry Potter wands adorn his magic room. We have discussed painting the nursery with Mickey and the Fantasia cast. We embrace our imaginations, and we still live in reality.

So, when I sent my first Amazon shipment of books, I felt guilted into sending books of substance — books on science or in a spiritual vein. The second shipment, that I canceled, I had chosen the great classics, including Hemingway, Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World, and more...which may be suitable in time. But give my brother a break. If you want someone to enjoy learning, let him have what he wants, not what you think he needs.

My brother is acclimating and trying to fit in with fellow prisoners. He is adjusting to a "long one". He has time. Lots of it.

So, in that vein, with my man by my side, I selected my second shipment of books to my brother:
  • 2 player's handbooks, 4th edition, on Dungeons and Dragons (if he doesn't like them, he'll be super popular when he hands them off to his fellow playing inmates);
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (yes, it's about a prison break, but they are not dumping bodies from the cliff side at the USDB, so it's not to give him any ideas, and it is one of my all-time personal favorites and a great read);
  • Treasure Island (a short, fun read, and a classic);
  • Jurassic Park (again, I'm a Michael Crichton fan, and the book is much better than the movies).

So, all fantasy, science fiction or "escapism" books. I don't believe my brother will be any worse off for reading this "nonsense". You know what, I'll bet he'll even thank me for my choices.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Bigger Picture: Moving into the General Population, Part 1

In the previous two installments, my brother relayed his initial impressions of his first few weeks in the "Receiving" area of the USDB. Overall, he was maintaining his composure, being strong and optimistic. How will things change when he moves into the General Population?

His letter dated January 25, 2010:

So, I'm in the General Population. There are about 430 inmates at the DB and about 50 per "Pod". I'm in "L Pod", which is medium custody, which is where most people start off. Now, the Pod is segregated into three sections by race. Obviously, I'm in the white section. That all said, the atmosphere is not racially charged, the skin color thing is more of a visual cue of where you belong. I figure there is comparatively minimal racial tension (compared with other prisons) because everyone is prior military. I've played cards with a couple of "Latinos"; I've had conversations with a couple of brothers.

There are three TVs and each section has their own. The only way to listen to the TV is through a personal radio that each inmate has (thank God). So, it's mostly quiet throughout the day.

"A lot of the inmates call it 'Day Care', but I'm sure almost all of them would rather be home."

Most of the whites and some of the Latinos play "Dungeons & Dragons", which is a storytelling game involving books and dice. There are also board games for whoever wants to play board games. They've got Risk, Axis and Allies, Monopoly, all kinds of games. A lot of the inmates call it "Day Care", but I'm sure almost all of them would rather be home.

The prison politics are based on a social hierarchy determined (loosely) by crime, sentence, time in DB and character. Child molesters are almost guaranteed the lowest, murder the highest. It kinda reminds me of high school. There are the cool kids, the bullies, the nerds and the outcasts.

My job here is "detail 44," the defac, which is the mess hall basically. I start at the very beginning, which is scrubbing pots and pans. Honestly, I like it; I'm glad to finally have a job to do. Later, when new inmates come, I'll be moved up to mopping or something like that. I signed up to work at the welding shop but it might take six months to a year to get in. This is normal; things move slow because everyone has long sentences.

Oh, they call an under 10 a "short piece", and an over 10 a "long piece".

More than half the guys here are in for a sex offense.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Non-Hollywoodized Version of Prison

I'm perusing, or cruising shall I say, Google's database for useful and related links about other people's experiences in prison and I've run across a couple of blogs that state all the horrors we fear — riots, beatings, gangs, extreme violence. It's horrible, and I hope it doesn't become a part of this blog. Let me alleviate some of those possible worries. Per one article about the USDB, it says:

"Unless something unusual happens, this is a very calm environment."

So, I'm going to boldly state here that the USDB is not like the Hollywoodized versions of prison, and frankly, I know from my father's correspondence — other than the overcrowding — neither is his either.

Boy, am I grateful.

Here's my brother's take on it all:

"Locked-up" is going to show the fags and crazies and weirdos and the most violent, because that's what produces the best ratings. Don't get me wrong — all of that exists, but it's at a much lower frequency than portrayed. That's so in all American prisons, but there's even less of that at the USDB.

Most of my impression of prison life is from the guys who've lived in state prison in County Jail. They say rapes almost never happen because there are homosexuals (sissies) who are happy to give it up to whoever wants it. This, I am told, is also true here.

I want no part of that. I'm sure a lot of guys say that and several years later, they're fucking the sissies, but that's not always the case. Heck, there are people who remain chaste their entire lives. Monks never have sex. I feel kind've like a monk here.

In pursuit of that vein, he's reading a yoga meditation book, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama, and a couple of books about applying quantum physics ideas to one's own life. Weighty stuff. Did I say I was proud of him? (Yes, even under the circumstances.) Life must go on. Even prison life.

It's not all bad.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The First Days In

"The initial in-processing was like a watered down basic training."

I received my first lengthy hand-written letter from my brother. I know shouldn't be so ecstatic — I mean, my brother is writing from prison — not exactly where you want your next of kin or closest relatives to be; yet, I am pleased to hear from him all the same. He's positive, he's strong, and under the circumstances, that's the best I can hope for. His penmanship, spelling and vocabulary have also gotten a lot stronger over the year and a half he was in County Jail, and now the USDB (the United States Disciplinary Barracks.) There's something to be said for the lost art of letter writing. It seems to be a craftsman skill associated with history now instead of our present digital age. I miss it. I love letters.

There are some Policies and Guidelines I've already goofed and will correct at the end of this blogette, but here are my brother's own words about his First Days In:

So where to start? The food here is pretty good. I ate ribs yesterday, a thick burger the day before. We get a little carton of milk and a big piece of fruit EVERY MEAL. I get yogurt, grits, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, and eggs for breakfast, minor things change. The food is very healthy, always ok, sometimes delicious. Now they serve me a hot-tray because I'm in reception, but this nothing like a hot-tray that I've ever seen before, this is far superior than a hot-tray. It's well done.

They say the food gets even better when I get up to general population and that I have options to choose from.

I was transported to Leavenworth by plane. The NCOs from my unit had me in handcuffs, wearing my ACU uniform, the whole way from County Jail to the USDB. The plane was actually a regular civilian plane at Atlanta airport. I covered my handcuffs with my hat in public, though some people saw. Someone at the airport saw the three of us in uniform and wanted to buy us lunch!

Since it was a couple of days before Christmas when I arrived, the people in charge of my basic issue must've been short-staffed because I couldn't get my regular uniform and basic supplies for almost a week. Actually no, I did get a razor and toothbrush and toothpaste and soap and toilet paper, but had to make do with shorts and a T-shirt.

The initial in-processing was like a watered down basic training. No one yelled at me, but they were really hard and strict. It might've been difficult...but I was ok with it. Oh, when I say "initial in-processing", I mean the first couple of hours when they strip you down (more than once) and ask basic questions and give those basic supplies.

I am not in solitary confinement, but I am highly restricted. I get the feeling that they're feeling me out and deciding where to put me. There are four other guys in reception with me; one actually is in solitary confinement. The guy in solitary said he got in there because he was "acting a fool", so I'm guessing he had some confrontation with a guard. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

My cell here is much better than in County Jail. It's a little smaller here, but all cells in the USDB are meant for one person and only one person lives in a given cell. This table that I have in my cell is twice the size of the one in County and I've got two little windows, side by side, instead of one. The mattress is softer, the pillow is bigger. I have about two more weeks in reception.

The guards here are much more professional here than in County. They talk to you like a person and sometimes will joke around or have a conversation with you.


Now, I finally did get my uniforms and all the stuff I needed. It gets cold here at the holiday inn, so they've issued us these thick, warm jackets, several pockets, very durable. The work uniform is brown (so are the jackets).

Oh, my exact address is —

John Smith 12345
1300 N. Warehouse Rd.
Ft. Leavenworth, KS 66027

They don't like the # sign. They don't allow the inmates to use any punctuation or commas, but they're most finicky about the #. I think it's probably like a machine that scans the name/number and maybe the # throws it off.

Two other interesting tidbits my brother shared:

  • ONLY money orders are accepted for their canteen accounts; no personal checks like I was told, and there may be a maximum limit of $300, though we still need to verify that fact. As one family member wrote, "I'm sure it'll all get clearer once he's out of Receiving. (Odd sort of name — sounds like a loading dock. Then again, the prison's on Warehouse Road.)"
  • They are not allowed to write anyone associated with the victim's family or their witness list; unfortunately, that means my brother can not initially talk or write to his long-time girlfriend who was called by the prosecution. He can get an exception to that policy though when she tells the USDB that it's okay.

Let me close with a beautiful poem my brother wrote and also enclosed in his first letter:

A life well lived, a life well spent.
A life finished, broken and bent.
A life so full, and yet so young.
A beautiful song, so quickly sung.
And its ashes, blown away,
in its wake, another day.
Dawn to dusk continues still.
Another breath, the wind doth fill.
So carry on lad, continue life,
grow old once more, and be happy.