The last question posed by my friends about life on the inside regarded educational opportunities. Again, as with my other entries in this series I can only relay what is true of this institution.
The only real educational opportunity is to support those pursuing their GED. There is a set of classes, taught by other inmates, established for those who never graduated high school. While there are teachers on staff, all of the classes are taught by inmates. I don’t know how these particular inmates are chosen to be the actual teachers, but they do a fairly effective job. I’ve been told that it’s Federal law that those who do not have their high school diploma or their GED certificate must enroll in the GED program. However, there are many people without their diploma/certificate that are not. How or why this is true I do not know.
The next level of ‘education’ are the Adult Continuing Education (ACE) classes. Again, these are classes taught by inmates and cover a wide variety of topics. The topics are determined by what the inmate wants to teach. Some examples of course topics include: Paranormal Activities; Real Estate; Stock Market; and Commercial Driver’s License. Some, like Paranormal Activities have no real educational benefits for life after prison. Also, the ACE classes go don’t earn the students any college credits so taking the ACE classes is really a measure of an inmate’s desire to do something with their time and drive to do something that may glean some level of information. I took the Small Business course and was pleased with the class. The inmate teaching it was interesting to listen to and obviously knew what he was teaching. I’ve also taken the stock market class and was very disappointed. While the teacher knew the info, he did not teach a broad overview of the market, instead he focused on one small aspect of trading and we spent the entire sixteen sessions on that one thing. In my opinion, it was a failure.
For those like me, with a college degree there is no real further educational opportunity offered by the institutional. Also, they are not helpful if an inmate wants to pursue correspondence courses. It is entirely up to the inmate to find any such coursework. They do not allow inmates to take these outside courses if the course requires access to the internet, video tapes or CDs. All work must be exclusively pen and paper. This severely limits what’s available and for the most part limits someone’s achieving a degree. I was hoping to get a two year degree but gave that up. While not impossible to get a degree, it would be excessively difficult.
Overall, how do I assess education inside? Beyond the GED program I’d say they’re not serious or interested in helping the inmate. It’s sad as they create a wasteland for those truly trying to better themselves.
And what is worse is that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has sponsored studies done showing that the higher a person’s educational level the less likely they are to recidivate! The numbers clearly support that education is directly tired to keeping offenders from returning to prison. It would benefit society if the BOP were serious about education. It’s one more example of how there’s essentially no focus on rehabilitation for the inmate.
If you have any questions about life on the inside, please feel free to ask.
How many times have you looked at another person and said to yourself, “At least I’m not as bad as that person.”? Isn’t that really the same thing as calling another person a loser; at least situationally, only to find yourself doing the same thing? For example, I find myself saying it daily as I walk the compound here. People can’t seem to get the idea that you should walk as you drive – on the right side of the walkway. And minutes later I find myself walking on the left. Then I justify it within my head by saying something like, “At least I don’t do it when there are people walking toward me.” That’s when I find myself gently chiding myself with a, “You’re just as bad as those who walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk.” In essence I’m calling myself a loser.
When I think of having landed in prison I also call myself a loser. I knew that what I was doing was against the law, yet I chose to risk prison to satisfy my addiction. Only losers do that, right? So by that definition, I’m living with about 2000 other losers. Yet I know people inside this place that I would not label that way so why do I still generalize the way I do? Perhaps it’s to make myself feel better about myself – at the expense of others.
On the lighter side, I sometimes lose my train of thought in conversations, lose my reading glasses and ballpoint pens (though I suspect they’re actually stolen).
When I think about being separated from family and friends I also call myself a loser; a loser of time and interaction. I’m also a loser of my career and income important to my family’s well being and security.
Fortunately, I have a family and some friends who do not label me as a loser and I wish ardently that I could see myself through their eyes.
Recently, during a time when I was really down on myself, I started thinking of famous losers. Those who perhaps appeared successful or were actually successful in some measure or measures. I figured that if I could find one or two maybe I could look at myself differently.
The first person I thought of was Elvis Presley (yes, I’m a fan). Elvis had it all; fame and fortune but he died of a drug overdose losing everything.
The second person I thought of was Jesus. I know that today we don’t see Him that way but in His day many would call Him a loser. Think of it – having no earthly possessions, rejected by those in power, betrayed by one of His disciples, scourged, and dying the tortuous death of a criminal with unbelievers surrounding His crucifixion with taunts of “Save yourself if you’re the Messiah!” Pretty much the description of a loser.
And yet …
Today we see Jesus for who and what He is – our Lord and Savior who lost His life that we may live. By losing His life He turned us into winners – if we turn to Him. With this new perspective I can redefine myself as a winner, right? Think of it! By accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, asking that the Holy Spirit fill me and doing my honest best to live as God wants me to live I become a winner! Sure, I may lose some day-to-day battles and have lost a lot in my past but when thinking of the race that truly matters I may come out a winner.
A day to celebrate the one we love. I’ve sent out my cards. Yes, I said cardS. Why more than one? I have four significant women in my life – mother, sister, daughter and wife. Each is important to me in unique ways but it’s my wife I want to write about now.
My wife and I met in high school while out ice skating with mutual friends. I thought she was stunning. She had, and still has, the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. When she smiles I go weak in the knees.
About three months after meeting her we went on our first date and we’ve been together since. That’s not to say we haven’t had difficult times but through them all we always returned to each other.
So how long ago was that first date? That was 37 years ago. I’m now 55 so well over half my life has been spent with this amazing lady. It seems like only yesterday I was asking for her at her front door while being scrutinized by her father.
Words. What words can do my wife justice?
She’s loyal, dedicated ,earnest, reliable, true, wise, inspiring, faithful, honest, helpful, kind, sincere, a terrific mother, a good friend, daughter, sister, aunt. She’s intuitive, smart, dependable, funny, serious, creative, complicated and simple. She’s fun, competent, talented, achieving, tireless, brave, independent, admirable and the list goes on. Words are simply inadequate to convey what is in my heart and on my mind when it comes to this lady.
I can’t imagine life without her. I wonder who I’d be had she not entered my life. My successes are, in large part, due to her unwavering love and support.
She is my rock and my light.
I love this woman with all that I am or ever will be. She completes me and fills the voids in my heart and soul.
If I could say just one thing to her I would say, “thank you.” Thank you for choosing me to give yourself to.
I love you babe.
Thank you Dierks Bentley, Josh Kear, and Ross Copperman for writing such a fitting song, lyrics follow
In the first entry of this series I wrote about the ways I spend my time. In this, the second installment I’ll write about rehabilitation opportunities and their effectiveness.
If you’re in prison and have a drug case or if you have a documented drug or alcohol problem and it contributed to your crime, there is the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). This program requires the inmate to reside in a dedicated housing unit that serves about 160, about 8% of the population, inmates at a time. The housing unit, coincidentally, sits directly below my housing unit. I’ll explain the significance of this later.
The RDAP program is 40 weeks long. During this time the inmates are required to attend Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) sessions aimed at changing the way they think about drugs and addiction. When taken seriously CBT is quite effective. The issue is it’s not taken seriously by many of those in the program. The recidivism rate for those that have taken the program is only a few points lower than those who do not go through the program. The recidivism rate for those not attending is roughly 80% at five years verses 72% for those taking the program. So why do inmates go through the program?
To get a year off their sentence.
Yes, if you successfully go through the program you are granted a year off your sentence. This is, of course, envied by those who are not here for a drug related crime. What amazes me is the number of people in the program that continue to use drugs while in the program. As I’ve written before, drugs are readily available and used by many. Those in the RDAP don’t use in their housing unit. Instead they come up to my housing unit and get high with those using drugs in my housing unit. In fact, there are three people in my unit that were ejected from RDAP for using drugs. So getting high was more important than the year off. That’s how addiction is though.
So with a recidivism rate as high as it is, why does the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offer RDAP? Because congress requires it. Even though it is ineffective and churns people out every 40 weeks. The majority of people are not rehabilitated. The majority are in the program solely for the year off. The BOP could save money by simply cutting a year off every drug case.
For sex offenders there’s the Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP). The SOMP program here is non-residential so there’s no dedicated housing. It also does not offer a year off of your sentence if you should participate. It is also a CBT based program. The effectiveness is not known because the recidivism rate for sex offenders is among the lowest of any crime at 3-5% at three years. The SOMP program also serves about 8% of the population.
In researching SOMP prior to coming to prison I couldn’t find anything written by professionals in the psychology field supporting SOMP as a positive, effective, program. I know very few people taking the program that weren’t ordered to do it during sentencing.
Am I doing SOMP? No. Most states require sex offenders to go through a similar program after release from prison and you’re given no credit for having done it during prison. Additionally, part of the therapy is group based where you’re required to talk about your transgressions. I understand the value in group therapy but there’s a problem. What?
You’re encouraged (read that required) to talk about things you didn’t actually do! That leads to new charges. So why do people admit to things they never actually did? Because if you don’t you’re listed as uncooperative and risk being ejected from the program. This in turn causes issues upon release from prison because being ‘uncooperative’ is entered into your record which goes to your parole officer (PO). It’s better to start with a clean slate with your PO.
Finally, most psychologists outside the BOP condemn the SOMP program because it negatively impacts the participants and has no basis in the reasons sex offenders offend to begin with. It does not address root issues but instead tries to alter current thinking. For example, I was sexually abused as a child and that would not be addressed even though there’s a correlation between that abuse and my crime. So no rehabilitation in SOMP either.
Finally, if you have psychological problems there are trained psychologists here. However, by their own admission, their role is to provide stability, not rehabilitation. I see a psychologist once a month for about 6-10 minutes. How on earth am I to gain any help in 6-10 minutes?! Literally, the session goes like this:
PSYCH: “How are things going?”
ME: “Overall, not too bad.”
PSYCH: “Great! Thanks for coming in.”
The above was literally how my last ‘session’ went with the psychologist. So I added:
ME: “Medical increased my Geodon dosage.”
PSYCH: “Okay, from what to what?”
ME: “From 80mg a day to 120mg a day.”
PSYCH: “Thanks for letting me know. Is there anything else?”
ME: “I guess not.”
PSYCH: “See you next month.”
So no real rehabilitation through psychological treatment.
In essence, 84% of the population has no opportunity for RDAP or SOMP and for those of us willing to pursue psychological help we instead receive treatment to keep us stable instead of helping to improve our situation.
Prison is not what Congress or the BOP advertise. It is simply a way to warehouse people for some period of time and from what I can tell, there is no real rehabilitation available anywhere in the system. Their goal is to keep people stable so they’re easy to manage.
Rehabilitation rests in the hands of the inmates. It’s up to the inmate to rehabilitate themselves. I do this through teaching a class, reading a wide range of literature, writing this blog, and participating fully in my faith. And where my crime is concerned, I spent the 15 months prior to my incarceration in intense psychological therapy. I came into prison already rehabilitated because I knew there was little to no chance of true rehabilitation inside.
When you think of prison you have to know that most people go through prison essentially unchanged simply because there’s no real, effective, effort by the BOP to rehabilitate. It’s no wonder the overall recidivism rate is over 80% at five years.
I like to read daily devotionals. Here, in prison, they are readily available. I see a great number of people reading them. One I read is Daily Bread and a second is Living Faith which is Catholic based.
In Living Faith I recently read a devotional that suggested reading, and contemplating, Christ’s miracles though His eyes; doing so would bring a new perspective claimed the write of that day’s devotional. Coincidentally, I was reading about Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes (Mat 15:32-38) and I decided to give looking at that miracle though Jesus’ eyes a try.
I asked myself ‘How could I ever claim to know them mind of God?’ I couldn’t but I could attempt to know the human part of Jesus’ mind, right? After all, Jesus was God and man in one person so He must have had human thoughts and relations to the situation. Perhaps, I could tap into these thoughts and reactions and create in me a new perspective and/or a new understanding.
In (Mat 15:32-38) we read that Jesus had compassion for the thousands who had come to Him because they had been with Him there days and had nothing to eat. So Jesus called His disciples to Him and instructed them to feed the people. At this point the disciples explained there was little food left to eat, “seven loaves and a few little fish.”
How did Jesus look at this problem and how did He look at the disciples? Were it me, I’d feel some level of frustration with the disciples because they should have relied upon their faith to provide all the food necessary but instead they turned to Jesus with some expectation that either He would solve the problem or send the people away hungry. Jesus didn’t hesitate to call upon His faith in His Father and He gave thanks for the bread and fish and told the disciples to distribute the food. And all went away filled leaving seven baskets full of leftover fragments.
I think the man part of Jesus would have reacted with disappointment that so little food was available. I also think He would have had some level of frustration with the disciples because He had shown multiple times that all was possible through faith. Jesus must have thought, “Why haven’t they learned to exercise their faith?” Matthew doesn’t record any of Jesus’ reactions, only His action which was to do what He wanted man to do. He behaved in a human way; He took the loaves and fish, gave thanks and broke the food. This was what He expected man to do. He acted as a man. In so doing He gave the disciples another lesson.
So what new perspectives did I gain? That in every miracle Jesus behaved as He wanted man to behave even to the point of physical demonstration. I also learned that life’s obstacles were meant to test our faith and through faith we can overcome. Another perspective was to be patient with those who aren’t as far, as mature, in their walk into becoming true Christians. And something else…
When I really thought about the lessons Jesus tried to teach the disciples in this miracle I saw an extension beyond faith in the moment; I saw faith over time. In this single miracle Jesus foretold of how the disciples would work to spread the Word of God. How?
If we look at the miracle of the loaves and fishes as an allegory for spreading the good news of the living Messiah then the disciples are the messengers, the food becomes the Word, and the multitude becomes mankind hungry for eternal life. Just as Jesus sent the disciples to fee the multitude hungry for food He would later send them to care for the spiritual hunger of tens of thousands. The miracle of the loaves and fishes was a small lesson foretelling the true mission of the disciples.
And so it is with us. We are asked to take our little bit of faith and feed those around us that don’t know Jesus as our Lord and Savior and to spread God’s Word. And in so doing our ‘baskets’ will never go empty and in fact we will end up with more than when we started.
After trying to look at this miracle as if I were Jesus I can honestly say I do indeed have a new appreciation for His way of preparing the disciples for their future role and I will now attempt to look at other miracles in the same way.
It’s been contemplated by deep thinkers throughout the ages. Today, the greatest minds are trying to figure out if time existed prior to the creation of our universe nearly 14 billion years ago. It’s on our hands and marches on. We’re constantly trying to kill it and it waits for no one.
I have some friends who are very kind and send me postcards and books regularly. The postcards give me glimpses of the world I’ll never see and the books help feed the intellectual part of me. The books are an eclectic mix they find at garage sales and used book stores; they’re always interesting.
I received a book from them last week and included with it was a letter in which they asked me some questions about life in prison. I thought I’d answer their questions here and give others a view into the realities of life on the inside.
This week’s question is : Does time pass slowly or quickly for me?
The short answer is, “yes”.
To understand how and why time passes both quickly and slowly you have to know what is, and is not, available for someone like me to pass time. I’m more intellectual than physical which narrows down the choices of activities from which to choose. My primary time killers are walking, reading, writing, and sleeping.
If I were more physically oriented I’d do more than walk. As it is I have issues with my back, hips, and knees, consequently, things like softball and soccer are not available or feasible for me. I’m also 54 years old and playing ball with guys in their 20’s and 30’s can mean serious injury; not to mention falling and breaking something. If they were to start an “over 50” league I’d probably join but the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) isn’t interested in the medical cost associated with older inmates playing physical games.
There are also things like billiards and ping pong available but the lines to play are long, and truthfully, they don’t interest me. Walking, for me, provides enough activity to control my weight. It also gives me contemplation time. As I walk I think through everything from cellmate issues to how I’m interacting with God. Admittedly, most of my walking thought time is dedicated to my wife and family. I work through sorrows and joys as I circle the track. Walking consumes about fourteen hours a week, or about two hours a day, weather permitting.
Television could almost fill a posting on its own but I’ll try to summarize here. Television is not equally available to everyone. [DISCLAIMER – This inequality is not by BOP design, but is under the full control of the inmates.] Television is valued inside the way money is valued by people out in the world. It is controlled by a few and is exerted in this sense: Power. In each housing unit there are five TV rooms; four have a single TV and one has five. The four single TV rooms in my unit are broken down as follows: one room is for Mexicans with clean paperwork (clean paperwork means they are not a snitch and are not a sex offender), another room is for all other Latinos with clean paperwork, a third room is for whites with clean paperwork and the fourth room is for blacks with clean paperwork. To gain access to one of these rooms, based on race, you must show your paperwork to the people already using the room matching your race. Since I’m a white sex offender I cannot use the white TV room.
The fifth room has five TVs in it and these are broken down into the following: one TV is all news showing either CNN or Fox News, the second and third TVs are controlled by the blacks with one showing all sports and the other showing predominantly black focused TV shows; the fourth TV is really one controlled by whoever gets there first except when it’s a sex offender and then it may, or may not, be taken over by a non-sex offender; finally, the fifth TV is controlled by sex offenders. This all sounds great because every “classification” of race or crime has a TV to watch-except that the room is not large enough to hold everyone that might want to watch TV and seats are “owned” by people and you cannot sit in another person’s seat. There are physical altercations regularly over TV control (power over others) and seating (again, power over others.) I do not watch TV ever, it’s not worth the aggravation of who can watch what and trying to find a seat that is not “owned”.
Also, I don’t watch TV because the portrayal of women as sex objects picks at my addiction to porn. Remaining clean requires discipline and effort on my part so I’ve just cut out TV altogether. Porn landed me here-I’ll never go back!
Some have asked about work inside. Work inside prison is, by and large, a time consumer for only a small percentage of people. By law, every inmate must have a job. People in food service indeed work a fair number of hours, maybe 25 or 30 hours a week and get paid about $20 a month. A portion of the 150 people in the facilities upkeep group work about 35 hours per week and are paid about $25 a month. The remainder of jobs are very few, if any, hours in a week. My job, for example, is to clean the shower stalls in my housing unit each weekend, from 4am to 5am. I work about 8 hours a month and get paid about $22. All cleaning jobs are well paid compared to other jobs. I guess it’s because you’re dealing with others’ filth. But to help you understand the wage realities, on average people are paid 12 cents an hour with the majority of people earning somewhere between $0, (even though they have a “job”) and $5.25 a month. Anyway, work is not a time consuming activity for me.
Reading and writing: I do a lot of the former and some of the latter. I also do both in the housing unit as well as the library.
I read a lot. Reading consumes more time than any other activity I engage in. When I first arrived here I read westerns-well over 100 of them! I got into a western rut! I’ve since moved onto thrillers and “real” literature like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I also read a lot of faith based and inspirational books. I try to feed “zone out” time, intellectual stimulation time and spiritual development time.. Reading absorbs about 28 hours a week or 4 hours a day.
Writing used to consume me for 2 to 3 hours a day. However since starting on the psychometric medication that has fallen to an hour a day on average. Some days, like today, I’ll write for several hours working through the blog postings. It’s something I enjoy and the time passes quickly. Yet, writing still consumes only about 7 to 8 hours a week or about an hour a day.
Sleeping has displaced writing in terms of time passage. I nap pretty much every day for about 90 minutes. Napping obviously passes time quickly and I like that. I know several people who literally sleep around the clock; rising only to eat and use the bathroom. Some people “do their time” sleeping because time passes so quickly.
To summarize, I fill my time with walking, reading, writing, and sleeping. All of these combined equal about 8 to 9 hours per day leaving 7 to 8 hours for meals and unfilled time. Meals eat about two and a half hours a day leaving about 5 to 6 hours a day for boredom. Boredom is a constant companion for not only myself, but for pretty much all inmates. The BOP does not offer very much aimed at rehabilitation though they say they do-do not make the mistake of believing them. To truly understand you’d need to experience prison life and I highly, strongly recommend never coming to prison.
So why do I say time passes both slowly and quickly? Well, when I’m involved in one of my four pass times, time passes quickly, but when boredom sets in time drags. When I think about it, it’s hard to believe I’ve been incarcerated over two years because in that sense, time has passed quickly, yet each day drags on and on. Also, the weeks overall pass fairly quickly while, again, each day is long and can be brutal.
If you have any questions about prison life please feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to answer every question.
As I cast about looking for the words to this Christmas post I found myself at a loss for what to say. I mean, everything I wrote down had been said before, and often by more insightful and wiser persons than I. Instead I decided to write about how I wanted Christmas to be different for me this year.
Think about it … I can’t buy and send home a bunch of presents. I can’t help my wife decorate the tree. I can’t visit the local assisted living centers to sing carols. In fact, the only things I can do are send out cards and call people with best wishes. And while these things mean a great deal to me I still felt that they’re not quite what my heart was looking for.
Christmas for me has always been about family, and I feel good about that. God blessed me with a wonderful family and I am truly thankful; yet I didn’t make Christmas about Christ really. Christmas was something that, more or less, happened to me, for me, and around me and when I realized that I decided I wanted Christmas to happen with me as a full participant.
How to do that?
I wasn’t sure how to even go about answering that question so I decided to sit down and start writing in the hope that the Holy Spirit would guide me to the words and thus my answer. And I go exactly…
I walked the track thinking about it and again was rewarded with nothing.
So I turned to my last resort – meditation. When I mediate I often hear the Holy Spirit and this time I was rewarded with …
“Listen to the radio.”
What was i to do with that?!
I took it literally and tuned into a local station that plays Christmas music 24/7 from Thanksgiving through Christmas day. I listened for days and didn’t hear anything that felt like the answer. I was expecting to hear some wisdom from a DJ or talk show host, but I got nothing; until one night while falling asleep with the Christmas music playing in my head.
Then I got it!
You see, more than a decade ago I heard a Christmas song that moved me deeply. Thanks to the internet I was able to track down the artist and lyrics and I committed those lyrics to memory. As I lay there going through the message of the song it dawned on me how Christmas could happen with me as a full participant.
Below are the lyrics to the song, “My Heart is Bethlehem.” I hope you’ll find in it the same thing I do … that within you is the secret of how to bring Christ into your life not only on Christmas day but every day of every year.
May the joy of Christmas fill you every day and deliver to you all that is important in your life. Please remember our Savior on Christmas day and commit some time in thanks to God the Father for His gift to all mankind.
Thanksgiving is a time when we recognize the blessings and graces in our lives.
I’d like to thank God for His love and His graces in my life of which there are many. I’d like to thank my wife, without her love and support I’d have a very dark and lonely existence. I’d like to thank my family for their continued support and understanding. Without them I’d be lost for direction. I’d like to thank my sister for all of her work with this blog. She really makes it happen. I’d like to thank those friends that have stayed with me. They are truly God’s perfect representation of caring for the prisoners in the world. I’d like to thank my readers, both current and new. Without you this blog would have no purpose.
I’m sure there are a hundred more things and people to be thankful for and I am.
I hope that, for all of you, these days are filled with God’s graces and blessings, family and friends and remembrances of what really matters in life. ~jdoe
Thank You For Healing Me
by Matt Redman
Yes, You stepped in with Your power to save Let forgiveness reign Worked a miracle within
Thank You for healing me I was dying beneath my shame But You brought me to life again, I will sing Thank You for freeing me I was dead to the truth of You But my healing was in Your wounds, and now I sing Thank You for healing me
Though outwardly I may waste away On the inside I’ll be more alive every day As I walk through times of pain and grief There’s a deeper truth inside of me… You have placed Your life inside of me So I sing
Thank You for healing me I was dying beneath my shame But You brought me to life again, and I will sing Thank You for freeing me I was dead to the truth of You But my healing was in Your wounds, and I will sing Thank You for healing me
Days we look forward to; sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.
My wife and I look forward to the anniversary of our first date with excitement because we’ve been together since. That’s nearly 37 years! On the other hand, I feel a level of sorrow as the date of my older sister’s passing rolls around. She wasn’t even in her mid-40s when cancer took her. Then there are those anniversaries that perhaps bring both good and bad feelings, maybe birthdays as we age. I know I’m not looking forward to turning 55 next year, yet at the same time I do enjoy the recognition the day brings for me.
Recently, two anniversaries came hand-in-hand, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about them.
The first was the two year anniversary of my incarceration date. On the one hand, it was exciting in that it meant that, in essence, two-fifths of my sentence was over leaving me with the challenge of getting through the remaining three-fifths. I felt good about that. On the other hand, it brought back into sharp focus the years of productive life I was losing and a reminder of the crime I’d committed. So… some excitement and some sorrow. It made me wonder: How will I feel at the half-way point or even the three year anniversary? Will I look at my time remaining as all downhill or will I feel even stronger about the wasted part of my life?
The second anniversary that followed immediately on the heels of my incarceration date was the 20th anniversary of this institution’s entry into operation. We inmates were put on lock down for an entire day while the staff celebrated the day. And it made me wonder: Should we celebrate the life of such an institution or mourn its very existence? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that I, and the others here, have a debt to pay for our transgressions. Yet I still cannot see the joy in a society for having such places. In the U.S. alone there are about 700,000 inmates incarcerated somewhere with about 50,000 waiting in holding locations for their institution assignment.
Isn’t celebrating the anniversary of such institutions sort of like celebrating the fact they’re all overcrowded with lives losing productive years? When I made this connection I became upset. I looked around at all the people who are capable, and willing, to return to society as productive, law abiding, citizens and yet are stuck here in punishment (the truth is that there is no real rehabilitation for anyone within the prison system so it’s all punishment).
My personal conclusion is that no one should ever celebrate the life of a prison but should instead mourn the need for and existence of, such an institution.
I wanted to check my outlook and so asked those I know inside for their thoughts around the staffs celebration. Unanimously all said it was ridiculous to hold such a celebration because it couldn’t happen without the inmate population. Several said they felt insulted and minimized beyond the scope of being punished for their crime. Yet not one said that punishment was unfair or unnecessary except that all agreed that sentences are too long across the board. But that’s another issue altogether unless you stop to think that maybe more reasonable sentences would actually reduce the number of prisons – and thereby reduce the number of institutional anniversaries.
I also asked one staff member how they felt about it and was told that it was really a day to recognize the staff itself. My thought: Hold a staff appreciation day and call it that, even if it’s an additional day of staff appreciation for the year (they do hold multiple staff appreciation days already).
All these thoughts of anniversaries brought to mind something I was told by the psychologist I was working with prior to my incarceration. I was growing anxious about the anniversary of the start of the investigation into my case and wanted to work through those feelings with her. It was then she said: “There’s no such thing as an anniversary. There are only days we attach importance to, sometimes unnecessarily and unhealthily.” When I challenged that statement she replied, “Then tell me how today is actually different from yesterday,” and I couldn’t. For example: When you get married, that day is different from the day before because you became legally bound to another. One year later, however, you do not become unbound the day before the ‘anniversary’ so that on the ‘anniversary’ your status changes again back to being legally bound to your partner. It actually makes a lot of sense.
And that’s why I’ve written this post.
We all have a choice to make about ‘anniversaries.’ We can invest whatever amount of emotional energy into the day we desire. It is a choice. I’ve decided not to invest negative emotional energy into the sorrowful ‘anniversaries’ that lie within my lifetime. It’s not worth it. My daughter was married on the second ‘anniversary’ of the start of the investigation into my transgression. Should I feel sorrow and regret over my actions or excitement and joy for her new life each year on that date? Wouldn’t the former taint the latter? And why punish myself each year when I can celebrate my daughter and son-in-law instead?
Do yourself a favor, let go of the negative, sorrowful, ‘anniversaries’ and throw yourself into the joyous ones instead. Life will become easier and more exciting. ~jdoe
Funny, how so many of us become attached to objects because of the memories associated with them. How many of us have concert or movie ticket stubs from a first date or first time attending such an event? I know I do.
My father passed away earlier this year (see “Dad (Warning, He Cusses)”). Between then and now my Mom has been going through his things inside the house and either giving them to family and friends or donating them.
A little over a week ago, my sister and her family arrived at my Mom’s for a visit and to aid my Mom in going through my Dad’s remaining affects. This includes things in the garage – outside the house. What’s there?
Tools. A Lot Of Tools.
My father was the consummate do-it-yourselfer. Anything that came up around the house that needed repairs or renovation was completed by my Dad. I can remember only three times when a ‘professional’ was called in to do a job.
When my Dad would work on a home project he would always include me. When he needed a tool for a job he would say, “The money I save by doing the project pays for the tool.” Consequently, his tool collection constantly grew; and so did my memories of time with Dad.
For me, what lies in the tool boxes in my parent’s garage is not really a collection of tools but is instead a collection of memories. And for any tool named I can recall a project, or projects, in which we used that tool.
So it’s not easy hearing about the dismantling of this collection of tools; of memories. Each time a tool is set aside for a family member, a few memories go with it. It feels like small parts of me are going too.
My sister has asked me if there’s a special tool I’d really want in memory of my Dad. How do I say yes to one and no to another? Every tool is special to me. I don’t need any tool in particular as I grew my collection of tools in the same way my father did; so I have no objective way to identify any tool in particular. And it’s not like there was one project in particular where in a tool was used that I’d want.
Well, that’s not entirely true – my Dad and I built my stereo system’s speakers and they sound great! But the tools used in that project are the same as those used in any wood working project and so no tool rises above the rest.
Perhaps that’s not entirely true either. My Dad gave me a tape measure when I was in high school. That tape measure was used not only by my father but by his father as well. So with it came my father’s memories in addition to my own. But is that enough?
The irrational part of me wants to claim all the tools. I want to protect the collection of tools and memories. But, the rational part of me knows it’s selfish and uncaring to make such a pronunciation. I know other family members have their memories of Dad/Grandpa and his tools; I want them to have something to keep those memories alive as well.
I don’t envy my sister’s and Mom’s efforts in passing out all those tools among the family members. I know they’re being as fair as they can be. And I trust them.
I’ve told them I’d be happy with anything and that I’d appreciate about a third of the tools as I’m one of three kids (my younger sister, my older sister that passed away, and myself). That leaves a third for my younger sister and the remaining third to go to the children of my older sister. But the truth is, anything I might receive is really enough.
I wonder what my Dad would say or do were he with us. I know he’d want them given in the way my Mom and sister are doing. But I wonder if he’d see his collection of tools as a collection of memories as well. He never presented himself as especially sentimental – except when dividing out the belongings of his parents and grandparents. So what does that say about how he’d feel about his own belongings? I’m not sure. I only know that the rational, practical side of him would want his tools to get used by the family.
I miss you Dad and I miss working side by side with you. We accomplished so much. Perhaps those are all the memories I need. ~jdoe