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.
Thanks for stopping in. ~jdoe
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