Do Unto Others…

My040 Do Unto Others

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. Did you honor your mother? I made sure to send cards to the three mothers in my life – my mother, my wife and my sister and I also called.  I did this because I love them and it’s that feeling of love that brought me to contemplate what love is in Biblical terms.

The greatest commandment is to love God wholly and the second is to love others as you love yourself. I’ve been struggling with this second commandment a lot lately.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of people in prison that are not nice. It’s these people I’m having trouble “loving.”  They’re selfish, rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful – not much to love, right?

So, I set about discovering what was meant by “love others as you love yourself.” This effort took me throughout the Bible; yet it is was John’s three letters, along with the Holy Spirit, that helped me to see what it means to love others as I love myself.

Now, it must be said that I have no emotion I’d label as love for myself, at least not like I feel for my wife, mother or sister.  For me, I connected love with an emotion – and admittedly the emotion I feel for others in prison is NOT love.  It is discouraging trying to love others and feeling all sorts of emotions other than love.

So, I meditated on it and I listened for the Holy Spirit to talk to me and He did. The Holy Spirit told me to read the Bible! But wasn’t that what I was already doing? I felt a little let down by this direction as what I’d read provided no particular concept on love when it’s hard.

I’m reading the Bible from cover to cover right now. I’d just finished 2Peter when the Holy Spirit said to read the Bible and so as I continued reading, the next three books were John’s three letters. They’re like little gems in the Bible and are quick, easy reads. Yet they held for me, the answer to what it means to love others as I love myself and it gave new meaning to the phrase, “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

What I learned is that love can be an emotion, an action or both but that they are not necessarily connected. What drove this home for me was John’s constant talk of taking action to show love and his admonishment to love one another. For example, in 1John 4:9, we are told that God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world for us. Yes, God was reacting to an emotion of love that He felt for us but just as importantly He took action.  Again, in 3John 1:5-8, a letter to Gaius, John talks of showing hospitality to strangers and then sending them on their way in a manner that honors God. John was telling Gaius to take action, not to have love as an emotion for these strangers and it hit me…

I don’t need to feel the emotion of love in order for me to show love.

I need simply to act.

Perhaps this is obvious to you, but it was a revelation for me! It changes everything about how I interact with those whose personalities and actions are challenging – I can act in a loving way and thus fulfill the second greatest commandment.  Just as I don’t feel the emotion of love towards myself I try to treat myself in a loving way and it’s that manner of treatment that God wants us to share and so, “do unto others…”

So I’m trying to put this into practice. It’s not always easy, as kindness is often taken as weakness inside these walls; and once you’re seen as weak you become a target for all sorts of abuses. But I’m trying none the less. I’m saying excuse me when others bump into me. I’m giving the beggar of coffee a spoonful of my instant and I’m listening to the “whiner” when he needs an ear – and other things as well.

Read the three letters of John (they’re brief and can be read in less than 30 minutes) and find your own blueprint for love.

~jdoe

Life On The Inside – Part 5

My040 Digging Ditches

By law all federal inmates must have a job within the institution in which they are incarcerated. I’m sure there are exceptions to this like death row inmates and those deemed too dangerous to be among the general population but for those who are able they must have a job of some sort.

My first job was being a weekend orderly within my housing unit. I’d get up every Saturday, Sunday and holiday at 4:00am and scrub the showers. It was an okay job as it left the rest of the day and all week to myself to do with as I please. However, it was also a dirty job that quickly became an “icky” job. I did this for nearly two years. And for the work I put in I was paid $17.04 per month. Now I have a new job.

I was approached by an orderly working in the medical services building about taking a position there as an orderly. I jumped at the chance as it would mean not cleaning showers anymore though I imagined I’d be cleaning bathrooms instead. Anyway, I applied and got the job. My responsibilities now include dust, wet and dry mopping the waiting room and entrance hall, disinfecting all surfaces anyone might touch in these same areas, vacuuming the rugs and washing the windows in all the doors and the front entrance. There’s a lot of surface area to care for but it’s not a tough job. Thankfully, I only do the bathrooms when the two orderlies responsible for the bathrooms are busy with something special; it’s been a month now and I’ve only done one bathroom. For this job I am paid $27 per month.

So what’s the downside to this orderly Utopia? I start at 7:00am and am done cleaning everything by 8:30am if I work diligently and non-stop. Sounds okay on the surface but the hook is that I must be there until 10:30am so I end up sitting for about two hours. I try to make busy work because my work ethic is that if I’m being paid then I’m working but you can only wash the windows so many times before there’s nothing really to clean. Yes, people put their hands all over the glass – it’s like being with a bunch of 3rd graders in here – so I can wash the windows a dozen times and still not keep up.

And I am not the only one who ends up sitting. ALL of we orderlies end up sitting. The two others have the responsibility for cleaning the hallways and offices. This takes the two of them about two hours to complete so we often finish at about the same time. When I ask them if I can help them they look at me and say, “no, we’re trying to keep busy too.” The fourth orderly checks people in as they arrive for their appointments, so his work is “on” during about ten minutes at the top of each hour and “off” for the remaining 50 minutes.

So why the waste of paying for the three of us to sit for two hours and the fourth to sit for nearly three?

Part of it is that there are nearly 2000 men here that need a “job.” And so every area (medical, facilities, education, plumbing, HVAC, etc.) has to over staff in order to allow the institution to say that every man here has a job. The waste is built in by the Fed’s own law. I feel fortunate to have a working job because those who have a “job” like sitting in the facilities building all day doing literally nothing are only paid $5.25 a month – not even enough to keep them in hygiene products each month. At least I have some extra cash left over after buying shampoo, soap, toothpaste and deodorant. (I should say here that my mother puts money on my account each month and so I am blessed with not having the monetary challenges so many in here have – thank you Mom! I try to help someone not getting any money from outside and on the $5.25 pay grade by buying them one or two of their hygiene products – my way of giving back and helping those really in need.)

Part of me wishes there wasn’t this waste and that I could work for the full 3.5 hours I’m at work but part of me sees the need for others to take part in the better pay pool. Yes, there’s waste of the human resources but in the end more will benefit from this waste.

My thinking is that if the Feds are going to incarcerate the world’s largest population of inmates then they should also find meaningful work for them to do. Some locations have something called UNICORE which is an internal company that turns out commercial products. Examples include clothing, steel lockers and patent write ups. There are others, but you get the idea. Personally, I think they should seek ways to increase UNICORE’s size and output so that every man has a “real job” to perform. Together with the areas I outlined previously there should be ample opportunity to employ all so that NO ONE is only making $5.25 per month (I also know of people making $0.00 per month but how this happens I’m not sure).

So while you’re at work over the next few days, stop and think how it would be to have to sit for more than half your workday, or even you entire “work” day, doing nothing. I know that there are times when it’s all people can think of but when put into practice it quickly becomes burdensome. Idleness is not an easy thing to live with while at work.

~jdoe

Done. And Done.

My040 Done and Done

Two posts ago, in Decisions, Decisions (Life On The Inside – Part 4), I shared that I had a decision to make concerning a program offered at another institution.  When I wrote that posting I said I’d have made my decision by the time you read the post.  That turned out to be wrong.  Today, April 15, I made the decision.  Why did it take so long to make my decision?  Reservations on my part mostly having to do with things other than the program.

My biggest reservation has to do with the fact that it has taken my two years to carve out a ‘life’ within this institution.  Putting together a circle of acquaintances and friends is not easy for me.  I’m introverted, and I am not the one to walk up to someone and introduce myself and then make small talk which would lead to making a new acquaintance or friend.  When I think of my small circle of people here they are primarily those who either approached me or introduced me to someone with whom I might share something in common.

Next is a fear that I will be put into an unsatisfactory living situation.  When I first came where I am today I was placed in a cube with a ‘hater’ who also happened to be the primary drug supplier for my housing unit.  A ‘hater’ is someone who, because of your crime, hates on you with verbal abuse and, in extreme cases, physical assault.  The one I was placed with was verbally abusive and threatened to have me beat up by those in the unit who relied on him for their drug fix.  Of course, I alerted the unit counselor of the situation asking him to move me before anything happened but he left me there for a month to the day.  During that month I lived in fear for my safety while putting up with name calling and insults as well as the exclamations of hatred and predicted harm if I didn’t move out.  That experience has kind of scared me.  (You can read more about that situation in Love Thy Enemy and Love Thy Enemy – Concludes.)

After this come the more minor fears such as finding a decent job in the new institution, learning the policies and procedures, using the showers per inmate standards, finding radio stations and programs, establishing an exercise routine, and the list goes on.

Imagine being plucked from the society in which you now live and being dropped into a whole new society, culture, and geography.  If you sat and contemplated this in its fullest measure you’d have an idea of what an inmate faces when changing institutions.

Having said all this, you might think I’ve decided against applying for the program – but no, I’m turning in my application this coming Wednesday, the 18th.  Why did I decide to do this?

In talking about the program and its benefits with my wife, while also sharing my reservations and fears, she said she’d support me whatever I chose to do.  However, she also shared a perspective I had not considered:  Maybe I was actually more afraid of change in general.  I had to admit to myself that yes, change does frighten me because with change comes some loss of control and comfort borne of familiarity.  She also pointed out that my Parole Officer may look on someone coming out of the program more favorably than someone coming out of general population who hadn’t made the effort to better themselves.  My wife is wise and observant.

Secondly, I’ve been praying for the Holy Spirit to talk to me and give me guidance in my decision, and I believe it has come in two ways.

The first way is through my study Bible.  I’m reading Colossians and the way my Bible is laid out is the top half of the page is the Bible passages and the bottom half is made up of teaching notes about the verses above.  Well, the teaching notes recently have been about trusting God and knowing that through Him all things are possible.  So, I’ve decided to put it in God’s hands because there’s a chance I won’t be accepted.

The second way happened yesterday as I walked the track.  I was walking along contemplating my decision and literally asking for the Holy Spirit to talk to me; to make it obvious to me what I was to do.  As I thought this, a guy I know only by sight and name came up behind me and put his arm around me.  As he did this he said, “Have you put your name in for the Life Connection Program yet?”  I was dumb founded.  I asked him how he knew I was thinking about it and he said, “I didn’t but you’re a spiritual person, so I figured you’d be interested.”  I’ve spoke to this guy maybe a half dozen times and there he was, putting his arm around me, and in essence, telling me to do it – in fact his last comment was, “Better pull the trigger on that,” as he walked away.  Couldn’t be more obvious could it?  Doesn’t that sound like the Holy Spirit speaking to me through others?

Finally, making this move would put me within a half hour of my two oldest children, within two hours of my youngest child and shave three hours off my wife and mother’s drive to visit me, while also saving money in travel expenses.  Sadly, it will add three hours onto my sister’s drive to see me which does sadden me for she’ll go from half a day’s drive to all day.

So there you have it, my process for making my decision.  I’d be interested in your stories of difficult decision making and whether you felt God had interceded by given you a sign in some form.

As things progress around this I’ll keep you informed.

My advice:  Listen, for God does speak to you.

~jdoe

Decisions, Decisions (Life On The Inside – Part 4)

My040 Decisions Decisions
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

I have a decision to make; by the time this posting hits the blog I will have made my decision but I think posting it will help others to see at least one program in the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) that is helpful.

As you all know, I’m on a spiritual journey as I serve my time. This time has given me the opportunity to concentrate on my faith in a way I would not have in the world. And now I have an opportunity to take the next step in my spiritual maturity.

The BOP offers a program called “Life Connections” wherein you have the time and assignments helping you grow in your individual faith, while also learning about other faiths. It’s an 18 month program offered at two institutions, neither of which is the one I’m in currently.

So why am I interested? Beyond growth in my faith, I feel that having a broader understanding of other religions will aid me in accepting others and not being as judgmental as I am. Also, I see my faith as foundational in my relationships with others. Finally, I see my faith and the lessons from this program as tools in my efforts, once out of prison, to avoid recidivism.

I’ve been given the application to fill out, which I have done. There’s a chance I will not  be accepted. But first I have to decide if I’ll turn in my application.

So why am I hesitating if my faith is so important to me?

Worldly concerns and fears.

I have carved out a life where I am. I have a bunk I like, have good cellmates, have friends and a routine I follow weekly. It’s taken me two years to achieve what I have and now I’m contemplating giving it all up.

Additionally, I’d have to go through the BOP’s transfer process which is VERY frustrating and I’m fearful for my safety in the transfer. In the process every level of security and crime is placed together in general population thus exposing people like myself to violent offenders. The way it works is every prisoner being moved is taken to Oklahoma City and warehoused there until an opening in their destination becomes available and the prisoner is then flown to their destination. It seems wasteful and unnecessary but it’s the government, so to be expected.

Once in my new location I have to worry about a new cellmate, developing new friendships and adjusting to a new prison’s operations.

Essentially, I’m giving up my comfortable existence now for an uncomfortable period at the new location. I know the discomfort is transient but it’s hard to put into words the stress and tension experienced in prison when trying to carve out an existence; especially for a sex offender.

So what to do? I feel a pull to make the move which is countered with my worldly fears and concerns. I’m about 80% certain I’ll apply, it will take some assurance within myself and through others like my wife. She’s supportive of whatever decision I make but has been instrumental in helping me to see the benefits of making the move.

There’s also a personal gain in making the move: I’d be closer to my wife, children and mother which is positive in terms of visitation. On the other hand, I’d be farther from my sister whom I love dearly and whose visits I value greatly. Right now I’m halfway between my wife and my sister and this move would add about three hours onto my sister’s drive when she came to visit.

I’ll let you know my decision in my next posting. Until then be well, be happy,  be YOU!

~jdoe

The 2012 Life Connections BOP Memorandum

Life On The Inside – Part 3

My040 Education
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Education

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.

~jdoe

I’m A Winner

Have you ever called yourself a loser?

I have and sometimes still do.

It’s a harsh label and one I wish I didn’t use.

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.

My040 I'm A Winner

Won’t you run this race with me?

~jdoe

Life On The Inside – Part 2

My040 A Leg Up

A Leg Up

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.

It’s sad really.

~jdoe

A New Perspective

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.

My040 A New Perspective

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.

Won’t you join me?

~jdoe

Life On The Inside – Part 1

My040 Life On The Inside Part 1 Time
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

TIME

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

Time and Time Again?

Anniversaries

Days we look forward to; sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.

My040 Time and Time Again

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