Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Secret Life In Prison...

Dateline: Monday, September 30, 2008
The Secret Life In Prison...
...You Don't Hear About On TV

Years ago I worked for a warden, doing artwork, graphic arts, special projects, and he told me in all seriousness that he hated to go home at night, he was afraid he might miss something. He loved the "excitement" of prison.

I don't find it exciting - way too much stress - give me boring any day. But this past week has been filled with so much pressure and stress that lesser men crack, flip out, have what they call a"psych emergencies."

Out of the clear blue, without notice, last Monday morning they began telling men to pack up their property for transfer. Thursdays are the regular transfer days, and if you're not in trouble, you had to have requested it to be transferred. But suddenly thirty to forty prisoners were packed up and shipped out.

Turns out they had a big caper at a prison south of Miami, drugs and cell phones, big corruption, they fired some guards and cleaned the place out, sent 800 men to prisons all over the state, swapped out new ones to send back south.

It's a lot like slavery times. You could be "sold down the river," as they used to say, never see your family or fellow slaves again. There is so little concern or consideration for prisoners and their life situations that arbitrary acts are done with impunity. I've known many men whose wives and families uprooted their lives, moved near the prison that their husband was sent to, got settled in only to have him shipped hundreds of miles away. That worry and nagging stress eats away at people, with no recourse.

The next few days seemed almost "normal," if life in prison can be considered normal. I'm spending three mornings a week in the law library on a legal deadline, researching the law, seeking a new parole hearing, and that went well. Progress.

Friday was an excellent day, one of those times when you feel all is right in the world, even for a man wrongfully serving life in prison.

My friend, Paul Flory, from Orlando, came in to see me on a spiritual advisor visit, which means a great deal to me. Paul is a retired businessman who directs the Bill Glass Weekend of Champions prison ministry in Florida, in which a variety of athletes, celebrities, and ex-cons go into several prisons over a long weekend, sharing their Christian faith. Jack Murphy introduced us in 1999 at Columbia C.I. in North Florida, and Paul has been an important voice in my spiritual life ever since. He is a very wise man, well-respected, intelligent, and perspective, and is a committed Christian. I tell him what's going on in my life, and he gives me the benefit of his knowledge, wisdom, and insight. I've learned to listen and pay attention and take heed of what he tells me.

Before he left we prayed together, asking the Lord to take notice, His will be done in my life.

Things kept getting better, as good as it gets under the circumstances. My dear friend, Libby, came to see me in the visiting park on Saturday, and we had a nice, relaxed time together. Saturday evening I got a chance to play tennis, read a book, and rested up for a nice Sunday I expected in the visiting park again. It was not to be.

They unlock our cells around 5:15 AM. The diabetes and HIV patients go out early for their medications. I use that time before 8 AM for reading and writing. One of the men who went out early for medication came back with some tragic news.

Shorty was a little guy (no doubt) who'd worked near me for a couple of years, he was in the "caustics" department, taking cleaning supplies around to the dorms. He was an aspiring writer, having written a couple of thousand pages of very small print, both sides of notebook paper, of his life adventure. Sorry to say he was never going to win the Pulitzer, but he was prolific.

Shorty had a wife and a little curly-haired son, maybe four years old, who terrorized the visiting park when he was there. But Shorty hadn't seen his family for awhile. It seems his wife got pregnant "out there," and wouldn't come back, wanting to avoid arguments.

Shorty became depressed, was taking a strong psych drug called Wellbutrin, and while in the dorm bathroom had a seizure, fell to the tile floor, cracked open his skull and bled to death before the nurse got there.

I'd just spoken with him Friday, and it was a terrible shock to hear that. His "boss lady" was the officer who was murdered in June, and now people are saying there is a curse on caustics.

Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, it does. 8:50 AM - I am dressed for visit, waiting to be called, talking on the phone with my Aunt Alice when the dorm sergeant comes in the fire door with a wooden handle attached to some sort of braided rope ladder that she found out back hanging on the perimeter fence. Immediate lockdown. Back in your cells. Visits cancelled. All that driving from Jacksonville, hours of waiting to naught.

They brought in a bloodhound, locked up two men in the next cell for putting an onion out in the hallway. Then they took us out of our cells, stripsearched us, then ransacked our belongings. It took all day. We went to lunch around 4 PM, and when we got back, they hadn't even started on the second floor.

There was absolutely nothing we could say or do. Anything indicating an escape attempt cancels out everything else. They examined everyone for scratches or marks, to see if they'd tried to climb the fence, which would not only be stupid, but also foolhardy, given the fortune in razorwire they've invested on the fences.

Thirteen people got locked up under suspicion, and they aren't done. We could be locked down for days. Some say they are going to transfer everyone, to be on the safe side. That makes no sense, since Houdini couldn't get out of this place without being slashed to ribbons. Prison is extremely secure.

Meanwhile, as long as I don't run out of paper, I have time to write, at least. Lemonade out of lemons. The last few months I've been extremely focused on writing, and just this weekend, Libby sent in several entries for me to the 2009 Tampa Writers Alliance literary contest. It's a good rehabilitative tool, putting my work up against the professionals "on the street."

This blog helps, too, and as long as my friends don't give up on me, I'll keep at it.

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