Monday, June 23, 2008


Dateline: June 17, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


One beneficial side effect of all this focus on my writing, short stories, poems, memoirs, prison diary project, and the recent internet interview by my new friend, Hettie Jones, is there has been a sort of "literary cross-pollination," in which one topic or study has spun-off into others. For me it is a productive process - I can't seem to write fast enough - which may be driving my dear friend, Libby, to distraction, since she types all this output and translates it into legible English.

The Anne Frank diary project makes me think about my day, my thoughts, actions, and the thought and actions of those around me. Documenting all that - and I can only scratch the surface - spawns more ideas for stories and plays and brings back remembrances of prison experiences that I want to document and not allow to be lost in the ether.

This morning I wrote one of the few studies of what being "institutionalized" means, how it affects prisoners and the prison system, which will (hopefully) lead to discussion on how it negatively impacts society, and what to do about it.

Many people in prison are institutionalized, which to me means becoming so broken in spirit that they are unable to function on their own, that they accept and obey whatever the "authorities" tell them, right or wrong. They become like domesticated farm animals, neutered automatons who have no will of their own, part of the prison machine, content to absolve themselves of hopes and dreams for the future.

The shame for America is that is the way the system has been set up, to break people's wills. so they can more easily control them. One problem is that when they take a person's free will, their ability to think and make independent decisions and break their spirit, they are left as empty husks. They don't replace what has been removed with anything. It might make prisoners more docile and easier to control, especially with the wide-spread dispensing of psychotropic drugs that dope them up, but what does this say about how our fellow Americans are treated?

The vast majority of prisoners will be released one day. Who do you want as your neighbor? Institutionalized, drugged out prisoners who've spent decades in cages are not going to rejoin society and become productive, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. They will most likely become homeless bums or commit more crimes and return to prison, where they fit in and can function in a fashion.

When I first came to prison, I was the clerk to the prison laundry manager, C.D. Connor. He asked an older black prisoner who'd been in and out of prison several times in his life what he was going to do when he got out this next time. I'll never forget what he said.

"Mr. Connor, I don't do too good on the street. I can't get a job. I eat out of the garbage cans behind McDonald's. I'll find me a cardboard box, maybe sleep under a bridge. In prison, it's different. I'm somebody in here. I've got a good job, I got money, a hustle, pressed clothes, a white boy, good food, cigarettes and coffee. What do I want to go out on the street for?"

No doubt that man was institutionalized. He was the product of the system. There are thousands.

I am not one of them. Many people are amazed when they talk to me, and I tell them I have been continuously incarcerated for over thirty years. How is that possible, all that time in prison, yet not be like most everyone else who has had a similar experience?

They say I don't act like I've been in prison that long, and I say, how am I supposed to act? I can only be myself.

The state offers little "paper programs," transitory programs, pre-release, etc., which are of little value in actually preparing long-term prisoners for release. I asked one man who attended a year-long pre-release program what he learned, and he said how to hold a fork, how to eat properly. Heaven help us if that's all he came away with.

No one ever expected me to make it this far. They figured I'd be long-dead. But, they didn't account for my strength of will and resolve. I am not institutionalized, and I never will be. I will continue to fight for my freedom, or die trying. Watch this space for more details on how.
Good night.

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