“Who wants to break the news about Uncle Joe….You remember Uncle Joe?”
Much has been written about corrections, punishment, prisons and the effects of crime on the population at large. Some conclusions are based on empirical data, while most opinions are forged in the crucible of emotive prejudice-free from the troublesome constraints of truth or fact. Well, here’s a fact. 95% of those currently incarcerated will one day get out and be your neighbor.
I’m one of those guys.
Imprisoned as the result of not protecting my sobriety, reason & forethought of consequences were replaced by behavior that degenerated to that of a felonious robber. As a danger to others and myself, my ass needed locking up. Landing in a dog cage and being fed Alpo Grade swill by the Michigan Department of Corrections was the culmination of a last relapse. It took about six months there for the clouds to sufficiently clear enough so a searching & fearless moral inventory could be conducted with resultant corrections.
There was much work to be done. Fortunately, I met some individuals employed by the MDOC who were consummate professionals and took their jobs seriously as civil servants. They were the kind of folk who would work with you. One of the lowest forms of life in prison is that of a snitch. Not far behind is a brown-nosing sycophant. I’m neither. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Because I had the good fortune of having a treatment team of professionals with their foot up my butt, I’m cognizant my experience remains an anomaly.
I also ran into some CO’s who were lower than vermin. The only difference between some guards and those they are responsible to watch was only the color of their shirt. You cannot win with those bastards. Being a little older than the average inmate, I knew to avoid them and fly under the radar by not picking up any major misconduct tickets-not an easy thing to do. So yeah…being in prison is obviously one of the lowest forms of existence possible but certainly no lower than groveling on the steps of a ghetto dope house where some 15 year old black kid asks; “What do you want bitch?”
The most demeaning part of that poignant vignette is standing there and taking it, in order to cop another angry fix.
Into Action meant rising above the present circumstance of prison enough to begin living in the solution. I became aware of the Prison Creative Arts Project , wrote a short story and PCAP published it after my release. There was time spent with mental health professionals, group therapy sessions, one on one therapy, more meetings, didactic lectures and most importantly, an opportunity to be spiritually restored. I did not arrive at the Gus Harrison Regional Facility at the end of a winning streak. No, I’d become morally bankrupt. When an opportunity presented itself to play guitar on the Prison Praise Team, I jumped all over it like a crackwhore at a two-fer sale. The music was only a means to an end.
Rehabilitation, correction, redemption & restoration, are at its root…an inside job taking place in the soul.
This has nothing to do with religion, so take a chill pill and relax.
No, it has everything to do with connecting with a power greater than self and sliding your butt off the throne of your heart. The $64,000.00 question about prison is rarely asked. Aside from the occasional prosecutorial misconduct, judges pandering to the base nature of their electorate and over-zealous cops armed to the max, the courts, legal system and MDOC do a fairly thorough job on those going in and out of the penal system. Where they totally drop the ball is all the years sandwiched between entry and egress. What happens to prisoners during the intervening years? That’s the 64K question. With the last vestige of obstinacy beat from my system, I became willing to go to any lengths…even if that meant rolling with some Miserable Minstrels trying for some light in a very dark place. Convicts can be a funny bunch of characters. Many a seasoned con, wise in their own eyes advised me not to hang out with those church musicians.
Why the hell not?
“Hurley…we call them CSC and the Sunshine Band”
Such is the gallows humor of the incarcerated. I didn’t get it at first until remembering KC and the boys from the 70’s. From a perspective of homophobic convicts, KC does look a little gay. What those convicts don’t realize is that KC & the Sunshine Band now play on a regular basis at NA Conventions.
The Lie Is Dead…We Do Recover.
Aside from baby rapists and diaper snipers, I didn’t really give a rat’s ass why someone was locked up, choosing instead to roll with heart & honesty. Who the hell am I to throw the 1st stone? If they were honest about their crimes, took responsibility and demonstrated a modicum of remorse, I usually rolled with grace…though not always. There do exist behind those walls some real pieces of human excrement that should never see the light of day…like the guy who ejaculated into the mouth of his one month old son because he did not want to “babysit”. While that savage was rightfully locked down for 1st degree child abuse, the kid ended up living for only two more years. The violent shaking at the hands of is “dad” left the baby blind. The child could never be comforted and mercifully died at the age of two. Upon his death, they charged his punk-ass “dad” with Murder One and gave that animal All Day (life). I’m not spiritually mature enough to pray for a punk like that…especially when the sorry SOB cliqued up with the jailhouse lawyers and filed multiple appeals. He’s a piece of scum who lost every one.
But I digress…again…dang!
Aside from the aforementioned example, (to clap the other hand) being defined by your worst decision is a very harsh reality. Because of their pathology, it’s true that the recidivism rates are high among CSC offenders. However I met a few men who knew they blew it big time on the underage tip, were redeeming the time wisely and fighting like hell for another chance. In fact, I still correspond with two of them as a means by which to walk out Hebrews 13:3. This serves two purposes as those guys are some of the finest men I’ve ever been blessed to know. Also, it engenders enough empathy, wisdom & caution to keep enough of an edge to know I’m just one bad decision from rejoining them in the prison chapel.
It wasn’t pretty. Crime victims and two wounded sons (among others) left twirling in the turbulent wake of my madness would concur my inventory was not anything worth posting on FaceBook. Just ask my ex-wife. What to do? Well, lying around on my Irish ass, making excuses, self-pity and being a victim were not options to consider. I was surrounded by examples of that at the Gus and it made me sick. Having squandered more opportunities than most of those guys ever got made me sicker as I’d become everything in life I loathed. Either one faces the past head on and deals with it, or it will continue to deal with them.
About the business of availing myself to every program offered by the MDOC (whether RG&C recommended it or not), the AA meetings inside those walls were amongst the best I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of. Though it’s become a cruel joke, the “Corrections” part of the MDO is not really rocket science. In a society fixated by MSNBC’s “Locked Up Raw” as well as left-wing bleeding hearts and right wing blowhards talking out their sphincters, no one seems to address the main fact about convicts, opting instead to reinforce ignorance because it’s safe and requires no balls. By the way; LUR never gets it right. The most incomprehensible thing about doing time is time itself. The clock never moves any slower. What neuters a man is the dull, boring, monotony of the ticking clock that taunts unmercifully at how you could have been a contender.
The vast majority of inmates are locked up as the direct or indirect result of drug & alcohol addiction. Yet, out of 1000 or so men, only a handful would show up for the Gus Harrison 12 Step Meetings where we were offered an opportunity to practice recovery principles behind the walls in preparation for release. Why is that? Time & time again I’d hear this phrase when attempting to “carry the message” to other prisoners…”I’ll go to meetings when I get out” Yeah, right. Tell that to the parole board moron.
If you won’t do something to address your recovery from the disease of addiction while incarcerated, you’re sure as hell not going to do it upon release. That’s just the way it is. DOCs would do well to emphasize that fact of life to their “Guests”. There are literally thousands of cellblocks and housing units filled to capacity by those who think they are tough guys…but in reality have punked out and quit. They roar like lions and lay down like lambs, content to pressing their bunk and licking their nuts. It’s pathetic. That’s why I’m all for the restoration of good time and honor blocks. Instead of the MDOC hassling volunteers who graciously come in to host 12 Step Meetings, they might reconsider their position on that one.
The average tax payer might be interested to know what the current “drug of choice” is in prison. It’s not alcohol, weed, heroin or cocaine. Nope. The current drug of choice is Seroquel. That’s a fact. One pill goes for five commissary items on the yard. And why not? One health care professional told me that (at one point) the monthly budget for Seroquel statewide throughout the prison system was $500,000.00. That’s right kids. Close down the mental health facilities; lock up all the nuts and give em’ Seroquel. Listen, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure drugs like that have their place, especially at Level 4. But from what I witnessed, The MDOC passed out dope like it was Kool-Aid. You should see those guys RUN to the med line and God help you if you get in the way. For more info on this particularly nasty drug, see link;
The stick & carrot of Good Time removed by a public hoodwinked by lies does nothing to promote good behavior. There must be incentives to counter-act the paradigm of quitting.
The great theologian Bono once sang…
”There is no failure here darling, only when you quit”.
Having just successfully completed the parole process a few months back, I can testify that making it as a returning citizen is not a passive exercise. It really does take a village. Completing parole requires being very intentional and focused on the mission at hand. Getting out is not hard. Staying out is where the rubber meets the road. Simply stated, the institutional record of a prisoner is a pretty accurate harbinger of things to come. If one can’t (or won’t) keep petty rules while locked up, one probably won’t do the same out here rockin’ in the free world. Heck, it’s not supposed to be easy.
WHAT TO DO?
As long as we live in a society hell-bent on warehousing bodies while feeding the Leviathan of the Prison Industrial Complex, it makes sense to direct limited resources at institutional programming that will prep folks for release. As it stands right now, not much is allocated to teaching adults how to navigate successfully through the early stages of freedom without self-sabotage. As currently practiced, the trend is to cut programming and re-allocate precious MPRI resources away from that which has more potential for a positive impact on society. Those making such foolish decisions need to be checked and challenged by an electorate not content with the status quo. Uniformed, naïve’, crooked and idiotic politicians calling to privatize prisons ought to be voted out of office. There’s something inherently unholy about for-profit prisons. Greed is expected from pagans. I really like Joe Haveman out of Holland. He’s a stand up guy trying to do his best. But how a believer representing the Michigan Congressional District of Holland cannot see the inherent evil in for-profit prisons is beyond me. How would the parole process be affected by privately run prisons with “minimum occupancy” language written into their contracts? Der. Any society turning freedom into a commodity afforded only by those with a means by which to pay for it is on a slippery slope to hell.
But that seems to be the way of the world. Governor Engler gets into office and closes down all the mental health care facilities in our great State of Michigan. Guess where a large number of the mentally challenged ended up? You guessed it. They wound up right smack dab in the belly of the honk as guests of the MDOC. Talk about penny-wise-pound-foolish. How moronic was that move? Try spending a night with one of those cats as your bunkie. One guy sat up for three days talking about castrating himself. Turns out, that’s what he did over in Level IV. He hung his scrotum inside the edge of his foot locker and then slammed it shut. Groovy. Way to go. You sure showed “The Man”. That was the only time I went to staff to get a new Bunkie.
Unfortunately, the public never hears about that kind of stuff. It seems that most would rather just watch “Locked Up Raw” and call it a day while sitting comfortably numb in a polarizing cocoon of “Us Vs. Them”
Last night, I had the good fortune to view “sherrybaby” on DVD. What a killer flic! Hollywood rarely gets it right in their depiction of “returning citizens”. This one hit it out of the park. In the movie Sherry (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets sprung from the joint and makes a lot of mistakes during her parole. An innate drive to make it dovetails with a subconscious propensity for self-sabotage. The residual effects of having been institutionalized are a hard thing to explain. This movie did it well. Right out of the gate she screws up, relapses, tries to rush things, is very immature and wouldn’t recognize gratification delay if it bit her in the ass. I’ve done the same, including a leap into a relationship that I clearly was not ready for…but that’s for another blog…or not.
Sherry has a tough, but fair PO. He kind of reminded me of my former PO, affectionately known by some as “Rambo Roznowski” out of Royal Oak, Michigan. We had an unspoken understanding. If I conducted myself in a responsible manner, he would treat me like a man, not a number. We respected each other. It worked and now I’m off his case-load.
Anyway, toward the end of the movie, Sherry is given a shot at being alone with her daughter for the afternoon and is provided a reality check when her kid pees her pants. At her brother’s house, she returns her daughter where the little girl has been cared for during Sherry’s incarceration. After the hand-off, Sherry breaks down in tears and asks her brother if he would help take care of her daughter. He smiles and says; “What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?” Sherry replies; “Yeah…but I never asked you for help. Now I am”
It’s a great scene that captures The Moment every incarcerated and/or paroled offender must experience in order to turn from the past and live for today. With a plethora of data, rap sheets and evidence to suggesting this truth, inmates really are a few fries short of a Happy Meal. That’s not stated to be mean or anything. It’s my experience that convicts put the “N” in narcissism. Because of a concept known as “relative deprivation” we can become the most self-absorbed people on the planet. Wrapped up in our own skin and unable to stand the company, it’s easier to lash out, gang-up, sell-out and give up.
Ignorance is never bliss…especially in prison. From the top of the food chain to the newest fish in the gate, the prevailing game is to get over and mitigate personal responsibility…at all costs. When the MDOC screws up (an often occurrence), they simply write a new policy directive to cover their bloated asses. A great deal of energy is expended avoiding the truth. Coming to a place where the type of epiphany Sherry experienced takes a lot of grace in place to create a perfect storm of surrender. There’s no other way around it. There are no shortcuts. We must become humble enough to ask for help.
The truth be told…Self-Help is the mother of all oxymoronic thinking.
The successful completion of parole leading to transitory reintegration into society involves a lot of stuff coming together from disparate sources. I’ve been blessed with a supportive family and network of friends that provide more than I could ever achieve on my own. Accountability, healthy boundaries, clearly defined expectations, patience and simple willingness to follow directions are all important parts of the engine. The HOW of this is;
Honesty, Open-mindedness, and being Willing to go to any lengths. Here’s a guy who helped teach me this. Bill Keaton is 84 years old with 63 years of unbroken sobriety. He’s the co–founder of Alcoholics for Christ and is my father-figure, friend, brother, mentor and sponsor.
That’s the real ticket. Convicts need to be taught they have numerous, transferable job skills that can lend themselves to staying a free and productive member of society. A gift of desperation is also a key component which never hurts. It can provides an antidote against complacency. Complacency can kill.
Whether or not someone got a fair shake, if jobs are hard to come by, or if mommy was mean or daddy was abusive doesn’t really matter. Please don’t play the race card with me. It’s pure BS. Really. Not to minimize the deleterious effect those things can have on a life…at the end of the day, what matters is if systems are in place to encourage and accommodate someone who is sick of being sick. A desire to grow up and become healthy does not occur by accident. It has to all start behind the walls and concertina wire. Waiting until discharge and then having the State pay a few months of rent to live in a animal…er’ halfway house won’t cut it. All that does is perpetuate dependency and an engrossed sense of entitlement while reinforcing the effects of being institutionalized.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Though having fallen short of the mark many times, I’m so grateful for every precious second of freedom from prison and self today. This was written for publishing consideration in the Yale Law Review Journal near the end of a personal 10 day retreat up at a cabin in Manistee. Driven by a sense of urgency and need to recover from the effects of some bad decisions, a mild stroke and being on steroids–it’s been good to only get on the computer once a day in town at a Burger King Wi-Fi hot spot. While up north the grace was present to get back to AA & NA meetings and return to my 1st love…the Father Heart of God.
God Bless Your Hearts
August 1, 2012