The First Day

The bus ride from the reception center was six hours long. I had been at the Lorain Correctional Institution for 30 days. It’s one of two corrections receptions in Ohio. Each inprisons more than 2,000 men who will be put through a series of evaluation tests to determine where you will serve out your time. Corrections is big business in OH. Over the course of a year, each reception center processes thousands and thousands of new prisoners.

We had finally left the interstate and were now traveling down a rural state road. Fields of corn rolled past, and the landscape started to look the same, flicking past like pages in a picture book. At first we passed houses on either side of the road, but now they were far and few between.

The bus hitched and began to slow. Some of the old school convicts stirred from their slumber, and someone said we were close. Close, I thought. Man, this is really happening.

The vehicle rolled up to a feeder road and onto prison grounds. I saw double sets of chainlink fencing with razor wire–rows and rows of razor wire–glinting beneath the sun. Behind the fencing were large brick buildings with white barred windows. They gave the facade a sinister look and reminded me of teeth. I saw people in identical clothing walking about.

“Hey,” said the guy sitting beside me. He hadn’t said a word the whole trip, but had come alive all of a sudden. Both of us were shackled at the ankles and handcuffed and wore the same bright orange zip up one piece emblazoned on the back with the words ‘DRC INMATE.’ “This your first time?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He grunted to himself. “I’m David, but everyone calls me Spider. What’re you locked up for?”

“I shot a cop.”

Spider’s eyes widened, then squinted. They looked me up and down as he took the time to determine my truthfulness. Whatever skepticism had washed over him dried up just as quickly, and his demeanor brightened.

“No shit,” he said.

The bus slowed with a loud pshhht! of the air brakes. I watched as we pulled up to the giant electric gate. Whatever conversations that were found were suddenly lost as everyone moved for a window. I squinted between the metal mesh and bars to see what was happening.

The gate slid slowly open and the bus trundled forward before it creaked to a stop again. The gate slid shut behind us. The driver killed the motor and silence filled the compartment. I heard and felt beneath the floor board the banging of the underside storage compartments being opened, inspected, and then slammed shut again. A big guard roamed about around the bus with a long metal pole in his hand. It had a flat round mirror at the end, and he thrust it beneath the undercarriage as he walked. Someone opened the hood and inspected the engine compartment before slamming it shut.

I heard the radios crackling as the guards communicated and the bus came alive again. Another giant gate in front of us slid open now, and the bus lurched forward and onto the compound. The bus drove up to a back door of a row of buildings that reminded me of what the back of a strip mall might look like.

A guard stepped onto the bus and said: “Listen up, girls. When you hear your name called, step forward. Get off of the bus and follow the stairs up to the door. There is no talking; if I hear you talking, I’ll put your ass in the hole.”

He then began calling names from a list, and the bus started to empty. My name was one of the last ones called, and I was thankful. I didn’t want to be the first person off the bus. I suppose it was my last attempt and desire to not have to recognize that this was really happening. I was apprehensive of what I’d see and experience, and my stomach was in knots.

When I stepped through the door of the building I found myself in a hallway. There were several guards, and they escorted all 30 of us down the hallway to the receiving department and into a large holding room with concrete benches.

One by one we were strip searched and given new clothing, state issued prison uniforms which guys call “blues,” because the pants are blue and the shirt is blue. My uniform had my name and number on the pants and shirt as did everyone else’s. Everyone was issued one laundry bag, two additional sets of state blues, three washcloths, two small white towels, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear (“tighty-whitey’s” as guy’s call them), three white T-shirts, a dark blue toboggan, and a cloth belt with a side clasp. All of the clothing was and is made by inmates throughout Ohio at other institutions. I was then given a small booklet outlining all the rules you’re expected to follow.

“When I call your name, come over here to get your picture taken,” said a different guard now. He seemed nicer than the first one. He was motioning toward a corner of the receiving department where stood a camera on a tri-pod. There an inmate was taking the pictures. He had tattoos up and down his arms, and he didn’t seem the least bit worried or concerned about anything. It was a stark contrast to how I felt.

“Hey, man,” said the convict behind the camera. “What’s your name?”

“Christopher,” I said.

“Great to meet ya, Christopher. I’m J.D. and I’m gonna your picture for your ID card. I’ll take three photos. Two looking that way”–his hand motioned left, then motioned right–“and then one looking at the camera.”

“Okay,” I said. The guy seemed pretty cool, and for the first time in a month I started to relax a little. I wondered if everyone else here was like him.

After I had my ID made, I clipped it onto my uniform. One by one we were escorted to another door, this one leading onto the yard. The guard opened the door, and I stepped back into the sunshine.

“Your housing unit is over that way,” he said, and pointed. “Follow the walkway all the way around, and it’s the building on the left.” He then closed the door and left me standing there. I suddenly felt vulnerable and alone.

I followed the walkway across the yard, and I had the absurd thought, Follow the yellow brick road, kid. Just follow the yellow brick road. I had my laundry bag slung over my shoulder. There were guys everywhere, some standing or walking about, and others sitting on bleachers or playing basketball in front of the cell blocks. Everyone seemed to be watching me as I passed. Where, I wondered, were all the other guys that I rode in with? I looked about the yard but saw none of them. It was just me.

I came upon the front door of the cell block, a solid steel door with a slit window and a giant metal handle. What am I supposed to do now? I wondered. Do I just wait here? Do I knock? I peered through the window. I saw steel tables with seats that were bolted to the floor, metal benches bolted to the walls, a guard’s booth with two guards, and 50 to 60 convicts milling about. Some played cards at the tables, other were in groups standing around. Someone in the crowd noticed me at the door and told one of the guards who then let me in.

The cell block had two tiers, essentially an upstairs and a downstairs. A metal railing ran the length of the second tier, and all the cells had steel doors with vertical slit windows. Cell doors had numbers identifying the cell (I was headed for 265). You could only enter a cell by having the guard electronically unlock the door. I couldn’t help but notice how loud it was in the cell block.

I arrived at 265, and the guard downstairs punched buttons on a control panel to open the cell door. There was a loud angry buzz, followed by a heavy lock turning over, and I stepped into my new home. The first thing I noticed was how hot the cell was. The air hung thick, and it felt like a sauna. There’s no air conditioning in the cells. It’s something you eventually get used to.

My new accommodations measured 8’x6′, basically the size of a standard bathroom. There was a steel bunk bed and a stainless steel toilet and sink combo. I had the bottom bunk, which I later learned was a fortuitous event as no one ever gets a bottom bunk coming straight off the bus.

My cell mate was an old school convict that was pulling his 12th year in a 15-life sentence for murder. A big, burly bald headed white guy who was relieved I wasn’t black. I’d learn in short order that he was a racist of the highest order and was affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood. He was also a bit unhinged upstairs, as he clung to damn near every conspiracy theory that he ever heard. Within my first 24 hours as his cell mate he had tried recruiting me toward his stilted, racist worldview. He also introduced me to his distorted religious beliefs, that the Bible says that white people are the children of God. I hadn’t even unpacked what little possessions I owned and he was already cramming this crap down my throat. Little did I know that within the coming weeks my first fight would be with one of his friends over the issue of race.

Later that evening I made my way onto the yard for the first time. I went down to recreation (or “rec” as guys call it) to check out the facilities and the weight room. There was a simple asphalt paved quarter mile track, and around the track were pull up bars, dip bars and push up bars, all permanent and cemented into the ground.

The track was full of cons working out doing push ups or others exercises. Some guys walked and talked, others hung in groups smoking cigarettes or weed. I was surprised at how much drugs there was and how unconcerned guys were about blazing up right there on the yard. There were no guards in sight, save for the occasional passing of the armed perimeter truck. On the yard you were on your own.

That night I lay in my bunk wide awake. You could hear the conversations other guys were having as they either talked through their windows or through the air vents. Eventually the din and the noise of the day slowly faded as guys one by one clocked out.

At some point I found sleep, but it was fitful and filled with nightmares. What did I dream about? Oh, I don’t know. Dreams are fleeting, you know? I’m sure they centered around scenarios of me screaming and running for family, as this was a dream I had for many years. Sometimes I’d wake, heart pounding with a scream in my throat. If I really did scream in my sleep, my cell mates never told me. Sometimes I’d jerk awake late at night, having failed to save a family member or outrun some tragedy, and I’d cry myself to sleep.

For most guys, the first day is more than just a ‘first day.’ It is the beginning of a long journey of discovery, trials, and tribulations. Some men never complete this journey and are consumed by time. Others survive but are for the worse. As for me? The first day marked the beginning of the end of an old life. And like the caterpillar, I have left that life behind me and now fly toward a future that I didn’t believe existed all those years ago.

Time has a way of putting things in perspective.

For better or for worse.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane.

—Christopher

A Cat Called Bump

I recently shared with you all a story about Allie, a dog I trained in the pound rescue program. Now here’s one for all my cat readers.

The pound rescue program periodically received cats, and I had been juggling the idea for months about making a move into the cat section. Eventually I decided I’d spend a year caring for the cats, partly to mix things up, and partly because I’ve always been a cat lover at heart.

I grew up with cats. So when good fortune arose to care for the strays and newborn kittens that the pound sent in, I jumped at the opportunity. I had spent the previous decade training dogs, and I thought this would be a fun change. The program had several cat handlers, and my move from the dog universe to the cat world drew frowns from the dog guys and praise from the cat guys.

Cats are a world apart from dogs. Dogs yearn to be around you; cats yearn to be around you when they’re in the mood. Dogs will eat just about anything (dog food, people food, flip-flops); cats, they eat what they tell you they will eat. Dogs happily play with other stray dogs, but put a bunch of stray cats in a room, and you have a recipe for Fight Night.

Most of the time caring for the cats involved bottle feeding newborn kittens and then potty training them. The cats stayed here until they reached two pounds, and then they were placed for adoption through the pounds website. A wonderful thing about cats is that they are very independent. You rarely need to bathe them (they groom themselves) or tend to a half dozens other things that dogs require. Once they’re a couple of months old and potty trained, you can let them run wild–they’ll be fine.

The program administrator was a wonderful woman named Ms. Campbell. She loved animals. She came to work daily with new and exciting stories about one or more of the cats or dogs she owned (and did not own, for she took care of a number of strays: cats, a dog, a turtle, a duck, and I’m pretty sure there was a raccoon in the mix, too). She once told me that the rescue program was the one thing that kept her coming to work every day. Without it, she’d just assume quit.

Shortly after I started caring for the cats, she took me aside one day and told me about a stray cat she had taken in. It lived in her garage most of the time, she had said, or under her car when it was parked outside. She lived in the countryside and was always coming upon stray animals. I asked her why she didn’t simply let the cat into the house; after all, she had other stray cats she let inside.

“Oh, eww,” she said.

“Eww?” I said.

“Oh, you should see it. It has issues. It’s missing patches of fur all over, and its fur is all knotted and mangy.”

“It probably has some skin issues, that’s all,” I said. “It probably needs a topical and a good shampooing. Hell, it could be allergies.”

“It’s always scratching and”–she quivered, stuck out a puking tongue–“I think it has fleas, and ticks.”

“Aww, the poor thing,” I said. I was a bit surprised at her reluctance. She was never shy getting down and dirty with the dogs or cats we had running around here. She wore dog slobber and cat hair on her clothes daily like a badge of honor! She was always spending her own money on dog and cat flea shampoos, toys, leashes, collars, and you name it, for the cats and dogs here in the program. Yet, she was hesitant to get involved with this cat. Hmm, I thought, ‘Tis a bit of a mystery, this cat.

So I said, “Why don’t you bring it in and I’ll flea dip it, clean its ears, and treat whatever skin issues it has. I’ll also get all the ticks.

She shook her head. “Yeah, that’s a great idea-NOT! I’m not letting it into my car.”

“Take one of the cat carriers home from the pound then,” I said. “Put the cat into the carrier and bring it in that way.”

“Okay, maybe. But the cat’s crazy; you’ll never be able to give it a bath.”

I gave her a look that said yeah right.

“No, seriously,” she said. “It’s mean.”

“It’s a cat,” I said. “Not an 80 pound pit bull. Besides, what’s its name?”

“I haven’t named it.”

“You haven’t named it?”

“It’s just…eww.” She quivered again.

“I’ll think of one then,” I said, more puzzled than ever. “Just bring the cat in. Let me get it cleaned up; it’s probably suffering! Those fleas and ticks and all.”

A week passed before the subject of the cat came up again. I had spent the week caring for bottle feeders-kittens so young that their eyes weren’t open yet. It was an exhausting task. You had to feed them formula every two hours using tiny baby bottles, potty them, and make sure they were set until the next feeding. This of course involved getting up at night every two hours amongst so many other things. It wasn’t uncommon for these young newborns to die before being able to eat on their own. Caring for bottle feeders was stressful, and the thought of one dying on me kept me vigilantly awake at night. I had long forgotten about my conversation with Ms. Campbell. Hell, all I could think of was the sleep I wanted.

Then one afternoon Ms. Campbell arrived at the block looking haggard and worried. The moment she entered I knew something was wrong.

“Christopher,” she said. She was discreetly motioning for me to come to her. “I ran the cat over,” she whispered.

“What?!” I said. “Is it okay?”

“I think so,” she said, still whispering. “It’s not limping or making sounds like it’s in pain. It’s eating and it still meows at me through the garage door.

“You checked the cat, right? Felt around to see if it was hurt?”

She looked around the day room to make sure no one was listening. Her shame was palpable.

“Yeah, I checked; it didn’t seem to be in pain.”

“Okay,” I said. Now tell me how it happened.”

“I was backing down the driveway and I ran something over and—”

“You actually felt a bump?”

“Yeah, right over it”–she skipped one palm over the other to illustrate–“it’s a big cat.”

I started laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“I just thought of a name for the cat,” I said. “Bump.”

“Bump?” A quizzical look crossed her face.

“Yeah. It’s short for ‘Speed Bump’.”

Her mouth fell open and her hands immediately found her hips. For a moment I thought she was going to scold me! Instead, she started laughing.

“Bring the cat in,” I said, “and I’ll make sure it’s fine and I’ll get it cleaned up.”

“Okay,” she said.

What was this cat? I thought. I’ve never heard of a cat getting run over and surviving. By the time evening came, I had convinced myself that she had imagined running the cat over. It just didn’t make sense. Either way, I was excited. Partly because I was eager to see this cat, and partly because I knew the cat was dear to her, despite her aversion to it. I was determined to get her cat in order, even if it was a stray that lived under her car.

The next day Ms. Campbell arrived carrying a large cat carrier and a plastic Walmart bag with flea shampoos, regular shampoos, brushes, antifungals from the pound, and cat doses of Benadryl. There were also catnip mice and small rubber koosh balls and baggies of cat snacks. Several cans of Fancy Feast cat food clanked at the bottom of the bag.

All of it was for Bump.

“Well,” she said. “Here he is.” She passed me the cat carrier and I took it by the handle. The first thing I noticed was how heavy it was.

“Wow, he’s heavy,” I said.

She snickered, “Wait until you pick him up. He’s all muscle.”

I set the carrier on one of the tables and peeked in through the metal gate in the front. Crammed inside was a giant brown and white cat. The first thing I noticed was that it looked like it had been romping through mud and fields of burrs. They were stuck to its matted fur. It had patches of hair missing from its head, and the scent of dried, putrid pond mud wafted from within. Gawd, I thought, it smells awful. When I leaned in close, it growled and hissed at me.

“Here’s some stuff that you might need,” she said. She passed the Walmart bag. “I’m gonna leave Bump with you for the weekend. So there’s food and toys, too. If you have any problems, have the pound call me.”

“Cool. I’ll get him cleaned up right now.”

“Be careful,” she said again. “He’s mean.”

Mean, I thought. Okay then.

I went to the cell and found my cell mate JT. I showed him the cat and the bag of stuff, told him that Bump would be with us for a few days, and how we needed to bathe and flea dip the cat.

“Ms. Campbell said the cat’s mean,” I said.

“Mean, huh?” he said, a bit humored. He poked a finger in between the front of the carrier, and the cat hissed and spat. “Oh! Definitely a live one.”

“I don’t think we should let it out in here because of the fleas and ticks. So let’s take it upstairs to the porter closet tub and we’ll let it out there.”

“Sure,” he said. “Suit up!”

‘Suit up’ is what we’d say to each other whenever it came to flea dipping and bathing difficult cats. What did ‘suit up’ mean? In This World, it meant that I put on an extra pair of long pants, a sweatsuit top, my sweat jacket, and when necessary, my winter jacket. I have razor thin scars on my arms and legs from previous efforts while not ‘suited up.’ There’s nothing worse than four sets of razor sharp claws dig into your flesh, as 10 pounds of wet, angry cat uses your body to claw itself to freedom. So, yeah, I suited up for this one.

By the time we made our way upstairs, the other men in the cell block were staring at us. It was quite a sight to behold, I’d imagine: two grown men dressed like Eskimo’s with bottles of shampoo, flea dip, and an angry, hissing cat carrier. If I didn’t know any better, I thought I caught looks of knowingness. That look one gives you when you know something is about to turn out bad.

We arrived at the porter closet.

“Alright,” said JT. “You want to hold and I’ll wash, or I hold and you wash?”

“I’ll hold, you wash,” I said.

Holding a reluctant cat under a flowing faucet in a deep porcelain tub was always a perilous proposition. Once the soap lathers, things get slippery fast. I felt more in control if I held, so it was an easy decision.

I set the cat carrier down on the second tier range. This was always a tricky moment. Sometimes you let the cat out and it takes off for the far reaches of the cell block; other times there’s no issue.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Go,” said JT, as he positioned himself on the range to stop any attempt to flee.

I clicked open the front of the carrier, and the door swung wide. The cat didn’t come out. Crap, I thought. I really don’t want to have to reach in for it. I then gently tilted the carrier, and Bump came pouring out.

There on the range sat the largest cat I’d ever seen. Bump had to be at least 16 pounds! He had a white face, a brown chin, brown and white pastel mid-section, paws that were padded brown, and all white legs. All his white parts were caked with dirt and streaks of mud. His long hair was knotted and matted, and he had patches of fur missing on his head and hindquarters. No sooner had this registered did I catch a good whiff of him–pure pond puke.

I stared down at the cat, and Bump looked up at me. Despite his gruff appearance, there was tenderness in those eyes.

I reached down and ran a hand over him. I felt his body relax, and I was amazed at how solid he was. One giant, furry muscle.

“Aww,” I said, more to soothe Bump than for anything else.

I ran my fingers around his head and neck, walked and gently poked and prodded them down and across his mid-section. If the cat had any pain, this is when I’d discover it. I continued prodding down his hindquarters and stopped at the tip of his tail. About halfway down his tail he meowed, and I felt a swollen area. Poor thing, I thought. He definitely got it smashed somewhere.

I made a mental note for Ms. Campbell to let the vet tech know. I then picked him up, the final test of injury, and he didn’t make a sound.

“Well,” I said to JT, “he seems fine enough. His tail’s got a bump, but he should be fine.”

“Good. Let’s wash him. He stinks,” he said.

I hoisted Bump into the porter’s closet. There we had a tall, square, porcelain tub. It was deep; ideal for mop buckets and washing cats. I set Bump in the tub and eyed him cautiously. Bump just sad there looking up at me. Hmph, I thought. He doesn’t seem so mean after all.

JT started the water and found the right temperature. I put my hands around Bump and moved him under the faucet. The water flowed down his back and rivered away in dark flows of muddy dirt and grime. It looked like he hadn’t ever had a bath. To my dismay, I saw fleas fleeing to areas that weren’t wet yet.

JT worked the water into his fur and then squirted cat flea shampoo all over him. No sooner had he worked up a lather did I feel every muscle in Bump’s body tense.

“JT, hurry; I think he’s not liking this,” I said.

Bump cast a wild eye at me, and we made eye contact. Gone was the tenderness I saw seconds ago. His green eyes narrowed to slits.

“JT,” I said.

“I know, I know,” he said. His hands moved and lathered quicker now. Bubbles recklessly accumulated in the tub. JT had used so much flea shampoo that bubbles threatened to engulf Bump’s entire form!

Bump let out a grueling mewl. I felt his body contract ever more, pulling his form into a dense ball. Beneath my palms his muscles felt like stretched rubber bands about to fire.

I tightened my grip and tried to maintain a good hold.

“Murrr,” Bump growled.

“Almost there,” said JT. “You got him, right?”

I felt my hands slipping from all the soap.

“You got him, right?” JT said again.

“Murrr!”

“Dude I’m slipping!”

“MURRR!”

“Rinse!” I said. “JT, RINSE!”

But it was too late. Bump uncoiled from a singularity, exploded, kicking wildly in all directions. I felt the stabbing pain of rows of sharp, angry cat teeth in the back of my hand.

Bump began gator rolling—

-Oh shit, I thought. Shit, shit—

—and rolled again, loosening himself from my grip.

JT’s eyes flashed fear and Bump’s flashed maniacal glee. 16 pounds of soapy, pissed off cat dug forepaws and hind paws into his arms and chest. The beast scampered up JT’s body like he was a scratching post, found his shoulders, and went airborne.

JT screamed like a little girl.

Convict heads rippled across the cell block.

Someone pointed and laughed.

I watched as Bump landed with a squishing smack onto the range. The cat ran for the stairs, making quick work of the steps down to the ground floor before disappearing from sight.

“Shit,” I said.

We eventually located Bump. He’d made his way to the unit’s laundry room and was hiding behind a dryer. By the time we pried him from behind the machinery, he was covered in dust balls and dryer lint. I never realized how dirty the laundry room was until that day.

The rest of the weekend was uneventful with Bump. He hid under my bunk, only coming out to hit the litter box and scarf down his food whenever I fished out a can. Then it was back to hiding in his cave. I tried to coax him out, but he hissed and spat at me each time.

“Fine,” I said. “Stay under there then.”

Bump stared back with disdain.

Ms. Campbell arrived on the unit Monday morning, chipper as always. She was at my cell door knocking before I even realized she was there.

“How is he?” she asked.

“He’s fine,” I said. “He’s got a bump on his tail, probably got it smashed somewhere so you may want to let the vet tech know.” I had picked Bump up and offered him out to her.

“O-oh!” she squealed, “He looks so good cleaned up.” She took the animal from my hands and smelled him. “And he smells so good! Did you have any problem bathing him?”

I looked at Bump, and Bump looked at me. Bump meowed innocently as if on cue. Pfft! I thought.

“Nah,” I said. “No problem.”

Ms. Campbell set Bump in his carrier and gathered up his toys. She thanked me for taking care of him and getting him fixed up. She turned to leave, but stopped short.

“Oh, I heard it took both of you to wash one little kitty.” She gave me a playful gotcha smile. “I told you he was mean.”

“Just try not to run him over again,” I said.

And with that, she was off into the crowd.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane.

—Christopher

Groundhog Day

My day today started at 4:45am with the arrival of Kyzer, a German Shepherd I’m currently training. It’s foggy outside, real foggy. I now understand why they call this London, Ohio. It looks like I won’t be able to get any training outside this morning, as this place will count us over and over again until the fog vanishes, and even then they sometimes keep counting. The whole morning is shot.

I just remembered that today is a holiday. It’s no surprise, really, that I’d forget such a thing, as everyday here is like the previous one. Groundhog Day to the extreme. I’m not complaining, mind you; routine is a good thing in This World. Most of the time I pay no attention to the holidays, as I’ve long since stopped paying attention to time. But for what it’s worth, two of my favorite holidays are New Year’s and the Fourth of July. New Year’s because it’s a holiday of renewal and optimism, and partly because all kinds of crazy stuff usually happens here; the Fourth of July, because I grew up in a very patriotic family, and love of country was instilled in us kids at an early age. The 4th was always a special event. I miss the cookouts with family and the fun times…I wonder what the Fourth of July meal will be today?

I just got back from lunch; bland macaroni (no cheese), cold shredded cabbage with vinegar, an orange, and a processed chicken patty. I’m pretty sure the patty is all butts, innards, feet, and beaks. I once watched a special on how no part of a chicken is wasted, and how these parts become processed “patties”, or find their way into dog food…. Whatever happened to hotdogs and burgers?

The fog finally rolled away, and we were allowed movement. I tried training Kyzer, but he wasn’t having any of it. He lasted all of 10 minutes in the 92F heat. Damn the fog; a day wasted. I feel annoyed now.

I’m back on my bunk sweating my ass off. My clock reads 95F. Kyzer has gone for the day. I’m sitting in front of my 8″ fan, praying for relief. I think I’m gonna lay here for the rest of the afternoon and sweat. If I weren’t so hot I’d get up and go take a cold shower, but that involves standing in a long line in a hot and steamy bathroom. I’m gonna make a go at a cat nap first. Someone just told me that the guard is calling for me for some reason. What could he possibly want?

Wow. Someone just dropped off their dog for two weeks of boarding and left no instructions, other than to say they’ll be on vacation, the dog’s name is Jax, here’s some food, dog treats, and two weeks of prepaid boarding tickets (it’s how I get paid). When I asked the guard who dropped the dog off, he simply said, “I don’t know.” Well bud, do ya think you could find out? After some calling around, NO ONE seems to know whose dog this is. Someone must be dead serious about that vacation.

So, today is the Fourth of July. When I was a boy, my dad always took us kids to Washington, D.C. to the clock tower overlooking the Potomac and the mall to watch the fireworks. We lived in northern Virginia, and D.C. was just 20 minutes away. From our perch on the hill, we were close to the fireworks-VERY close, and you felt each explosion reverberate through your entire body. Each burst flash-lit the dark landscape. It was amazing, fun, and awe inspiring. When I grew older, I still went to see the fireworks, except now it was with friends and coworkers. I always staked out the same spots where Dad took us as kids. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to see the fireworks in D.C. again.

Earlier I was in the dayroom watching the world news. Two Muslim inmates were having an animated discussion amongst themselves, about how shameful it is to have a military parade today in our nation’s capital. What? I think it’s shameful that they take for granted that they can say it’s shameful to put on a parade. One of them, coincidentally, was a former cell mate of mine 17 years ago. Unbeknownst to him I had a brother in the Army pulling his first tour in Iraq, when one night after watching the news he turned to me and said, “American troops are terrorists and must die.” Needless to say, I instantly had a hands on understanding with him.

I’m looking out of my window and I can see fireworks. They’re part of the show that the city of London is putting on. Every year they put on a show, and this year is their best one yet. Man, they spent some money this time around. The economy must be good out there.

The show is over now, and it lifted my spirit. It made me remember how much I used to like this day. I hope I can sleep tonight in this heat, because tomorrow comes quickly. I need to be up at 4:30am to receive Kyzer again. Just another Groundhog Day, but I’m not complaining.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane.

—Christopher

Hotel California

I follow world affairs closely because it all fascinates me. Today was no exception. Earlier as I was watching the world news, Brexit was mentioned, which in a way was a surprise. American news networks seem more concerned with things like the weather or the latest Hollywood buzz than true substantive news. It’s a sad state of affairs here. Thank God for the BBC. So when they mention the news from overseas, I perk up. Brexit was worthy enough to make mention some 13 minutes into tonight’s broadcast. Sorry England, you guys didn’t even beat out the story of a puppy rescued from a storm drain. That bit of breaking news came within the first 10 minutes.

I feel bad for my readers across the pond. Brexit continues to paralyze the country, and there seems to be no end in sight. Ask every day Britons how they feel about Brexit, and the general answer is everyone wants it to be over with one way or another, and you know what? We Americans can relate. While we don’t have the same issues, we have our own political mess. You guys do know this, right?

European history isn’t one of my strongpoints, but I understand why the EU came into existence. Europe is unique, and such a union, it was reasoned, was in everyone’s best interest there. Uh-huh. When I think of how Brussels treated your leader Theresa May, and by extension the people of England, I can’t help but think of The Eagle’s song “Hotel California.” There’s a line in it that goes something like, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” To us outside the fish bowl looking in, EU membership looks suspiciously like being in a gang. It’s easy to get in, but go ahead and try to leave and see what happens.

Of course, I’m not serious here, just poking fun at a difficult situation. I’m all for free trade (or not), and I mean no harm to my British and European friends. When life becomes so serious that you can’t laugh at your situation, what’s the point? If we Americans didn’t do this when it came to politics here, we’d’ve all been set to pasture long ago. You do know who our president is, yes?

Which brings me to my next random thought. Sometimes I wonder what people around the world think of us Americans. When I was young I lived in Japan, and the Japanese were very kind to me. I say to them with the warmest heart: Arigato, gozaimasu. Nihon ni yonen imashita. Watakushi wa Tokyo ga daisuki desu. While I was there, I went to an international school, and all my foreign friends were kind to me, too. But it feels like things have changed since those times, and it saddens me.

I once heard a BBC broadcaster say that there’s a saying over there, and it is that Americans should never be the ones to pick the next President of the United States. Ouch. That one stings, but okay, I think we’ve earned it. In our defense, most Americans are so absorbed in their mindless day-to-day chase of the American dream that they are only vaguely aware that there is a world beyond Mexico and Canada (to my Mexican and Canadian friends, no matter what happens politically, you guys are tops in our book).

Which brings me to my readers in Central and South America. Contrary to what our president says, we Americans welcome you with warm and open arms. ¡Y los amo a todos! Whether you are from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, it does not matter. We are a nation of immigrants; it is what makes the United States the United States. We’re not a perfect nation, but we are a proud people.

Before I close, I have one last random thought. In all fairness to our president, it should be noted that he’s an outsider fighting The Swamp. He has been willing to push back whenever he has felt it necessary, regardless if you’re a friend or ally. To our enemies he has shown respect and warmth, and built relationships. I’d imagine that by the time he leaves office, some of our current allies will be enemies, who will then by default be our friends; it’s an amazing act of chess-like statecraft.

Oh, and to my Russian readers (when I have some), you guys have played your hand masterfully. Pat yourselves on the back. To everyone else I offer these final parting words: It’s not that serious guys, let’s not forget to smile!

“I Haven’t Killed Anyone Yet.”

I live in a world filled with men whose personal drug addictions have shaped their lives. Drug addictions are common here, and they span the entire spectrum of abuse.

Over the length of my incarceration, I’ve witnessed terrible addiction-related moments, and these events have helped shape my views and desire to prevent future generations from walking the path of incarceration.

It seems to me that alcoholism receives little attention in today’s opioid driven media reporting, yet alcohol is responsible for the majority of addiction deaths every year here in the U.S. Driving while intoxicated is the most visible outcome of alcoholism, but less visible is the toll alcoholism takes on one’s body. Thousands of people die every year from alcohol related complications.

My family is no stranger to the deadly effects of alcohol. Years ago, my step-brother Kelly was killed by a drunk driver. In Kelly’s case, the driver went to prison. His sentence: two years in minimum security. Two years for taking a child’s life. Worse, once the offender was released, he went on to repeat the same mistake.

For many years I became angry whenever meeting someone incarcerated for drinking and driving. It was worse if I’d learned they’d killed someone in the process. Being incarcerated with individuals who were convicted of similar acts was difficult to accept, and I often found myself in conflict with these individuals.

Of all the addictions and all the men I’ve talked to about their addictions, the DUI crowd is the least repentant. There’s something about alcohol that causes uncompromising denial. But what? What is it about alcohol that causes this? Is it because it’s legal? Is it because alcohol is socially acceptable? I don’t know, but I suspect that each of these points are probably part of the answer.

I had a conversation with a 28 year old fellow named Trevor who was on his sixth incarceration for DUI. Yes, his sixth. This time around he was serving 18 months. As far as Trevor was concerned, he was handed an injustice by the court. So far, Trevor has served eight years of his life in DUI sentences. We have a saying in This World to describe Trevor. We say Trevor is doing “life on the installment plan.” The only person who doesn’t realize this is the person on the plan.

What’s striking to me here is Trevor’s level of denial about his drinking problem. It’s a common theme I’ve encountered over and over again with the alcoholics. Some of the excuses I’ve heard over the years span, “I only had a couple of beers,” or, “I wasn’t drinking,” or, “I’ll be more careful next time driving,” and even, “I’m a better driver after a couple of beers.” What? However, the grandest, most insane excuse I’ve ever heard came from Trevor.

It was a warm summer evening. I was walking with him on the yard, and I had asked him about his sentence.

“How long,” I asked, “is your sentence?”

“Eighteen months,” he said.

“Wow, that seems like a long time for a DUI.”

“That’s what I told my attorney!” he said. “When he told me that the prosecutor was only offering 30 months for a plea deal I couldn’t believe it. I told him, ‘No way. You go back and tell the prosecutor no deal.’ That’s how I ended up with 18 months.”

“Wow, 30 months?” I asked. Something, I thought, didn’t sound right. 90% of the time the DUI guys get a slap on the wrist, six months at most. “That seems like a long time for your first DUI, don’t you think?”

“Hmm? No, it’s not my first. And yeah, it’s a friggin’ long time.”

“How many times have you been locked up for DUI?” I asked.

“Not many.”

“Three?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, no,” I said. “I’m just trying to understand why the prosecutor was trying to give you 30 months.”

“Man, I don’t know, because this is only my sixth time.”

“Oh,” I said, lamely. I couldn’t believe it was his sixth DUI sentence; that just blew me away. “But,” I said, “it is your sixth.”

“What?” he said indignantly. “What’s it matter if it’s my sixth or third? He still shouldn’t have given me 18 months.”

“Alright, I’m not judging you; don’t take it that way. I’m just trying to understand the courts logic, that’s all.”

“It’s not like I hurt someone,” he said.

I felt my heart pick up speed. I knew where he was going with this and I didn’t want to go down that road. Yet, my mouth kept going. It wouldn’t stop!

“Right,” I said. “But what if you did?”

“But I didn’t–”

“Right, but what if?”

“It doesn’t matter!”

“Well,” I said, “it sorta does.”

“How so?” he said. “You tell me how so”–his hand went out, stabbing at me an inch from my chest–“because what I do on my free time has nothing to do with anyone else. I’m not hurting anyone!”

I looked at the stabbing finger. I felt my teeth grind together.

I said: “Okay, I see your point. I get it. But, when we drink we aren’t at our sharpest, and–”

“Speak for yourself.”

“–driving is the poorest decision that–”

“I’ve been drinking since I was 12 and no one is going to tell me what I can and cannot do! Not the court, not this place, and certainly not you!” he said, finger stabbing inches from my face now.

“I’m not trying to tell you what to do,” I said. “But, what would you do if you had an accident and you hurt someone? Just think about it for a second.”

“I haven’t killed anyone yet!” he shouted at me.

I bit my tongue and tasted blood.

“I haven’t killed anyone yet!” he said again.

“You’re right,” I said. “You haven’t. But someday you might and it will be too late. You’ve got a problem, Trevor, and you need help.” I then turned and somehow walked away.

Prior to the conversation, Trevor had told me he already had to blow into a breathalyzer to start his car. It was a result of a previous DUI. Prior to that, he said he had been mandated to attend AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) twice a week at the local community center, and prior to that he told me he had ‘totaled’ most of the cars he’d ever owned while drinking and driving.

Trevor spent the remaining months of his sentence attending AA in the evenings. I thought that perhaps our conversation had spurred him to seek help. When I ran into him again, I asked him what made him want to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. Was it because of our conversation?

His answer? He had decided to attend AA so he could receive the good time credit toward early release. Plus, he had said, they always had coffee.

My experience with Trevor wasn’t unique. Most of the DUI guys I’ve talked to reacted similarly, though not nearly as aggressively as Trevor. Denial, denial, denial sums up most of these conversations and is representative of the type of thinking that’s involved with this crowd.

I’ve thought about the long current structure of addiction services within the institutional environment and wondered, What could be done better? I’ve concluded that the institutions simply aren’t the best equipped to help addicts. Yes, we have programs here designed to address addictions, but oftentimes participation is voluntary. A big fault that I see with these programs is that they all offer attendees a way to reduce their sentence by automatically adding “good days” every month toward early release. There is little accountability aside from program administrators requiring participants to attend classes and periodically participate during class sessions. As a result, most offenders view programming as a means to an end.

I would change this structure to remove automatic good days, and I’d introduce a standardized form that program administrators complete, detailing an individual’s class participation and understanding of session materials. These forms would be filed into the offender’s institutional file and made available to the court and the to offender’s attorney upon request. Early release consideration is then decided by the courts based on the detailed progress as revealed in program reporting. Change ‘automatic’ good days to ‘automatic pending court approval.’ This way program administrators are able to provide valuable input based on their observations, offer a meaningful way for the courts to hold an individual accountable, and to make informed decisions. This also gives offenders more incentive to take rehabilitative programming seriously, and when they do, there is a much higher chance of introspection and thus genuine change. Without introspection, there can be no rehabilitation.

AA is an excellent program, and time has borne that out. It’s sister program, NA (Narcotics Anonymous), is also an excellent program with a long and successful track record, and we have both programs here. What sets these programs apart from others is that offenders can begin attendance while incarcerated and continue once released, by attending any one of the AA and NA gatherings that take place everyday in this country. I think the solution to handling individuals with addictions is to immerse them in comprehensive addiction counseling, intensive inpatient (or outpatient) programs, and to marry this with oversight programs that hold an individual accountable to his recovery and sobriety.

Placing Trevor in prison over and over again serves no deterrent. It’s a terrible waste of public resources, and it serves no other purpose than to satisfy public thirst for punishment. Barring incidents where an individual is physically harmed due to the negligence of those gripped by addiction, incarceration should be the last resort.

For less than the amount it costs to incarcerate Trevor for six months, Trevor could spend three to four months in intensive community corrections based inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation programming. Not only would Trevor have a greater chance of realization and change, the courts would maintain meaningful oversight and accountability for an extended period of time. In addition, Trevor would be able to participate in community based projects that give back to the community while simultaneously attending rehabilitative counseling. Both efforts help to bring the individual to an inflection point, where one considers the consequences of his actions.

As a nation, we have a responsibility to meaningfully assist those gripped by addictions. It’s a win/win for everyone, and it’s the way to guide addicts back toward the path of recovery.