Scott S: Diary Entry
Tuesday, 11:01 pm
May 6, 2008
This morning I received my materials from the Anne Frank Center: a copy of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, a journal, some papers, and an envelope. Curious, I eagerly went through the paperwork, reading the instructions and sample excerpts, filling out the pre-program assessment. I had never heard of this organization before it had contacted me out of the blue one day, but I like the sound of this program, so I’m more than willing to participate. I think I’ll write in the journal during the times we’re locked down—that’s when I’ll have the privacy, peace, and quiet to write. I’ll read Anne Frank whenever I get spare moments throughout the day, such as when we’re waiting for them to call us down to the chow hall.
I work as a legal clerk at my prison’s law library, and today I got an unexpected day off. The librarian simply didn’t show up. Around here, we often don’t get any advance notice as to when we don’t need to show up. Today, for example, me, several of my coworker, and about a dozen other inmates showed up at the library at the proper time. We just stood outside the locked door, waiting, bored, looking stupid. After a 15-minute wait, a C.O. (Correctional Officer—the politically correct term for guard) came and told us that the librarian wasn’t coming in. I was disappointed because I needed to get some work done. This means the library will be closed for a 4-day period (nobody showed up on Sunday; the library is always closed on Monday; nobody showed up today; and the library will be closed tomorrow for some sort of librarian meeting). Sigh.
There was one nice thing about the library being closed: I was able to go outside tonight for recreation time. I’m an avid runner, and I ran 44 laps tonight (about 10 miles) in 1 hour, 34 minutes, and 6 seconds.
I watched an interesting biography about George H. W. Bush on PBS tonight. He doesn’t look so bad on second glance. I liked the part where Jim Baker said, “People used to ask me all the time after the first Gulf War why we didn’t go to Baghdad. Nobody asks me that anymore.”
Today was the Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. I’m an enthusiastic Obama supporter, so I was elated by his big win in North Carolina, but disappointed with what appears to be a narrow loss in Indiana. This indecisive split decision means this thing will probably linger on. I like hhow one political analyst described this Democratic primary: “It’s like a good movie that went on for too long.”
There was some good news today: an inmate predator transferred to another prison (more on that later).
Wednesday, 3:38 pm
May 7, 2008
The library was closed again today. This is bad timing because it has been a super busy time for us law clerks. You see, the Ohio Supreme Court recently made a landmark ruling, saying that ALL the robbery indictments in Ohio for the last couple decades have been constitutionally flawed. This decision could potentially impact thousands of inmates throughout Ohio, and the law library has been flooded with people who want to file petitions for post conviction relief. In fact, even though I didn’t have work today, I’ve been helping people with their petitions. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. Because this decision could really open the floodgates, the state is appealing it, and there’s a good chance the U.S. Supreme Court might review it. We’ll just have to wait to see.
This morning I went to the commissary, or the “store” as it’s called around here. The store sells the kind of stuff that a gas station store might sell. Food, such as potato chips, candy, and pop; tobacco products like cigarettes and rolling paper; and hygiene items like soap, toothpaste, and deodorant. That’s right: contrary to popular belief, inmates must buy their own hygiene—the state doesn’t provide it. Inmates can get money put into their accounts for two sources: money orders sent in from family or friends; or their institutional jobs. The average job around here pays about $17.00 a month (these wages haven’t increased in 20 years). In truth, most inmates get less than this, for the institution deducts all sort of stuff from the meager pay, such as child support, medical co-pays, court costs and fines, and so forth. One guy was late filing his appeal because of this policy. He only made $10.00 a month because of court costs and fines being deducted from his account, so after buying basic hygiene, he couldn’t afford t he $4.20 in postage required to mail his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, thus causing him to be untimely. Here’s the thing: inmates rarely get play from the courts anyway, but when they file untimely, the courts won’t even consider their filings—it’s called “procedural default.”
Anyway, I went to the store today, and the most exciting thing I bought was ingredients to make a pizza.
Thursday, 12:57 am
May 8, 2008
Since they didn’t have anything good for dinner at the chow hall tonight, I made a pizza with a friend of mine. His name is Matt; he works as a sergeant’s clerk; and he has a pile of computer books in his cell. I thought I knew a lot about computer, but he makes me look like a lightweight. It is common for people to cook together around here. For one, it allows people who don’t have much money to pool resources. Two it is sort of a social occasion. Even though I haven’t known Matt for a long time, he has already helped me out big time (more on that later).
I’m feeling a tad under the weather—I hope I don’t come down with something. For some reason I’ve been getting sick a log lately (perhaps stress?)
I started reading Anne Frank, and I’m loving it. In fact, I’m already on page 70-something. I’m totally engrossed.
Thursday, 10:11 pm
May 8, 2008
The library was opened back up today. We are losing two of the inmate workers from the regular library: one transferred out of the prison today, and another is leaving on Monday. This has created a vacuum in the regular library, and, as I feared, I was talked into helping in the regular library tonight, which was supposed to be my evening off. You see, before working in the law library, I worked in the regular library. The law library is a much better place to work than the regular library. For one, the inmates who come to the law library are serious—they come to get important work done; the inmates who come to the regular library, in contrast, treat it like recreation time—some just use it as an excuse to get out of the block. Also, I like being engaged with meaningful work: helping people with legal research fills me with a sense of purpose, whereas handing out newspapers (a job a trained monkey could do) doesn’t stimulate me intellectually. I was especially unhappy to have to work on my evening off tonight because I’m officially feeling under the weather. I hope I don’t get roped into doing this again.
I’m still captivated by Anne Frank. I’m already on page 170-something, and I feel as though I’ve been transported back to World War II. It’s amazing that someone so young could be so expressive, articulate, and thoughtful.
I got mail today! More specifically, I got a letter from the guy who is probably my best friend, an inmate who is at another prison. There wasn’t much going on with him, but that doesn’t matter: I’m starved for any intelligent conversation. Truly, mail time is the highlight of my day. My favorite time of the week is when I write and mail out letters on the weekend. I won’t do any letters this weekend, however, because postage rates have been raised, and I’m waiting for the new envelopes to come out.
Right now as I’m writing this I’m soaking my feet in soapy water, an activity I do about once a month. As an avid runner, I feel my feet need this extra attention.
Friday, 10:15 pm
May 9, 2008
Even though I wasn’t feeling well today, I went out and ran, but only for a little while. I worked both morning and afternoon today. I am pleased with how the day went because I accomplished something special. Let me explain. In the law library we have three computers connected to “West Law,” a legal website. These law computers can pull up almost any federal or state case, law, or rule of court. Often people will find a case they want to have a copy of. It’s the job of the law clerks to save these cases on the computer, and the librarian will later print them out. The cost is 5 cents per page, which can really add up when you have 40- or 50-page cases. To save money, we can condense the cases, either by shrinking the font size or narrowing the margins, or both. The problem is, the steps needed to do this can be a bit time consuming, and some people find the process confusing. Therefore, with the librarian’s permission, I set up a special button on the toolbar called condense. When an inmate presses this button, the computer will shrink the case, automatically and instantly. A 25-page case, for example, would shrink down to about 12 pages, thus saving an inmate about 65 cents, which can go a long way in prison—a bar of soap, for example.
In other law library news, I hear one of the other three law clerks is quitting. I wonder if she’ll hire a fourth worker, or if she’ll stay with a three-man crew. If she goes with the three-man crew, I’ve have to work more sessions each week.
I’m now on page 234 of Anne Frank. I’m absolutely engrossed by the friendship and romance developing between Anne and Peter.
I got a letter today from Jimmy, a friend and former co-worker of mine from Lebanon, the prison I was at before this one.
I’m getting real sleepy now, so I’ll write more tomorrow.
Saturday, 10:51 am
May 10, 2008
I got a good sleep last night—about 10 hours. Hopefully, this will help me get over this bug.
Now, I’ll turn back to some news from yesterday that I didn’t finish. But first, I should probably explain something that might be confusing to someone unfamiliar with the prison system. Many prison movies make it seem as though an inmate will be sent to one prison where he’ll spend his whole time. In Shawshank Redemption, for example, the lead character spent nearly 20 years in the same prison, in the very same cell. This is unheard of in real life. Inmates get shuffled around to different prisons for various reasons. For starters, prisons are divided into different security levels: minimum, medium, close, maximum, and super max. Initially an inmate is classified to a security level based upon his or her crime, but as time goes on, inmates can get their security status raised or lowered based upon their conduct in prison. The prison I’m currently in, Toledo Correctional, is a close-security prison. Remember the two library workers who just transferred to another prison? Well, they had stayed out of trouble for several years, so they got their security status lowered from close to medium.
Sunday, 12:46 am
May 11, 2008
As you may have noticed, I’ve switched from a black pen to a blue pen. The reason is simple. I foolishly lent my pen to someone at work today, and he never returned it. Sigh.
I’ve already finished Anne Frank because I couldn’t put it down. I was deeply touched, but it was so sad that such a senseless atrocity could be inflicted on somebody so insightful, thoughtful, sensitive, and talented. Her self-awareness is truly amazing, especially for someone her age. It’s hard to be so brutally honest about one’s self. Her diary has inspired me, and I hope to help educate the world about the plight of the prisoner in the same way she opened up people’s eyes through her diary.
I went to work this afternoon. After today, the library is going to be closed for the next five days! I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I love the law library, I love the work, and I will miss the access to the books and computers. On the other hand, I’ll enjoy the time off, I’ll get to sleep in, and I’ll have more time to do personal stuff, such as go outside and write in this journal.
In a way, I kind of hate the weekends. To begin with, I work on the weekends, so I don’t really feel like I’m getting a break. Even worse, we don’t get mail on Saturday or Sunday. As I said before, mail time is the highlight of my day usually, so the weekends lack this feature.
Well, it’s getting kind of late so I think I’ll turn in for the night. More tomorrow.
Sunday, 3:36 pm
May 11, 2008
Today is the first day of my five-day weekend, and I’m enjoying it so far. I slept in, watched some TV, and listened to my walkman. It hasn’t been all play, though; I’ve helped a couple people with their post convictions.
I’m still feeling a little bit under the weather, but I’m starting to get better. I think I’ll skip working out today.
I’m happy about all the time off because it will give me a chance to give serious attention to this journal. So far I feel like I’ve just been warming up.
Today is Mother’s Day. I didn’t call home, however, because I’ve recently had a major falling out with my family. I’m afraid this will take a little explanation.
You see, I’ve devoted my entire life to inmate advocacy. I’ve been shocked and angered by what I’ve learned about our judicial system, media, and prisons so I decided to do something about it. Since I believe the main problem is a lack of awareness among the public, I elected to improve my communication skills so that I could help educate them. That’s why I’ve taken numerous literature and writing classes, through correspondence during the time I’ve been locked up. Using these literary skills I acquired, I wrote a book. This book is part memoir, part expose of our judicial system, prisons, politicians, press and so forth. It took me four years to write, and it is 436 pages long. To help me write as effective a book as possible, I read 10 prison memoirs to get pointers. Most of the chapters were sixth or seventh draft material, and I had to write the whole thing in secret for the administration wouldn’t want some of this information getting out. In fact, in one prison memoir I read, that of a Boston politician who went to a minimum-security camp, the author said his prison forbid inmates from even keeping daily journals. The point is I poured my heart and soul into this book, and it’s basically my life’s work.
You might ask, “What does your book have to do with your family?” Well, after I finished by book, spending an entire month retyping the entire thing, I mailed my only final complete copies home to my family. I was expecting that they would act an an intermediary between me and literary agents. I was hoping they would send out letters (letters that I had already written) to literary agents I had found in Writer’s Market, one at a time, until I heard a favorable response. Then, they could mail out a copy of my manuscript to that agent. This is what I had planned out, but my family outright refused to help me publish it, saying they were afraid of the attention it would stir. Outraged, I cut off ties with my family, even removing my mother from my visit list. As I said before, this book is my life’s work, and I felt betrayed by their refusal to help. As you could imagine, this setback put me into a bit of depression.
There is some hope though. Remember when I said my friend in this block, the sergeant’s clerk, did me a big favor? Well, he has agreed to help me publish the book, using his secretary as a liaison. In fact, I’ve already remade my agent letters and sent them to his secretary. She has already mailed out one of those letters, and we’re anxiously awaiting a reply. I’m not out of the woods yet though. The trick will be getting a copy of my manuscript from my family to Matt’s secretary. I’m working on it though. I feel like how Jimmy Carter must have felt like, trying to free the hostages from the Iranian embassy.
Monday, 1:39 am
May 12, 2008
I took a late evening nap, so I’ll probably be up all night. It’s a bad habit, but I just love the night lockdown because it’s peaceful and quiet, and I don’t have to deal with the idiots. In fact, it might sound crazy but sometimes I’m actually disappointed when they pop open the doors.
I think I should take this time to describe my family in more detail. First of all, my parents divorced when I was just 6 months old, and my father was an absentee and deadbeat dad for most of my childhood. In reality, his absence was a good thing because he is a complete piece of trash. I haven’t spoken with him for nearly a decade, and I don’t plan on having any more contact with him for the rest of my life, so I don’t really consider him part of my family.
For 18 years I was an only child. The, my mother had two more kids with my stepfather, my half-sister and half-brother (I call him my “stepfather” for simplicity’s sake, but technically it’s a misnomer since he and my mother were never married). My mother and stepfather have had an on-again, off-again relationship, and they’re currently separated. Because of the huge age difference between me and my siblings, I’ve always been more like a father-figure to them than an older brother, especially to my little sister. When I was out there, my little sister would follow me around like Mary’s little lamb, and I adored her too. We still remain close despite the length of time I’ve been locked up (I’m in the tenth year of my sentence). Unfortunately, I’m not as close with my little brother, partly because he was so young when I got locked up—he hadn’t even turned one yet.
There is one other member of my family I should mention: my grandmother. She is really the head of my family. I just know that she was the one who decided not to publish my manuscript, and my mother just gutlessly fell in line behind her.
Oh, there is one more member of my family I forgot about: my cat. I named him Gato, which is Spanish for cat, and he is a fluffy white Persian with green eyes. He has now become my sister’s cat, attaching himself to her.
The worst thing about this falling out with my family is that it has decreased my contact with my little brother and sister. I still try to call and write them once a week.
I’m hoping that my stepfather will send a copy of my manuscript to my friend Matt’s secretary. If he fails, then I’ll have to rely on my baby sister, who is only 12.
Let me switch subjects now. I realize that many people are grossly uninformed about prison life, yet I’ve been horribly negligent in describing prison. So, here goes: I’m currently incarcerated in the Toledo Correctional Institution, an approximately 1,000-person close-security facility located in Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is a fairly decent institution, as far as prisons go. It is less than 10 years old, so it’s a pretty modern and clean place. The best thing about Toledo is that’s it’s all single-man cells—only 4 of the 32 or 33 prisons in Ohio are all single-celled. The prison is divided into 4 cell blocks, which are further divided into pods of 48 cells. Each pod contains a microwave, ice machine, washers and dryers, showers, and some exercise equipment. In addition to the cell blocks, the prison contains a chapel, library, infirmary, chow hall, yard, gym, and school. Basically prison is like a mini indoor village that’s under martial law.
Unlike most prisons that are located in the middle of nowhere, Toledo Correctional is actually in the city. It is, however, located in an out-of-the-way part of the city, surrounded by low-income housing, an industrial district, and unused land. Outside my window is an empty field that is frequented by deer, coyotes, and hawks. For a suburban guy like myself, this is an extraordinary sight. One guy called the view out his window his “nature channel.”
There is some wildlife in the block also, and I’m not referring to the inmates. Two of the guys in my pod are part of the dog program, which means they get to keep and train dogs in their cells. Even though I’m a cat man, I love having dogs in the block. Everyone loves them, and they bring joy and entertainment to the inmates.
Well, I better wind it down for tonight: it’s almost 4:00 am. I can tell that I’m going to get off-schedule during my time off from work.
Monday, 3:47 pm
May 12, 2008
On my second day of my vacation, I slept in late, till 11:30 am. We had a fairly good lunch today: tacos! The only one problem was they gave us ketchup instead of taco sauce. Still, I was pleased.
I’ve been helping more people with their post-convictions today.
I got two letters in the mail today, one from an inmate friend, one from my uncle. I didn’t mention him before because he’s not really been a major factor in my life. I’ve increased my contact with him
The other letter I got was from a friend of mine at the Lebanon Correctional Institution. At this point, I should probably explain something. I haven’t always been here at Toledo Correctional; in fact, I only came here recently. I’ve been locked up for over 9 years and almost 8 of those years I spent at Lebanon, which is an approximately 2,000-person, close-security facility located in Southeastern Ohio, in the middle of nowhere, in between Dayton and Cincinnati. Unlike Toledo, Lebanon was two-man cells, except for the merit block. Inmates at Lebanon who stayed out of trouble were rewarded with the chance to move over to the merit block, which was all single cell. I had been in the Lebanon merit block for about 6 years before leaving. Although the merit block offered more privileges than other blocks, the main benefit of the merit block was that you got to live with a better group of inmates. The guy who I got a letter from today was from the Lebanon merit block.
The main problem with Lebanon was overcrowding: when I left there, it was approximately 200 percent capacity. Still, I like Lebanon because I had found my niche.
Tuesday, 9:59 am
May 13, 2008
Yesterday I got interrupted in midsentence to go chow, and I haven’t had a chance to write more since then. Last night I went out and ran over 40 laps in just over 1 ½ hours, and I was pretty tired. This morning I woke up early so I could go to commissary. I was glad to see they had the new envelopes with the correct postage, so I’m going to go on a letter-writing binge in the next day or two. I also bought seven containers of fruit juice—I try to drink one a day. The most exciting thing I got was pizza ingredients.
Today is exactly the six-month anniversary of when I came here to Toledo. That reminds me: let me pick up where I left off yesterday. Even though Lebanon had its bad points, I had settled in there. I had worked my way up to the job that was perfect for me: I was the senior worker in the regular library, and I served as the “computer guy” there. Also, I was comfortable in the merit block. I decided to leave Lebanon when it started to go downhill—more specifically when they announced that they were going to double up the merit block (go from single-man cells to double-man cells). You see, Ohio is in the middle of an economic crisis, and its prison system is severely overcrowded. Ohio prisons were designed to hold about 37,000 people, but they now hold over 50,000. I decided to come to Toledo because it’s all single-cell, and rumor has it that they can’t double up Toledo because the prison’s contract says it must remain single cell.
How was I able to get a transfer, you may ask. Well, I was able to get it through what’s called a “hardship transfer.” You see, my family lives in Cleveland, which is in Northeastern Ohio, but Lebanon was in Southwestern Ohio, a four-hour drive from Cleveland. Since this long drive was a hardship for my family, they allowed me to transfer to Toledo, which is only a two-hour drive. I would be getting more visits now, but I ironically had that falling out with my family right around the time I transferred. Sigh.
Starting over at a new prison isn’t fun—it’s not the equivalent of transferring from Ohio State to Kent. You have to learn a new set of rules and routines and, more importantly, you have to learn who’s decent and who’s not. I especially have to watch out for predators because I’m the type they prey on. I’m slender, white, mild-mannered, and youngish (I recently turned 30). It took me six months, but I finally feel I’m starting to settle in here.
Tuesday, 4:52 pm
May 13, 2008
I went out to rec this afternoon, but I didn’t run—I never run two days in a row. Instead, I walked the track and periodically stopped to do sets of squats, lunges, crunches, and so forth. It was nice and sunny out but kind of cool—one of those days where you can’t quite decide whether or not you should wear a hat.
I guess I should take a moment to briefly describe the yard. Okay, the yard is basically an enclosed outdoor recreation area. The prison makes up one side of the yard, the fence encloses the rest. Our yard contains a couple basketball courts, handball courts, a “track,” and a softball field. The track is little more than a narrow dirt path that is just under a quarter mile long. After a strong rain, the track becomes an impassable mud puddle, but even in the good weather I often have to run “off road” just to pass walking inmates because the track is so narrow. Plus, the softball field lies inside the track, which means I often have to dodge and fetch stray balls. Still, despite the small size and problems with the yard, I take advantage of any opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise.
I can say one favorable thing about the yard: recently, the softball field has been overrun with dandelions, some of them in that yellow flowery stage, others in the white polleny stage. Even though the dandelion is supposed to be a common flower, akin to the weed, I think the field looks almost scenic, with that sea of green peppered with yellow and white. After recreation, I came in, showered, and helped yet another guy with his robbery post-conviction. This evening I skipped dinner at the chow hall (they were having some garbage called jumpin jumbalaya) and made a pizza with Matt, my friend who is helping me with my manuscript.
I didn’t get any letters in the mail today, but I did get my Playboy in, which can be just as good as a letter. There wasn’t too much exciting in this edition though. I’m now going to pass the magazine around the pod because a lot of the guys are pestering me to see it. The same thing happens when I get in my inmate advocacy periodicals, such as Prison Legal News.
I can say that I’m now almost completely over that small bug I was suffering from.
Tonight was the primary in West Virginia, and I was disappointed in the results. Hillary won big. Being an idealist and activist, I believe in Progress and Obama represents this to me more so than any other candidate. I believe the United States is out of touch with the rest of the developed world in many important areas, such as health care, sexuality, and criminal justice. I’ve devoted my life to, believe in, and hope for change.
Oh, I saw my one co-worker cutting hair today, so it’s true that he switched jobs. That means we’re now down to three law clerks, and I’m the least experienced of them all. I have been working at the law library for only two months. When I first arrived at Toledo, they stuck me in the kitchen, as they do with all new guys. Besides getting to eat more, there is nothing good about working at the kitchen: it’s probably the worst job in here. It’s hard menial labor, and you have to deal with idiots pressuring you to give them extra food, even though you’re not supposed to. Fortunately, I only had to work in the kitchen for a month before getting a job in the regular library, thanks to a good recommendation from the Lebanon librarian. The regular library at Toledo was kind of crappy compared to the one at Lebanon, so I switched over to the law library. I’m not completely devoid of legal qualifications though. A few years ago I took a paralegal correspondence course, and I was trained how to use the law computers at Lebanon. Still, I’m a novice at the law, and I’m busy studying and increasing my skills. I especially need to work on building my real world experience. Fortunately, I have a good arrangement with my fellow law clerks. They will review and critique my work, and I will help them with typing every now and then (I’m one of the only guys in the pod with a typewriter). Oh, here’s a funny thing: of the approximately 20 pods in Toledo, this pod has all three of the prison’s legal clerks. So, I’m slowly building my legal skills, and helping people in the process.
Wednesday, 4:33 pm
May 14, 2008,
Wow, I can’t believe I’m already halfway through this journal. I must say that this has been an enjoyable experience so far. I hope you will find this journal interesting and informative.
I slept in this morning, getting ten hours of sleep. Remember how I said getting mail was my favorite part of the day? Well, writing letters is probably my favorite part of the week. Since I have the new envelopes now, I started writing letters today. I already wrote to my best friend Dewey, who I used to work with at the Lebanon library. He is now at a medium security facility.
I got a letter from my grandmother today. This letter angered me because she spent most of the letter rehashing why she wouldn’t help me with the manuscript, reopening old wounds. Also, I don’t like her mentioning my manuscript in the mail, which is screened.
I came across an interesting factoid in the most recent edition of Playboy (yes, I look at the articles too). According to page 26 of the June 2008 Playboy, “there are 2,387 juveniles in the U.S. serving life sentences with no parole. In Israel, the only other country that sentences juveniles to life terms, there are 7.”
Wednesday, 10:28 pm
May 14, 2008
They had a good dinner tonight: meatball subs.
This evening I worked out in the block. You see, in the middle of the pod is a piece of exercise equipment, which you can do pull-ups, dips, and sit-ups on.
This break from work has allowed me to organize my cell a bit. I’m a clean person, but I’m an untidy person. Partly because I stay busy, I neglect cell maintenance. It’s not totally my fault though: the cells here at Toledo don’t offer much place to put stuff, unlike Lebanon. You know, I just realized I’ve neglected to describe the place I spend most of my time: my cell.
My cell is about 6 feet by 10, and it contains a toilet, sink, and bed. Built into the underside of the bed is a 2.4 foot long drawer where we’re supposed to store all our stuff. All our property, with a few exceptions, is supposed to be able to fit in this drawer, and we must get rid of any excess property. Since it’s inconvenient trying to keep all my stuff in this drawer, like trying to live out of a suitcase, I store some of my property other places, such as my “table” and “chair.” Two metal slabs that project out of the wall are supposed to serve as a table and chair, but since I’m hard-pressed for storage space, I keep stuff on them and just sit on the bed as I’m doing now. Contrary to popular belief, my door is not made of bars. The doors here are solid metal slabs with a rectangular window pane in the middle (the phrase “behind bars” is an antiquated misnomer with most semi-modern prisons). The cell’s windows are two long, thin, parallel rectangular slots that look like the number 11. My cell also contains a mirror, a small garbage can, a light, two vents, and a slab projecting from the wall where we’re supposed to store our TVs. My TV, which is almost a decade old, is somewhat of a rarity: it’s all black. Years ago they stopped selling TVs that didn’t have clear, see-through casings. The most valuable item in my cell, however, is my typewriter. I have done several correspondence courses, a book, countless letters, and much more on this typewriter. This typewriter has 15 pages worth of memory, which is helpful for doing multiple drafts of something. I dread the day my typewriter dies, for they no longer permit memory typewriters.
I called home tonight and spoke to my little brother and sister. My sister had run that race, and I wanted to see how she had done, to provide encouragement. Also, I wanted to check to see if there had been any progress on the manuscript front—there hadn’t been. I’m beginning to get nervous and frustrated. I won’t be happy until a copy of that manuscript finds its way safely into the hands of my friend’s secretary. Sigh.
I wrote four guys today, all of them guys I knew at Lebanon, three of them former or current Lebanon library workers. I sort of “cheat” when I write letters; that is, since my typewriter has memory, instead of rehashing the same news about myself over and over, I’ll type it into the typewriter once and print it out many times. I’ll personalize the rest of the letter, though, based on the person’s last letter to me.
Let me share a story my former Lebanon co-worker told me about, a story about something that happened at the library after I left. First, I should explain something about the Lebanon library: we had a small, ancient network of six computers. These computers are 12 years old; they use Windows 3.1; and our database runs on Access 2.0. While other areas in the prison would periodically get new equipment, the library never got an upgrade in 12 years. In fact, some departments got computers they didn’t ask for, and the prison threw out computers that were newer than the ones we were using.
Anyway, the guy who took over the role of “computer guy” after I left wanted to work on upgrading the equipment. His intentions were good, but he didn’t really know what he was doing. During his “renovations” he found a wire which he didn’t know what it was for, so he convinced the librarian to call in the electrician to have a look at it. (This was his mistake: in prison you just go ahead and take care of what needs to get done, leaving the staff out of it.) When the electrician got there and saw the computers, he absolutely flipped out, saying “This isn’t Windows XP”—apparently there’s some rule that all computers must be Windows XP or else it’s a security risk. The thing is, those dinosaur computers couldn’t run Windows XP any more than a 1920’s Model T car could use a modern car’s engine. So, it was basically a Catch-22: the administration was punishing us for not having something that they failed to provide us.
Anyhow, after the electrician “discovered” the computer system that had been there for 12 years, he called the Captain’s office. Within 10 minutes the captain, the deputy warden, the warden, and a boat-load of C.O.’s were swarming around the library. Unfortunately, the administration didn’t seem to know what we had there, like a server. When the librarian tried to explain that this system had been in place since at least 1996, the electrician responded, “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve never seen all these wires, taped down with duct tape and shit.” In the end the administration confiscated all the computers and threw the one worker, the guy who took my place, in the hole for investigation. The problem is, the staff fears what they don’t understand. They suspected the inmate workers were up to something fishy even though it was a worker who brought a potential problem to their attention in the first place. The remaining workers had to start checking in and out books with paper and pencil, using a system they devised overnight.
In his most recent letter to me, my co-worker told me that, after about a month, the administration finally figured out that nothing illicit was going on, so they gave back the computers and let the one worker out of the hole. They haven’t given back the cables yet, so the workers have to use the computers as stand-alones: there’s no networking ability.
Thursday, 1:16 pm
May 15, 2008
As you notice with the black ink, I bought a new pen when I went to the store the other day.
Today is the final day of my five-day weekend—time flies.
I’m still touched by Anne Frank. You know, reading and writing are amazing, if you think about it. They can bring back to life somebody who has been dead for over 60 years. I might have to reread Anne Frank sometime.
I think I’ll write another letter now . . .
Thursday, 9:32 pm
May 15, 2008
I went out and ran tonight: I did 45 laps in 1 hour, 37 minute and 32 seconds. There is another runner who goes out and runs about 20 laps at the beginning of the rec period, and I speed up to try to keep pace with him; that’s why I averaged exactly 2 minutes per lap over the first 22 laps, but 2 minutes 20 seconds over the last 23. So, that’s another one of my character flaws: I’m competitive.
After rec, I came in, made myself a pizza, and jumped in the shower. I don’t think I’ve described the showers yet, so I think I’ll do that real fast. You see, our pods are divided into two ranges (or floors), and there is a shower area on each range. Unfortunately, there aren’t individual stalls; rather, the shower area is one large room with three shower heads. There are four-foot dividers between each shower head, but they don’t afford much privacy. In nearly 10 years of doing time, I’ve never grown completely comfortable with showering with other men. Part of my hesitance has to do with the number of predators around here. Back at Lebanon, for example, one nasty little guy actually masturbated in the shower next to me (and at Lebanon there weren’t even any dividers). To this day, I don’t shower completely naked—I wear shower shorts.
On a brighter note, John Edwards endorsed Barack Obama! You know, I wouldn’t mind seeing an Obama/Edwards ticket.
Guess what: there is a new puppy in the block! He’s an adorable, little, yellow frolicsome thing.
I cleaned and organized my cell today, and it’s looking fairly presentable. The one place that isn’t clean is the inside of my toilet, but that’s not my fault. I asked the block C.O. for the toilet brush, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. You see, they don’t even keep the toilet brush in the block—they keep it hidden outside the pod, and then don’t tell anyone it’s there. I bet most people don’t even know we have one. One time a sergeant chewed me out for the inside of my toilet being dirty. When I complained to him about not having a toilet brush (I didn’t know back then we even had one), he told me that I should stick my hand in the toilet and clean it out with a rag (I don’t think he even knew we had a toilet brush). Now, maybe I’m fussy, but I think sticking your hand in a toilet is kind of unsanitary, especially one that a dozen different people could have used before you. This is one of the frustrations of prison life: doing simple things, like cleaning your toilet, can be a major hassle.
As I mentioned before, there is a major budget crisis in Ohio right now. For this reason, the governor announced massive layoffs throughout all the state agencies, including the prison system. We’re expecting to lose 20 to 30 staff members in the near future. I have mixed feelings about this: on the one hand, I see a lot of staff just hanging around doing nothing; on the other hand, this mass firing might make things even slower and more inefficient around here.
Friday, 10:57 am
May 16, 2008
Well, my five-day weekend is over, and I finally returned to work this morning. I enjoy my job, though, and I sort of missed going in on my time off.
You know, I just realized I never described my workplace, so I should go ahead and do that real fast. The library is divided into two parts: the regular library and the law library. Lining the walls of the law library are bookcases filled with big, dusty law books. We also have three law computers, five typewriters, and several tables with chairs. By the door to the law library is a desk, where we workers sit. Behind this desk is a bookcase of frequently used books and forms. To look at one of these, an inmate has to give us his I.D. (inmates have to wear a photo I.D. attached to their shirt whenever they leave the pod).
Friday, 3:53 pm
May 16, 2008
No mail today. It especially sucks not to get mail on Friday because the next chance for mail won’t be until Monday. Sigh.
Remember my one friend I told you about, the Lebanon library worker who wrote me to tell me about the institution confiscating the computers? Well, I ran into his former cellie (cellmate) today. He’s actually in my pod. I didn’t know who he was until we started talking at chow today. Actually, we might be interested in swapping cells. I am on the first range on the side that looks out on the deer; he is one the second range, on the opposite side. He wants to see the deer, and I want to be on the second range. I don’t like the first range because it’s on the ground floor, meaning there are a lot of people and activity outside my door. Being on the second range would help minimize the traffic and noise. For a pod of only 48 people, it can get loud in here. Whenever I sleep during the daytime, I wear earplugs to try to muffle the sound of inmates arguing, C.O.’s yelling, and dogs barking.
Friday, 11:02 pm
May 16, 2008
Because I didn’t get much sleep last night, I took a three-hour nap this evening, meaning I’ll probably be up late again tonight. I knew I’d get off schedule.
One of the biggest problems in this particular prison is idleness. Although all inmates technically have a “job,” these are jobs in name only. The most common job in this prison is probably a “porter,” which is sort of like a janitor. Most of these jobs require about 10 minutes of work a day, if that. For example, one guy I knew was responsible for sweeping the pod’s stairs each night, and he didn’t even have to do that sometimes. There are two problems with this idleness. One, people fill this void with unwholesome activities, such as gambling, gossip, and other frivolity. Two, people aren’t learning work skills that will help them find and keep jobs. A full half of my pod is listed as being block porters. I’ve heard that 75 percent of the guys in the pod next door are porters. As I’ve said before, prison is not the resort you see it portrayed as on some news shows, nor is it really the hellhole you see Hollywood portray it as; rather, prison is more like a warehouse, where humans are just stored for years or decades on end.
I just watched McLaughlin Group. I watch a lot of news programs and political shows, such as Meet the Press, Washington Week, and The News Hour. I do watch some lighter stuff too, like Simpsons, Seinfield, and Family Guy. There are certain types of shows, however, I wouldn’t watch if you paid me: sleazy talk shows like Steve Wilkos, celebrity gossip programs like TMZ; and sensational crime and cop shows like 48 Hours or America’s Most Wanted.
Truly, it seems as though I’m just starting to recover from a rough period in my life. A lot of things seemed to happen to me all at once: learning that I may have thrown away four years of my life on my book; the subsequent falling out with my family; having to adjust to a new prison; and working crappy jobs, like the kitchen. This was a point in my life where I was real demoralized and depressed. I’m finally starting to get back on track though. But as I said before, I won’t feel completely at ease until my book is safely out of the clutches of my family.
Another problem I’ve had to deal with lately has been the collapse of my social support network. Besides the falling out with my family, transferring to Toledo separated me from all my Lebanon friends. It took me years to ferret out the decent guys down there. Now I have to start all over, getting to know new people. I’ve made some new friends, but nobody I’m super close to, as of yet. In the nearly decade I’ve been locked up, I would say I’ve only bonded with a handful of people. To be sure, I don’t fit in here. It might be oversimplifying things a bit, but I would divide the prison population into two groups: the career criminal and the one-time situational offender. It’s hard to find people who share my beliefs and values, so I consequently stay to myself a lot. Fo