I sit here today as a free man. But, I guess the irony of the Universe wasn’t done with me, because I now have Chronic Neurological Lyme disease. Yep, I am married, I have two kids, I HAD a great job as a construction foreman and I was strong, healthy, and happy. I was the one who didn’t go back, I had moved on, life was good.
They say I have had Lyme disease for many years. Nobody can say when I got it. About 50% of those infected with Lyme never remember being bit by a tick, and never develop the tell-tale bulls eye rash. Most will be sick, with aches and fever. It’s common to think it’s flu, and eventually “recover”. But, for some, the Lyme bacteria has gone into hiding, waiting for a time when then immune system is compromised either from physical or mental stress of some sort, and then it comes back with a vengeance.
Where did I catch my Lyme disease? Nobody knows. I might have got it where I grew up, on the Guadalupe River. Or – I might have gotten it while in prison. I think of this often. I remember getting really sick once while incarcerated, and it was a weird sick. Nobody else had it, and I was bad with fever and aches. Medical care in prison is a joke, I think I got some aspirin and I stayed in my bunk and rode it out. And eventually I recovered and didn’t think more of it.
Now I think of that a lot. Is Lyme disease being caught in prisons? Prisoners often work with crops and livestock. And there are rodents all over prisons. I worked in the kitchen and they are everywhere. The common mouse is the biggest carrier of ticks there is. Not most people know that.
Today I heard about this new show coming up and it looks kinda interesting. It’s on A&E and it’s seven individuals who volunteer to actually go to a county jail for two months. This is what A&E says about it: “Sheriff Jamey Noel has devised an unprecedented program to root out crime and corruption in the Clark County Jail. His plan is to send seven civilian volunteers into jail as undercover inmates. The participants all have unique motivations for joining the program, and have been given cover stories, training on the rules of inmate culture, and instructions on how to stay safe. Now they just have to convince the inmates and the officers that they are real inmates.”
Now, I haven’t watched an episode yet so I don’t know how they cover up the fact that it’s being filmed. That is my main complaint about so-called reality shows. There is a FREAKIN CAMERA MAN and lights and all this equipment in the room with you, how can it be “reality”? I wouldn’t be acting natural under those circumstances.
So, if they really make it seem like it’s undercover, then maybe this can be a real reality show. I am gonna check out an episode or two. Might be boring. Might be OK. I like that it’s the idea of the Sheriff in charge of that jail, and that they will use the money they got from it to improve the jail. Having been in jail and in prison, I can say these folks who volunteer are choosing to do something for a couple months that is not comfortable or cool. More power to them.
I was reflecting on some of the site regulars, and how in general they were mothers, wives and girlfriends. There are some fathers, and siblings, and a few children of those incarcerated. And there are comments from those who have done time, or worked in corrections, and folks with addiction problems. But most of who visits here are the women left behind – the mothers, wives and girlfriends.
When I got locked up I had a lot of emotions to deal with. I was angry, first and foremost. And I had some fear, naturally. I also had a lot of guilt and shame, especially at that first visit when my mother came to see me in County. I felt so shitty. Like a real turd, that is all there is to it. And I was also very damn glad to see her. A lifeline! Thrown to me in the very dark hole I was residing in.
I think I can speak for the majority of the incarcerated when I say having your mother, your wife, or your girlfriend stick by you while you do time is very appreciated. And probably not acknowledged as much as it should be. When you go down you find out pretty fast that most of your so-called friends are nowhere to be found. Even a lot of family becomes scarce. Face it, it’s not that fun to visit someone in prison, the whole experience is crappy. And writing letters to someone who basically has NO news to share with you and nothing going on is not very gratifying either. Sending funds to someone because they are a dumbass and got locked up doesn’t usually feel like a good use of money but boy is it appreciated.
I am pretty sure when I went to prison my mother was about as nervous and scared about what I was going to face there as I was. In fact, I guess she might have been more scared and nervous. Yeah, I think she was. I knew I could handle it, one way or the other, but for her it was probably agony. I was lucky that some guys told me the real rundown of what to expect and I was sure to tell her as much as I knew, so she kind of knew what was going to happen. And, I had one of my cell mates all set to call her when they picked me up so she would know I was on my way without waiting for her to find out randomly.
The main question we receive here is “my son/husband/boyfriend just transferred from County to TDC. How do I know he’s OK? How do I find him?” I hear the fear in those questions every time I read them. I know they are looking into the unknown and expecting it to be pretty bad, all the way around.
Here’s another thing that doesn’t get said much. Your parent is left on the outside to explain to family, friends, and everyone else where you are. Why you are there. They can choose to cover it up or just own it, but either way folks judge. My mother told me that right when I went away, a lot of her coworkers in her age-group had children who were graduating college and starting their careers, and how she chose to just stay quiet because bragging on your son’s newest prison tattoo just isn’t so cool.
I’ve noticed that some of the mothers who are regulars here have gotten the prison lingo down pretty well. Catching chain, making commissary, short way – these are all terms that a mother shouldn’t need to be knowing. That’s just messed up. But it is a fact.
I’m sorry Ma, i wish I could undo that part of things. I don’t regret much in life, definitely don’t regret that I did time. It’s part of who I am. But I wish I hadn’t had to take you down with me. And I appreciate that you went through that went me. I really do. Thanks for doing the time with me. It made it a little easier to know you were there.
As a person who has been incarcerated and spent a couple years in TDC, I have an automatic mark against me. I am a felon. Everything from being disqualified for enlisting in the military or for benefits like food stamps or public assistance in housing are denied a felon living in Texas. I have worked hard and I don’t feel it is necessarily holding me back today, but it most definitely has an affect on me and my family in some form or fashion. There are plenty of jobs and positions I cannot even consider due to this label of felon. It doesn’t do any good to complain or feel like I got the short end. After all, it’s pretty much my own actions and choices that landed me in that position. I would never play the “it’s not fair” card anyway, because life isn’t fair. And, in this case, it’s just the way the law reads so it’s the consequences of my actions and nothing to do with fairness. The only thing I can do is to keep doing the next right thing. I just need to keep working hard, keep providing the best I can for my wife and children, and keep trusting that with time I will erase as best I can any stigma that being a felon holds. I figure if I keep up the way I am going, there should come a day that nobody really gives a rat’s ass that I once made some stupid mistakes.
The main thing I try to remember is how sweet my freedom is, and how I would really hate to lose any of it at this time in my life. I wish I had a bottle of the pure awesome feeling I had the day I walked out those TDC doors. It is something you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t been locked up and stripped bare of all their rights and freedoms. And it’s something a lot of us felons do start to forget. Life gets easy, or life gets hard, or life gets boring – whatever – just something makes us start to lose our gratefulness and let’s a seed of bad thinking into our head. That’s the danger. It’s important that every one of us who did some time and now walks free never allows themselves to forget. Don’t forget those shitty days and nights stuck in a shitty, overcrowded, stinking, loud, and dirty hell called TDC. Don’t forget being mentally and physically challenged in ways that made you a little more afraid than you would like to admit. Don’t forget how achingly lonely you could be, wishing to hear just a word from someone you left behind at home. Don’t forget.
Having said that, it is my opinion that it’s time for some changes in the way we treat those arrested for drug charges. Not dealing, but personal possession. There are far too many folks just like myself that have a felony record because they messed around with drugs and got caught. I have a guess there is an equal number of people who messed around with the same drugs but didn’t get caught.
Once a person convicted of a drug crime gets home, they might already have other factors working against them like no family support or living arrangements that are unstable and somehow they just never get it together after that first stint doing time. They end up being part of the recidivism revolving door. I don’t have the answers. I don’t think it’s as simple as just shipping every one off to rehab because I personally went to rehab a bunch of times, and I can’t say it got me straight. But the fact that the US has the absolute highest percent of incarcerated individuals tells you something. Our system needs a major over-haul. Maybe the fact that Obama himself visited a federal prison a few months back is a good sign. It’s the first time any acting president has done so. Here’s to a good year in 2016, folks. If you have a loved one who is incarcerated, keep the faith. If you were once incarcerated yourself, don’t let yourself forget. And if you are somehow engaged in activities that might end with you locked up – take my advise and just quit now. Whatever you are doing, it’s not worth it, really.
Having never spent time in women’s prison, I cannot say with certainty if Orange is the New Black is accurate or not. However, based on my own experiences of being an inmate in prison, I do have an opinion that it is doing pretty well, as far as prison shows go and depicting things realistically. Yes, there are clearly segregated groups, tensions, fights over stupid things, and there are lots of irrational, mean and actually nutty people in prison, and that includes inmates, guards and those in charge.
One thing they can’t portray in a Netflix TV series is smell. In prison there are lots of smells. A lot of them are pretty bad. You just can’t cram that many folks into one place without there being some odors. Also a pervasive smell of disinfectant lingers everywhere. I would say the reality in prison is it’s a bit less sanitary and not as nice as they have it depicted in Orange is the New Black. Not that they made it “nice” but it’s not as cramped and as tight and as claustrophobic as it really feels in there. And the noise – they don’t come close to portraying the noise. Maybe women are less loud, but mens’ prison is NOISY.
I guess one thing to consider is OITNB is meant to depict a federal penitentiary, and the federal facilities are known to typically be nicer than most state’s facilities, including Texas’ TDCJ system.
On a television show they can’t portray how you slip on a whole different cloak while you are in prison. This cloak has you walk the hallway without a smile on your face, and always with a 6th sense about what is behind you, what is around that next corner. You don’t let your guard down often. You keep that cloak on even while you sleep if you are smart. It’s a cloak that is hard to drop when you first get out.
The one technical aspect of the show that bugged me, and that is very common, is they mixed up the words probation and parole. Folks don’t get out of prison and go on probation. They are on PAROLE. They use this terminology wrong on OITNB.
Probation is what happens prior to prison, when they give you a chance to behave yourself for a certain period of time, to avoid every going to prison. A big portion of those incarcerated were at one time on probation, because the system is set up to make it pretty hard to succeed. You have to pay fines and do community service and keep yourself away from all sorts of trouble. Some people make it through and avoid prison, but a whole lot do not.
Now, parole is what happens when you are released from prison prior to your actual sentence being completed. You are released with the understanding you will do what you should do – work, go to AA or NA, and pay a fee to the parole office – for the duration of your sentence time. Depending on the crime you are sentenced for, the rules and regulations around this can vary. Some folks need to wear an electronic monitor or report in to their parole officer and submit to urine tests for illegal substances on a very frequent basis. Others are pretty much left to their own, as long as they don’t screw up.
But back to Orange is the New Black – it’s pretty well done and an interesting glimpse into prison life. I am looking forward to the next season and I bet a bunch of you are as well. Just do your self a favor, if you have a loved one that is incarcerated, do not take ANY of these shows, even the reality shows of “Behind Bars” and “Locked Up” too seriously or dwell on them – they are just shows made for our viewing entertainment, and I think they might make a person freak out unnecessarily.
In February the inmates at the Willacy County State Jail rioted. Fires were set in 3 of the 10 housing units and damage was done to electrical and plumbing. The offenders at Willacy are for the most part low-level offenders and many are also here in the U.S. without proper documentation. The riot was a reaction to the conditions they are being held in and a lack of proper medical care.
There are plenty of folks who read these reports and their response is that the incarcerated don’t “deserve” decent conditions. That by committing a crime, they deserve just what they are getting.
The conditions were reported as deplorable, and I believe it. Sewage leaking into the sleeping areas. Overflowing toilets left that way for days on end. The housing units for the most part are large Kevlar tents. It’s not pleasant and it doesn’t have to be pleasant, but inmates – like any other human – should have sanitary safe conditions to live in.
The Willacy Unit is privately run. When prisons are privately run, it’s easy to imagine that profit outweighs other considerations. This is a simple fact that I believe is a huge issue. When Texas and other states choose to privatize incarceration and prisons, they open the door for abuse of the system and situations like the one at the Willacy Unit.
Now, all that aside, think about these inmates. I can relate to these guys’ frustration a lot because I was incarcerated in Raymondville with a guy who was in this same situation. A young kid, legally of age, but a kid, who came from the far south of Mexico to work in construction. His family were literally dirt poor farmers. He had never driven a car let alone been in a city the size of Dallas, and with no work and no money at home, he ended up in Dallas on a construction job. He lived in a city apartment with a bunch of other guys, and what an experience that must have been, after living on a very rural farm his whole life.
Very shortly after arriving, he went out with the guys after work and had too much too drink. Let’s face it, any one of us probably could have done the same in that situation. No experience with the language, the bars, the music, the booze, the women…whoa – poor kid. Well he drove his buddy’s truck home because his buddy was smashed. Remember, he really didn’t know how to drive. He was drunk and made a very poor decision. And he got picked up for DUI, driving without a license, and being here illegally, and was thrown in jail. Nobody to make a call to, and he didn’t understand what he was being told overall, so he sat there and waited.
He didn’t speak the language and didn’t understand the system. He was assigned a court-appointed attorney and was given a 3 year sentence. He never once communicated with any family during this period because he had no money for stamps. He had no money for commissary and couldn’t buy the basics like deodorant or toothpaste. He couldn’t buy any of the food items that help you feel like you won’t starve to death while in prison, or over the counter medicines, or writing supplies. Yes, this kid broke the law but I wouldn’t consider him a criminal. I will bet almost anyone reading this knows someone who has had a DUI and who got probation and some heavy fines. This kid was incarcerated for 3 years of his life for it.
Now imagine that kid x 100’s of others – that is the population at Willacy. That is who rebelled because they were cut off from family, unable to properly communicate, living in squalor with live sewerage in their sleeping quarters and overflowing toilets left that way for days. No medical care to speak of. No response to requests for basic care. They were probably pretty desperate and pretty much out of hope when they rebelled. And now they will receive stiff additional sentences, and do much more time, because rioting in prison is a pretty serious offense. The system is broken, people. Really broken.
For those reading this that don’t feel sympathy for these guys. Think about the cost. The State of Texas – that means you and me, the taxpayers – are paying to support the private prison industry and house these guys for several years. What do we gain by this?
When they are finally released they will be brought to the border and released to cross to Mexico. Because they are undocumented illegals, they do not receive the small sum of money that indigent inmates who are US citizens receive when they are released. They will literally be back in their country but possibly thousands of miles from home without funds for bus fare, a meal, or a phone call. They are pretty much f*cked – excuse my language – but before all this, the corporation who contracts with Texas to run privatized prisons made income off of them for a couple of years. Now you tell me how this is helping anyone, anyone at ALL, besides that corporation?
OK – I am off my soapbox now. But again, I repeat, the system is broken.
The holidays can be some of the toughest time for prison inmates and their families and loved ones. An inmate can feel incredibly alone and sad being in prison during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and New Years. It’s a time we associate with family and the reality of being locked up can hit hard. It’s a time when mothers and fathers cry for their sons and daughters, and wives and husbands yearn for the touch of their mate.
As a former inmate, I can tell you there were bright spots to the holidays. For one, the inmates tend to have an attitude of “we are in this together” and while I was incarcerated, it was typical to plan a party where we would pool all our stashes from commissary and make the best spread we could. Sure, it could be a little random – raman noodles, peanut butter and tuna fish, for example. But we did share, and have some fun together for a couple hours at least. And, even our holiday meals were a bit above average. A little more served, maybe even something special on the plate. Hey, better than usual at least!
And, here is another thought that offers a new perspective for many of us who are dealing with incarceration during the holidays. Today I got my newsletter from the Human Kindness Foundation. For a little back history, Bo and Sita Lazoff started the Human Kindness Foundation many years ago, as an outreach to inmates. Bo wrote a book named “We’re all doing time” that is really well known amongst inmates and is a great book for anyone. I highly recommend it for those who are religious or not, it offers a lot of wisdom and comfort. I found it VERY helpful during my incarceration.
Anyway, Bo Lazoff passed away 2 years ago, a great man lost too young, but his writings and lessons live on. For this quarter’s newsletter, The Human Kindness Foundation reprinted some of Bo’s articles and letters from 1998. He made a really great point about being incarcerated during the holidays. To paraphrase Bo’s thoughts about this, think about Jesus, and the way he lived. Where do you think you would have found him on Christmas? In someone’s cheerful living room tearing gift wrap off of presents? Or would he be at the side of those with struggles, those that are a bit lost or afraid and needing to find their belief in themselves, and their ability to love their fellow man? I think it’s easy to imagine that the place Jesus would very likely to be found was in a prison.
Maybe you can find some comfort in the thought that our incarcerated loved ones are perhaps in a position to not be “Merry”, or “Happy” but perhaps thoughtful and reflective, and therefore much closer to the true spirit of Jesus’ love than many of us out in the world. And if you or your loved ones are not particularly religious or Christian, that is OK. Let’s hope that our incarcerated loved ones find some peace and comfort during this Christmas, regardless of their beliefs.
Merry Christmas everyone, and peace to y’all. ~ Magnum
Every day I wake up and just hope and pray that the day is calm, that no fights break out and people are minding their own business. Every day I spend at least a little time trying not to get angry and fed up at the men who are rude for no reason. At the people who yell. At those who think they are tough or big telling about their crimes and the people they have hurt in life. At the people who like to make it a big point to say that they don’t care.
I wish I had something great to tell everyone right now. I am in a class that lasts 3 hours a day. The information in it is not helpful at all. Anybody who is an adult should already know this stuff. Maybe it helps a few people, it’s hard to say and I don’t find it useful. Most in the class seem bored and the only thing it serves for is to make a little chunk of time pass.
I have a whole lot of time on my hands. I do a lot of exercise. Some of my cellies can draw or make things, and that keeps them busy. Some watch a lot of television and sleep a lot. Some look for trouble. I can’t draw and I don’t want trouble. I tend to get too wound up if I don’t do something to move and stay busy. So, I do squats, and pushups, and all kinds of exercises. I do burpees, for those of you who don’t know what they are, look them up. Those will wear you out. I notice I look thinner than I ever have, my face is narrow. I was thin when I got arrested, due to the drugs. Now I weigh about 30 pounds more, but I am thinner too.
The food here is terrible. It’s a real challenge to eat at all healthy. We get no fresh fruit or vegetables to speak of. Maybe an orange once a week or so. Canned vegetables. Occasionally canned peaches. Lots of turkey. LOTS AND LOTS of turkey. Lots of beans. The portions are small, and not satisfying. I am lucky that I have some commissary money and I buy tuna and oatmeal and a few other things.
Sometimes I get messages from people who read the blog and they say I am helping them. Here’s the thing, I am glad if something I wrote did help them, but when I started writing this, I never planned to help anybody besides myself. I was really writing to just get some thoughts out, and try to make sense of this, and how I got here. I find it weird that people find my words helpful. I recently was able to read a couple of my very first posts, and I almost didn’t remember being in that state of mind and writing some of those things. I have changed a lot since then. My eyes are open to the reality of prison, and some of my thoughts about how I would get through it then are very different now.
I haven’t written much lately. It’s a little difficult to explain the way I have been feeling. I appreciate all the support and the fact that anyone takes time to send me a message is awesome. Strangers have reached out to me and that is a beautiful thing. But the more time I spend sitting in here locked up the more I find myself thinking that we are really messing ourselves up with so much focus on being online, online gaming, facebook and blogs. People should get away from their computer and start living for real. When I get out of here I’m not going to be sitting in front of a computer. I want to be outdoors every day.
Bottom line, I am doing this time the best I can, but there is nothing good about it. To any of you out there considering stupid choices, don’t be dumb. Don’t be me, locked up at 23 years old and feeling like I haven’t accomplished a damn thing with my life.
I will share something with you. Sometimes when I think about everything I get a heavy feeling in my heart. I think it could easily be mistaken for depression or despair. But it’s not. It’s the will to live, the passion I have for life beyond this reality I’ve set for myself.
It’s like a fire that burns inside of me, and I am not exactly sure how to release it or what’s the best outlet for it. It’s a combination of every emotion – I don’t know if I want to yell, laugh, cry, scream, fight, or love.
If you want to see what I am talking about, it will be easy to see it if you are a dog owner. Go grab the leash and walk over to your door or gate and just stand there. Your dog will be there waiting, I am sure of it, with that look in their eyes and suspense in their voices as they yap for you to hurry up. That is how I feel. Just how that dog wants to get out there and smell it all, taste the world, feel the wind on his face as he runs. More than anything I want to live my my life and be able to appreciate every little thing.