The Texas Prison System - What's It Really Like?

The way it really is in TDCJ and Prison Units in Texas

GUEST ARTICLE: How Corrections Help Prisoners Reform

Today we have a guest article submission. Daphne Holmes article is about reform programs within prisons. Based on my own experience I have to be honest and say I doubt the effectiveness of many of today’s typical prison reform programs — for instance one prison I was at, rehab class consisted of us sitting in a room, without instructor or instruction, for a designated amount of time so that the prison got the credit for a rehabilitation program — but I do agree that “reform” ought to be the main objective, for drug cases. Hope you enjoy the read, send your feedback. And if you would like to be a guest writer for us, just shoot me a note. Peace ~ Magnum

In addition to protecting the public from dangerous criminals, reforming offenders is among the central functions of corrections agencies. A hotly debated topic, rehabilitation strategies at corrections facilities draw attention for their failures, but there are also successful programs operating within the country’s corrections systems.

Each state, and individual facility ultimately control what types of reform programs are made available to inmates, so specific needs are addressed in-house. These programs represent some of the alternatives being utilized to help set prisoners on the proper path to rehabilitation.

Cage Your Rage – This anger management program operates at many correctional facilities, often as an extension of a popular workbook of the same name. The multi-week course helps inmates identify specific causes of anger, subsequently offering recommendations for managing the conditions at the root of their anger issues. Nature vs. Nurture questions are explored, helping offenders recognize how past events come to bear on their present behaviors. Through reading, discussions and written exercises; inmates devise personalized approaches to overcoming anger and aggression.

Canine Programs – The effectiveness of rehabilitative work with animals is proven many times over in medical settings. Patients and elderly residents consistently find comfort and rehabilitation alongside domestic animals. Animals provide similar benefits in corrections settings. In some programs, rescued dogs and cats are paired with inmates responsible for nurturing and training them. The service assists inmates; but it also prepares animals to be placed in loving homes. Obedience training and special service instruction is conducted by offenders, who learn practical animal handling skills as well as compassion and the value of commitment.

Life Without a Crutch Program – This program uses classroom settings, written course materials and personal assignments to help offenders come face to face with their addictive behaviors. Participants learn to see the bigger picture, including how addiction impacts loved ones and others surrounding them. Formal intervention, such as 12-step programs are discussed as well as treatment and counseling alternatives available outside corrections facilities. By incorporating self-assessment into the curriculum, Life Without a Crutch embowers offenders to take control of their own situations. There is evidence of success, including one study which polled inmates who have completed the program. Across the board, offenders’ attitudes and perceptions about drug and alcohol use changed positively after completing the program.

Social Survival Skills Courses – Integrating into society after serving prison time presents unique challenges for inmates unfamiliar with some aspects of modern socialization. Practical skills courses are common features at corrections institutions, sometimes reserved for inmates destined for parole hearings or release dates. Topics like money management and employment practices are explored in ways incarcerated citizens can understand, setting the stage for their success upon release.

Inmates Helping Inmates– Unique programs, including one initiated by Percy Pitzer, a retired warden, which helps inmates help each other. Pitzer’s initiative, launched with $150,000 worth of personal funding, furnishes scholarship money for children of incarcerated parents. Aiming to break the string of poverty and offending that often plagues families with incarcerated members, Pritzer asks inmates to contribute to the fund themselves.

Corrections agencies serve vital functions, including reforming offenders. Various efforts put-forth by facilities across the country are serving inmates well; preparing them for life on the outside and creating access to skills they’ll need once there.

Author:
Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.

Short Timer Here

I feel like I am a short timer on my parole these days. I can see that light at the end of the tunnel. Can’t wait. it will be the first time in 7 years that I am not either locked up or on paper. My choices will be mine. Nobody looking over my shoulder. Just got to mind my business for another couple of months. I can do it, that’s not a problem at all.

I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but I can’t help but start to feel anxious for this all to be behind me. Maybe when another 7 years will go by I will have the bucks then to expunge my record also. I have a buddy who is working on that for himself, so I know it can be done. It will open up some doors for him I am sure, and if I could do it someday it might be well worth it for a lot of reasons.

Life is good these days. My beautiful wife and I are real happy. We feel like we are working towards something good together. Our son is beautiful, and healthy and happy. We’re getting better at making ends meet. I keep getting steady raises and Spring is almost here too, that means more hours. Can’t say I will miss the cold-ass weather we’ve had all winter long. I love spring and summer in the Texas Hill Country. It’s a beautiful state I live in. If some of y’all reading this are from out of state you are missing out for sure. Ha! I’m a lucky man. Feeling the love on this Sunday.

Peace to y’all. Keep the faith ~ Magnum

How to Find Someone in Prison in Texas and Elsewhere

I have found that over the past couple of years, the page on this blog that gets the most traffic, comments and questions is the Inmate Locator page. It is a nerve wracking time for family and friends when a person is incarcerated, and a lot of the time there isn’t very clear information about how to find out where they are, what prison they are at, and how you can communicate with them. I am going to write today’s post with some explanations of all of this, hopefully it will help y’all find your people who might be incarcerated in prison.

First of all, one big source of confusion is who has them locked up? Just because you know someone is incarcerated in Texas doesn’t mean they are at a TDC prison. A person who is an inmate in Texas can be in city jail, county jail, Texas state jail, Texas Department of Corrections prison, or Federal Penitentiary. All of these are different. Both Texas State Jail and TDC prisons fall under the Texas Department of Corrections. These are for felony crimes committed at the state level. You can use the Texas Inmate Locator on here to look for them. Go to Texas Inmate Locator and enter their first and last name and any other details you have. You need at least a first initial. Remember, some names are pretty common and will bring up a lot of results, so knowing their date of birth, race and gender is helpful to narrow down who you are looking for.

When someone is arrested, the typical way it goes is first they are held in a city jail or in county jail. Some people serve sentences that can last many months at the county level, and stay their term in county jail. Texas is a huge state and all counties do not have automated systems to look up inmates at the county level but if you suspect a person is held in county jail you can call and ask if someone is there, by name, or you can search for the county website, find the area for the county jail or sheriff’s department, and sometimes find a search feature.

If someone is arrested for a federal crime then they can be held in a federal penitentiary anywhere in the country, depending on their charges. Things like weapons and arms violations, certain frauds cases, kidnapping, and many other crimes fall under this umbrella. It makes a difference if a crime was committed across multiple states. At any rate, federal pens have the rap of being very different than state prisons. There are federal pens in Texas, including 22 in the state of Texas. I have gone ahead and made a new page here that has the Federal Inmate Search tool for those folks that are looking for somebody at the federal penitentiary level. You can access it here: Federal Penitentiary Inmate Locator. If you want to learn anything else about the Federal Bureau of Prisons you can get information at www.bop.gov.

By the way, if you are looking at someones history in the TDC Inmate search tool, you will see their TDC criminal history but not their federal or county records. Just something to keep in mind.

So, hope this information is helpful to y’all, and if you have questions or need help or have a comment, give me a holler. Peace ~ Magnum

Felons – Reality vs. Fiction

Hey everyone. Sometimes I catch something on television or see something online about prison or prisoners, and I have to laugh at the stereotypes that persist about us felons.

Today I saw a thing on the internet news about a recently released prisoner coming to the rescue of a little girl that had fallen into a septic tank and was drowning. Now that is cool whether the guy is an ex-con or not. But what is troubling is that this was reported under “Odd News”. Like, it’s ODD that a man who has a record would help someone. Here is the article: Man, two weeks out of prison, helps rescue 2-year-old girl

If you take a minute to read that article you will find that first of all, just like me, the guy was incarcerated for a drug felony. He’s been out two weeks and he is trying to keep it together. I understand and I wish him well. But they make it sound like he gained these morals in prison that led him to save the little girl.

I am pretty sure he would have jumped in and saved her before he went to prison too, really. People who screw up and go to prison, for non-victim crimes like drug use, or even for things where there was a victim of some sort are not necessarily evil, immoral people. Let me tell you, there are a bunch of bad people in prison, no doubt. But there are a bunch of inmates who are not bad people at all, right along side the bad ones. A whole lot of them love their families, treat people right, go to work regularly, pay their bills, and so on. They screwed up. Plain and simple. Maybe they got angry and got in an altercation that resulted in someone seriously hurt. Maybe they got desperate and stole something. Maybe they got hammered and drove a car and wrecked. None of those are acceptable things in our society, and the result if you get caught is you are punished with prison. And now they are pitched into a seriously crappy environment and invited to reflect on their screw ups for a year or two or five or ten.

The point is, this is a good article about a little girl getting saved. And, it’s great the guy is out of prison and had a chance to do a good deed. I bet he feels GREAT he was there at the right time and place, even if he did get a mouth full of sewer water. I know I would have been so glad to save that little girl too. When you are in prison you think about those things, about doing the right thing, and making a difference somehow once you get out. You want to redeem the screwed up period of your life when you are sitting in prison like a dumb-ass. And he was able to do that in a big way, that is cool. But the point of him being a recently released felon is really irrelevant to the story in my opinion.

Did you know in the U.S.A. we incarcerate more people than anyplace else on the planet? I don’t often get on a soapbox on this blog. It is what it is, and I accept my time in prison was due to my screw up, plain and simple. But being a felon is becoming a little too common if you ask me. Maybe it’s time for a change in the way we approach things like drug abuse and in the way we treat those who have spent time in prison and are now rebuilding their lives. Just saying. What do you all think? Peace out, till next time ~ Magnum

The Holidays – Then and Now

While I was in prison, the holidays were sad days. I couldn’t help but feel alone and sad and think of my family and friends more than usual. I think it’s safe to say that was something almost all of us in prison dealt with, although some tried to act like they didn’t care. Maybe they didn’t, who knows. We did try to make the best of it. We were given a better meal than usual, with baked chicken and turkey. Baked chicken is one of the few things that prison cooking can’t screw up, since it’s relatively simple and doesn’t require much in the way of seasoning. We also would make our own spread, pooling all of our items from commissary on one of the tables in the common area. Might not sound like it, but a buffet of ramen noodles, tuna fish, peanut butter and crackers can be downright festive if that is all you’ve got. We tried to have some laughs and have a little holiday spirit but I will be honest, it was a stretch. At night, when it was time to go to sleep, my last thoughts of the day were spent imagining the smiling faces of my family and dreaming of a future I wasn’t sure could ever be mine. I never want to be that lonely again.

This year my Christmas was like the exact polar opposite of those darker days. I had my wife and my son, who is 1 month old now, beside me. We took a couple nice drives to look at Christmas lights around town, and we listened to Christmas music quite a bit. Money is tight but we got lucky. We got a Christmas tree from my grandfather which added a lot of Christmas spirit to our place. Then I got a little Christmas bonus at work so we went shopping for ourselves and got a few necessities like some new work clothes for me, and things for my wife and son, and we wrapped them up and put them under the tree. That might sound a little goofy but it was fun.

If you are spending the holidays away from your loved ones, if they are incarcerated or living the life of addiction somewhere, hold on to hope. Things change. People change. What I learned is life is good when you let it be.

Imagine me, a father and husband, celebrating the holidays with my family, surrounded with so much love and happiness. This is the dream I had and now it is true. I have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to in 2014. Peace to y’all ~ Texas Magnum

Correctional Officers Join Lawsuit Over Texas Prison Deaths Due to Extreme Heat

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/02/texas-prison-guards-union-to-reportedly-join-inmate-litigation-over-hot-state/

I’ve not been paying attention. Looks like getting the correctional officers behind the push to provide some cooling for Texas prisons might be the final straw to make it happen. Anybody have more updates on this news?

It’s been awhile – Now I am married and a father!

Hello all, I have been very lax in keeping up with the blog. A whole lot of real life got in the way. Just let me take a minute to brag. I am married to the most awesome woman in the world. We got married on 9/11. A funny date for a marriage but that was the same day I had parole, and I had to consolidate everything so I didn’t miss much work, lol. The way I look at it, that is a good and happy thing that occurred on a day remembered for something unhappy and bad. Maybe over time, when enough babies are born on that day, and people get married on that day, and other happy events, we won’t only remember it as bad. So I did my part.

And, guess what — we just had a baby! Yep, I am a father to a big healthy son. He is so cool. Lays there and sleeps a lot now, but he’s GOING to do great things in this world. And if I have anything to do with it, going to TDC won’t be on his list. Nope, none of that for my son. I hope I can be a good father and good husband. I am trying my best. I will admit, it’s harder some days than others. And having a family changes everything. Before if I screwed up I was screwing up myself. Now a lot of other people are going to get affected by it. I got to keep it together.
I am working hard pretty much every day. Construction so bad weather means no work. And I am broke most of the time, lol. But hey, I have a little place of our own, and we get by.

Hope you all are hanging in there. If you are reading this because you have a loved on incarcerated somewhere, don’t ever give up on them. Everybody deserves hope. Some of us have pushed things too far over and over and maybe you feel things will never change. I am proof that things do change. I am not saying I have it all figured out, I don’t for sure. And believe me, I know I got a ways to go. But look how far I have come. Less than two years ago I was locked up for the 4th year in a row during the holidays, between rehabs and prison. Now I am a married man and a father, holding a full time job, and stressing about paying the light bill rather than stressing about where my next high was coming from.

Oh and by the way, for anyone looking for some kinship and advise regarding the incarcerated, I strongly suggest www.prisontalk.com. It’s a very strong forum with lots of good information. For anyone wanting to help or learn more about helping the incarcerated, a great organization is The Human Kindness Foundation. It was founded by Bo and Sita Lozoff. Bo wrote “We’re all Doing Time”, probably one of the most widely read books by inmates ever, and one that brought me great hope and a better understanding of myself and the world. Check it out, you don’t need to be in prison to get a lot out of it. You can buy it on the Human Kindness site at http://humankindness.bigcartel.com/product/we-re-all-doing-time. They send this book for free to inmates all over the world. If you buy a book on their site, it helps their efforts.

I am hoping for all of you out there that you pass the holidays safe and sound with your family and friends. If you have someone incarcerated, keep the faith. Keep the candle burning. Peace out y’all. I will try to be more regular on here, but I do love you all.

We refuse to abandon our loved ones

Passed on by a friend today:

“We are tired of being made to feel inferior or unwelcome in churches, clubs, organizations or society in general simply because we refuse to abandon our loved ones…………”

We are everywhere–

For those who forget that the incarcerated humans in this country are indeed just that – HUMAN – I would like you to think on this the next time you talk about “inmates, criminals, convicts, etc…”.
These humans have families and those who love them despite whatever they did. Look around you and wonder, because this is who we are….

We take care of your children and grandchildren in nursery schools, we give them shots in the doctor’s office. We are dental assistants, we are school teachers and Sunday school teachers, we stand behind you in the grocery store, we prepare your medicine in the drug store. We work in banks, we approve your loans, we service your insurance claims, we work for newspapers, TV stations and radio stations, we read your electric meters and water meters. We are your landlords, your neighbors, we take care of your elderly parents in nursing homes, we are nurses, lab technicians, X-ray technicians, we own beauty shops, flower shops, printing shops, we are welders, plumbers, tree trimmers. We work for the IRS, the State Dept., in the courthouse, schools, churches, drug stores and toy stores, we are legal secretaries, lawyers, school board members. We are bus drivers, we prepare meals for your kids in school, we are city council members, bank tellers, we process your checking account, your saving account, we work at your Social Security office, your insurance company, we take care of your IRA, stocks, bonds.

We sell your kids bikes, school supplies, clothes, shoes, eyeglasses, we repair your cars, we are real estate agents, car dealers, college professors, psychologists, administrative assistants, safety engineers and ranchers. We work at Ralphs, Albertsons, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks 5th Avenue. We sell Avon and Tupperware. We are not all “on welfare”, no matter what the government would like you to think.

There are two million people in prison in America and twice that many on parole and probation. Add in mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends and about sixteen million people are personally affected by the prison system in the United States.

We are tired of letting ourselves feel humiliated or embarrassed because our loved one is in prison. WE did nothing wrong, and they are paying for their crime! We are tired of fearing the loss of our jobs or evictions from our housing should anyone find out we have a loved one in prison. We are tired of being made to feel inferior or unwelcome in churches, clubs, organizations or society in general simply because we refuse to abandon our loved ones.

We are ready to unite, to come out of hiding and openly support each other and our loved ones. It’s a new day, America and we’re here to prove it! We are ready to speak out against the “they deserve what they get” attitude we hear you talk about in stores, theaters and restaurants. We number in the millions, we are everywhere, every state, county, city and town. We may even live next door to you. Sixteen million & counting. We are everywhere.

Author Unknown

Changes in my life, changes for this site

While I was locked up I spent a lot of time dreaming about being on a river in Central Texas, listening to music, playing my guitar or harmonica, singing, and just having a good ol’ time. I have done just that as often as possible this summer. I want to share a song I really enjoy, by Jason Boland, called Backslider Blues. Fantastic lyrics on this one.

Friends, I have really slacked off when it comes to writing blog posts. I had already known that once I got out, the site was going to need to change it’s direction, because reading about a guy on the outside just plain isn’t as interesting as reading about a guy in prison. And, the truth is, now that I am not locked up 24/7, it’s pretty hard to make myself sit down and write.

Sure, I can tell you about being on parole. Basically, it sucks. But it doesn’t suck as bad as being locked up. Some days I think differently, there are literally some days when the parole process is such a pain in the ass that I think I ought to just go serve out the rest of my time. But just a little rational thinking usually gets me off that train real quick.

The way parole works, as time goes on you see your parole officer less often. Right now I am still on 2 visits a month. One in her office and one at my home. It’s kind of funny, she seems to be scared of dogs, when she comes to my house she literally stays for all of 5 minutes, tops, and she is out of there. My dog isn’t mean, but there is a tip for someone who might have something to hide from their parole officer, get yourself a mean dog. Ha ha, just kidding.

My parole officer seems OK, I don’t feel like she is out to get me, but then again, I don’t feel like she is necessarily real enthused about me either. I am sure I am just another parolee to her. I think that probation and parole officers are underpaid and overworked, generally speaking. I imagine they go into the job thinking they will make a difference and get burned out pretty fast. And, unfortunately, I am sure they see a lot of us just go right through that revolving door, straight back to prison.

What about me, you might ask. How have I been doing? Well, I won’t say it hasn’t been challenging not to fall back into old ways. I have felt good about most of my choices, and overall I am doing good. I ended up getting a new job, it’s in the welding business. I have a girlfriend, which of course I am glad about. I have had some money problems, my vehicle needs a new engine, and my living situation has been sort of up and down. I am trying to just concentrate on keeping one foot in front of the other. Living simple, keeping it real. See? I told you, not near as interesting as reading about someone locked up, fighting to survive every day.

So, what to do about this site? I want to keep it up, it has some good traffic, and people have been so supportive. After some thought and research, I have made some decisions. I found a few guest editors to start posting news we come across about Texas Prisons, the inmates, conditions, jail, probation, parole… the whole correctional institution business. (Because it IS a business, of that there is no doubt.) Some of them are ex-cons, some are family, and some are just some cool folks with something to say.

I am also going to start offering some more resources for the many folks who have family members and loved ones currently incarcerated. Links to other useful sites and information, and links to books and other materials that can be helpful. I am thinking about trying to offer prison stationary items too, but I know that is a whole process to get approved by TDC to be a vendor. I still might try to do it though. So stay tuned, over the next couple of weeks you will see some changes on here. If you like what you see, let me know. And, if you have ideas for the site, it would be great to hear from you.

Thanks, y’all, for all of your support. I apologize for the big gaps in posting. But things are going to get better now. Stay tuned. And stay cool… your friend, Texas Magnum

Texas Prison TDCJ News: Court of Appeals Rules Against Prisons

U.S. FIFTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS RULES AGAINST PRISONS IN EXTREME TEMPERATURES CASE
Appellate court finds extreme temperature conditions can violate 8th Amendment

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a Corpus Christi federal judge’s ruling dismissing a prisoners’ lawsuit claiming extreme temperatures violated his Eighth Amendment Rights. Lawyers for the Texas Civil Rights Project and DLA Piper represented Eugene Blackmon, a sixty-four-year-old prisoner suffering from hypertension and other medical conditions.

Temperatures inside the prison, which was not air conditioned, reached a heat index of 130 degrees. Expert testimony established the temperature during the summer of 2008 temperatures reached “extreme caution,” “danger,” or “extreme danger” levels identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 51 days. The court held “Allowing a prisoner to be exposed to extreme temperatures can constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” “A reasonable jury find that the conditions of confinement … result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” the court said.

“This is a huge victory for all Texas prisoners,” said Scott Medlock, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program, who represented Mr. Blackmon. “Hopefully this decision will force TDCJ to reconsider housing prisoners in such dangerous conditions.” When informed of the decision, Mr. Blackmon said “that takes my breath away. I’m so happy to get my day in court after all these years.”

The court emphasized “with respect to a prisoner such as Blackmon, a jury could reasonably conclude that the remedial measures adopted by prison officials were inadequate to combat the extreme conditions in the C-8 dorm and to address the salient health risks.”

A new job, some alright friends, and a couple tough days

Well – what’s been going on with me for the past 2 and a half months? The usual I guess. It’s hard to describe in a way, what your mind goes through when you get home from prison. But I will try to let you know what this next part of the journey has been like so far.

At first, that first day when Texas Department of Corrections let me out their front door and I saw my mom sitting there waiting for me, it was pretty strange driving away. As the prison became just a bad memory in the rear view mirror, it didn’t seem real, and I felt a little freaked out. My mom had brought me my own clothes and my boots and my hat. It felt good putting them on, but it didn’t even feel normal any more.

The ride was good, it was a beautiful day with the sun shining, and in just a couple hours I was home. Getting to see my dog was great, I picked that big guy right up off the ground and we had a big slobber fest. My wish was to have some good pizza, so we went to the pizza place and then that night we had a campfire outside and I played my harmonica and my guitar. It was good.

I suppose anyone that has been locked up will tell you freedom never tastes as sweet as it does that first day. It’s almost like you are experiencing everything for the first time. There is a down side thought – it’s almost too much… and within a couple of days things start to feel normal and it is almost a disappointment or a let down sort of feeling. I guess in your mind you have this illusion about coming home, and being free. And really, life is full of ups and downs and ordinary moments, whether you are locked up or not.

S0… fast forward another couple months. What am I up to now? I got a job, a good one with a new high end restaurant in town. I got on with them before they even opened and worked on a lot of different things to help them, painting, installing the kitchen equipment, working on the chimney, stocking the place, moving in furniture, all kinds of stuff. Now they are open, and I am just starting to learn to cook. I am learning to cook all kinds of food, some I have never even tried before, and I am going to learn to bake pastry and bread as well. I already got one raise, and they seem to like me pretty well. I am always on time and I work hard, so they ought to like me. They also don’t judge me. This is a pretty small town and before I got this job I went to like, 40 places and wasn’t getting anywhere. But at this place, the owners aren’t from here, and the tattoos all over me or my history isn’t so important to them as it might be for some people. There are a couple other people working there now too, and they are all pretty cool. No doubt, this is a very good opportunity for a guy who was locked up by TDC just a couple of months ago. I could be doing a lot worse in the employment world.

I should be pretty happy with my job right? Well, it’s still called work for a reason, and at some point you wake up and don’t feel like washing dishes or sauteing mushrooms or lugging a bunch of wine down to the basement. But you have to, and you do it. I see that a big part of learning to live right out here and staying out of trouble is accepting that you have to work and just be part of the big machine like everyone else.

Other stuff has been hard to. I can’t sit here and tell you it’s all been easy and fun because it hasn’t. I have struggled some with it. I have times when I just want to be crazy and go wild. I have days when I am down, and I just want to lay in bed and sleep. I get lonely. I have met some people, some are probably good for me and some are for sure bad for me. I am trying hard to make good choices but I don’t always succeed. I think I am doing good, but sometimes the next 2 years on parole feel like an eternity, and some days I wonder if it’s all worth it. I am still pretty broke and I don’t have much to show for myself yet. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to notice the progress although I know that it’s there. As far as parole, that seems to be going OK, but I can’t say I feel my parole officer really cares all that much, she is just doing her job. That’s cool, I imagine it’s a pretty sucky job overall. She is probably just happy I am employed and not causing her trouble.

So, like everyone in the world, I have some good days and some bad. What I can say is this – I can wake up and look at myself and know I have choices today. I can choose to walk out the door or not, and I can choose to go to work or not, things I couldn’t do just a few months ago. I going to try to keep my attitude positive, and try to post on here a little more often.

Peace out people ~ TM

I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be

I am about to write a post to update everyone on what’s been going on the past 2 months that I’ve been home. But first, I am posting this song by Tim McGraw, it has some good lyrics about bettering yourself. I hope all the mothers had a good Mothers Day yesterday.

“Better Than I Used To Be” by Tim McGraw

I know how to hold a grudge
I can send a bridge up in smoke
And I can’t count the people I’ve let down, the hearts I’ve broke
You ain’t gotta dig too deep
If you wanna find some dirt on me
I’m learning who you’ve been
Ain’t who you’ve got to be
It’s gonna be an uphill climb
Aww honey I won’t lie

I ain’t no angel
I still got a few more dances with the devil
I’m cleaning up my act little by little
I’m getting there
I can finally stand the man in the mirror I see
I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get
But I’m better than I used to be

I’ve pinned a lot of demons to the ground
I’ve got a few old habits left
But there’s still one or two I might need you to help me get
Standing in the rain so long has left me with a little rust
But put some faith in me
And someday you’ll see
There’s a diamond under all this dust

I ain’t no angel
I still got a few more dances with the devil
I’m cleaning up my act little by little
I’m getting there
I can finally stand the man in the mirror I see
I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get
But I’m better than I used to be

I ain’t no angel
I still got a few more dances with the devil
But I’m cleaning up my act little by little
I’m getting there
I can finally stand the man in the mirror I see
I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get
But I’m better than I used to be

I have served my time and I am going home!

This is the post I have been waiting for all along. By the time it is received in the regular mail and posted on here, it will just about be real.

I AM GOING HOME!
I AM GOING HOME!
I – AM – GOING – HOME!!!

I am so ready, I can’t wait. Time is crawling now but it’s OK, it’s almost here. Just 10 days to go.

I can’t wait to look up at the sunshine, to breath in the fresh air. I can’t wait for a pizza! I am damn excited and happy to go home and see my family, hug everyone, and my dog too! I CAN’T WAIT!

My mom is coming to pick me up, it’s about a 3 hour drive. She is bringing my good boots and some jeans and my hat. She is bringing a couple of my favorite CD’s, the one I can’t wait to hear is Legend, the best of Bob Marley.

So how does it feel? I am anxious and excited, maybe a little nervous. I am feeling very positive though. I can do this. I have changed, and it’s a real change. I am not the person who got locked up in 2009. I know that what I make of my freedom and my life will be up to me. I am going to stay positive and enjoy every minute of it all. It’s what I have learned more than anything. Live for the moment, be in the moment. That is really all there is. I have some goals, and plans, and dreams, but I am not going to get all caught up in them and forget to enjoy right where I am at.

I don’t know what will happen with this blog. Maybe I will post a little when I get home, but the truth is I know people are more interested about reading about the actual prison experience. Nobody cares about the guy who USED to be in prison. (That might turn out to be true in more ways than one. But like I said, I am staying positive.) I am trying to think of how to turn it into something good now, something that will help those that are still incarcerated and their families. If you have any ideas, send them my way.

What an awesome time of year to get free in Texas. Spring is almost here. I love summer! I love the sun!! I am going to enjoy this summer more than any I have ever had, that I know. I plan to be grilling, tubing, swimming, camping, playing music, hearing music, and SMILING and LAUGHING A LOT, of that you can be sure. Hope you all do the same, wherever you are.

I will be in touch, people. Thanks for hanging in there with me.
Peace out ~ Magnum

So this is Christmas…

This week  I sit here, away from my family at the holidays once again, and I find myself thinking. I am where the universe wants me to be, or else I wouldn’t be here. Since I don’t want to be here, I realize I need to look for the lesson in the situation.

Christmas is in just a few more days. It is hard to believe that last year at this time of year I was in prison too. And, the year before that I was in a long term rehab at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years… and the year before THAT I was also in rehab during all the holidays. It makes you think I must like being locked up and I must care less about days like Christmas and holidays, right?

No, that is not true. I can’t wait to spend next Christmas with my family.  So, what’s the lesson in all this? I think the lesson is – Whatever stupid shit you are doing that will put you in prison, think about it. When I was out there and I knew I was screwing up on my probation, I wasn’t thinking about things like missing my family so much, and the good times spent with them at the holidays.

What I was thinking back then was that probation was just as bad as prison would be, it was keeping me from doing what I wanted, and stressing me out, and I wasn’t free with probation hanging over my head. I was thinking that my probation officer was an asshole for making me piss in a cup. I was thinking it was cool to put off my community service work when a friend wanted me to do something with them. I was thinking my friends had my back, just like I had theirs. I was thinking that AA was bullshit because when I tried getting sober I was bored and didn’t have friends and it wasn’t possible to hang out where and with who I wanted to.  I was thinking shooting heroin wasn’t that bad because it mellowed me out, and I barely drank at all when I used. I was thinking a little meth mixed in was ok too. And I was thinking if I ended up having to do some time in prison, well I could handle that, it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal for me. I wasn’t scared of it. That is what I was thinking.

What I was not thinking about then, was that in all this time since, not one of those friends have written me, visited me, or asked my family where I was for that matter. For all I know, they think I am dead. I was not thinking that the scariest, hardest, worse part of prison wasn’t going to be the fights, gangs or the shithead guards, that it is the gut wrenching, lonely pain in your heart when you think about your family. How you can be a grown man and miss your family enough to make you cry but you can’t cry, because you’re in prison and trying not to get your ass kicked too much. I was not thinking that I would have all this time to sit and think. Would it have been better to do things different than I did? Yes, it would, but I really wasn’t thinking.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram by Gregory David RobertsHello all. I recently read an awesome book that I would like to tell you about in today’s post. A guy in here recommended it, and loaned it to me. It is long, close to 1000 pages, and it is intense. It is written based on truth, about the author’s own life, and it is an amazing story. Considering that I don’t really have any news of interest to tell you about, let alone an amazing story about myself, I think it will make an excellent subject to change things up a little.

The story is about a heroin addict who ends up in prison due to his addiction.  Maybe this is part of the reason I can relate to the story, but this guys story is a lot more hard core and intense than my own. The book is named Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

(Editors note: Here is a link to a website by the author, about himself and the book. www.shantaram.com Also, here is a link to the book on amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Shantaram-Novel-Gregory-David-Roberts/dp/0312330537/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322934163&sr=8-1)

Lin, the main character, is convicted of armed robbery that he commits to feed his heroin habit. He got on heroin after his marriage broke up and he lost his wife and daughter. He can’t tolerate the harsh treatment at the prison he is in, a high security prison in Australia. He manages to escape, and makes his way to India. But he is now a wanted man. He knows when he escapes that he is leaving everyone and everything behind, and that he will never see his daughter or mother again.

In India, he chooses to make the best of the situation and he gets to know the local people, learns to speak a couple languages, and has many experiences. For some time, he lives in a slum and sets up a medical clinic. He had some basic first aid training but that is it, but he is able to get black market drugs and medications and help the people a lot. He spends several months in a tiny, remote village with a friend from the slum, and he learns so much there, and enjoys the simple life. But, he goes back to Bombay and he ends up getting the wrong people mad at him, and he is arrested and spends several months in a prison in Bombay in the worse of conditions, where he almost dies from the abuse and beatings. As all this is going on, he also meets and gets involved with one of the big mafia bosses in India. He eventually becomes very close to the mafia boss and considers him a father and  a mentor. The mafia boss is very intelligent and spiritual, and they have many deep discussions, but he is also a criminal. Lin learns counterfeiting and money laundering and rises up in the mafia. During all of this, he falls in love with a mysterious and beautiful girl, and that is a big part of the story as well, throughout the book. He eventually goes to Afghanistan to smuggle in arms and to fight along with his mentor, the mafia boss. I won’t give away more than that, but there is much, much more to the story than just that. The book is broken down into 4 parts, and each one is a story on it’s own.

Lin, the main character, is a tough guy and is used to fights and violence but the times he feels the best about himself and gets closest to forgiving himself for some of the mistakes he made in life is when he is with the simple, kind and honest people of the slum and of the little village he stays at. He feels redemption in his work at the clinic and probably would have stayed there if he had not been arrested and put in prison.

The author has a very descriptive style and he makes you feel like you can picture the various characters and places he describes. He gets into details and you can imagine everything down to the smells.

This book is an epic story of adventure, but it is really a struggle of good versus evil, in Lin’s own character and in the world of Bombay. For every good there is a evil counterpart, internally in Lin and in the world and characters surrounding Lin. The book ends in such a way that you are not sure which side has won the battle, the good or the evil, but this is on purpose and leaves you to think.

It is a fantastic story and I highly recommend it to anyone. I think it would make a good movie as well. I think Jason Statham from The Mechanic would be good in this role. Whoever plays this part needs to be a tough guy who isn’t very nice acting or good looking, but who can have a deeper side to him.

A story like this is maybe a little strange to read while I am sitting here in prison, because it is all about violence and drug use and crime. But it is also about the constant struggle in all of us to look for the good inside of us, and fight against the bad inside of us. It is not a simple story and it is not really about the drugs or the violence. I got a lot out of this book and I consider it one of the top books I have read.

Well, on another note, Thanksgiving is behind me, and it was good. I worked 12 hours straight in the kitchen and was tired but we did it up good with turkey, chicken, biscuits, and cake for dessert. I hope you all enjoyed a good Thanksgiving day with your family and the people you love. I am looking forward to the same for myself next year. I couldn’t always say this, but here lately I believe that most days, the good in me and my world is winning the battle. Hope the same is feeling true for you all.

Peace to you all ~ Magnum

Is that light at the end of the tunnel?

I am tired.

Tired of being here, tired of the classes I am in, tired of the work I do and mostly REALLY tired of this dorm I live in. I am tired of the loud mouths and the bad attitudes. I am tired of the CO’s and tired of the other inmates. I am tired of writing letters to family because there really isn’t any news to talk about with them anymore. I am tired of drinking coffee that tastes like rusty nails. I am tired of having to strip down for every little thing and I am tired of noise and lack of privacy and pretty much just everything about this place. And, sorry, I am tired of writing this blog right now too. That is why I haven’t posted anything in awhile. It feels as if there is nothing left to say.

And that is GREAT news. Because if I wasn’t, something would be seriously wrong with me. No sane man or woman should ever get too used to this. When I get out I don’t want to be one of those who forgets just how crappy it is to be locked up away from everyone and everything you care about and make a stupid mistake and end up back here again. I plan to remember this forever and to use it to make sure I never come back.

Here’s the one awesome thing I am focused on: I am on track to finish up my classes sometime in February. That means that as early as March, I could be released on parole. Now I can start to look forward to the end of this, and start imagining the future and freedom. I can now say that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Before I get out of here, there are still a few things to get past. I need to keep out of trouble for the remainder of the time here. I don’t think that is going to be a problem but then again around here you really don’t know what’s going to go down at any time. All I can do about that is wake up every day and do my best to avoid trouble.

I am going to spend another Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years here too. That sucks. It is a little depressing to think about. There’s not anything to look forward to about that and really my best bet is to just pretend it’s not a holiday and look forward to much better times next year.

I will spend another birthday here as well. That sucks too because I can’t help but notice that I have wasted some of my life here in a very real way. Celebrating a couple birthdays in prison really will make you stop and think about what you have done with your life.

I have said before though, I am not going to let this define me. I believe I have it in me to get a fresh start and to do things different this time. I have been thinking of a few things I can do when I get home to keep on track. I know I will be required to go to AA meetings as part of my parole. When I was on probation before all this happened, I didn’t always appreciate being told I HAD to go to AA. But I have decided that when I get home, one of the things I am going to do is hit a meeting. I am going to walk in there and tell them right off, “I just got out of prison and I don’t want to use or go back to prison, so here I am.”

I am going to volunteer my time if they need help with anything, that way I can stay busy. And, I feel it IS true that if I hang with people trying to do the same thing, I’m more likely to succeed. So, even if I don’t like everything about AA, it will be good to do. I have a lot of other plans too. I am going to try some new things and enjoy some stuff I never had money for when I was spending my pay on drugs and alcohol.

Light at the end of the tunnel. There is something hopeful out there. I can leave this place behind in the rear view mirror and move on down the road in just a few more months.

Sending peace your way ~ Magnum

We’re All Doing Time

Update from Inside: Life here continues to be busy for me, work is trucking along, and so is the rehab program. The days are going by fast overall. Over all I am in very good spirits. I got a book called “We’re All Doing Time” by Bo Lozoff. It’s a spiritual book, not a religious book, but it pulls from all the major world religions. It quotes the Bible, Buddhist teachings, Hindu, Native American, and more. It talks about Christ and Mother Theresa and Gandhi.

It is REALLY, REALLY good. The author Bo Lozoff puts in words just what my personal beliefs about spirituality and religion have been for awhile now. It has a lot of lessons in spiritual practice to try, including prayer, meditation, and yoga. I have started working on some of these practices and I feel good about everything and I am in high spirits. I feel positive about the future.

For awhile now I have had this feeling that I can be as free in my mind in here as I can outside, it’s all about me and the way I feel inside. And the book I am reading says that being incarcerated may be more of a gift than we realize and that the richest man or woman on the outside may be more of a prisoner than those of us inside, depending on how they feel spiritually and how we feel. This is exactly how I feel too. I know I am more free now than I ever was when I was shooting dope and living the life of addiction.

The author says that being locked up in such harsh conditions without the comforts most people take for granted is a lot like what a monk chooses as a way to grow spiritually. He says us inmates can choose to spend the time with the mind of an incarerated inmate, or with the mind of a monk seeking spiritual growth. That we can come out of prison better for the experience or worse, but it’s totally up to the individual, not the programs we are enrolled in or the people who choose to go up against us. The positive and the negative we find here is all what we choose to do with it.

I find myself laying in my bed at night dreaming about life and what it may have in store for me. Life is full of possibilities and I can’t help but wonder where I am going. I try not to get too wrapped up in it, ’cause I know this very moment is what counts, but I can’t help dreaming. We all have dreams, right?

Another thing that is going on with me right now is I have decided to start to speak in our Group. It is optional, and up until now I have not chosen to. But I figure if I’m going to be here I might was well express who I was and where I am going. That way I am working on being open and honest to myself.

I am now in Phase 2 of the program and that includes some marching which probably sounds a little cooler than it is. We get out there at 6:00 am and march around the perimeter of the unit, once around,  twice a week. We yell out some stuff, go one time around, and that’s about it. We don’t do it enough to get really good at it. A lot of the guys hate it, but I don’t mind it, things could be a lot worse.

I just recently got letters about a couple things. My sister got hurt, broke a couple ribs. It was an accident that could have ended a lot worse, so she is lucky. Also, she is pregnant and the baby is OK, so she is double-lucky. And my old dog back home is getting really bad off. He probably won’t make it a lot longer. It really caused me to reflect and it also made me think of my grandfather who passed away several months ago and about death in general. It makes me realize that there are so many things we have no control over. We are all the same in so many ways, in spite of our outward differences, and we all come into the world and go out of it in the same way.

We all drive different vehicles through the streets of life, but we all have to figure out how to drive those streets, one way or another. Life will always keep on going, no matter your situation, so all we can do is go with it and do our best to find happiness and inner peace. I hope today that those reading this blog find themselves on a street going in the right direction. For anyone who might be seeking spiritual guidance, or who knows an inmate that could use some spiritual help, I highly recommend the book I am reading.

Peace to everyone ~ Magnum

Editors Note ~ I received an email this morning from Bo Lozoff’s Foundation for Prison Ashram. They let me know that if I changed the link to their Human Kindness store rather than Amazon, the proceeds are used to send free books to inmates all over. So, of course, I made those changes. I urge any of you who might be considering the book to purchase from this very worth organization.

400 days and counting in prison

I realized the other day that the last day of August marked 400 days of incarceration for Texas Magnum. 400 days out of a maximum of 1460 that could be spent as a prisoner in Texas.

Magnum is hopeful he will be released well before the maximum sentence date, and at this point, it is likely that he will be. He has committed to himself to make the most of his time of incarceration and has been actively working on improving himself mentally, spiritually and physically. He feels good, is full of positive energy, and is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Lately his days are very long. Up early with prayer, meditation, or yoga as a start to his day. Then 5 hours of rehabilitation classes, followed by 8 hours of work in the prison kitchen as a cook. After work there is some time in the rec yard for exercise and fitness. Writing for this blog has been curtailed and letters to family and friends are in short supply. But we recognize this as a good thing, keeping his mind and body busy is making the days go by much faster now for Magnum, and we all are starting to look forward to the day he will walk out of the doors in Huntsville.

400 days locked up  is a lot of days, but it’s good to keep in mind that some people have a much longer sentence, and will count 1000’s of days in prison, or even a lifetime. It’s hard to fathom. Some folks are locked up and innocent, even harder to imagine!

And, because of laws like the Felony Murder Rule in California, some folks are locked up for Life Without Parole for Murder, in cases where they absolutely did not commit the crime of murder that they are charged and found guilty of. If you want to know more about this law and it’s repercussions, take a look at this 60 Minutes’ report. 60 Minutes report on the Felony Murder Rule in California

This is how the law works: If 2 or more persons are involved in a felony, say robbery, and one of them commits a murder while in the act of that felony, then all the parties involved are guilty of murder, regardless if the others took part, were aware, or in any way involved with the murder. This makes sense on the surface, because it’s easy to rationalize that if a group of folks plan a robbery for instance, they should be fully aware that things can go wrong, and an innocent person could be killed. Therefore, they should be held culpable if that does indeed happen.

The law was designed to be a harsh warning to gang members and a deterrent to crime, but in certain cases justice fails and young lives are ruined because of it. Under the Felony Murder Rule, a reasonable defense is almost impossible, even when there MAY BE very legitimate defenses and unusual mitigating circumstances. The judge is bound to apply a sentence of Life Without Parole.

Because of this rule, many times in California, when a felony occurs that results in a death, those accused of taking part of the felony, but not the actual murder, end up facing Life in prison without parole, at the young age of 17, 18, or 19 years old, basically for a mistake in judgement and being at the wrong place at the wrong time. An example would be a typical fight that gets out of hand. Things escalate and someone of the group, unbeknown to the rest, is carrying a knife. He uses it, and someone is killed. ALL the participants in that fight are facing Life Without Parole if found guilty, under the Felony Murder Rule.

Should young adult men get in fights? No, of course not. Do young adult men get in fights? Yes, of course they do. Fights happen every day, for stupid reasons and for perceived real reasons. Fights happen in bars and in parking lots, and fights happen in school yards and in backyards. Fights happen when alcohol is involved, when sports are involved, when petty crimes and jealousies are involved… the list if why fights happen is a mile long. Fights have happened since the beginnings of civilization and will continue to happen.

As a civilized society, we council the young not to fight. And, as has always happened, it usually takes a little maturing to realize the foolishness of resorting to physical violence. And certainly there needs to be a punishment when a fight ends in death. But is it rational that all the people present should spend the rest of their days in prison? Are they criminals that cannot be rehabilitated and contribute to society? Does the simple fact that they were THERE make them culpable to such a degree that they will pay for that with their entire life spent behind bars?

This is just one example of how the Felony Murder Rule could be applied. There are numerous cases on the books, and many have had questionable end results on the lives of those involved. Unfortunately for many, life and what happens in it is not usually simply black and white, there can be circumstances, situations, reasons, motivations, causes, excuses – in short, defenses – yet none of these matter or count under this rule.

Questions of how to properly dole out justice are very difficult to answer. The victim’s families may feel that everyone involved SHOULD lose their freedoms forever, just as their loved one has lost their life. That is an understandable feeling. But is it the right answer? As the family member of an incarcerated loved one, my view of our current justice system has changed. I have learned so much throughout this journey that what I once believed was fair is not necessarily the case any more. I am sure if I was the family member of a murdered victim or anyone else impacted by violent crime, my view would change because of that as well.

What are your thoughts on the Felony Murder Rule? Does it’s value outweigh it’s flaws? Is it an effective or fair law? Remember, step up, speak out, make a difference.

~ The Editor