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

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

Officially a cook in Texas prison!

Well, how about that? I have been promoted, after just a short while on my job as pot and pan washer in the prison kitchen. The kitchen boss told me he had observed I was a hard worker, and he needed someone who could learn and work hard, and offered me the position. I accepted the offer (ha ha, as if I had a lot of options) and now I am officially a cook, in prison. Ain’t I the shit? All progress is good, and I take this as progress. And, I get an extra meal for my effort. It’s hard work and it’s kicking my ass because I like to work out so after working my 8 hour shift I hit rec for my routine. Then it’s a shower and sleep, then I do it all over again. Peace out ~

Change is good – catching chain is not good

Well I now can say what is my least-favorite part of prison life. Catching chain for transport to another unit – God, seriously, it sucks. I left my old unit on Friday night and got here on Wednesday. In that time I stopped over at three different units. One is well known for being one of the oldest and worse units in the state of Texas. As you can imagine, that is a bold statement considering the size of Texas and the conditions of many of the TDCJ prison units. But, from my short stay there, I would say it is a true fact. It was insanely HOT. It was also VERY old, VERY dirty, VERY loud, and smells VERY bad. Rusty, creaky, disgusting – right out of a movie. It was gross. It is the old-school style of prison with three tiers and small 6’x8′ 2-man cells. Racial tensions ran high and everybody YELLS for everything. Just crazy feeling being in there.

It was not a good place to be at all and it makes me appreciate the small, boring yet better conditions unit that I have spent the last 7 months in and complaining about. I can see how trouble between inmates would run much higher in these sorts of units, because the conditions would just make you feel like a caged animal, and an animal that is being treated inhumanely too. When you are treated like an animal, chances are you are going to be more likely to act like an animal.

Having said that, I am really not going to miss my old unit a bit. I was done with that place and the people there too. When you are in such close quarters with a bunch of men, their bad points start to really glare after awhile.

But anyway, my two other stops were also in places I am glad I have not been assigned. A lot of the transfer units are pretty large operations, and the more inmates and CO’s you have crammed into a space, well, the worse things get. It’s just natural, I am sure. Also, I should mention being chained to the person next to you and going on god-awful long bus rides in old, crappy buses in the middle of July in Texas in the middle of a heat wave and a drought is not an advisable thing to do. In my last unit, they had me in some classes but about a week before I was transferred the classes were stopped for awhile for “summer break”. That made me laugh at the time because it wasn’t like I was going to the beach to look at the girls or anything. But if that was summer break then I guess this bus tour was my summer road trip. What a bad one it was!

I really want those of you who think prison is NOT THAT BAD to consider how uncomfortable you get when you are forced into a position for maybe just one hour. Think about that for many, many hours, and being hot, and feeling like you are going to puke as well. Not being able to stretch out your legs or bend them in a new position or stretch out your arms and shoulders. I have always been prone to get car sick and this was not a good ride for me. The heat was pretty bad, and we are all kind of nervous about where we are going, whether anybody admits it or not. So, sweat was happening. Lots of sweat. Yeah, this was a challenging couple of days. First the bus ride and at the end of the day you THINK you are so glad to be at your destination, but once you get in your destination it’s SO BAD and SO HOT you start to think, OK, maybe the bus was better, so you make it through the night and are told to get on another bus and find yourself thinking, thank god I am out of that hell hole, and feeling you are lucky to be on the bus, but then the long, horrible bus ride starts up again and you start to feel like you need to take a piss or throw up but you can’t do either, so you start to hope and pray you will get to your new destination soon, and yep, sure enough, you finally do and get off the bus so thankful just to find you are being thrown into an even more hellish hole than the last place… and so it goes on…

I am here now though, and the new unit does seem OK. And the funny thing is, that bad part is fading already. I just don’t advise it to anyone who has a choice in the matter, but as crappy as it seems at the time, it won’t kill you.

I think I will like my new unit. It’s a good change of pace. Right away they gave me a full time job in the kitchen, washing pots and pans. I like it a lot because the hours fly by. Time goes so much faster when you are busy. I lost a lot of my things in transport, including my good work boots because I couldn’t produce a receipt for them. They threw a lot of my things away for no apparent reason, just cause they can, I guess. I am hoping that since I am working in the kitchen they will issue me a new pair without me needing to buy them.

Well – here’s hoping that anyone reading this blog is having way better summer vacations and way cooler road trips than me. When I was 19 I went on an awesome road trip, camping along the way, up to the Smoky Mountains. I have such good memories of that trip, the mountains were awesome and Asheville, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee were both bad-ass cities I stayed in over night. That part of the country isn’t Texas, and Texas is where my heart is at, but it’s some fine country too.

Peace everyone, stay cool. ~ Magnum

4th of July – Celebration of Freedom for U.S.A.?

With the arrival of the 4th of July weekend, I find myself reflecting on the irony, for so many of us, of this celebration of freedom. Here we are, land of the free, home of the brave, proudly celebrating our freedom from tyranny and oppression – and so many of us will pass the holiday incarcerated, or dealing with the incarceration of  loved ones.

Until I had a family member facing incarceration, I was right there amongst the many, shooting off fireworks, waving sparklers in the air, munching down on hotdogs and hamburgers and celebrating our FREEDOM. Not only that, I had a generalized sentiment that prisoners had it easy overall, that we were too easy on them in fact, and that was the “problem”. Now, Texas Magnum has stated he believes that imprisonment saved his life, and I believe it as well. He also freely admits he was in the wrong, although he isn’t sure he agrees a 4 year sentence fits the crime. But that isn’t the point here.

These days I contemplate daily the huge disparities in our justice system. In learning to deal with my loved one’s incarceration I have learned so much and gained such sympathy for so many.

The truth is, many folks did break laws and by the rules of most civilized nations, the repercussion of breaking laws is punishment.
The truth is, too many of those offenders will turn right around upon their release and step once again into the arms of Johnny Law.
The truth is, a simple slap on the wrist for the more heinous crimes would feel like an insult to the victims.

But here are some other truths to ponder:
– U.S.A. leads the world in incarceration rates.
– Roughly 1 is 100 adults is incarcerated – that is 5x more than UK, 9x more than Germany and 12x more than Japan
– Over 3% of the population is either in prison, on probation, or on parole
– Drug crimes account for 2/3 of imprisonments
– African Americans represent 40% of the imprisoned population in the U.S. and only 13% of the general population in the country
– 11.7% of black men in their late 20’s are imprisoned
– in 1970 there were roughly 300,000 imprisoned. Today there are 2,300,000
– the vast majority of inmates are non-violent offenders
– In 2009  funding for K-12 and higher education fell while 33 states put more money into prisons than they had the previous year

And now, incarceration has become private business. State facilities were overcrowded, but by allowing the private sector to enter, we have created a model where the less spent on inmates the more profit to be made, AND where repeat offenders and “tough” sentencing pads the bottom line. Now that this reality exists, how do we back away from it? Just like the tobacco industry, these private corporations in the business of incarcerating our nation are actively lobbying and schmoozing to keep the profits flowing.

Much of  our overpopulation is due to the so-called “War on Drugs”, a war that has failed miserably in cutting drug use. How do we voice the need for reform to the system? In a state like Texas where more is spent on incarceration than education, it’s clear we are putting the focus on the wrong things. OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM IS BROKEN!

To top it off, prison budgets for rehabilitation, vocational training and other positives that might be realized through an incarceration are being cut across the nation. In many facilities, the majority of inmates have no job or duties to perform daily. Some may have a class that lasts a few hours a day, some are considered on “janitorial” duty, some not even that. Most overcrowded dormitory style units have a television on for most of the day, and a population of inmates spends their time watching tv, playing chess and dominoes, and doing pushups and pullups to pass the time. They are fed non-nutritional meals and given sub-standard medical care. Fights are normal, everyday occurances and everybody learns to watch their back. They will do there time in this manner and be released.

What are the chances these folks will leave the prison walls rehabilitated and ready to make it in life? We are putting them into an environment where they will come out the other side being tougher, stronger, and very likely lazier and even dumber than when they went in.

There is TONS of information out there concerning this very real epidemic of incarceration. I grabbed data from a couple sites for some quick facts and would like to cite the sources of reference. I also recommend that you give them a read, the facts are scary, to say the least.
https://www.michigandaily.com/opinion/viewpoint-prisons
http://www.prisonsucks.com/

Happy 4th of July everyone. I ask that all of us take a moment to reflect this holiday weekend, while we celebrate our freedom, what is the answer to this huge mess we have created? And, remember, if none of us speak up, nothing will change. Take action, and have a voice.
~ Editor

A Note from the Editor


My friend Debbra over at www.standbyjerry.com made this nice graphic for Texas Magnum today. Isn’t it cool?

I ask any of you reading this blog to take a moment to visit www.standbyjerry.com and learn about Jerry Welch. Jerry, age 20, is facing trial and possible life imprisonment for the murder of a pedophile named William Bush, who molested him for years of his teen life. Not only that, Jerry DID try to ask for help, and his pleas were ignored. Jerry has never had any trouble or arrests in his life up until this incident.

Jerry has faced multiple challenges throughout his short life already. He had problems at birth and was diagnosed with learning disabilities and mental disabilities early in his life. He is today in county jail waiting for a trial due to begin August 1st. His story is tragic and he and his family need ALL the support they can get.

Please visit www.standbyjerry.com, learn about Jerry’s story and situation, and give any support you can.
Thanks!
~ Editor

Doing the time the best I can

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.

Yell, laugh, cry, scream, fight, or love

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.

Peace ~ Magnum

Life’s a beach?

I feel like I am running out of things to say. Sometimes I look around me at the other people I share this place with, and I don’t even want to write anything about being here. I am sick and tired of people who want to bully others because they are weaker or because they are nicer. The people here are very disrespectful of each other. Some days it’s harder than others to just let all this bullshit flow over me and not affect me.

I have a friend in here who is paroling out any day, and then getting deported because he is in the country illegally. I don’t care about that. All I know him as is my cellie in here, and he is a good guy. His story is he comes from a small town in the far southern part of Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca, where he and his family were all farmers. He grew up a lot poorer than most of us can imagine. When you are poor there, it’s not like here. His life was pretty drastically different there than what it’s like here, and he came here with just an idea of what it would be like, and thinking he could make money and make it good here. “The American Dream”, right?

He got here when he was a young guy, and at that time he had never even driven a vehicle or drank alcohol. He got a labor job and lived with several other guys in an apartment, and for awhile it was pretty good because he was making money and experiencing a bunch of stuff he had never done. He was in a pretty big city and living a life that was way different than what he had grown up with. Then he went out one night with some other guys, drank some beer and got arrested driving home.

He was sentenced to a couple years in prison for a DUI and now he is going to be released and brought to the border and dropped off on the Mexican side. He has never received any commissary since being here because nobody from his family knows where he is and even if they did they wouldn’t have money to send him or know how to send it. I don’t know if illegal immigrants get the $50 when they get released like I hear we do, but if he does, that won’t buy him a bus ticket to his home state. He has told me he is scared that he won’t be able to get home, and from the reports on the news lately, he is scared he will get caught up in the mess with the narcotraficantes and be forced to work for them or killed or something. He doesn’t know what will happen once they drop him off across that bridge and it’s worrying him.

We work out together and we talk. He is hoping he can make it back home and he is looking forward to seeing his brothers again, but his parents are passed on. He hopes he can go back to making a living farming again and that looking back on it he misses that simple life. It seems like in his case the American dream turned into a terrible nightmare.

I can’t imagine being here in prison without ever receiving a letter from anyone or ever being able to buy a package of soup or tuna or a bag of chips or some shampoo or deodorant. All kinds of things might have happened with his family in this time and he has no idea. I try to share some of my commissary with him from time to time. Among all the men in here, he is truly humble and just keeps to himself for the most part. I am going to miss his friendship when he leaves, and he is a good workout partner, but I am glad he will be free and not sitting here in prison. I hope he can make it all the way back to his home town somehow.

Maybe we will meet again someday, under better circumstances. I told him when I am out and get done with my parole I want to take a trip down there and look him up. He says where he lives is really nice, tropical, and it’s not far from the beach. Well, on days like this it’s a lot better dreaming about being on a tropical beach than it is dealing with these guys in here who think they are such bad-asses but are really just asses.

Peace ~ Magnum

In the mirror

I had to laugh the other day. I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and for a moment I was really shocked. For just a minute, I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me.  I saw a serious man with a square jaw. Someone with dark hair, sort of large green eyes, a pale complexion – yes, it was me alright.

But this person looking back at me looked older and harder than I think of myself. Many times, I feel inside just like the same 17 year old kid I once was. It’s literally shocking to see myself in the mirror and realize with a jolt that the 17 year old is long behind me.

Now, it doesn’t get much more adult than sitting here in prison, paying the penalty for my crime. I am changed in many ways. I think for the better overall. But it makes me think, is it this way for all imprisoned people? Do they wake up in the morning, and for just a minute before reality sets in, do they feel like a kid again? Does the lifer spend a moment feeling hopeful and alive before the 4 gray walls and bars on his door close in around him?

I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Is it better to have that shred of optimism even when there isn’t much reason for it? Does that mean that the convicted killer feels a moment of reprieve from his fate and his guilt every day? For that matter, does his victims’ families wake up in the mornings and spend a moment feeling normal, before the reality of their loss again sets in with a clang just as loud as any cell door?

I am grateful that the crimes I am being punished for have been against myself. The victim, if there is one, is that 17 year old kid I sometimes still feel like. He was the kid who’s teachers would say over and over “you can be anything you want to be!” He is the same kid who had a couple really sweet girls like him, and who had a couple adults think he had potential in one thing or another. He had some good friends, and a family that trusted he was going to turn out just fine, after he got through the teen years and a little “normal” trouble.

The truth is, I no longer can be “anything I want to be”. I can’t be president, or hold any public office, or be a member of the military, or a person who votes, or a person who wants to rent an apartment in a complex somewhere, or even a person who wants to work at most stores, restaurants and businesses, or service positions that involves going into someone’s home, like an electrician or a carpet cleaner, because as a convicted felon, I am not eligible, either by law or by the rules of that company, to be any of those things anymore. My possibilities have narrowed.

That’s OK. I accept that as my condition, I may be down but I am not done. There is a country song that says “I’m not as good as I once was, but I am as good, once, as I ever was.” Silly lyrics, but along those same lines, I feel that for many of us who are here, incarcerated, that same logic applies.

We can still make our mark in a positive way on the world. We can still have a good life with a family and a job and a home. Some of our possibilities are gone right out the window. Sometimes that is going to feel unfair to us, if we are trying to get back on track. But we knew it going in, it’s the rules, whether they are reasonable or not. I know I am going to have to work harder,  longer, and take a bit of rejection and “no’s” along the way. But I can find my spot and maybe this experience will cause me to find a path I never would have otherwise. And I can be as good as I ever was. Maybe I will end up being better than I ever was.

Today when I look in the mirror, I hope to see a face looking back at me that has hope. One that looks like they can have a good time but who looks like they care, about themselves and others. And, I hope that the 17 year old in me can stay lit up always, in some small way, and shine through the serious, hard face looking out at me, because I liked that guy.

Peace ~ Magnum

 

Getting clean the hard way

Maybe a few of you reading this blog stumbled on here when you were looking for information about heroin or addiction. Maybe you or one of your family members is struggling with some of the very same things that got me here in prison and you are looking for help.

In one of my first posts on here, I said I was genuinely glad I got arrested because it probably saved my life. Getting locked up is what it took for me to get the needle out of my arm. That is the good news.

Now the bad news. Here is the truth, if any of you reading this are thinking of quitting an addiction or maybe thinking if you don’t quit you might end up in prison, I suggest that you find a way to quit on your own. Ask for help, go to rehab or the hospital, have someone lock you in a room if you have to. Before you start, do it right and stock up on advil, immodium (if you are addicted to opiates) to ease the discomfort, and anthing else that you think can help too. Read up on your addiction and what to expect in withdrawal, don’t use your addict friends as your source of information either. Have some gatorade and sprite in the house, get some soup and crackers and then just tough it out. And once you get through that week or couple of weeks of hell, don’t go out and use again and be right back where you started.

Because looking back, I can say with all honesty detoxing in county jail is a very bad experience. In fact, it’s probably one of the worse ways to go about it. You will pray for death more than once during that experience but chances are, you won’t die, you will just wish you could.

For starters, it’s freezing cold in county jail. They keep the cells very cold, maybe 65 or so, at all times, the AC blasting, because it helps sober up the drunks and it keeps belligerent fools from fighting and acting aggressive. When I got arrested I had on shorts, a tank top, and sandals. No socks, no underwear. And they don’t issue those to you in county jail.

You get a jumpsuit and shower shoes. You have a thin, hard mattress, and a thinner blanket. If you want to purchase your own t-shirts and underwear and socks, you can, if somebody deposits money on your commissary account. But this takes time as you only get to go to the store on one day a week, and weekends is closed. So let’s say like me, you are arrested on Tuesday, and on Wednesday you call family, and they mail a money order the next day and it gets there on Saturday. My day for store was Friday, so that means I had to wait another week, so in total I was there 11 days with no underwear, sock, t-shirts, no toothpaste or toothbrush, no deodorant.

That was 11 days of going through withdrawing in the worse possible conditions, cold, uncomfortable, stinking, dirty, sweating and chills non-stop, with the craps and sick to my stomach and nobody there really could have cared less. The beverages in county jail was milk at meals and water from the tap. That’s it. Not cold water, not koolaid. Not even bad coffee was available.  You get woken up for breakfast at 4:00 AM, even though you probably just finally really fell asleep 2 hours before. It’s loud and noisy all the time, too, not to mention having to deal with a bunch of f’d up folks in there on a day to day basis who want to fight over any little thing, and freaking out because in the midst of the misery is the realization that the next stop is prison and that fact keeps smacking you right in the face.

So, if any of you are thinking of quitting (like I was pretty much every day of my addiction) do yourself a favor and accomplish it now, on the outside. Don’t wait for the Jail Rehab plan that I chose.

In closing, here’s a little bit of addict trivia for you – they supposedly call it “going cold-turkey” because of the goosebumps a heroin addict gets when in withdrawal. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, it’s really shitty, first you are sweating and then your flesh is all goosepimpled up, like a cold turkey carcass on ice, so turkeybumps really.

Peace ~ Texas Magnum

“I can” – the strength of those words

Within the last two days, two of my buddies here in the unit got moved. I was really sad to see them go. One in particular had become a really good friend. He was a good dude and I had spent a lot of my days talking and sharing stories and thoughts with him. He was really good at Scrabble! I felt sad for him, as intelligent as he was, he has spent 15 years in prison and was doing another 3 this time. He is the one who described the experience of getting out of prison and wanting to live too much. Like me, he had used heroin and meth. And, previously, getting out had only resulted in him falling back into those old habits again.

It’s funny, because you learn different lessons from the various people you encounter in life. Of course, I had heard the expressions “don’t say you can’t” and “just do it” but I still doubted myself in many areas.

But, after working out with my buddy several times, I started to believe I could do things that previously I had told myself “I can’t.” I would say to him, “dude, I can’t do a handstand” and sure enough, with that attitude, I couldn’t. He encouraged me to believe I COULD do a handstand, to tell myself “I CAN”. After awhile I started to embrace that thinking while we were doing our workouts. Now, I still can’t do a GREAT handstand, but I am doing handstands. I believe I can, I have it in me now, and I am getting there. That is truthfully the only thing that changed in my workout, my attitude went from “can’t” to “CAN”.

To take this in another direction, I have had it in my mind for awhile now that I don’t have to abuse drugs anymore, or live selfishly, and I feel this in my heart. I believe it. I told my buddy in one of our conversations, “You know what, I am not doing it any more. Life is too fragile to die that way.”

The day before he left, I had spent some time talking with him, he was really feeling down. I know why too, I could see it, that same feeling I’ve had when you find yourself in the same damn rut as before, and you wonder if things will ever change.

Well, when I recognized that in his demeanor, I told him, “you know what, it doesn’t have to be this way for us. We just have to stop telling ourselves “can’t”.

I realized right then that has been a lot of my OWN problems in the past. I have made a firm decision now that I am not gonna allow myself to let my life fall apart behind selfish desires. Heroin, meth, all that crap, it isn’t worth it.

My friend thanked me that night for being a positive influence on him. Imagine that – a 39 year old man thanking ME for influencing him. If I can influence him then I can damn well do the same thing for myself.

You know, life is crazy. Sometimes it seems you meet someone for awhile, then they are just gone from your life again. It seems that you are supposed to take that experience and what you learned from it, and share it with another, pass it along. Take the good from anything you can and leave the bad behind.

For many of us who are incarcerated, it’s time to leave our childish ways behind and to become real men. We CAN become men who use our hearts and minds above their fists, and men who act for reasons beyond selfishness. Men who CAN succeed and enjoy living free.

Ha, it’s just like Obama says —  “Yes, we can.”

Peace out ~ Magnum

Missing out on life

After being incarcerated for the last seven months, I have learned the truth about what being locked up and the loss of freedom means to a man.

Before all this happened, losing my freedom meant something completely different to me than what it does now. I thought losing my freedom meant not being able to come and go as I wanted, not being able to sleep in when I wanted, stay out late when I wanted and to do what I wanted. I thought it meant not having a corrections officer telling me where to go or not go, and I thought it meant being able to jump in my truck and go float the river or hang out with friends or play music whenever I wanted to.

Well it does mean all of that. And of course I miss those things. But a person gets used to whatever their circumstances are, and they find a way to make a little life out of it. I have my people I hang with here, and I have my routine. I find things to laugh about and things to think about. I watch TV, work out, play dominoes, read and write. I skip breakfast if I want and I buy snacks or other foods in the commissary if I don’t like the meals. So in short, although I am incarcerated I am not stripped of all free will. I still have a voice, and some options.

Here is what I don’t have – being a part of my family and their lives. Here is a short list of what I have missed out on during the past seven months of incarceration:
– My mother’s birthday
– Thanksgiving
– Christmas
– New Year’s
– My birthday
– The death of my grandfather
– The birth of my first niece

The holidays and birthdays are days I hate to have missed but I can deal with those. But, the death of my grandfather and the birth of my niece have caused me to feel deeply how cut off I am from those I love and who love me. The most severe punishment of not being “free” is missing these milestones in life. In not being there to support my grandmother and father when my grandfather passed, I feel I have let them down greatly. I feel my selfishness, which got me here in the first place, is once again to blame for a failure to be the person I should be in life. In not being able to celebrate the birth of my sister’s beautiful new daughter, I feel I have let her and her husband down.

My family has always tried to love me and be there for me, when I needed them, yet I am not there for them now. I pray that when I am released I can make up some of this to the people I love. This is what the REAL punishment of incarceration is. Not being behind a locked gate, not living with a bunch of other incarcerated men in a cage like an animal, but the loss of my freedom to BE THERE.

Freedom isn’t about walking through a door or jumping in a car, it’s about picking up a phone to call your grandmother and talk about fond memories of your grandfather. It’s about sending your sister a bouquet of flowers and sending your niece a stuffed teddy bear. It’s about taking your mother out to eat on her birthday or handing your brother-in-law a Christmas gift.

If you are reading this today while free, take a minute to call the people you love and tell them so. Use your freedom to reach out to someone you care about.

Prison is a funny place.

Prison is a funny place. You sit in here, day after day, imagining what it will feel like when you are released. We all make a list of things to do, when we are “free”. Most mens’ list are a little like this:

1) Get laid
2) Eat a huge steak
3) Sleep in a comfortable bed

Everyone’s list is somewhat different but most men have a list similar to my example. (Ask them, if you don’t believe me.)

Of course, I myself know that I look forward to MANY things. From women, to work, to spending time with my family.

What I wonder today is, what about when we get out and accomplish all these things on our list? We reach the top of the shrine we have created named “freedom”. We, in here, idolize this shrine. We spend a good amount of time thinking, dreaming, and imagining it becoming a reality for us. FREEDOM becomes our goal.

But then… we get out… and we look for all these things we miss so much – women and food, comfort and pleasure – and all of a sudden, after these short lived goals are realized, there is nowhere to go, but down. And depression can then set in. And we still face the stark realities of finding jobs, complying with parole, and a whole lot more.

After talking with several fellow inmates who have been down this road a time or two already, I can only conclude one thing. Freedom is a state of mind. Many inmates have told me that once they do everything they had been holding onto, on that list of theirs, they found themselves once again unsatisfied with their lives and looking for something more. The question arises “what is next?” 

I feel that’s where learning to become happy with the small things comes in handy. The honest to God’s fact is, I am “moderately” happy right here and now. I appreciate any little thing I get in here.

It’s taking that attitude of appreciation for things back out into the world that might give me a foot up, once I am out in the world again.  It might turn out to be the lesson in all of this, for me. It’s all about taking that appreciation for things into back into the world.

Maybe not taking life for granted is what can get us ALL to the place we want to be, once we are once out into the free world again.

So, today I think I will sit back and just enjoy the small things. Like, the company of my celly. Or the taste of my crappy coffee  I am sipping on. Or even my crappy, thin, hard mattress that I will lay my head down on tonight.

Because it’s not all that bad, and it’s what I got, and I never know what day will be my last.

Peace ~ Magnum

Life in prison – settling into the everyday routine

So this is the real part of being in prison. It’s not the being scared of the unknown or the fear of losing freedom. It’s the knowing that you aren’t going anywhere, day after day after day. It’s being bored and stuck and trying to make the best of  the bad result of your own bad decisions.

After getting through intake, I was put into General Population and I thought I might be staying there, but I was moved again to another facility. The new place is much farther from home too, so I won’t be getting many visits. That is a disappointment. At the new unit, I was first put into “Ag Seg”. This is short for Aggravated Segregation and they put everyone new there at first while they figure out where they should be placed. At first I thought to myself, “so this is solitary…”

The first day in Ag Seg wasn’t so bad, after all, I hadn’t had any privacy in awhile. But then I realized just how quickly I could lose track of time and run out of things to think and do. I had one book to read that I was rationing. I was scared if I finished it I would be with nothing to do at all. The guards in that area played their radios, and I could hear it. It was nice to hear music but sometimes the songs made me really sad. My room was small, I had a bed and a toilet, basically. Not much else. The light was a little dim so reading and writing were tough on my eyes after a while. I thought I might be there a day or two, and I prepared myself to wait it out, but in total I ended up being there for over a week.

Finally, I was moved to General Population. My dorm area is smaller here than it was in my last unit, so it feels a little more crowded, but there is work out equipment in the rec yard here, so that is an improvement. There are 2 televisions, but they are controlled by a group in here so we watch what they want to watch. Also, the tables are controlled too, so I have to write sitting on my bunk, which isn’t as easy. Other than that, I haven’t had many issues. It is a little more intense than at my last place, and people are more segregated by race here. I hate that part but it’s just the way it is here. It’s not really a choice.

I have been assigned a job doing yard work cutting grass but there isn’t any right now, so I have a lot of time to myself. I exercise every day, doing 1000 pushups, 500 situps and running and other routines daily. I play dominoes and watch tv, read and write. I am waiting to get into some classes.

It’s so strange finding myself living this life and more strange that it is starting to feel… normal, in a way, to have this same routine every day. I get a few letters and look forward to mail time, it’s definitely a highlight to get mail. What I see ahead of me is a lot of boredom and time to pass. I can see how it would be easy to fall into what others have said, and just let this time go by without doing work on myself while I am here. I have to find a way to focus on keeping my mind set on improving myself and getting my discipline in place for when this is behind me.

Now that the unknown of intake and getting to my unit is behind me, it feels like a waiting game. I have my people I hang out with and I have my routine down. I could give a bunch of details about the days here but most of it isn’t really that great and it would feel more like complaining. I feel I am sitting back for a minute and seeing what is next, and how I choose to make the most of this place I am locked up in. Anyways, if anyone has some comments or suggestions as to how to stay on the up side, I will be happy to hear them.

Till next time ~ Peace, Love and Noodles

Resolutions for the new year

As the new year comes, so do new beginnings. For many people goals are made, and promises sworn to be kept to a spouse or to one’s self. “This year it will be different. I will lose that weight”, or “I’ll cut down on the booze” or “I’ll never cheat on my wife again.” All these dreams and desires to renew and improve ourselves rush through our dreams and our hearts each year.

This is the type of thing that amazes me about humans, we have the capacity to want something with our entire heart and soul, until it hurts our very bones. Yet, we might pursue our goal to an extent, practice our new choices or newly found principals for a few weeks, maybe even months. And yes, some of us do stay on a forward path and complete what we say we will do. But many others, myself included, find ourselves let down once again, our dreams blown away by the reality of life trampled on by our own lack of self will.

Time and time again I have proven to myself that my own will isn’t sufficient enough to follow through with my well laid plans and best intentions for the future. At times, when the law is on my ass, and I have no choice but to change, I will… but as soon as the heat is off, I have returned to my own selfish ways. This is the phenomenom that amazes me. Members of AA and other 12-step groups believe that one must put his will in the hands of a higher power to overcome old habits and addictive behaviors. Not until then, will things begin to change.

I have never been able to fully give myself to the thought that I have so little power in my life. Although, like I said, I have let myself down, time and time again. With that being said, I do question my honesty when I have decided to change certain aspects of my life.

So, this year, I myself have a resolution for the new year. This year my resolution is honesty. To be honest with myself in my intentions to change. To say to myself, “I will change my ways completely” would be a lie. Instead, I will try to live up to one small, attainable goal at a time. I will become self sufficient. I will put my duties and responsibilities before my pleasures. I will make sure the refrigerator is stocked with food. Or, I will just tell myself “I love you” when looking in the mirror, and mean it.

So, to all of you who have embarked on the new year with new resolutions, goals, or desires to change – my conclusion in reflecting on this and my message to you is to be aware is to be prepared. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, choose a goal and set a plan in place that is within reach. And, stick with it.

Peace ~ Magnum

Light up the darkness

Arriving here to TDCJ was as I expected. It involved a lot of nudity and yelling, being told where to stand, where to look, go, speak, dress… but overall I could think of a lot worse. My first week was spent in the “Chicken Coops” which resemble something out of the movie Silent Hill. Rusted metal, and dirty everything, complete with rats climbing on the rafters above.

While in the intake process, you to go to sociology and medical examinations, and orientation, as well as an IQ test. Once you are finished with those, you are moved to be housed in General Population. By that time, you don’t care what or who awaits you in General Population, just as long as you’re out of the Chicken Coops.

Once housed in GP, it was relieving to find that it’s pretty much like a much bigger county jail as far as the atmosphere. Observing, you can see the cliques of guys and who runs with who. Nobody disturbs you though. Over all, I am glad I have finally arrived and that I can now get started on finishing my time.

Christmas and New Years were both alright. We made a spread out of all of our food, and we said a prayer and then gave peace to the man beside you. It brought me joy to see all the men, although lost, still find their way to a merry Christmas, along with myself.

Overall, I feel I have arrived into the belly of the beast. Now it’s up to me to spread the good news that the darkness in our lives can be lit from within. Maybe it will be done in the smallest of ways, by making one of my brothers smile or giving him something to laugh about that day, maybe my words and actions can even cause him to think about his life and reflect on things. Justice, truth and peace are in my hands to share, and now is my chance to stand and act in what I believe in – to light up the darkness.

Texas Magnum “catches chain”

From the Editor: Texas Magnum  “caught chain” today.

For those who don’t know jail lingo, “catching chain” means that he was picked up for TDC prison transfer to the intake facility in Huntsville, in the wee hours this morning. In thr Texas prison system, every inmate starts out in Huntsville for processing and class designation. Physical, psychological, educational and vocational testing is done to determine what class an inmate starts out as and which unit he will be assigned to. They will be assigned their TDC Number, which will be their identity for the length of time they are incarcerated.

My understanding is that the inmate’s class is an indicator of the threat level they pose, for instance, was their crime violent or non-violent, do they have any gang affiliations, etc. I have heard that an attempt is made to house similar sorts and levels of crimes together. For instance, inmates with substance abuse issues, DUI’s, and other such convictions may be housed together and armed robbery, assualt cases, and other such aggravated crimes may be housed together. Having said that, crowded conditions also comes into play, and sometimes an inmate is sent where there is space rather than where they would best fit in.

It will be several weeks until he is through with intake and sent to his designated unit. I have a few bits of writing from him, etc. that I will push out there to keep things active until we hear from him again. Meanwhile, he asked that I let you all know he was working on some replies to many of your comments and is sorry he didn’t get them mailed for posting to the site before he left. He also wants you to know that he is grateful to each and every one of you for all the support and kindness you have shown him. It has really meant a lot to him.

Keep checking back, hopefully it won’t be long until we have some updates. And please keep Texas Magnum in your thoughts and prayers as he goes through this part of his journey.

Letting go

I’m mad. I’m anxious. I’m just all around worried. I sit here and sit here and sit here. And I go over and over how I could have lived my life different. I know I could have done better. I am scared for my future.

All these thoughts bring nothing but negative emotions and urges. I feel like starting a fight with anyone who crosses me, I have the urge to use drugs, drink, shoot up. And I find myself judging others, in an attempt to defend my actions and outbursts and bad attitude.

I know at moments like this, I am my own worse enemy. I am letting my old ways and my old thinking get the best of me.

When this happens I remember a saying from A.A.-  “Let go, and let god.” I remind myself of this with a serenity prayer, and I try to reassure myself by letting my higher power know that I acknowledge that he’s the one who is in control, and I’m just gonna let him handle the things in front of me that seem impossible. Meanwhile, I will try my best to do the next right thing.

A dream with a message for me

My last post I wrote was about being in here with a man who is accused of the murder of a friend of mine. Well, it has caused me some stress. And, last night I had a dream with my dead friend in it! And, it was all wrapped up in drug and alcohol use. I am going to call my friend “Red” for this post, and tell you about the dream. I would like to know what you all make of it. It was REALLY strange because him and I were probably more technically acquaintances than close friends, and I sure have never dreamed about him before. And this dream was one of those dreams that are so realistic that it feels just like reality until you wake up and realize it wasn’t.

So, in my dream, Red and I were hanging out, but I was using cocaine and alcohol, and Red wasn’t doing any of that.

At one point in the dream we were in a car and he was driving, I kept asking him how long we were going to be gone because I wanted to get back so I could keep drinking. And then, we got to a restaurant. Red’s cousin was there and Red ordered his cousin a whole case of beer, but Red and I weren’t drinking! I was so mad at Red and said to him, “WTF, Red! Aren’t WE going to drink?”

At that moment, Red looked over at me and he smiled, the sort of smile like he knew something so deep that I didn’t know, and like he sort of felt sorry for me for not knowing, but like he understood me not knowing too, like he had insider knowledge of something profound.

The whole time, he was so pleasant and happy. Much more so than I ever remembered him to be in real life. And, he had an aura of peacefulness surrounding him.

Then, a show started at the restaurant, people were dancing on stage with big snakes. It made me feel frightened. But still, Red seemed peaceful and happy and unaffected by the scary show.

I woke up then, and I felt really good, and even better about the situation here in jail. It was if I couldn’t feel so much anger at Red’s accused murderer because Red himself seemed so much happier and peaceful now.

This dream seems full of meaning to me. I honestly almost feel that Red came to visit me and give me a message. I wonder what any of you feel this dream could mean?

Doubts and uncertainty have found a foothold

Hi everyone, I want to share with you that I have been feeling so restless lately.

To be honest I have been having a lot of urges to use drugs, and also a lot of doubts about being able to stay sober. I think some of it has to do with knowing that I am going to need to spend the rest of my life without drugs, and as strange as it may sound to some of you, that realization causes me some stress. Drug use has been a part of my life for so long now. That was my way to cope with pretty much all the emotions and feelings that I had. I know I need to learn different ways to deal with feelings like anxiety, loneliness or sadness, and I need to be serious about that. It’s a scary and challenging thought for me, and the very thought of it causes me the sort of feelings that just a few short months ago I would have dealt with by getting high.

Another reason I may be having these thoughts and doubts now is that I have had a stressful situation arise here in the jail. Recently, a man who is accused of the murder of an acquaintance and friend of mine that occurred this past summer has come into our tank!

To complicate things even further, this friend, the one who was murdered, had previously been the boyfriend of a girl I was spending time with right before I was arrested. (There is even more to it than that but I won’t get into it for this post because it already sounds like one of the soap operas I have found myself watching on the television in here.)

The other day, I overheard the guy arrested for my friend’s murder, and he was talking bad about the girl. It really bothered me for some reason. Not because of feelings for her, she and I have no relationship any more. She actually left me high and dry when I was arrested. But, it still bothered me a lot when I overheard his unkind comments about her. And, of course the fact that he may have murdered a guy I considered a friend is really bothering me too. That guy was involved in some of the same drug using habits that I was, and we were both on the wrong path, but he didn’t deserve to be killed. He wasn’t a bad guy.

So, all this is stressful, and I suppose this is a chance for me to learn better ways to handle things than doing drugs. But, as I said, to be honest I have been having the urge to use, it seems to be the first thing that pops into my addicted head when things don’t go my way. And it’s making me doubt myself and my ability to handle the difficulties in life that I know are still out there. I need to do some deep thinking and reflection on all of this. I appreciate all the positive energy you can send my way, I think I need it.

Peace ~ Magnum