Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

Posted: May 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’m at Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI), a facility in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS).  It’s that time of year, mid-March, when it still can be real cold in the morning but can be quite nice in the afternoon.  JCI has this thing called “Outside Rec” several times a week.  If you remember “Track and Field Day” in High School, the layout is similar.  There’s the track we walk around to get to anything, but then inside is another track you could do the 100 yard dash in.  I counted 10 basketball hoops and concrete courts, pull up bars and such.  No long jump pits, but I do see push up competitions.  Do you remember when the teacher would call or the bell would ring for recess? It was also comparable to the stampede that would occur out the door.  I’m restricted in what I’m allowed to do, so I basically walk around the track.  I don’t mind. I’m really enjoying it.  It’s the first extended exposure to the sun my body has had in almost a year.  Outside the governor walking up to me and giving me a pardon, nothing at this moment could be finer.

To communicate rec is over, a loudspeaker in the center of the field, like you would have at a high school football stadium makes the announcement.  On nice days like this many inmates return outside after signing in and grab a seat at picnic tables that are in front of each unit.  It has almost a street festival feel to it.  A couple of tables play Dominoes, one has black guys making up rap songs, another couple have white guys with guitars practicing or showing off while occasionally making the effort to sing.  Then there’s some of us, like myself, with books.  One sure way to get someone to have a conversation with you is to really get interested in your book.  It never fails!  Almost everyone has a mug of coffee, tea or soda.  Since Oxbow has hot water appropriate for the task, my love for coffee has returned!  If your picturing the prison yard from “Shawshank Redemption”, put that out of your mind. Anyone not sitting at a picnic table brings a stern warning from the loudspeaker to take a seat in the courtyard.  Everyone eventually obeys. Because of that Tim Dufrane wouldn’t be able to find rocks to polish here or a place to dump the wall he dug with his rock hammer in this yard.  On the upside no one gets set on fire or shot, at least from what I’ve seen.  I suppose that might be the point of why they make us sit at a table in the courtyard! 

My nose is in my book (“Kill Bin Laden” by Dalton Fury if you want to know – highly recommend!) and an inmate named Othneil Peterson (alias) joins me.  Peterson walks, talks and acts like a girl.  He was just recently returned from the “hole” for getting caught performing some kind of sex act with another inmate.  It’s interesting to watch and listen to the other inmates that though they ridicule him behind his back, they seek out his company and are almost flirtatious in the way they talk to Peterson.  Maybe its because its the closest to female attention that they can have here.  I’d always steered clear of Peterson, but now he was at my picnic table.  Dang it, we almost had Bin Laden too!  We made the introductions and mine as usual Peterson told me his story. His story actually resembled mine in some respects up until he turned to sexual relationships with foster siblings.  The closest I had as a foster kid to any interest in my older foster sisters was to peek in the key holder of the bathroom door to see why the older boys made such a fuss over them.  I still didn’t get it.  Of course, I was 7.  For Anderson, his road to sex offender began there.  Like many of the others, the crimes he is here for, he is innocent of, or so he claims.  It was the vindictive retaliation when he dumped her by his 43 year old girlfriend he had when he was 16.  I spoke up here basically asking questions in reverse fashion and sure enough, he contradicted himself like crazy.  We moved onto his drawings.  He is a professional level architect – in my amateur opinion.  We both like Star Trek.  Then came out the drawings and the games he designed for Star Trek.

I looked around once in awhile and noticed other inmates watching us  Some laughing, others I could swear they were jealous.  I got to give credit to Peterson.  He is what he is in here, not caring what others say, think or do.  This isn’t the start of a beautiful friendship.  I abhor pedophilia and I could be locked up forever and not be gay.  But his attitude of being himself, standing up for what he believes in and being open and honest with others is something I think about.   The ability to take that risk seems to be directly proportionate to the confidence you have in your own self and who you are.  So, I learned something from Othneil Peterson today.

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