Posts Tagged ‘perspective’


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  Nothing much happened the weekend after our ERP Group graduated.  Two minor incidents would have implications later on.  First, cellie Scar Johnson began talking trash about me in the dayroom.  I got word of this from cellie Larry Sands.  I just didn’t care as I’ve come to know the person he is and since I’m almost out of here opinions here matter even less than it did to me before.  Second, cellie Jose Michaels had the occasion to be playing his music louder than normal.  He likes a Puerto Rican style of rap which I don’t care for.  But the way it has worked in our cell up to this point is we use our headphones for electronics.  It’s a respect thing as not everyone likes what another might.  So, I asked him to turn it down which he did.  End of story right?  Not exactly.  Come Monday, it started similar to when I first got to MSDF.  Lots of TV, took a shower and read.  It’s so nice to not have to wait in line for the shower now!  But during the day, our ERP social worker Ms. Grey came by and summoned us to the dayroom.  I hoped against hope she got word our judges had already signed our paperwork, but no such luck.  Though she hadn’t felt the need to go through our Phase III evaluations, she brought our Phase 3 evaluations for our signature.  Glancing through mine, the ratings were generally positive, but the true reflection of how she felt laid in the comments she made.  She mentioned how I went to the hole because of this blog but also mentions that though I never received any kind of discipline for it I seem to always have to have the last word and that I didn’t seem to grasp the basic tenants of the ERP program.  I read this and briefly agreed.  I was helping at her request other inmates with their goals for crying out loud!  But I wasn’t going to make any headway here, certainly not with all those other group members standing around.  It felt vindictive, almost retaliatory on her part.  Of course, this doesn’t change anything about my status as having completed the ERP program.  The only downside is this eval will go to my parole officer (PO), Helen Gaither.  There’s a good chance she won’t even read it.  But at the time I admit to being angry.  I was even more angry when Sands returned and told me Ms. Grey asked him if he regretted moving to this cell.  When he said no, she asked if he was sure.  Again he said no.  I sat there fuming.  I went about my business thinking about all this.  I got in a better mood though when Michaels came around.  He has such a positive attitude, you can’t help but not be down around him.  We got to talking and he told me that he had been unhappy when I asked him to turn down the music and that he can’t wait till Sands and I leave so he can run the show in this cell and they can be bad as they want in there.  He was decent about it and he demonstrated respect by seeing we had a way of doing things before he got here.  But I’ll still be glad I won’t be here for that collision between Scar and Michaels!  But I’ll close with some comments about what Ms. Grey did.  Its good I always wait before I write these entries.  It allows perspective to form.  But to be honest, I’ve been unhappy with my writing for this blog while at MSDF.  I have had one hour a day to write whereas at other institutions I had tons of time.  I’m also unhappy with my time at MSDF.  I grew as a person much more while at DCI, JCI, and FMCI.  Though MSDF and ERP were largely negative influences in my life, ultimately I’m responsible for my own growth or lack thereof.  So I have to accept responsibility for that.  It’s not Ms. Grey, MSDF, cellies or others fault.  But I will say I do look forward to a more positive atmosphere that I will create out in the world.  The proof is in the pudding as they say.  I believe that with God’s help, I will be successful even if it does look overwhelming now. 

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I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  Our ERP social worker Ms. Grey started off the day finishing up the workbook The Price of Freedom is Living Free. Relapse, Recidivism, and Recovery by Jack. D. Cooper and the video that goes along with it.  She pointed out the entry on the last page (52) entitled “The Beginning” really sums up the choices before us, to live free or to live in bondage.  I wish I had the space to share it but I sent my copy to the blog sponsors and they can link or post it per their choice. Here is the excerpt:

“The Beginning – Those of use who have made the choice to live free understand that the choices we make will always have a price tag.  We just need to be clear on what price we are going to pay:  the price for freedom or the price for bondage.  Both choices in living are available to us.  The pay-off for our old values in living are consistent and predictable…standing for count, random strip searches, the constant roar of inmates, correction officers, concrete and steel or waiting for that letter that won’t come.  What price are you going to pay?  In making your decision, you might ask yourself, “Am I prepared to spend another month, decade or lifetime locked up for a few hours of excitement here on the street?”  If your answer is yes, the system will gladly refund your misery. The choice rests with you.

Whether we are locked up or on the streets, we can choose to live free.  As “values” in living are rational, sound and sensible.  We recognize that we possess the ability to feel, appreciate and understand, as we learn to change the internal and external condition of our lives.  We can take care of ourselves while simply caring for others.  We can start living our own lives usefully, respecting other people’s rights to live as they choose.  We will understand that getting is not always better than giving, and that chasing objects and holding attitudes that set us apart from other people are not as important as seeking values that will bring us together.  Finally, we will see that we’ve been brought back into being…living with value and living free.”

For lunch we were having chicken salad, one of the better meals here.  For me as a swamper, what it meant is we would go through more bread than normal.  We’re usually provided 3 loafs of bread for the meal but inmates are accustomed to asking for and getting more than the 2 pieces allotted by the menu, which is okay, considering they cheat us on the quantity on most other things such as potatoes!  But toady I wasn’t going to be able to give more than 2 slices.  Inmates weren’t happy when I wouldn’t give more than 2 slices, but oh well. I treated them all the same, my cellies, guys at my table, everyone.  I told those who gave me a hard time they could come back for anything left over.  As I finished serving I heard a remark made by ERP group member Mark Hogan that since I’d become a swamper I was acting like a cop.  He was talking to someone else but clearly intended for me to hear it.  Like an idiot, I stopped at his table and asked him if he had something on his mind.  Fortunately he said no.  What would I have done if he hadn’t????  Of course, I didn’t let it go at that.  After the meal while I was cleaning up, I went to his cell and asked him what the problem was.  Hogan apologized and I reluctantly tapped his knuckles.  I don’t believe his apology but I’m betting he was smarter than me today knowing nothing good would come from this.  At our afternoon ERP session, Ms. Grey showed a movie I think we’ve seen before called Smoke Signals, a movie showing two Native Americans who attempt to overcome their own issues from their past each for their own perspective.It was obviously effective on some level for Augie Prescott as he was moved to tears.  I thought it was a good movie.  But I decided during the movie that this swamper experiment is going to have to end.  The reasons I took the job weren’t nearly as important to me as graduating.  ERP in 28 days on June 10th.  It had given me the material for my Phase 3 Goals and Objectives on improving socialization and patience so it wasn’t a total bust.  Only thing the guard who’d have to approve the change, Roscoe Peters, wasn’t working so I told the sergeant on duty I wasn’t feeling well.  I got the guy who had the job before me and who still wanted it to take over for me until Peters got back.  Many, including former cellie Malik Pearl who had tried to scheme him out of the job, weren’t happy he was coming back but I just don’t care.  I felt like a huge load was off my shoulders.  I got more good news.  In the mail, blog sponsors let me know my biological relatives had checked in and they were safe.  Also, cellie Brian Whalen who is being released Monday, that though he wishes to to maintain contact with the former swamper who wants to rob him, he is no longer willing to engage Whalen in any kind of business dealing since Whalen has a bit of a tendency to talk too much.  You think????  But Whalen doesn’t have any idea of the kind of bullet he has dodged.  Next week is the third PO call and our presentation of Phase 3 Goals and Objectives, while working on our legacy project.  Let’s keep it simple from here on out.


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  On Saturday, I got a surprise knock on my cell door from former cellie Malik Pearl.  He is to graduate from ERP this coming Friday (May 6th) along with current cellies Corey Ball and Brian Whalen. The question Pearl passed to me didn’t take but a second for me to respond.  He asked if I’d be interested in becoming a Swamper as he was going to step down.  I said no way.  It would interfere with my routine, force me to interact with more people, upset my TV watching and I’d have to deal with people whining for the extra food that Swampers get as their defector compensation (even though technically we’re not supposed to get that) since I’m told there is no extra pay while in the ERP program.  He left and that was that. A t least so I thought.  As the day went by, I learned the swamper job was probably going to go to ERP group member Mark Hogan who had developed a good relationship with guard Roscoe Peters, who would make the decision.  There were two problems here.  Pearl, along with the other blacks, knew Hogan to be racist.  How you might ask?  As we’ve seen in the past with him, he blurts out inappropriate remarks, not caring who hears.  So that’s how Pearl indicated he’d keep the swamper job rather than letting him have it.  Cellie Larry Sands revealed to Pearl that Hogan had Hepatitis C.  I don’t know how he knew that.  But lets face it, swampers wear gloves and you are not going to get infected from serving food.  But Pearl used this information to turn opinion against Hogan being a swamper in the dayroom.  Later on that day, guard Ruth Barthowski again approached me with the question if I’d be willing to be a swamper.  Now I had had time to reconsider the situation and I had changed my mind.  Why?  Because it will interfere with my routine, force me to interact more with people, upset my TV watching and deal with whiny people.  Kind of like real life!  So against my instincts I said yes to the job knowing I’ll be free in about 50 days so its time to get used to these things again.  The only problem is Pearl had not changed his mind too.  He wanted a guy of his choosing, his cellmate David Sussex, to have the job so he could still have access to the extra food.  So Pearl managed to talk Barthowski into a new policy on swampers which Peters approved.  Swampers would change out every 30 days so more people would have a chance to do it.  From Pearl’s way of thinking, he’ll be long gone by the time the next swamper change occurs so its all good.  The swamper that held the job with him, whom he found annoying anyway, would now have to give up the job as well which would mean his guy, David Sussex, would get the job along with me.  That night was also Barthowski’s final night as a guard.  She made a nice speech at her final count at 9 pm, followed by us all applauding her.  She is going to be missed, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be hearing from her again!  The next day, the 2 old swampers came out to train us, giving us tips on how to count extras for ourselves.  I’ll give you the swamper routine in a future blog entry.  I was assigned to hand out the liquids and bread while Sussex handed out trays or cereal.  Breakfast went fine but at lunch, when stacking dirty trays on the cart, 7 or 8 fell which caused the inmates in their cells in the dayroom to erupt in applause.  I stayed out to help him clean it up after I was done.  Things largely went fine otherwise.  I returned to my cell more energized, I think simply because I was doing something other than sitting on my butt.  My cellies of course complained I gave too much food away to others and not to them. I I had actually kept very little for myself.  I just smiled.  So this is what its like to be a swamper!  But Sunday night things got put into perspective about 9:30 pm when word came down that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  None of this really matters in comparison, does it?


I’m at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), an institution in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS), participating in the Earned Release Program (ERP).  Today is Friday, the end of our 21st of 26 weeks that this program lasts.  In the dayroom prior to our ERP group starting, we learned Augie Prescott still couldn’t get through to his family in Alabama after the devastation caused by the tornadoes there that have killed over 200 in several southern states.  Of course, I didn’t say anything to anyone but my recently reconnected biological family is from that area.  I have no way to reach them since my only way to reach them is through email via my sponsors.  I sent a note but I can’t let myself think about it too much.  It would be so ironic if something happened now that I have finally connected to them.  But lets not go there.  The day started off with us going over proper interview etiquette in the video From Parole to Payroll which was very effective if you have not had experience interviewing before.  We paid special attention though in how to handle disclosure of our criminal offense in the interview and on the application. We’re supposed to answer the question on the application that we’ll explain at the interview.  At the interview when the question comes up what we did we’re to answer truthfully yet answer it with a one word answer or as few words as possible.  Above all, take responsibility and don’t’ lie.  So we learned something, at least I did anyway.  Then we were teamed up two by two by our ERP Social Worker Ms. Grey, where we were to give each other what would be considered a job performance evaluation.  It was of course fun for each of us to pick on the other guy.  I was teamed with John Lloyd, whom I have sat across from in the dayroom and eaten across from the last 5 months.  He identified as my strengths my writing, initiative and thorough.  As weaknesses he said I lacked tack and that I’m not subtle at all.  But when I pressed him for an example he couldn’t give one.  So I didn’t understand that at all, where he saw that in me.  Most I know see me the opposite of these things.  Ms. Grey then handed out our blank Phase III Goals and Objectives sheets and said we should consider what was identified as weaknesses for Phase III short term goals.  We don’t’ have a due date on these goals but lets hope it’s not going to be the struggle for our group it was in Phase 2.  In our afternoon session, we played another game just like UNO and the goggles on another.  This time it was a game where we asked each other random questions that were printed on cards that had been dealt to us.  The questions were such like “What was the biggest mistake you made?” and “What would life be like without computers?”  We all had fun with it, with their being some serious moments.  Even intern Nikita had joined us today and participated. Guess we’re going to be losing her soon as she is returning to school soon.  Heck, we’re all going to be gone soon!  After group, cellie Corey Ball gave guard Ruth Barthowski a card form all of us that said goodbye and thank you for her years of service and for the respect she has shown us.  Tomorrow is her last day on the job.  The ERP Social Workers were aware so there was no risk of fraternization charges.  Supper was interesting tonight because in the middle of one of the worst meals served here, soy based imitation meat for our tacos, an emergency count was called which meant we had to get up in the middle of the meal, go stand and be counted, then wait until count cleared to return to eat. Let’s face it, the food is usually cold when we get it in addition to it sucking so the only problem for us was the disruption of routine.  As for me, I ‘m still out of sorts and my cellies have noticed I’m not as patient as I normally am.  The juvenile humor and acting out I usually just ignore is getting to me more now.  I’m not sure what my problem is except perhaps nerves about getting close to getting out.  I hope my cellies will put up with me while I get my perspective back. 


I’m at the Fox Lake Minimum Correctional Institution (FMCI), a facility in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS).  It may not come as a shock to you that many inmates have problems with boundaries.  The real question for me is whether or not the person violating my boundaries has acted in a malicious manner or is it just the way they are.  Most of the time I have an opportunity to assess the situation or person and methodically make a decision how I’ll react to a violation.  That wasn’t the case today.  This particular situation involved an inmate named Charlie who lives in my row of bunks on Unit 9.  Charlie who has been in many years, goes up and down the aisles, begging coffee, food and it is rumored he is not above taking something left out on a bunk or cupboard.  In fact, it got to the point where inmates in other rows in an effort to defend their row  without having to snitch, joined together and told him he was banned from their aisle.  Policing themselves has mixed success at a minimum security level.  It is more effective in a medium environment where the threat of violence is more prevalent.  Unfortunately, since Charlie lives in my aisle, he can’t be banned here.  The problem for Charlie as I perceive it, is he has nobody to help him financially on the outside.  Neither did I, but I received money for valued possessions which I use for my expenses.  If he did that, how long since it dried up.  Many of us are not without heart.  We gave him coffee and other items.  He promised many he would pay them back in some fashion.  But he repaid very few.  I was one of the few.  You might ask if others expected to be paid back, how are they showing heart or compassion?  Because nothing his ever free, not in the real world but especially here.  When he didn’t pay back the others, fact is no one would do anything about it because Charlie is a physically imposing person.  He is at least 6’8” and at least 300lbs.  But what made people even more angry was he took much of what was given him and traded it for cigarettes.  People felt hustled because they felt they had given to meet his needs.  From his perspective, he had taken what he had gotten to trade to meet his real “need”.  Charlie had misrepresented his intentions to others – again not shocking behavior from some inmates.  The effect of all this was that no one would have anything to do with him.  I thought the situation would improve for him once he got a job in the kitchen.  He would be able to scam food out of the kitchen to trade for his wants or needs, which is exactly what happened.  But for these folks like myself he did pay back, somehow in his mind this represented a bond between him and each individual.  He would come by our bunk areas and want to peer in our cupboards, wanting to know what we had in canteen and trying to propose various deals.  No one was interested and I could see the confusion in his eyes.  But my understanding attitude evaporated yesterday when he came up to me from the side, put his arms around me and whispered he needed food and wanted to trade.  He could have told me he had a pardon from the governor and my reaction would have been the same.  I jabbed my elbow in his rib cage and warned him to step off (back).  Looking surprised he asked me what was with the attitude.  He really didn’t understand this.  Yes, I have issues.  Did I overreact?  I tried unsuccessfully to explain in my agitated state about my space, my boundaries and his need to respect that.  He walked away and it was over.  Normally in these situations one might fear retaliation from others.  Not this time.  Charlie is universally disliked.  But the task before me is to figure out how I can handle a situation like this differently in the future, why I fear people getting in my space so much and what to do about it.