Opportunity

I find some days of my incarceration quite surreal. I have never experienced a situation like this one. My time spent in the prison in Haiti was more of living in extreme poverty surrounded by everyday Haitians. (Read my earlier blogs and upcoming book and you’ll learn about that amazing story where what others meant for evil God used for good) My eight years of living and serving in Haiti prior to the imprisonment, made those living conditions manageable. I never felt threatened really, and those I met and lived with were more like everyday Haitians, not criminals, not individuals that spent most of their life incarcerated.

However the environment in a high security, United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute is quite different. Most inmates here are violent offenders: rapists, murderers, some of the worst of the worse. Most of them have life sentences. Most have been in and out of incarceration their whole life. The U.S. justice system works on a point system, and you get higher points based on the frequency of your offenses, the level of violence, etc. Most inmates have points over 20, some over 50, which keep them in a high security prison.

I was told recently from a case manager that they have never met an inmate at high security with as little points as me. I have a total of 4 points, but my length of sentence makes me qualify for the high security. Really I should be housed at a camp level prison, but because of my length of sentence, I am required to spend up to 10 years in a high security USP.

I find myself emotionally and spiritually in a much better place these days because my perspective has changed. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and feeling like a victim, I see life, I see my incarceration as an opportunity. A phenomenal oppurtunity never the less. Part of my life change has been re-joining the Life Connections Program, a faith based intensive program to help with recidivism, to help individuals desiring a real life change. It is a 18-month program with day long classes daily, taught by religious leaders living locally, working as contractors of the prison. The classes I'm taking are taught from a Christian Catholic perspective. 'and my Spiritual guide is an elderly nun, a devote Roman Catholic retired leader.

I am enjoying the courses and enjoy the conversations even more. This past few weeks the topics we have been diving into are: Honesty, Caring, Responsibility, Open-mindedness, Willingness, and Humility. We spend a lot of time writing on these topics, sharing our struggles and our strengths in these issues as well as identifying scripture that relate to these topics. Then we share what we have written in the classes with the small group.

Our class consists of six inmates currently. Two of the inmates in the class day today are high profile criminals, both of whom you may likely have heard or read about in the national news reports. One individual is serving his life sentence for serious and violent crimes. The other is serving his life sentence for similar and equally egregious crimes. Listening to these individuals open up about humility about real life change has been remarkable. I have learned much from them and as our relationship grows I've been able to share about Christ's redemptive love and forgiveness by sharing my life experiences. Where else would I have an opportunity like this one?

Your Perspective

I had a good weekend visit with my wife and kids this past weekend. We had some great conversations. There were times of remembrance, as we shared fond memories and times of laughter. One of the conversations I had with my oldest daughter, now 13 years old, was when she asked me about what I had for breakfast that morning. I started to explain my piece of pound cake with grits, and a slice of cantaloupe. I stated it all in a positive manner, as it was in fact very good, especially the slice of cantaloupe. It had been a while since I’d had something that fresh and especially cantaloupe. Her immediate response was simply what do you mean daddy? You said that all prison food is disgusting.

I paused remembering past conversations and how negative I have been about so many of my experiences while incarcerated. I spent the next 15 minutes just talking about my changed perspective. Yes, I can focus on the fact that I have never liked grits, or how small that the piece of cantaloupe that was allotted was. I could have focused on the fact that most meals served to adult men are portions smaller then my two year old or eight year old will eat for a meal. I could focus on the food too often being cold, with little or no taste. Or, I could remember the last time I ate cantaloupe and be grateful for a different fruit.I could be thankful for the warm pound cake I ate. It doesn't change what I am eating. It doesn't change my circumstances or environment, but it does change my attitude and my perspective. I tried to model for her the practice of "looking for the good and being grateful for the small things". I explained how that positively affected my day, my meal, my moment. The conversation progressed to her feeling like we are "poor" and we talked about how wrong that was. We are in fact quite rich. She has a mom and a dad that love her with all their heart. She has a closet full of choices of clothes and shoes. Her cupboard at home, her refrigerator at home also has choices of food in them. We are healthy. She has her own room. We have access to great and affordable healthcare and live in a country that helps to give us our food, our insurance, our housing for many of us in need. I reminded her how fortunate we are and in fact how blessed we are and how much better off we are then so many others across the world. It all depends on our perspective. It’s all in our attitude. Choose today to be grateful. Choose today to count your blessings. Choose today to see the good.

Change Is Good

The beginning of the year I moved back to my original unit and re united with old friends. I enjoyed my few months there and it gave me a chance to learn a lot about painting as well as the chance to paint in my cell daily. It gave me the opportunity to form new relationships. At the same time it was some of my lowest moments of my incarceration as I allowed my depression to consume me. My walk with Christ suffered as I drifted away. God has been teaching me so much about His love for me, and for my family. My joy and desire to follow and serve Him was reignited. I made a decision to re join the Life Connection Community and to start daily faith based course work in the intensive 18 month program. I began classes just a week ago, and moved back on the unit this past Friday. It has been a good change. A needed change. I feel that I am in a better place emotionally and am ready for many more challenges that lie ahead. I am excited about the change and look forward to see what God does in and through me in the years to come.

Waterfall

Another subject I borrowed from another inmate, an oil painting of another artist with some changes. Primarily I decided to leave the bear out of the painting. I enjoyed this painting. It was difficult for me. Difficult to create depth. Difficult to paint rocks, making it look three dimensional. Getting all the shadows and light spots on the rocks to make them come to life. Painting the pine forest showing the big trees close up and the small distant ones. Painting moving water is always a challenge. I learned a lot on this landscape, and it didn't come out as nice as I would have liked, but I learned and enjoyed painting this landscape at recreation. It brought back great memories of the many waterfalls we visited as a family both here in the US and in Haiti.

Woman in Forest

My wife sent me this black and white silhouette. I loved it right away. I thought on this painting for days before I started it. I painted the big trees black and the sky orange. Then I started to paint the pine forest. I wanted to paint a modern art, with all kinds of color trees, but it turned out horrible, like an ugly sideways rainbow. So again , I scratched the painting and started over.

This time, I put more yellow in the sky, and decided to paint the trees a complementary color of the sky, and I went with different shades of violet. I learned how to paint a light haze over the forest, and I was really happy with how the woman’s hair came out too. Learning to paint fine hair blowing in the wind. It is a weird painting, but I enjoyed and learned a lot while painting it.

Serenity

So by now I realized I really enjoy painting. This is something I want to stick with and continue to do. Despite my new friend Mikey’s life sentence, being charged with using and distributing marijanna, his days are numbered as he qualified for clemency and is awaiting the day he will return to society.
He offered all his paintings tools to me upon his release. I decided to take a painting class, so I could have my own locker in recreation, and order my own supplies. I picked this subject from a fellow inmate’s book of work by another artist. I like his subjects, and his style. I change a few things, to make it my own. For example, I didn’t add the deer, and left out some of the trees in this landscape. I was happy how this turned out. I specifically liked how the moon reflected off the lake. It was beautiful.
My wife’s Aunt contacted me while I was painting this landscape. Aunt Kat, asked me to paint a happy place for her, and she described a lake in northern New York, where she frequently visited years ago. As she described the setting to me, I thought of this landscape. It made me think about how I use these paintings as my “happy place”. It’s a way to escape the craziness of the surroundings.
I realized the joy I’m experiencing in painting, has made the rate at which I am creating pieces is beyond what my wife’ apartment can only hold. I asked some close friends to help me share these paintings and in no time, they launched a website for me to blog and display my artwork. We hope that I will be able to sell the art work to support myself, and someday help support my family. Never the less, I enjoy painting, I am eager to learn and become better, and hopeful someday others will enjoy these paintings too.

Thorns on the Journey

I wrote a book, (well kind of), while incarcerated in Haiti. I named it “The Journey.” Again, I find myself writing about my experiences while incarcerated in the U.S. I I picked this field (not many people around me understood the why behind this subject), but this made me think of “The Journey”. Like the image, my life has had some cracks in it, and plenty of rocks. Both life and death in nature surround the path. At the end of it you see green trees and mountains. Plenty of life. The sky is dark, threatening a storm. The journey I’m on is surrounded by life and death. I walk the path that is broken at times with rocks in the way. But I look forward to the promise, the promise of life everlasting in Heaven with my Father. I press onward, with the hope of the end. So no matter where I am on my journey today, I know it has a happy ending. I am secure in knowing I have eternal life in heaven. It makes the journey yesterday, today, and tomorrow more bearable because I know the end. This is what inspired this painting.

Real Work

Well being incarcerated technically you are suppose to work...I say that lightly because most jobs pay between $5.00 and $20.00 a month, but at the same time, most jobs don’t expect much from you. My job at recreation is no exception. Most days, I just go up there and paint my paintings daily...I do clean up the sink after I rinse out my brushes and keep my area clean. That, however, is the extent of it. This week it was time to wax the floors, and I volunteered to help. I’m glad I did! I spent the last week waking up early to strip, wax and buff the floor for about 10 hours each day. It was nice to feel physically tired. I was proud of what I had help get accomplished. People were curious if I got paid extra, or was given an incentive...but no, I just miss “real work. “ I miss having a purpose, outside of painting. May sound crazy, but It was nice to be tired and sore for a week.

Pears on Blue

This was my first effort at what is called “still life”. I just think of them as pictures women hang in their kitchen. I learned that detail and shadowing are essentials in painting still life. I had a difficult time blending the different shades of these pairs. The canvas kept showing through, which annoyed me. The highlight of this painting for me was learning how to paint a water drop. It is intense and difficult, easy and fun, all at the same time. This was also the first painting I painted in my cell.
I moved units this month and one of the few advantages is I am allowed to paint in my cell. This comes in handy with lock downs when we are confined to our cells. My cellie in this unit is an 87 year old bank robber. He enjoys watching me paint. This seems to be a “win win”. I can double my productivity and keep my mind much more busy with now painting at recreation and in my cell.

Sill Life

I took the painting class that was eight weeks long. This clay pot was the class project. The courses here are all taught by inmates, and not taught that well, and not taken very serious by most. I needed to take the class in order to acquire my own locker down at recreation. I sketched out the class project for all 20 inmates. We were taught by using acrylic paint. I realized in the first class that I hated acrylics. However, I stuck with it for four more weeks. Acrylics dried too fast. They didn’t mix well and it was not a smooth finish. It was difficult to lighten or darken. Honestly , I was just used to oil painting. So instead of giving up and throwing it away, I finished the project in oil.

Eagle at Sunset

This was one of my first animal paintings. I did this painting in my cell. I learned how to lay in the background and not lose the lines of the eagle. I found this subject in a magazine, and it included some odd looking trees in the foreground, which I choose not to include. I enjoyed painting this eagle as It symbolizes freedom for me. How I long for freedom and am learning to be content with where I am from day to day. I am learning to enjoy the freedoms I have inside these prison walls. One is the freedom of joy which cannot be taken away. So painting this eagle brought me joy. My friend claimed this painting as his own, as he enjoys spreading his own wings of independence and freedom. It reminded me of the simple verse in Isaiah 40:31 "But those who trust in the Lord will receive new strength. They will fly as high as eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not grow weak." I look forward to that day.

This was another subject I pulled out of an old calendar. This was a picture that was taken in California in the middle of all the forest fires. This bird was perched on a sign at a State Park. The bird caught a mosquito in its mouth and I choose not to include that detail. The Pink light source caught my eye. I learned to put detail on the bird using a liner brush. This technique I use now in many paintings. I enjoyed this painting and marveled at the different colors from the sky depending on the setting, the time, and the surroundings. Another painting completed in my cell. Shine On

This was another subject I pulled out of an old calendar. This was a picture that was taken in California in the middle of all the forest fires. This bird was perched on a sign at a State Park. The bird caught a mosquito in its mouth and I choose not to include that detail. The Pink light source caught my eye. I learned to put detail on the bird using a liner brush. This technique I use now in many paintings. I enjoyed this painting and marveled at the different colors from the sky depending on the setting, the time, and the surroundings. Another painting completed in my cell.

Barn at Dusk

I got the subject from another inmate. I changed it to make my own. I learned to paint the sky a wash dark on edges and brighten it as it comes in. I worked on the shadows of the fence and such. I enjoyed this landscape and learned how to paint planks of wood, and stone blocks in buildings. Creating depth in the landscape as well. We have always preferred living in the country both in Florida and in Texas. This landscape reminded me of much of my surroundings in those two places.

Paladin Portrait

So my dad sent me two photos of my Aunt Alice dog. My plan was to only paint one. I liked the dog running at the beach the best, but when I was done I was unhappy about how small the dog was. I decided to paint a portrait of him. In the picture he is laying in the grass by the pool against a metal shed. But I decided just to paint the dog with a flat background, similar to a portrait. Painting a primarily black dog is hard. His eyes, nose was the most difficult as it is lost in the dark shade. My one regret, I didn’t’ let it dry totally before I varnished it, which made a streak right in his face. I was pretty mad at myself. Oil takes a REALLY long time to dry, and too often I rush things. I need to slow down and not rush projects out. I enjoyed painting Paladin again and I hope my Aunt will enjoy this painting.

Crown of Thorns and Cross

This panel was drawn by my old cellie. It was another one that I painted in my cell. It was by far one of my favorite pieces I painted of his. I loved the orange background. Making the crown of thorns with the strands, adding the light and dark to make it look round. I added three lights shining on the cross, and changed it to two at the end. I kept Jesus shadow only. This was another act of worship for me as it humbled me to remember the sacrifice my Lord made on the cross. I enjoyed painting this and hope someone will use it someday as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice as I have.

Holding Hands

Most of my subjects to paint have been found in magazines and calendars. This was painted from a photograph. My close friend is a publisher and an author of some great books. He sent me this photograph of his last book cover. It was intimidating as I have never painted skin tone, and painting hands I heard was particularly difficult. I enjoyed this painting, and was surprised how it came out was pleased, and love that I can do something tangible to give friends and family. In painting the sun that shines through the two hands I shaped it into a heart, as it went with his theme of love and marriage. Another painting done in my cell, another joy to paint.

Peppers on Blue

Another still life painting, this one came out much better than I had thought. Again painting rain drops was fun. The key with these is to make it look three dimensional and having shadows. Providing light and dark areas. It was harder then what you would think to make the peppers shine. Another painting completed in my cell, another joy in painting. I hope someone will someday enjoy this in their kitchen.

Violin

This was a project started by another inmate, but never finished. He got busy and distracted with working at Unicor. I am busy buying blank panels from inmates to keep up with my painting,. He offered to sell this project. He helped me by teaching me the art of mirroring, and reflection on the table top. I saw this and immediately thought of a friend who is a teacher and gives music lessons. I knew she would love it upon completion. So without hesitation, I bought it and got to work finishing it up in the next two weeks. It turned out beautifully, better than I expected. It made me realize it wasn’t about the tools I had, the paint I had or the canvas I had. It was about the subject matter and how well it was done. As this was done one of the cheapest panels that are sold. Yet in my opinion turned out to be one of the best pieces.

Man and Girl

Seven years ago, ended the saga of my 5 months incarceration (and two days) in Haiti. Upon being released I had 3 pilot friends offer to fly over and transport me back to the US. So, after two days of celebrating my release with the Haitian orphanage kids, I flew back to Florida in a private plane. I landed on the tarmac in Sarasota Florida, with dozens of friends and family awaiting me. Ryann, then 6, didn’t know I was coming in. As I deplaned, I heard her yell, “daddy”, and she ran and jumped in my arms. I just knelt down with my arms extended. It was a great day reuniting with my family and friends. Leann was nine months pregnant with Joseph and gave birth to him just two days later. You can’t help but smile at a child’s joy to be reunited with a parent. I hope someone will enjoy this painting, as I enjoyed painting it in my cell.

Three Kids Fishing

My wife mails me pictures monthly, mostly of her and the kids’ adventures, eating, shopping, hiking, karate, dance, dentist appointments, etc. This helps to keep me involved in the kids’ day to day activities. Lately she has been googling images, printing them out and mailing them to me to use as inspiration for paintings. The 3 kids fishing is an example of one of those that she mailed to me. It caught my eye, just black and white. I liked how they were all holding hands as they were walking to fish. That’s why I choose to paint it. I enjoyed painting this in my cell, and hope it brings someone else joy too.

Kids Fishing

As foster parents in the United States, we learned one regulation to keep the children safe is that you can’t post any recognizable photos of the children on social media. Silhouettes became our way of sharing wonderful memories. Now, I find I’m drawn to silhouettes and maybe that’s part of the reason.
Observing kids and families, having fun together, no matter their race, age, sex, is what I like to appreciate. That’s why I love painting these kinds of silhouettes. I enjoyed painting this in the recreation center and hope someone will be inspired by this as I was too. Another my wife sent me, of kids be adventurist kids, just fishing together.

Knocked Out

I was knocked out during the first month of incarceration, over another inmate wanting my cell. The sad part is that I had no problems giving it to him. I was just waiting to be assigned a new cell by an officer. I lost a tooth in that incident, and learned that cells in front of the TV are valued cells. I was put in the SHU (special housing unit) and investigated to see if I provoked the assailant or assaulted him in any way. I stayed in solitary for 2 weeks and 2 days. It was difficult as I was only allowed one 15 minute phone call a week, no visitation, and locked in the cell 24/7. On a positive note there were a few good books in the cell There was also a shower in that cell and we got hot meals, (double portions) for every meal. I had three different cellies during that time, and none were too offensive.
Currently we have only been out of “lock down” for 6 days in the past 23 days! Yes we have been locked down for 17 days. You might remember from my previous blog, 2 of those days we were not locked down, I took it upon myself to stay in bed in my cell. It’s ironic when you are locked in that all you want, all you can think about is: the door opening, a little bit of freedom, a little bit of privacy. Yet when we aren’t locked down, I find myself content being in the cell: reading, writing, or painting.
These past two weeks have been difficult. The officers haven’t distributed toilet paper to mention one of the challenges. We have missed going to commissary these last two weeks, and now it is closed for inventory for the next two weeks. So no “comfort” food, no kool-aid to keep in the locker. Of course, the cafeteria food has even been worse than usual. The prison has NO fruit. They have ran out of bread twice during the lockdown, and ran out of jelly twice.
I took a shower today for the first time in a week. Our diet on “lock down” consists of stale cereal and powder milk packet. In the beginning they gave us a skim milk carton, until they ran out of that. We get a pop tart with our cereal 2 times a week, and lunch and dinner consist of a small container of peanut butter, a few jelly packets and a few pieces of bread. Except when they ran out of bread, we were given a hotdog bun with the peanut butter and jelly. I used to like peanut butter and jelly...not anymore!
So what happened to cause the lock down? Oddly and sadly there have been 3 different incidents. The first was a fight in the yard, and inmates didn’t cell up fast enough, so they locked us down for a week to teach us a lesson. Then we were out for a few days, and in our unit someone fell out of bed because they were having a seizure. The guards suspected it to be drug related so they locked us down for another week, and then searched our cells.
The third lock down was because a guard was assaulted or cussed out by an inmate in the SHU area, so again, locked down for yet another week! It’s hard on me, but I try to think of other inmates who have it worse. I had food and drinks in my locker, at least in the beginning of lock down that I had saved. There are a lot of older inmates and sick inmate in our cell area that didn’t have any “extras”. Many of the older ones, or the ones who are sick wear “diapers”, and are in wheelchairs. Some have catheters. They don’t have access to showers and sit in their filth for days, for weeks. I have bruises on my body from laying in my bunk.
The flu is going around as well. All the TV were un plugged because inmates were banging on doors and pushing the panic buttons too much. It has been hard to find adequate distractions.

Painting Pictures

As I run thin on subjects to paint, at least ones I get excited about, I begin to paint photographs. I’ve started with the first few for friends and family members. Tehis week I tackled painting a picture I have of me and the kids. So hard!
Forget the emotions of remembering each aspect and detail of the event I’m painting. I clearly remember where we were, when it was. I can rememb the clothes the kids wore along with so many of the details.
Our backs are to the camera as the sun is going down looking over Lake Georgetown, in Texas. This photo was taken 6 years ago. It was before Anna Joy was born. I’m just painting skin tones, ears and trying to make me look thinner, and not hunched over. I’m giving myself more hair but making it still look like me! I’ve been working for hours, so I guess it’s good we are locked down. There have been no interruptions. I am too critical sometimes, but I’m really enjoy doing this. Painting images of people that I most love is pure joy. Hope it turns out to look even a little like them. LOL

Panic Button

We have a panic button in our cells as the guards typically ignore inmates yelling or beating on the doors. In most cells, someone has written on the button: push for room service. All joking aside, the guards HATE when you push the button, emergency or not.
Lately, I cringe when I hear that alarm go off, as it typically means someone has fallen out on a drug overdose and their cellie is freaking out. Which means the unit will be locked down, and then searched. It happens about twice a month on this unit. We have lots of alcohol and drugs on this unit.
Well it was pushed again and this time it was a real emergency. The guards responded, and called medical, and until they responded, they took the cellie out and locked him in the shower, until the situation was resolved.
This alarm is different from the constant beeping of the metal detector. Police respond slowly, medical responds even slower. When medical finally comes, they bring a stretcher and they carry the inmate down the stairs, unconscious, bleeding from his head, dragging his feet behind him, in hand cuffs behind his back. The stretcher stays at the bottom of the stairs and when they get him to the stretcher, they put him on his back still handcuffed. Ouch. I’m sure he was glad he was unconscious. They wheel him out with no sense of urgency. It’s no big deal here to have someone overdose and possibly die. It’s just another day.
According to his cellie, he didn’t overdose. He had a seizure and fell from the top bunk. They still have to investigate and this caused us to be locked down for another week.
Prison is not the best place to get sick or to get injured, as it takes so much time for anyone to respond to a medical emergency. Inmates walk around on broken limbs for months, literally.

223-Ouch

I went to medical, sick call early in December. I was told I had to see the doctor to get Ibuprofin, 800 mg, for my migraines. I had to wait to get put on a list to see the doctor since it wasn’t urgent. I tried again in January, and then finally gave up. I found I could buy Ibuprofin at the commissary. Well, finally, I was put on a call out to see the doctor this week. Like in a normal doctor’s office, they check your weight, vitals, etc upon checking in. I have been keeping a close watch on my weight, weighing myself at recreation. I was down to the 190s and happy with the progress I was making. I knew lately I have been gaining weight, my clothes are tighter.I knew I
have been eating more unhealthy, and not exercising near as much. (In my defense, its cold here so we haven’t been outside where I usually walk or run the track) Also, I’ve been drinking too much soda (but again, its Coke zero, unless I have a visit). Well I was surprised when the scale said 223! Time to watch what I eat and exercise more. Good luck me. Good bye monster honey buns. Those that visit that read my blog, it doesn’t change anything about the junk food I want to eat during a visit. That doesn’t count! Can I blame it on the lock downs and peanut butter jelly sandwiches that I’ve had 3 times a day for 3 weeks?

It Only Takes One

I get stuck using absolutes a lot these days. Never, Always, etc. And in my defense, I am correct "most" of the time. More times then not it only takes one. It only takes one inmate to cuss out a guard to lock an entire compound down. It only takes one inmate to start a fight, or assault a guard to lock down the entire compound. It only takes one inmate to over dose on drugs to lock down an entire unit. It only takes one. So thankful that was NOT the case this weekend! Even though in my mind I assumed it would be. Leann and the kids came to visit this weekend. It has been since before Christmas that I’ve seen them. Before the kids arrived with friends, while Leann and I were visiting, the guards caught an inmate and a family member passing drugs in the visiting area. Normally, that would stop ALL visitations. Fortunately, it didn’t though. The guards addressed the issue with the inmate and the family in a semi discreet way and visits continued. I found myself thankful that “absolutes” aren’t always “absolutes”. I’m so very thankful to have had a great visit with my family!

Injustice

“Injustice”, it seems to be a strange term to think about as I sit in a US penitentiary. However, I am sensitive about injustice. I remember a few such injustices that I’ve witnessed of during my incarceration. Often I react, I respond, I defend the victim, the under-dog. ( the one who is a victim of the injustice)
In Miami, the injustice occurred to a Haitian man giving a haircut with a straight razor. He was hauled off to the SHU. (Solitary Housing Unit)
Here in Terre Haute, injustice occurred when another inmate was taking advantage and bullying another inmate who happens to be disabled. Oddly, I find myself being more defensive of others injustice, then I do my own.
Well this week yet again injustice occurred. I’ve worked in the Chapel for 8 months before recently moving to work in recreation. Working in Recreation, allows me more time to paint. During my time working at the Chapel, I worked with a female guard, she was the administrative assistant to the Chaplains. I never had any issues with her, but I witnessed several aggressive encounters that she had with other inmates. The action that bothered her was if an inmate had his hand in his pocket. If she saw this, she would get pretty worked up and yell at inmates time and time again.
Well she was on sick leave towards the end of my working in the Chapel, and I guess when she came back she began to work CMS, which maintains the units and grounds. I observed her this week on our unit climbing a ladder to fix the metal detector. (It is still not fixed by the way) (Infact, it just beeps randomly now ALL the time, Unfortunately, I hear it in my cell...so annoying). Well I regress.
While she was fixing the metal detector, I was on the computer typing, and another inmate was 10 feet away on the phone, talking with his kids. The inmate was resting his hand on his hip, with his pointer finger and middle finger inside the elastic of his shorts. And all the sudden I hear this female yell "hey inmate get your fxxxx hand out of your fxxxx pants" I was alarmed and looked around, and even checked my self, making sure she wasn’t talking to me. She repeated the same explicative order again. The man on the phone gestures to her to ask if she is talking to him. She acknowledged loudly that she was and he quickly removed his fingers from his waistband. He continued the phone call with his family. She yelled again at him to keep his hands out of his pants. At this time, there are about 70 other inmates around in the common area hearing and observing this behavior. The guard found our unit officer, also a female and reported to her, and the man on the phone was hauled off to SHU (Solitary Housing).

He has Risen

He has risen indeed. Being incarcerated, I lose track of time, days, weeks, months, and holidays. I just learned that this weekend is daylight savings change, I was like so? How does that affect us?( LOL) Well, I guess that means it’s about springtime: so as we go through Lent, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Passover, Easter, Jesus’s Death and Resurrection, I have taken upon myself to do some religious painting. I feel that this can be my way of honoring the Lord and remembering His sacrifice. I am working on my third painting now.
My former cellie is an artist, a great drawer (is that a word?) So, I gave him a few blank canvas to draw religious outlines for me to paint. I’m excited about how they are turning out. It has been nice having them in my cell as they dry.
On one painting I wrote Romans 3:23-26. It is a depiction of a heart with a crown of thorns around it, fire coming out of it and a Rosary coming down. The other has John 3:16 on it, and is the crown of thorns, with the silhouette of the three crosses with Jesus on the center Cross, with a dove above and light coming down on Jesus. The final picture is of Praying hands holding a rosary. I am not sure if they will sell, but I enjoyed painting them, and hope someone will enjoy them someday.

"Funk"

I seem to cycle, honestly every day is hard, but how I deal with it differs. Usually, I control my emotions and I push through some of the most difficult circumstances. People on the outside would have no clue the struggles. Then there are days like these, where I stay in bed for two days, with destructive thoughts haunting me the entire time.
Before my few readers get jealous, let me describe my “bed”. It consists of a mat 2" thick, on a 1/2" sheet of metal, against a cold wall, in a concrete block room that I share with another inmate. We also share the toilet that’s in the cell too. It is never quiet. There is always commotion from the hall and open area and neighbors. Noise is all around. Then there is the smell. I won’t describe that, but you can imagine.
So don’t be too envious of my binge sleeping. It started with a headache that turned into a migraine, that led to an afternoon nap which led to two days of self-pity. Pictures on the bulletin board are a double edge sword. Seeing them fills my heart with so much joy. I so appreciate going to sleep and waking up every day to the smiles of my wife and kids. Then I look at them and see everything I am missing out on. I think of everything that they are missing out on. So then starts the downward spiral. It really is all about attitude, all a choice, for me at least. Finally, Friday night, I literally kicked myself in the butt, pulled myself out of bed and blared my Christian music on my MP3 player using my earbuds and sat at the desk to paint. I continued to paint late into the night, which wasn’t a big deal since I slept so much the day before. I got back up Saturday morning for breakfast, showered and shaved. “New Man” I went off to spending the day at recreation to paint. Off to having a good day today. You see it’s a choice, it’s an attitude. My surroundings didn’t change, but my attitude did.

Red Bird

My focus subjects have primarily been landscapes and objects. Living creatures scare me. Eyes, nose, ears, face, all seem too difficult. So I decided to start with animals. I dont see myself ever gradualting to portraits, but we will see. I found this picture in a magazine, cut it out. Mikey has done several birds, and as I have watched him, and learned, I felt it was my turn to give it a try. I had a difficult time making the feathers look life like, different shades across the body of the bird. But I learned a lot and enjoyed painting this in my cell.

Waiting

Anticipating, The hope for, Patience. It’s always been hard for me. I think I have gotten better, then I am reminded I really haven’t as I realize I’m getting anxious while waiting on the door to open, waiting on a meal, waiting for a visit. I find myself getting anxious, wondering, thinking of the worse -case scenario. Then I find out I just needed to wait. It was all coming together, just not in the time I hoped for or desired. Just wait. I learned a long time ago not to pray for patience, because when you do, God gives you many chances to learn patience. It seems that for me to learn something, I have to live, I have to do, I have to be. So here’s hoping I learn how to wait...better.

Exception

I have a bad habit in passionate conversations and even more so in arguments to use "always" or "never" words. We see it often in everyday life. Learning a second language as an adult was difficult to accept the exceptions. Often I think, or want to think in black and white, right or wrong, but more often than not there are exceptions to the rule. We govern this way as parents, prisons are run this way, teachers teach this way. Well it’s also true in painting. I learned when starting a landscape painting to always start with the image in the background, farthest away. Then work your way up. Well this week I learned there are many exceptions to that rule. As in art, things blend. The background is sometimes put in last. I struggled with that concept quite a bit until I had to do it. I learned like every other exception in life, art too has exceptions. The ONLY thing definite in this life is that God loves you. No matter how I feel, no matter what I see, no matter what I say, no matter what I do. God loves me, and He loves you. No exception.

Battle for Control

Have you ever been called a "control freak"? Well I have and it usually takes me back. But the honest reality is I do battle for control. I like to have some sort of control, infact I think I need it. I think we all do. I see it in my kids battling for control, I see it in my peers, I see it in leaders, and I see it in followers too. I’ve learned over the years of marriage and working with troubled children and adolescents to pick my battles. I’ve learned to give and take. (Not that I have always done it right, cause I haven’t)
Well prison is an entire different lesson altogether. The reality is, we or I don’t have control over anything. Well almost anything. I heard a story of an inmate trying to take his own life. He was moved to the infirmary so they could attempt to revive him. When he started to come too, he pleaded with the staff, the guards, to let him go, to let him die. The response from the guards was a little shocking. "No, you don’t have that right”, you don’t have the right to take your own life? Wow. I’ve thought about this control and "rights" a bit this week, and I realized I am most at ease, most peaceful when I give up control. When I just accept the moment by moment, minute by minute with plans, but without expectation. I wonder if this is the case with our relationship with God. Does He desire for us to give up control? (because we really don’t have it anyway) Are we to make goals and plans? Maybe we need to sit back and accept each situation, each obstacle, each hardship, each trial, each victory as the way it is and just accept not having control. Not being able to "fix it". let it be it. Let God be God. Hm I wonder...

Dead Tree

Well some may call it a fetish, I’m not ready to label it as that. I am finishing my 12th oil painting and I realized that half of my paintings include or have a "dead tree" in it. I find myself really enjoying painting and painting trees, dead trees at that. As always I spend too much time thinking things through, and I self analyze too. I wonder why I’m drawn to dead trees. I thought of blaming my wife, as she loves trees, she loves to climb trees, she painted dead trees herself, and the logo of our organization, Kenbe Fem, was one of a dead tree and its roots. My mind also goes to scripture talking about having fruit, and apart from me (God) we are dead or can do nothing. So do I feel separated from God? Do I feel disconnected? Sometimes I do, in all honesty. Then it occurred to me that my trees aren’t necessarily dead, they are more dormant. I wonder what I have to offer this world? What do I have to offer my family. What do I have to offer anyone being incarcerated” Am I dormant? Does God still have plans for my life? Do I still have a purpose? Not sure why meaning is so important to me, but it is. Interesting thoughts.

Different Perspective

Too often we see things from our own perspective, how else can we see them? I’ve always thought and taught the concept of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, try to see things from others perspective. Yet it is hard sometimes and if you aren’t intentional about it you typically won’t do it. Well I’ve had several interactions with several guards after a year, that has me thinking... The two that stuck out to me occurred a few months ago. My radio had been on the charger and it came up "missing". I learned from a fellow inmate that is was taken by a guard. I saw this guard the next day, standing in front of another unit (he was filling in on our unit, not one of our typical guards). So, I approached him and asked about my radio. After a few minutes of engagement, he remembered he did have my radio and would give it back to me when he worked our unit again. To this the second officer with him, told him in a scolding tone, to get off his lazy xxx butt and get it for me now. So, the officer did so. The officer getting my radio would be in the category of guards I described as withdrawn and the officer he was with falls into the category of aggressive. Actually, this officer specifically has tercets syndrome. So, I talked to this guard for some time, while the other guard went to get my radio, he had his normal twitches and often yelled obscenities at the other inmates passing by. He began talking to me about how horrible it was to work with this guard, and how he is all doped up with PTSD after being a sniper in the army, killing hundreds including women and children, and how that really screwed him up. It was an interesting conversation, made me think about the guards bringing in their own baggage and trauma to work every day, and sometimes we are an outlet for them, how in the same way I have done the same in my lifetime. How it effects how we treat each other.
The other interaction more profound and more recent, is why I am writing this blog. It was an interaction just a week ago. I was off my unit for a short visit from a friend from Indianapolis IN. It was a frustrating day as my friend arrived in the prison more than 3 hours prior to be sent away for a "security issue" and then when he returned at 11 AM, he waited another hour and a half as "they couldn’t find me" even though I never left the unit that day, I waited to be called for my visit...leaving us just a short 45 minutes to visit that day. So, I regress. Well after the shortened visit, I was waiting in the dress out area with another inmate for another 45 minutes. During that time the officer began talking to us about his own experiences. This guard was working overtime. He was usually in charge of the laundry department. He had worked in the prison for 11 years and as a police officer for 20 years before that. He spoke about the difference in working in a State Prison and a Federal Prison. He talked about the differences he’s seen in Terre Haute. He explained that it used to be an active yard, He told us that in the last decade, he responded to stabbings, riots, and killings almost daily. He talked about his own family, and his kids struggling with their own drug addiction problems when he was an officer on the street. In fact, he shared as he was responsible for one of his son’s 5 yr. sentence in prison. He said that the judge suggested house arrest, and he stood up and said he felt like incarceration was better for his son. He talked about his first visit in that prison and how the guards treated him and his son. He shared how that experience affected him. He said, he feels for our families coming to visit us. He shared how incarceration did more harm for his son then good, and he joined a gang while in prison and became even more connected in the drug trade when he was released. This guard continued to describe how responding to all of the day to day incidents gave him a form of PTSD. He talked about an incident a week ago when he heard a man and women fighting at a gas station. The man was calling the woman a “boxy”. The guard said it was all he could do to restrain himself from running over to beat up that man. (The B word is word that you don’t use in prison, and if you do, a fight, often a stabbing or killing is directly followed.) I’ve learned that myself but never considered how it affected officers. The CO shared how he recently became a Christian, and how hard it was to follow Christ in this environment. It was interesting and enlightening to hear his perspective on life in prison.

CO Type

Being in a maximum-security penitentiary with a population of 2,000 inmates, 1,400 of them in general population, we interact daily with quite a few Correctional Officers. Like in most institutions, individuals get comfortable in their assignments and often try to remain there for as long as possible, verses changing to different parts of the prison. Even though the BOP requires officers to change positions quarterly, or every three months; this however, is not fully enforced here in Terre Haute. So commonly, our interactions with guards from day to day remain the same. You have a chance "to get to know" them, and they have a chance to “get to know” you. I’ve learned there are three different personalities types of the CO from day to day. They come from a variety of backgrounds, many were military, or served as officers on the street, yet the majority here seem to be "home grown" Indiana correctional officers. Many of them are country boys that have never done anything else. The three different types I’ve observed are the respectful and engaged officer, the withdrawn or often appear to be afraid officer, and the agitative, or aggressive officer.
The respectful and engaged officer know their inmates by name and will greet them or just respond to them when addressed. They talk to inmates like human beings, not just a number. They joke with and will talk about things like weather, working out, motorcycles, and cars, etc. They do their job, but are not overly overbearing. They have no tolerance for violence, drugs, but they let the little things go, like gambling, tattooing etc. These officers often realize that a lot of their own life decisions could have ended them up in the same place we are and recognize the broken system. I prefer this type of officer over the others.
The withdrawn officer often seems to be "afraid". That isn’t the case with many, but it is with some. They often have an attitude that they are better then the inmates and sometimes that they deserve better than the menial job they perform. They are typically lazy and avoid all inmate contact and interactions. Often when addressing or speaking to these guards they will completely ignore you, like you’re not there, or send you away. They do not typically supervise much and spend the majority of their time in the office watching TV or eating food, or on the phone. As you can imagine, when a unit is staffed with these officers this is typically when the drugs, alcohol, and smoking happens on the units. As inmates know the guards won’t walk around and if they do, they won’t care about what they see. It is also typically when more fights occur or cell beatings happen privately. These guards will typically turn away when they know something is going down to avoid conflict or additional paperwork. These guards don’t care much about the integrity of the system and are just there to get paid and do as little as they can. They see an inmate as a number not as a person.
The last type of guard is the agitative or aggressive guards. These guards typically believe in the system 100% and believe that all inmates are the scum of the earth and deserve the worst treatment and the worst environment. I have not met one of these guards without a notable scar, wound, cut, or another recovering ailment. These guards mock inmates, call names, look up their case and broadcast the charges and details of horrible crimes. These guards typically hate homosexuals, transvestites, and pedophiles or inmates with sexual based crimes. These officers are a bit sadistic in the governing and enjoy chaos, riots, fights, killings, etc. Often they egg them on. These officers are the first to respond when the deuces are called and first to elaborate how horrible it was and what they did to save the day. They glorify some of the most offensive behavior, making joke or light of it. When these guards work mainline in the chow hall and an inmate requests a second tray they will tell the inmate to bunny hop around the cafeteria, chirp like a bird, or other humiliating action or noise before considering their request, and in the end after mocking the inmate will still deny the request (unless the inmate made a total ass of them self and have other inmates laughing at them, then the guard will give them the second tray) They call the inmates not by their name or number but by some curse word, derogatory, racist, sexist, or other offensive slang, as loud as can be, in order to degrade or humiliate the inmate. When these officers are working in the medical department, they make sure whatever pain they inflict on you is worse than the reason you came in to the infirmary in the first place. Some officers have tercets syndrome giving them reason for the crudeness. This institution is under investigation currently because of alleged killings in the SHU (special housing unit), by the FBI. Anyway, it is important to learn who to interact with, how to interact, and who to avoid pretty quickly. This is a key to survival in here.

Christ-Minded

I came to Terre Haute in March of last year. I was put into a cell with a drug addict. I never saw anyone snort or shoot up before this point, except in movies of course. As an avid drug user, he sold anything and everything he could so that he could get his next “fix.” Therefore, typical cell furnishings, for example and including plastic chairs, were all gone. One of the first people who approached me when I arrived and talked to me was Jay. He helped me get a chair for myself. Later, I learned he was a Satanist (Worshipper of Satan) and was the head of the local satanist group here in Terre Haute. One thing they do is recruit people to sell their souls to Satan or Lucifer. I didn’t realize that’s who he was at the time. After helping me with the chair, he asked me if I would be willing to read something for him, so ignorantly I agreed. I realized in short order he was trying to recruit me. I nicely turned him down and told him I am a Christian. He continued to try to convince me to sign up. He told me of all the benefits I could enjoy for selling my soul. Again I turned him down. Well over the year, I have kept cordial contact with Jay as we see each other often in passing.
I returned to my original unit a month or so ago and noticed Jay had left the unit for two weeks. It’s common for people to be moved for many reasons: going to the SHU, being transferred to another prison or unit, so I didn’t think much of it. Then he returned, which is not common, especially that quick. I began talking to Jay this past week and learned he was in the hospital for two weeks, and has final stage cancer in his kidneys and liver. It is not operable. The doctors gave him a few weeks to a month to live.
I asked him if he knew where he would be going when he dies? He sparked interest in this conversation and proudly and confidently said he was looking forward to his place in Hell. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I never have met someone looking forward to hell. So I talked to him about what I believe Hell was like, and told him he had another option. That it wasn’t too late for him. And I asked him if he wanted to hear more about Christ’s love for him? He indulged me and listened for a few minutes but assured me he made up his mind.
I went to bed that night with a deep sadness, different than usual. A sadness for Jay’s soul. It was weird. I never remember feeling this emotional over someone I didn’t know. I realized this sadness didn’t come from me, but was an expression of the sadness of Christ, in me and through me. Christ must be so sad when he is betrayed, denied, or when we turn our back on Him. So, I have made it my goal to form a relationship with Jay, and let Christ’s love shine through me, so if you are reading this, please pray for Jay, pray that he becomes saved.

Blessed Beyond Measure

I keep in close contact with my wife and kids almost daily by email and three to four times a week by phone. Leann made a comment last week about not wanting to be portrayed as a victim too much. That has caused me to think about that term a lot more. On one aspect, I am a victim, and so is she, and the kids. We are victims of a broken system. We were victimized by hurt and confused children. I could go on, but I think you get my point. But after a few minutes (hours/days/weeks/months sometimes) of feeling sorry for myself, I came to realize how right she is. (she usually is by the way). I look around and see hundreds and thousands of broken lives, broken families, broken men. And I realize that I am, that we are, blessed beyond measure. I can see God’s blessings on my life in the last ten minutes, in the last hour, in the last day, in the last week, in the past month, and even in the past year. Being a victim or being blessed all depends on your perspective and what you choose to see. I bet in your circumstances as well, you will find the same ability to see blessings if you step back and look objectively. You will see what I see. Despite our trials, despite our losses, despite our failures, despite ourselves, we have been blessed beyond measure. Choose today to count your blessings instead of listing your hardships. You will be surprised at what you see like I was.

Entrepreneurial Spirit/Stamp Economy

I have always been the kind of person that is a “dreamer.” I loved to create, to start things. I enjoy the challenge of making things out of nothing. Whether it was starting a company, starting a ministry, taking on an adolescent that most have given up on. I enjoyed the challenge, the thrill. Even with failure after failure, just to experience that little success motivates me. Well, I find I am still that same way in prison. The prison environment encourages inmates to "program" or to work. I don’t have ANY problem with that, as I enjoy work, probably a little too much. I learned early on to stay in contact with family and friends and to eat some comfort food, and a "decent" meal every once in a while is extremely expensive for an inmate. So a few weeks into my incarceration I got my first job which was working in the Chapel as a library clerk. I worked 5 days a week for 4-6 hours a day. It kept me busy but did not supported my financial needs. In prison, pay for common jobs are between $5.00 to $45.00 a month. If you have shifts in the Unicor Factory, you can make $.12 to $.27 an hour. At least, that is the case in this institution. Working at the Chapel for 9 months I got paid $12.00 a month. I switched jobs a few weeks ago to work in Recreation so I can paint more (now it is winter). And I’ve worked my way up to $22.00 a month. Still not enough to live on in prison. So I learned how to "hussle" to make candy taffy and sell it to inmates. This endeavor has grown to making cakes weekly and selling them. Those that know me know I do not cook! I can’t cook. I’m horrible at it. Well another thing I’ve had to learn.
You see, there is no "currency" allowed in prison. So the economy is partially trade for goods or sell for stamps. Yes postage stamps is our currency. And with every currency values go up and down. On the street, first class stamps cost $.55 now. In here, the value a year ago was $.25 and now it has climbed to $.30 to $.35 a stamp. Stamps are obviously reused and reused, so most couldn’t be put on an envelope to mail anymore. You can buy almost anything with stamps. Food, drinks, drugs, tattoos, services, etc. SO I sell taffy and cakes for stamps. And like currency I "sell" stamps to individuals that pay me by purchasing items I select in the Commissary. This has helped a lot by allowing me to buy warmer clothes, shorts to wear to exercise, junk food, and sometimes food to cook on my own in the our common area. This way I don’t have to fully rely on family sending money they earn to support me. It hasn’t totally replaced the need for outside money but it has helped. Plus, it has given me some sense of pride to be able to support myself and maybe someday send money to support my family.

When Doing the Right Thing Isn't Always Right

Radios are pretty essential in prison life. For most people it is their only connection to the outside world on a daily consistent basis. Each building, houses 125 inmates, and they each have 6 televisions suspended from the roofs scattered in various areas. But there is no sound. Each television is programmed to send audio through a specific radio station, so in order to hear the desired television it requires a radio.
Lockdowns are frequent in prisons. My understanding from other inmates is that this prison in Terre Haute is one of the least locked down of most prisons. It has a lot to do with it being a "drop out" yard. Recently, we have been assigned a new warden. When serious incidents occur, (like stabbings, guards attacked) the entire institution is not locked down for days or weeks like it use to be. Now just the specific unit is locked down.
It is important to have a good radio for lockdowns and to watch television. Well as a "typical American" I had the opportunity to acquire a second radio. My first radio was a digital Sony 2 AAA battery operated one. The second radio, was an old school Sony with a dial requiring only one AA battery. I recently decided I didn’t need two radios and could sell the extra one to purchase more painting supplies. So I sold it to another inmate.
Well, just last week the inmate came to me and said the radio I sold him was stolen, (a common occurrence in prison). He asked me if it had any distinquishing marks on it. I mentioned a few things including the cover of the battery on the radio being cracked (common with dropping the radio).
A few hours later, a transgender approached me and asked if I was interested in buying a radio? (inmate prefers to be referred to as she) So she handed me the radio, and on first glance I was rather convinced that it was inf act my old radio, with the same cracks. I asked the price and she was selling it for much less then it was worth. I declined not needing a second radio.
Immediately my gut reaction was to advise the inmate that originally informed me that his radio was stolen that I had just had a person try to sell it to me. However, I decided to consult a few trusted inmates first.
As I expected, they counseled me to just keep quiet. Even though I wanted to help “make the situation right” as that is what I would want and expect someone to do for me, if it was stolen from me. But the reality was I could not be 100% sure it was the same radio. Also, what I have experienced, witnessed, and learned is that putting myself in the middle of conflicts is not only dangerous, but stupid. People have been stabbed for less. Riots have been started due to race discrimination to arguments over sexual orientation. People have died over less serious incidents. For whatever reason I’ve done the "right thing" several times and it never paid off the way I expected. Since I’ve been incarcerated I’ve learned that I don’t need to put a bigger target on my head. The expression in prison is “snitches get stiches”. Another life lesson learned.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

I was given what was intended to be a cut down, or insult last month, which I have taken, quite frankly, as a complement. It was however delivered by the man that gifted me with a black eye earlier, but that is an entire story altogether. The guy called me "Odd", said I dont fit in here (here, being prison), that I was a square peg in a round hole. "Well thank you", I thought. At the same time I have done much reflection and battled with the concept quite a bit. I need to change and confirm somewhat to my surroundings, but at the same time I value who I am, and want to stay the same.

Well one aspect not up for change is that I am surrounded with a lot of gay, bisexual, and transgender men. So, despite having a ring tattoo on my wedding-ring finger, I have refused to take off my gold band and grow facial hair. I have been told Im not the most masculine man, so I over-compensate by dropping "my wife" and my children" frequently into conversations daily. And so, I regress. Back on point. I experienced and saw some of the oddest behaviors while in Miami, waiting to be transported to prison. People were excited to see each other. One day dozens of men cheered when the "new inmates" walked in holding their bed bag in hand, and excited upon people's return. And the inmates yelled back with arms raised to greet "his friends" he missed during his freedom?

What is going on here? I have met so many that have accepted this lifestyle; have made little communities and proud of their incarceration. Proud of the crimes theyve committed, and boast of new crimes once their released. Individuals that continue to "sneak" in drugs and make alchol, continue committing crimes while in prison. Im a minority not by my race but by my lack of facial tattos. In fact Im an anomily as I only have two tattoos and received them before my incarceration. Prison Christianity is pretty different too. Many personalities dont mesh with my kind spirit, my way of giving. I have a hard time saying no. I always want to help, especially help those in greatest need, the underdogs. I also have a desire to be affirmed. I am a good communicator and a hard worker. However, none of these traits are that helpful or conducive to prison life. Maybe most inmates are 100% out for themselves, perhaps a necessity, because if they were not, no one else will be and that could be very detrimental to them.

I find myself easily taken advantage of. My traits of generosity and kindness are viewed as weakness. So I am learning slowly and by the hard way how to find a balance. I'm learning how to live, love, give, care, and serve and how to be assertive, to not apologize, to not share, to not give away, to care for myself, and look out for myself. It is not natural to me, but I am learning. Oddly one of the most happiest, content men I have met who has embraced his multiple life sentences is a friend. He is here for 118 murders, considered a serial killer. Very content. But it might be because he beat the death row. Yes, that is true, I dont fit in here. I don't belong here. I am odd. I am a square peg in a round hole.

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…" I Peter 2:9

The Dropout Yard

Almost all United States Penitenteries are considered an active yard. Which means a lot of the runnings is run by the inmate population. Primarily gangs. Every inmate is in a gang, whether you choose one or not. Even the "independant" is considered a gang, with a leader, a shock collar, a creed, and a purpose. Officers house you based on the "car" or gang, you are in, the gang you are affliated with. Gangs primarily are created from orintation, (where you come from, ie boston/Dallas/DC etc) race or ethnicitiy, religion, and proof to enter the gang and work to put in to enter a gang or remain in a gang is common. Similar to a fraternity. There are currently three USP that are not active yards, they are considered a "drop out" yards. These are inmates in protective custody, (PC) or with high level, (care lever 3) need of care. They also include gang drop outs, informants, told on, or corporated with the government, as well as majority of sex offenders, guy, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals. They are housed in one of three prisons, Terre Haute is on, Tusan Arizonia another, and the third in Coleman Florida. These yards you have to sign an aggreement that you are "no longer" affliated with a gang, and or will target individuals in PC. There is A LOT less of killings, stabbings, riots, and violence in drop out yards, the guards have more control, it still exsists but less then you will find in active yards. When I learned Id be going to a drop out yard, I wasnt pleased, but now I am here I realize I would have never survived a day in an active yard. The politics still exsist but much less then an active yard. There still is specific tables you sit at based on your ethnicity/race, charges, where your from, and what you believe. Specific televisions you watch, specific people you hang out with and cell with, etc. It sounds still very clickish or gang like the only difference is there isnt expectations of work to do to earn your way in, ie you dont have to stab someone to be accepted. As any serious violence happens in a PC yard the individuals are sent to the highest security ADX or can be placed back on an active yard, and people that have spent ANY time in a drop out yard would not be welcome or survive in an active yard, in a sence you are signing your own death sentence. Terre Haute has around 2,000 inmates in 8 different buildings or areas. General population are people with high level violent offences, or a lot of time to serve, like myself. Death Row is housed here, the only Federal prison still having a Death Row, but we dont see them, as they are locked down 24/7. We are incarcerated with a vast majority of serial killers, murders, rapest, theives, drug dealers, and terrorists, and the list goes on. We all wear the same clothes, eat the same food and rub shoulders walking down the same halls. I have talked to numerous terrorists and serial killers since I have been down, it is a little sureal.

Peace,
Danny

The Government Shutdown

Most of us non-government employees never fully realized the effect that the total government shutdown would have on our own lives. Although I remember government shutdowns in the past, I dont remember it ever effecting me like this one. Maybe because it was shutdown for over a month. But in federal prison, all staff and guards are paid by the government, and when it shuts down, they stop getting paid. And although they are considered "necessary" staff, they all are required to report to work daily. Any yes, they will get paid eventually, but after three week health insurance stops getting paid, benifits shut down, which becomes a real crisis for many people. To say being an officer of the law, specifically a guard in a maximum security prison is stressful and often hard work is an understatement. But not getting paid, but still required to show up everyday make a difficult job that much more difficult. Often what makes prison most doable for us inmates are the programs if offers, and a few days of good food served. When funding is cut off programs stop, educational programs, recreational programs, as well as staff shortage occurs as non essential staff are furloughed and officers "call in" much more frequently when they dont have the incentive of getting paid. Officers are in prisons to maintain control and ultimitely keep inmates safe from each other. And again without the incentive of a paycheck motivation to risk your own life to help another dwindles substancially. Medical care becomes limited, and even the food we are served and quanity we are served changes. Grateful that the government is back in session and hopeful it will remain the case for time to come.

Peachier,
Danny

Incarceration affects family more than those in Prison

I would have never thought that to be true before, but I have learned first hand it to be the case. Eevn though I've learned it to be true for me and many others, the vast majority of inmates, that I have met and interacted with, has NO contact with their immediate family members. And hearing there stories, I have an understanding why that is the case. Incarceration effects the families of loved ones on many different levels. One is the unknown. If an inmate gets sick they loose all contact with there family. They can be housed in medical, iscolated for days or even weeks. In August I was in an outside hospital for a week and in ICU for two days, and the only information my family received was from a few trusted inmates that had access to sending my loved ones messages to alert them. When they called the institution, they were only told that I was inlisted in the institution, but no information on where I was or how I was was given. Being transferred to another institution can happen in a moments notice, still not information given to the inmate or their family about where they are going and when they will get there. There is a daily danger of being seperated from the general population, (taken to the SHU - Special Housing Unit) where again all contact is cut off. This can happen if you are involved in any form of violence, your cell mate involved in violence, are a victum, or suspision of any criminal activity. I was housed in the SHU in Miami for two weeks and two days, after an assault, where I was investigated, with little to no contact to family and friends. So in limiting contact with loved ones, there is no way to truly know how you are, or what is going on with you. Even though there is nothing they can say or do to control the outcome, you still feel powerless without information. The other side is the life outside continuing on without loved ones. Leann has never had to financially support our family, especially on her own. So becoming virtually a single parent over night responsible to meet all the needs of the home, and of the children. The task of parenting is a difficult one, when your alone it is an even much more of a challenge. Just looking back to the past few weeks, and months, our youngest, now 2 years old, has been hospitlazed a half dozen times with Phnemonia, ear infections, visrus, and such. Going from a stay at home mom, to sending her to daycare everyday has taken a toll on her ammune system, and she gets sick almost weekly. Leann has got her scheduled for getting tubes in her ears, a small surgical procedure next month, in hopes it will help her stay more healthy. The other kids have had to change schools 3 times, since my incarceration. My oldest got her braces on just a few weeks ago. Leann is being treated for Myloma and having chemo creme for her face daily. Even as I write this my dad is hospitialized in ICU overseas for severe abdominal pain and blood clots in his leg. The day to day hurtles and list of trials go on and on. With limit of 300 minutes a month of phone time at $ .15 a minute for non-local calls. The phone calls are limited to 15 minute increments with 3 interuptions reminding that this is a call from an inmate in a Federal Penitenteray. Then Trulinks emails costing $.10 a minute for email communication, and for people to see the messages, they have to log into a BOP site, or pay a monthly fee to get it delivered to their email or phone. And ofcourse letter writing is permited as long as you buy your own paper, pen, envelpoes, and stamps now costing $.55 for stamps. But there are SO many restrictions on mail. What pictures you can receive, how many, etc. People cant send cards, of any type, as they will be photo copied and destroyed giving the inmate a photo copy. If people send any form of stickers including an address label the mail is returned to sender. If mail "smells" or is wet at all it is returned to sender. So overall, communication is hard. With regular lockdowns, fights, and riots its hard to make commitments of talking or visiting. Visitation is offered Saturday - Monday for family and friends, with no physical contact with the exception of a greeting and goodbye in a "box" while officers supervise. Children find it most difficult as they dont understand the rules and often rules can change based on which officer is supervising. The simple reality is much of the day to day stress you deal with on the outside we are not subject to while incarcerated. We know we will get "fed" three times a day, access to drinking water, and medical attention for virtually no cost to us. We have a "room", bed, blankets, pillow, as well as the bare necessasary clothing provided with three t-shirts, three khaki pants, 3 socks, and 3 underwear, as well as a jacket in the winter months. You are given a pair of "vans" slip on shoes to wear, and if you are considered indigent, you get provided with state soap, and razors each month. However everything else costs money. In addition to the cost of phone and emails, as well as stamps and staionary, we are responsible for all our hygene, shoes, boots, clothes we desire as well as food items as what is provided is always eatable but not always desirable. So families are left to support themselves and on occasion send money to you to support you. They visit and can be turned around after a day of driving because of simple lockdowns, or can end abruptly because of incidents. This is not even considering the hastle of what loved ones go through to visit. They deal with daily stresses of life without the help or input of their loved ones. Often without knowing what is truly going on with you, whether you are safe and healthy or not. In a way when an individual is sentenced to time, his entie family serves the time.

Peace,
Danny

By Still Waters

I learn so much each landscape I paint. I learn about painting. I learn about mixing colors. I learn about perspective. I learn about projecting images. I learn about complementary colors. I learn about shadowing and light source. I learn about nature. I learn about myself. Something I’ve known about myself for 20 years now is that I am color blind. Well it came out boldly in this landscape.
I painted the trees florescent green, instead of sage green, or light green. I don’t think my friend who was teaching me believed that I was color blind before this point. This landscape was a struggle for me to paint from the beginning.
As I projected this image my lines were too dark, and hard to cover with paint. Painting is usually done in stages: starting at the farthest back. However, if those colors aren’t right, it throws off the entire painting. Well my colors weren’t right. I spent a lot of time fixing this landscape. It didn’t really come together all that well until the very end.
I learned a lot with this painting. Each step has to be done well, not rushed, for the next step to look good. Even though most of the first stage of painting is eventually covered...it’s still the background, and still has to be done right. I learned how to paint rocks. I learned how to paint moving water (never said I learned well...just said I learned) (or am learning) This was a picture of another artist work, I love his subjects, and style of painting.
Like many of the paintings I choose, this one too is based on family memories. We’ve gone hiking in dozens of State parks, along rivers and waterfalls, on mountain trails, Leann would google places, and we would pack up the kids, and spend days driving, hiking, driving. We thought this was great fun. I have great memories of so many places that we visited as a family.
I am proud to say Leann keeps this tradition going as best as she can. I receive pictures of these adventures. I enjoyed painting this landscape, like all the others, it took my mind outside of these prison walls.