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Prison Diaries

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January 26, 2011

I return to reading George Washington's Farewell Address. The paragraph that is about midway "It is important likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country..." just outstanding paragraphs follow that seem so true today, true of pitfalls our country is falling into. Have any of our leaders read this farewell address? I doubt it. I don't have any say what you do with this – but maybe a link to Washington's Farewell Address with some passages highlighted would be appropriate – many things I wish every American would read and something I hope kids will know and cherish.

I cannot recall the last day of writing – it has been three-five days. The days have been somewhat full, wrote many letters to friends (long overdue) and was rushed in sending off last journal pages. This confinement is the ultimate parallel to Ground Hog Day. Same people, same issues, same journeys to dining facility and same food day after day. Some embellishment – but not much – food is okay – too good – many days, but I am not officially tired of chicken. There are only so many ways to dress up pre-cooked chicken. Having a good friend that used to run dining facilities does not help.

Miss the family something fierce this week. Guess the visit over New Years week wore off. Still hurts to think of Jackson wanting to cuddle up on my lap or climb on my back during visitation, and not being allowed to do that – lest the visit be terminated by the guards. But I remember how blessed I am to have them visit. Many others have no family; some have never seen their young child and others have lost family members while in here. I am extremely fortunate!

The majority of inmates are good people and have been voicing concerns and suggestions to make a better place. I am just adding my voice to theirs. It has become more evident to me over the past few weeks that there is very little vocational skill opportunities or even therapy being offered here. At the same time I see, and friends tell me, the boredom and lack of constructive activities is leading to problems. The only outlet is for people to act like middle or high school kids making disruptive sounds and short tempers with other inmates. There are little to no incentives for inmates to behave, let alone work on a vocation or education.

I received the results for my Table test (test of adult basic education). There was about twenty of us taking it last week. I did miss a few questions (darn!). I would guess most did pretty good – everyone seemed to finish early on each section. After taking the exam, we had a briefing of all the educational opportunities that are not really available for us. But if we had a sentence of less than five years we could be at the detention barracks next door working on associate and bachelor degrees or vocational education, correspondence courses. But some inmates are eligible for GI/Montgomery bill tuition assistance programs – so it was great to see a few of them getting squared away to use that benefit upon their release.

January 27, 2011

Interesting short dialogue that occurs at breakfast that encapsulates the attitudes of many inmates. I'm waiting in line and watching as a food service staff, uniformed soldier, took a short break and let one of the inmates sub in – passing out cereal servings and peanut butter and jelly. I know the inmate, he is usually out cleaning tables, mopping, rinsing dishes – much of which is waiting, four to five guys doing the work of one or two. This substitution did not last more than a few minutes – he was relegated back to usual duties by the time I got to the food line. As I passed him, doing his table wiping, I commented "looks like you had a short promotion and looked like you were enjoying it." He replied "I did. I was actually enjoying doing something that felt productive for a few minutes." Just another sad vignette: take away incentives, responsibilities and self improvement possibilities (set a low bar of achievement) and people will not be happy achieving these low standards. Especially a population like this, Americans, most of which were well doing soldiers – trained to exceed – now being held to a low standard.

Incredible letters keep coming that are so kind and uplift my spirit. One of today's letters stating..."'the will of God never takes you where the grace of God won't protect you.' God bless. I pray we get our country back. I pray we get God back into government and schools. I pray for you, your family, and your safety every day and night," very kind...and similar to my prayers several times a day too.

January 30, 2011

Guess I had a little case of the prison blues for a day or two. Got over it yesterday by finally getting outside during daytime and getting to get a decent run for close to an hour. Looking at a few letters brought me back to my usual self. I realized I was letting many small things get to me, not being as thankful to the Lord as I should be, and not getting the restful sleep I usually get. Distracted by the "institution" and what else I could do to try to improve it for other inmates. I thought I was acting pretty normal during my blue days, but many inmate friends and several guards asked about me – they noted I was not the usual smiling, cheerful Lakin. I'm back, revitalized, with better realization of the issues which got me down: the institution attitude, missing family events, concern of America's loss of respect for God, country and family, to name a few.

The institution attitude kind of hits you in the face several times a day. To see a facility with great potential for rescuing and rehabbing young soldiers back to society and even back to their jobs for many, to offer nothing to them that is productive. You have a population of inmates that has pretty good skills and training being treated as non-persons. Having a private second class acting tough outside your cell door window because he thinks you should be holding your ID badge higher for him is maddening. A private second class that has likely less than two years of service, no combat patch, standing and acting tough in front of two inmates who have served active duty nearly as long as he has been alive. This past week it seems as though there are increasing cases of anger and short tempers by inmates – most all to do with a lack of productive activity. This place will be a tough place to maintain if they increase the population of inmates much. It is only about one fourth capacity. Most interactions are civil because there is space to get away from bad interactions.

I found a great summary of the feelings of being "institutionalized" in a book yesterday at our religious media room: the preface of "Understanding Prison Culture – Inside and Out" by Lennie Spitale, 2002 Broadman and Holman Publishing. A very well worded synopsis of thoughts of prison life. Spitale points out that a prison sentence length is really just half of the length of time separated from spouse, family and loved ones. The inmate serves the sentence time missing events while the spouse and family continue to live their lives going in their direction. It is very true for this situation – lack of productive activities and limited phone, mail and other ties to the outside.

Spitale also points out, if I may paraphrase, that hearing about the missed recent events is painful – but a good kind of pain, or healthy kind of pain. Keeping touch with real world events helps with not allowing one to get to comfortable in the ways of being confined, "fighting to maintain the ways of normalcy of the outside world and resist the subtle take over of the institutionalization." Hebrews 13:13 and likely divinely, just returning from our great church service – the message was being judged, held accountable to God in return? Micah 6:8 "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Some very timely and fitting lessons for my "blues" regarding the "institutionalization" and missing family.

My "blues" about our country, my concerns about out country, were just magnified the past few weeks. Seeing some tabloids and pundits ridiculing the reading of our Constitution by Congress? Really? The concern of the punishment of yet another person trying to tell Congress to do their job (Theresa Cao using her right to free speech to bring attention to the eligibility issue). Sidebar – I can visualize this so well. I had taken my seven year old son tour to Senate on the eve of the health care bill. We watched "the show" of a senator chiding an empty room, literally, no other senators seated, chiding how broken our current medical system was because he had a constituent, elderly man that could not pay for his lung transplant. It was so hard not to break the chiding with "Really Senator? Which country would you fly this man to to receive this transplant? Or how much money from your political campaign funds, or your pension have you ponied up?" I could not succinctly express concerns with our government. I am only a neophyte in my studies, but reading Washington's Farewell Address of September 17, 1796, some of the earlier Federalist Papers, Hamilton's report on public credit, makes me wonder why we are not studying this past more. Our Founding Fathers well understood the problems of their times. The problems of our times are same and they gave us the divine instruments to deal with them – the Bible, the Constitution and our undeniable rights endowed by our Creator. Do most people in our country now feel that the government is the solution to all problems? Do we now have inalienable rights, without a Creator, that may be legally granted or taken away – as some leaders have tried to rewrite history this way?

I hope (and think I have) acted justly and to love mercy and walk humbly for most of my life. Over the past several years I have only begun to see it as walking with God as His humble servant. I humbled to have this time to strengthen my faith, learn the insight, knowledge and greatness of our Founding Fathers. I pray that my children will learn these lessons sooner, faster and more thoroughly than I have, that they will perpetuate these principals and faith, along with more friends, neighbors and fellow Americans.

The lighter side of prison life

I had to ask for another roll of toilet paper on Friday. I had used my three rolls that I purchased in January. The cellblock guards will give you a roll if you give them your empty roll. One strategy that I have learned is to use the restroom at every place I go to in the facility, medical, dental, barbershop, library etc. Really conserves the toilet paper and a great bonus to sit on a real toilet, not the stainless steel cold rim in the cell. I should be better next month – we get our monthly order of supplies tomorrow. I may have only ordered another three rolls, but I ordered Kleenex too. So my toilet paper usage won't require its use for nose blowing.