Prison Life in Letters
Compiled by Jason and John Holm
9/5/03 [From Johnson County Jail where Jordan was first incarcerated.]
My attitude has changed since I last wrote. I’m so overloaded with negative, perverted, filthy, disgusting, embellished, arrogant, and loud language and conversation that I’ve decided to throw a wrench in the system and be positive. I figure my unalienable rights of Life and Liberty are teetering on a fence right now, but my Pursuit of Happiness has yet to be eliminated. The guys in my block already refer to me as the one who doesn’t belong. It’s strange how little has to be done to stand out like a sore thumb in here. Not referring to every authority figure with some nasty superlative is plenty.
There was a roughed up NRSV Bible with the apocrypha lying around in this block when I arrived. It’s not the only reading that I’ve done, and it was hard to pick up during my first couple of days in here, but it’s taken up a lot of my time since. I was and I am pretty confused, but right now at this moment in the present I am encouraged and amazed by Paul’s attitude. Throughout Philippians, he writes about rejoicing over and over again. [Paul wrote the Book of Philippians from prison in Rome.]
I’m walking in the wilderness with Grandpa tonight, except it’s morning in Pillager. Grandpa knows the 3rd and 4th verse of every hymn we sing, and he’s naming all the trees in the woods. There’s an appreciation for the tall cedars and the scattered birch like I’ve never had before. I can hear him start to tell me a story about a man he knew when he was younger. Something miraculous happened in his life, and Grandpa was there to learn from it. I listen closely to the way the story unfolds and I’m intrigued by his choice way of describing and explaining the events. Soon I can tell Grandpa’s heart is at the center of the story as his eyes begin to well up. He reaches for my shoulder and pauses on the path. Then he raises up his hand and looks to the sky- “I need Jesus! I need Jesus!” he cries as he remembers the miracle of the Holy Spirit working in a young man’s life. I watch as the joy of salvation drops Grandpa to his knees. “Hallelujah,” he prays, and I listen to him pray. He’s talking to his best friend, telling Him where he is at in life, and thanking Him for His creation. I’ve chosen a spot on the cut-away bank, and I begin to explain just how broken my heart really is. Mostly I can’t explain, but I tell Jesus, “You know.” I pour out my thoughts and hear Grandpa say, “Thank you Jesus, for your love, thank you Jesus for your mercy, thank you Jesus for your faithfulness.” My heart is warmed by Grandpa’s words and I add to his list. I grab at the bank as I cry to my Father. Sand runs through my fingers and pine needles collect in my hand. The slight prick that they give as I bounce them around takes me back to the cross and the crown that Jesus wore. I thank Him for His humility and the salvation He bought me. Inner peace isn’t easy, but I see that it should be. I’m flooded with verses; the mustard seed, rejoice, shall not fear, lean not unto thine own, be still and know, and then hymns. I can hear them being sung and I join in the chorus. Grandpa is next to me as we both come to our feet. There are a lot of paths to cover tonight, and I’d like to hit them all. Maybe I’ll stop in Minneapolis tomorrow. Please pray for me. I’m praying for you and I love you all very much.
I still can’t cut the deck with one hand very well although I’ve had an ample amount of time to work on it. We don’t get to change jumpsuits very often so it’s not great to sweat too much in them. My cell is the last one in our block of four, which is nice for a little more privacy. I’ve been doing push-ups and squats and wall sits and sit-ups every once in a while. Normally I do them right before I jump in the shower. I’ve been doing sets of 100 push-ups, down slow, up fast, and sets of 100 pause-squats. For the last couple of nights I’ve been without a cell mate so I’ve danced around in my [wrestling] stance and taken a few shots. It’s fun and tiring. Mostly, it just passes the time and makes me think that I’m helping burn off the food they give us.
Being in here makes me appreciate life or freedom a lot more- just as is the case of most things when you’re deprived of them. I’m not saying that for you to feel sorry for me, but in hoping to encourage you guys to appreciate the little things and be happy. If I was able to go home tomorrow I’d be excited about sitting down on a padded chair. I recommend that you order the new Philly Cheese Steak Pizza from Dominos and a large side of Buffalo Wings. I keep telling myself that it isn’t all that bad that I’m in here because I’d be cutting weight right now if I wasn’t.
It’s a beautiful day today! Sunday morning- time to get to church. Looks like a blue jean and t-shirt kind of day for after church. We had Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast. I probably beat you to the punch since breakfast rolls around at 5 a.m.
We’ve been locked down for most of the day today, because some people in my cell block want to fight. Locked down means we’re not allowed to go into the lobby area outside of my cell. The gate is shut. Somebody is probably going to be moved. I almost wish I could record the yelling conversations that have persisted back and forth for the past three hours. Some of these people are crazy and willing to threaten just about anything. Every once in a while they holler out my name to see if I’m still “alive.” It’s kind of a funny point in the conversation for everyone when they realize I’m not interested in yelling about how tough I am, or how pathetic and weak everyone else is. For one, I don’t know how to speak their language. The worst thing to be called is a snitch. I’m called on now and again when someone’s deadlocked in a stupid argument to make the call. A minute ago, I decided that Hitler was most likely not a homosexual even though one guy swears it’s a “documented fact.” One dude in here that might weigh 160 and is about 6’1” thinks Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie (the 2 best ultimate fighters in the world) have weaknesses that he could exploit in a fight. He’s watched them fight and “the weaknesses are there.” That’s the kind of stupidity that regularly echoes in here.
[A poem he wrote]
The finishing pace at the end of a race
Is a testament to what has been wrought.
Be it mountains or hills, valleys or thrills,
Experience extends all that was taught.
Either hardships define our limits in time
Or bolster our stride to fruition.
The mountains before can’t predict what’s in store
But they’ve fashioned our life and ambition.
Things are very much one day at a time in here- if that makes any sense. Please keep praying for me and the other people involved in this. I guess that would include yourselves. I’m praying for you.
The Twins have a big series coming up! I hope you make it to one of the games, and eat a dome dog for me too.
My cell mates are loud. You know how I talk loud? Well, I’m one of the more quiet ones on my block. It can be tiresome at times. There is very little regard for volume control.
I went to an AA meeting the other day to get out of this room and to add to this whole experience. I didn’t have anything to say and couldn’t say the regular, “(Name)” and “I’m an alcoholic.” However, the stories were interesting and I could see the potential benefits for alcoholics and drug addicts. Three of my six cell mates are cocaine addicts. Their habit is a major topic of discussion on most days at all different levels. They regularly visit here because of their habit.
9/25/03 [In regard to his roommate]
I can’t even begin to tell you everything that is going on in his life, but he regularly tells me that “I’m here for him.” He writes down things that I say and shows them to me later before he sends them to his girlfriend. In some cases I show him that it’s a Bible verse so he can be more accurate in writing it down. Also, obviously I don’t want him to misunderstand what I’m saying as being from me.
9/25/03 [Another poem]
You Gotta Win By Two
I’ve never entered a timeless fight
Where the sparrow’s forgotten beneath the night.
Amidst the rows of experience lay, a test
In might- defines my way.
There may be a place for willowed sway,
But alone doesn’t accompany what others say.
Should I go on, I will go on.
Harvesting falls and there is no collapsing,
With a spirit of fight where time is still asking.
Pushing aside the whispers in silence
Resting on faith, precious hope, reliance.
Walking alone, each stride can be daunting,
No elbow of rest on a wall of despair.
Should I go on, I will go on.
Listening deafens the roll of my sway
On to what’s next, take something, remain.
Rip bullets to cover and try to contain,
A present of flight that time will sustain.
Pour ashes and fan a fire with craze.
Shout out a banner and create a haze.
Lash out in blindness, put ax to a name.
Should I go on, I will go on.
I never entered a timeless fight,
And alone doesn’t accompany those
In His might.
Good morning! It’s early here this morning as I sit here waiting for razors to come around. I wonder if Grandpa would already be up this Sunday morning and out walking and talking with God. I imagine that it’ll probably be a while before he’s up, and I’m sure you guys are still waiting for your alarms. It’s peaceful at this time of day when all I can hear is the air flowing through the vents, and the sound of my pencil on this page. It wouldn’t be smart to burst out in song right now, but I can imagine the powerful voice of the worship leader at Bethlehem leading “It Is Well With My Soul” before a resounding congregation of voices this morning. On to the last verse, “…the Lord’s coming again some day, Praise God! ‘Even so it is well with my soul…’” When I begin to sing this morning I won’t be able to find half the notes or blend in with the voices of those around me, but I can still imagine myself as Larnelle Harris and be glad that my hope is in the Lord.
I’m crying right now and I miss you guys a lot, but not every day is bad and even the bad ones have their moments. I don’t mean to bum you out, and in fact it’s my hope that you are very happy. There’s plenty to be excited about!
11/14/03 [From the Oakdale Classification Center]
Well, I’m out of my 24 hour lock-down status to a much more relaxed environment. I’m in R-unit and assigned to bed #14 out of 96 beds in that unit. My bunk bed is wider, my mattress is thicker, I get two blankets, my mattress sits on wire screen suspended by springs around the edge of the bed frame (bouncy = soft), it’s not bolted to the wall, and that’s just the bed. There is a radio in the very big day room, a TV in a TV room, cards, scrabble, monopoly, cribbage boards, lockers with locks, the game RISK, converse styleshoes with laces, new whites (underwear/t-shirt/socks) every day instead of twice a week, a porcelain toilet, a normal handled faucet, a urinal, a curtained shower (although it’s cold), a book shelf, I get a sweatshirt and hat and gloves, chess and checkers, we get to walk to lunch and dinner, we get two milks for breakfast, my ceiling is sheet-rocked, the chairs have backs on them and front legs (not attached to a table), I can sharpen my own pencil, the windows are bigger, there are more people/personalities, there are a lot of chapel books I’d like to read, and I get to go outside!! The list could go on forever!
Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to take a test to see if I have the equivalent intelligence of someone holding a GED. I guess if I fail it, then classes will be made available for me to take. I’m also going to take an 8.5 hour psychological test to see if I’m loony, or need to take medication, or need to move to the psych ward and work with a psychiatrist. Actually, I heard that I could refuse the GED classes as long as I pass the sixth grade level of education. Believe it or not that’s a significant cut off for some people in here, because it means more time and classes if they don’t make it.
12/17/03 [moved to Mt Pleasant on 12/16/03]
I can hear, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play…” blasting over one of my roommates headphones. He’s tappin’ his foot and bobbin’ his head. The old man is playing solitaire or something like it and listening to his radio over headphones as well. And my third roommate, a middle aged man with big glasses, a mustache, and a very evident stutter in his speech, is reading a novel. It’s 8:33 am and between 8 and 9 o’clock the unit is cleaned by the inmates with the janitorial jobs so we are to stay in our rooms. I’m going to the library today at 1:30 when it opens for the West side. That’s my side, the West. I’m on the first floor of three in unit A. It’s going to be a couple of weeks before I’m approved to use the weight yard. It’s outside, but I should be able to purchase a hat and gloves and sweatpants and sweatshirts around the time I’m approved. Personally, I don’t think I’d care if there was a blizzard outside, but I have to find someone else so willing because I have to lift with someone. I don’t want to lift with anyone. I don’t want to sit by anyone. I don’t want to talk with anyone other than what’s necessary and to avoid being rude. Now I realize it’s only the end of my second day but I guess you could say that’s what scares me. Not really because there are a lot of days ahead of me (I suppose that plays a part) but because I like me. I like who I am and being that or better after whatever time isn’t something I see in what I see around me. At least not immediately and that’s being optimistic. I don’t want the “you are right now or you soon shall be…” kind of influence to even cast a shadow upon me or to reach for me with a 10 foot pole. I am trembling angry with fright and frustration at times! Am I saying I haven’t learned anything? No. I have learned a lot. I can even tell you how to manufacture methamphetamines or coke- something that carries a 25 years to life sentence if convicted. Great, huh? Of course I’ve learned some valuable lessons too. Sometimes in trying to make sense of it all I think… well, perhaps this is my own little lion’s den- except that would make me sound way too good because I’m scared to death of the lions. Or maybe it’s Joseph, but I don’t see Bush coming to ask for me someday. Actually, Joseph said, “it is not in me; God will give you a favorable answer,” didn’t he? Basically I don’t think making sense of it ALL is in the cards, and maybe that’s the toughest lesson to learn. Like what was the point of my being here today? Nothing! would be my first response, especially when I try to balance an answer with the consequences. But that gets me absolutely nowhere and is completely counterproductive with my determined hope to be used by God. It’s certainly not how James would look at it and praise God. I’ve had my days, just not all of them. Like you said, “I have a ton of hope….. God wants us to trust and God wants us to cast it on Him and God feels our pain.” I am hopeful and maybe more than ever before. It’s not because of my surroundings or something I feel like I can do, but quite the opposite or however you want to look at it.” “My hope is in the Lord.” The facades have become agonizingly clear- though not to say like Daniel, I’m always hangin’ tough. And I don’t beat myself up over that. I’d just like to be as consistent, or like David, to “not just know, but feel- that God’s steadfast love is better than life.”
I haven’t showered in over 3 days but I have a stick of Old Spice. It carries me. Actually, I don’t feel like I need to shower. When I jog I follow up with walking laps until I’m cold, then I feel clean. Good way to get sick isn’t it, doctor? I don’t stink or anything. I brush my teeth and wash my face still. I noticed today that all my calluses are gone- I have baby soft hands. I don’t think they’ve been this way since I was about seven. I’m going to bed. There’s a rule here that you have to be out of bed with it made at 6:15 am and you can’t sleep or sit on it during the day.
I also received a letter from Coach Miller. It’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone from Bethel knowing where I was outside of the strong assumption of a few. Of course recent “what ifs” in my life have included the what if of where would I be had I stayed at Bethel? I can’t say I regret the decision, but I know I would have liked Bethel. Jimmy Miller is one of my favorite and most all around respected coach I’ve ever had. I’ve always scrutinized my coaches silently and studied what made them good or bad. Miller loves the Lord and showed it in his coaching. He included everyone in practice, from 4th string to starter and he cared that they understood his scheme. Seems normal but it isn’t. The guys on the sideline were important and felt like they were important. There were several other things- the way he quoted scripture and sought to teach the greater things in life through a game being a couple of those things. When I left Bethel there were a lot of things I missed. Coach Miller ranked high on that list. However, my stomach dropped when I saw a letter from the Bethel Athletic Department being handed to me. What a contrast I thought, having probably read of my national championship and outstanding wrestler award and now having learned of my stay in prison. I guess I didn’t want them to know. I liked the position I was in. It seemed right and the kind of justification I needed in order to fill all the blanks I know I left in their minds when I left so quickly and with so little of an explanation. I remember how I didn’t feel like I could arrive at a good explanation, or one I thought would sound adequate to the coaches I loved and respected. For that same reason I feel like I pretty much left everyone abruptly, which sucked because it didn’t leave much room for the friendships to continue. I came and made friends, some of the best I’ve ever had, and then left with almost none- or so it seemed when everything settled.
But deep down I knew Bethel people would learn and I almost expected or really hoped for a letter from the very man who sent one- Coach Miller. It quickly brought me to tears. It’s hard to explain. I guess it reaffirmed a lot of things. The huge amount of respect I have for the man being one, and I wasn’t disappointed. He saw things in light of eternity and God’s plan for my life. He hadn’t forgotten who I am. He shared with me some of the heartache in his life this past fall with his father’s failing health on top of the stresses of life, and wrote the verse Jesus said, “In this life you will face difficulty, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” I can very well imagine him quoting that verse with so much sincerity and compassion and clearness of heart- while standing before a classroom of athletes or in a huddle on a football field- that his longing is obvious for even a portion of the hope he found in the verse to land on someone else’s shoulders. It’s easy to imagine because that’s the first image I have of him in my memory- just with another verse. Hebrews 12:1-2. His words have landed on my shoulders and in my heart many times, and though I read them this time it was almost the same.
Haven’t you always thought it’d be nice to actually catch an entire season of a show? I didn’t even know they worked that way- like an ongoing storyline, especially with the sitcoms, until I was like 17. Anyway, that’s one of the many perks of prison- having nothing better to do. I’m very much hoping for the addition of some important individuals to our unit before March Madness begins. Basically, what we need is a shift in power. Right now unit 1A is a bipartisan unit with the non-sports fans holding the majority of the seats in the house. If the March Madness bill is ever going to pass some very reluctant voters need to be swayed, or more effectively, moved off the unit. The latter of which is out of my hands, but I heard good news tonight of a potential newcomer to our unit from another unit. The report is that he’s a sure thing if we get him. No doubt about it the stakes are high and lobbying in here is difficult, but I’m prepared to battle- in a kind of polite sort of way, of course. Relating it to politics to anyone in here would not be an effective angle to take. I’m sure of that.
I turned two double plays today and hit one a foot shy of the weight yard, dead center, which would have been a home run but on the bounce it’s only a ground rule triple. The summer 3 on 3 tourney was to finish today. Gun, Kirby, and I faced Foot, Mo and Mesh in the championship to 30 by 1’s but the game was called at 28-27 their way with the ball in our possession because we had to go to count. I about lost it after a string of bad calls mid-way through the game. Mo dictates the calls so much it was killing me. I told their whole team to man up (like, step up) and I’d smash them all if they even begin to check me with their words when they started talking crazy. They shut-up. I should have been teched-out. I think I wasn’t only because the ref was scared. I don’t know if we’ll ever finish the game.
I got a new job in the kitchen after 8 months of wiping tables. I’m now the milk man and some days I’ll serve food. Kind of like you… except not at all.
Thank you for the devotional. Paul is amazing. He’s also encouraging. His attitude was incredible. I don’t know that I’ll ever write a Pilgrim’s Progress of my own but I’ve certainly learned a lot through my experience. Thank you for your prayers as well. It seems obvious at times that there are people out there who are praying for me.
11/9/04 [After Jordan was told that his name only mistakenly made the interview list for parole consideration]
There’s nothing quite like riding the roller coaster of life with its peaks of hope and falls of reality. Or, should I say, falls of hope, because the falls are the best part, right? Not the slow, jerky set-up? It feels like I sat down in a booster seat some time ago that puts me in perfect position to smash head-on into every tunnel. The computer list was an error. Who would ever have guessed it? Certainly not the guy who’s been all but thrown from the tracks. No, there’s a tunnel ahead that’s filled with promise, so he’s amped and fast approaching with his hands in the air hoping to sweep down through it. What’s another concussion going to do? Weeeeeee…….
My friend Kirby moved off this unit and back over to the West side this morning. Now I’m bored. Sitting in prison helps a person understand and appreciate how short life is, even though minutes feel like hours and months like years.
They opened up the ping-pong table yesterday for the first time since I won the tournament. I got to play a game and it was great fun. They should be open more often in the coming months of winter.
Live life like a wrestling match where a temporary loss only instinctively generates a resolve so indomitable and fierce that it rallies every fiber of your being to a level that eliminates failure, or the possibility of falling short of your greatest effort. I think I bought into this mentality a long time ago and I like it.
My newest roommate is in a wheelchair with limited mobility and strength in his legs. He wrecked his van when he was drunk and shattered both of his femurs, which punctured out of the sides of his legs, and miraculously avoided tearing his femoral arteries. He also broke off the tip of his left hip socket. Now one of his shoes is fitted with a 1.5” lift to compensate for the new length in his legs. He explained how he’s lucky to still have his legs (and life) and how his rehab was just getting started when his sentence was ordered to begin. His daily rehab is supposed to include sets of flexing various leg muscles as well as supervised walking and leg lifts/extensions, but prison seems to have deflated his desire to rehab. Before he was on a stationary bike, leg press machine, and could make it about 500 paces unaided, but he’s quick to mention that that was done around good looking nurses and constant care.
It’s tough for me to watch the guy- who’s probably in his early 50’s and 50 pounds overweight, sit in his chair while his legs are in dire need of rehab if he ever hopes to walk freely again. I try to say some things, but it’s difficult to make sense of why a five year prison term for drunk driving needed to start mid-rehab when the result could be a lifetime of useless legs, or at least legs less fit than they would have been. In other words, I feel sorry for him. But what good would it do to mention that? All the guy needs is another excuse to not get up. It’s just impossible not to care and at the same time I want to tell him he’s just being lazy. In fact, I think I’ve turned over a new leaf by not doing it already. He’ll walk from one side of the room to the other and then not get out of his chair for the rest of the day. He’s already shaken the screws loose once that support a metal plate in his right leg and he’s afraid of undergoing another surgery to replace it if it happens again. That keeps him in his chair. But he needs muscles and mobility.
For me, the Department of Corrections determines things, and for the DOC, a significant price tag hovers over my head. I don’t mean to classify their incentive, because I’m not sure it’s possible. People I know don’t think like the DOC. Why not suck all the future out of him that we can and then, unbeknownst to everyone (or, unchallenged by anyone), throw him out and hope our investment in ruining his future brings him back? Turnover equals profit. I don’t even want to start on how much of a joke the treatment program is here. It could be very well compared to a faulty mechanic’s shop that picks up 6k from the feds per customer. And that’s nothing. The big dough rolls in for the two year programs. I should probably stop in case it’s possible for this place to hate me further. I’d like to graduate from college and I pray the parole board knows I was at least there.
3/19/05 [Jordan's good friend and college roommate wrestled one weight class above him at 197 pounds and made it to the national championship match his senior year]
There’s a championship about to happen this afternoon that kept me awake for most of the night. I’m moving, faking, snapping down, then shooting straight through this guy in an orange singlet, lofting him into the air, and driving him to the mat. Then I’m cranking and smashing on him, brutally pinning his head down, and flattening his every attempt to move until he’s broken and rolls over. A whistle will blow, he’s already defeated, but two periods of clock remain for me to pummel every bit of pride and energy out of him that may be left. The beating he takes is severe, without question, and leaves me the victor every time. I’m about 100-0 in this particular championship match and this one is not even my match. In my matches, I’m 100,000-0 against every colored singlet wrestler that’s imaginable.
For a lot of individuals a hard-sought goal hangs in the balance of the opportunity they will have this afternoon. An opportunity they’ve created with a most recent string of wins that’s only come after a thousand defeats. Now finally it’s here where they stand undefeated in a match that’s no longer a dream. I so wish I could be there outside of my thoughts, to cheer and wrestle and watch.
Through your report, I heard my good friend fell short, and it’s hard to imagine he lost. It hurts me deeply to feel what I imagine he felt when his hand wasn’t raised in the end. So close to his goal it’s sure to trouble his soul before his success grows even greater through his loss. I haven’t thought of much else over the course of this weekend so I thought I’d put some of it down.
4/20/05 [Jordan was transferred from Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility to Anamosa State Penitentiary after he refused to take part in the sexual offender treatment program]
It made me smile as soon as the van began to roll forward and I was jostled around a little in my seat. Right away I thought back to the last time I was sitting over wheels about to take off. It had been a while- in fact a little over 17 months when I was then brought down from Oakdale to begin my stay at Mt Pleasant. As we drove the short distance to the highway that runs in plain view of the West side yard, I began to recall the numerous times I’d paused to watch the cars race by and imagined when next I’d be able to join them and zip on down the road. Although I always imagined myself as the driver, I was still anticipating the higher speeds. Sure enough we took off quick, punching it out on to the highway. I was reminded of Ed Kane and how he’d always slam through the gears of a fifteen passenger rental. Of course, the van I was in wasn’t a rental, but state owned property, which is just as good if not a better reason to beat it up. The windows were heavily tinted and lined along the inside with bars. A cage separated the front two seats from six inmates, including myself, dressed in orange jumpsuits with our feet and hands in shackles that were looped to a chain that was locked to another chain at the waist. Such attire is common for anyone who’s being transferred, or taken on a court ordered trip, or moving about when on isolation or “hole” status. And it never seems to fail when I’m bound up in this most uncomfortable position that someone else who’s in cuffs will mention what everyone who’s been there must know by now, that the black box our handcuffs are secured in, which constitutes the greatest deal of discomfort, was thought of and patented by an inmate. It’s always said with such disgust, but as often as I’ve heard it, I don’t think anymore that it’s mentioned just for the irony, but that somehow it satisfies the criminal mind with an odd sense of pride to see the “success” of another criminal’s patent. I suppose it would take an inmate to appreciate how common this device is.
When I arrived here, pulling up from outside, the first thing I noticed to not fit what I’d imagined was how exactly in the middle of town this penitentiary is located. With the 40-foot walls that surround the facility I’m sure soon enough it’ll feel rather isolate, but for now, it seems to stand on the corner of a neighborhood. They say it’s a society inside society that runs independent of the outside world. In this way I imagine they mean it has many similar rank and file positions as would be found in the free world. In listening to some inmates who have been here, it’s apparent the ones who work carry a sense of significance with them as being a part of so many products being made. Their contribution is obvious, but beyond taking pride in their work there’s little else they’re able to take back with them to their cell. It’s understood from the beginning that this penitentiary has a firm hold on the concept of turning over products in a way that’ll pour in money for those at the top. Rumors are regularly circulated about just how much money this reformatory (politically correct term) is able to rake in.
The first thing on most inmates’ minds after they get settled is finding a job. Without a job it’s impossible to get off of “on-call” status, or being locked in a three man cell for 23, then 20 hours a day on alternating days. “Long days” allow for four hours out and finding a job during that time is of highest priority. On “short days it’s said there’s just enough time to go eat, shower, and pick up the next day’s laundry. What I hope to do is fit in a workout on every one of my long days, but I don’t want to hinder my chances of landing a job as soon as possible. The average time it takes to pick up a job is said to depend on the swelling number of inmates in line to get one, and what luck is out there. At the gate we were told the current wait is around four months, and to not be surprised if it rolls over six.
When I was first checking in I happened to see a friend who I was hoping would still be here. He was shipped out of M. Pleasant about ten months ago and he used to lift in the morning with Tone and me. I only saw him from a distance and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to yell for his attention, so I’m still eager to get out sometime this weekend and look him up. Hopefully, very very hopefully, he’ll be able to help me get a job. Before I took off from Mt Pleasant I was offered several tips and names of people to get a hold of in my search for a job. Most of them would say to mention their name to so-and –so as a reference. Others suggested I spy out a lifer who’d have connections in the area I’d want to work and offer him a convincing amount of money, like $50 or $100, to have me off of on-call by the end of the week. There’s obviously some risk in that, like what if it takes them three weeks, the what? And whatever $ there is would of course have to be sent in from outside. But, once I have a job this place isn’t going to be all that bad.
Right now I’m serving four days of DD time (disciplinary detention), or hole time, that I owe for watching a BB game at Mt. Pleasant. I think I’ve told you the story already. Sometime this Saturday I should be getting out and starting my ten days of orientation, where I’ll be escorted around in a single file line to all of the industries, shops, and other places to look for a job. Then, if I’m able to pass the written test, uh-oh, I’ll start my time on on-call. Once I’m on on-call I believe I’ll be able to order from commissary and hopefully send out for a TV.
I don’t know what the other cells will look like, or if they’ll be different at all, but I wonder. The one I’m in now is a 7x10x8 with a three person bunk, sink/toilet, chair and desk. I’m on the second tier in a long rectangular room with cells on both sides, top to bottom. I noticed I’m the first to get food at meal time when they bring the cart around and slide us our food. I figure I’m lucky with that because I’m still a pretty slow eater.
I woke up this morning with my neck feeling like Tolly [the heavyweight, a national champion who Jordan often wrestled with] had just beaten me over the head for two hours in practice, and I’m not so sure why because the bed and pillow I have are the same as everywhere else. I think I might have actually wrestled Tolly in my dream last night because it’s past two and my neck is still killing me.
There are two things in my room with words on them: a rules and regulations packet and my “Maximum Security Fluoride Toothpaste,” and I’ve read every word that there is on each of them. My toothpaste is very clear and runny like corn syrup, and the rules packet re-words the same rules so many times over that it stretches out to be 15 pages of reading material. I kind of wish it were longer. My neighbor, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to, has a typewriter, which according to the rules edited last on 7/1/99 is no longer allowed after the 120 day restriction. Therefore, I don’t understand how he would have one except that he’s been in DD for a very long time.
I was handcuffed through the slot in my cell and brought downstairs to shower yesterday. After I was locked inside the shower I backed up to another slot and they were able to undo my cuffs. The water pressure was actually fantastic- a big change from Mt. Pleasant and even my old house on Washington. It felt good to let it blast away on the top of my head. I thought it was funny to see the soap dispenser on the wall was labeled “Blue Inmate Soup.” I suppose the “inmate” part is there to ensure no guards get confused and take some home with them. It is true, however, as part of the independence of this place, that the soaps and cleaning supplies are made here, so that would be another reason it’s labeled.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve sealed off about 90% of my possible range of emotions at this time. I kind of feel like I’m just numb to whatever is going on around me, and not until I think about it for a while do I realize this. Still, I’m fine with it and don’t feel like I’m storing up any sort of burden of emotion, as I’m sure some may guess would result, but more like I’ve just let it all pass by and float away. As foreign of an idea as that may sound to some people who thrive on emotion to react and think, I still highly condone doing otherwise, like I think has become pretty normal for me now. It may sound dull, or even unhuman, but I have very little concern for appearing robotic in the future when I imagine it will make more sense to appeal to my emotions. I think this whole paragraph was more fit for a journal entry than a letter, but oh well.
Brother, I’m writing to you from the State Penitentiary. It’s crazy how real this is. The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, right? All I have to do is follow.
…I know for me, being here, it’s a much different challenge. My schedule is relaxed… too relaxed! Also, I have no academics or a girlfriend to worry about. It’s easy, really, with the first major challenge, as I see it, only to come when I’m released and have to step out there with a huge new background and stigma. It’s a very much undesired (and undeserved, if to say that isn’t a complaint) obstacle to overcome of re-proving myself to a countless number of people. I’m not saying I won’t be acquitted. I’m saying I’m not so naïve to believe that it will change what people know- that I’ve been to prison. But all of those thoughts are for the future and, like I said, I’m going to do my very best, regardless. For now, I’m going to hang out until then and pray and believe my Lord will carry me through. …my thoughts for now.
I’m sitting here hooked up to my colorful companion [his walkman] through my CL-20 headphones. Both are beautiful clear plastic, much like my fan. My roommate got his face beat in this morning at breakfast so I’m the lone occupant of this now much cozier feeling cell. I scrubbed it top to bottom earlier today after packing up his stuff. I’ve decided the conversation is more worthwhile or interesting with myself.
I wonder sometimes how it’d be to have a house this size to bring a girl home to after a date. Really, it has about five different sections to it- the entryway, study (where I am now), bathroom, and bedroom- upstairs and down. Also, the security system, if she’s interested, is tough to beat. Still, she’d have to be something pretty special, like they tend to be in my dreams, to want to hang out here. I could tell her I love the place just to see how she reacts. It would be great. She had better be every bit as thrilled as if it were a mansion because it’s the thought that counts, right? I could always sing, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop…” in case she does get hung up on the whole thing- just to let her know I’m filthy rich. If she stayed for long, we would have to split up. It depends on how cool she is, but I may let her have the downstairs suite.
My walkman is an impressive little machine. The one I have was only offered for sale for a couple months back when I got it so only a few people have one like it. I think it’s the best one they’ve sold. It’s digital, first of all, and it seems to last. I realize kids in junior high these days probably don’t even know what a walkman is, but in here it’s valued at about the level of a PC on the street. Do you people still use computers? How about robots?
I was a day late returning my books and now I have a 14 day suspension to deal with. I can’t believe these people. I’m sick of being “reformed.” Don’t tell the parole board but I think the system’s broken. I’m going backwards under the stress of constantly being assured I need fixing. It’s everywhere and for all I know the books wouldn’t even be read if it wasn’t for a select few, of which I’m included. I’m actually literate. Cool, huh? I should probably take it easy with my comments on how surprisingly stupid so many people in this place are because I’d be lucky to land a job as a tutor. But that hasn’t happened yet so I’ll save up my patience until it does. Maybe a part of why I’m not hired yet is because despite my having turned in a college transcript showing three years of completed courses, I’m still being questioned on whether I’ve actually graduated from high school. Oh, an equivalent GED would do. Who are these people?! I feel like I’m at the airline counter with David Spade in Tommy Boy.
I moved on to “Level IV” on Monday. Now I’m in a bigger cell but there are three of us. I’m on the top of a three-bunk bed. My roommates are “Dice” and “Face” and they seem pretty cool. I knew Face before I moved in. He’s a talker and he plays crazy and without any rhyme or reason at the card table. That works for some people but I don’t buy into it. Dice goes to sleep for the night around 6pm and he’s up around 4am. He has an early job, but I still think 6pm is very early! Neither of them smoke, which is nice, and the room is left empty for most of the day.
I’m awake. It’s not that late, only 10:30. But most mornings I wonder why I wasn’t asleep by now. There’s rarely a good answer to that thought these days- except as I sit here, it doesn’t seem likely I could fall asleep if I tried.
My alarm is set for 5:55 AM. I’ll be surprised if it actually goes off before I wake up. More common would be the radio coming on in the middle of me brushing my teeth. I’ll put on my sweatpants and shoes and sit in the quiet, waiting for the doors to open. For some reason my fan often fails to actually have an effect on the temperature of my room at that time, which will only have me turn it around or reach for the knob on the back.
I’ll decide on my way out to the track whether to run two or three miles before breakfast. Maybe I’ll go for twenty minutes. I kind of miss the colder months when it’d still be dark for the beginning of my run. But, it’s still the least congested part of the day in the yard. That means less smokers as well.
I’m sure I’ll feel better at breakfast than my thoughts are stirring me to feel right now. Exercise will do that. Although, if I were writing a different sibling, I’d probably emphasize more the decision to get up. What has me awake, not cherishing sleep- or actually I’d prefer to have gone to bed at 5 o’clock if I thought it were possible to make it ‘til morning- is the latest stampede that’s trampled my future. What pessimism to see it so bleakly. And what crap to see it as anything else. Psalm 69:1-4
I’ve lost every atom of “good faith” or belief in the existence of a standard of morality of justice by which people of this nation truly hold themselves accountable. Much more powerful and real is the abuse of this perception that such authority exists. Gone is the day, if it ever was before, of adherence to legislation despite its alignment with personal, financial, political or social interest; and popular is the treatment of legislation as mere proposals fit to be manipulated or ignored as best serves prospective interests.
[He's writing from the imagined perspective of the judge who found him guilty] It’s only ten years (maybe 18 months) and this kid will recover. He’s mature for his age and look at the future he had going. But this court and my bench may not withstand the zealotry of those primed to re-run the headlines of how athletes prevail in this courtroom. Of course, I thought it’d be much easier before I learned who people say Jordan Holm is in letters I received after trial. It’s difficult to manage my interests in this predicament, but I believe I can weave my way through it. I’ll praise the defendant for the maturity and tremendous potential he’s shown… confirm for the record that the sentence is “disproportionately harsh”… dazzle the courtroom with mentions of jury nullification, inner turmoil over “intellectual dishonesty,” and my experience with athletes in the past. But to be sure, I’ll lay out in my decision that it’s his bright future which most disturbs me and brings into question his credibility at this time. It’s his potential for good, the many indications that he would succeed, and the evidence that he is not a deviant person that I find most compelling and confirming of my decision that he his indeed not credible. May it be known, however, that “I’m not of the opinion that you are a sexual predator, and if I had my choice, you would not be going to prison” (transcript, 21). But, remember I’m a coward and I must weave my way through this. “Proof by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt is not proof beyond all doubt. That standard… is ‘firmly convinced.’” And, “there is no definition for firmly convinced” (Decision and Verdict, 13). My thinking is, “the more a defendant has to lose in reputation, future, or penalty, the greater the motive to be untruthful. Considering the alleged nature of Ms. Dodds…. Her motive to lie, albeit real, would be substantially less that the defendant’s” (Decision and Verdict, 15).
There, I did it: it was his good standing in society that was most damaging to his defense. The penalty he faced is what proves him a liar. Of course, by this thinking, no defendant could ever prevail in this courtroom, which is exactly the manipulation that best serves my interests.
If the stampede were to stop with the judge, it would proceed for four and a half years: the maximum time to discharge for inmates with a ten year sentence and good behavior through their time. However, the IDOC (Iowa Department of Corrections) and the Attorney General’s Office recently abandoned their concern for precedent ruling by the United States Supreme Court pertaining to changes in state law with respect to earned time. (For example, in a ruling signed by Justice William Rehnquist it was determined that such changes in state law could not be applied to a prisoner whose crime was committed before its effective date because suspending their earned time violates the ex post facto clause. Further, in article 1, code 10 of the US Constitution it states, “No state shall… pass any ex post facto law.” And again in the Iowa Constitution, “No… ex post facto law… shall ever be passed. (Iowa Const. art. 1 par 21))
Therefore, the stampede will extend an additional two years because a law enacted on July 1, 2005 was unconstitutionally imposed on me this morning, thereby suspending all of my eligibility for “good time” or “earned time.
The veil has been ripped off! My eyes are essentially without lids as I look at the prevalence of injustice in this corrupt nation. It boasts of which it does not have: a justice system.
We’re in lock down right now. Everyone’s in their room. We may get out in a few hours, or maybe a few days. That’s the way it goes. I guess we’re overdue since we haven’t had one in the past 18 months that I’ve been here. I don’t mind it. I actually have a lot of reading to do and maybe I’ll get a lot of these written.
I feel a certain obligation to try to dispel some of the ideas or television-supported guesses of what it must be like in here. So a brief breakdown of my day-to-day seems important. As if to say, I’m doing more than just surviving. Then again, it isn’t a cakewalk (or as 99% of people in here would say… “it ain’t no… and I hear that double-negative so often I nearly wrote it), but who needs to be reminded of that? Actually, in many ways, it is a cakewalk. I haven’t done any laundry or prepared myself a meal in a long time. Basically, between the simple and the challenging, this place provides a very unique dynamic that’s unlikely to be properly explained in a letter. Ya feel me?
There’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I try to keep it in the front of my mind as a way of directing my actions throughout the day. The question is pretty simple: Are you delighting in the Lord? (I think it’s second person narrative to refer to myself in third person, right?) It’s kind of ironic to mention I’m bored with writing repetitive letters about this boring place when I consider how I repeat my personal requests in prayer. At least with my letters the repetition is spread out among different people, whereas in prayers my requests are always heard by God. It makes me wonder how He keeps himself from being bored with me. The greater point of what I’m trying to say is that I believe God is aware of the desires of my heart. (Not that it’s necessary I pray in order for Him to know.) Now whether my desires are His desires, I’m not quite sure. Although, if I thought my requests were way off, I like to think I’d stop sending them to Him for consideration. What’s so unreasonable about wanting to meet a beautiful woman who has won a Grammy, an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize, a Timothy Award, and the Olympics; who decides the only person she loves more than me is Jesus? So you can see my point then. Well, as soon as I get around to it, I hope you will. The verse that prompted the question I try to keep in the front of my mind is Psalm 37:4. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” My understanding of this incredible promise is the more I delight in the Lord, the more He will bless my life. It’s pretty straightforward…..
My life may not be the envy of many at this time, but I know I’ve been blessed with a lot. What’s more is the assurance I’m offered in Psalm 37- that when I delight in the Lord, He will give me the desires of my heart.
6/5/07 [Entire Letter]
I’ve been listed on the prayer agenda at Cedar Heights Baptist Church every week since September of ’03. It’s pretty amazing and very humbling to be reminded that people out there are praying for me. When I look over the rest of the list, I can’t help but be thankful for the position I’m in. It’s not easy, of course, but God has blessed me with salvation, good health and so much more.
I’m very thankful for our family and for the love we have for one another. It can be easy to take for granted, especially since we’ve never had to experience not being loved by our family. This has certainly been brought to my attention more often over the past few years, as I’ve met so many people who have relinquished the idea of having anything to do with love. I don’t want to dive into the emotional/psychological impact this seems to have on their lives, but it appears to be far-reaching, and I’m thankful to not share their perspective. We know “Jesus loves them, this we know, for the Bible tells us so…” (a variation of the original, of course). You may know that Dad regularly includes song lyrics in his letters.
Anyway, I thought you’d like to see what was recently posted behind my name on the prayer agenda.
[A copy of the church bulletin was included]
I’ll probably be counting the hours today as they pass. The institution is on lock down again for the second time in about two weeks. A couple of days after you and Kelli came to visit, there was another incident similar to the one that happened the other day so we were all locked into our cells for a couple of days. Since then, there has been a pretty steady occurrence of fights including a couple this morning that, according to rumors, involved more staff. No one really knows, but it’s expected this lock down will carry on for a few days.
Meanwhile, I do have about 97 letters to write. Thankfully, I have a few books to read as well. I was just handed my lunch. It’s 10:04 AM. I was supposed to have a hooverball match tonight. We’re in the semi-finals out of 30 teams. I had never heard of the game before I came to prison so you’re probably not familiar with it. It actually bears its name from President Hoover, the only native of Iowa to be elected president amidst our nation’s great history. He used to play the game on the White House lawn. The competition is played out on a volleyball court. Six people are on the court for each team. Actually, the number varies. For our tournament, it’s six. Instead of a volleyball, an eight pound medicine ball is thrown over the net (the bottom of the net isn’t tied to the standards to avoid it being torn). It must be caught, then thrown back over in one throw. If it drops on your side or doesn’t make it back over the net, then the other team is awarded a point. When you catch the ball, you get one pivot foot and must throw from there. Rallies can last for a long time. We play win by two to 11 and best of three. My team hasn’t dropped a game yet. It’s a good time. Eight pounds doesn’t sound like much but it’s a pretty good size. A lot of people walk away with big bruises on their chests and arms. I don’t have any but I think that only means I don’t bruise very easily.
12/9/07 [Jordan spent the month of December in the hole for "fighting" after he was set up and blind sided by two inmates who had been out to get him in retaliation for something that happened in a football game. He didn't even realize he was in a fight before his nose was broken, a few teeth were chipped and the numerous guards who were close by broke it up. Prison rule is that anyone involved in an altercation, whether doing the fighting or taking the beating, goes to the hole until the details are sorted out.]
What do I think about having almost 2.5 years left? I try not to think about it actually. But then there are days when that’s impossible; when it feels like I’m being buried by this place; when I start to count and I’m reminded that I will have spent one quarter of my life in prison. And who can remember what they did in that first quarter anyway? So, by way of memory, it’s more like one third. Or, more literally, this quarter of my life could take as long as it took me to go from the beginning of sixth grade through high school graduation. Do you remember Mrs. Lindstrom [his sixth grade teacher]? I remember she winked a lot and that’s about it. I’m not sure what she taught me but I’m sure it was something. How about Whitney Tussing [a neighbor girl he would sit next to on the bus]? I bought her a flower on Valentine’s Day that year. It took me all day to get up the courage to give it to her.
Does it feel like you’re already in the middle of your sixth year of medical training? Probably not. Although, I’m sure there are days when it feels like it has been even longer. So I know you’ve heard all of these complaints before. They’re not new. You’ll probably even hear them again- about being here and how long this sentence is taking. I hate it. I hate this place. How can I say such things? I know that some would be more than disappointed to hear me say I hate it but it’s because I’m actually here. I think Paul would hate it too. He did set an incredible precedent though, didn’t he? Okay, maybe he wouldn’t hate it. He would be “content” and “always rejoicing.” I don’t even know how to respond to that. Who in the world rejoices always… “and again I say rejoice.”? It just makes me feel like even more of a failure to read that expectation. Who in the world can win an NCAA D1 championship match and an Olympic gold medal? Not too many. But I bet there are even fewer who are always rejoicing. I know I’m not always rejoicing. I’m often content, but right now I’m not even that. Doesn’t it make sense that I’d be more likely to be both rejoicing and content if I were not incarcerated? Yes, that does make sense. Or how about if I were incarcerated on account of my faith and not on account of a “schemin’ demon?” Yes, that also makes sense.
This morning I woke up at 4:27. I lay in bed as long as my back could tolerate it- ’til about 6:50. Breakfast trays come through around 7:20. This morning it was two hard boiled eggs and toast with a butter pad and jelly (one of my favorite breakfasts.) After breakfast I did 60, then 50, then 40..30..20..10 pushups. It was pretty simple. I’ll do more next time. It’s all about boredom and passing time. This afternoon I’ll try to stay active doing various exercises for about one hour. It is not motivating to know that I won’t be able to shower today. That will happen tomorrow, sometime around 2 or 4 pm.
I was escorted across the yard to see the man today. A couple of my friends who didn’t have to be at work waited outside to hear the results. I sat in a waiting area for about 45 minutes as everyone else was shuffled through. Every single one of them was found guilty and received a pretty decent sanction. As we sat there, one guy who was there for stealing peanut butter from the kitchen, proceeded to tell us that he thinks he’s going to be charged with two counts of murder before he gets out on his current ten year sentence. He said it matter-of-factly and then laughed- like he just one-upped everyone. It was the only thing I heard as I sat there quietly that made me turn my head.
I was the last one to go in. Everyone in the room seemed angry, but it felt kind of forced, like they thought it was an effective way to assert authority. However you want to do it, I guess.
My report was read out loud and then the statements of my witnesses (two officers). Both looked good, in my mind. Then he whipped out the statement of another officer whose account of the same event was completely different from the other two officers. I got the same sick feeling in my stomach- only it wasn’t as bad and I was already sitting down so there was no collapsing- as the day Pedersen told me my fate in the back of that empty and dark courtroom. The man lifted his head from the paperwork in front of him and glared at me. It all went downhill from there. I wasn’t given a decision right away like everyone else. Instead, I was escorted right back here [to the hole]. But, I was pretty sure I knew what he would say. I didn’t have anything to say to my friends that waited. “I don’t know yet, but I don’t think that’s good.”
I was handed the decision for my hearing today at one o’clock. (That sentence is structured terribly!) I don’t have a one o’clock hearing today. That is when I was handed the decision from my previous hearing. I have twenty four hours to appeal. I could spend way more than twenty four hours on it and probably still not be satisfied. I’m not sure how I’m going to say what I want to say. The concept of an appeal within this institution is frivolous and ridiculous. 24 hours. What legal foundation do I have to work with? I’m currently facing and already serving 30 days in the hole and another month in prison. An appeal? Sure, I’ll throw something together. I’ll give you pages and pages to read. Maybe I’ll include an entire legal book as an attachment. Meanwhile, I don’t know that whatever I prepare will ever be read. And if it is, I guarantee they’ll be thinking… “Why is this guy trying so hard? Doesn’t he know we don’t actually consider his appeal? It’s just a pain-in-the-butt legal requirement that we allow him the opportunity.”
This has been the fifth Christmas I have spent in prison. It was different than the others. I spent this one in the hole. The discussions and comments that went on around me, all of them in raised voices yelling through the bars at the front of these cells as if to insist their thoughts be heard, did not reflect in the slightest that today is different than any other day. But, today IS different. It’s Christmas! When the hallway lights are turned down and only our cell lights stay on, as they always do, it’s as if I can sense the very slow calming effect it has on the range. After an hour only a couple conversations remain and I can hear every word that’s being said. It makes me wonder… why all of the yelling throughout the day? The most common words I hear are, “what”, and various expletives. For “what” to rank anywhere near these others in popularity should reveal just how much strain is being put behind everyone’s voices. During fits of boredom I’ve tried to join in. It’s exhausting and I barely care to contribute to what’s being said so it doesn’t last. But, right now it’s amazingly quiet. I can hear someone cough who is eight cells away. This is when I might talk, and, earlier tonight, cell 9 next door decided to ask where I’d been the past few days. Our conversation was one of the last of the night. We began talking about football. Then I wanted to hear what he might be doing if he were out on this Christmas day. He didn’t know. He might be with his brother. He could be somewhere else. His family has never done the same thing as the year before. I thought that was strange until he started to tell me about his family.
“Both of my parents were heroin addicts. I don’t really remember my mom. My parents separated when I was 3 and she ran off for nine years. Well, I remember her. I mean, I know who she is. I’ve been over to her house since she came back but my brothers and I, we don’t like her. My dad died last year. He was hitting the bag most of his life. He really did clean up for a while near the end, but he got into alcohol and that stuff was hard on him since he had diabetes. He was the last real person I saw though before I came in this time, so I’ve always been glad about that. He was in the home already, ya know? I stopped in. It’s actually where I got popped off ’cause I was on the run and some nurses there knew it. They were kind enough to give me a heads-up so I got outta there. But, police got to me later that night.”
He’s 23. His dad was 48. As I listened to his story, I began to wonder how many other people on this range could relate to his upbringing? I don’t think I need to ask- the answer is obvious. I’ve been listening to their life stories all day and week long. A lot of me hates to jump to their defense with any excuses. They’re all grown men. They all know the difference between right and wrong. But another part of me finds it more significant that many of them don’t know the difference between Christmas Day and the next.
This realization makes me wish I could crown our mom and dad with the greatest reward on Earth. Even that, whatever it might be, doesn’t seem like it’d be adequate. So I’m thankful our Heavenly Father will see to their reward in heaven. I want to hug them and thank them and tell them I love them. I want to hug you and thank you and tell you I love you. I am very blessed to have the parents and the brothers and the sister that I have. I am very blessed by all of my family. My Christmas was merry and bright!
I am used to this place. It’s going to be something more to adjust to when I move out. Going to get my food, moving in and out of my cell, being outside, being around people all day, talking, wearing jeans, crowded showers and having access to the outside world through my colored entertainment device and monitored phone calls will be quite a change.
You’re schedule is about the perfect example of the opposite of mine. I thought it was before but even more so over these past four weeks. I’m not expected to do much of anything except stay in this room. It’s my room. All mine. I can stand, sit, and take two steps that way or two steps that way. Here I am or there I am. As long as I’m not somewhere other than here or there, I am doing what’s expected.
…I’m not too excited about going back to college either. It sounds very daunting these days. I’ve forgotten everything. Plus, I’m old now. I’m like way older than I want to be. Not in terms of what I know or what I’ve learned thus far, but just in terms of when I would be graduating. I would be old. I thought I’d be close to finishing medical school by now. I hadn’t completely ruled out some other possibilities but mostly I was pretty set on medical school. Now even writing that out seems strange, like I should have forgotten about such things by now. I shouldn’t have my head in the clouds. I should be more aware of my surroundings. I should be thinking it’d be amazing to stumble across any sort career at this point. I used to hear from people who’d watch me load the pop machines in the morning that there’s a career for me in hauling pop. I like to think this was said on account of my lightning quick hands. It was always a race for me with those cans. Anyway, I feel I should be trying to answer the question of why even go back to college? What career would be waiting me when I graduate? Would it be one that requires a degree? I don’t know. I suppose I have no way of knowing at this point. It’s just something I think about for now. I do know a lot depends on the truth. How brightly will it shine through? Will it overpower this wrongful conviction? Will it soon rain down like fire from the sky? How amazing it must have been for Elijah when God answered his prayer and threw fire on his offering (I Kings 18). If I were there, I would have wanted to see it again. “Let’s do it again Elijah! That was sweet!” Then I might have said, “Booyah!” or something to the crazy people – no, check that, booyah is kind of lame – before I dropped to my knees in amazement. I would love for the truth in my case to be shot across the sky from San Fran to NYC. Not with fire necessarily, don’t see how that’d work. But I do pray God will liberate the truth in my case in the most obvious fashion from all of the garbage that appears to surround it. Like the willingness of some to just guess without concerning themselves with the facts. Like say, the scientific facts. No really, it’s only my life. Go ahead and assume. The facts might get in the way. I could go on but I won’t. I once saw a magnet on Julia Bengtson’s fridge before she became Julia Bengtson that said something very negative about sarcasm. I can’t remember it exactly but I’m still reminded of the basic idea whenever I’m being sarcastic. This causes me to think something along the lines of Hans wouldn’t do it so neither should I. We would all be better served, wouldn’t we? Anyway, I pray the truth will be liberated from all of this garbage, from every last bit of it. That’s what I pray. I pray something like that. I suppose I pray about of lot of things in a lot of ways – like a lot of people. I want to see it again.
Well, I’ve been hanging out in here for quite a while now. I think most people would say it’s been quite a while. I know it’s been longer than I like to think about. Maybe that’s why I say quite a while, instead of an actual figure, like it could be any ordinary amount of time. I don’t know. That’s probably just me analyzing something way too much. I tend to do that with things. I overanalyze.
So anyway, I’ve been hanging out in here, you know, doing time or whatever else people like to call it. I figure I’m about as used to it as I’m going to get. There are days that seem impossibly slow but they don’t come along very often. My schedule is fairly routine and it usually just clips right along. It’s only when I step back and really consider what time has passed, or whatever amount it is they say I have left, that is seems impossibly slow. There’s also that hint of a feeling that I’m rolling backwards down a mountain or something. I don’t want to say it’s no big deal, like everything’s fine. But, that’s usually what I end up telling myself. It goes something like that anyway. And I believe it too. That’s the crazy part. I know far worse has happened to far better and many of them turned out just fine, some much better than fine. One guy even suggested we “consider it all joy… when [we] encounter various trials” (James 1). His logic is pretty sound too, if you decide you want to look at it again. I’m not quite there all of the time or anything, but I understand what he’s saying. See, that’s sort of how I arrive at “everything’s fine.” I believe God has a plan for my life. He knows right where I’m at and He has a plan. That makes things greater than fine, whether I’m feeling it or not.
There are other aspects to this business of doing time as well. More ordinary aspects, like these activities that are always going on, such as flag football. After football, it’s basketball, then volleyball and so-on. I’ve been around the cycle more than a few times. There are also my friends in here. They make the time go by. Maybe you’d like to hear a little about them. Some of these guys, the ones I’m around a lot, have become good friends of mine. I’m actually around a lot of people a lot – a lot of the same people. I feel like I’ve gotten to know a high percentage of this community fairly well just because I see them all of the time. We’re not all friends or anything. Not even close. I am friends with quite a few of them, though, and I’m guessing you’d rather hear about them, so maybe I’ll try to tell you about some of these guys.
It’s generally a point of curiosity so I’ll begin by saying that pretty much every one of them has been here much longer than I have or they usually have much longer to go. I’m a “short-timer.” I always have been. A few of them have practically grown up here, having come in around the age of 18 and now being in their late 20’s to early 40’s. Some of them, including the two guys I lift with throughout the week, will be here for the remainder of their lives. Others won’t leave until they’ve spent almost 20 or 30 years of their lives in this system. These are the guys I hang out with. I see them every day. And when I list these statistics – the ones that society uses to identify who they are and often what they’re worth – it feels like I’m narrowing in on a small portion of who they are while blocking out the rest. It wouldn’t be completely unfair, I realize, because it is a part of their story. A tragic part. A part for many, as I’ve gotten to know them, that has brought me to think what a waste and how sad. It reminds me of stories they’ve told of who they once were and what brought them here. Most would tell you they were foolish and violent and angry. They messed up. They messed up real bad. Some would tell you they were heading nowhere but here for most of their free lives. It was only a matter of time. Others would tell you different. Then you would listen to their stories – their hundreds of crazy stories where their actions are almost always excessive or violent or criminal – and you’d wonder how it is that they don’t see it for themselves. If you were me, you would tell them. You’d say, “Hey man, you’re nuts!” or something similarly offensive, which they wouldn’t actually find offensive at all. They’d probably sort of laugh. It might just be because your vocabulary is so mild, and this trips them up every once in a while. Or it could be because you seem to care more about their choices than they do and they’re not sure what to think of this concern. It might be like, hey, I’m laughing but I’m also considering asking you to back off. I know some of them would proudly accept your review and some would want you to know they’ve heard it all before. It doesn’t really faze them. Others would argue, “You were raised differently. You couldn’t understand,” which usually gets me to wonder if maybe they’re right. Maybe it isn’t for me to understand. My “upbringing,” they say. Okay. It was probably different from theirs on some levels. Of course it was. That’s because everyone’s is different. Everyone’s! This is one reason why I really don’t like to dissect upbringings. It’s way overdone and everyone’s is different. Besides, the conversation always creates a thousand experts with everyone being the only expert on their upbringing. You can hardly comment because you weren’t there. It’s ridiculous! The whole conversation. The other thing about upbringings is that in the end we discover there are rotten people with loving parents, loving people with rotten parents and everyone in between. So to me, it almost always sounds like an exercise in passing the buck whenever someone places a bunch of negative emphasis on their upbringing. Stop passing the buck, I say. Passing the buck is crap. I understand there are legitimate exceptions to all of this. Hence my having said, “almost always.” Of course a lot depends on what is really being said. And I realize I’m no psychologist. I like to think I’m far from it actually. I don’t care very much for the kind of talk that always seems to be looking backwards, foraging for excuses for today’s behavior. What a bunch of nonsense. If you know the difference, then make the right decision. If you can recognize where something has gone wrong, then change it. Don’t just cite the problem over and over again like it’s a valid excuse every time. Overcome. Do something about it. “Rise to the occasion!” as Dad likes to say, although he’s usually talking about sports when he says this. So maybe I don’t understand because something like this usually flashes through my mind when I hear friends in here say that I couldn’t understand.
I suddenly feel like I’ve written about this before or maybe we’ve discussed something like it during a visit. It’s not like my friends and I sit around and discuss this sort of stuff anyway – at least not very often. So, I’m just going to jump back to what I was talking about before.
Some of these guys I hang out with are pretty normal. They might even surprise you with how normal they are. That might be a strange way of putting it but that’s how I see it. I could closely compare a few of them to some of the guys I was close friends with in high school, as far as their personalities go. Most of my friends in here didn’t finish high school though, unlike my high school friends. They were different at that age. They were idiots mostly. That’s what they’d tell you anyway. And if they wouldn’t, then allow me to say it for them. Not that I didn’t have my moments too. I remember I once threw paintballs at the front door of a policeman’s house. Our objective was to surprise the girls’ basketball team. They were all spending the night at a certain house and we were going to prank them. It was a brilliant plan we had…except for just about every aspect of it. The certain house we were going to surprise was also a policeman’s house and we didn’t have any sort of paintball gun for our paintballs so we had to stop, jump out, throw a few paintballs, get back in and drive off. Our plan worked so well we were pulled over about two miles later and searched, like idiots. A full carload of us had managed to break about three water-soluble paintballs on his front door. I know, but don’t knock it too much because judging by his reaction, you would’ve thought we shot real bullets. It wasn’t good. I was an idiot. Sadly this story doesn’t really compare to some I’ve heard from people in here. Of course it doesn’t compare and it is sad. I mean that. Some of these stories I’ve heard go well beyond being an idiot. They also rarely have anything to do with high school. They’re mostly stories of adults acting more than stupid. In some instances, for example, they do involve real bullets. I don’t want to trivialize these stories so I’m not going to try to tell them. I’m going to leave them alone. Besides, I’d like to sign my name to the end of this letter sometime tonight.
I should clarify that I’m not necessarily referring to the stories of why they’re here. I couldn’t even really tell you why some of them are here, not exactly anyway. I have a good idea but that’s about it for some of them. I usually know how much time someone is doing. That sort of thing is well known, but it’s generally not a big concern among inmates why someone is here unless a person’s crime was of a certain nature. If their crime was of a certain nature, then everyone knows that it was and those people don’t fair too well on any level among inmates. It’s similar to everywhere else, really – this inevitable process of screening people – so I don’t know why I’m breaking it down so thoroughly. The only difference might be that I’m more skeptical than ever these days. I’m not sure what to think of this concern sometimes, whether it’s good or bad. Either way, I’m sure it plays into the fact that I like to know enough about people to feel assured, well, that I know them. Yes, that’s right. I think I just stated the obvious. Oh well, if I was going for innovative, I’d want to tell you about the visual aid I made in third grade to go along with my research project. Using a pipe cleaner, some glue, and a long slit in a piece of tagboard, my miniature bald eagle could actually dive down from his lofty perch and scoop up a fish for all to see. But I wasn’t going for innovative this time. I realize this is nothing new. It seems to be a concern of most people. There are those, however, to whom this doesn’t seem to apply. They aren’t interested in actually knowing people. They prefer to know just enough to form an opinion. It’s much simpler, I guess, although ignorant and often ridiculous at the same time. I’m not just talking about snap judgments either; but where people go from there. The snap judgment part is so very human that I’m practically a fan. It’s the thereafter that kills me. And I’m around it a lot in there too. This kind of mindset kills me. Take racism for example. It’s plenty popular in here. That always kills me.
You know what else is going to kill me is if I don’t get some sleep. It’s late and I’m tired so I’m about to shut off my light. Maybe being tired is why I’m rambling so much but I doubt it. I always seem to ramble when I write these things.
I guess I never really got around to telling you about everyone, did I? Well, let’s see, I hang out with this one guy who is very strong. He won the weight competition last year. He can bench 405, squat 625 and dead lift 625. Do these numbers mean anything to you? He’s my size so he would’ve beaten me. There are a few who can bench over 500 but that’s about all they can do so he’s pretty much the strongest person in here. He grows facial hair that looks like Washwater’s (Joshua’s) when he grows it and he stands about the same height. He loves motorcycles and certain cars. He’s about the only other person who likes to discuss politics, or maybe I should say, one of the few who is in formed enough about politics that it makes for an interesting conversation. He has two kids, one in junior high and one in high school. They live with his mom because his wife is also doing life in Iowa’s women’s prison. It’s not easy on him. He loves his kids. For about 12 out of the past 15 years, he would tell you he hated God. He was a very angry person. Now he’s not so much and he’s trying to be a good Christian. It’s important to him. To that end, we made a bet last year that he was going to stop talking about killing himself or every time he did, he would owe me 20 pull-ups. At the end of the month, he owed me 220 but it’s gone down a lot since. He’s actually pretty funny. People tell him he reminds them of Doug Heffernan so I don’t want to give you the impression that he’s all gloom and doom. He insists he’s joking about suicide, and he often is. Since the beginning of the year he’s been reading through the Bible. He’s almost done with the Old Testament. He’s also a very good drummer. He plays in a heavy metal band. Maybe I’ve never told you but they have a music room here. People buy guitars and things and play in bands. They even have recording equipment. I bought one of his band’s CDs last year – an instrumental version because the vocals are ridiculous. They have a guy who grunts and screams about who knows what. It kind of ruins it if you ask me.
There’s this other guy who is in the band too. He plays the guitar and he comes up with all of the music. He’s pretty good. He can play whatever he wants without giving it much thought but they don’t like to do cover songs. For his own listening, he likes these obscure heavy metal bands who aren’t shy about their hatred of God and all things holy. I can’t say I share his taste in music. He’s out there a ways when it come to things like that. He’s also, not surprisingly, a bit of an atheist. So, as you might imagine, we talk about these kinds of things quite often. He doesn’t even like sports either. I told him just the other day that it’s a wonder we’re even friends with how much disdain he has for sports. He didn’t agree. He said we’re not friends and blasted me in the shoulder. I responded by putting him up on my shoulder and spinning around until he screamed. It’s just the way it is, I guess.
There are the two guys I lift with throughout the week. For one of them, lifting doesn’t really count as a sport. For the other, he says it’s the sport he’s best at.
I think I should mention one more friend just because if I mentioned that I had written about the other two, they would probably expect me to have included this guy. We get called by the other’s name sometimes so apparently there’s enough of an association to confuse us. We might sort of look alike too, but I don’t think that’s it. We work the same job and we play on almost all of the same sports teams. He’s a very good athlete and he’s as competitive as I am so it makes sense for us to play on the same team. His brother is a Navy Seal so he likes talking about Navy Seals, and really all things to do with the military. I think he might have coined the phrase, “Don’t be Coast Guard,” as in don’t be a wuss. It doesn’t make great sense but neither do a lot of his comparisons. For everything that’s done right, and I mean everything – like if we put a new faucet in a sink and he approves – then he’d say it was done as either Brett Favre or a Navy Seal would do it. It’s usually with just a head nod and the words, “Brett Favre.”
I could go on. I know all of these guys pretty well. They know me too, by the way. They know what I believe, where I stand, how I respond and so-on. I’ve had some great conversations with each of them. Before I get out of bed, I’ll mention each of these guys in prayer. It’s part of my routine that clips right along.
As you know, I switched jobs about six months ago. I moved from commissary to the maintenance shop. I moved from hauling pop to fixing things. You could say in doing so that I traded in my silver dolly with a wobbly left tire that leaked air for a fire-engine-red, metal toolbox that’s outfitted with precisely 22 tools. We can check out additional tools if needed but most of the time the tool kit I use, number 29, is sufficient for the task.
The tasks I’ve worked on so far have included all sorts of different things. Each day is different. That’s one reason why I like the job. That’s how it seems to be so far anyway. Maybe that’s because I’m still learning things. If I’m not picking up on something new or doing something for the first time, which has been the case for a lot of thing I’ve come across, then I’m at least becoming more efficient at whatever it is I’m doing. I fumbled around like a true rookie when I first began using pipe wrenches, for example. My co-workers still like to bring this up and exaggerate the whole deal- although I’ve come a long way. This probably isn’t the best example of something I’ve picked up on but there are a lot of little things like this that go along with the job. Mostly, they are very practical things. In this way it’s often different than the kind of learning I was used to in school. I’m not being challenged to memorize extensive lists of new terminology or being asked to test a hypothesis by working my way through the scientific method. No, it’s nothing like that. I wouldn’t say there’s any sort of push to really explore all of the many possibilities. It’s more like… let’s not over-think the situation. Instead, just figure it out. It’s right in front of you, just figure it out. This basic premise is something I enjoy about the job, even though it’s a change of pace from school and perhaps a break from how I generally analyze things. That means it’s good for me, right? I sort of liken it to hanging and finishing drywall and wonder if this same premise isn’t the reason why Dad would mostly just point us in a certain direction and expect us to become old pros–which is pretty much how it went, wouldn’t you say? Well, I don’t know about old, but pros, definitely. It’s something I’m quite proud of, really, even though a lot of people would look at drywall and say, “Oh sure, I’ve got it. No problem.” After all, it is pretty straight forward. But as you and I know, there are a lot of little things that separate a great job from a disaster. Some people, quite frankly, are delusional when it comes to their ability to drywall. I imagine my boss in here has come across much of the same in his line of work. Of course, I’m trying not to be that guy and to avoid any such disaster as I pick up on the little things that work.
The maintenance shop itself is an old, stone and brick building that’s divided down the center with a 25’ high, flat ceiling on one end and lower sitting I-beams that stretch across the ceiling on the other end. From the outside it looks much like one big building that was all built around the same time. But from the inside it looks more like two building that were each converted a few different times then eventually joined. There’s a center wall with an open walkway that effectively divides the shop into these two sides. By first impression it appears the side with I-beams was built before the other, although I’m still not sure. Neither side appears new. In fact, they’ve each built up plenty of character over the years. It’s kind of like Grandpa’s old shop, except not at all.
Within the building there are a couple of offices for the bosses and each department has its own area. There’s a paint shop; a woodworking area; a machine shop; a metal shop; an electrical shop; a tool control room- where tools can be checked out- and the plumber’s area. There’s at least one boss for each department plus a few other bosses who I’m not really sure that they do. They’re officially called CTL’s or certified training leaders but none of them really go by that title. We usually just call them by their names. They’re kind of like CO’s but different. Some of them wouldn’t like the comparison. Maybe I’ll get into that later.
I was technically hired as a plumber so I primarily deal with plumbing, though I have taken opportunities to dabble in other areas as well. I’ve done some welding, for example. That’s been cool. Plumbing might not sound too exciting, I know. I was nervous about it when I started. It sounded like a mess. I wasn’t even going to take the job until a friend assured me that I wasn’t going to be dealing with crap. Of course I knew he couldn’t be telling the whole truth but as far as I understood it, he offered a pretty fair assessment. So far I’ve assisted in the unclogging of two toilets, but not because they were clogged with crap. If I ever do come across such a thing, I’d tell the person who did it to figure it out. They can pick up a plunger at the desk. If that didn’t work, I don’t know, I’d probably still leave. Since I brought it up, I should explain that one time it was a bed sheet and the other time it was a towel. In each case we had to take apart the soil line. In here the soil line is usually located behind the toilet and not underneath. We used what’s called a 750. It powers a long snake through the line. But like I said, it’s barely a part of my job. We’re usually replacing old valves, pipes, faucets and other parts or working with steam lines- none of which I had ever done before.
One of the more interesting projects I worked on involved replacing a 15 foot section of an 8” steam line. The section included two elbows and intersected at one point with a 5” line that we also partly replaced. All of the joints were welded. I don’t know if this sounds like a simple project but it took us quite a while. One reason it did is because a majority of the work had to be done in the cramped quarters of a steam tunnel that runs below this place. This meant a lot of the welding had to be done with mirrors and nubby little welding rods in order to reach around the joints. On the project’s longest day we spent eleven hours in the tunnel, cutting things apart and tying things together. It certainly made for an interesting day. Before it was over, I’d say most of the crew had achieved their quota for the week of ripping on each other.
In particular there’s this older guy, like around Mom and Dad’s age, who is generally a bit crotchety on an easy day. He is also regarded as somewhat of a genius when it comes to welding and all things relating to metal work. He is certainly mechanically inclined. He used to build custom motorcycles or something before he picked up a life sentence. Anyway, at the beginning of the day he was fitted with a pair of coveralls that were about three sizes too small. This really didn’t help his demeanor as they drove him crazy all day and also set him up for a lot of jokes. He can usually hold his own pretty well but that day he was driven to fits. All of the verbal sparring that ensued and the older guys’ propensity for throwing things added plenty of entertainment value to the project.
On the whole, I would say it was also quite hazardous for my health. I must have smoked about a hundred cigarettes before it was over. All secondhand, of course, but I’m not convinced it would have mattered. We also managed to break open some asbestos. I probably sucked some of that down too- not to mention all of the dust and grime that was kicked off the old pipes when we cut and beveled them. I must have burnt about 10,000 calories, by the way, trying to split those stupid pipes with a manual cutter. It was ridiculous! Especially since we eventually had to use a torch anyway in order to reach through the full gauge of the 8” line. Still, like I said, it was a good time. I enjoyed it.
Some other projects have included designing and installing a water filtration system in the greenhouse; replacing water lines in the laundry and other areas of the tunnels; moving steam heaters; installing a condensation pump (on this project I burnt my forearm pretty good on a steam line but it’s all healed now); and a lot of other things. The various projects keep it interesting but what really makes it a decent job are the people I work with. That might sound strange- I’m trying to imagine- sine I’m in prison and everything. And I suppose I do rate things relative to this at times. Such as my tiny, little cell. It’s all of 9x5x7 except for the back 2 ¾ feet where it’s width is only 3 ½ feet. Even so, I find it to be quite all right. It can even seem cozy at times. It’s clean and organized and I like it. Of course there are obvious detractions that could accompany this review but you know I’ve never been into that vein of thought. My point in all of this analysis is that even if I were inclined to focusing on the negative or, for that matter, if I was to disregard the factor of being in prison, then I’m sure I’d still say my co-workers are good people to work with. They’re the kind of guys, as the saying goes in here, that I could kick it with on the street. Not all of them are this way. But enough of them are that it makes a big difference at my job. One guy in particular, who was a good friend of mine before I started working in maintenance ( we play on almost all of the same sports teams) has been largely responsible for training me in.
I’ve picked up things from other people as well. My boss would fall into this category. He’s a good guy. He’s very down to earth and pretty relaxed about things. A lot of the bosses are this way. Not all of them, but the vast majority are. One CTL seems to enjoy presenting himself as anal, bossy and difficult to get along with but he’s in charge of a different department so I don’t even really work with him . The rest of the bosses seem genuine in their willingness to work with us if we need them for something. They’re also willing to stay away much of the time and let us figure things out. A lot of whether they’re going to be around depends on the project we’re working on. We might need them to escort us somewhere and also there are certain tools deemed “Class A” where a boss has to come along to supervise their use.
This might make it sound like my job is all business – and it has its moments, of course – but there’s a lot of pushing the envelope in a different direction as well. Some of the guys seem to enjoy trying to put a look of astonishment on our boss’ face. It’s not that they don’t’ respect him. It’s nothing like that. They might try to say that they don’t, but they wouldn’t be telling the truth. In reality, we all like him but he does put up with a lot. He dishes it out too. His version would be that he dishes it out better than he receives it. I guess he’s pinned a few of the guys, for example. I can’t say for sure, though, because I’ve never seen it done so some of these stories remain an ongoing debate. What can be said for sure, however, is that my boss bears quite a few nicknames – nearly all of which relate to his “stout” or “stocky” physique. He’s really not as fat as some of them might suggest although I suppose that’s sort of the point. Some of his colleagues, for example, or the other CTL’s will refer to him as “The Round One.” Other names he’s acquired include, Double Stuff, or Doubles, Eternal Roundness, Everlasting Cow and by my estimate the most fitting: Bobby Hill or Bobby. I’m too “soft” or whatever to actually use any of these nicknames but they still get plenty of circulation – often to the great consternation of my boss. He might try to petition for some reprieve every once in a while with something like, “Guys, hey guys… you don’t know what it was like being a fat kid. Fat jokes are mean.” But it doesn’t ever get him anywhere. “Okay, Bobby.” He really is a great sport about it, though.
So there you have it, Brother. I’m currently improving my skills as a handyman. We’ll see where the Lord takes us from here.
I don’t like it here. I want to go home.
Once there I would put on my shoes and jog in one direction for more than 100 meters. Then I would stop, turn around, and look at how far I’d run without turning. Admiring the distance, I would pick it up and bend it in my mind so it could overlap the place I used to run. It would hover there over the top of this gravel and I’d recall the corners I took. I’d remember these corners and smile. I wouldn’t laugh out loud, just to myself, inside. What a change. Look at this place. I could go over there. I could go this way, that way. But I just want to run straight. So I would turn back around, straighten out what I had covered and run myself to exhaustion. The scenery, the ground, the air – everything would be different.
I want to go home.
Once there, I would wait by the door. I would wait between the front door and the car. I’d want to sit shotgun. I’d want to sit in the seat with the shoulder strap, the one up front by the windshield. So I’d wait between the house and the car. I’d look inside and I’d look out at the car. Who wants to go driving? There’s a car outside. Eventually somebody would. They’d need to go somewhere and I’d be ready to join them. Maybe I could go too. I’d walk to the car and I’d get in the front seat – the one by the windshield with the strap. Then the driver would get in and they’d fire up the car. It would rumble to life and I’d feel it in my feet. The radio would come on, maybe a CD. And the windshield would be right there, right in front of me. The car would be guided into motion and away we’d go…5-10-30-50-70 miles per hour! The wind. It would whoosh in and overcome the sounds, the radio, the force. I’d cup it in my palm and let it flow away. Cup it again and let it go. It would swirl and press and dance through my fingers – never letting them be. Always pressing and dancing. Always winning. And I wouldn’t mind. Go ahead, get where you need to go. I’m just passing through. The jostling and hovering of gliding on suspension, I’d feel it all again.
I want to go home.
Once there I would relish and appreciate the silence. I would cherish what might be normal humanity. I would walk into a spacious room – there may be people, there may not – and I’d sink down into the cushions of a couch. Into the cushions in the corner by the arm rest, the strong and sturdy arm rest. And the comfort there would hug my butt. It’d say, “You could sit here for hours.” This feeling will never go away. So I’d sit there and listen to the silence, the peaceful sound of life. There’d be no “MFer” this or “I’m a bad***” that. People would just be–without embellishment or arrogance, and their stories would be as they should: a genuine reflection of what happened. Words spoken would be soft, intelligent and friendly. They’d be sincere and caring. Angry and sad. Funny and hilarious. Witty and truthful. I would sit there and listen and relax.
I want to go home.
Once there I would remind myself. I’d say, hey, do you remember the time you got punched in your face for no reason? Oh sure, yeah, I remember. That was something. I wish I could’ve seen it coming. Of course, if that was the case, and I was looking, he never would’ve swung. So I would’ve missed the whole experience. The broken nose, the 30 days in the hole, everything. Such precious memories.
I want to go home.
Once there I would eat cheesecake and bacon. Then I’d get into the best shape of my life.
I want to go home.
Once there, you would be there. We both would be there, at home.
What do you know about going 7 of 9 from behind the arc including hitting on three possessions in a row with under 2 ½ minutes to play only for your team to fall just short in our effort to pull off a dramatic comeback? We had a turnover on our second to last possession that led to an easy bucket. That fumble practically cemented our defeat. We were down by 12 with three minutes to play and ended up losing by two. I felt like I was on fire there for a short while. Half of my points came in the final four minutes. They’d all be much cooler if they came with a win but I did end up with 28 and that’s not bad. It’s about 10 or 11 above my average. The percentage I shot from three point range is probably what I’m most pleased with. Still, we lost. We really need to stop with the losing.
Have you seen what UNI’s been doing? The men’s bball team anyway? They’ve been winning. The Hawkeyes in wrestling – they’ve also been winning. They’ve really been winning. They’ve been dominating. Maybe if I was wrestling… I kind of remember what that was like. I remember wrestling. I remember what I put into it. I remember the opportunity. The people. The competition. The high-C. The gut wrench. I definitely remember. I remember being right there. I was right there with big goals, hard work, a lot of dreams. I could see them nearing fruition. They were right in front of me. I could cry when I remember. I’ve cried before. You know I have, though it’s been a long time.
All of these little activities I’m doing now don’t amount to very much. They’re fun and I like participating but they don’t compare. It’s not even close. By the way, I defended my title as pickle ball champion a couple weeks ago. I haven’t dropped a game in singles since I’ve been here. I should probably credit Mr. Stanaway and his decision to include pickle ball in our eighth grade gym class curriculum. I wish we could play floor hockey in here. That was always one of my favorite units in gym class.
I play in the finals of the racquetball tournament this Wednesday. The tournament started this morning but the gym is closed Monday and Tuesday. It’s not real racquetball in the sense that it’s only played against one wall. It’s more like handball with racquets. And you’d laugh if you saw the racquets. They’re very old and tiny. They still work though. The one I’ve been using has the name “Terminator” printed on its side. I think the ping-pong tournament is coming up this month. I should start playing again. People in this cell house don’t have access to a table like other cell houses. I’m at the mercy of the gym staff for playing time. They’ll need to put a table out in the gym. Even then, I’ll need to win. If you win, you stay at the table.
It doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well it’s not so bad sometimes. It can feel like I haven’t had to grow up some days. Like I’m back in gym class. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Then there are days when that’s the worst kind of feeling. Who wants to be stuck in adult gym class, much less one where temperamental egomaniacs regularly clash over competitions that are essentially meaningless?
It still confounds me a little as to why our society is so fascinated with sports and the people who play them. I remember this was once brought up or pointed out to me by Rachele Dini as if she expected me to have an explanation. Well, I didn’t. I remember being stumped for a second then waffling all around in my answers. “I don’t know,” is what I should have said. It’s just that way. I think she would hate it a little to know that sports – even the most random kind that are generally reserved for gym class – have remained influential in determining people’s perceptions. I had thought this was all supposed to stop several years ago around the age of becoming a grown-up. Apparently it hasn’t. I don’t like this, even though it generally falls in my favor. Not always, of course. And not just through losing. There are people in this world who seem to have fashioned their entire personality around hating. They hate the food we eat, the water we drink, the people who win, the people who don’t hate as much as they hate, etc. A person can do no right in their eyes except agree to hate or complain right along with them. What a life. What a charming personality. It can seem like such an obvious thing to avoid and yet it regularly makes itself known. It reaches out like a contagious disease. It’ll beg for your company. It’ll test your spirit. How healthy am I really? I know a lot of people in here are practically on their deathbeds according to this analogy. By contrast, it’s easy to imagine Dad as he starts to sing… “I can be glad for my hope is in the Lord…” hitting every note, of course, and high stepping his way across the room – a drywall pan in one hand as he conducts the music with the other. On to the next song… “and you, and you , and you, all in favor, say ‘I!’”
I was given an appointment pass last Friday telling me I had to report to have a new mug shot taken this morning at 0630. It had been about a year and a half and I guess they got a new camera. Anyway, you should see the result of this photo. I pretty much hate it. Somehow my lips turned out so big and red that it looks like I’m wearing lipstick. It’s weird looking. It’s the first thing everyone notices. I know it doesn’t really matter. Who cares, right? And it’s kind of funny. I’m supposed to have this photo ID on me at all times, clipped onto the front of my shirt. Good luck with that. I barely ever pulled the last one out of my pocket except for maybe if I was picking up mail or going to a visit. Otherwise, it was in my pocket. This new photo doesn’t provide much incentive for me to change any of that.
I handed my ID to a friend this afternoon and said, “Hey look, I got a new photo.” He glanced at it and said, “What’s this? They’re selling lipstick at the commissary now? I didn’t know.”
“See, I knew it! That camera’s crazy.”
Another friend of mine complimented the new look. He’s going to sign up to take a new photo tomorrow, hoping for similar results. I asked if that wouldn’t be a little contradictory since he told me he used to wear lipstick but only when it went with his outfit. “It’s all in the attitude,” he assured me. “Jeans can make a statement.” So now you know. Either way, I think the camera misread my “attitude.” I wasn’t going for flirty and fabulous but more like a plain-old, clean-cut, not particularly photogenic, they-made-me-do-this kind of photo. I suppose I’ll live.
What was it that I said about parents and growing up? Whatever it was, I don’t think I like it anymore. There are so many exceptions to the rule that I don’t think there can be any sort of rule. I still have a problem with excuses but it’s hard to say sometimes what qualifies as an excuse and what doesn’t. That being said, I’d like to assure you that I’m not as wrapped up in this psychoanalysis stuff as this or any previous letter might suggest. You’re pretty much the lone recipient of these rambling thoughts on the subject. I sat at a table tonight with two guys that I’ve played a lot of cards with over the years. One guy is doing life and the other is serving two consecutive 50 year sentences. The first came into prison in 1983 and the second in 1989. We didn’t play cards tonight. We just sat in the crowded rec area and talked. I wanted to ask the man who’s doing life about a pamphlet I saw in the Custom Wood Shop that featured some of his work. More specifically, I wanted to tell him that I’ve sat on one of his benches before. I recognized it when I saw it in the pamphlet. It’s this bench that stretches about thirty feet in length. It was made to fit into the curvature of a wall that forms a slight semi-circle. I remember it was curved and molded to fit perfectly against that wall. It has a wide top shelf, like about six to eight inches, that runs around the back. I remember this feature because I used to set my backpack on it while waiting for my Intro to Literature professor to show up. He was always coming from somewhere and was rarely ever in the classroom waiting for us. Anyway, this bench is very unique. It sits in Seerley Hall at UNI. My friend in here smiled when I told him I’d been there. He is obviously proud of his work. Soon after we started talking he went to his cell and came back with several pictures of other benches, tables, chairs and doors he’d built for the campus of the UNI. He told me about his most difficult project he’d ever done. It was a wooden spiral staircase that went to a government building in Iowa. It took him three and a half months to plan and build.
When the second man sat down (the one serving 100 years), the conversation became very reminiscent. They began pulling out picture form their early days in prison, back when inmates were allowed to take pictures with other inmates. (These guys were never pictured together. They’ve each just been here.) Many of these photos were yellowed around the edges and barely holding on to their colors. It drew a small crowd for a while as other people looked on at the pictures.
We sat there for over two hours and talked so I’m not going to run down the entire conversation. It was interesting, though. We covered a lot. I listened to them explain what their upbringings were like and what their lives were like just before prison. They each volunteered the idea that they would likely be dead by now if they hadn’t been locked up. We also talked about their early days in prison and how “soft” this place has become. Every long-timer would tell you the same thing. I sort of liken it to hearing stories of going uphill both ways, even though it probably bears a lot of truth in this case.
My upbringing and my life before prison were much different from theirs. They knew this already so it wasn’t a point of emphasis but it was funny at times for them to hear it out loud. One man described his house when he was a kid as a sort of flop house for “partiers.” Our house would get messy but I never had to step over drunk people on my way to the school bus. The place I stayed was always stocked with vegetables and whole grain cookies, not buds of marijuana or syringes for doping. Where I saw Bible verses hanging on the walls of our house like, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee,” one of these guys mentioned a place card with the motto “Ride or Die,” that he now has buried among the many tattoos on his upper body.
It still strikes me as surreal sometimes that I’m here and I’m having these conversations.
I just became friends with the furniture man a few years ago. It turns out he’s a big fan of college wresting. He wasn’t before he came to prison but he started following it soon after. We get Iowa Public Television in here along with the major networks, which means we get to see a few college wresting duals each year. Because of this coverage on IPTV, a lot of different people have told me they’ve seen me wrestle before. Maybe they have but I don’t believe just about any of them except for maybe this furniture man. He’s convincing enough. He probably remembers.
None of this was mentioned in tonight’s conversation. There was nothing said about wrestling. It was all about different things. At one point I told them about my faith as a way of explaining a significant factor in why I’m geared differently, so to speak, when it comes to certain things. I don’t care about heroine, for example. I’ve never seen it and I don’t care to. I realize I was raised on whole grain cookies and everything, but I’m an old-timer now. I’m in my twenties. Independent. Of course I’ve fallen short at times. That’s what grace is all about. It’s offered to save us. Salvation is a free gift. We can choose to be redeemed or we can leave it. There were some other things that I felt were worth saying as well, but it remained a conversation. We all talked and listened. The furniture man, the tattooed man and myself.
I won the racquetball tournament last Wednesday and today my teammate and I won the pickle ball doubles tournament. All very important, big-time stuff. You’d better believe it.
Who writes letters anymore these days anyway? It’s very old fashioned. No one actually sits down and writes these things. They email, text, twitter, post or call. They don’t write. And yet, here I am. I’m writing. On yellow lined paper no less. It makes me feel all that much older. Wasn’t this sort of paper designed for grandparents or something? It’s supposed to be better for their eyes. I know Grandpa prefers yellow paper. He doesn’t like white. He told me this one time. I was young but it was said like everyone should know this by now. Of course we choose yellow over white. It’s better for our eyes. Well it’s a good thing the wonderful people at IPI (Iowa Prison Industries) have already made the decision for us, otherwise we could just as well be adding to the epidemic of white paper that’s spreading throughout society.
I was paged to the commissary this morning by my former boss. When I walked in and asked what’s up, he said, “Today is celebrity Friday! Come on in, take a seat. Have you seen the paper today?” I hadn’t, so it came as a bit of a surprise to hear I’d been published. My name and this city, Anamosa, were printed in the Opinion section just below my letter to the editor. The Gazette actually printed my letter. Well, not all of it. They shrunk it down some first. I guess I used too many words. Of course I don’t think it conveys the same message in so many words, but whatever. It’s close and most of it’s the same. I need to be more compendious. 250 words should have been plenty.
Going back to what I said earlier about writing, I’m going to contradict myself for a second. It’s not that old fashioned. Well, it is. But it’s also relevant. You know I love receiving mail. It’s always nice to see a check by my name on the mail board. On the other hand, let’s see, since mail doesn’t go out from here on Sat or Sun., this will probably reach your mailbox on Wed. Then sometime near the end of next week you might actually check your mail and find these thoughts. A pony could get it there faster. Not that my thoughts are urgent or anything so I guess it doesn’t really matter.
In today’s mail I received two letters and one book from Justin. He decided to send me a book entitled Depression and Grief. What a title. It made me laugh a little when I was handed a slip of paper telling me I received a book on depression that I could pick up at the other window. What a joy, I thought. I hoped it didn’t jump off the shelf at whoever sent it to me as something I definitely needed to read. I wonder how often the people who have read this new book of mine tend to smile. Could the words it holds produce many smiles? I could afford to smile more often. What a great quality to have. There’s a song I’ve heard before that kind of goes with the title of this book. You’ve heard it too. It goes something like … “Ev-ery-body hurts… sometimes…. Everybody cries….so hold on, hold on…” It’s wonderfully depressing but it ropes you in. I bet just about everyone who has heard the song has sung along with it at one time or another. Am I depressed? Well, let’s say I was depressed and grieving. Do depressed and grieving people generally look to read books on their miserable state? Many of them are probably too depressed to care. I wouldn’t say I’m depressed. I’m not. For one, I’m going to read the book. That doesn’t actually mean all that much but I will read it. I’ll think of it as a preventative measure. It’s quite possible the road ahead will be more depressing than the here and now. Maybe not. Who knows? I pray that it won’t be. But even if it is, will it make me depressed? Will it cause me to give up? (I think the two are fairly similar.) What if some of my prayers remain on hold? What If God’s timing remains a challenge that I don’t understand? What then, brother? What then? I can’t say I know. I highly doubt I will ever indulge the thought of giving up. It’s irritating to consider folding it in and living depressed. But it would also be extravagant or unrealistic to boldly declare some sort of inability to falter. In reality, I probably will get depressed now and then. I wonder what my new book will have to say about that. Actually, I’m not all that curious. I shouldn’t be getting ahead of myself but…the mystery of what it might say isn’t really gnawing at me. We’ll see, though. I’ll probably like a good portion of it either way.
I was able to clinch a championship in the six foot and under league this morning. (A 3 on 3 basketball league.) I moved to 14-0 and with two weeks left I hope to finish 16-0. I was matched up against the guys sitting in second and third place this morning. I was glad it worked out that way. They needed to win to stay in contention.
Last weekend wasn’t so rosy. I lost in the first round of the ping pong tournament. So much for defending. The guy who beat me went on to take third. Even if I had managed to get by him, I don’t think I could’ve done any better. The two in the finals looked sharp. They probably would’ve crushed me. My paddle is pretty dull right now.
I’m not trying to be super tough about how I feel. Sure it can hurt. It can hurt a lot when I consider what might have been. All of the dreams I had and everything that may have lay ahead. These thoughts of mine can be kind of fancy though, and they hadn’t happened yet. I was just on my way, so who really knows? It’s kind of nice to try to grab a hold of this approach of not really caring, but it doesn’t really work. It’s disingenuous. I can’t do it. My goals weren’t set in a haphazard sort of way. They meant more to me than perhaps they maybe even should have. They pushed me right along and I loved it. I was deeply connected to the goals and dreams I had. I might not have seen it all clearly at the time but I was nevertheless proud of my goals. I loved their challenge. I loved the opportunity. Of course I do try to be somewhat tough, but it doesn’t really diminish the impact of their fleeting probability. No matter how I look at it, there are times when it all just flat out hurts. It can be very heavy, a very crushing concern.
I wouldn’t suggest I am unique for experiencing disappointment. Of course I’m not. I’m sure everyone my age has lived through something. But for me, this is different. I haven’t experienced anything quite like this. It’s not something I can just pour out onto paper. It doesn’t feel like I couldn’t anyway. I might try though, just to try. And if you ever receive this letter, you’ll know I have withstood my own criticism.
I imagine some people could relate if I were to draw a slight comparison between this and breaking up with a girlfriend or someone a person once loved. A person whose heart was given to the possibility. They were amazing and everything felt right. The immediate future was merely details surrounding this inevitability. But then it was all wrong. It was “never meant to be.” And suddenly a person finds themselves needing to reach down, pull themselves up, and begin the hard work of reconfiguring their heart. It can feel a little bit like that, Brother, but this is different. It’s more intrusive than dashed hopes and a punch to the heart.
It’s also more inclusive and wrenching than unmet goals. Although, there’s something to be said for dreaming big dreams and setting big goals. I think everyone should try and most people have. It’s healthy and important for people to dream. Inspiration is great. It can really help a person out. But to actually follow through and pursue these goals, well, that’s a whole other thing. It can be quite a process that requires a lot, like the ability to overcome or the determination to pursue intermediary goals. It can even be deflating and miserable at times. Who can say they haven’t been there before? We often make ourselves vulnerable when we chase after our dreams. Who knows what the outcome would be?
Practically speaking, I don’t think I ever wrestled in a tournament that I didn’t hope to win. It was always my goal to win. It might not have been very realistic at times, but that wouldn’t really change anything. I still set out to win, and it still hurt when I lost – it would still knock me down, even though I knew there were bigger dreams down the road than that match or the next one to come. This is a stepping stone, I would say. You’re still going to make it. It never hurt knowing people who would tell me the same. Their stories would keep me going for days. I’m thankful.
There are many other examples I could use. You’ll recall that you and I were going to establish our own version of the Mayo Clinic. We were going to father techniques that would lead to great advancements in medicine. We were going to develop amazing facilities and opportunities for medical research. We were going to impact thousands of lives for the better. Then perhaps near the end of our lives, we’d see our own large statues in front of a civic center, much like the Mayo brothers in Rochester. It wasn’t something I talked about a lot – not in these terms anyway – but I knew I was putting in the work. I know I was chasing after something close to these dreams. From a very young age, it had been a goal of mine to go off to medical school. I must have been about nine years old when I just stared at that statue. The image of those brothers was very impressive. They were tall, and bronze, and of obvious importance. I remember I climbed up close to inspect. They were wearing lab coats or something. I couldn’t really tell, but I believe that’s what I decided they were. I’m sure I would have missed any connection there was between the two of them and some of the buildings in town, except for a plaque near their feet that explained who they were and what they’ve done. It was all very admirable. These brothers were doctors. I remember you had already made up your mind, so that made it an easier decision. I wanted to be a doctor too. Then as I grew up, the idea stayed with me.
Don’t worry, Brother. I’m not about to sit here and list all of the dreams I had that seem to be fading away. It wouldn’t be right. I won’t even say I’ve completely lost sight of some of them. I understand there’s a process to chasing your dreams. Who knows what the outcome will be? It can be tough sometimes. Of course it can. I’ve had to shift gears before. The difference with this time, however, is the cancer that has been tagged to my name. This heaping file of undeserved garbage that aims to rot every fiber of dignity from my being. This creature, of sorts, that delegates hatred. It has been unleashed and un-kept, left on autopilot for so long. Where’s the accountability? Where is the justice? This creature is still screaming the more horrid sounding screams, saying nothing but pure filth – and producing devastation. It’s battling ferociously and fighting against justice. It’s holding back the truth and stomping on my name. The feeling that results doesn’t compare to losing a match. It doesn’t equal to breaking up, or not graduating from college. Maybe if I were trampled on directly after losing, then rolled up in the mat, and sat on by the entire gym, maybe then I would rather be lied about as I have. But I doubt it very seriously. In fact, I doubt it completely. I’m confident I would much prefer the beating. We could do it every day. The crowd could bring nunchucks.
You know how I like to run in the morning, or sometimes in the afternoon. Running can be great. Some people will tell you in can be like a wonderful cure-all solution. I would agree with these people for the most part. But as much as I like to go out and run, and much as I’d like to run and run and run until I can’t run any longer, until I’m a staggering, panting, exhausted mess. As much as I’d like to reach that point where I’m unable to do just about anything but feel tired and be tired. As much as I’d like to, and as enjoyable as it all sounds, I haven’t found it really changes anything. It doesn’t keep me from thinking about my current condition and wondering what God’s plan could possibly be in all of this. Sometime it doesn’t even keep me from hurting, knowing my name has been pulverized and beaten to near death.
So how is it then, Brother, that I dare to say I’m not depressed? Well, I believe it’s because I’m human, and I realize I’m human. I realize I will feel sad sometimes when there is reason to be sad. I also believe that because I am human, my perspective on life is not always going to be in perfect order. I might be sad beyond reason for moments at a time. But then my perspective will shift and allow me to see there are reasons to be thankful and hopeful and glad. I think of depression of a more perpetual state of sadness where someone struggles to find balance or a healthy perspective. I don’t believe my perspective is prone to depression. I often keep a larger view of things, even when I am sad.
A friend of mine once asked me what my thoughts were on being in prison. He was having a hard time wanting to stay alive, so we walked and talked for a while. As we walked around the yard, I broke down my thoughts for him something like this:
I accidently slept in this morning, I told him. I barely had time to brush my teeth and make it to breakfast. On my way downstairs it crossed my mind, I hope this meal is worth it. It turned out to be donuts, which I grade as being “worth it,” and for a second I thought, ‘If my life wasn’t as it is now, I probably wouldn’t be about to enjoy a donut.’ Life is great during moments like that when my perspective manages to narrow in on the positive. There was a time not too long ago when that was pretty much the only perspective I knew. If the Vikings were down by 40 in the 4th quarter, they were going to win. If our basement flooded, we were due for new furniture anyway. I don’t think I had my head in the clouds. I just hadn’t experienced the unexplainable. There was always an explanation or an understanding of what the reason must be.
My pastor from the church I grew up in came to visit me a few days into my time in the county jail. We spoke over a phone behind the glass partition and he told me a story. He told me how strange it was to hear from a doctor recently that he was diabetic. The week before he had suddenly lost his sight while driving on the interstate with his wife. He was thankful that no one got hurt, but the experience was terrifying and he remained scared of the possibility he could lose his vision again – maybe permanently next time. I sympathized with his story, though I wondered if I wouldn’t rather be blind than in prison, accused of a crime I didn’t commit. Not being able to see would be tough, but I could be a great blind wrestler, I thought. Then he opened his Bible to Romans 8 and read the familiar passage of all things working together for good. It was difficult, in fact more difficult than ever before, to envision how that passage might prove itself true. But just a few days had passed and my faith was still holding strong. It was almost obvious, in fact, after much contemplation, how God could be glorified through this experience. Since then, however, I’ve referred myself back to that day many times and wondered about all the ups and downs that have followed. I’ve taken inventory in a way, reached into my bag of perspectives, and wondered when all of these other lenses were given access to my life. What happened to eternal optimism and logical explanation? What happened to faith and trusting wholly in God? I know the latter is still there, but my perspective has been blurred at times, like I’m wearing three sets of lenses because my stubbornness won’t let me change to just the one. I would love an explanation, is what I often think. Just a simple explanation. That’s all. But my request isn’t really so open-minded. I often just want my explanation or something I’d consider adequate. Otherwise my perspective wouldn’t waiver so much from the explanation I’ve already been given, the one my pastor read when I was considering my chance as a blind wrestler. He might have just as well asked me to consider the verse that’s on the front wall of our church sanctuary, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
When I was a kid I was completely fascinated by great stories of perseverance. Of course I still am, but I think I was especially intrigued by them as a child. I would read about backpackers in Reader’s Digest who faced every peril known to man, only to survive and escape the wilderness with a miraculous story. I’d read about firefighters, army rangers, and everyone else. It seemed like everyone had their own great story. And oddly enough, after reading so many, I began to hope that one day I’d get my chance to be caught on the side of a mountain or to be thrown down a well. I would totally survive and have my own miraculous story. So now I wonder sometimes if my own wishful thinking wasn’t granted in some sense, since I find myself in prison these days. I don’t recall wishing for prison, but I’m here nonetheless. If only my thoughts were more specific, maybe I’d be racing in front of an avalanche right now. But no, here I am. This is the story I’ve been given and I’m trying to maintain faith that it will indeed be miraculous, as my Heavenly Father has planned. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans Besides, prison is actually much more popular in the Bible than avalanches. One could say God really likes this version of a story.
I concluded my thoughts with reference to God’s love as Paul described it at the end of Romans 8. I would write it out – it’s very powerful – but I know you can quote it. Beginning at verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?… For I am convinced that neither death nor life…height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God…” I decided I would summarize it for you.
I quote these things and I say these things because I believe them, not just because I know them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still times when I find it’s good to just slow it all down and sing…”So hold me Jesus, cause I’m shaking like a leave, You have been my King of Glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace.”
Tryouts for the varsity softball team began last night. We just ran a few different sprinting drills. Everything was timed with a stopwatch. I’m not convinced that speed is all that important in softball. If Big Papi or Kent Hrbek were here, for example, I’d still like them to make the team. I expect that the gym director is mostly just trying to come up with ways to cut down the long list of prospects. There’s room for about 30% of those trying out. That might sound good but the consensus seems to be that we’re probably not going to be as strong as last year. We lost a few good players to the real world. Oh, and one guy transferred.
For our last drill of the night, we each lined up to run a straight sprint, carrying our glove. It was said to be 40 yards but it obviously wasn’t accurate since I clocked in at 4.33 (I recall 4.51 and 4.49 at Bethel). That would put me down there with AP, wouldn’t it? Still, it was the fastest time of the night, which I’m kind of proud of. I hope everyone doesn’t actually believe their time. “Randy Moss could barely beat me,” is the kind of thing I’ll start to hear. Oh well. I suppose that sort of confidence isn’t likely to hurt anybody. Overall, I ended up with the fastest time in six of seven drills. I dropped the softball in one of hem and had to stop and pick it up.
There’s not always enough work to keep us busy at my job. Some days there’s nothing to do. On days like that I might end up going back to my cell to read or even to pull out this letter pad to write a little something. Lately, however, I’ve been doing crossword puzzles. I saw a documentary not too long ago about the enormous following of people who are very passionate about their New York Times crossword. It sort of inspired me. I’d never really considered doing crosswords before. The documentary featured famous people like Bill Clinton and Mike Mussina along with a host of experts. It was crazy how good these experts were. They were all super-competitive crossword geniuses.
Depending on what day it was, they could race through their Times crossword in like two minutes flat. It makes you feel like a very big idiot, or at least it did for me. It was also very impressive at the same time. So now I like crossword puzzles.
A true fan of the Times would tell you that no other crossword can compare. Also, you must know that the puzzle found in the Sunday edition of the Times is like the holy grail of all crosswords. If you’ve never tried one before, you might as well plan on becoming frustrated. It’s good, though. It’s fun. I dare you to take on such a puzzle and complete it in pen without any help. That means no books, no internet and no calling Johnny. As soon as you are abe to complete such a puzzle in the same hour that you start it, I’ll owe you a Dairy Queen Bizzard – just as Amy would have it.
So, you might ask, where am I in my pursuit of becoming a crossword genius? Well, it pains me to say that I haven’t moved very far from where I started – nor have I picked up on any great potential for becoming a genius in the future. The crosswords I do are usually out of The Gazette (the Cedar Rapids paper) and even they will give me a hard time. For example, the clue: Machine Gun. The answer is a four letter word. I had to solve all of the clues around it before I figured it out. Would you like to know what it is? It ends with an N. That’s all I will say.
Today, we dug a hole. What an ordinary and understood project, you might think, but this was no ordinary hole. It was mean. It fought back. It was prepared for our endeavor. On the surface, what we saw, every bit a façade for lying beneath its lush and green showing, were rocks and more rocks and even more rocks. They were solid and resolute- like soldiers in formation. They would stand us up and throw us off our shovels when we stomped. “Go away!” they would yell, “and do not come back! We’ll break all of your shovels and do worse to your backs.” It was very satisfying to knock loose these big fellas and then launch them from our hole- the farther the better. Some of them required we grab and lift them with our hands. They were not going to go lightly. There had to be a fight. This was their stupid ground through which we were digging our way down.
Finally, my brother, after a brief few hours, we had finished our hole. It was perfectly complete. We had uncovered all that was wrong with the hydrant. To do this we moved enough earth, as Grandpa would say, to create a hole that is about 11’ x 5’ on the surface and 5 ½ feet deep. It’s a very nice hole. I wish you could check it out. I feel I moved a giant section of earth to create this spectacle.
Today our glorious hole disappeared. We replaced the faulty hydrant and backfilled. Does any aspect of this project remind you of your day at work? Perhaps ours was like performing exploratory surgery on a hydrant.
I realize that it’s all part of the experience. It comes with the territory. It’s bound to happen. Believe me, I’m well aware of this and every other adage a person might want to throw at the situation. I’ve come across enough ridiculous people to fill a huge, long list of those who are rather unbelievable. In fact, I’m beginning to think the expression I like to use of someone being “unbelievable” is one that can no longer apply. I should really just believe by now whatever it is that I’m hearing or seeing. I should totally accept it as completely natural and normal. When someone is a full-time jerk and they love to yell and give out orders – even when their orders are something a six year old could manage without – and nothing satisfies them more than exercising their lame authority, I should really just salute their pompous delusions of being the glue that keeps our society from spinning out of control. I should thank them with a smile for recognizing my inability to function without them. I should continue to ignore the hatred and arrogance that ooze from the lines on their faces. I should remain subdued in my response and always bite my tongue when I could most certainly tear them apart in an argument. I should never act on the idea of just putting them on the ground. It wouldn’t be to hurt them or anything but just to place them there rather quickly and decisively. Nor should I ever act on the thought of putting them there again should they decide they’d like to get back up. I should always do the things I should do and I should never do the things I should not. With respect to unbelievable people, this hasn’t been too hard to follow. All of my experience in this area has sort of turned me into a well seasoned pro. I might write a letter or talk to a friend when I find someone to be unbelievable, but it’s not like I’m welling up inside. The misery in these individuals is so apparent that I imagine most people can’t help but feel sorry for everyone they might be associated with, like any children, family members or a significant other. I wonder sometimes if they have a life outside of these walls. If there is a friend to speak of or a person whom they might make an effort to not treat like crap. The few individuals who cause me to wonder these things give the rest of their peers a bad name. Not everyone’s authority is lame. Just the authority of those who seem to believe they transcended human form to some god-like state when they were hired in their positions of employment. How very lame.
5/12/09 [I have included the next two letters purely because I think they’re kind of funny and not because they really have much to do with prison life.]
This has to be the sappiest show on television. It’s as if the writer’s goal in every scene was to abandon all concern or any thought of appearing reasonable and to just pour out in huge quantities these mushy, lovey-dovey, over-the-top, scenarios. Who are these people that eat this stuff up? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Whatever the answer, I believe I would find them entertaining. They’d probably fall out if a quarter were pulled from behind their ear. “No way! That was incredible!” At the same time, I feel like I’m being proselytized. This show is nothing short of a bombardment of mushiness and so I must ask – Are cynics of these stories that are said to surround Cupid (the name of the show) really so in need of being rescued? The “perfect” song, the “perfect” line, the “perfect” look, the “perfect” lighting…. Are they serious? I think I’m going to puke. No really, I just might – which pretty much sums up my official position.
Unofficially, however, this might not be the first time I’ve watched this show. It’s possible I watch it almost every week. I understand that wouldn’t be right, if in fact it was true. Although, maybe there isn’t much else on at the time and maybe I only get like five channels. These things should account for something. So what if I’m only like halfway through my latest book and I had no problem picking it up around this time same time last night? And so what if there’s a documentary showing on PBS? And so, what if I’m tired and I could probably fall asleep? Maybe I’d rather tune in on an unofficial basis to this show I haven’t missed, even though it makes me gag. I’m just saying is all. I mean, who watches this show anyway? The “I’m in love” crowd? Well good for them. I could just as soon puke.
When this is over, I think I’ll try to find a really tough Monster Ballad on the radio. I haven’t heard one for the longest time. Maybe something like L.A. Guns. That oughta bring me back around. Oh, for sure, I’ll be as tough as ever.
Have a wonderfully awesome day!
I just saw a commercial for Pizza Hut’s latest addition to their menu. If I understand it correctly, the CEO at Pizza Hut is doing one of two things. He is either calling everyone’s bluff on the low carb craze or he’s saying that no one who gives a crap will ever eat here anyway so why not put out the most carb-filled menu item we can think of? Hmmm… I know – we could make a bowl out of bread and then fill it with pasta. We’ll call it Bread Bowl Pasta. Genius! The fat hate to leave their bowls behind. Of course they do. We wouldn’t dare suggest our patrons just eat their carbs plain, though. That could be construed as healthy. Instead, we will provide the fat with creamy fat to dip their carbs in. That way there won’t be any confusion.
I mock, but I certainly can’t fault Pizza Hut or pretend they’ve missed the mark. There’s no denying we’re fat. Here’s a company that’s pulled in billions because they have an excellent understanding of this reality. They aren’t put off by our spoken concerns but rather they see right through them. They embrace our ever increasing size and work to expand our obesity epidemic with clever new menu options like this latest idea or stuffing our crust with cheese. These ideas, of course, are ideas that sell so who can blame them? We’re fat and they’re onto us. Good for you, Pizza Hut. Good for you. I’m sure your new bowls are delicious.
Love, Brother Jordan
Dear Brother, It seems like my boss’ new favorite thing to do is to have me paged. “Inmate Holm, report to the maintenance shop.” It doesn’t help that he knows I don’t like being paged. A lot of times I’ll be sitting in the shop when I’ll hear this over the prison-wide intercom. I may even be sitting next to my boss at the time. Maybe I should add that it’s possible he is unaware of my presence at these times (sometimes), since I never know who might review this letter before it’s mailed. Not that I’m too concerned about it. My boss is by the book. People know this. There are times when I’ll be sitting in my room, like right now, because there’s nothing happening at work, when I’ll hear my name. “Inmate Holm, report…” Unbelievable. Maybe a steam pipe is leaking.
It looks like I’m going to give up third base this year to help cover the outfield from left center. We only have one returning outfielder so we’re pretty weak out there. I’ve been taking fly balls with the outfielders lately, along with playing third and backing up short. Everything is still practice for now but I hear it’s all but official that I’ll be out in left center. I’m not too convinced, as of yet, that this move is a great idea. I like tracking things down but I also like third. There are generally a lot of outs to be made at third. Now I’m going to have to start thinking more like Torii Hunter or Denard Span instead of Michael Young, Evan Longoria, David Wright or Joe Crede. This objective sounds good anyway. We’ll see what actually happens. In the regular league I’ll probably still play third. I’m just talking about playing outfield against the teams that will come in from the world to play us.
Dear Brother, I wish I could fall asleep and stay asleep for about a month or maybe longer. Have you ever wished for the same? I could probably use the sleep and I’m tired of being awake. Do you remember when we were younger how we would try to fall asleep sometimes on the way to Brainerd instead of staying awake to endure the impossibly long journey of traveling for four hours on the road? We would set our sights on waking up to that certain comfortable feeling of Grandpa and Grandma’s steep driveway. Everything was meant to zoom by until we were greeted with hugs and cookies at the end of our nap. What a brilliant plan it was that we had discovered – to just fall asleep. Perhaps the craziest thing about it was that it would actually work sometimes. It’s kind of like when we’d fall asleep with two miles to go on any length of trip home so that Dad would carry us in from the car. We were brilliant! So why not today, Brother? Why haven’t we improved upon this plan in recent decades? Why aren’t I able to implement this same plan, only on a slightly larger scale? Like say, for the remainder of my time in prison. If even for a week, I would take it. I’d just like to fall asleep and you can wake me up when we get there.
This afternoon we had softball practice. I wouldn’t have wanted to sleep through that. It was the first time this year that we swung a bat or took pitches. Everyone got about ten good swings. When I wasn’t up, I played left center. It was fun being out there today. I wouldn’t have gotten as much action hit to me at third. In the outfield, I race to every ball and call everyone off every chance I get. Does this surprise you? I doubt it. I called off our shortstop and third baseman once today to catch a ball that was in foul territory behind third. The backup left fielder, who was in at the time, didn’t seem to want to get there. Everything else was much more in my area- or close enough. I don’t intend to shy away from being a ball hog. That’s pretty much my objective. If I can get there, it’s mine – unless it’s just plain ridiculous to take it.
I hope you’re excited about today. I’m going to try to be and that’s usually enough.
Love, Brother Jordan
During my run this morning, I noticed something hanging from a high branch. At first I thought it might be some unusual form of a bird’s nest. Then I thought it was an animal, like a large bat or an opossum but I didn’t hold onto that idea for very long. It wasn’t the right color or size.
Anyway, I couldn’t stop to look at it at the time, but with each passing lap I’d glance up and try to figure out exactly what I was seeing. After breakfast, I remembered my discovery and went out to take a closer look. It turned out to be a large beehive, covered with hundreds of bees that were all swarming around the surface of their hive. It was pretty cool, I thought, so I stood there and looked at it for a while. Soon, my staring caught the attention of a couple people who were curious of what I might be looking at. When they came over, I was happy to point out the majestic nature of this beehive.
“Look at it,” I said, “it’s huge! There must be three or four hundred up there.” I was just sure they would appreciate the very sight of this hive. Three of four hundred bees! That’s really something. And to think of all the hard work they must have put into building this elaborate home. Wow! I mean, it’s just dangling there. Surely any typical observer would marvel at the construction of this hive. But no, brother. This is not at all the sort of reaction that ensued. Before the two could even estimate the number of bees or the size of this hive, they were almost immediately caught up in gathering rocks that might destroy it.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I said. “They’re just bees. They’re here to help.” It was quite frustrating at first. “What are we, twelve?,” I thought. Maybe the bees will come to arms and chase these villains away themselves. Wouldn’t that be entertaining?
Although as I stood there, silently cheering for the bees, it began to strike me as humorous that these two have ever set out to hit something by throwing an object. The arms they displayed were terrible in every sense. They would’ve struggled to hit this hive if it were ten feet off the ground. So I walked away, slightly amused, and somewhat hopeful that neither rogue would get lucky and hit his mark. Maybe a CO will stop them, I thought. I don’t imagine rock throwing would be encouraged.
About a half an hour later, I walked out from the shop to check the status of my earlier discovery. Wouldn’t you know it that lo and behold, the beehive was still there. Completely intact and swarming with bees. I’m not sure what compelled the two from earlier to give up. Perhaps they quit from sheer embarrassment of maybe they just ran out of endurance. Either way, I was very pleased. In fact, if one doesn’t exist already, I’m thinking of starting a “Save the Bees” foundation.
Have a wonderful day!
The beehive is gone. Someone got to it. So much for my foundation.
I haven’t bothered to read the latest yet. What difference is it going to make? I’m disappointed, of course, and I am upset. Although maybe not as upset as you might think. I’ve always been leery of the precedent it would set to rule in my favor and restore my original discharge date. I don’t know why other people of whom it’s been requested have not completed the DOC’s sex offender treatment program (SOTP) and I’m suspicious of their reasons. I only know exactly why I have never enrolled.
I agree that the authority to extend sentences for individuals who fail to complete SOTP could prove valuable in some cases. At the same time I’m also keenly aware of how this authority can work as a purveyor of tragedy or injustice for anyone who was wrongly convicted. Either way, the fairness of this law was not to be the focus of the court in this case. Rather, the primary question before the court was whether or not this 2005 law should be applied to my sentence which stemmed from events in 2002.
Even so, or regardless of their focus, I did expect the Supreme Court, which regularly overturns lower court decisions and was established in large part to review lower court decisions, would at least acknowledge the lower court’s potential for error. Instead, with this ruling the Supreme Court has essentially declared that the District Court is incapable of injustice or a wrongful conviction. As things now stand, if anyone in DOC custody says otherwise, the Supreme Court has ruled the DOC can more than double that person’s sentence. I find it especially ironic for the Supreme Court to have ruled this way since their very existence is largely dependent upon our lower court’s potential for error. It certainly causes me to wonder – if the Supreme Court is really so confident in the lower court’s general perfection that they are now willing to stake a double portion of everyone’s sentence behind it, then why do they ever bother to review anything?
I still believe it was unconstitutional for the DOC to apply legislation enacted in 2005 in order to extend my original sentence that was ordered in 2003, stemming from events in 2002. The language is very plain- “No state shall pass any ex post facto law.” When I try to imagine the sort of logic a person must follow in order to jump around this most basic element of our constitution, it makes me cringe. It reminds me once again of all that is dreadfully wrong with our legal system, and it saddens me. Clearly, loopholes were created in this case to undermine our constitution.
The extension I received of two years to my original discharge date was contingent upon my enrollment in the DOC’s SOTP. If I had enrolled, my sentence would never have been extended. In fact, if I had enrolled when the DOC first requested my participation in December of 2003, I would likely have been released in the middle of 2005. That’s a dramatic difference from 2010.
Still, I know exactly why I have never enrolled. My reason is straight-forward and obvious. The DOC will not allow me to enroll because I was wrongly convicted. I am innocent. Therefore, I do not qualify to participate in their program. I have agreed to enroll on numerous occasions while always making it clear that I am innocent. The DOC has rejected this offer every time. They insist I must first say otherwise in order to enroll. Obviously, this is not going to happen. As a result, they maintain that I “refuse” to enroll.
Over the years I have sat through MANY classification meetings which have been attended by several different members of DOC staff. Early on, before their methods began to become repetitive, I would be approached from a different angle with each new meeting. It wouldn’t really change anything. The same conversation would ultimately result, only it seemed to arrive in a different package every time.
Sometimes I would be yelled at. Actually, most of the time I was yelled at. There were times, however, when before I was yelled at, I was spoken kindly to. Even complimented. Other times I was mocked, lied to, lied about, called dumb, selfish and a variety of other names. Some of these, I couldn’t really disagree with – like stubborn, for example. I suppose I am stubborn. No to get too far off subject, but I’ve heard it said before that it’s only wrong to be stubborn when you’re wrong. Or maybe it was said that stubbornness is a virtue unless you’re wrong.
Either way, it sounds clever, though I wouldn’t always agree with this statement.
On one of the more interesting occasions, my counselor at Mount Pleasant on unit 2C waived around a copy of my college transcript, then crumpled it up and threw it away. She told me I obviously didn’t care about getting out in a timely enough fashion where it would make sense for me to go back to school. Were her actions ridiculous? Upsetting? Entertaining? I thought so. On another occasion, the treatment director, Frank Raffe, threw his pen at me during one of his tirades. I’m not sure it was entirely intentional, but he didn’t seem to mind that he did it either.
Continuing along these lines, I was told for a while that I would be a tutor before I was placed in the dish-room for not enrolling in their program. I was also moved on the special needs unit for a couple of months for the same reason. I was told it would be 18 months OR four years and eight months. Then I was told it would be almost 7 years. I was told my friends and family had said that I should enroll. I was told there’s no reason for me not to enroll. I was told I was throwing my life away. I was told all kinds of crap. Basically, in my estimation, it felt like I was subject to every method of interrogation that falls just shy of waterboarding. It hasn’t changed the simple fact that I am innocent.
After I was transferred out of Mount Pleasant in April of 2005, most of the fireworks I was used to seeing in my classification meetings did stop. This place operates with a much different tone. My counselor here has even recommended me for parole in each of the past two years. Sadly, this hasn’t changed the parole board’s mind that I need to complete SOTP. I’ve never once spoken to the parole board. They’ve given me every reason to believe my life is rubber-stamped past their desk every year. This is especially frustrating given the tremendous effort of so many who’ve written in support of my release.
By the way – I was once accused by the same counselor from 2C of falsifying some of the letters of support I’d received. She threatened to contact Mr. Sahli. I thought it was an excellent idea, so I’m sure she didn’t follow through.
My response to all of the antics I encountered during some of my meetings with DOC staff was generally very subdued. I rarely had anything more to say than a simple yes or no. I would mostly just sit there, often times in a chair that sat so low it place the table at level with my armpits. Meanwhile, members of staff occupied large, tall chairs that seemed to tower above myself and the table. I found this humorous right from the start. Okay, I get it. You’re awesome. Maybe someday I too will find myself in an adult sized chair.
It was tempting, on many occasions, to be sarcastic or to point out statements that didn’t even make sense but I’d always just sit there instead. I member one time in particular when it seemed like the perfect opportunity to be sarcastic and quote Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting. Some staff member had asked me what I wanted to be, as in, when I grew up what occupation would I like to have. I knew the question was bogus. They were just going to play off of whatever I said. It seemed perfect to tell them, “I want to be a shepherd,” but I couldn’t do it. I’ve always understood that the DOC staff is just doing their job. I’ve disagreed plenty with their methods and reasoning but I’ve also tried to keep in mind that they’re doing their job. On occasion I have expressed how I generally appreciate their service. I have pointed to their certificates or their plaques on the wall and offered my appreciation. It’s not a job I’d like to have. I think some of them secretly hate it. I also think some of them are brimming with hate and this seems to help them relish in their job. Either way, most have never really cared for my gratitude. This hasn’t come as a surprise.
The DOC’s offer has remained on the table since 2003.
We’re on a prison wide lock-down right now. I’m pretty sure it’s due to an excessive number of fights. There were a lot of them earlier today. I could elaborate but it would be all based on other people’s accounts. I didn’t see anything. This, in itself, is somewhat amazing from what I’ve heard. Besides, the mail room would probably frown upon that sort of thing. I wonder how long this lock-down will last. Maybe it’ll go through the weekend. Maybe longer.
In unrelated news, it has been about seven weeks since I was approached and surrounded by guards in the lower yard. They asked me to turn around and cuff up. There’s no confusing this phrase in here. It means you’re going to the hole. I couldn’t figure it out. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “Did something happen? What’s wrong?” The only answer they would give me as I was being escorted was that I’d probably find out in a few days. That’s that worst kind of answer. This place is notorious for locking people up and asking questions later. It’s called being under investigation and it can drag on for months before a person may very well end up just being let back out as if nothing happened. Of course there are often legitimate matters that come to light under investigation and in such cases there’s virtually no room to argue against procedure. However, it doesn’t bear its notoriety so much for those who had it coming as it does for those who didn’t and ended up doing a long stretch anyway. My mind was racing and I was coming up with nothing. What could it possibly be? About an hour later, I already had my answer. The report they handed me put it in these words: “I S.C.O. ______ conducted a search on Inmate Holm’s cell #7-49. During the search I observed 4 bolts by Inmate Holm’s TV…” I remember thinking, WOW! It would’ve been nice to be asked first. Even though I knew they didn’t have to and it would’ve been a luxury. It’s just that I had a legitimate explanation, if they would have been willing to regard my stupidity as legitimate. I had forgotten I still had them in my pocket when I left the maintenance shop at the end of the day. I was cleaning the main work area earlier when I put them in my pocket, intending to bring them across the room to their proper place along with a handful of other items. By the time I realized my mistake, the shop was long past closed. I was in my cell waiting for the evening count to finish so I could go outside and play handball.
Anyway, I decided I would line them up in a neat row where I knew I’d see them in the morning. What an idiotic idea that was. I should have just thrown them away or done anything but hold on to them. The ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) would later tell me that I should have immediately turned them over to staff. Give me a break! I mean, okay, sure. Of course I just listened and noted the recommendation.
I ended up spending eight days in the hole before I was given a suspended sanction of 14 days cell restriction and two additional days in prison. If I go report free for 60 days, this portion of my sanction won’t have to be served. I don’t expect this will be a problem. Meanwhile I did lose my level and my single cell. I have two roommates again. It’ll probably be about five months before I move back to a single cell. I also lost my job in Maintenance for a 60 day period.
Under “Evidence Relied Upon,” my hearing decision says: “At hearing you admit and state, ‘I was clearing off an area in Maintenance. I put the bolts in my pocket and foolishly left them in my pocket. I placed them by my TV so I’d remember them in the morning.’
Witness statements considered.
Bolts at hearing.”
Along with the original report and my comments, there were written statements submitted on my behalf by my boss in Maintenance and a CO who is regularly in charge of LUC. (My old living unit.) I thought that was pretty cool. They cared to report to the adjustment committee that I’m a good, honest employee. They also explained the project I was working on that may have lead to my still having these bolts after work. I should explain that I could’ve walked around with hundreds of these bolts and a kit full of tools all throughout the day and it would not have been a problem. It would’ve been completely normal and expected. It’s just that I need to remember to turn everything in or put everything back in its place at the end of the day. It was an unfortunate error on my part to walk out with these four bolts- all 5/8” in length with a ¼ “ head. No nuts or tools. Just bolts. Rather small bolts. There’s no way they could’ve been described as big or imposing but they were certainly enough.
In fact, it was originally determined by one of the “higher ups,” namely, the Security Director, that I would lose my job for good. It wasn’t until my boss in Maintenance went to bat for me that I was told I could be retained after 60 days. Meanwhile, I’ve been working as a janitor in my cell house. Top pay is 94 cents/day five days a week. The principle requirements include sweeping, mopping and dusting. I wish you could check out my work. It’s top notch. I feel I’ve nearly mastered all three skills. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone can say this. You have to want it. You have to feel it. You have to go out and, well, it’s like a …. Never mind.
I’m going to back up a little bit here because I wanted to tell you that I ended up having to meet with the security director. I’m not sure whose idea this was but it came about right after my old boss let him have it. Actually, I’m sure he did nothing of the sort. I’m quite certain he toadied right up to him just like everyone else does. Yes, sir. No, sir. May I have another, sir?
This director I’m referring to is about as bubbly as Ben Stein and egocentric as Trump or Kanye. It was a real treat to sit across from him. After each answer he would blankly stare at me for about 15-20 seconds. I imagine Chandler Bing would have tossed out numerous jokes during these long drawn out pauses only to have each of them fall flat on this guy’s desk. It’s enough for a guy to want to stand up and say, “all right then. Good talk. See ya out there.” But no, I just sat there, looked back across his desk and said very little. What little there was to say I repeated several times following very repetitive questions. He must not have been in a rush because I don’t think we covered anything new after three minutes even though we sat there for 25. Of course, I respectfully bent over backwards in every way possible. It was clear to me that I am dirt and I had just spit in this man’s burger. So, I apologized and offered a side of fries with his next purchase.
I am grateful to my boss and a few others who saw this error on my part for what it was and didn’t overreact.
You may have noticed the date at the beginning of this letter and wondered if I would mention that today marks six year. Perhaps if I were writing to someone who I felt needed to be reminded, I would attempt to elaborate on what six years has meant. You’ve been married for five now. What’s that been like? Pure bliss? An arduous journey? A little bit of both? I imagine it doesn’t lend itself to a brief sentence or two. Herein lies a problem with having to resort to letters so often. In our next six years, I look forward to being able to share more similar times and experiences.
We’re still locked down. They bring us food in Styrofoam trays. Today’s lunch was an all-purpose meat patty, potato chips, mandarin orange slices, a little package of sandwich cookies and bread and butter. Mmm, yummy.
As a prayer request, I’d love it if my roommates could develop the ability to chew with their mouths closed. Other than that, they’re good. I just ran my prayer request by them and they laughed. One guy is 48. The other is 22. I would estimate the younger one to be about 14 in maturity, even though he’s bigger than I am and again- he’s 22. I asked him why he’s not serving his time in juvenile detention and he just looked at me like, what do you mean? Then he started talking again because that’s what he does. He talks. He makes noise. It has to be one of his favorite things to do.
Perhaps the most ironic result of my walking out of Maintenance with those four bolts was being moved into this particular cell. For the longest time, at least five or six months, the younger of my new roommates was making himself very clear to everyone who would listen that he could whip me in wrestling. He would ramble on for all of his co-workers in the kitchen about how no one in here could come close to beating him. Apparently he was convincing to a lot of people because he picked up a lot of promoters along the way. They would egg him on and try to find him a match. To the great disappointment of some, I wouldn’t bite. I didn’t care. Eventually he would stand up on benches in the yard and yell that I was afraid to wrestle him. It was rather comical. I kind of liked it. No one seemed to see the humor. If they weren’t already convinced, most were at least certain that he might just get me.
This went on for a long time, as I’ve already said. Eventually some of my friends were like, “hey man, just wrestle him.” They were tired of listening to him talk. “Either way,” they would say, and I would find humor in what that meant. Either way! Are you serious?! Though, how else would they know? “I suppose I could wrestle him,” I’d say.
So one day when it was raining and all outside games were cancelled, I asked one of his promoters if his guy wanted to wrestle. Of course he was eager and rearing to go. He wanted to wrestle a match. One seven minute match. I agreed that the arrangement sounded fair. After the clock was set and everyone was ready, I pinned him in 22 seconds. I then let him go, took him down 11 times and pinned him three more. In between takedowns, we’d stop when he needed rest. He would stand there for a while and then we’d go again on his “ready.” He lost interest before we made it a full seven minutes, the last few of which became supervised. Still, it was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. Thankfully, my knees held up just fine on the gym floor. I was very careful, I thought, to keep it fun and pain free. In the end, he handled it well. I applauded his enthusiasm and he assured me that he was rusty. It had been a while.
Roughly three weeks later, I was moved into his cell. We get along just fine, though, especially now, I take all of his stories with an extra grain of salt. He’ll be going home to Council Bluffs in about 30 days.
When I step back from the immediate impact of some of these changes, like going to the hole, losing my job and gaining two roommates, it manages to become fairly simple to see how God is in control of timing. I don’t necessarily buy into the philosophy that there’s always room to make sense of things. For example, when I step back even further, I don’t get it. I’m completely at a loss. But, as for this mini detour that has followed my mistake with the bolts, I believe it’s been possible to see God’s hand at work.
I’ll have to tell you some day about some of the conversations I had through the bars of my cell while sitting in the hole. Somehow amidst all of the noise and grotesque and sinister language, like offhand comments about murder and over-the-top violence and hatred, there arose certain opportunities to talk about amazing grace and hope and a love that never fails. To add to my amazement, such matters didn’t just fly by in passing but they seemed to wholly funnel the noise as they consumed conversations for hours. It was powerful, Brother, and to describe it this way may very well be an understatement. I learned quite a bit in those hours. I asked a lot of questions and listened to several mentions of Valhalla. I also fielded my share and spoke of what I knew- how I believe in amazing grace and a love that never fails. At one point while answering, I was silenced by, of all things, a sneak attack of my own tears. They came out of nowhere and yet no one said a peep. The silence was deafening before I could continue. I was horrified and amazed at the same time. Of all places to break down. You’ve got to be kidding me! Perhaps not everyone could tell. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.
I’d like to introduce you to Wild Bill someday. Actually, I’ve called him Will since we met because that’s how he introduced himself. To everyone else, he’s Wild Bill. He still hopes to die in battle and go to Valhalla as far as I know, even though he’s not really sure what is meant by “die in battle.” He mostly just likes how it sounds. I’d introduce you to him if I could just because he’s good at telling stories. He’s a character I don’t think I’ll soon forget.
Going back to the thought of God’s timing- it has even managed to appear as a clear part of God’s plan that I wrestled my new roommate when I did. I’m sure I was not thinking along these lines at the time but I’m willing to see how God must have known what’s up- or what detours were ahead just around the corner.
Such are my thoughts for now…. Make it a great day, Brother!
The softball season finished a couple of weeks ago and the flag football season is about to start. The draft was already held last Wednesday. It’s an overly official process for in here where individuals appointed as captains sit in a circle of desks in the gym and select their teams round by round. It’s not the process of the draft itself that inflates its significance to that of a G-8 summit. We actually just pull Dominoes out of a tin can to determine the order of each round. I pulled a two in the first, a four in the second, and so on. I was pleased with my numbers, though I didn’t let on. A one means you’re automatically last in the next round, so a one is only so good.
The significance attached to the draft has everything to do with the posturing and politics that constantly occupy the months and weeks leading up to it. Some people haven’t stopped campaigning since the end of the last year’s draft. They would like others to believe they can play. They would like to go in the first round, the second round, or at least the top five. For others, it’s more a matter of who they can play for. They want to win and they’ve scouted their chances with each captain. They’d like ot play for one in particular. Still others want to be a star above everything else. They don’t care if their team stinks so long as they’re the best player.
No spectators are allowed in the gym during the draft but immediately afterward the full results are posted. It marks a cumulative end to a lot of rambling conversations as the politicians come out to pour over their annual review. For a moment there’s a pause – a break in the action, if you will. Several heads will slowly bob or move side to side as their eyes dart about the reality that sits before them. Then, as suddenly as it began, the moment is gone and the rumblings begin to swell like the crescendo on a kettledrum. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is a sports analyst. All circuits are busy and yet they keep hitting redial. Some people are elated while others are asking if there will be trades.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t disappointed with how the draft went. Everyone I selected seems very pleased to be a member of our team. I think we look good on paper, along with about five other teams. There are ten teams in all. Games will probably start near the end of this week.
I held our first team meeting yesterday to explain the two defenses we will be running. I also went over two plays that I expect to utilize on PATs and short yardage. They will probably be the only two plays that I introduce. The rest of our offense will be made up on the fly – go out and get open, so to speak.
Here’s a diagram of our two plays: [a drawing was included] As you can see, they are very similar. From a trips formation, the slot receivers set picks, then roll into the flat. The wideout fires off, and then comes back and down the line as my primary receiver, like a split screen. If the exterior lineman doesn’t think he can reach block the DE, then the inside slot will crack block and the lineman will pull and do the receiver’s pick and roll. Everyone is eligible in this league. The second play is the same with an option back.
This season will be the first sports season in a long time where I won’t have Andy for a teammate. He will be leaving here very shortly, so it wouldn’t have been smart to pick him up. There is not another person in here who could replace Andy as an athlete, much less as a friend. (Of course, everyone is their own person – no one is really “replaceable,” especially a friend. That just sounded weird so I thought I’d elaborate.) He and I have won nearly every athletic competition there is in here to win. Every time there’s a two-person event, we sign up – whether it’s pickleball, volleyball, handball, or whatever. Most recently it was hooverball. (I’ll tell you how that went for us in a little bit.) Some have already commented that our flag football dynasty is over. I consider that a nice compliment.
You may recall this is the guy who I mentioned is a huge fan of Brett Favre. I believe it speaks well of Andy (in addition to being ironic and a tiny bit delusional) that people in here like to compare him to Brett. It’s funny to watch him try to play it cool when he hears this. Usually he’ll accept such accolades with an inquisitive look, a lot of confidence, and an equal amount of sarcasm. “Of course…I’m a cold piece! You didn’t know?” Then he’ll laugh it off and keep going. “I’m Brett. Number 4. Cold piece, right here.” It’s obvious every time that he loves the comparison. In reality, his athletic skills are likely to remain legendary among a lot of people in here.
Things are going to be different when he leaves. Of course, I’ll probably wish he was still on my team when I run into third and long. That almost goes without saying. But he’s become even more of a friend than he is an athlete, so his absence won’t just be noticed within the realm of sports.
It must have been a couple of years ago when Andy agreed that he would check out a speaker in the chapel with me sometime before one of us left. It was something that always reminded me of a similar deal I had with Stender, where he was going to go to church with me one time before we graduated. I could easily become sad about not being around for either of those things to happen. I was in here. That being the case, I did go to Bible study last Tuesday and Andy decided he would finally come along. I don’t feel like I dragged him up there or anything, although he wasn’t thrilled about sitting up front. So far, I’ve heard him recall numerous times just how close we were to the preacher. It may be the only thing he’ll remember from that hour.
I attended a classification meeting this morning where I was told I would be going back to my old job in maintenance. I start tomorrow. Who knows what’ll need to be fixed? But Andy and I will probably be the workers who fix it.
The short version of what happened in hooverball this past week is that we won. First, our five-member team repeated as champs. Then, Andy and I won the first annual two-person event. There were fourteen teams. We won four games. I have a large bruise on my right bicep from catching the hooverball. It must have caught me in that same spot about 10 dozen times. This year we used a 12lb ball. That may sound like nothing, but during long rallies or behind a hard throw, 12 pounds can be significant. The ball must be caught in the air and thrown back from where it’s caught.
The crazy thing about this game is how often it manages to attack the ego or bravado if its participants. When a 12lb ball is hurled through the air with aggressive speed, it can become especially difficult for some to maintain the perspective that this is the entire framework of the game. All too often, egos begin to collide with even more force than that which is heaving the ball. Once this begins, it often unravels from a game of strategy and technique to a ridiculous display of pathetic macho behavior. Bear in mind, there is a great chance my assessment is skewed since I’ve only played this game among people who are largely notorious for being short tempered and full of bravado.
During the five-man tournament, an opponent on the other side of the net jumped up to keep his body behind a throw. The ball drilled him in his shoulder, made his feet fly out, and planted him high on his back. He didn’t manage to hang on to the ball. Immediately after landing he was back on his feet, cursing me and the ball and telling me I couldn’t whoop him in a fight. About two minutes later, I knocked him down again. After rolling the ball back and looking around, he was able to crack a smile. That’s something I love to see. He became one of the few who demonstrated an ounce of sportsmanship. It was great talking with him after the game. It was pretty funny, anyway. And I told him I appreciated his effort and attitude.
Make it a great day, Brother!
My buddy Andy left today. They picked him up shortly before noon. There were no Apache helicopters or the 25 armed guards as he like to tell people there would be. He simply walked toward the front gate with a small paper bag in his right hand. He’d had his boots untied all morning and his jeans bunched up around his calves so that they sat on the very top of his boots. The same boots that he’d tore the steel toes out of on the very day that he got them so they wouldn’t bind on his toes when he walked. It may have looked a little lazy, how he was wearing them, but I doubt anyone said anything. I figured it was intentional. I made a point of looking at them once and he was like “yeah,” though just in his shoulders.
The paper bag he was carrying was mostly empty and rolled up at the top like normal. It was all he could take with him. Just the one bag. He didn’t care if he took anything, but since it was an option he decided to go with toothpaste and a few similar items. Just before he left we stood in R&D, the same place everyone stands before they leave, and joked about an incident gone terribly wrong only a couple of hours earlier. It came about because he had a few tokens left over that he obviously wasn’t going to have a chance to spend and he wanted to leave them with me. Of course he know I didn’t need them. He was just being nice. So he handed me these tickets – 42 to be exact – while we were standing in the maintenance shop. About three seconds later, several officers walked in asking questions. The entire shop was being hit with a shakedown. What’s going on?Do you have anything on you that we should know about? Any tickets? How many? It was the most inopportune time to be hearing such questions because the limit for what a person can have on them is 35. This rule is meant to cut down on gambling or the selling of various items on the yard. I was handcuffed almost immediately and placed against the wall, and then taken to the security office and strip searched. I explained to the captain on duty exactly what happened and, after a brief lecture, he decided to let me go. Sans tickets, of course. I knew they’d be disappointed with a mere 42, and there are much bigger busts to be made than a surplus of tokens. Still, it was ironic to say the least that this would happen, especially on Andy’s last day. (I hesitate to elaborate on the irony.) As we sat there in R&D, some of us joked that it wasn’t right of him to get me burned up like that.
I think most people who were around would say that he made it look easy when he walked away with his boots untied. After all, that was always the plan, to make it look easy, though I wouldn’t say he managed to convince everyone. At least I wasn’t very convinced. If we were playing Hold ‘Em, I would have re-raised. I believe I could tell that he was struggling to keep his composure. That may sound a little strange, I’m sure, considering that he was about to leave this wretched place, but some things aren’t always so cut and dry. Sometimes we think we can relate when really we have no idea.
I remember one day in particular about two weeks ago when we were standing outside. He was keeping a close watch on his shoes as he shuffled them in the dirt. “It’s not going to be easy, you know.” I had just said something about how it’ll probably be weird. “I’ve lived right here for a long time now,” he continued. “Longer than anywhere else.” He came in at 17. He was leaving at 29. “I have a lot of memories, you know…it’s going to be sad.” It didn’t seem sappy at the time. After 12½ years, and such an early start, I wasn’t surprised. It seemed right that he’d be a bit nostalgic. If he’d decided over the years to become callous or filled with misery like so many others, then I probably would’ve never seen it coming. Btu it remains a point of pride for him that he has yet to become jaded, hateful of most things or broken down by this environment. “It hasn’t ruined me,” is how he put it, and I would agree. With his family and all of the rest, he’ll make it.
During his last few days he was asked quite often where he was going. After a while, he began to answer that, last he heard, he was going to the Metrodome. “I’m going to fill in for Brett,” he’d say. Or sometimes he’d answer, “I’m going to go throw for Plaxico.” The truth is that he wasn’t sure, though that last answer was a better indication than the first. He just knew the feds would be picking him up and transferring him somewhere. He still owes six years in their system. He’ll probably be out in four. When he reached the front gate, he handed them his paper bag and then began the routine of being belly chained and shackled before they led him away.
An award ceremony was held last night for the varsity softball season. Only team members were allowed to attend. We sat in folding chairs in the gym and listened to the activities director talk about the season. We went 10-2 (six double-headers) against outside teams. That was good enough to win the league. If we weren’t in prison, our team would have won $500.
He also read the results for each award as voted on by our team. There were many different distinctions that we voted on, including awards for such things as the “Ugliest Strikeout” or the “Oil Can Award” (for the person who I guess kept us loose). There were also more traditional awards. Andy was voted MVP of the infield and I received the same for the outfield. I thought that was pretty cool. (The gym director had let Andy know before he left.) I also received an award for “Best Catch of the Year.” I kind of wish that was it for awards that I received, but I was also honored with the dubious distinction of “Stupidest Thing Done Off the Field.” I earned this award for walking back to my cell with those ¼“ bolts in my pocket and then setting them out instead of throwing them away or whatever. I ended up missing two games as a result of those bolts because I was stuck in the hole for eight days. I’ve already told you about that.
The ceremony turned out to be a nice break from the norm. It was a very positive ordeal. Nothing was actually passed out for the awards but we were each given a Styrofoam cup with nuts and M&Ms inside. In case you ever wonder, I’m still a slow eater. The guy next to me had to ask if I had gotten two cups, since I’d barely made a dent in mine before the ceremony was over.