Stronger Through The “Why”

“Nebraska Greeter to the Officers Station.” The all too common announcement reverberates throughout the camp. The same very announcement the guard made on my day of surrender, now 13 long months ago. An inmate whose job is a “greeter” walks across the yard up to the officers station to greet the new arrival. Many have come and gone in a revolving door fashion, over the time of my stay here at- Pekin Federal Prison Camp. Curiously I look out the window of my cube wondering if this man came off the street, or was transferred here from another prison to attend the RDAP program. The greeter nonchalantly guides him into this bizarre world, and into the Nebraska housing unit.

Finding The Why At Pekin Federal Prison Camp

Finding The Why At Pekin Federal Prison Camp

Just recently I hit my 5 months to the door mark. The successful completion of RDAP knocked 12 months off my sentence, plus 6 months of halfway house/home confinement, and about 5 months off for good time. Among the inmates, when someone gets closer to going home its called: being a “short timer.” Although to some who have been “down” many years I came in the door a short timer.

Celebrating milestones such as: each month, the halfway mark, the 1 year mark, and so on. This gives my Fiance’ Anna and I little presents of achievement to mentally open together on a regular basis. I recall when we hit the halfway mark. I envisioned up to that day I was walking away from our home. Then at that moment when half of these days were completed, I stopped, turned around, and began walking back. Its analogies like these that help the positive focus.

The first few weeks, or even months, was a time of shock and disbelief. Over time the shock wore off bit by bit. The disbelief though, that still pops its confusing head up every so often. It was a culture shock, a shock from the environment. From going 24/7 with Anna, constant communication with family and close friends, working and running a business; all while having not a clue of what to expect from this experience. How much actual time would I have to spend away? How would it be to not have a cell phone and be so limited on communicating? How would prison look? How would the living arrangements be? The food? The rules among inmates? Would there be gangs or any of the stereotypical horrors as seen in the movies?

After my sentencing I went to the all-wise Google and began searching for any information I could get my hands on. In hopes to help clear up some of these questions. My search resulted in a profession I’ve never heard of until that moment, “Prison Consultant.” After talking to a consultant and emailing some others I then came across Justin Paperny. He was professional right off the get go and was all about making the most out of the time I was facing. Being productive and putting a plan in place was the primary focus. This aligned with what I had in mind, and was helpful to get some positive advice from someone who went through a very similar experience as I was about to encounter. I recommend anyone facing a term in prison to speak to someone who has been through it before. The sooner the better. Just like with most anything, the more prepared you are, the better off you will be.

The experience that one develops through such struggles is a strength to know when obstacles come in life, however large, they can be overcome. This also goes for the relationship that Anna and I have. I see now more than ever, how this experience, this journey, can either weaken a relationship and bring it to its knees; or it will strengthen it to a degree unlike anything else. In reading the book “Mans Search For Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl, I found many powerful passages that can be life changing. Such as, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” To have a “why” to aim for; it goes back to having a Purpose in life. The “why” gives the strength. Knowing ones “why” for their existence gives the strength and focus to bear almost any “how.”

Without the “why” what do we have? Recently one of the fellow RDAP community members went around with these cut-out paper maple leaves. Every of the 110+ RDAP members was given one. Each wrote their name on top with one thing they are thankful for below. These leaves are now displayed, scattered across the wall, around a paper tree when you first walk into the Kansas (RDAP) housing unit. In honor of the upcoming holiday Thanksgiving. I see these handwritten gratitude’s as each ones “why.” Many, as myself, wrote “My Family.” Which for me includes Anna and stepdaughters, my parents, siblings, and all of my loved ones. This is my “why.”

Taking hold of this, making a conscious effort to nurture the “why”. Its to some finding out what life expects from us. In this bizarre world of prison, it may be difficult at times, but as Nietzsche said. “Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich starker.” Better known as “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” This extends outward to each one written on those leaves. The suffering doesn’t end at these doors which I am so desperately waiting to walk through. The pain ripples out to the significant others, the children, the parents, to all of those loved ones scattered across that wall of thankfulness. For many of the men that arrive here, they leave at home someone who is now alone each night. Someone missing his presence, his love, his support, and all of those little things we sometimes take for granted. Day after day we continue on. Its those courageous and full of hope that one inspires to be like during these times. Counting down the years, months, weeks, and days; until this time of suffering transforms into a chapter dominated. A time like with any great challenge won- to be used as a driving force forward, to ponder upon in awe of the achievement. To keep as reminder of what truly mattered then, during that time of suffering, and to never let this focus be ever lost. As Anna brought up to me on our last date (visit). When I get back home we want to enjoy our life together. To not work too much nor get too busy. To always set aside our time. To be thankful for all we have -always fully in the moment- as life may be short on this Earth; its up to us to decide HOW we live it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-JV

Finding The Why At Pekin Federal Prison Camp
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