Monday, October 27, 2008
Embracing My Term In Federal Prison
Today I completed my sixth month of confinement. I remember my family and I making last minute plans to help ensure the life I was leaving behind would be kept in order until my return. The big ticket item I failed to address was preparing for the actual prison experience. I did absolutely no homework. As I would soon learn, my stubbornness made my acclimation to confinement more difficult than it had to be. My family tried to warn me by forwarding to me articles from the internet addressing camp experiences but there was basically a paucity of information. I deleted the information as it arrived because I didn’t want to accept that prison was in my future.
My first few weeks at Taft Camp I behaved like a real curmudgeon. It’s only after 6 months that I can reflect upon my behavior and laugh. Often I acted as if I were 5 years old instead of 33. It was extremely difficult to accept my surroundings and I was overwhelmed by the common restrooms, my tiny metal bunk and certain smells (which to this day I can’t describe). And the noise! Oh, the noise. I felt helpless and homesick.
For my mother’s sake I put up a false front that prison was “a piece of cake”. I tried to sell her the concept that spending a year in a prison camp was exactly what I needed. I made a hard sell but she wasn’t buying. While I was praising prison to my mother, I was writing my business partner that I was confident the experience would never end. Now I recognize that it will end. For the first time in many years, since this episode in my life commenced, I can see the finish line.
I was aided in my transition by Andrew, another friend I have in camp. We are running buddies and train together. He had the same judge as I did. More important, though, is that we were reared in similar settings which gave me a measure of comfort. Andrew was already two years into his six year sentence and he could easily relate to my initial pain. For days on end, he listened patiently as I complained. I demanded answers to what seemed like a hundred questions, including “Shouldn’t there be a rule that everyone has to shower once a day; shouldn’t there be a rule that it has to be quiet at times – that we need to rest; have you seen the toilets and sinks?” He laughed and gave me his word that my stay at Taft would improve.
After several more days of complaining, Andrew decided to take matters into his own hands. Determined to help, he entered my cube and opened a dictionary. He pointed to the word insouciance which means casual lack of concern or indifference. He said it was time for me to wake up and stop complaining about my surroundings since my grumbling wasn’t doing anyone any good, especially myself. He also left a copy of the bestseller, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. That one word, insouciance, and incredible book helped me see the light. Since then, I’ve done a terrific job of accepting other people’s foibles, as I know they do mine.
Learn from my mistakes. If you or anyone whom you know has even the most remote possibility whatsoever of encountering the criminal justice system, make sure their homework is done beforehand. Knowledge will help reduce the unknown. I was unprepared because I didn’t know any better and fretted about things that were inconsequential. It was only when I accepted that Taft Camp would be my home for a while that my situation changed dramatically.