March 24, 2014

Hard to believe it but I have been in prison for nearly a month. It seems like yesterday that I was hanging out in my “man cave”, wondering what the coming days, weeks, and months would look like.  For those who have never been to prison it maybe hard to understand.

Now that I’m here and the shock has worn off I’m realizing that much of the worry was for nothing. The confidence from that sentence comes because I am handling myself well. Part of that confidence also comes from my ability to adjust, to pivot and change course. Upon my surrender, for example, I walked around carrying a legal pad around with me. To document what my first hours in prison were like I began taking notes. The purpose behind that exercise was to memorialize the day, to properly note and record what would always be a very difficult and memorable day in my life. Additionally, I wanted to be authentic and accurately note the experience. Further, if I wrote about it and openly expressed my emotions, others may be inspired or be more prepared to handle their journey with dignity.

Within two hours of writing, however, members of the institution instructed me that I shouldn’t be writing and carrying around a notepad with me. They reasoned that others may think that I was taking notes on other prisoners, or snitching—I thought my audience would like some prison parlance! It was neither of those, of course. Rather then complain or put up a fuss, I simply put down my notepad and moved on with my day. In retrospect, taking notes may not have been the smartest thing. But I learned from it. I’m better because of the experience and it’s helped with my adjustment.

I do still spend a lot of my time in deep thought, contemplating what the rest of my prison term and life will look like. Admittedly, one time I was in such deep thought that I mistakenly walked out of bounds into the parking lot. For those that do not know the Camp at FCI Petersburg does not have the barb-wired fences we so frequently see on T.V, but rather a stake stuck in the ground that says “Out of Bounds.”

During these deep thoughts I’m realizing that I’m really getting my life together. While the sentence at times can be a struggle it’s not nearly as much of a struggle as I initially thought it would be. As I’ve heard and know believe the worst part of traveling through the criminal justice systems comes before you surrender to prison. The anxieties, the unknowing, the uncertainty can paralyze you.

Despite some of the ups and downs since surrendering to prison, I am working my way into a routine. The burden of this experience, I know, is with my family. I may sound like a broken record, but I worry about my wife, my children. Prison is easy for me. My family, on the other hand, suffers more than me because I’m in prison.

When I began writing this journal it wasn’t my intention to offer advice to incoming prisoners. I just wanted to write about this experience for my network. But since I’m here and becoming a student of this system, I can’t help but share some thoughts. I hope others find value in them. Some of those thoughts follow:

To those working their way into the system, know that if you are not prepared for the journey, it can be harder. The criminal justice system is a different world. As best as you can, prepare. Watch videos, hire a prison consultant, as I did, or read. Never forget that every action impacts not just your life but those that love and support you. Be aware. Don’t get bogged down in the minutia. Focus only on things that will translate into a better life for you, and more importantly for those that love you. If you do you will make the most of this time, and find meaning in the experience.

Andy Rothenberg


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