Blog: The Reality Room

Visitation in prison is the only way to see your loved ones. Every week since I have been incarcerated my Fiance’ Anna has come to visit. To date we have had 36 dates (visits) in the past 190 days of my time away from home. I told myself that the longer I am here the more attune I’d become. I can now say that this is true in regards to adjusting to the environment; which occurred rather quickly. Rather quickly to the complete lack of: privacy, free communication and cell phone. To the thin mattress pad on a steel frame against a cold brick wall, the continual noise, the portion controlled meals of expired foods or any other material possession available at any given time on the outside. What I have come to accept is the one thing I will not adjust to is being away from my better half. My best friend, Anna. I continue to work on being comfortable being uncomfortable. What I’ve been doing to flip the pages of this chapter is working, and I’ll continue to do so. Its now a routine.

This routine is so I not only hold on to my sanity, but grow in a positive direction and better myself. To hold onto my relationships back home and stay in touch with all who wish to stay in touch with me. To not only keep the strong love and connection I have with Anna but to continue to strengthen and grow it even further. Visitation has been a key component of my routine. Up until just recently there was no limit on visiting hours. We have visiting days here on Saturdays, Sundays and Federal Holidays. I had the ability to have visits for about 6 hours on any of these days. On average that is up to about 48 hours a month. As of April 1, 2016 its now been reduced by the Warden to a max of 20 hours a month (40 points a month, 2 points a hour). Quite a reduction. The ability to have anyone come to visit at will is no longer a possibility. Although the BOP states maintaining contact with family is very important; their true desires show in their actions.

The main issue is the size of the visiting room here and how easily it becomes overcrowded. Resulting in people getting kicked out so that more can fit as more guests arrive. Rather than getting more tables or making more space for visiting the solution the BOP came up with is to reduce the visiting ability all together. My first reaction to this was frustration, aggravation and sadness. As every weekend arrives, that special time comes closer. Anna and I countdown the days left from the moment our date ends until the next one arrives. Going from spending almost 24/7 together to a few hours a week definitely effects my day to day. My brother would come about every other weekend to catch up and hang out like we would always do before I arrived here. More of my family and close friends had come to visit which was always just a great time.

Week by week the time passes by, highlighted by that cherished time in the visiting room which I call “the reality room.” As inside this prison, surrounded by imaginary walls, reality tends to fade out and the only reality found is when I am in that room. The longer you are here the more easily it is to lose touch with reality. And by relying on ‘reality’ TV, which many do, maintaining sanity is a lost hope (especially with what I have seen in passing on the TV lately).

As I sit in the reality room, for that moment I’ve escaped prison. The conversation is no longer the prison jargon, the who went to the SHU (the hole) recently, how lazy and incompetent the staff are here, how we are being mistreated in one way or another or any of the constant rumors from inmate.com (inmate.com is what rumors are called here, which even though are rumors- are taken as truth by the masses). These real and pure conversations in the reality room, away from all the insanity is therapeutic. So knowing that this time going forward has been cut by more than 50% has been a hard pill to swallow. I’ve heard many guys say “You just have to let the outside world go.” This may be better suggested when you are facing many years, have no one out there or are facing a life sentence. But to just let go of reality and become part of this system is detrimental on the mind. What I have witnessed is by choosing this path- to strive for betterment creates a level of jealousy.

I first noticed the attention after someone walked up to me saying “I heard you have a really pretty wife” after my very first visit. It was my first week here and I had no idea who he was. I felt this first hand jealousy from not only some fellow inmates but from some C.O.s (correctional officers) here as well. There was one C.O. in specific who continued to make comments and give Anna a difficult time when she came to see me. He was the guard and I the inmate. And I am here with a beautiful, amazing and dedicated woman coming to see me each and every week. Luckily the guards change shifts every quarter. There are many reasons why the guys here can become jealous. When you have something others don’t. Be it anything from the way you hold yourself, the way you speak, if you are always busy being productive, you have financial support, you get visits often or if you have a wife/significant other outside waiting for you to come home. Or maybe its simply you get mail often or you are calm and not upset all day. I’ve seen all of this create hate and jealousy.

I was walking with a friend Arni who left here today to go home. A great guy. There was a little going away party for him last night. Pepsi and potato chips with a group of about 12 of us. He experienced this prison for the past 14 months. We were speaking of the mindset of the majority and how to overcome the difficulties that come with these types of people in this constrained environment. The majority of the inmate population here has been transitioning to those with a drug crime background. Guys who have worked there way down from higher level security prisons. Now at this camp level for the remainder of their sentence. Some guys got a bad deal and were sentenced to many years for a first time offense while others are multiple offenders showing obvious signs of not changing their ways- career criminals. Its more than minding your own business but to also remain strong and not let anything bring you down. That weakness will bring more attention and will just make you a target. It’s about staying on course and not letting anyone else bring you down to their level. Misery likes company. That no matter what to stay focused and productive in a positive way.

There is an attitude I’ve thought of from writing this. Gratitude. I may have less time with my Fiance’ but this time here away from home is temporary. I am grateful for the time I do have with her. I am so blessed I get to see her each and every week. I am grateful for all of my friends and family who do stay in touch with me and write. Although now visiting with family and friends will be difficult to do, writing is a great way to stay in touch. Before prison I can not remember the last time I sat down and wrote out a letter to someone. I now have an appreciation for this. A letter can be held in your hand and read over again. I think of the moment the ink was put on the paper and how it took time and thought. The simple process of putting it in an envelope and slapping a stamp on it is a rare thing to happen in our age of emails, texts and SIRI.

As far as the jealousy and criticism on what I have in my relationship and from the path I am on in my life. I am reminded of the book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. A book I quoted from before.

Whether you are a believer of a religion or not this quote is powerful. “Even if you and I are lied about, ridiculed, double-crossed, knifed in the back, and sold down the river by one out of every six of our most intimate friends- let’s not indulge in an orgy of self-pity. Instead, let’s remind ourselves that that’s precisely what happened to Jesus. One of his twelve most intimate friends turned traitor for a bribe that would amount, in our modern money, to about nineteen dollars. Another one of His twelve most intimate friends openly deserted Jesus the moment He got into trouble, and declared three times that he didn’t even know Jesus- and he swore as he said it. One out of six! That is what happened to Jesus. Why should you and I expect a better score?”

So when you are kicked and criticized wrongly, remember that it is often done because it gives the kicker a feeling of importance. It often means that you are accomplishing something and are worthy of attention. Many people get a sense of cruel satisfaction out of criticizing those who are better educated than they, or more successful. Or are just enjoying getting more out of life in some shape or form. I’ll remember this and will focus on the gratitude for all I have each and every day and of all I have in store for my future.

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