May 5, 2015

Thinking of Freedom One Year in Federal Prison

After a long, partially self-imposed silence, I decided to write this overdo post in honor of May 5, otherwise known as Incarceration Day. No, it’s not a national holiday (at least not yet), but rather the anniversary of that awful day exactly one-year ago when I “checked myself” in to Lompoc Prison Camp for a 50-month, all-expense paid stay. In honor of the big day, a friend of mine here ‘inside’ brought me (unbidden, I might add) a can of Diet Coke together with half a lime that he happened to stumble across.

Ahh, the simple pleasures I once took for granted.

Seriously, though, I’m not sure if this is an anniversary to be celebrated or mourned. But either way it means a lot to me. Most importantly, it means that half of my sentence, after being adjusted for good time and drug treatment (RDAP) time off, has passed. The 50% mark. As one old-timer told me: “It’s all downhill from here.” Some days another year seems like an eternity. But when I think about how quickly the first year passed, release seems so close that I can almost taste it. Can’t let my mind go there too often thought or it starts to play tricks on me.

This has been an eventful year to say the least. A year to remember. A year that will go down in infamy. Sorry, I realize that I’m getting over-dramatic. But I shudder to think back to that first day, how scared I was, how disoriented, how depressed. Over time, though, I’ve gradually adjusted, adapted, acclimated. For better or for worse, this life of mine here in prison has become more-or-less normal….

Or maybe better to say not entirely abnormal.

I have my bunk, I have my locker, I have my things. I have my acquaintances and I have my schedule. I walk 10-miles a day around the prison track and look forward to taco day in the Chow Hall. In that way life is normal; I guess you could say I’m a teeny-tiny bit institutionalized. Many of the things that caused me stress in the real world – job and taxes and bills and shopping – are no longer a part of my life. But I still think about my kids and family constantly, missing them every minute of every day. I still gaze out at the road that passes within feet of the track, enviously watching free people freely driving free cars down the free street. I picture myself behind the wheel, maybe going nowhere but, at the same time, going everywhere.

I want that person to be me.

I want to be free.

My prison experience has benefitted from my 9 months’ here at RDAP, the residential drug treatment and behavioral modification program that, once I complete it next month, will shave one-year off my sentence. At first I suffered in the program, bucking at all the rules and resenting it’s focus on group-work and change. But in comparison to many inmates’ prison experiences – which for the most part consist of wasting time in front of the TV and on the weight pile – I’ve gained a lot from the program. I recognized the errors in my thinking that made me a criminal just as much as my drug-dealer bunkie. I’m glad to be at the finish line but feel like a much better person now than the broken man that walked through RDAP’s doors last July. The ‘new improved’ me. All thanks to the kind-ol’ BoP.

So that’s all for now. I’ve had some issues with freedom of expression so can’t promise when I’ll write next other than to say that it will be before my next anniversary: that day when I walk once-and-for-all through these doors to the Greyhound station in nearby Santa Maria. Until then, keep well and keep in touch. And promise me not to take for granted that most special of gifts: freedom; freedom to be with your loved ones, freedom to go where you want, freedom to say and be and do whatever you happen to choose. I once took those freedoms for granted. But I never will again.

Leigh Sprague

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