June 2, 2014

Week 3 in Federal Prison aka Camp Cupcake

People have been writing me and asking: so how do you spend your time in federal prison? What do you do all day in federal prison? Good questions, and seemingly easy to answer: I wake up, eat breakfast, whack weeds, take a shower, exercise, write, complain (yes, it’s true, but only occasionally). As time passes and these prosaic activities attest, my life behind bars in federal prison is coming to feel less extraordinary than ordinary. But when I started to think about the proper responses to these questions I realized that they were harder to answer than I initially expected.

As I’m lying in my bunk before lights out I usually try to think back on my day. It’s an old habit from well before prison: reflecting on the day just passed before closing my eyes and waking up to a new day. It helps me fall to sleep as I tally up my successes and mistakes and prepare for the coming day. Out in the real world I had little trouble thinking back on the minutiae of my day: the ups, the downs, the good, the bad. I tended to dwell on my various failures in an attempt to learn something from them, improve myself.

But here in federal prison, I realized, I often can’t quite remember what I did: it’s all a jumble. Only half facetiously, I dubbed my confused nighttime rememberings the “fog of imprisonment”. In my fog, images of dinner cross my mind, weed whacking, writing, walking on the track, playing Hearts with fellow inmates, reading, talking with my bunkie. But suddenly I realize that I’m not quite sure whether I’m remembering what I did today, or yesterday, or the week before. In federal prison, life can become a treadmill, with days sliding into weeks sliding into months sliding into years: the prison-house version of Groundhog’s Day.

I’m not sure if my evening confusion is a result of the continuing newness of it all – the mass of impressions and jumble of thoughts and feelings. Or whether it’s because of the monotonous, repetitive nature of prison life, including the stultifying boredom of my daily job whacking weeds. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. In any event, I decided to highlight this fog in my third post from behind bars, in order to flag it as an issue to return to as time passes.

I don’t want my time in federal prison to turn into a vague, endless fog. Fog implies monotony, drudgery, grayness: not the feelings and impressions of an exciting, fulfilling life. To help better track my days, remember my thoughts and feelings and impressions, I’ve decided to keep a daily journal in addition to these blog posts. It should be interesting to see whether that helps me avoid the fog of imprisonment in which every day seems pretty much like the day before it.

As time passes I’ll try to think of new ways to guard against the fog. Writing is one obvious example of how to guard against it: when I’m in the groove I end up in my own bright little world of my imagination. As time passes I’m sure I’ll think of others. Thoughts and advice, of course, would be welcome.

So until next time: Week 4, one whole month down in federal prison. I can hardly wait.

Leigh Sprague

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