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Friday, July 6, 2012

Hope

Well, because of KC's recent situation, I decided it was time to seek professional help.  That's right, a therapist.  Try to sort out my feelings, try to figure out what is real emotion, and what thought processes will only cause me to spin my wheels.  It has been somewhat beneficial to see this therapist.  But, yesterday I walked in to that office on a mission.  I finally KNEW what I needed him to help me figure out.  You see, KC's "out date" is in question now, and he's potentially facing some pretty big new charges.  So, I explained to the therapist I needed him to tell me how to "give up on hope", on the hope of our "happily ever after" in 17 years.  Let me be clear, I have NEVER been one to put too much thought into his release.  Occasional thought, yes, but just a passing day dream.  It is not normal to think obsessively about years down the road.  So, I felt that learning how NOT to have hope would get me on the road to accepting this situation.  It turns out, I was wrong.  That's not the road to acceptance, but rather the grieving process, says my therapist.  I'm willing to put a little trust in that, since I am not a trained therapist!  He gave me an example of hope, he broke it down for me, and I get it now.  He said imagine a Mom with a kid who is terminally ill sitting by the bedside of her child.  The doctor's have told this Mom that her child will die soon.  The Mom will always refuse to believe, because that would entail giving up all hope.  He told me that having hope in even the most impossible situations is human nature.  So, for that reason he encouraged me NOT to give up hope.  Ever.  Interesting thought to ponder!  I know some women holding their men down who have life sentences and I have often found myself wondering "Why do they do that?  There's no chance they will have a life together out here?"  So now I see things from a different perspective, and what I thought was the answer indeed, is not.  We ran out of time before he could give me the definitive answer, maybe next session!  Or, maybe I'll just have to talk my way through this and figure it out through a slow process.  Ya, that's it.

In the past 3 weeks I have discovered so much about myself.  Things that you only find out about yourself when you go through such a major trauma.  The details of what has happened with KC will be forthcoming when the time is right.  With charges potentially pending, this is not the time.  I remember when I was young, in my early 20's, the world seemed so black and white.  Things were almost binary.  The older I get the black and white seems to fade more with each passing experience and day, to shades of grey.  As I have gone through the process of learning what happened three weeks ago, I have found myself wondering what the long and windy road is that got KC to where he is now.  Initially, it's comforting to have the "black" and "white" and the "wrong" and "rights".  But as time passes I see that there are so many things that have led us to the situation we are in now.  For the time being, I have been successful at holding the "what if's" at bay.  I'm sure they will pop back up again.  But, I'm enjoying their hiatus.  What I have learned about myself is that I fell in love with a man.  I believe in him, and I believe in his true and sincere love for me.  There have never been any guarantees about our "happily ever after".  So, what this looks like when the dust settles months, or years down the road, I've no idea.  One lesson I learned recently is quit trying to write/plan every detail about my future.  I've realized that I don't have as much control over even my own future as I thought.  I know that who I am, and who KC is makes it impossible for me to walk away.  I am steadfast in staying by his side.  I will help get him through his recent set back.  Another thing I realized lately, I won't change him with love.  But I will love him as he is, and support him.  That is my role. 

There's my random thoughts for the day.  KC sits in solitary for his 23rd day now.  And despite his situation, he even has hope.  Here's his words from a recent letter.  His words provide me with peace, they help me realize where he is at mentally, which helps me and provides me some comfort:

"Life does not end just because you are in prison.  There is so much more to life than the physical aspect of things.  I lock very forward to my future goals, no matter where I am."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

1 in 30,000

Well, I find myself turning to this blog as a sort of therapy.  Absent for a while, yes, but like the prodigal son, I have returned.  Unfortunately, I find myself deep in thought about the unpleasantness of, you guessed it, all things prison.  There are, indeed, many more prisoners in this country then those simply behind bars.  I have to smile when I reflect back on a recent conversation with a friend when I said that I was in my own carefully built self made prison.  His response, funny, true and sad was "You are the prisoner, the warden and the correctional officer".  He's right.  MOST would say if you're the warden, just let yourself out.  Of course, those are the people who have never had a loved one in prison.  Because if they had, that question never would enter their mind.  I find myself banging away at this keyboard with several things on my mind.  At this time, the one topic I feel I can talk about is solitary confinement.  Here's where I mention KC is back in solitary.  Why isn't important right now.  But he's there.  So just two weeks shy of his one year anniversary of being solitary free, I realized this morning, I guess I'll have to take his "one year solitary free anniversary platter" back to Tiffany's.  Luckily, I hadn't yet had it engraved.

So commences Solitary Confinement 101.  Let's get the high level overview out of the way.  The history of solitary confinement.  The practice started, at the very least in a benign fashion, and perhaps even in a noble attempt at true rehabilitation.  It started in the late 1820's at Eastern State Hospital in Philadelphia based on a Quaker philosophy.  The idea was to provide prisoners with time to reflect on their actions, a stab at gaining understand, remorse, and rehabilitation for their actions.  Early on, however, it was dismissed as the experiment yielded examples of increased suicide rates, and an inability to function in a social setting after periods of confinement upon release.  So, "A" for effort, it didn't work, moving on.  Right?  Wait, no!  Let's, collectively as a society, take this concept that at it's very origin was immediately dismissed as a total failure at rehabilitation, and let's try to perfect it.  The motivation behind the origin was admirable, and still remains a valid question.  And the Quaker philosophy was onto something with their belief that rehabilitation can come truly from only one source.  And that source is the offender themselves.  Has torturing someone into rehabilitation ever worked?  If you're reading this blog entry, you are enlightened enough to know that the answer is clearly no. 

As a commonly used practice, indeed, solitary confinement took a sleepy hiatus for quite a while.  But, it rears it's ugly head again.  While, give or take, 40 years passes, the sleeping giant continues its slumber, and is jolted out of hibernation with the advent of Alcatraz.  And with it comes the more modern concept of solitary, which is, where to house "the worst of the worst".  And now we take a concept whose origin was to rehabilitate criminals through extended periods of time of thoughtful reflection, which at it's very core didn't work, and is revived as a concept to warehouse "the worst of the worst" with the pursuit of rehabilitation nowhere in sight.  Even then, though, the practice of using solitary confinement on any kind of solid penal practice, is an outlier, an anomaly.  Fast forward another half a century and we're in the bustling 1990's.  As a society, we're individually and globally pursuing and perfecting the concept of hedonism and excess.  Big surprise that our incarcerated counter parts are doing the same thing.  And here comes a freight train called "SUPERMAX" facilities.  They are big.  They are scary.  They are intimidating.  They are ominous.  They are constructed to illicit such a response.  What the architect didn't know he was constructing in the blue prints is the less tangible feature of walls that become self fulfilling prophecies.  While the manifestation of these solitary cell walls and what they contain varies from state to state, there's some common features that almost all share.  Here's what the cells look like.  They're small.  Smaller than your bathroom.  They have either solid doors, or perforated steel mesh doors.  They are the color of concrete, or a drab grey, blue, tan or white.  There is a steel slab welded and bolted to the wall, with a mattress several inches thick.  There is a steel toilet with no seat.  There is a sink a stool bolted to the floor and a very small desk, also bolted to the wall.  There are institutional lights which are not controlled by the inmate.  Some have a window, most do not.  So that's what they look like.  I have pictures of one particular supermax solitary cell where KC resided for eleven years.  I obtained these pictures through a photographer who was allowed to photograph this particular cell/pod as a result of a lawsuit on the living conditions of this facility.  A little harder to spot, but ALL of these cells have a built in thief in them.  The thief, while invisible, robs each resident of their hope.  Sometimes the thief also steals the conscious and soul of the tenant.  The conspiracy theorist in me thinks this was an intentional characteristic of these facilities.  While the Pollyanna side of me hopes that it was an unforeseen design flaw.  The possessions that these inmates are allowed varies widely depending on the particular facility.  Some are allowed TVs, some aren't, some may have a book, some aren't allowed that privilege.  Of course the theory is the more miserable you make these cells, the more they become a deterrent.  Wrong again. 

I must clarify something before I go any further into our virtual solitary confinement tour.  There are many types of inmates sitting in these solitary cells throughout this country.  So, let's meet the "worst of the worst". Rare is the occasion that a newly sentenced convict goes straight to solitary.  Residents of these cells have earned their way into their solitary cell.  Earned?  Well, that's open to debate.  The worst of the worst are there because of what they have done since entering the correctional system, NOT what they did to get there.  They have earned their way there because they have committed violent acts on staff or other inmates.  Most common would be murdering, raping or assaulting staff or another inmate.  Yes, these are the ones who should be isolated.  But even that isn't as black and white as it may appear.  Because once you cross this line in the sand, there's no turning back.  In a conversation with a friend recently on this very topic, his response was either be prepared to keep these guys in solitary until the day they die, or they are released (whichever comes first), or try addressing the mental health issues at hand.  Therein lies the problem with this particular solitary confinement resident.  There is no such thing as psychological help for anyone in prison.  There answer is prescription drugs, which is perhaps the only drug no inmate wants to get a hold of.  So, counseling, therapy, psychological services are completely lacking.  In prisons where there are upwards of 3,000 inmates, you'll be hard pressed to find more than a few jobs relating to any kind of social services.  So, they don't commit any resources to any kind of mental health assistance to inmates who clearly need them the most.  Ok, well, an unenlightened approach, but the other option, as my friend points out is to truly lock these guys up and throw away the key. Now, in rare circumstances this does happen.  But the vast majority of solitary confinement inmates will return to a general population yard.  Yes, ones that murder, rape and assault other inmates and staff will probably, eventually, get out of solitary confinement.  Why?  Well, theirs the legal aspect of solitary confinement.  It's a widely debated constitutional issue, stemming from "is it cruel and unusual punishment"?  Therefore, it is more likely than not that regardless of what the "worst of the wost" do, if they have enough time remaining on their sentences, they will most likely be released back into a general population setting.  Understand that they are being released back into the general population after sitting for months, years, and even decades in solitary confinement, having literally never seeing a mental health professional to address what landed them in solitary to begin with.  The other kind of inmate who "earns" their way into solitary confinement is one, believe it or not, has never perpetuated a single violent offense.  Typically, they have gotten numerous "tickets" for minor/major infractions.  Truly these infractions are not violent but can run the gamut of taking food from the chow hall, to testing positive on a drug test.  Rules broken?  Yes.  But have they earned their spot in the most expensive prison real estate there is?  No.  The third and last type of inmate who is sitting in solitary is the ones "under investigation".  They are being investigated from rule infractions, or more serious crimes.  They will sit there longer than you think.  If there is a criminal trial involved, they can sit there for years while they try to prove that they didn't "earn" their infamous cell.  So, that is who is sitting in these solitary cells.  For the  approximate 30,000 inmates sitting in them, there are 30,000 different, and unique stories and circumstances.  Those 30,000 inmates represent close to 1.5% of the entire jail/prison population in this country.  While I am playing statistician, here's another one.  At the precise time you are reading this entry, nearly 1 out of 100 people in this country is currently in jail or prison.  Put another way, close to 1% of this country is currently incarcerated.

The last topic of the day in Solitary Confinement 101 will be only a high level summary of what is happening in the minds and bodies of these inmates.  Brief in that that topic alone could fill hundreds of books.  At it's very core, solitary confinement ensures that there is no human contact, and that 23-24 hours a day are spent inside there cell.  It has been deemed by the Supreme Court of this great nation that there is a required number of minutes that solitary inmates are constitutionally entitled to leave their cell/go outside (albeit in handcuffs, and escorted by two correctional officers).  And they are constitutionally entitled to a set number of showers per week.  Other than that, they are in their cell with extremely limited resources, if any, and no human contact.  The rare solitary inmate who gets a visit from family is granted a non contact visit and is behind glass.  A significant amount of scientific research has been published on the effects of long term solitary confinement.  And here's what the research says, simply put.  These inmates lose touch with reality, mental health issues develop and spread like wildfire, and this population has an unprecedented rate of suicide.  In addition to mental health issues at rates almost unimaginable, there is scientific evidence of actual physical changes in these inmates brains in as little as two days.  Absolutely no one coming out of solitary confinement comes out "better" than when they went in.  Some leave in straight jackets, some leave in body bags, and some come back with homicide and rape charges and will spend years back in their solitary cell, and will probably, eventually be released from solitary again, if their sentence is long enough.  And those years will provide no mental health services whatsoever. It's a vicious cycle, and no one wants to get involved.  Well, actually, let me clarify, as my wise friend said the people who can affect change, won't do it.  And the people who care, devote their lives to caring, haven't been able to effect change.  It seems a true impasse.

KC is my 1 in 30,000 solitary confinement story.  And, there's more to come on that.  Be certain of it.

My friend I have spoken about throughout this entry, he has his 1 in 30,000 solitary confinement story.  His story ended when his son in solitary confinement killed himself.  I assure you, his story hasn't ended.  The only thing that ended was his sons life.  So he, like myself, has had to become his own expert on solitary confinement.  Like somehow knowing the enemy makes these tragedies easier.  I'm learning at my own pace that it doesn't.

As someone who's profession is in the field of finance, in an effort to reach those from a dollars and cents (or should I say sense) standpoint, there is an economic aspect of this kind of warehousing.  Generally speaking, it costs around $30K a year to house a general population inmate.  To house a solitary confinement inmate, the price tag jumps to approximately $70K a year.  As we as a society continue to put more and more inmates into solitary, which tends to be a revolving door for their residents, the demand for more supermax facilities, and more prisons with an increased number of solitary cells required, the cost to the federal government and respective state governments will continue to grow.  More guards are required to manage these inmates, more expensive environment is necessary, in every aspect, this is absolutely the most expensive way to manage a population of people. Solitary is a necessary tool, but without extensive mental health services for these inmates, there is no hope that even one of these inmates has any chance.  Then there is the less tangible costs of solitary and it is all of the human life lost.  It comes in several ways.  It comes with a a disproportionally high rate of suicide.  And it comes with blood shed once these inmates are released back into a general population setting.  Having spent years or decades in solitary, with no one addressing why these inmates landed there in the first place, they come out violent, even if they didn't go in that way.  This manifests itself by assaults, homicides and rapes.  I am a huge proponent of taking responsibility for your own actions.  But who's hands is the blood on?  Yes, it's on the inmates who do these acts.  But collectively, the most blood is on the hands of the states DOC's and the federal BOP's hands.  They are the ones who have the knowledge, the power, and the tools to admit what they are doing is not working, and start working towards a solution.  But instead they chalk the spilled blood up to these inmates being "the worst of the worst" and they put their head in the sand. 

 So, in an effort to wrap up Solitary Confinement 101 I'll close with this.  Only a fool sees this as the answer.  This is not the answer.  Sometimes I am jealous of the 99% of society who don't have to know about this.  But I also know every day there is the one percent, who one by one, enter this private hell.  They are either victims, or loved ones of the "worst of the worst".  I myself haven't walked through life with a victim mentality.  But, I'll say this, in relation to this topic, there are only victims.  How badly you get stung depends on your 1 in 30,000 story.  The 99% see these inmates, and inmates as a whole, as faceless nameless thugs.  And I assure you, they are unenlightened.  Either deal with these thugs now, or deal with them later.  The 1% who has to deal with them will soon become 2% and on and on.  I'll end with two thoughts. 

This is from an article about solitary confinement called The Grey Box.  An inmate who has spent years in solitary confinement said this, to a reporter he corresponded with.  “Anyone who spends more than three years in a place like this is ruined for life.  Two or three hundred years from now people will look back on this lockdown mania like we look back on the burning of witches.”

"If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prison relationships take work? You're kidding, right?

It's been an interesting few months since my last entry.  KC and I have gone through some very difficult relationship type "stuff" since my visit to him in November. Nothing suitable for sharing, even through this anonymous Internet forum.  But it sure has gotten me to think...Think about what my life would be like without him in it.  Think about if this is really possible.  And if it is possible, is it still a good thing that I want.  At the very real prospect of us walking away from each other, it turns out that some things we need to work to maintain.  And wouldn't you know it, a relationship is one of those things.  While most of my family doesn't know of KC, I am no stranger to what "people" think of women dating men in prison and it leaves me chuckling thinking how wrong these people are.  What do "people" think, you're asking?  Well, quite simply that women that engage in these types of relationships must be incapable of having a "normal" relationship.  Turns out, the jokes on them.  The past two months have made me realize that no relationship, weather one of those people is incarcerated or both are out in the "free world" is without problems. 

The easy way to deal with any situation in a relationship is to walk away from it.  Or at least that's how I've always handled things in the past.  I've lived my entire life, until I met KC, as a free agent.  A free spirited girl.  So, during the tough times that KC and I have faced, I have to be honest, my gut reaction has been to walk away from it all.  It's what I do.  At the core of any potential breakup is the underlying notion that on one, or both parties involved, believes that their life will inherently be better without the other person in it.  So, would my life be better without KC in it?  Would his life be better without me in it?  It didn't take either of us very long to see that the answer for both of us is no.  So what now?  Uncharted territory for me, for sure.  I realized that for the first time in my life I didn't want to be single.  I didn't want a life without him in it.  I also came to the realization that I would rather put everything I have into "us" than to walk away, go through the pain and loss of losing him, and start over with another guy.  His feelings on this were that if we broke up he would never pursue another relationship in prison (in his nearly two decades in prison I am the first "relationship" he's had) because of how difficult they are.  Not that he doesn't love me, and being in a relationship with me, but if we weren't together he would resist any type of romantic involvement.  And I both believe him and can understand his point of view on that.  So, I'll cut to the chase.  The bottom line is we both realize that relationships take work, and we both have work to do to get us back on track.  I remain very hopeful in this.  I see good things happening already.

But, back to the point of this blog entry...many unenlightened people have the misconception that women engaging in these types of relationships can't "cut it" in a "real" relationship.  While, in actuality, the truth is the polar opposite.  On the best of days, being a "prison wife" is a challenge.  Communicating with the man you love requires phone calls (that aren't free), emails (yes, some prisons get quasi emails), and lots of letter writing.  Not the ideal way to communication with the man you love, but if you've stacked up any time in the relationship, you've come to accept this is how it is.  And truth be told, there is something so intimate about a letter.  You have the luxury of time to express your thoughts and words.  Now, when it's a challenging day in the life of a "prison wife", this is what separates the girls from the true prison wives.  Having a fight/argument with the man you love who is in prison is problematic, at best.  You learn how to ask yourself BEFORE sending a letter/email "Will I still feel this way in a week?  Would I still say this to him in a week?"  Because a man out here can take harsh words from his lady hard, but in prison thoughtless words can have far more dire consequences.  It's not feasible to not assume you will have hard times with the man you love, weather he is in prison or not.  And I find it laughable that somehow a prison wife is labeled "weak" for choosing to be in love with a man in prison.  I can assure you one thing that ALL prison wives are not is weak.  It takes strength to love him, support him, and fight fairly with him. 



And the last thing I will say on this subject for now is this:  To hell with the people who think a woman's inability to maintain a relationship with an unincarcerated man has driven them into the arms of an inmate.  We are all brought into our significant other's lives in many different ways, sometimes beautiful, sad, cute, funny and normal ways, and sometimes in very unconventional ways.  It doesn't make the love less real, or the relationship less than when of the people in the relationship is incarcerated.  Most people probably will never understand this, as it takes a truly non judgemental mind to understand this type of relationship.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Return of the Blogger

Well, it's been a while since my last post.  I'm reminded of the saying "the road to hell is paved with good intention".  I've certainly meant to post sooner, but here I am.  Since I last posted a lot has happened.  Some good, some bad. 
My dear friend, who is also engaged to an inmate, suddenly lost one of her closest friends.  She died suddenly in her 30's.  On a business trip.  On the other end of the spectrum a very dear man who I work with passed away from cancer a week ago.  He was loved by many.  I was not so close with him, but many I work with were.  It seems like when this happens, of course, we are all reminded of "what's really important".  But, it really has had me thinking about KC, and our relationship.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  So, what if I had a crystal ball and I knew that one of us would not be making it to his new life, beginning in, give or take, 16 1/2 years upon his release from prison.  That piece of information is so huge that, I do feel even if I could have access to that information, I would never want to know it.  Ever.  But when pondering this thought, which is basically "if things don't work out the way we "plan", will I have regret for my decision to have loved a man in prison?"  I truly believe that I am, if nothing else, blessed with the capacity to be brutally honest with myself.  No body can ever really know how one will feel in a certain situation until/if one is ever in that situation.  But with my whole heart and mind I believe in our love.  I know that it is real, and it has been a life changing love for both of us.  I don't sit here thinking about the future but on passing occasion.  I accept my relationship as it is.  And I appreciate what I do have with the man that I love.  Certainly there are things lacking that render this type of relationship intolerable by 99% of the free world, and wouldn't consider it.  But what I am and who I am with his love in my life outweighs what he cannot give me right now.  It is in these moments of pondering life that I am able to have faith in us.  It is through the experience of loss that I am provided with the sense of deeper acceptance of my choices.  I am not engaged to an idea 16 1/2 years into the future.  I am engaged to a man in prison and eyes wide open, I know what that means.  I choose this.  It is my love for him and the positive effects his love has on me that fuels my faith in us.

Now, onto a KC update.  I did leave a quick comment, but believe it deserves "front blog" news status.  KC was brought up on an "ad seg hearing" which means they considered putting him in ad seg, simply because in the last state he was in, he was in solitary for over a decade.  The logic on THAT defies me for sure.  But, luckily, he was successful in his hearing and was given "yard" status.  It is with an ear to ear grin that I report that he has now been on a yard for almost two months, event free!  The transition out of the living dead into a more "lively" setting has posed challenges for KC.  He struggles with loud noises and feelings of needing to be alone.  However, he has been able to handle the situation and most importantly, his actions and thought when facing those challenges.  Details on his successful transition back to a yard constitutes its own entry for sure.  But I wanted to post an update on that.

And now, onto the good news!  It's that time.  Visit time.  In just a few short days I'll leave the cold and snow behind for cold and snow in a different state!  This will be my first visit to the state he is in.  In fact, this visit represents so many firsts.  This will be our first contact visit.  Our visits used to be 2 hours, behind glass, and now they are 5.5 hours with nothing between us.  I haven't been to see KC in 14 months, due mainly to his transfer (which we anticipated).  We have never gone this long without seeing each other and so I know we are both very nervous and excited.  That pretty much is where KC and I are today.  All in all, a great place.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What a difference 3 letters can make

In almost all ways, I'm no different than everyone else out here in the "free world".  Really, the only difference is that my other half resides in prison.  So, my pursuit of solitude and tranquility in a chaotic and hectic life is really no different than anyone elses.  But this entry isn't about solitude, actually it's about quite the opposite.  A word so close, in spelling only, to solitude.  That's solitary.  And what a difference those last three letters make.  Only in the past three years have I come to understand what solitary, in a prison setting, means.  Some may wonder why solitary confinement has anything to do with our story of falling in love.  Maybe the enlightened will see.

Solitary confinement is a hell all of its own.  Sure, it's all prison.  But school is school, right?  Stick a first grader in a senior English class and see how they do?  The difference in a "yard" in prison verses solitary confinement is not unlike that example.  This entry is not to address how KC ended up in solitary (indeed, I agree he deserved a short stay there...not a decade).  I guess I also find this entry necessary because, unfortunately, even though he's been transferred to a new state DOC, with what we hoped would be a fresh start, the previous DOC wrote a letter encouraging the new DOC system to put him back in solitary (despite no tickets in a decade).  So, in a few days KC has his hearing to see if he will be, once again, locked up with the key certainly thrown away.

So, onto solitary.  Solitary comes with different restrictions depending on which state system or federal system.  But, this is about KC's experience.  The logistics of solitary for him were pretty much the harshest in the country.  The word solitary is rarely used anymore.  After all, it sounds pretty dehumanizing, doesn't it?  So, now you hear terms like AdSeg (administrative segregation), the Hole, and SuperMax.  KC came from a system were the inmates had controlled movement.  Which means if one inmate was out of their cell in the pod he was in, no other inmate could be.  A pod consists of eight single man cells.  The thought behind that, I guess, is that these inmates are SO violent, that they can not be around another inmate without a mesh metal door between them.  And, in some cases that's certainly necessary.  While the inmates are out of their cell they must be handcuffed as well.  Even when going to the shower.  They slip their hands through a small trap door and the handcuffs are taken off while they shower.  KC was allowed out of his cell for one hour, three times a week for "rec".  The rec pen consists of 20 feet concrete walls with chain link fence covering the top.  He is allowed a shower 3 times a week.  KC rarely took advantage of his "rec" time.  He was in one of the hottest states down south and the DOC there has a good track record (with the lawsuits of inmates dying in the heat) of leaving inmates in the hot sun for longer than their one hour rec time.  I always tried to encourage him to go outside, but he just didn't seem interested in it that often.  If I said he went outside once every six weeks, that might even be an overstatement.  So, if an inmate takes full advantage of his shower and rec time, he is out of his cell for about 4.5 hours out of every 168 hour week.  His meals and mail are brought to him.  When an inmate wants to use the phone (three 15 minute calls per week), a cordless phone is brought to their cell.  The DOC limits their caloric intake (primarily due to budget cuts, I imagine) to 2,000 calories a day.  Their justification for the 500 calorie reduction is that solitary inmates don't move as much and therefore don't burn as many calories.  Even though the case could be made that these inmates are the most fit because many literally sit in their cells and work out several hours a day.  KC does.  They also only get two meals per day, I believe KC said his "brunch" pack consists of six pieces of bread and lunch meat.  No fruits, no vegetables.  Suffice it to say, the diet that is fed to solitary inmates is deficient in almost every way.  Inmates in solitary are not permitted a pillow.  They have two sheets and a blanket.  The few luxury items which are allowed for solitary inmates, if their family can afford to buy them, are a TV, a cassette player/radio, ten books, writing supplies, a fan, and a light.  KC had all of these items, which provided me with some peace of mind.  That is the logistics of solitary confinement.  The physical aspect, anyway.

The damage of solitary confinement is almost unimaginable.  KC has spent a decade in the solitary environment that I just described.  When first entering solitary he was an angry young man, in his late 20's.  He had never committed a violent act until going to prison.  As he once told me "prison broke me, then it made me".  While the crimes that landed him in solitary were violent, it took the environment of solitary to totally break him.  His anger turned into rage.  Hatred for everyone.  He began having violent thoughts and violent dreams.  He tells me that nightly he had dreams of violently killing people or being killed himself.  He had a one track mind, his focus was on pure violence.  This was his life in solitary for the first few years.  He maintained correspondence with his Mom and Dad, but that was were his "normal" ended.  He is so open and honest about where his mind was in the "dark days" as he calls them, but it is difficult for me to truly comprehend what he was like then.  I can't comprehend what it would truly feel like for my sole focus to be on hurting someone, anyone.  His mind would ping between wanting to kill someone, and taking his own life.  And in solitary, he had all the time in the world to think of how to do both.  After about 3 years in solitary, after being totally broken, mentally and emotionally, he was exhausted.  With life.  He refused to carry on as he was.  He was a desperate man, and he did what many do when the desperation consumes them.  He dropped to his knees one fateful night and prayed.  He was raised in a christian home, but I don't believe until a while after that night that he truly believed in God.  But he prayed as his life depended on it.  I guess that it did.  I'll never forget what he told me that he prayed for.  He asked God to restore his soul or to end his life.  He couldn't and didn't want to continue the path that he was on.  He continued praying, every night.  His life started to turn around.  His environment didn't change, but his heart, mind and soul slowly did.  After a few months rage and violence no longer consumed his every thought.  When we speak about this, we refer to it as his "transformation".  Here is something he wrote to me from one of his first letters to me.  "you said I should be proud of my positive transformation.  I am very proud of it.  I have come such a long way.  Four years ago I thought there was absolutely no hope for me.  And I assure you, anyone that would have known how my mind truly functioned would probably have felt the same way.  I only fear that I will be put in a position in the future to have to do something serious again to save my own life.  I feel if I have to commit anymore acts of violence or aggression, it would completely erase all these years of progress.  I will never initiate any future acts of violence unless I know my life is in jeopardy if I don't."  That was a letter written in 2008.  He has come a long way even from that.  While his extensive history of violence is, unfortunately, respected amongst inmates I believe that KC will go to extreme lengths now to avoid violence at all.  Even in the case that someone threatened him.  His body is fine tuned to intimidate just as his history of violence, but it is something that he wants no part of now.  His mind is on the present and the future.  He feels he is working towards coming home.  To me.  And as he says every decision he has to make in there, he thinks of how it will affect us.  So, after several years of truly working on himself mentally and emotionally he finally feels that he is a positive man who is on the right track.  And he's right.  So if the goal of solitary confinement is to prepare inmates to reintegrate back to a more social "yard" setting, surely, he had met this goal, and prepared for his eventual release back to the yard.  That day never came.  On the inside he felt like a new person.  Like the man once capable of violence, and evil thoughts no longer existed.  The DOC has a really long memory, however.  It is at this point that one may say KC was at a crossroad.  What to do?  Usually those in solitary know why they are there, and if they are capable of being honest, they would probably agree that that is the safest place for them.  But there are inmates, such as KC, who shouldn't be there.  They are not a danger to themselves, other inmates, or staff.  So, why do they keep them there?  My opinion is that it is this point that damage really begins.  Imagine being held back a grade in school.  Most likely, if someone is held back, there's a reason.  But does that mean they should be held back every year.  Pretty soon their classmates are graduating and the child held back still has years to go to finish.  How long can we continue to hold inmates back?  The ones who are truly ready to continue progressing in life.  Work, school and vocational opportunities are woefully lacking in the prison system in this country, and even more so for inmates who are in solitary.  Quite honestly, there is no opportunities.  He's ready to continue to progress in life. So KC sat there for 6 years after his "transformation".  He continued behaving, didn't receive any disciplinary write ups, and thought this would show Administration that he was ready.  He continued to remain positive in spirit, but the effects on him were that he became as solitary as his environment.  To this day, KC has showed no interest in making friends inside or outside of prison.  I've tried to have several friends write to him, but he has refused any such correspondence.  Another byproduct of his lengthy solitary stay has resulted in a mental strength that is indescribable.  To be able to go without human contact for a decade, without any social interaction requires a total adaptation to life that goes against what makes a human...a human. He has had to retrain his mind to accept that human touch, interaction with other people is not a luxury afforded to him, nor will it be.  A total acceptance of this left him withdrawn and very serious in nature.  Having said all of this it is nothing short of a miracle that he put up an ad seeking penpals.  And right from the start he said he wanted only one true friend that he could be completely honest with and not be judged.  He found that in me.  A couple of months after we were writing he wrote and asked the website to remove his profile.  He had found what he was looking for in me.

I have only scratched the surface on solitary confinement.  For as many solitary inmates as there are, there are that many different stories of the effects that it has on them.  KC is indeed, in some ways, quite lucky.  The rates of mental health, increased violence, and suicide rates of solitary inmates is shocking.  For that reason alone, more regulation needs to accompany institutional solitary confinement policies.  So far, KC has avoided all of these.  He is still, to this day, left with the violent dreams he used to have, although he says he only has them about once a week now.  And he feels guilty for having them. 

If they leave a man in solitary confinement long enough, he will eventually turn into the monster they feared he always was.  My fight is to get KC out solitary before I lose the heart, mind, and spirit of the man I love to his hell on earth environment.

Since KC was transferred to the new state, he spent 55 days in "general population" at which point the Administration decided to bring him up on an AdSeg hearing to see if he's a danger to staff and inmates.  Perhaps they should look at his behavior in the past 55 days to see if he is a danger to staff and inmates rather than his behavior 11 years ago.  Yes, I think I see the irony in this.  I wonder if the DOC will?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Double Life

Perhaps this is a second part of "My Story...".  In loving a man in prison, there are certain inevitable choices that must be made.  The question I, as I'm quite sure many other women, have had to ask and answer are: Who to tell?  What to tell?  What not to tell?  And who not to tell?  These are definitely not black and white questions/answers.  Surely, there are as many answers to these questions as their are women dating/married to a man in prison.  Here's the short answer, which I'll explore in more detail below.  I've chosen to tell (almost) no one of my relationship and upcoming marriage to KC.  Here's the long answer...

Family~Well, I didn't do so good with this one!  I did tell my immediate family a bit about KC.  Over the last two years, I have told both parents, and a sibling about KC.  But not the entire truth.  I told them only of a friendship that I had developed with a man in prison.  So, here I sit, a grown woman of 37 years afraid to tell my parents something.  Sounds juvenile, right?  Not so fast, remember that looks (and sounds) can be deceiving.  It is with deep thought that I have come to this decision.  While my parents are divorced, and as opposite as night and day, they do share one, well two, things in common.  My brother and me.  My parents, during their careers, were very hard working, professionals.  It makes me happy to see them enjoying their retirement.  I know of no other two people more deserving of a blissfully happy retirement.  That being said, I know what my parents are, and I know what they aren't.  Of all the wonderful, but differing, qualities they posses, neither posses an open mind.  My entire life I have taken the "road less travelled".  Neither of my parents ever seemed remotely interested in getting to know, truly know, my "quirkiness" or "eccentricity".  They've had many opportunities to show an interest in truly getting to know me.  Rather, they have always tried to put me in the "normal" category.  They've tried to rationalize in their own minds how I am like everyone else, despite all indications being otherwise.  So this fueled my restlessness as a kid, and a young adult.  If there is anyone on this planet I want total acceptance and unconditional love from, it is surely the two people responsible for my very existence in this world.  But that ship sailed long before KC entered the picture. So they each have in their own mind who and what I am.  Their idea of who and what I am, is not even remotely close to reality.  So, rather than fight it, I have finally learned to accept their views of me, and I try my best, in their presence, to be what they want me to be.  At this point in their life, I don't want to take that away from them.  Knowing that they would never try to understand or accept me being in love with a man in prison, the exercise of going through the motions of a doomed attempt seems futile.  I truly think I have given them a gift.  The gift to keep their blinders on about who I really am.  To what extent I can, I feel that my choice of silence will help them continue to enjoy their retirements, drama free.  My brother, on the other hand is another story.  He is extremely religious.  He and his wife know of my friendship with KC and they believe I am doing "God's work".  Despite their overzealous religious views, they "get me" more than any other family member, and have truly accepted me, exactly as I am.  I do consider that someday, perhaps, I will tell them.  But that day is not today.  I have a large extended family, and of course if I made to choice to "come out of the prison closet" with them, it would be a result, only, of revealing my secret to my immediate family.

Friends~I have told only friend about KC.  My best friend (since we were 8 years old).  As he so eloquently puts it "you're crazy".  I thought after a couple of years he would come around, but he maintains that "I am crazy".  And again, he knows only that I have befriended a man in prison.  This lack of acceptance on his part is perhaps the saddest of them all.  I wish that I could talk to him about this.  But friendship is about compromise.  He is uncomfortable with me evening mentioning KC.  So, I no longer attempt to push this on him.  I have talked to KC about this and his thoughts are that, even though "only friends", a male friend will be protective in any situation that he perceives as potentially dangerous or hurtful to the women in his life.  So, my "operation prison boyfriend" cover up continues.  As far as my other friends, this is a mixed bag.  I am fairly sure that I know of only a couple of girlfriends that could and would ultimately accept this.  Not that they would like it, but I do believe they would come to accept it.  So why haven't I told them?  Simple.  I have the fear that my confidence in their ability to accept this is misdirected. 

Prison Friends~That label is misleading, because while I started out casual friendships with a handful of people, these friendships have become an important part of my life.  And sanity.  These people, both men and women, have currently, or have had, a loved one in prison themselves.  They started off as "sounding boards" and people who could guide me through the process of learning how to maneuver having a loved one in the prison system.  But they quickly evolved into people that are dear friends.  Ironically, these people perhaps know more about me than my closest family members, and friends.  I am able to talk about KC, and in doing so, I am reminded that KC and I are more than an "idea".  It is in the moments of talking about my dreams, happiness, worries, concerns and joy that my relationship comes alive outside the confines of only my own mind.  Don't mistake the meaning of that.  My relationship with KC is as real and alive as that of any husband and wife.  But the secrecy around our relationship leaves me with a sadness not to be able to share a huge part of my life with those who THINK they know me best.  So, my prison friends have enabled me, the unconventional girl, to feel "normal" in what is the rare instance that I desire that label.

So, that's my double life.  At this point, I'd rather not reveal this to all of my friends and family and have to learn the hard way who will stand by my side and who won't.  So, it is for that reason I've chosen not to reveal my secret.  While it is true that it would certainly be easier to reveal all of this to everyone in my life I find that doing so would actually be the most selfish thing that I could do.  Should the time come that my secret is discovered, I'll have a road map in this, my blog, to refer them to.

One thing that is not lost on me is that only one person in this entire equation that is "my life" knows everything about me.  That person is KC.  There are no secrets between us.  There is nothing left unsaid.  And it is in KC that I have found total acceptance and unconditional love.  Some may ask if all of this secrecy is worth it.  And to that, I would respond, categorically, YES.  His love has made me a better and happier person.  In seeing his transformation, I have hope in ways I never thought I would.  If the person you chose as your life partner makes you a better person, how can you not believe in that love story?  The secrecy stems from my thoughtful attempt to ensure for my friends and family that ignorance truly is bliss.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Story...

In telling his story, and our story, I guess that my story, to the extent of how I fell in love with an inmate is relevant, and a necessary piece.  There's plenty of "online" prison support websites, of which I belong to two of.  I so often see the "I fell in love with my penpal" or "I think I'm falling for him" messages.  But, when reading these messages, there's almost always a reference to how things will be when the inmate gets out.  This is almost always an indication of troubled waters ahead.  Anytime we start living in the future, and getting wrapped up in our dreams to the extent that we quit living our "now", we stop living our lives.  And to me, that's worse than being in prison.  I guess some don't see the distinction between planning for the future, and living in it. Alright, on to my story of how I got here.

When describing myself, the first thing that comes to mind is "unconventional".  No way around that one.  I never, not for one second, wanted the white picket fence, with 2.3 kids that I stay home with and raise and a husband.  I always dreamed of finding a career I am passionate about, and maybe finding a nice guy who would fit around my schedule.  Commitment is probably the scariest word in my vocabulary.   My best friend in the world is a man, who is also single, and also never been married.  We have been best friends since we were 8.  Last year, in one of our many "searching the meaning of life" conversations, he said something to me I will never forget.  He said "You always seek out men who are not available to you 100%, be it physically or emotionally".  I thought so hard about that, and realized it was true.  And, oddly, this epiphany didn't bother me...at all.  I guess I've always been happy with being in a relationship that fits into my schedule, and on my terms.  I've fallen in love with four men in my life, a lawyer, a stockbroker, a cowboy and an inmate.  The stockbroker and the cowboy led me to where I am today.  The stockbroker taught me everything about what I don't want in life.  The cowboy taught me everything that I do want.  And the inmate taught me who I want it with.  And all four of these men were/are, as my best friend says, "not available 100%".  So, now I know what I don't want, what I want, and who I want it with.  That summary represents about 15 years of my life, and some painful life lessons.  As I'm sure is the case with just about everyone.  The decision to "go it alone" (at least physically, meaning without my man by my side) has consequences, and ups and downs.  The upside is that I never have to compromise on the little things in life like what movie to rent or which family to spend the holidays with.  The downside is that I don't get to do the things that I love with the man that I love.  There are no romantic weekend road trips, or evenings going to the ballet, or a nice quiet evening at home.  The consequences of my decision to "go it alone" are that I have no one to share the big and small, and sometimes scary responsibilities that life throws us all.  There are sacrifices to loving a man in prison.  For example, I love camping.  A lot.  A weekend in my tent, with my family, and my dog, and a beautiful lake fills my soul.  And since I have been with KC, I have not gone camping once.  I spend about ten hours a week writing letters to him.  My job dominates my time, and so much of my weekends consist of him, and taking care of my house.  Glamorous?  Nope.  Necessary?  Yes.  In all the time I spend writing to him, and taking care of his business (and trust me, this takes a lot of time) I never think about what a "chore" this is.  I never get frustrated in having to do these things.  Another thing that rarely pops into my mind is what our life will be like when he gets out in 17 years.  I suppose once in a great while, I think momentarily about it, as everyone does, but these aren't thoughts that consume my life.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  So, in between the chaotic times of a busy life, when I am afforded the solitude and time to think about our relationship, it is with amazement that I can't help but notice what has happened.  I realize that KC has turned me into a wife (to be) who's spare time consists of taking care of our family matters, and that I compromise some of my wants for the needs of our family.  Our unconventional family.  Everything that I thought I didn't want in a partner/relationship ended up being what I have with a man that is not physically available to me.  The biggest irony is that, for the first time in my life I have found the man that I do want to be 100% physically and emotionally available.  So the compromise now is that I live the life of the dutiful wife with an absent husband.  The reward is always our visits.  When I get to indulge in "our" time.  So, I take a few days off work, leave behind my job, my house, my dog, my family and friends and I get on that plane filled with such excitement to visit the man who gives me the strength, love and support to live this nontraditional life.  I feel so free when I go to visit him, and it fills my soul the way many things used to. My visits to see him also give me the feeling of excitement and adventure that has always fueled my desire to pursue the "unconventional" path that I have chosen.

So, to be in the position to be happily in a relationship with a man in prison it took many external and internal forces slamming together to form a perfect storm.  To fall in love with this man, it took 15+ years of life/love lessons, and coming to terms with being nontraditional in almost every way.  It took a very patient man in prison capable of breaking down the walls around my heart that three other men helped me build.  And, perhaps most importantly, it took his story, his commitment to transform his soul and his strength to pursue the right path in an environment where that is a liability, to restore my faith in love.