The Felonious PhD.

White Collar Female PhD. Felon, Prison Camp, Re-Entry, Criminal Justice Reform. Women, Lesbian

Veterans Day…

November 11, 2013

Today, the holidays have officially begun.  Here at camp, the day wasn’t spent honoring veterans or in any other patriotic celebration.  We did have quite a few activities to occupy our time and keep our bodies moving.  The women organized a big softball game and seemed to enjoy the competition.  Today’s lunch was reportedly a special treat!  Women who have been here through past holiday seasons made sure I knew better than to miss the chicken wings!  The cafeteria line and all of the tables were packed today so that was enough for me to believe that this was a “not to be missed meal.”

The afternoon was filled with “Name That Tune” and a Yahtzee tournament.  To top off the holiday afternoon, I stood in line for at least 45 minutes for some freshly popped popcorn.  My only response is, “Is this real life?”

I am so thankful for my sense of humor because while standing in the line for chicken wings and then again for popcorn, I laughed A LOT!  I am not the only one here with a wonderful sense of humor.  No matter what, life is good!  That I know for sure.

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Creative Writing and the Resistance to the Creative Voice…

Last night was the first night of my creative writing class.  To my surprise, of the 16 students, only two of them were under the age of 30.  Well, I guess when I think about it I’m not actually very surprised at all.  Young people hear the word writing, and immediately become afraid.  One of the young women came because I recruited her, the other because she was assigned to assist an elderly woman for the time they are both incarcerated.  That is an issue I’ll discuss when I’m out!!

As I discussed the environment I wanted to develop and nurture, a few of the older women were more interested in knowing about writing structure, grammar, commas, and precise essay writing.  Whew!  I expected this so I began by telling them that if they were looking for a class that teaches grammar, etc…..this is NOT it.  Most of the audience laughed and breathed a sigh of relief.  I let them know that I would be providing them an opportunity to just write.  No pressure.  No barriers.  However, the only rule was that their writing had to be shared.  They must make their private, public.

The hour was up before I knew it.  Most of the women left with smiles and said that they were going to start journalling while they were still there in the classroom.

There is nothing like a captive audience! I really enjoyed engaging in a conversation about words, writing, and the power of voice.  Even though we are all in one of the most oppressive environments we have ever experienced, writing can still save our souls.  Writing in every form saves my life daily.  Dang it!!  I miss texting!

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Sunday Night…This Is Prison?

November 4, 2013

I am sitting in the unit and all around me there are women, positively interacting with each other.  To my right a group of Latinas are looking at pictures, laughing and talking about their lives and other things that an English-only speaking person is not privy to hearing.  To their right is a group of four women who have been playing spades, laughing, and having some fun competition.  Across the way a few other women are quietly crocheting and reading books.  This is Prison!!  As I sit here and absorb this whole experience, I can’t help but question this process…..again.

Honestly, we have not seen a C.O. since 4pm for count, a process I will discuss when I am free, for reasons that will be clear when that time comes.  I think to myself and say out loud that they would and could never manage 130 or more men in this manner.  Let our asses go home where we are more useful.  Really, I am just stating the truth.  Today the women had their visitors, went to church, practiced for the Christmas program, wrote letters, read, exercised, washed and ironed their clothes and to end the evening, many watched the daily movie, The Hunger Games, as the others watched “Black Girls Rock,” on BET.

On a normal night, when I felt tired and ready to go to bed, I would just go.  But here, that cannot happen until there is a count. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I want this place to be anybody’s hard time, but it’s just surreal.  There just has to be a more effective way to create the accountability and rehabilitation that the government wants.

The reality remains….this is prison


300 Minutes Gone…

October 24, 2013

Okay peeps!  Here is a true depiction of how my life has been managed over the past three years.  My main connection to my friends and family has been through my cell phone.  Truly, I was saved because of my unlimited text and talk plan.  (Shout out to Verizon!) I would call or text those close to me all day and all night……literally!

Here at camp you are only allowed 300 phone minutes per period.  Well mine are all GONE!  Really!!  I have used all 300 minutes in ten days!  The women in the unit looked at me with confused disbelief.  What?  They hadn’t done the same thing?  Almost in chorus the said, “You have not been here two full weeks!”  For once, I had no comeback other than, “You live and you learn.”  Little J chimed in by confessing that she only has 60 minutes left and she is saving them!  I had to laugh out loud!  All I could do was crack up and think, “WOW! This is what I’m stressing over?!”

I am forced to rely solely on email.   What if that is limited too, I wondered!  I was suddenly desperate to know the email limitations, so I quickly went to read the information on the email system, TruLinks, and to my relief, I saw a familiar word…Unlimited!  Yaaay!  It will be all good, and I might survive.

So, my peeps, if you don’t get a phone call from me, you know why.  And also know, I’m good!  You better write and send your email address because I fear this won’t be the last time I run out of minutes!

So thankful for CorrLinks….

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October 22, 2013

Most of the unwritten rules and guidelines here are provided on an as-needed basis, which is pretty much ongoing, by the other women in the camp.  In our unit we have dubbed that pipeline of information  Now, the only problem with that source is that it may or may not always be dispersing facts.  It may be old news, which could lead you into some form of unintentional mischief that you could truly do without.

I stay keenly aware of what is being said at  Like most underground, newsworthy stations, most often, it actually is the real deal when it comes to how things are managed in this camp.  I have learned who is who, what to and what not to eat, when to shower, what to wear.  All from this valuable information source.

Thus far, most of the women are quick to tell anyone what not to do and if you do it anyway, what the consequence would be.  At times I have flashbacks.  Not the harsh kind that people with PTSD suffer with, but the kind that make you shake your head and say to yourself, “Is this for real? Am I dreaming because it feels like I’m in a group home just like the ones I used to run!”  It really feels as though I have stepped back in time.

When speaking to the women, many of them feel the same.  This process does not feel as much like a punishment for some of us as it does for others.  I try to keep in mind that I have been here a short time.  And, as the time goes by for me, soon I will also be part of the network!

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A Week and a Day (A Year and a Day)…

It is amazing to me how our system finds ways to correct its imperfections when it becomes clear that it has screwed up and caused a cluster for itself.  Over the past week I have met several women who are serving 12 months and a day.  Yes.  A year and a DAY.   When I finally asked what in the heck is with the one day, I was told that the extra day is added so that one can be eligible for reduced time for good behavior.   Apparently if the sentence is merely 12 months then they require every last day of that 12 months be served, but add one more and you can get time off.  So, by adding that day,  the judges themselves have found a way around the dysfunction of their own system.

My laughing partner, Little J, was sentenced to a year and a day.  When she started to complain about the length of time she was going to be away from home, I told her she better be quiet.  There are people in here who have been here longer and have longer sentences than both of us.  So now we try to whisper when we complain.

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The First Week Down….

October 21, 2013

Today  marks one week that I have been in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.  I have learned a lot in just one week.   Today I learned that if you don’t have an assigned job at the camp that you could spend a lot of time going in circles.  There are so many women here and at times there is not a lot for us to do.   The camp is a revolving door-some leave, more come, and some return.  Just in one week, I have witnessed all of those things happen.  Then there are the ones who feel like they will never leave.

Today a young woman left but she felt extremely nervous about the prospect of leaving.  I now understand why!  In the camp she is surrounded by support and connections.  The women in her circle encouraged her to be her best and she had that positive contact daily for the majority of her waking hours.  A lot of young women, and older ones too, really enjoy and feel safe with how they are treated by the ones with whom they’ve made connections while here.  I get it because that is how I felt when I was in college and shared space with people 24/7. Women can’t help but connect.  Those college connections are some of my longest and most lasting relationships.  But once you are a felon, I have learned that there is one big catch……while on probation, which most BOP women will be, you are not allowed to associate with another felon!! Where does that leave these women who have been bunkies or friends for months, even years?  Most will have to risk being violated or be out there alone to maneuver through the community that they no longer have a connection with.

I have always been a firm believer that the one thing that keeps us whole, happy, and alive is our need to feel like we are connected to someone and that we belong somewhere!  This system is counter productive in many ways.  I won’t spend my next 22+ months focusing on these dysfunctional systemic issues because I’d rather focus on the people for now.  Hopefully someone higher up will one day focus on our system.  I am too sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I will just tell the stories because they are the TRUTH!

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She’s a doodler for sure, but an artist?…..

She's a doodler for sure, but an artist?.....

I just had to share this little look back at The Felonious PhD’s first day at Camp Victorville!
Hope you get a nice giggle!


Women are Resourceful and Creative…

Before I came to the camp I read a lot about the “jail house spreads.”  Let me clarify for those of you who are on the “outs.” Ha!  There are ways to cook noodles, dehydrated rice, chips, pudding, etc. that you, nor I until now, could never have fathomed.  You can compare it to episodes of Project Runway when Tim Gunn says to contestants, “Take these Frito’s bags, some seatbelts, some bailing twine, and this tulle, and go make a wedding dress!” People take “squeeze cheese” and Spam and transform it into a meal that drips of “Foodie!”  Yes, a foodie-like meal in minutes!  I will discuss that further in a later blog.  I want more time to witness how these chefs in training throw down!

The amazingly creative things I have seen from these women have been how they make jewelry, blankets, slippers, socks, locker organizers, hats, gloves and many more items that are beautifully hand-made.  There is a woman, who will be leaving us soon, who is a crochet machine.  I’ll call her Mel.  Mel has been crocheting since long before I arrived, but since I came I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several finished projects including wonderful bags and blankets which she lovingly creates to make others feel welcome.  This weekend, two older women came to camp.  This turn of events sent Mel into action crocheting each of them a little purse for them to carry their I.D.’s.  I am not only taken by her desire to help and give to others, I enjoy watching her at her craft.  crocheting has made her smile, and her love of giving to others has been expressed through her purposeful craft which produced so many finished projects.

Mel will be leaving soon and I wish her the best.  I want her to remember that she can start and finish anything that she puts her mind to.  She has proven that to me in only one week.  Good luck, Mel.

Keep that crocheting spirit!

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The First Sunday…

October 20, 2013

Sundays here are no different from Sundays all over the country.  The camp chapel offers every religious service possible.  There is a Catholic service, Latter Day Saints services, Buddhist, and Christian services.  Every spiritual-at least religious-need can be met.

As I sit under the shade covering my familiar table listening to the birds chirp and the chatter from the other women within earshot who are grouped together to discuss God and His Word, I almost forget that I am in a Federal Prison Camp.  That is, until I hear over the loud-speaker, “Inmate number _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , please report to the education department.”  That is when I am abruptly reminded….I AM IN PRISON CAMP!!

The campus is very peaceful though, so I sit and watch a group of women play a card game called Golf.  I was told that soon, I too, will be playing cards, knitting, and crocheting to pass the time.  These day, I am a little afraid to say what I would never do or what will never happen to me.  I won’t even put any of those thoughts into the universe anymore.  Shit, I am here, a federal prisoner in a federal prison camp. A felon!  I never, ever thought that would happen.  So, I will just say, “Time will tell!” For right now, I like spending my ample free time writing, walking the track, and talking to the ladies here.  Their stories are engaging, they are PEOPLE, and while hearing the ridiculousness of some of their experiences doesn’t make me feel any more hopeful, and frankly more disheartened about our punitive system, for the moment, it’s far better than crocheting!

Just stay tuned…

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