The Felonious PhD.

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

Writing for the Soul…

November 17, 2013

I have facilitated two of the creative writing classes.  The first week was just spent explaining my vision for the class and clarifying for several of the women that I was not an English major, and could NOT teach them how to write and speak.  I did explain to the class of 17 people who I am capable of providing and encouraging an environment that would empower each of them to identify, enhance, and use their own powerful voices.  As I thought to myself, “Damn, I’m good,” I could see in many of their eyes that they did not have a clue what I was saying.

I recited a poem that I wrote years ago called “Prisons” which is posted in the Inspiration link of this blog.   Then the tone changed.  It was no longer about a period, comma, or grammar, but about how the precise use of words can move us in many ways, and each of us in different ways.  The class consists primarily of older women, with the exception of one young woman who I like and forced to take my class.  Turns out, she is an incredible writer.  I will talk more about her in an upcoming blog.

I ended that class by reading a short essay by Alice Walker about her mother’s blue bowl.  After the first class, many of the women had questions about the structure and rules.  I promised to give them more details in the next class, but reminded them that my number one rules is that there are no rules.

Prior to the second class, a few women approached me about wanting to join the class.  They heard about the class and went to the education department to see if they could start a waiting list.  I agreed to increase the class size which brought the class to 17.

I was encouraged to hear that there was positive review of the class making their way around the camp.  Because every moment here for me is political, and I had questioned myself about agreeing to teach anything here for the “man,” I was glad that I had done it.  Of course my rational mind had prevailed when my rational mind reminded me that this would be good for the women and an opportunity for me to keep doing what I do best, which is sharing what I know and giving of myself.

I will keep a record of the creative writing class and will share it with you after the ten week session is up.  I have already been asked if I am going to do it again after this session, but I have not decided yet.  It is very difficult to plan ahead in this environment.  There is no consistency (that’s all I’ll say on that topic for now).

I am so very thankful for my strong mind and open loving heart.  They get me through every day here.

 

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One Month Down…

November 14, 2013

As I sit in the library writing this blog, I cannot help but think, “What the hell??!!”  Then I remind myself that I must continue to look forward.

Over the past month, I have met and conversed with several women and there are many more who  I’m sure will come into my path and want to share their story.  Up until now, there is a theme that runs through every story, no matter the sentence or the offense.  That theme is the shared sense of loss of families, friends, careers…..lives.  No matter if the surface conversation is about the justice system, the food, the three secure men’s prisons that surround this camp, the recreation schedule, t.v. room, and limited commissary list, especially when they are out of yarn, the aching for home and the familiar underlies everything.

On the other hand, I have had very limited discussions about what is next.  I mean, I am, and always have been, a planner.  Whether all of the plans ever completely come to fruition or not is not the issue.  I am in a constant state of planning.  What I am finding in here though, through the few conversations I have had on this topic, is that people in here, especially if they have a long sentence, only plan to fight to get out or have their sentence reduced.  If they have a short sentence, they are only worried about getting out.  Period.  If they are like me and have a middle of the road sentence, they are vacationing.  Not all, but some, have just stated that it is, “In God’s hands.”  I truly do not see my train of thought as particularly faithless or spiritually void, I just see that I will be 51 years old when I am released, my son will be 16, the system has destroyed my organization, revoked my license to practice in the health  field AT ALL, locked me up, and then will set me free!  So, I have to plan.

I feel that I have another good 15 to 17 years of mind-boggling energy to give somewhere.  I must plan.  I plan to stay politically aware, even though we get no news and our newspapers are days late; I plan to keep my mind and body sharp even though I feel this system is one that creates dependency and mediocrity.  I plan to never allow this experience to break or define me.  Even though everywhere I turn I am called by my last name,  number, or simply “inmate.”  I plan to remain loving, caring, and peaceful even though the environment is over crowded, loud, and commands distrust and silence.

The last month has provided no “lesson” to be learned.  I have and will continue to be extremely inconvenient and wasteful in so many ways.  After hearing some of the other’s stories, particularly two that I heard yesterday which were very similar to mine, I am thankful but I feel so angry and frustrated with this process.  They are also health care providers and were given 12 years.  What is the point in that punishment?

With one month down, the initial shock is over.  I am no longer a “newbie.”  With one month down, I am getting closer to leaving this camp and once again contributing to the lives of those I love and care for.  With one month down, I am on my way to putting this experience behind me.

I will now have to endure the holiday season without my son.  I want the system to know that this so-called justice is spiritually mean, financially draining on itself, and ineffective at creating societal change.  As an African-American woman, it is all too familiar and I have overcome it before.  This past month has validated that for me.

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Around and Around…

November 9, 2013

I awoke, as usual, at 5:30 am.  There is an uncomfortable silence from the desert we’re surrounded by that penetrates the walls of this multi-purpose room in an oppressive way on Saturdays when everyone can sleep later than usual.  I decided to get up and take my shower.  Early morning or late night showers are the best here because the water is hotter and more importantly, the shower stall is a little oasis of peace, privacy, and it soothes my soul.  I take as much time as I possibly can in the shower.  Mom’s know how that is!  A few moments of peace in the shower with the door locked is like being transported to a resort experience……until the sound of “Moooom!” makes its way under the door.  Nobody rushes you here, and there is no time limit, but I do wish it was the sound of my sonny’s voice that broke the silence in my private oasis instead of voices over the loud speaker or other commotion that comes with living with hundreds of women.

I have noticed that Saturday mornings are the time when many of the older women are in the t.v. rooms crocheting or knitting.  (Nope…still not crocheting or knitting! I have my limits!)  I already feel conditioned to get on the big track and walk continuously, going nowhere, in a circle.  Little J has refused to return for these walks after her one and only trip.  Every now and then I reverse the direction I walk, just to mix it up.  I’m not sure why it has an effect on me, but it does.  When I am sitting under a tree writing these blogs, or journaling, I look out towards the track full of women of all races, age groups and reasons for being here, I get sad.  it is truly a feeling of being trapped, like a herd of sheep being forced in a circle by a herder (system) that could care less.  Oh, boy!  I tell you, everything is political to me so it’s hard to even enjoy a walk without it becoming a metaphor!  Also, I am fully aware that most of the women are on that horrible, circular track of pain to relieve some of their worries.  Walking in circles is like falling asleep to white noise, at least that is their goal, to be lulled into numbness by the mundane to just avoid the emotions.

Every time I go for a walk, someone starts telling me their story.  I am up to five laps now, which is about two miles, before I am ready to scream out of sheer boredom.  The other day I was walking with a grandma who walks 10 to 12 laps a day.  She puts me to shame.  She is counting down the time until she can get to her grandkids.  She speaks adamantly about her disgust with the system as she is in here for something to do with illegal immigrants.  I try to keep the conversation geared toward her grandkids and her return home because her disposition turns far more rosy when she talks about that.

On this Saturday morning, I walked early and alone.  Now I am going to go practice shooting so I will be somewhat loose for the “Around the World” basketball contest that is usually only for the 45 and under ! Yes, all of the weekend activities and competitions are organized by age.   I get to be an exception.  Otherwise I’d be expected to play with the older group who plays boring games that involve sitting at a table for long time.  Not my style!

Am I in one of my group homes?

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The Big Shakedown…

November 9, 2013

The day began as usual…uneventful and slow.  I spent most of the day in the library doing my best to prepare for my 10 week creative writing class.  Around 1:30, as I was heading back to the unit, I was met by a wave of green moving hurriedly, but not running, out towards the courtyard.  What a sight!  Through the hushed conversations, I finally made out that the unit was being evacuated.  My first SHAKEDOWN!  I joined the crowd and got some clarification on the exact nature of a shakedown.  It’s a search of inmates lockers and storage bins.  As speculation spread through the camp about who the identified person was, and who snitched them out, I could not help but feel like I was in a bad episode of CSI or Lock Up.

An hour went by and we, about 140 of us from the North side, continued to be locked out.  The word is that the North unit, where I live, is the low-key unit so the South side was happy that for once the shakedown wasn’t happening to them.  We watched with anticipation as administrators arrived at the unit.  To pass the time, I began reading a book while others started a game of Spades in preparation for the upcoming Spades tournament happening over the weekend.  Ha!

Finally, more than two hours later, we were let back into the unit.  One of the beds had been stripped and she has not been seen since.  According to inmate.com, someone told the powers that be that the woman had “stuff” in her possession that could be considered contraband.  I have never been one for gossip, so I won’t list the variety of items that she has been speculated to have had in her possession.  All I know for a fact is that she is no longer here with us on the North side.

Every day and every hour, well, every minute actually, I become more certain that I do not belong here.  While at the same time realizing that this is my reality for now and I have to find a way to use it for my future benefit.  Whew!

What a challenge!

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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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Three Weeks…

November 5, 2013

I can’t say that I am having a nice time because that would be the overstatement of the century.  However, I can let it be known that if  you are a woman, even a middle-aged woman, who has worked hard all of your life,  a woman who has taken care of all who have needed your help, a woman of real purpose, and you still find yourself entangled in this crazy, cryptic Federal legal system…you will be fine.

I know when I first received my sentence and the certainty of my being incarcerated became real, I searched everywhere for answers to the questions:  Will I be safe?  Will I have privacy in the shower?  Will I even have privacy in the restroom?  What in the hell is going to happen to me?  Will I find anything I can eat in there?  How will I communicate with my family and friends?  After three weeks, I have to say that most of my questions have been answered.  In regards to my basic needs and my safety, I feel safe here.  I mean as safe as anyone can feel being locked up or fenced in and surrounded by three higher level prisons.

I do have additional concerns regarding the over-crowding in the camp.  Having 40 women housed in the multi-purpose room is not ideal and speaks volumes about the inefficient and ineffective way our system overuses incarceration and underutilizes any alternative sentencing options, by surprisingly, it is relatively calm and low-key in here.  At bedtime my trusty earplugs minimize the volume of the snoring symphony and the middle of the night, dreamy screams of “fuck you” from my neighbor.  Up to now, those have been the biggest social annoyances that are inherent to the multi-purpose room.

The beds, or cots pretending to be beds, reminds me that this is jail.  I would recommend getting some good sleep in your soft cozy bed before you come…..you will miss your bed.  Also, at this camp, steel toe boots are required attire.  They hurt like heck.  They are heavy and the new ones are stiff, painful, and cause bruises on your feet and ankles.  There is nothing you can do about it unless you have documented any severe feet issues in your PSI report.  They have forced many with aches and pains to wear them or face getting a write-up which is called a “shot.”

There are a few other areas that have come to my attention over the past three weeks, some I had not even thought of before arriving, and I will share more details about those as the weeks go by.  The take away from this post is that I am safe. Also, time continues to go by even when you are not having the kind of fun you are used to having with those you love!

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As The Sun Comes Up…

November 5, 2013

6:25 am

I woke up this morning and looked around the room at my fellow bunkees.  Today, I am going to attempt to give you a visual of everyone in here, or at least a small introduction.

In the two beds to my right, there are three Hispanic, twenty-somethings who are very respectful and seem to accept responsibility for their actions.  From what I have witnessed, they are eager and ready to participate in any educational opportunities that are available.

In the far bunk, up against the window, there is a forty-something Hispanic woman and a 40ish Italian woman, Ms. Y.  The woman on the bottom bunk usually speaks Spanish and is very maternal with the younger girls.  They are always cooking meals-incredible mexican dishes-on the weekends.  Ms Y., who is presently in the top bunk but is very excited to be going home to her kids and family soon, is always ready for a conversation and told me she both laughed and cried when she read Black Butterfly Blues.  Little J and I sit in the unit and laugh with Ms. Y, quite often.

To my left is Ms. L.  She has declared herself to be my bodyguard.  Ms. L is a forty-something hispanic female who is hard-core, but has a very soft heart.  We often laugh and joke around with one another.  She reminds me that she has been incarcerated for so long that she has become used to it.  No tears, no worrying about the outside world, just existing in this limited environment.  Neither she nor I currently have a top bunk-mate, but I am learning that this revolving door system is about to bring a plane load (Con-Air style)  this week.  So neither of us will be without a bunk-mate for much longer, I assume.

To the far left of me, near the door, is Ms. M.  She is a fifty-something caucasian woman who has found her worth on the camp grounds by winning almost every competitive game that is offered on the weekend.  Yes…to keep us busy, they have card games, board games, sports, and ongoing competitions where the big prize for the winner is a goody bag filled with junk food that is not sold in the commissary.  Yes, Mrs. M received all seven of her winner’s goodie bags yesterday!  She was the most popular person in the unit! It was very cute and equally enlightening for me.  It validated my belief that all people truly need and desire is to be loved, accepted, to belong.  She finds value in her game winning skill and has found where she belongs here!

On the next row, in front of me on the far right bunk, is one of my favorite young people, Ms. L, a young hispanic woman who is here on a parole violation and leaves in less than two weeks.  Below her is Ms. C.  Ms. C is a 71 years old, African-American woman who reminds me of my grandmother and who humbles me daily when I wake up cursing the system for doing this to me.  Ms. C is a veteran of the Marines, the first black person in her unit and has the pictures to prove it.  She is a gospel singer and promoter….a God-fearing woman.  Every day after she reads her Bible I try to go talk to her.  She makes no bones about being angry at Obama and the system that she says has done her so wrong.  I wish I could help her, but unfortunately we are wearing the same green uniforms, stuck in the same dysfunctional system, so all I can do is listen.

In the next bunk, there is my counterpart, Ms. LittleJ.  She is a 40-something, Native American female who keeps reminding people she is not black.  We laugh continuously and even though she may be the loudest, most potty-mouthed person in here, at times she is the biggest softy.  She will cry at the blink of an eye just because she feels like it.  She is here for a year and a day, so she will leave before I do.  She is free of a bunk-mate as well…..for now.

Stay tuned to meet the rest of the characters…..

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Happy Holidays…

I had decided that I was not going to acknowledge or celebrate any holidays while I was under the Federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines and direction.  Those who know me would probably tell you that I never truly indulged int he holiday chaos and commercial craziness anyway.  My only reasons for participating in any holiday activities were to create some form of tradition with my family and my son.  So, now that the federal government has seen fit to separate me from those who are dear to me, I can and will wholeheartedly say, “Screw the Holidays!”

I will observe how most of these mothers have to painfully process the despair that comes from unwillingly being away from their kids this Halloween and all of the other upcoming special days.  I know that I have been away from my son for less than three weeks and I have a hole in my heart that will not be filled until I am home with him and a part of his day-to-day life again.  Until then, I know without a doubt that he is well taken care of by all of those who love him.  I am the one who is lonely for his jokes and, damn, I miss brushing his hair.

I know today his only goal for Halloween will be to collect as much candy as he possibly can and then he’ll promptly forget all about it until next year.  He feels like he is too old for a costume so he may throw on some scary mask so that he can participate in going door to door.  That wasn’t always the case of course.  When he was young we dressed him as a little tiger one year and a Power Ranger another. Last year, he grew up……..he thought.

On our last Halloween he decided we should go to the scary house in Sparks.  I am admittedly a huge scaredy cat, but I agreed to go.  I told myself to just do it.  Do it for him.  It will be a wonderful memory.  I had no way to foresee just how memorable it would prove to be.  We made it less than half-way through the haunted house when he decided he’d had enough and on our desperate escape through a side door he lost his shoes and I nearly peed my pants laughing and screaming at the same time!  Fright Night for sure!  I told myself, “NEVER again!”  He loves to tell and re-tell that story!

I miss my wonderful, handsome son!  For him I am eternally thankful and for him I say….

Happy Halloween!

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The Irony of Life…

On Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the camp features a movie that plays all day.  In order to hear the movie, you must purchase a radio from the commissary.  My Uncle Wayne sent money so that I could purchase a set rather than having to share headphones  like a teenager on a school bus.  Thanks to my uncle, I got my own radio at the perfect time!  Today, the feature movie is “42.”   Being a newbie, a lot of the movies, they play here I have already seen but this movie has special meaning to me and I would watch it over and over again.

The Jackie Robinson story is a heroic one for sure.  My 14-year-old son loves the story and this movie.  He loves it because he plays football and the sports aspect appeals to him, but more than that….he gets it!  As a young black male he grasped how, during the most challenging times, Jackie Robinson rose to be his best.  He also gets that even when it feels like you should fight, there’s more won by just staying focused on your own purpose.  My son and I have watched this DVD several times.  It has inspired him to return to school when kids called him names and to the football field when he felt like an outsider.

Today, this film validated me.  I have been feeling like an outsider this week.  I’ve been feeling like I don’t belong here.  I feel like my country has betrayed me and I want to be somewhere else.  Then, as I listened to the young man in “42” say, “I am not going anywhere,” I reflected on the fact that Jackie Robinson took a stand and knew he belonged regardless of what anyone else said or did to him.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that I belong here because of the crime I was accused of committing, nor because I think white-collar incarceration serves our communities well.  What I am saying is that, whatever my circumstances, where ever life takes me, nobody can change who I am.  Neither public opinion, nor private accusations can change the fact that I own every part of my story and will rise to the occasion, regardless of the ridiculousness, keep  myself whole and know that I belong.  I belong…..even when this is over and I am faced with a new set of judgements and challenges.   That is the lesson I wanted my son to learn from this story. And that is the lesson I wanted the hundreds of kids and employees who came through my program to learn. Now, once again, I need to embrace the same lesson.

Damn it!!

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Your Voice and Tone Did Not Match…

There are many safeguards in prison put in place to eliminate identity theft and any other theft.  I suppose this is similar to life on the outside where ideally a store clerk asks for your I.D. when you use your debit card or the need for a PIN to use your ATM card, or the bank monitoring your charges and placing a hold on your account when you’re on vacation and your card is denied because the bank knows that you  live in Nevada but, heaven forbid, you travel away from there without notifying them about spending your own money.  You get the picture!

Well, in prison there are privileges that have high value and the powers that be try to put systems in place to eliminate problems in accessing those privileges fraudulently.  Go figure.  One major commodity here is access to the telephone.  Hopefully you’ve already read about the 300 minutes I used in less than two weeks and have a clear understanding of how precious and valuable those minutes are.  Many people don’t have that type of access because, like many other things at camp, it is expensive.  So, to safeguard the time that those who can afford it have paid for, there is a voice, tone, and PIN recognition system that has to be navigated before an actual call can be made.

In this order, you earn the right to hear your loved one’s voice.  First you enter your PIN, then you say your first and last name in the precise tone you recorded it in on your first day in prison.  It is so crazy.  I am honestly cracking up.  If you do not match the voice and TONE three times, you have to start over.

My counterpart, and laughing partner, LittleJ and I cannot be in the phone area at the same time because we cannot keep from cracking up!  She can never get it right on the first try because we set up our security system on the first day here.  Well, LittleJ was pissed off on our first day.  I have to remind her to use her mad voice when she’s ready to make a call.

This morning it finally happened to me!  My morning voice would not match my first day voice!  So, I decided to come and write this blog before I go back and try again.  Whew!  I guess it is good to know that some things don’t change.  I want to remain prepared for the inconsistencies of life after prison. Being unable to access your own shit causes the same frustration in prison as it does on the outside!

Today, I am thankful for a consistently inconsistent system!

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