Federal Prison Industries, Inc., UNICOR, INMATE EARNING STATEMENT
The amount a person may want to send an incarcerated individual, depends on many factors. He or she has shelter, and though it may be lacking at times, most prisoners do have food and the essentials of survival, whereas some loved ones or friends may be struggling to survive on their income.
If the free citizen needs to pay rent, buy food, or otherwise take care of themselves and family, in my opinion, as a former prisoner, I’d rather have gone hungry than for my loved ones to have sent me money that was needed to provide for themselves. My comfort came in second compared to theirs.
My personal opinion is that most prisoners should be able to get by on $50-$100 per month and even less if no one from the outside can help. Unfortunately, many fall into a trap trying to get by and revert to various ways of survival I won’t address. And some of those who have money coming in may be extorted by the stronger prisoners or gangs and still do without.
Prisons are commercialized and charge inmates for many things that were once given to those under their care. Because of that, if the incarcerated receives funds and owes for services provided, the institution may freeze the inmate account and take funds sent in by a person’s family or friend.
Most systems have policy or program statements that define what the law allows, which may be challenged through the Administrative Remedy process and the courts. In most cases, courts rule in favor of the prison administrators but not always. Therefore, money sent in to someone for food items, etc., gets taken and the person has to get by without the funds but will normally survive, even if it means going hungry or not having what he or she wants or needs.
UNICOR HELPED ME PROVIDE FOR MYSELF
In the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, I was happy to provide for myself by working and not having to be dependent on others to provide funds for my wants and needs.
Many of my peers were different, especially if on drugs and wanted to get high, the same as I did until 1995. I understood their actions because I know what it was like for me when I lived the life of an addict, so I am not condemning those who still live the life I once did.
When I first entered the system, after having served time in the Georgia Department of Corrections, where I was not paid for working, I felt good earning the low-wages ($0.12 per hour) then paid to federal prisoners who did not work for UNICOR.
UNICOR is the trade name for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. that has changed considerably since when I began my federal sentence over three decades ago in 1988.
Please note that all prisoners do not get paid for working, or get paid as much to work in places like the Federal Prison Industries, Inc.
I was one of the highest-paid, hourly-rate, inmate employees who worked for UNICOR, and rarely made over $200.00 per month. In the copy of the paystub above, I earned $189.14 for the month of May in 2018.
On average, by working in the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR), I earned enough to spend $64.00 on the phone, $50.00 on writing/emailing blogs, etc., and $45–50.00 on commissary items, based on cost in the Federal Prison System.
To do the things I wanted to do, I made sacrifices, such as to pay for the creation and upkeep of my website, STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN, and my blogging expenditures that added up when considering I paid five cents per minute to use the emailing system provided by Corrlinks.com. To print my drafts, of which there were many for some of my more lengthier blogs, I paid fifteen cents per page. That is in the federal system, which operates different than Corrlinks does in some state or private prisons.
In deciding what to send, a person may want to see what type of information is posted on the prison system website. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons posts inmate handbooks and even the commissary lists for institutions.
I checked the page for the Federal Prison at Edgefield, SC to see the commissary list that seems current. As for the Inmate Handbook, old and outdated. View the Commissary List by clicking HERE.
I hope the above information helps to make informed decisions.
Update: August 28, 2019: I am a Free Bird now and have been for one year today. Things did not go the way I expected upon my release, but it is all good. I have lived to fight another day and have won many interpersonal battles over the last year. I remain a free citizen!
I joined the ranks of many returning citizens who have not become another negative statistic on recidivism. That means a lot to me and to society!
I will post another blog to update events since I walked out the doors of the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield, South Carolina, on August 28, 2018, after having served thirty-years and ten-days.
My favorite version of Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd is on ONE MORE FROM THE ROAD, recorded at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA, one block from my birthplace. This Freebird en route to Atlanta got one more lockdown in for the road. More will be revealed.
The 35-year sentence that I began on August 18, 1988, has finally reached its end. Well, at least, close to its end. When I leave August 28th, as it now stands, I have 192-days in the halfway house and 5-years on supervised release, following satisfaction of the 420-month term of imprisonment imposed by the court.
This blog contains mixed topics; some written from a positive perspective, others from a not-so-positive perspective. I’ll tell some of what my last month has been like living in an institution run by the most absurd federal prison administration I’ve ever lived under for the last thirty years.
DEPARTING: I’m leaving behind many friends, a lot of good men, and a lot more defeated by an over-abundance of suboxone and bug poison (K-2/Spice) that flooded this compound within 6-months of this warden taking command. Based upon statements made by inmates at the last institution she ran, the same thing happened there: she reduced alcohol consumption that resulted in an increase in demand and availability of K-2 and suboxone.
[“SUBOXONE® (buprenorphine and naloxone) Sublingual Film (CIII) is a prescription medicine used to treat adults who are addicted to (dependent on) opioid drugs (either prescription or illegal) as part of a complete treatment program that also includes counseling and behavioral therapy.”] https://www.suboxone.com/
Concerning wardens that Washington officials began referring to as Chief Executive Officers (CEO), because of, in my opinion, the federal prison system becoming a business-venture, more so than a place to help its men and women become law-abiding citizens.
The Congressional budgeting system allows wardens and executive staff to take home hefty bonuses by cutting operating cost, often at the expense of the safety and health of staff and inmates alike.
Throughout the years, I’ve met many good men and women who worked for the BOP, a few of whom helped save the lives of myself and others by offering their time to provide needed services to help prisoners learn life-skills; especially, for those in programs designed to help addicts and alcoholics learn to live life without the use of drugs and alcohol.
JOURNALING INTO A NEW LIFE: This time 23-years ago, I was writing in journals about my newfound way of life (living without using drugs and alcohol, and working on becoming a better man who lived by different spiritual principles). Here’s two excerpts I hope will inspire others:
August 23, 1995: “This new lifestyle is a lot more simple and easier to live by in this environment, because I don’t have to worry about getting a U.A. [urine-analysis], going to the hole for being stupid, or having to try so hard to get by. I used to have to hustle to support my dope habit, but not anymore. I never had food in my locker, but kept the lockers of dope men well-stocked. Now I have food to eat, good shoes to wear, and can afford to send money to my family as gifts or to buy other things I want or need. I have time for Wayne and I care about Wayne. Wayne deserves to be cared for, because he’s a worthy human being, and really is not a bad guy, so I’m no longer trying to destroy him. I’m trying to ‘set him free.’ He deserves that!”
September 13, 1995: “I have began my pursuit of freedom, which could end up being a fruitless search from me on the legal angle, but if God wants to see me free, I will be free. If not legally, in spirit, which is most important. I would like to be legally free, because I know I can make it out there now, and know I have a lot of valuable experience, wisdom, and knowledge to offer certain segments of society. For that reason, I deserve another chance.”
LEGALLY SPEAKING: The legal pursuit of my freedom proved fruitless and a waste of time, energy, and thousands of dollars, but it did keep me occupied and I learned a lot. If you consider the success I had getting my halfway house date changed and the knowledge gained, it was beneficial. I also helped free others.
During the legal Pursuit of Freedom process, I damn sure learned that what the law says doesn’t matter: If the courts want to follow the law, they do. If not, they use their power and ignore the law. After I build straightfromthepen.net, I will post court documents from my case and others to prove what I just wrote.
ALONG SPIRITUAL LINES: I know everything worked out the way it was supposed to, and that if the courts had followed the laws passed by Congress, and the court decisions I relied upon during my direct appeal process, I would not be alive today. I had a bad drug problem and ill intent for several years after my conviction. Today I don’t have either and will live the rest of my days in peace, clean & sober, and, for the most part, healthier than when I arrived in 1988.
LIFE NOT ACCORDING TO WAYNE: Most of these last few days of my life in prison have not went according to my plan. I planned to attend the last few A.A. and N.A. meetings; to quit my job on August 17th, and then spend some time outside on the recreation yard to exercise and tone up my body, and to work on my suntan in preparation for all the fat-butt-girls waiting to chase me. 😉
The warden closed the recreation yard over three weeks ago and spoiled my Suntan Plan.
RECENT EVENT: The warden’s closure of the recreation yard indirectly resulted in a clash between two ethnic groups in the Chow Hall on Sunday, August 12, 2018. When tension builds amongst an inmate population, and one ethnic group gets punished and suffers because of an action by another group, a tender box is born; complements of the warden, captain, or other prison official, who implemented unnecessary punitive actions in response to an issue, such as is the case at hand.
(Read “Politics & Prison” (11/07/16) where I wrote in response to this warden’s use of group-punishment techniques, and show how it creates conflicts in a prison population and is thus not a rational correctional-management tool for all situations:
“MORE ON BLANKET PARTIES: If certain prisoners are given a blanket party or ‘sanctioned’ by their peers for failure to comply with rules or regulations, it may lead to extreme violence; therefore, the ideological control mechanism for military men and women does not work on prisoners, or otherwise has adverse effects; that is, unless the prison administrators really want prisoners to clash. Many administrators have ulterior motives.”)
THE CHOW HALL FIASCO lead to 5-prisoners suffering injuries severe enough to justify a trip to the local hospital for treatment. I was inside the chow hall during the fiasco.
NO OUTSIDE RECREATION: The reason for closing the recreation yard was because staff found homemade wine buried beside an area known as the “Boom Boom Room.” The prison staff has known about the problem for years, including the whole period of this warden’s stay (about 2-years).
Staff have probably dug as much as 50-75 gallons of wine out of the same spot, and yet, instead of being intelligent enough to use available technology (posting surveillance cameras in the area as most competent prison administrators do in problem areas), the warden/prison administration, chose to close the recreation yard to tear down the Boom Boom Room.
The recreation yard is a place where men go to exercise or relax, to relieve anger, stress, and tension associated with prison life or just to stay healthy.
TINDER BOX: The closure of the recreation yard created a Tinder Box because a few members of one ethnic group is responsible for its closure, as is the warden. That put targets on the backs of every one of that nationality.
THE CATALYST: A inmate who worked the a.m. Food Service shift, stole fruit and hid it in a Dish/Tray Room, where prisoners use a dishwasher to wash food trays, utensils, etc. When he returned during the next shift and learned his stolen-stash was stolen, he attacked a member of the other ethnic group, known to bury wine.
Several members of the latter group attacked and beat down the aggressor and that lead to retaliation by members of the aggressor’s ethnic group.
FIASCO RESPONSE: The staff who responded got medical attention for the aggressor who received minor injuries, and then escorted him and four of his attackers down the walkway toward the medical department and segregated housing unit.
I sat at a table near where the ethnic group of the four attackers often sat. After the incident in the Tray Room, I went to the opposite side of the chow hall and saw those escorted out the rear door of the Tray Room. I returned to the other side and let my peers know of the events of racial nature. Then me and most other non-participants moved out of the area to get out of the way of what was sure to follow.
Upon leaving with the offenders, staff locked the chow hall doors with approximately 150-200 inmates left alone inside with one food service staff member. After 5-to-8 minutes of the racial situation brewing, the aggressor’s ethnic group attacked anyone who looked like they may have been of the other ethnic group, thus creating a racial riot inside the chow hall.
For approximately 3-4 minutes, food trays soared across the chow hall, injuring those hit; weapons of various types were used to batter opponents; fists and feet used where possible.
The food service staff member ran and locked himself in an office inside the chow hall. I suspect he radioed for assistance, but I never saw him come out of his hiding spot into the Battle Zone, evidence of being a true coward.
According to what an associate who stayed in the Battle Zone, one staff member came in through the rear door of the Tray Room, ran in and began spraying all aggressors with Pepper Spray.
Two staff members made the wrong turn and came to the non-participant side. One pointed a camera at us and said, “Get on the ground.” And then later, “Turn and face the wall.”
I knelt down on one knee but did not turn to face the wall. An injured Hispanic participant had come from the Battle Zone with blood running down his head from different angles and dripped blood on the floor in front of me. The violence was still in progress twenty-five feet away: I knew not to expose myself to flying trays by turning around when the two dummies did not even notice that those of us standing against the wall were docile.
The other staff member who made the wrong turn, used profanity directed toward one man and threatened to spray him with pepper spray. During this time, you could hear inmates attempting to rip pipes from their fixtures to use as weapons in the Battle Zone, while those two knuckleheads wasted time messing with us.
Finally, one of the guys standing against the wall shouted out, “We aren’t the ones fighting.”
The cameraman turned and then moved to where the action was going. The dummy with the pepper spray turned and followed him. Another staff member came in and said, “Y’all just get down on one knee. I’m trying to look for injuries.”
He pointed to the injured Hispanic and said, “You, get over there.” Then he said, “Is anyone else injured?”
Maybe ten minutes later, the crowd dispersed toward a door and began to exit on the opposite end of the chow hall. I followed. We returned to the living units and was locked in our cells for about a week.
GOD’S WILL VERSUS MINE: I also planned to mail out some of my property on Thursday at R&D Open House. We can only mail outgoing packages, after approval by unit staff, and then during Open House on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
A sign on the door showed “No Open House Today,” but if you were to ask the Warden or one of her officials, you’d be told that Open House is opened during all scheduled periods; a lie I have been told before.
Well, that’s where God’s will versus mine comes to play. I believe that whenever I’m faced with such obstacles that there’s a reason for it and that it’ll work to my good. In the past it always has and this time is no different. The delay gave me more time to sort through my ton of property to lighten my load as I set out to travel the Road to Happy Destiny. 🙂
The Sun magazine, Charlotte, North Carolina, published a clip I sent in response to an article in Readers Write.
That was a decade or so ago. In the published clip, I shared about the experience I wrote about in response to the Quora question: Is it true that people get sprayed with water in prison when they first get there?
No, not during any of my experiences. However, this did happen:
In the Georgia prison system, at the Georgia Diagnostics and Classification Center, in Jackson, new arrivals were sat in a chair and then asked, “How do you want it cut?” referring to the hair on our heads.
After a moment of appearing to listen (for the effect of the joke), the inmate Barber would smile before using hair clippers to cut it down to the scalp. “Oops, I got a little too close,” he might say, a smirk on his face.
Then came the degrading and humiliating part:
All prisoners were stripped of all clothing, and then sprayed with bug poison under the arms and testicles, before the “Turn around and bend over and cock ’em.”
We would have to turn around, bend over and spread the cheeks to be sprayed with the bug poison.
Upon completion of the licing process, then followed a group shower, another aspect of Prison Life I didn’t find enjoyable, but no one ever knew that because I wore my Bullet Proof, Tough Guy Mask.
Prisoners shout various Early Warning Codes to forewarn others. I recently learned that at some Georgia prisons, the Early Warning Code is “Twelve,” which I learned on Quora.com. At one prison, other men used Top Rock or Bottom Rock to indicate where the staff member walked (top or bottom tier).
The reason an inmate may shout that (12) is because, for instance, that a correctional officer or staff member enters a living area at the “12 O’clock” position, or that “12” is just one of the many “Early Warning Codes” used.
Staff may exhibit the same behavior, after getting used to prisoners using the Early Warning Code to let others know they’re on the prowl.
In the early Eighties I was at the Georgia State Prison (GSP) in Reidsville (The Great White Elephant), where the first version of “The Longest Yard” was filmed that starred Burt Reynolds. We used “Fire in the Hole” as our Early Warning Code to forewarn others that a correctional officer or staff member was entering the cellblock/living area.
Several staff members would walk in the door and shout, “Fire in the Hole.”
That may be because, in 1982, a federal monitor said that the Federal government had declared the prison as the most dangerous prison in the United States. Vincent N., the Federal Monitor appointed to monitor the prison for compliance with a Federal lawsuit (Guthrie v. Evans), made the claim of which I still challenge as factually incorrect.
I was an inmate representative in reformation process, voted in by my peers to represent the Whites for mediation during racial and legal disputes (to help resolve issues without killing each other and to help get the prison in compliance with the court orders).
I said, “How can we be the most violent prison when more people got killed in the New Mexico prison?”
“That was during a time of riot,” he said. “We’re talking about a time of non-riot. During a general run of the prison, y’all had thirty-five inmate-to-officer attacks, fifty inmate-to-inmate attacks, and six-murders.”
I suspect that because of the extreme level of violence, most staff members did not want to walk up on prisoners doing something illegal or unauthorized, which would require an un-favored response that may result in another staff assault.
In the past, one correctional officer had been robbed and killed by prisoners. One prisoner removed a watch from his arm as he lay dying on the floor from a heart attack.
During my four-year stay at GSP, a male correctional officer was raped by a prisoner, of whom the prisoner had put a knife to his throat and pulled him into the cell, where the unthinkable happened.
The era of violence at that prison ended. Reorganization resulted in the reduced violence, as the more dangerous prisoners are more closely monitored and controlled.
But I am sure there are still those who will shout whatever the trending “Early Warning” signal may be for a staff member entering the area.
Each year I like to wish all the mothers of the world a Happy Mother’s Day and to add something different to my previous wishes.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful and deserving mothers of the world. Each of you is special in your own right. Perfect is a fantasy, so even if you made errors in your youth or child rearing practices, you deserve recognition and praise for the pain you endured and thus kept the human race going, popping out babies to face the challenges life presents; some of whom become technological geniuses, innovators, inventors, and the movers & shakers who changed the world. Most of us simply become ordinary men and women, but all of us are of equal importance in this thing called life. We are all connected: It takes each of us to make Life complete.
Should this not be posted before Sunday, May 13th, Happy Belated Mother’s Day!
CHANGES: I must confess once again to writing less than perfect blogs. In my defense, I present that I type on a system without the benefit of any editing features, outside of spell-checking; nothing to check grammar or style, nothing available to check punctuation, or for using special font features (italics, bold, underline, all prohibited).
Whatever I send through Corrlinks.com gets posted, as is, unless I request a change after sending it: I hesitate doing so because I don’t want to burden the person gracious enough to assist me in my mission of getting my words outside the walls and barbwire fences that contain my body but not my mind or fingertips that fly across the pages. However, my messages are limited to 13,000 characters that I often use to get you something of value to read, so that part of me is contained unless I want to do a multi-part series. 🙂
After clicking to send my most recent blog, “Changes,” I had to send a request to make four corrections, explaining that with a title like Changes, you might know I’d need to make a few. Well …, then after she made them for me, I find others but chose to let ’em ride until I wrote this blog. Darn it, I hate errors, especially, when I make them!
CORRECTIONS: I listed the title of Ms. Sally Q. Yates as an Assistant United States Attorney. She held a position much more prestigious than that: the former Deputy Attorney General under the Honorable Eric Holder, United States Attorney. Sorry Sally. Okay, I’ll do better. I apologize Ms. Yates.
Then in the opening paragraph, I used “digression” in the first sentence (“Storms ravage the United States: tornadoes, snow and ice storms, in April, along with the political and technological storms that drive the progression or digression of the nation.”) The proper word is “regression,” because I meant it in the sense that some policies and practices drive us backward instead of forward.
I also improperly credited the Bureau of Prisons’ Psychology department as offering “Health & Wellness” classes (most of which are taught by someone from the medical or recreational departments), and “Job Applications & Resume Writing,” which is taught through the education department. I benefited through my participation in both programs.
Other programs are also available at various institutions that benefit the inmate population that I do not mention. I’ll share later about my personal experience with one such program conducted here on April 25, 2018 (the date my Unit Team requested for me to leave here to a halfway house that was changed to December 26, 2018, at the Residential Reentry Manager’s office in Atlanta, Georgia, because of the political BS and changes in the halfway house policy by the new BOP director).
CORECIVIC/CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA: I recently learned that the correct name of the former CCA is not Correctional Corporation of America. There is no “al” following Correction. I learned the correct former name in the case I indirectly referred to in “Changes” Grae, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated v. Corrections Corporation of America, Damon T. Hininger, David M. Garfinkle, Todd J. Mullenger, and Harley G. Lappin, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 207475; Fed. Sec. L. Rep. (CCH) P99, 936 (M.D., TN 12/18/17), where the Honorable Aleta A. Trauger, United States District Judge, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and refused to grant CCA’s motion to dismiss.
CLARITY: Also of great importance is that I do not mean to come across as stereotyping all politicians, BOP employees or its prisoners, when I speak negatively about the political spectrum in America, the BOP or the system as a whole. The system has more good men and women than bad (that goes for political parties, too).
Several staff and prisoners helped and, or supported my desire to change and gave me their time, and often shared their knowledge and wisdom that allowed me to advance to another level in life that I now use to help others.
REENTRY SIMULATION: I went to jail for going to an NA meeting high, agreed to pay $40.00 to a bondsman, and then got evicted for not paying my rent on time, but I did go back and pay the bondsman when I got paid in the final quarter. 🙂
“Thank you,” he said. “I pointed at you and told Ms. P (Reentry Coordinator) that you’d slide out of here and not pay me for getting you out of jail.”
The event took a lot of work to put together. Over 50-visitors and 70-inmates attended. To get the visitors inside the secured lines of the institution, required a lot of paperwork to check their backgrounds before they were approved to enter the visiting room, where the event was conducted.
Approximately 10-tables were set up around the perimeter of the visiting room, each of which represented various functions a newly released prisoner may have to deal with (e.g., Probation Office, Courthouse with a Jail next door; Social Services to apply for food stamps, etc.; a Health Department where we could sell blood for $25; Identification and housing departments; and an Employment Service where I needed to go to pick up my $320 pay check that no one had told me about.
In addition, one table was set up for the Church where Narcotics & Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were held, and another table representing a Treatment Center on the opposite side of town.
Institutional staff (correctional counselors, business office personnel, case managers, secretaries) and a few volunteers, manned the tables/departments. Some volunteers participated in the event as if released from prison, while others coordinated the functions of the event.
OUT OF TIME: The event was set up in four 15-minute segments. At the end of each segment the coordinator blew a whistle for us to return to our seats.
Us participants were seated in seats where clear, plastic folders laid, with 5″ x 8.5″ card and other items, including Monopoly money to pay for services. Each card contained a profile and role with a schedule we had to adopt and comply with to successfully complete the event.
We had to pay to go to any of the areas/services, the same as having to pay bus fares or processing fees for services. I often stood in line only to learn I needed more money than I had, and by the time I made it back to where I needed to do whatever, the clock ran out and I failed to do what was required.
My profile was Whitney, a person with a drug problem who had served 10-years in prison for bank robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, the latter of which is a common charge in federal prison.
Before the event concluded, my schedule required that I report to my probation officer, who was not happy because I failed to attend the required treatment sessions, failed a Urine analysis, got evicted from my apartment, and had gotten put in jail.
My response: “I promise I will do better. I’m sorry for not making it to the treatment session. I ran out of time and couldn’t make it, and then when I appeared, the therapist couldn’t work me into her schedule, but I did go to NA meetings and to work.”
“Are you clean now?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. I can pass the UA.” He gave me a break and another chance by not filing charges against me for violating the terms of my supervised release.
WHAT I LEARNED: I get agitated not knowing where I need to go and standing in long lines only to be turned away for lack of funds or for being late for an appointment. I need to be more prepared, allow for more travel time, and to learn the location of everywhere I must go, in advance. Such problems I’ve not faced for thirty years and did not find it entertaining. I did enjoy the experience, though.
OTHER EVENTS: The next day I retook the WorkKeys test for Locating Information. I wanted to try again for Platinum certification. Gold is good but platinum is better. The lady from the South Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation that I mentioned in my blog, “A Job Affair,” strongly suggested I retake the test to go for Platinum because I only missed it by one answer, and because only 6% of participants get Platinum Certification.
In the near future, I hope to write that I succeeded at obtaining Platinum Certification. If not, then I’ll try it again. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I will do that until I achieve my goal.
In my next blog I will write more about bills pending in Congress, the BOP, and more misinformation presented by the BOP director before Congress during an Oversight Hearing.
Prisoners do not have a choice about which prison authorities place them in, nor can they control who moves in a cell or dormitory where they live. At least, legally they cannot, but sometimes do. Those facts often led to prison violence and negative results. Prison does not have to be negative as a whole.
DANGEROUS CHARACTER: Five months before I was arrested, a woman gave birth to a child who grew up to be a tall, handsome, muscular, young man. He moved into the cell with me on September 21, 2016. I later learned that he was a paid hit man who severed limbs for a living.
He showed no mercy to the living or the dead as he wielded a chainsaw to accomplish his goals; a highly dangerous, Indiana Jones type of fellow. He used a shovel and stepped outside the boundaries of the law when he chose to dig up remains left behind by people before him in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.
How can another man close his eyes to rest when knowing he is locked into a 8′ x 10′ x 12′ cell designed for one, housing two men in a bathroom, while knowing the other occupant is so dangerous that he dared to dig deep into the soil for artifacts left behind by Cherokee Native Americans?
HIS CRIME: Arrowheads, that’s right, arrowheads, rocks; he’s in prison for digging up rocks, approximately thirty feet outside an authorized area.
HIS SENTENCE: one-year probation for a non-violent crime. And then he violated the terms of probation and landed in a prison cell with a man serving thirty-five years for violent crimes, a man with a long history of committing crimes of violence.
SHARED HISTORIES: Both of us have a history of substance abuse. He still struggles. I do not. I have lived clean and sober for almost twenty-two years since he was about seven years old.
On August 1, 1985, I was released from the Georgia prison system. I was twenty-eight years old, his age. I read the tea leaves and saw him traveling down the same path that I did. The path that led to me spending most of my life in prison for committing crimes to get high.
During the past five months, I strived to be a positive influence in his life by showing him parts of my life that lead me to “here.” My life proves people can change.
My hope is for him to get out and stay out of prison. He made the mistake of choosing the road of Bad Decisions. That does not mean that he must continue to travel down that road.
Good people make bad mistakes, too!
MENTORING IN UNLIKELY PLACES: He has stayed clean and sober while here. I have mentored and tried to help him avoid making decisions with negative consequences. He listened more often than not and will leave here next week to go back to the peaceful town at the foothills of the North Carolina mountains, where he has a loving family waiting to help him get on with his life.
WHAT IF: What if he had been assigned to a cell with a practicing addict or knucklehead who thrived on drama? Seeing or smelling drugs makes it more difficult for an addict to stay clean; especially, when that addict is trapped in a cage with demons he or she fights every day of their life.
In prison, it is common for peers to encourage violent responses when the actions of others are perceived as being disrespectful. I encouraged him to think of getting back out to be with his family when dealing with perceived threats to the ego.
What if we had not gotten along and got into fights? I would have probably got my old ass beat up, maybe even accidentally or intentionally killed, or otherwise have had to commit a serious act of violence to protect myself.
Historically, a lot of youngsters ended up in graveyards by messing with old folks. Besides that, a person can’t win beating up elders: they look bad if they beat them up and look bad if the older man or woman beats them up, so it’s best to just leave the old, cantankerous rascals alone with their muscle rub, Tylenol, and multiple medications to treat ailments.
What would have been my cellmate’s chance of using prison as an opportunity to change his life, if he had instead fallen into the darker side of prison life, where men prey upon each other to appease their self-interest, rather than to support changes that increase a prisoner’s chance of getting out to live a better life as a productive member of society?
Many men and women come to prison and never get out because of decisions made before or after incarceration. Society loses when its citizens perish in prison.
ANOTHER LOST LIFE: In “A Prisoner’s Story,” I began by writing about the murder of “Bandit.” He battled with another prisoner inside a cell at U.S.P. Lompoc. He lost.
I wrote, “I had known him for several years. He and I were all right with each other, but I knew that by the warped sense of justice, silently written into the prison code by unknown authors, that he had it coming because of what he had done to others. Bandit was a gangbanger who ran with his affiliates and extorted weaker prisoners so that they could buy heroin with the money. He was also one of the many who I have seen get out of prison and return, a recidivist. All he needed to walk out the door as a free man was to survive four more months.”
Based upon such experiences, I know how easy it is to make a fatal mistake or to make bad decisions with long consequences. I made such a decision when I agreed to steal a car to commit a jewelry store robbery that never happened. I got into the car with two people who became my codefendants in the bank robbery and associated crimes that I am in prison for committing.
It is easy to land in prison for decades or the rest of your life.
I conclude A Prisoner’s Story with, “I have seen many lives devastated by coming to prison for petty crimes and then learning new tricks from old and new prisoners alike, just as I did. One thing the gullible prisoner fails to consider is the source of the information: Someone sitting inside of a prison and bragging about how easy it is to get away with crime does not have impressive credentials, considering that they “are” in prison. If crimes went as planned, then prisons would not be filled to capacity, as they are in the United States. People have to wait in line to come to prison, because there is a long waiting list, especially for the mentally ill, dope fiends, alcoholics, illegal aliens.”
[Purchase “A Prisoner’s Story” as part of ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN by Wayne T. Dowdy at http://www.straightfromthepen.com or at your favorite online or offline bookseller.
NOT A TYPICAL SIXTY YEAR OLD: “You aren’t like other old people are. You like the same music I do and I can talk to you about how I feel or anything else.”
That’s true. I am not like a normal man approaching sixty. Experts say that using drugs arrests a person’s emotional growth and development. I started using drugs at the age of eleven, so I am really thirty-three going on sixty.
Because of that, we can laugh and joke, or engage in meaningful conversations to show the follies of our pasts that ultimately led us to be in a prison cell together. By us being able to do so, helps him to see why those behaviors are not productive and give a good reason to avoid doing it again.
A GOD THING: When he first arrived here, the staff at Receiving & Discharge told him to move to cell #409, which was the cell I had moved from that morning. A prisoner who practiced Islam influenced the cell house officer to move him into cell #414, the cell where we now reside.
BLESSINGS: He told his mother about the positive influence I was in his life. “Mother said God knew I needed to be around an older person that I’d listen to,” he said. God does work in mysterious ways.
God put him in the cell with me without asking my permission. How dare He do that! He gives me what I need, not what I want. In this case, it turned out to be a rewarding and positive experience. God answered my prayer. Before he moved in, I prayed my next cellmate would be someone not into any of the things I do not do.
I am not into drugs, alcohol, weapons, or anything illegal. I am almost a saint, Saint Wayne, I may be called one day. I let all cellmates know from the start that I do not get high and do not want any BS around me. When I told him that, he said, “That’s a blessing because I am trying to change my life.”
We knew God had put him right where he needed to be. God also put him in the cell with me because he was the type of person I needed to be around because I love helping others who want to change their lives in a positive manner.
In my life, God has always worked in mysterious ways. Who would think He lived in prisons, too?
TREE SURGEON: Back to my chainsaw wielding cellmate. He is a tree surgeon people pay to come cut or trim trees to improve the safety of their homes by removing threatening tree limbs, or to beautify their property by taking out unsightly trees and forage. Trees hate to see him coming!
Wayne T. Dowdy writes Straight from the Pen. Visit http://www.straightfromthepen.com today. Follow his blogs on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com or waynedowdy.weebly.com.
Last year on December 23, 2015, I posted “Plot to Stop Santa by Mr. D.” to add a little humor to the holiday season (read it on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com or waynedowdy.weebly.com and check out Santa’s militarized sled). This year I am writing along personal lines and will share some previous messages I sent out to those on my Corrlinks contact list. My hope is to create a sense of gratitude.
12/25/2011: On Christmas Day, I sat in my cell reading my favorite magazine (THE SUN). “Chow time,” the guard shouted.
I rushed to the chow hall. Inside, I sat at a rectangular table of four with three of my peers. One person stood to leave. Each of us exchanged Christmas greetings, wishing him a Merry Christmas before a 27-year-old youngster sat down to take his place.
The one who sat to the right of the youngster had just complained how the Cornish game hen was small. I had previously tried to maintain the attitude of gratitude at the table by commenting how it was good, though, it was smaller than those we had had in the past. It was still tasty. I simply agreed with the other guy about it being smaller than usual. I labeled it as a “Cornish Game Chick.”
That’s when the youngster sat down. “There sure are a lot of complaining people at this prison,” he said.
His words filled me with guilt. He had once told me that both of his parents were still in state prison. I realized his parents were probably doing worse than all of us at the table.
The youngster’s comment helped redirect the nature of our conversations toward what we were grateful for.
I shared my favorite saying by an author whose name I do know to give him or her their credit due (“I complained of having no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”).
I continued to express gratitude for the well-prepared meal; knowing we were all fortunate to have what sat before us, as we compared our plight to others incarcerated in state and other federal prisons, who probably wished they could eat as good as we were.
This is what we had to complain about: a Cornish game hen, black-eyed peas, which were really good; collard greens, rolls or wheat bread (I chose wheat bread); an individually packaged cherry pie, chocolate cup cake, and some other stuff I probably forgot. I ate my fill.
Each of us walked away feeling more grateful for the meal we had been blessed with because we had stopped for a moment to remember the less fortunate in life.
Not only do I have two feet and nice shoes, I have a fat belly filled with gratitude. I hope each of you have a wonderful Christmas meal and feel fortunate for the freedom you share in a less than perfect world.
Along the same theme as above, I wrote this on America’s Turkey Day:
THANKSGIVING DAY 2016: Happy Thanksgiving Day to each of you. If you feel like you don’t have much to be thankful for because of the hardships life has thrown at you this year, stop to think of all you have to be grateful for; perhaps you have food to eat; two feet, two arms, shoes on your feet, and clothes to warm your body, a place to stay and be safe. Feel fortunate.
When I find myself disgruntled for having to wait for an hour in the commissary to purchase a few items, I try to stop and remember those who wish they had my problems, financially able to shop for a few items needed to maintain a decent level of living inside this prison. That makes me feel grateful for the opportunity, rather than disgruntled and agitated for having to wait as I listen to loud mouths shouting to the man next to them, disturbing the peace, killing the sound of silence.
Upon remembrance of the less fortunate, I find myself grateful for the simple things in life I often take for granted. Be thankful for those you have in your life who love and care for you. Happy Thanksgiving!
For those of you who follow me through other means of social media, you may have read the message below that I wrote after losing one of my brothers, Larry. I once had a mother, father, three brothers and two sisters. I am now down to one brother and two sisters.
In 1978 I lost Stanley, my older brother. In 1982 I lost my father, and then in 2016 I lost my younger brother, Larry, after having lost my mother eight months before him.
The loss of two loved ones in the same year was why I wrote what I did about “the hardships life has thrown at you this year”; including myself in the equation. I write to show we still have things to be grateful for in light of the hardships we experience as the cost of our love for others.
Some people lost their whole family and suffered tragic loss of limbs and even more severe health issues. That makes me grateful to still have family members who remain in my life. I am also grateful for my less-than perfect health.
The families of some prisoners abandon them because they go to prison. My family has stood behind me, even though my actions were unacceptable to them; my actions that landed me in prison. I am fortunate!
September 18, 2016: One of my two younger brothers moved on to the next phase of existence around 3:00 PM today. Larry was the most gentle and innocent of the four sons birthed by our Mother. Not that he was innocent; he wasn’t, but he was not driven by hate or anger and he never intentionally harmed anyone that I know of. Him and Jeff, the youngest of us, were never the rowdy type, whereas me and Stanley were hell raisers.
Larry was a kind and all around good person. It hurts like hell to know he is gone, but I do rejoice in knowing he no longer suffers from his illnesses. He lives without pain in some other place we all must go one day. Maybe he fishes from a rainbow, catching a few rays, as he surfs the ocean in pursuit of eternal peace. I hope he catches an abundance of love and happiness during his journey. No doubt, many here on earth loved and will miss him.
Ironically, he passed away on my ex-wife’s birthday. Our Mother passed away on the birthday of our son, Jonathon. For those of you who believe in God, please keep the family in prayer as we go through a difficult time. Thanks! Wayne
December 18, 2016: Yesterday my remaining siblings came to visit me. We had a good visit. Though each of us are grateful to still have each other in our lives, I sensed the emptiness from the unspoken loss of our loved ones.
Loved ones fill a space in our hearts that no one else can replace. God made that spot just for them, whether our memories and feelings are good or bad, that space is theirs.
I am grateful to have been blessed with the love given to me by those, whom that power greater than myself, put into my life.
I am also grateful for my eyes* and other physical features that I use to write and send my words beyond the walls and barbwire fences that surround me at this juncture of my life.
Prison only confines my body: I refuse to allow it to consume my sense of being, or to rob me of my dignity and integrity. I am a man first and a prisoner second.
My mind and spirit are freer today than when I roamed the streets in 1988 before my arrest. God gave me a life worth living.
Better days are on the horizon. When I walk out of these prison doors, Straight From the Pen will come alive, more like straight from the keyboard.
In an upcoming blog, I will share a former prisoner’s inspiring story. Brandon Sample is one who proves people can leave prison and succeed in life, by beginning to build the path toward a better life while inside doing their time.
Miracles happen. Have faith and never loose hope. Hope keeps the world going.
* I have an essay titled “Eyes” that I wrote in gratitude of my eyesight that I am fortunate to still have. It is an inspirational story available in ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN.
Purchase UNKNOWN INNOCENCE ($12.95 USD) and ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN ($8.95 USD) while the prices are low. Available in paperback at Amazon.com and other eStores, and as eBooks at Smashwords.com, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.Kindle, and other eBook retailers.
This blog is a reprint of my essay published in the Prisoner Express Monthly Writing Themes, June-July 2016. Prisoner Express comes from Cornell University’s CTA/Durland Alternatives Library, 127 Anabel Taylor Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-1001 (www.prisonerexpress.org). Prisoners may receive the “Prisoner Express Newsletter” free.
The program is important and deserves public support through donations from those in a position to do so; whether financially, politically, or socially, please show your support.
The program offers the following projects for prisoners: “Poetry Projects”; “Telling Your Story”; “Grammar Studies”; “Journal Project”; “Chemistry of Climate Change”; “Artknow”; “Buddhist Studies and Meditation Newsletter”; “Exploring the Ocean,” and “Songwriting Instructions.”
“Prisoner Express provides rehabilitation by providing information, education, and opportunities for creative self-expression to incarcerated individuals throughout the United States. … The Durland Alternatives Library which sponsors PE is a project partner of the Center for Transformative Action. Additional support comes from the Cornell Public Service center and the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI).” Prisoner Express Newsletter, Summer 2016.
This is a copy of the original essay submitted for publication, not the edited version, as published.
RESCUED by Wayne T. Dowdy
Sad to say but it is true. Yes, I was rescued. God saved me from myself by allowing me to go to prison to serve a thirty-five year federal sentence for armed bank robbery and associated charges. What is best, to live in prison or to not live at all? That’s a debatable question, no doubt. In 1988 when I began serving this sentence, my answer was different than today. Now that I am near the end of it, I’m pleased to have survived long enough to discover my journey to recovery.
RECOVERY is the process of returning to the “Being” God created, in contrast to the one I become based upon life experiences. To recover, reclaim something lost. Rescue innocence. Innocence lost as a child. A child whose path lead to crime, drugs, and incarceration.
RESCUED: For me to admit that the government rescued me is growth, since my pride often denied the truth. I humble myself and am honest when I confess my imperfections because doing so tramples on the Ego.
My pride and ego have been my worst enemies. The two are running partners–one does not act without the other. My first sponsor in a Twelve Step program said that his head was the type that thought it could kill the body and keep on living. Mine, too.
RENEWED: Living in a renewed state of mind enables me to see life as it is, even when it is not how I planned for it to be, instead of painting a distorted picture of reality inside my head to make me feel okay when I am not.
God doesn’t ask my advice on how I want life to happen. As a human, if God did ask my advice, I’d mess things up by allowing my character defects of pride, lust, anger, greed and gluttony to influence my decisions, or by letting emotions drive action instead of intellect.
FANTASY: In prison and life in general, a common behavior is creating fanciful scenarios of past experiences and personal histories. The reporting of a fantasy life on the outside is common inside prison. Some prisoners bum commodities and claim to have been millionaires on the streets; others claim to have been “Scarface” style drug kingpins, when in truth, they may have been a homeless, street hustler, dope fiend, or prostitute.
TRUTH: The truths of my life contain a mixture of success and failure, a mediocre existence, nothing fancy or extravagant to report. I experienced success by working for two reputable companies in Atlanta, Georgia, where I climbed the ranks and did well, until my worst enemy appeared–Mr. Ego, demanding more than life was giving.
I quit good jobs and forfeited lucrative careers because of Mr. Ego, who drove pride with a distorted view of reality. The drugs I used altered my perception of truth. I told myself I deserved more money than I was earning. The companies weren’t paying me what I was worth. Those thoughts justified my struggle to survive with my unhealthy habits.
The truth was that I mismanaged my earnings and made unsound business decisions. I spent more money on shooting and smoking drugs than I did on rent, car payments, insurance, utilities, and groceries, which explains why a repo man chased me for months to take my car. I shot more drugs in a day than I could work and pay for in a week. I reverted to crime to cover the cost. When I landed in jail with multiple felonies, facing the rest of my life in prison, the truth set in and I wanted to commit suicide to end the pain caused by my past. I’m glad I didn’t chose to end my life.
LOVE AND PAIN: Things change. Love and resentment kept me alive. I loved my family and knew they loved me. I didn’t want to hurt them by killing myself, even though I did sometimes feel their lives would be better without the pains I caused by living a self-centered life.
The resentment originated from my interview with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I refused to cooperate. The lead F.B.I. agent said, “I’m going to put you in prison for the rest of your life.”
“I will kill myself before I let you do that,” I said.
His response: “Do it!”
That made me want to live to avoid satisfying him, and to live to see the day I could make him regret saying it. Today I am thankful for him. God used him to rescue me from an abyss filled with anger and self-hatred.
THUG LIFE: From a thug point of view, I lived a life filled with danger and excitement by using guns to rob drug stores and other businesses to take what I wanted, using violence to accomplish my goals. Even inside prison I lived the thug life by playing the drug game, running gambling operations, and making decisions that affected the lives of others through prison politics. In my youth I did several things that gave me clout as a prisoner. For instance, kept my mouth shut when arrested; in the Georgia prison system, I assaulted two guards and later escaped with ten others by taking over a control room; made homemade wine and moonshine, sold drugs, and was later falsely accused of murdering another prisoner. I still held strong and did not rat on anyone. Those things happened many years ago when I was young and dumb, a phase most people seem to go through.
RETIRED: Seven years into this sentence, I retired from all the above because I tired of the associated drama. I was killing myself and acting insane by staying involved in dangerous situations to stay high and in control.
If God had not saved me from myself, my life of crime would have lead me to death row or the graveyard. I’m glad I was rescued, even though I do wish the path hadn’t been so rough.
______________________________________ June 15, 2019 Update: Wayne T. Dowdy writes straight from the pen. He is now a free citizen. Purchase UNKNOWN INNOCENCE (over 80,000-words for $10.95 USD); and a collection of his writings in ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN ($8.95 USD) from your favorite bookstore. Purchase the eBooks from all major eBook distributors, including Amazon.kindle, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.com (https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/WayneMrDowdy).
Penitentiaries are not the typical place to learn about love; however, I attended Kairos in 2003-2004 while at the United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana. Kairos is a prison outreach program where people of different faiths come together to teach the central theme about the love Jesus Christ has for us. Kairos means in God’s Special Time.
During the gratifying experience, I learned about Agape love. The mentors taught that Agape love in unconditional, it is how God loves us mere mortals. I do not have to do anything to receive it, other than to open up my heart and let the love flow in through the portals God opens for me to receive it.
I am loved in light of my many character defects and imperfections. That is real love, because God is love.
Agape love is a powerful form of love God allows us to share with others, without stipulations or expectations of return, or favors in exchange. It is free, the best deal around. I am blessed with serenity when I am able to open up and let the love shine in. Wayne T. Dowdy, straightfromthepen.com
[2020 Update: The author no longer worries about the censorship he dealt with when his former publisher posted this blog. He now enjoys freedom and exercises his freedom of speech.]
[The author uses his pseudonym due to institutional concerns when his publisher emails blogs into American prisons: one prison blocked their emails after sending “Zachariah Zambroski, Attorney at Law.”]
PANIC IN THE NORTH POLE: Santa’s elves discovered a package that ticked and then called in the bomb squad. False alarm. After detonating the suspicious package, the bomb squad determined the ticking package had been a miniature version of a grandfather clock. Clocks will be clocks. Real clocks tick.
PLOTS OF TERRORISTS: The feds uncovered a terrorist plot to blast Santa out of the sky. An early morning raid by the FBI netted six terrorists, five pipe bombs, four AK-47s, three pistols, two Rocket Propelled Grenades with launchers, and one computer. A search of the hard drive on the computer revealed other terroristic plots against Santa.
Santa security personnel installed anti-missile devices and .50 caliber machine guns on the sled to give Santa a fighting chance. Santa says, “I’ll blast them to pieces before they get me.”
NO SANTA FOR PRISONERS: Santa’s not coming to see federal prisoners this year. The feds deemed Santa’s modified sled and his reindeer’s antlers a threat to institutional security and barred him from landing on prison property to deliver gifts to prisoners who have not been naughty. If he lands on federal property, he’ll be prosecuted on weapons charges and for the introduction of contraband behind the guard line.
Prisoners gathered on the yard to protest after the Warden announced the news. Guards in riot gear fired tear gas to disperse the prisoners. No reports of injuries. Prison authorities placed the prison on lockdown status and will feed the prisoners bologna sandwiches and Kool-Aid for Christmas.
CONCLUSION: The plot to stop Santa only stopped him from delivering gifts to prison, and that’s how the story ends, but at least the fortunate children will see him and get their gifts.
Terrorists will reap eternal suffering for their dirty deeds.
It turned out for the best anyway. Investigators later learned about a plot by Mean Mugger Mack and Hack’em & Sack’em Sam, who planned to rob Santa of all the gifts when he touched down, so it’s all good. The terrorists plot to stop Santa saved him in the end. As for the prisoners, prisoners are survivors and will go about their daily activities like it is just another day in the pen, hoping for the day of their freedom. May God bless them all with peace, regardless of the name used by those who pray to summon that power greater than themselves.
_______________________________ Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all who celebrate! I hope everyone gets blessed with the desires of their heart and that 2016 will be the best year ever experienced. Watch for my next blog on Presidential Commutation of Sentences.