by Wayne T. Dowdy
[Updated with comments on August 9, 2019, a year after walking out of the prison gates (08/28/2018), still attempting to recover from the damage caused by thirty-years and ten-days inside the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons.]
Prison damages people. Those who spend decades in prison are damaged in many ways, all of which I will not go into. For instance, exposure to violence or physical abuse that people deal with, or repressing natural tendencies to fight when having to comply with irrational demands; e.g., like ones I wrote about in “The Truth About Incarceration, Part I” (https:/straightfromthepen.com) and “Authority and a Prisoner’s Story” (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/508702).
DON’T GET PERSONAL: A less than obvious example of damage, occurs for someone like me — a southern gentleman by nature who likes to assist people I see carrying a heavy load or otherwise look to need help; especially, women, who represses the natural desire to help. To engage in a personal conversation may also create difficulties.
At times, I resist the desire to offer help due to fear of causing a conflict for the damsel in distress. I still offer to help in certain situations. Because of prison regulations and the warped, unwritten code of prison ethics, I may avoid speaking openly about an issue I would normally speak about to a person I feel I can help by offering a suggestion.
The person may or may not accept a helping hand. In such a situation, an inmate may decline assistance at the fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable. A staff member may decline due to fear of another staff member suspecting improprieties between him or her and the compassionate prisoner. Personal conversations and any type of transaction between staff and inmates are viewed as inappropriate by many prisoners and staff alike. Humanity prohibited!
INSTINCTS DENIED: My instinct is to help others. Sometimes I don’t because of the risk I may put the other person in by doing what comes natural. Knowing that my act of kindness may harm the other person, makes me reluctant to offer the assistance my ethics and natural instincts tells me to do, as a decent human being.
Upon release, I will have to undo decades of damage done by the prison experience: suppressing healthy emotions and needs. I must learn to be a normal.
[I continue to work on behaving as I normally would do as a free citizen, if not for the damage caused by the extensive incarceration. I still struggle when it comes to relationships. I am a decent, loving, kind, and gentle human being, who doesn’t have to pretend to be bullet proof.]
I sent out the following message to a friend who posted it on social media for me. A lot of people liked it so I will share:
“03/05/17: To all my Faithful Friends: I hope March brings each of you lots of love and success or whatever your hearts desire. For me, I’d be happy to be able to walk through a park or to sit on a lake to listen and observe the beauty of nature; to give someone a hug, kiss someone special, or to just be able to sit and watch animals; or to pet a dog, cat, rabbit, or a chicken. 🙂 Hell, I’d be happy to watch some fish swim around in an aquarium. I am looking forward to going to the Georgia Aquarium to see some really big fish! So much in life people take for granted until it’s gone. One day soon I will be reentering the human race. Then I will be able to interact with each of you like a normal person. Have a great day! Wayne”
[Georgia Aquarium: I walked by the Georgia Aquarium en route to a job fair at the City of Refuge, but have not been to watch the fish swim. I will go soon now that I’m working and can afford to buy the tickets. Everything is expensive!]
The above indicates the desensitization of prisoners. For over 28-1/2 years, my physical contact with other humans and mammals has been severely restricted. That is definitely true on an intimate level about lovers and sexual intercourse! During this sentence, I have resisted romantic-relationships. I’ve only been involved in three since 1988, and only one of those included physical contact (hugs and kisses on a visit).
At U.S.P. Atlanta, I had one female visitor I got to hug and kiss, and some mice to pet. 🙂
In Lompoc, California, I got to take care of a friend’s pet house sparrow, and to go outside to feed the seagulls, crows, other birds, and ground squirrels. I fed the ground squirrels until the administration poisoned them. 😦
In a relationship, I love to hug and touch, to put my arm around my mate’s waist or shoulder, to sleep with my arm around her to maintain contact. I guess I am by nature, a “touchy-feely” kind of guy. In prison, I sleep alone and touch myself.
SEXUAL REPRESSION: In 1980-81, when I took psychology in college, I seem to recall that a prominent psychologist or psychiatrist wrote about the damaging effect of suppressing sexual feelings and desires. If that is true, I must be more damaged than I realize. Perhaps I need a therapist, now!
In my opinion, sexual repression is a leading causes of mental illness in America.
Around 1997, a Nevada, Holier-than-Thou politician, pushed a bill through Congress that prohibited federal prisoners from receiving magazines or books containing nudity. [Ensign later resigned due to negative publicity about his extramarital affairs.]
CENSORSHIP & COMPLEX REASONING: Several years ago, the prison mail room staff rejected an issue of Smithsonian I subscribed to because it contained nudity. I appealed.
The program statement makes an exception for educational or anthropological content, as one may see in National Geographic; however, understanding an “exception clause” requires cognitive thinking; an ability to comprehend the subject matter and its relation to the provision; to then analyze the situation and decide whether the matter before one’s eye, does in fact, contain what constitutes a permissible exception, a far too complicated process for someone who may not have a GED, I reckon.
The Smithsonian Board of Directors has Supreme Court justices and politicians. If I was wrong in my assertions, the justices and politicians on the Board of Directors support publishing and distributing pornography.
I appealed the decision to reject my Smithsonian. I took it to the highest level in Washington, DC. No one involved comprehended the “exception clause” and upheld the denial of my magazine. Censorship won because I didn’t want to spend $500.00 to litigate the matter in federal court, where someone with the required intelligence could understand the educational/anthropological, “exception clause.”
PERVERSION & THE POLITICIAN: Since that policy took effect, I saw a dramatic increase of inmates put in the hole (confined to a cell 23-hours per day, restricted from purchasing most commissary items, using the phone, email system, etc.) for “gunning down” female staff members (masturbating or exposing genitalia while watching the woman). That may qualify as abnormal behavior.
The politician who sponsored the censorship bill, later came under fire for getting caught cheating on his wife. Throughout the years, many of the politicians who come up with such bills did what prisoners in the Georgia prison system called “Shifting the Heat,” which is to say or to do things to put the focus on other people to keep it away from themselves.
[U.S. Senator John Ensign, Author of Ensign Amendment, Falls From Grace, https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2009/nov/15/us-senator-john-ensign-author-of-ensign-amendment-falls-from-grace/ ]
CELIBATE BY CHOICE: In prison, I remain celibate because I choose not to participate in homosexual activities, my only other option since I do not have or attempt to have sexual affairs with staff members. Even if involved in a heterosexual relationship with someone, I still couldn’t engage in sexual activities, even if someone visited me. While visiting, prison rules limit physical contact to hugs and kisses when greeting and leaving. Therefore, I remain celibate and will do so until I reenter that part of humanity upon release from prison.
LOMPOC CA: In 1999, while I was at the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc, California, a tall and pretty, female staff member worked in M-Unit, along with a male staff member known to create drama with staff and inmates alike.
M-Unit is where those of us with high profiles were kept. I lived in it because I was a maximum custody prisoner. The administration scored me as Maximum custody due to violence and an escape in 1981, when I was a 24-year-old knucklehead in the Georgia prison system. Today I am a model prisoner.
PRETTY WOMAN: That tall and pretty woman was a mother of three. The male guard wanted her to sit in a booth where the correctional officers, who worked in the unit, had a phone, small desk, drawers, and a cabinet to store their personal and work-related items.
She rebelled. Instead, she chose to speak with me, within his view. We stood talking on a tier, in an open area, where others could hear our conversation. To learn how she might help raise her children, she asked about my childhood and history, and wanted to know what I thought lead to me spending my life in prison. Our conversation was wholesome, no improprieties of any sort.
The next time I saw her, she asked if I’d be willing to give her an affidavit about our conversation, if she needed it.
“Sure,” I said.
The male guard wrote a complaint against her for fraternizing with an inmate.
Because of that experience, I sometimes avoided conversations with female staff members, who may have only wanted to engage in conversation to ease their tension from working in a male prison.
When sexually attracted, I must resist the impulse to flirt or to make an advance. A rejection might result in a trip to the hole and a damaged ego, the damaged ego being the worst casualty of rejection.
[Today, I resist the urge to flirt or ask for a date because of some of the BS generated through the ME TOO movement, where many people filed complaints and alleged sexual abuse by those in power positions (most of which were legitimate complaints, I suspect). The main reason is because of personal circumstance and for reasons I wrote about in previous blog posts, and because I don’t think it’s what I need until I become more accustomized to living on the outside.]
As damaged as I may be from the prison experience, I will blend into society when I am released. With a little help from my friends, and maybe a therapist or two, I will be okay and become a success story.
[Returning Citizen: I am a success story, as are all of the men and women who returned to society and have not returned to prison life.]