By Wayne T. Dowdy
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.
For those who prefer to save trees, download the collection or the essay as a separate eBook (“Authority & A Prisoner’s Story”) at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/WayneMrDowdy. Read my February 13, 2017, blog “Apple & EBooks” for information about Smashwords.com.]
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 www.straightfromthepen.com today. Follow his blogs on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com or waynedowdy.weebly.com.