Thursday, February 11, 2010

#13 Why barter in prisn (RETRO)

Why barter in prison if it’s wrong?

Before I begin, let me first quote the rule as in the Rules and Policies Handbook:

C9: Barter or trade, lend money for interest or other gain.

Now, why would anyone in their right mind intentionally BREAK the rules of prison if the purpose of them being there is to learn correction and to rehabilitate themselves?

We’ll get to that in a minute, first, as always, be sure to email me or make a nice comment about my blogs. If you are interested in my books, I do make those available, just email me for the particulars. I am sending some out this week and early next week.

My email is derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com. Don’t be afraid to use it, I won’t bite.

Now, let’s see if we can make sense of the situation.

Why on earth would an inmate willingly break the rules? I mean, aren’t those guys there to learn a lesson? What kinda lesson are they learning if they continue their heathen, unrighteous and unsavory ways?

(I say that with a smile, knowing the answer).

Here in NC , bartering is indeed against the rules, as likely in every state prison. You see from the description that inmates are not allowed to trade goods for anything, nor are they allowed to lend anything with the purpose of gaining profit.

So by their words, it is ok if I had a dollar to lend it to a guy that needs it, as long as he pays me back one dollar. Not a dollar and a half, because that implies that I made a profit off my loan.

In NC there are 4 levels of charges, from A to D. There used to be “E” charges, but they did away with that by bumping them all up to “D” charges. The “A” charges are the most serious, while the “D” charges are the least. So that gives you an idea of how serious bartering can be.

Now, I can answer this more easily if we can first dispel some myths about prison. The first one is the one where people on the outside think that an inmate can do his time in prison in an absolutely perfect manner.

Not possible in a hell.

Get over it.

Lots of parents get all bent up when they find out their loved one got a writeup for something trivial, and the first thing they wonder is why their son or daughter did wrong? Hey, my mom was the same way, but what mom failed to comprehend is that in prison, troubles live with you. Yes you can get THROUGH them, but it does not mean you will avoid them.

If you are going to understand the answer to the title question, you must first destroy that idea in your head that your loved one can never get in trouble. It’s actually bad advice to tell them, “now son, I want you to stay out of all trouble and always do what the guards tell you to do”.

You GOTTA be kidding!

Now that sounds like I am some outlaw in Dodge City refusing to listen to the Sheriff… no, that’s not what this is about.

This is about surviving in prison, and often times that means doing what you can to make it. Now that sounds controversial because it implies that I am in support of being lawless. But that is not true either.

Life in prison is not like you live outside of it. When things go wrong for you on the outside, there are venues to find solutions. You can get a lawyer, call a police officer or any number of ways to find answers or solutions to problems of a legal nature. In prison, this isn’t so easy. Prisons break constitutionals over inmate’s heads daily, and hide behind the cover of DOC. Grievances work in favor of the prison. Writeups work in favor of the prison. Investigating officers work for the prison, the Prisoner Legal Services are paid BY the prison…the cards are heavily stacked against the inmate.

So to simply do what you are told sounds like great advice, and often it is… but if you play by all the rules of DOC and do everything they say and try to satisfy them at every opportunity… you will lose your mind.

The rule of bartering was something I actually supported. When I went to prison, a guy told me about his hustle and I thought this was NOT the way to act. I mean, I believed in God (even though at that time I had lost faith in Him), I was a college graduate, I wrote for the campus newspaper, worked for the campus radio station, made excellent grades, won awards, all kinds of stuff. I knew (somewhat) the difference between right and wrong.

And when I went to prison, I firmly believed that if I seek to cause no trouble, then the prison will like me and I won’t have any trouble from them at all… and maybe, just maybe, they might let me out sooner.

Isn’t that what YOU think?

It sounds credible, and indeed there is a lot of truth to it, but I never counted on my need to survive to kick in. The world of prison is not a boy scout camp, and it clearly isn’t like college. I spent 4 of the best years of my life in college, and now I am spending time in the worst years of my life. It was pure hell.

But you can’t just call somebody and check out, you have to deal with it daily. And not just the physical location of prison, but the condemnation, guilt, shame, embarrassment of incarceration, but all the negativity of every inmate around you. The very air of prison is so thick of fear, failure and misery that you could cut it like a steak.

Imagine carrying that every day. Not just a few hours, but every day. And each day it feels like it is getting heavier, because you are not finding hope. It’s like the devil is loading your back with every thought of negativity, failure and shame he can throw on you. If you don’t find a way to change that mode of thinking, you will go insane…or turn institutionalized.

Either way, you lose your humanity.

And some of you might think light of that, thinking that either I am lying or the age old, “if they can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”. Two words for people who think like that:

Shut up.

I tried folks, I REALLY tried to do everything right while in prison. I wanted to be that “model” inmate, one the officers would look at and say, “he’s a good inmate, never causes any trouble”. I did my level best to do everything they told me to do. Honest.

That lasted about a week, maybe two, into my incarceration.

In that short period of time, I was so troubled and broke that every second was like hell in my heart and mind. I had no way of fighting it, and as many of you who have my first book of “Grades of Honor” know, I had given up on God.

Life could not get worse unless I had given up on living.

But a guy asked me to write a letter for his girlfriend, and promised to pay me with a snack…I was broke and I needed something to lift my spirits. I had lost faith in my God, I was condemned, I was a first time felon, and I was scared. I had nothing.

Absolutely nothing to hold on to.

I was almost like a zombie in prison; I did what I was told, and to the best of my ability. I was friendly to a lot of the guys and actually made some decent friends while there… but deep inside I was feeling miserable. And a lot of this came from the fact that I was hungry. Sure we ate 3 meals a day, but the last meal was around 5pm. And because I was afraid of taking showers with other guys, I would sometimes sacrifice my last meal so I would have the dorm to myself so I could take a shower. With almost 60 guys in a dorm, I was very fearful of showering with so much humanity around.

So some days I went hungry… yeah I know that is foolish pride, but it was all I had left. I had dreamed of having one of those cold sodas in the canteen, but was broke. I spent almost 17 months in county jail before I was brought to prison, and even though we had canteen, all the sodas were warm.

Can YOU drink a warm Dr. Pepper?

On very, very rare days in county jail, we had a cool officer that would bring us a little ice, and I could have my soda “on the rocks”. I might count the number of times on both hands, out of over 500 days in jail.

So you can imagine the dream of having a cold soda after so long.

But when you’re broke, those ideas are as far away as Pluto. These things work on your spirit and your mind, and it becomes a burden I would not wish any inmate to carry if they can do something about it.

So when that guy offered me a pack of cookies one night to write to his girlfriend… I took it. YES, that is bartering, but so what.

I had to because it gave me the chance to make it, it gave me a chance to cope. And I am going to tell you something, that pack of cookies might have been laced with GOODNESS because I enjoyed every crumb that I ate.

But it took me breaking the rules to do it. One that sadly, I would do a thousand times over if given the chance.

You see, you gotta ask yourself if prison is about survival or obeying all the rules. Society believes that prison is about making guys obey every rule, and there is validity in that, but it’s a whole different story once you get in.

I would go on to write more letters for that guy, and as I went to other prisons, would start writing poems for money. This clearly is bartering, but it allowed me to be creative and gave me an opportunity to take my mind off doing time. It’s like the saying goes, “do the time, don’t let the time do you”.

So is it right to barter? No, and I’ll be the first to say it. But the value of obeying rules becomes compromised when your humanity and peace of mind is jeopardized. When it comes down to surviving while in prison, you simply have to do what you have to do.

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