Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#43 Questions about prison (RETRO)

Questions about Prison

It is kinda cool that I am slowly getting more emails from different and new readers, because that encourages me to want to write even more. For awhile, it was a struggle to write because I was kinda down. Those of you who read my blogs a few months ago know what I am talking about.

But things are turning for the better. I am getting more readers, I am getting more emails and I have people who actually support my blogs with a nice card and a gift, those are very, very encouraging.

And because of that, I am trying to figure out something to do for Valentine’s Day for those of you with a loved one in prison. I am thinking about offering a free Prison Encouragement Certificate, and maybe a card, depending on how much it will cost me to do. If I do this, it will be free to anyone who wants one, and probably first come, first served because let’s face it, I can’t do 1000 of these things. I may limit it to maybe the first 100, with exception first to those who have been continually supporting my works.

If I get the green light on this, I will tell you more about it later.

Now, what I wanted to do is jump right into some questions I have been asked about prison, and I will try to answer some of the more recent ones I have received. If you have a question you may want me to talk about, email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com. I may either answer it quickly, email you with an answer, or blog it out, or maybe some combo of those three.

Now, let’s get to some questions:

“What does maximum and minimum mean”

These are basically the parameters of the sentence your loved one has to do. In most states, when the judge sentences a person, he or she gives them a sliding scale sentence, so to speak. The inmate MUST serve at least the very minimum of the sentence, and could possibly stay there for the max.

“Then why bother giving him either”

Because in prisons, an inmate can actually earn time for “good behavior”. Many folks think this is just because the inmate was a “nice guy” while in prison, but what it is based on is gain time that he or she earns while doing prison work, or involved in prison activities like DART, AA or getting a GED. The more the inmate does these things, the more days that come off the maximum end of his sentence, actually decreasing the time he will be in prison.

“What if my boyfriend earns more than the minimum? Does that mean he can get out even sooner”?

No. Even if your loved one worked enough gain time to go under the minimum sentence he has, he still has to stay in prison until at least the minimum is served. That was the judgment he received by the judge, and he cannot go below it.

“Does my son really need money in prison”?

That is a hard one, because by most rights, an inmate is guaranteed food, shelter, clothing and medication, even if some are questionable. So technically speaking, he does not NEED any money unless he wants to buy things for himself. But therein is the answer. I blogged on the subject of money in prison, and I truly believe a man or woman that has a few dollars ever once and awhile can do his time better than if he was flat broke all the time.

“So how much should I send him”

That is equally hard, because different prisons are run different ways. For example, some prisons actually allow you to buy televisions and microwaves. In NC prisons, you are not allowed to purchase any of that. The only “high end” things you could buy was a pair of Converse shoes and a very cheap RCA radio (no CD player or tape players are allowed). So the actual amount you can send someone really depends in part to what they want to have. A mother that sends her son $10 a month might be greatly appreciated by her son, while another may not be thankful for his girlfriend sending him $50 a month. It all depends.

“Are the stories true about taking showers”?

Uh…well….you may want to see if I still have a blog on prison showers to understand how I might answer that one….

“Is the food good in prison? I heard it is terrible”

I disagree. Now, if you are used to eating in a 5-star restaurant every day, then I suppose the prison food will kinda be a let down. But as a guy that used to work in some of those kitchens, sometimes the meals were pretty decent. I am not saying they will be on Food Network anytime soon, but it was ok.

“Do inmates wear the same clothes everyday?”

Well, that can be a trick question. Technically, many prisons have inmates wear the same KINDS of clothes, but every prison I was in had what is called clothes exchange. This is a time during the week where inmates exchange their old clothes (or dirty clothes) for an exchange for clean ones. Some prisons do this once a week, some do it more than once. I never worked in a clothes house, but I kinda know how it works.


Uh…yeah. But all the clothes are cleaned before they recycle it back to the inmates. It’s worth a longer explanation if you want to email me about that.

“Can inmates earn a degree while in prison”

Actually the possibility is there. It is possible for an inmate to be able to take correspondence classes while in prison and actually earn a degree. The problem is that there are a lot of hoops to jump through to do it. I actually thought I could work on my BS in Journalism since I got a BS in Radio and Television and minored in Journalism while in college, but I was never able to get that chance. Is it possible, yeah, I guess. Is it probable…I don’t really know.

“My husband has not eaten a real good burger in a long time. If I went to see him on visitation, can I bring him a burger from McDonalds”.

Well, before you do that, make sure to first call the prison and ask if visitors are allowed to bring food during visitation. Many camps do NOT allow it, but I have been on some that do. And even if you are allowed to bring food, many do not allow you to bring drinks of any kind; they usually provide refreshment machines on the grounds for such purposes. I remember on one camp my mom brought me some Dominoes Pizza…it was a very good day to see my mom, although I was troubled inside for having her come see me. But believe me, if you are able to bring food to a loved one, do it. It makes the visit so much nicer.

“Do inmates really believe in God, or are they just faking it for pity’s sake”

Well, to know that answer, I’d have to know the hearts of man, and I only know myself. Yet you can tell if a person is trying to know God or not, no different from society. Lots of people go to church every Sunday, but don’t know God anymore than some guys in prison. Just because you are in prison does not mean you are disallowed from trying to know God.

I knew a guy at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm that read faith booklets and read the Bible, but got in trouble every now and then. Does that mean he didn’t know God? Not really. Even if a man falls down 1000 times, if he continues to get up and try to read the Bible, pray and stay a decent person, who are we to judge him and say he can never know God? One guy talked to me once about some marriage problems he was having with his girlfriend, and he noticed I always kinda kept to myself when I read scriptures. We talked at length about faith, and I could tell he really wanted to believe, but just could not see past the circumstances. I know…I’ve been there many times, as have many of you.

He was a nice guy, really. But one day the officers did a locker search on him and found some opened razors in his locker. I know he had those because he liked carving soaps to make things, since his bunk was next to mine. But by rule, no inmate is supposed to have an open razor, so they had to cuff him and take him to the hole. It looked like he was screwing up, but when you look at the heart of him, you can see it was more circumstantial.

Ok, that is enough for now, I am open for any more questions if you want, and if you are interested in my “Grades of Honor” prison books, let me know. If you have been following my blogs awhile and want to support it, feel free to ask. As I keep saying, I am very, very thankful to those that do, because it is like a spark inside of me to keep writing, knowing that there are many that truly appreciate it.

I hope to put together something for Valentine’s Day, but we’ll chat on that later. My email is derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com. If you know some friends that need some help with a loved one in prison, share my link with them.

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