I am a federal prisoner and incarceration has changed my outlook on many things in many ways during the course of these past six and a half years.
For starters, I outright disagree with my sentence of 100-months for my crime (Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon) even though I willingly admit that I did commit the crime. Even though I voice my opinion, does my view or outlook really matter anymore?
Since I am now a felon, I carry about the same prestige as a cow dressed in a khaki suit.
The little things that I used to take for granted will never again be little after I leave here.
For starters, I will look at my fridge with nothing less than marvel and admiration. The monotony of prison food has rubbed much of the positivity right out of me.
For instance, every Wednesday we have hamburgers, every Thursday we have chicken, and every Friday we get fish. These are the same meals every, single, week. They NEVER change. Why they place these same meats on our tray with such frequency, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that after a few years of the same exact routine, the occasional steak, venison, or hotdog from time to time will excite me.
Still, like a good little boy, I eat my burgers, chicken, and fish as soon as I am able to do so. I have discovered that a prisoner's enjoyment of his food is equivalent to his hunger at the time or the first bite.
Something else that excites me is the thought of driving around in a car. This will be a new experience after so many years sequestered behind cinder blocks, concertina wire, with a platoon of armed guards patrolling the perimeter of their fortress. Regaining my ability to roam the world in all its glory is one of the things that I look forward to more than anything.
After a certain amount of time passes, the inmates begin seeing their days filled with such monotony that they know if they do not fill the hours with something, they will go crazy.
To combat this, some watch TV. Others exercise. Some gamble. A few play cards, chess, or other games to occupy their time. When one gets to the bare essence of it, all prison happens to be is nothing more than a battle with the clock and calendar.
I think the best thing a person can do is to find a way to pass the time as they add to their intelligence or skill set in some way.
Learning from books has been a great method to pass the time and learn some great things. Some quotes have been very inspirational, to wit:
“... the question was, how different could I be? We don't really choose what we are except within a certain range[ ... } I did make one vow: I would feed my hunger for knowledge. I would make my time serve me while I served it.”
— Education of a Felon, Edward Bunker
Seeing little reason not to follow this advice, I began a new itinerary for myself. This involved reading as much and as often as I could, writing as many essays and short stories as I could and as often, keeping a journal, composing letters to loved ones, and adding to the overall catalog of writing that will come with me when I leave this prison in five more months.
Since I immersed myself in a world of words, as opposed to the worlds of debauchery and decadence, I feel that I am making a positive impact on my life, my future, and hopefully a few of those around me.
Although this may sound a little clichéd to others, that does not concern me whatsoever. The only thing that concerns me is that I stop this cycle of poor choices that has thus far kept me incarcerated for the majority of my youth.
“The only real victory that really counts in prison is survival. But survival means more than simply being alive. It's not just the body that must survive a jail term: the spirit and the will and the heart have to make it through as well. If any one of them is broken or destroyed, the man whose living body walks through the gate, at the end of his sentence, can't he said to have survived it.”
— Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
I feel that my spirit and will and heart have survived and I feel that I am of a little different class than those around me. If that makes me any better than them, why am I still in the same exact place that they are?
As I focus on my future, I want to show my friends and family that I have learned from my mistakes and I am ready to move on with my life.
I also need to share with the public the necessity of making some reforms with our vast prison system. Something has to make these environments more positive, allowing those incarcerated to do something constructive with their lives. If the prison system is not trying to make its prisoners better in some way, what is the purpose of this massive incarceration?
After all, a change for the better has to start somewhere, right? Why not with me?
Besides, who better to talk about the dismal life in the pasture besides one of the recently released cows?
I am currently a federal prisoner but will not be one for very long ...
A Very Bad Dream
I woke up from a very bad dream this morning. Somehow, somewhere, some way, I walked into a room and one of my "friends" had a medley of drugs: kilo bags of white powder, assorted pill bottles, and kilo blocks of marijuana. I woke up before any conversation could even take place between us.
This is one of my biggest fears ... leaving prison and then coming right back. My own choices, having no discipline and my addiction are the main problems. I've had zero interest going through drug treatment here in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Once I discovered that each person graduating puts an extra $111,000 in the FBOP's budget (war chest), this pushed me away even further. I have no interest in making my jailors richer than they already are.
Addiction is a demon I will force myself to fight alone.
Another reason that I say this is because organized religion was shoved into my face ever since I've been a child. I see this blind devotion referred to as "faith" and fail to see anything but the mind control and brain washing of the masses. I'm Norwegian and I've had thousands of my ancestors killed in the name of the church. I fail to see any parallels between Christianity and waging war unless it's about power. I associate AA/NA with a Higher Power, and thus, not of any interest. So, I fight my battle all alone and I'm scared.
What if I fail? I know what, and that is what scares me.
I'm set up about as comfortably as I could possibly imagine here in federal prison: I have a cell at the end of a long hallway; an MP3 player with a bunch of songs; several pairs of excellent headphones and earbuds; literally a library of books I've purchased or had mailed in from family and/or friends; a comfortable set of sweats, shoes, boots, and winter gear; and an established routine that eats up my remaining days.
My sentence vanishes as I continue with my hobbies and activities throughout the day. I have been my own savior in this prison.
If I get out and fall back into the same old patterns, I lose not only my freedom, I also lose everything I listed above. Losing my current comfort frightens me.
It turns out that my "dream" was actually a nightmare...
Jesse Marchus is a writer and soon-to-be former inmate at a federal prison in Wisconsin. He can be contacted by mail at the address below.
PO Box 667
Bismarck, ND 58502