Prison has been my life and I've seen more aspects of the inside than most guys ever will because of how I do my time. There are many different ways a person can do their time.
You can stay inside and only leave your dorm for chow everyday.
You can get a job in laundry, education or the library where you are basically in a protected environment all day, every day.
You can be what I call a rec warrior which is someone who goes to the recreation yard anytime it's open.
Or you can be on the front lines in a service job like the canteen, barber shop or confinement orderly.
Each one of these spots have a completely different type of time associated with them as well as pros and cons. So to start with the first…
The chow and backs is mostly for guys who are just trying to kill a few years and sneak out without any problems with other prisoners. Mostly these guys are alright because their main goal is to stay out of everyone's way. Pro is less chance of problems, con if you don't have outside financial help you'll starve.
Now for laundry, it is mostly a low level hustling job. These guys stay inside the laundry building M-F limiting their interactions with other prisoners but also allowing them the chance to make enough for the small things that make time a little easier.
Education guys are almost like the stay inside ones unless they are being forced to take a class then they are a whole different animal but basically these guys are attempting to better themselves and can usually be relied on as trustworthy and mostly honest.
You have your tutors and ITA's meaning inmate teaching assistants as well. They are assigned the thankless task of helping prisoners get high enough grades to pass GED and tabe testing. Basically that's the only REAL education offered in most prisons.There are several faith based programs for self betterment but as far as actual accredited education, sadly we get stuck at high school level in here.
Now your library guys are important. In recent years, the law libraries across the state have really went downhill in my opinion. Prison officials have made a strong attempt at gutting the most competent law clerks out of the law libraries for some reason. Don't get me wrong because there are still some really sharp guys working but gone are the legal heavy weights who've won many cases or civil suits against the state. I've seen library supervisors assign man with less than a year to the position of law clerk trainee! Crazy because it takes years just to get a good basic understanding of the law and to become a barely passing prison or jailhouse lawyer. As for the guys who are still competent clerks, these guys represent hope throughout the prison. They are the go to when it seems all hope is lost.
Your basic reading comprehension level in fdoc is around 5th grade so you can see the importance here. Also these guys have one of the best hustles in our land because lawyers are in high demand. On the other side they also have the highest stress associated with their job. Not only because of all the work but because if they are really good and get a name from their work then they become a target for retaliation by staff! No prison official wants an inmate smart enough to file winning grievances or civil suits against the state so they have to be careful who they deal with and what issues are worth the trouble of fighting.
Now your rec warriors are a breed of their own. To adequately describe this group of prisoners I first have to tell you about the job assignment "inside grounds". Basically, this job is where they stick most of the lifers that they don't know what to do with or the guys who mess up a lot. ISG cut grass and keep the prison grounds clean but there are normally around 800 or 900 men assigned here so these guys are stuck with nothing to do all day everyday and thus a rec warrior is born. I myself have been in the ranks of rec warrior several times over the years. These guys go outside to the rec yard every chance they get. Work out or play sports as much as possible in an attempt to kill the boredom and keep up our mental health. When I first came to prison if you didn't have a job, you were forced mon-Fri to the yard twice a day. The past 10 years though prison officials and lazy guards have systematically cut almost all recreation out of prisons. All across the state only a dorm or two are allowed on the rec yard at any given time. Might be why the violence has skyrocketed in recent years. They have taken almost all the sports equipment from us. No more weights, baseball, team sports where older guys can mentor younger men who we may never be able to reach unless we have something as small as a game of softball to bring us together... but that's a whole different issue all its own.
Now service jobs. You have the canteen man who everyone knows because they are the guys who basically make the economy run in here. There are normally two or three inmate canteens at each prison. This is the place where a prisoner has to go in order to buy the things he needs to make time a little easier. You buy everything from hot sandwiches to q-tips, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, honeybuns...basically everything you'll find in an over priced truck stop. These guys have more control over the pace of the prison than meets the eye because this isn't a walk in store but a window in a concert wall where the canteen man rings up your order and hands the items out of a foot wide slot two or three at a time. I've worked several canteen jobs and man are they crazy. Fun but stressful. If you have a good group of canteen men, the prison economy and movement is much better. As I've said, everything has a price in here and if a man can't pay on time then there's bound to be problems. Also the faster a canteen man runs his window or depending on his level of understanding with staff he can actually get them to run more or less canteen/rec.
Barbers are a close second when it comes to stress. It is a very good hustle where you can get paid up to six dollars in canteen for a fade or similar haircut but these are considered illegal by prison staff and your not supposed to do them. They took shaving razors out of prison a few years ago so the barber shop has a lot of extra work to do in a prison that houses over a thousand prisoners and normally only has three barbers to maintain the shaves/hair cuts. These guys are known by everyone. I've been a barber at every prison I've been to and you've really got to be a people person. It's like being a barber, counselor, preacher and doctor all in one because you hear a little of everything in that spot and just like on the street, gossip happens in a barbershop!
Lastly you have your confinement orderlies. These guys have a crazy job. They deal with men who are or have been locked in a 6 by 9 foot super hot cell for weeks or months at a time with only three showers a week. Most times the shower is the only out of cell activity the confined man gets so the orderly has a tough, challenging job on his hands. These guys serve all three meals through small slots in steel doors. They clean the unit and pass things from cell to cell even though its against the rules but necessary for the running of confinement.You must keep in mind that the men who they serve are being punished for real or imagined infractions and can be frustrated and angry due to super hot, poorly ventilated concert cells. Its a hard job, but once again everything has its price in here. There are so many aspects of this job I can't in good faith put in here but suffice it to say its a hard complicated job where the orderly is much needed and appreciated.
You see everything has its place in here. Everything costs in one way or another. Yeah on paper the state provides us with everything we need but in reality, well u get it......
These prisons were built and designed to house the worst of the worst but in all honesty there are often times a huge community found behind these walls. Some of the guys accused of the worst crimes end up being the best people you've ever met. Drugs and alcohol destroy lives more than anything in the world. Mental illness is rampant. People need help not hell.
I've fought and cried behind these gates. I've grown and matured. I've seen some horrible things yet learned that even though guys make bad choices, they aren't bad people. I've shed tears with men and watched lives transformed into beautiful futures. It's all in the perspective you have on life. You can condemn a man for a lifetime for the mistakes he's made or help him to realize his true potential. You have artists, doctors, lawyers, you name it behind these gates. There is a huge population of men who were so young they never even had a chance to show any of their true potential just waiting to show the world that we are and always will be worth it!
Life is faced with many challenges, more so for a man who's been convicted of a crime, yet we have the potential to change the world if you allow us! Thank you for your time and interest in our cause! My mother always told me change starts with one step and continues a step at a time so for all of you fighting for change. Keep walking! Keep fighting! Any forward progress is progress! We too are fighting from our side of the gate and even though it is a hard, uneven fight, it needs to be done! - Donnie Williams
Where is the Hope?
Prison can be a hell of a place to grow old at. Coming into the chain gang at 22 years old felt like being dropped in a bottomless pit without any light at the end of the tunnel. Over 14 years later, it hasn't gotten much better. It is painful for me to discuss the tragic setting in which I live, but sharing the truth about the state of Florida's prison system is a necessary first step to bring any kind of positive change.
The atmosphere is filled with tension and frustration. The people imprisoned here are wounded, broken, and rejected by the rest of society. Hatred and animosity are nurtured in their hearts continuously in direct relation to how they are treated. Those of us who refuse to succumb to such depravity must prepare to have our Faith tested time and again.
When new inmates arrive at a prison "reception center", they are greeted by rough-neck prison guards barking orders and threats interchangeably. They are commanded to strip naked and march in line holding their property in a cardboard box, then wait in line to be "processed" and given a pair of white prison boxers. The entire reception process is designed to be both degrading and humiliating, and to break the spirit of all who enter. It sets the tone for the prison system's divisive "us-against-them" mentality that keeps criminals from ever considering themselves as anything other than outcasts.
Once an inmate arrives at their permanent camp, they are given another round of "orientation", where the guards assert their authority in an extended intimidation session. Usually, one or more inmates will be hauled off to the "box" as examples, so that everyone knows who's the boss. By the time they are allowed to mingle with the other prisoners, they fully understand their roles as inmates. Another fresh batch of undesirables added to the mix.
Prison life then consists of maintaining some semblance of humanity through whatever means present themselves. The system does not offer such a means in itself, so the prisoners must turn elsewhere. For inmates who are not supported by wealthy family members, their only recourse is to resort to some form of illegal conduct. The criminal mind continues to be nurtured in this environment, further impressing upon the inmate his identity as an outlaw.
There are companies that pay for inmate labor, but the state severely limits these contracts to a bare minimum, so most inmates across the state are left without any legal means to support themselves. Making the situation worse, the inmates are not provided deodorant or dental floss unless purchased from the inmate canteen. In essence, inmates are forced to choose between sacrificing their hygiene, or their rehabilitation.
Why would the state NOT want their inmates to be able to support themselves legally at all institutions, when outside companies are willing to provide the funds to do so? The obvious answer is that inmates who are allowed to live their lives without relying on their criminal minds have a much greater chance of becoming rehabilitated, which is the opposite of what the system was designed to do. Inmates who have the means to provide for themselves legally might actually begin to believe in themselves again, rather than keeping them broken and dejected.
The vicious cycle of crime and imprisonment is deeply ingrained in Florida's criminal "justice" system, and will remain that way until a whole new way of thinking is instilled upon society as a whole. As long as inmates continue to be treated as outcasts, they will continue to identify as such. Only when they are treated like people, with a true desire for them to be restored as productive members of society, will rehabilitation become a natural outcome.
Everyone gets angry
We are all familiar with anger; we see it demonstrated frequently. We see angry people in TV shows and movies; we hear angry politicians and radio hosts. Sometimes we experience anger with others around us, and we also experience anger in ourselves.People sometimes try to use anger to solve problems or to relieve stress but that often creates more problems, more stress and even more anger.
We can’t eliminate anger, but we can manage it. We can make it a useful tool instead of one that demolishes relationships and other things. Anger is often glorified as a key to unlock hidden strength and passion. Anger feels powerful.
Power alone is not good or bad. We need to feel powerful to feel capable. Feeling powerful is an important element of our American cultural self-image. But power alone without caring emotions such as reflection, kindness, and humility can cloud our perception of situations, others, and ourselves. When we feel painful emotions such as sorrow, or hurt, because we’ve been rejected, disrespected, offended, forgotten, etc., we can find ourselves feeling like we have a loss of power. To try to reduce our discomfort, sometimes we respond with a powerful emotion like anger. It’s hard for us to feel pain! We are ‘wired’ to go toward pleasure and away from pain. Anger feels like it stops pain – at least momentarily.
The process of dealing with painful emotions is very hard and requires a great deal of strength and self-control. We become more powerful, capable and intuitive as we develop deeper problem-solving skills and tools for life’s constantly challenging situations. Used positively, anger can help us realize deeper feelings about things so we can construct ways to avoid anger in the future.
Flying off the handle sometimes causes hammers and humans to lose their heads? as well as their effectiveness. ~ William Arthur Ward
Processing anger-energy through ‘venting’ (to ourselves; not others!) can be beneficial for focusing on and clarifying a problem. If we can be critical and clear about what is going wrong, we can then drive ourselves to go deeper to get the picture of what it would look like to go ‘right’, and then we can make changes to turn the situation around. Once we deeply reflect on the situation, other people’s points of view (if applicable), and our deeper feelings, then we can see what we can do to make things better. We can then show others how we’d like to be treated!
Many of us experience a great deal of discomfort when we disagree with others. Many of us were not taught the value of listening or engaging in friendly arguments or debates. We say we believe that another person’s opinion can be as valid and ‘right’ as our own, but do we mean it’ For every person’ Believe it or not, it’s possible for people with opposing view points to work together to create the best possible solutions!
Anger needs to be expressed, yet aggressive displays of anger can result in violent eruptions that further hurt us socially, mentally, and physically. We need to find ways to process our emotions effectively. An out-of-control outburst could cost us a job. Or worse.
A hammer is a great symbol for anger because hammers can demolish and they can build! When we feel our anger building we need to stop and recognize triggers that can seize control of our power. When you feel anger building, try to remember to
Take a breath (or many!)
Identify your TRIGGER (what upset you? And then look again?was it something deeper?)
your FEELING (how do you feel about what is upsetting you?)
your REASON (why does it bother you and what is the best way to resolve this?)
Then ask yourself some questions about how and when you get angry. Questions like:
Do I always get angry about this issue?
Could I have seen this coming?
Could I have avoided feeling angry by taking a different approach to this situation?
What is my goal here? What do I hope to achieve?
Blaming others for our anger or frustration seems like an easy way to solve our problem: we want to say that someone or something ‘did this to me’. But blaming leaves us powerless and ineffective! How can we expect a situation to improve – in the way we would like to see it improve – if we put the task on someone else?
Did you know that no one else can make us feel angry? We choose to respond with blame and/or anger and we can choose a different response. We are FREE to improve our relationships and live without rage when we decide to deal with our feelings in effective and purposeful ways. Consider deeply what makes you angry and why.
DIG for the answer that will transform anger! Here are a few examples:
Why do I feel angry when others try to tell me what to do?
Do I feel disrespected? As if they think I haven’t thought about something carefully?
Why do I feel angry when it feels like others don’t listen to or acknowledge me?
Do I believe they think that my opinion is not valid or important?
Why do I feel angry when others are not respectful of an agreement we made?
Do I feel like they think I am less important than they are?
Why do I feel angry when I stub my toe?
Am I embarrassed because I missed something right in front of me?
Why do I feel angry when other drivers make travel difficult?
Do I feel they are selfish, dangerous, disrespectful, and not paying attention?
Can your find the solutions you are looking for in your answers?
Be aware of your temper: your ‘anger energy’.
Here are some ideas to help you keep your temper under control:
Try the Thermometer Technique – Imagine your temper is red mercury in a large thermometer. When you’re HOT, don’t react! Wait until you are ‘cool’ to respond.
Count to 10, or 100! ‘Count’ and think of a time when you were calm and relaxed to take your mind out of the immediate situation. Counting is an anger management tip that has workedfor centuries! The Roman poet Horace (65 – 8 BCE) said, “When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, one hundred.”
Inhale deeply – Can you breathe so deeply that you get clean air deep down into your belly?
Walk outdoors if possible! Your brain and your body work better with fresh air and plenty of water.
Be sure to communicate with anyone you might be in a confrontation with that you are not leaving the problem; you’re just clearing your head.
Exercise! – Daily exercise allows you to work out stress. When you have less stress, you will feel angry less often. Regular exercise, including yoga and meditation, help you stay centered and keep things in perspective.
Vent – Finding a safe spot to articulate your feelings? and maybe even yell (I find this particularly effective when I hammer my finger) can relieve enough stress to see the problem – and the solution – more clearly. Do not ‘blow off steam’ when anyone is nearby. Instead, go to the basement alone, or ride your bike and talk to the wind, or even stomp on a few aluminum cans to relieve frustration.
Our best way of dealing with anger is to find ways to make it useful. A powerful example is when someone uses the energy from anger to find the courage they need to protect someone who is being harmed!
Be Careful – When anger turns into poison:
Sometimes we think that being angry and bitter all the time means we are smart, savvy and aware of the ways in which people and the media want to persuade us; as if it shows we are ‘on to them’. Soon we are cynical, crabby people and, although people may think we are smart, they also think we are ‘haters’ and don’t want to hang out with us. It’s hard to have fun with angry people.
Dealing with Frustration
Life is full of frustrations. From the minor irritations of losing your car keys to the major anxieties of continued failure towards a goal, frustration is not a pleasant emotion in any magnitude. Because of the unpleasantness of this emotion, people will often avoid anything that might lead to it. Unfortunately, many of the things we truly want to experience such as triumph, joy, victory and purpose require a great deal of frustration. Being able to manage frustration allows us to remain happy and positive even in trying circumstances. In order to successfully manage frustration, you need to first understand what causes it. Frustration is simply caused whenever the results you are experiencing do not seem to fit the effort and action you are applying. Usually frustration is caused by a narrow focus on a problem that isn’t resolving itself as you had hoped. This is a very simple concept, but it is an important step to solving frustrating problems.
Frustration is Energy Consuming
Our energy as human beings is our primary currency we use to do anything. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energies all fuel discipline, creativity, courage and motivation. Anthony Robbins includes energy as the first key to success in any area of life.Stress in excessive doses is a negative emotional state that weakens the immune system and raises blood pressure is the direct result from a lack of energy. When we run out of energy we become useless. Frustrating problems are incredibly energy consuming. Because these problems consume our energy in such great quantities, we need to be extremely careful that we don’t try to keep running with an empty energy reserve. When this happens we burnout and require a long time to recover. The initial reaction of most people is to work harder when they encounter frustration. Although the intention to work harder makes sense, it often results in trying to spend more energy than we have available. Why are frustrating problems more energy consuming than normal tasks? The answer to this is relatively simple. Because your action is not producing the results you expect, your brain naturally goes into full gear, rapidly consuming mental energy to solve the problem at hand. In this time it is very easy to run out of energy. When your energy stores are depleted this is when you become irritable, tired, stressed and sometimes even angry. To get a little perspective on your issue, try broadening your focus from your current problem outwards. Try thinking about how the problem looks when you view it from a few weeks from now, a year, ten years or your lifetime? Go outside and look up at the sky. Viewing the incredible expanse of space and time will ultimately make your problems look very small indeed. Getting perspective when you are frustrated isn’t a particularly difficult practice; the difficulty is in remembering to do it. It will be difficult to do this at first, but after diligent practice it will become a habit and happen automatically. Nobody likes to feel frustrated. Unfortunately, frustrations are part of life. Learn to manage your frustrations so they don’t leave you stressed, burned-out or depressed. Take breaks from your frustrations to recover your mental and creative energies. Reward your actions, not just your results and remember to gain a little perspective when you begin to feel overwhelmed. Don’t let your frustrations prevent you from setting goals and living your life to the maximum.