ANNIVERSARY: the annual return of the date of a notable event.
NOTABLE: marked by an achievement.
I cannot say I like the idea that this day is an anniversary, yet IT IS!
The achievement? I have survived. I am still alive and I can honestly say I am happy about it. When I put my feet on the floor in the morning I am at peace (on most days!), I smile and look forward to the day.
Twelve months ago I was dropped into the King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) and sent into a concrete room referred to as The Tank. The drop happened to nineteen other men...at various times. There were angry men, suicidal men, homicidal men, homophobic men, drug-addicted men, black men, white men, red men and yellow men; dangerous men, desperate men...perhaps even frightened men, though that was less apparent to me since fear kept my heart from beating most of the time, let alone feeling any empathy. Those descriptors were how I used to see those men. Today I feel I know those men! I KNOW them to be fragile and scared sentient/human beings. Lots happened in "The Tank" that I hope to forget...AND I survived.
After 5 months in that part of Dante's Inferno, I was transferred to the Shelton Prison and introduced to a "tier" which housed sixty men. While at KCCF I was locked up 24/7...in THE TANK! At Shelton I was allowed outside...two hours of fresh outdoor air...every day. I will forever remember the sweet yellow daffodil I saw on my first outing. I think I wrote a haiku about her. Little events like that brought me great pleasure...and gratitude began to have a new meaning. The men there were from a variety of backgrounds...all labeled dangerous. I shared my cell and my fifteen-minute meals (gobbled and timed by guards) with murderers, rapists, drug dealers and gang members. AND I survived.
After six weeks in Shelton I was consigned to Monroe Prison MSU (that label stands for Minimum Security Unit). Initially I was housed in 'B' unit with forty men. Most of those men have been in prison more than half their life. Men in their mid-30's were finishing ten and twelve year sentences. Some in their late 30's to late 50's have been in and out of prison since their early teens. Monroe MSU is a kind of reward...with minimum security, it is the last stop before freedom. That means most of the men are on their best behavior - when the guards are looking.
Unit 'B' was slightly better than Shelton. In many ways it felt like a fraternity dormitory. Tho' I was never in a frat house, I do recall the movie Animal House...do you?? The actual floor was always a mess. There was STUFF everywhere! Music was always played LOUDly. The boy-men were always "horsing around" (from the Urban Dictionary and my editor..verb 1. To engage in pre-adolescent hijinks that generally annoy stodgy adults who were raised in a different time). I felt these men were trying for a kind of "normal" horseplay; however, there was something edgy underneath it all. It seemed that I could see fear and anger, perhaps even rage in their eyes.
If you accidentally bumped into a resident on "B", there was an initial moment filled with tension, a nanosecond when the entire floor froze with adrenaline-filled anticipation. It was like walking into a forest, making some unbidden noise and suddenly listening to the birds simultaneously stop singing. In prison, one can be stabbed (aka shanked) for the slightest hint of what is considered disrespect. One can also be taken advantage of (aka abused) for showing weakness. So...when you bump into another prisoner, what should you do? Saying I'm sorry shows weakness (and in that situation, it really does indicate weakness). Not apologizing shows disrespect. I know this sounds crazy but prison mores are counterintutive. All the residents know that our next "assignment" is freedom and that fighting is a tick- back to "closed custody", translated as prison with bars. Yet prison community-rules (I do not know what else to call them!?@#) are hard to set aside. So both men glance around. If there is a handshake and mumbled "no problem man" that means the guards are watching. If the men involved head for the bathroom, it means the guards aren't watching and there will be a fight. .. out of sight and with no observation except the obvious physical signs. AND I survived.
About two months ago I was moved once again here at MSU. This time to 'A' unit, to a floor of eighteen men in a barracks type of situation. These eighteen men are genuinely respectful. All music and TV programming is listened to through earbuds. Each sleeping area is swept and mopped every morning by the residents. Beds are made and uniforms are hung in lockers. There's no swearing and there's some laughter. Of course there are still difficult moments. Eighteen men - some with serious mental health issues, is a rich environment in which to grow...perhaps even flourish. The "program" is designed to assist men to take responsibility and often follows AA kinds of guidelines. AND I am surviving.
Today I'm in a two-man room. This room has a door that I can open whenever the spirit moves me. It is the first door I have had the opportunity to "control" during this period of one year. We have a window, opened or closed...this is another choice made by the two of us. I wake up every morning and tell myself I CAN DO THIS!
Thank you all for this year of support! The cards, letters, money on my supplies account; the newspapers, phone calls, visits, prayers and most of all - the LOVE...yes, your love! You have all played a part in saving my life and I am forever grateful.
The visits I have now with Patrick are even more precious as time keeps us separate and so much is changing in our world...we are very fortunate to share the movin' and shakin' of ol' Mama E!! There are two writings that Patrick shared with me...one when our dear friend, G3, left Planet Earth...and the other simply a blink in time, written on an envelop...yet both touched me deeply and I wanted you to have a chance to read them...so I share here....cuz I CAN!?!@#
The first...as G3 passes into the light...Patrick found this one about death...in a book loaned to him by a colleague at Monroe:
A friend came to console Chuang-Tzu upon his wife's death and found him singing and beating time on a basin...
When my wife died, how could I help being affected? I realized she originally had no life, no form, no force (ch'i). In limbo, transformation and force evolved. She became life through birth. She will be transformed through death. It is like the rotation of the four seasons. She now lies in the Great Mother(Universe). For me to weep would be to show my ignorance of destiny.
AND THEN these thoughts ...another tiny handwritten note on an envelop...came from Patrick's pen:
We live in a time when all can know all that one does...cameras everywhere...electronic footprints every time one buys something....an old expression comes to mind...
Don't do or say anything you would not want printed in the clouds for all to see!
Now all is recorded in the cloud...for all to see.
HIS LATEST ADDRESS...should you be so inclined?
PO BOX 7001
Monroe, WA 98272