I’ve been trying to find the words to write since Kent left early Tuesday morning. I heard from him fairly quickly. I’m assuming this is because the place he is at is designated as a pass through facility, because we had been told I may not hear from him for several weeks. We took the week off school not just because of spring break, but to try to regroup and see what this life without Kent is supposed to look like. Its actually been pretty hard. Yesterday, the girls were gone babysitting so I had the day to myself which I was looking forward to. I tried motivating myself to do some cleaning that desperately needs done to no avail. I thought I would go see a movie, but ended up falling asleep for a long needed nap.
Kent has been able to email me throughout the day. The things he is telling me are really hard to hear and really break my heart for him and others who are there. He has been threatened to keep silent about the conditions he wrote to me about. The assistant warden said he was going to get his privileges taken away if he continued so we will see if I continue to hear from him. So here is what he had to say today.
As I write this its well past midnight, in fact I think it could be closer to 2am. I have no way of knowing. That has to be one of the more frustrating things to deal with. The time and days are already running together with no clocks or calendars readily available. There’s one clock on the floor, but after 10pm I am unable to see it.
At 10pm we have our final standing count which means you stand next to your bunk waiting for two guards to walk by and physically count you. Then typically by 10:30 the lights go out. As I write this I am hunched over at t he foot of my bunk trying to get enough light to write my thoughts down. I am so thankful that someone loaned me a pen so I can accomplish this.
To be honest as I write this I am thinking about how when I was in the legislature I was viewing things and making decisions through the filters of our good little life. I had no understanding of the life that people in a facility like this lived. While society would look down on many of the people I’m serving time with. I have a different perspective and view them quite differently. Some of the names would sound like something out of a fiction novel to the average small town Iowan. Names like New York, Whiz, Tuck, Cookie and King. On our floor we have people that many average small town folks would walk across the road to avoid.
I am seeing a different side of them, like the transvestite who worked as a prostitute on the outside. He was the first one to show me good will by giving me a few packets of coffee when I first got got here. When he did that I didn’t realize the sacrifice he made because I was just arriving and had no idea what to expect. The guards for the most part are friendly. There’s a few bad eggs, but I am able to get along with just about anyone. They say respect is the most important thing in prison…I am sure many people who may read this would say that about being on the outside, but it is even more important here because a man or woman doing time has been stripped of most basic things.
When I first arrived here I was checked in and went through the process of being strip searched and asked to bend over and cough. I understand that they are trying to ensure the safety of both the inmates and guards. What I don’t understand is how they take someone that has never been to prison before and just throw them on a unit or cell block and not give them simple things or explain how to get them. You have to just figure it out. It took me two days to get a piece of paper and I have yet to get a pen, so last night an inmate that sleeps a bunk over loaned me a pen.
I am amazed at how the inmates take care of each other and help each other. I don’t believe the officers or guards are to blame for this. It is a much bigger problem. I find that so many of them are not able to help you with tasks on how to fill out forms or how to maneuver through processes because they are not trained or they are understaffed. That is only part of the problems here.
For dinner last night we were given a small spoonful of chicken and noodles, small spoonful of mashed potatoes and a tablespoon of mixed vegetables. People are going through the trays as people bring them back looking for more food. It is abundantly clear that Chicago has a gang problem and many are locked up here. But here I see them sharing apples and kool-aid with everyone . Bread and butter are a premium because its easier to get full on them. When I was checked in I was given underwear that were three sizes to big and I am still trying to get a clean pair after five days. We didn’t tie our laundry bag properly so our clothes didn’t get washed.
I have learned so much about the character of people and the hearts of individuals in the short time I have been here. I am able to see past the hard exterior and see the softer side of the people I am serving time with.