When I read this journal, I knew it had a place here, and I am grateful to the author for sharing it. There are so many ‘words’ that we use – prison, incarceration, jail, etc. None of them paint the picture though. The picture can’t be painted in a word, and probably not even on a blog. I mean no offense to those that serve our country and defend our freedom when I say that this is not the land of the free for so many – not when we are the most incarcerated nation in the world. I honestly believe that the government is doing our servicemen and women a great disservice by turning our nation into one that is caging a large segment of our population and destroying hope and families. Our country is worth fighting for, and we are so much more than this. We have compassion and there is more strength in compassion than strong arming, any day of the week. We ARE the land of the free, and as citizens we need to demand that our government remember that.
So, here’s to a new catagory on this site –Views From The Inside. This is Part One from a journal by Gerard G. Schultz, Jr., titled, Sharing My Thoughts from Inside the Cesspool of IDOC.
Survival: The Necessity Of Breaking The Rules
People on the outside barely get a glimpse of the surface of what life is like in prison and all the things we must do to survive. Survive mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, educationally, socially, financially, and comfortably, as much as possible, under these circumstances.
Life in prison is a constant paradox, not always in black and white or truly understandable to people on the outside, and sometimes not even to ourselves. We are called many things, from inmates to offenders, detainees, wards, convicted felons, prisoners and convicts. Prison is full of convicted felons and criminals, which are not the same. There are innocent people in here, there are guilty people in here. There are good people in here and bad people in here. Many have made mistakes and others bad decisions. There are good prisoners and bad corrections officers, and there are bad prisoners and good corrections officers.
Prison is a menagerie that is overcrowded, yet still a very lonely place. The daily life can be very monotonous, robotic and boring. It can be loud, chaotic, stuffy and scary. Gloominess, depression and the flu are contagious in here. We were punished by the courts to serve time in prison, but upon entering prison, we learn immediately that prison is full of additional punishments and restrictions that we are oppressed by. The conditions of our confinement are inhumane, the food is horrible, and every moment of every day is unpredictable. I’ve learned to live in the moment, yes, I have hopes, wishes, and dreams like anyone else, but in here, we learn that tomorrow and many other things are not guaranteed.
Survival is just not the physical dangers we face, but we must survive mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Prison is a cash cow that milks us for every penny we are lucky enough to get. Many of those in society believe we have it good in prison, life is easier, that the government provides us this or that – which is just not true at all. The state put us in prison, so they are legally responsible for providing us some of the bare necessities that they have physically deprived us of the ability to obtain for ourselves.
By IDOC (Illinois Dept of Corrections) policy (though they bend, break and do not follow their own rules, policies, laws and procedures) we are supposed to receive three pairs of pants (not always new), three blue shirts with buttons (not always new), three white t-shirts (one time only, you must buy your own after that), three pairs of socks, three pairs of boxers, a coat during the winter time (if you come in outside of winter, but it is raining or cold, you are out of luck) and one pair of thin deck slip on shoes, which we call Gilligan shoes or Jan Brady’s. We also are to receive two sheets, one pillow case, one towel, one washcloth, and one wool blanket. We can submit a clothing exchange once every six months for new boxers, socks and shoes, everything else will be used.
There are seven days in the week, and only once a week do they do laundry, a communal service – you turn it in one day and get it back the next day or so. Three pairs of clothes is not enough for the week, so we must buy our socks, underwear, and t-shirts. If you want warm clothing or maybe shorts to wear in your cell or to go out and exercise with, you must puchase them yourself. You must purchase your own baseball cap, beanies, ear warmers, gloves, thermals, sweatshirt and pants, real shoes that last longer than a month, or boots to work in or to walk in the snow. The communal laundry service is once a week, on a designated day, depending on where you are at. We have a personal laundry bag, a mesh bag, that they also give us one time only. We put all of our dirty laundry in there, colors and whites together, tie it up, and they are all washed just like that. We must purchase laundry soap to wash our clothes by hand, and if our prison doesn’t allow or sell laundry soap, we must improvise by using body soap to clean our clothes. It’s better to wash by hand so your clothes don’t smell, make you itch, and don’t turn brownish grey as they do in the communal laundry.
It’s ironic they sell us laundry soap, because if we wash our own laundry by hand, we have no way to dry it. So we break the rules. Part of survival is to try to have some sense of comfort and normalcy, so we break the rules. Why is it against the rules? Well, in a lot of prisons, especially IDOC, we are not allowed to hang things in our cells, not even wet clothing. Most cells in IDOC are not set up with any storage shelving, tables to write on, shelves for appliances, hooks to hang clothing, etc., as some prisons do. So, even to hang and dry out wet towels and wash clothes, we have to hang them on a makeshift clothesline. We use a variety of things, from shoe strings, torn strips of sheets, or strings out of the waist bands of our boxers or socks to make clotheslines. It’s a risk we can get a disciplinary ticket for, anything from unauthorized property, destruction of state property, possession of dangerous contraband or even security obstruction. We can get anywhere from 30 days to a year in the hole, locked down in solitary confinement and losing all privileges, such as phone, commissary, contact visits. It’s a risk we take just to have clean laundry. Prison is a very dirty place, yet we are forced to take risks and break rules just to do something as simple as our laundry by hand.
On that same note, locked in a small cell with another person, there is little room for privacy. Our toilet is literally right next to our bunks, six inches to maybe a foot away. We hang up sheets to block our view of the toilet whenever we use it, as a courtesy to the other person. This is against the rules for the same reasons as stated above, and carries the same punishment. But it is a necessary risk, because we are being respectful to one another. We don’t want to watch one another use the toilet or wash up in the cell. This kind of respect for each other also stops any unecessary violence from erupting in that kind of situation. We even do a courtesy flush every time you drop in order to lessen the linger of stink in the cell, and we never use the toilet when one or the other is eating.
Part of survival is breaking the rules, it is necessary to be respectful, comfortable and avoid violence.