Thursday, July 24, 2014

Guest Post: Cinnamon

A Fellow Inmate Describes His Experience with Prison

Note to Readers: As I've mentioned in previous posts, several fellow inmates here at camp have volunteered to share their stories on this blog. I'm proud to present the first post in what I hope is a continuing series, an eloquent piece from a fellow inmate who decided to contribute under the pseudonym "Cinnamon", or "C". I consider C a true friend: he not only reached out to me on my very first day but has been a source of support and guidance ever since. C tells me he can trust me and feels comfortable speaking with me, so I hope the feeling is mutual. In any event, C tells his story better and more eloquently than I ever could, so without further ado:

The pants were not that tight. I noticed they fit a bit snugly around the mid-section of my buttocks but nothing too extreme. If only they could have seen me a week earlier in my perfectly fitted Uniqlo jeans. But I was quickly coming to realize that my world was changing, as was the cut of my jeans.

I had just picked up my new pants from the prison laundry. I was quite happy to have them because they were a welcome change from the size 44 I had been handed by laundry upon arrival at prison. My first experience with laundry involved me, a tall, thin, lanky guy with a size 33 waist arguing with a 400 pound long-termer with a degrading and condescending communication style who stood between me and my clothes. After some degrading banter about size and other things, I accepted the size 44 and used a canvas cloth belt to hold them up for the next couple of days. Even this I considered a vast improvement, as just 8 hours earlier I had been standing naked at prison check in while being ordered to "lift my junk". I was then placed in a holding cell clothed in a huge jump suit with the letters "FEDERAL INMATE" emblazoned on the back.

After several days of sporting the huge pants, which bunched up around my waist and felt like a parachute, I was determined to get into a pair with a waist at least a tiny bit closer to my actual size. I went back to laundry and made my case. Apparently, my pleading was successful as, a few days later, they handed me a new pair. As I put them on I noted they were a bit too small, but after my previous experience I decided small was preferable to big. Over the past year my fashion sense had also improved as a result of my new community, which had much more fashion sense than the one I had existed in for the previous 30 years. Based upon my newfound knowledge, tighter was definitely better.

So here I was walking down the long barracks that I now called home. The barracks is about 34 years old and houses 168 inmates, who share 5 showers, 3 urinals and 3 washing machines. Lines, waiting and irritation are a part of my new life. We are all in here for some supposed crime ranging from mail fraud to theft to drug dealing, although most of us took plea deals and never tried our case. Very few dare to risk a loss in trial given the huge sentencing disparities that could result.

As I walked down the aisle, I heard chuckles from somewhere behind me. As I approached my bunk area, a guy in my neighborhood said to me: "If you are propositioning and you have sugar in your tank than things can be arranged." He added: "Those pants are too tight and if you were in the Low Security prison across the street there would be a line of guys ready to take you up on your offer." 

Oh my! Was he talking to me? I'd never heard the term "sugar in your tank" before. Could it mean what I suspected it did? My intentions were to keep things a secret, mind my own business and discuss nothing personal. Prison is run by a set of subdued rules governed by your ethnicity or race, or, in prison terms, your "car". You are surrounded by alpha dogs and it is a difficult place to find friends. I wondered how a guy like me would ever be accepted.

You see, only a few days earlier my boyfriend of one year - yes, my boyfriend, who I'll call "B" here for the sake of this post - had dropped me off at prison. We made so many promises to each other to make it through this "speed bump". B promised to care for my kids and my ex-wife, whom I still love very much. She is the most amazing person on earth and possesses all the wonderful things that people esteem in a woman, my best friend and the only woman I will ever marry or love romantically. Because she is so amazing I realized she deserved the truth. And going through an indictment and being sentenced turned out, strangely enough, to be the ideal time to come clean with her, to shed all facades and to be honest about who I am, who I've always been. After 17 years it was time to come out!
B and I met only two months after I moved out. I love him and he's supportive of my past. B loves my ex and my kids and has been caring for them while I'm away. We are willing to wait for each other - despite this detour - so that we can pursue a future, a future that I have dreamed of for many, many years. Ironically, less than 10 months after meeting, I was sentenced to this camp and we were separated for the duration of my stay.

The day of check in was supposed to be quick and I was supposed to be tough. Early that morning B and I woke up at a hotel in Los Angeles and drove to Lompoc. I was feeling sad but strong. As we approached the prison grounds my heart sank. The vast expanse of barren earth is divided into three different prisons, all with different security levels: the Camp, the Low and the Medium. I wasn't sure which one I would be serving my time in. As we approached the site, it was the medium that first caught my eye. The medium is a penitentiary and is about 60 years old. It looks rough, is made of concrete with small windows, a double fence and forbidding guard towers. Looking at it, I was quite sure that Satan - or his little brother - must live behind its walls. 

This seemed far too harsh a place for a lowly retail bank employee like me. I mean, the loans that were my eventual undoing, 7 in all, were funded way back in 2006 under loose income parameters implemented much higher up in the food chain than my position. I simply submitted them electronically based upon the stated parameters for approval somewhere way up the chain. Eight years later I was taking the fall. No one higher up in the echelons of the vast bank was ever prosecuted. How could I be headed to a prison that looked like the house of Lucifer?

Then I saw the Low. It was sinister but somewhat less so. There were no guard towers and there were fewer rows of barbed wire. Still scary but less intimidating. As I walked up to the front gate, a prison van pulled up and out came 11 guys shackled tightly together, shuffling through the dust. Terrible sadness filled me, combined with fear and dread. I made it through the front door, where a very unfriendly guard ordered me back to the Medium. What?? The house of Satan? 

My heart sank. I ran quickly out, hopped in the car, and told B to get me out of there. I needed more time. We turned around and left. After driving some distance up the street I decided that running was not the answer. We pulled over and both got out. I walked over to B and wrapped my big arms around him and cried, a deep, painful, soul-wrenching cry. I was no longer strong. My day had come and I was at what is often called rock bottom.

After we both cried, we reviewed our promises, wishes and hopes for the future. I mustered up a bit of strength and told B I was ready. We drove straight to the receiving mouth of my new hell. It was quick. We approached the gate and called the guard tower on the speaker. The metallic, unfriendly voice ordered us to drive to the front, where I got out and B drove away. I watched with tears in my eyes as my beautiful love drove off, receding into the distance. Just before he turned the corner he honked his last good bye, the plaintive sound a call to me to be strong.

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