Learning To Be A Felon
Learning to be a felon may sound like a strange sentence but it’s as right as the rain.
Meaning that when you enter the Camp, you become a student of sorts all over again,
and must learn and comprehend a whole new world view and paradigm as well as a
curriculum of behavioral do’s and don’t’s within the BOP game. But the irony of
incarceration is that well beyond the system, you have been afforded an opportunity to
learn a lot more about yourself and others than you ever imagined or bargained for.
Beyond the physical walls of the Camp, what you do come to realize is that the real
walls or barriers are in your own mind. And that overcoming them is the first key to
letting go of your challenges and ultimately becoming accepting of and secure within
To me, the walls that we put up in life are associated with the everyday attachments to
things, people, and perceptions that life is filled with and that create, define, and keep
us bound to both our world and material things. They are as important to our ego as is
the validation, affection, and approval from them that bolsters us but that can often get
us into trouble as well. Trouble from having to continually and rampantly acquire things
of ever greater magnitude and number to satisfy that part of us that exists within but
whose motivations even we don’t fully understand. So as much as we would perhaps
like to just let go of things and simplify our lives on the outside, it is one of the hardest
challenges we face in life because of the mantra of internal controls that are reflected
from the causes and circumstances that we ourselves set up and were raised within.
The reality is that we really have little control over the external world despite what we
may believe and that the control of ourselves and our actions are largely a function of
our own insecurities and the strong habits of which are mostly outside of our power.
Nowhere is this truth more apparent than being in prison where one is stripped of all
personal power and control.
Thus in prison, the first thing that you learn is that you must let go of your freedom and
the personal power that comes with it. Because other people dictate a prisoner’s life –
the people you sleep next to, the work you do, the schedule you follow, and the food
you eat – are all out of your control. And to realize that letting go of the things that are
out of our control is the only way to derive happiness from within, regardless of our
On the outside, while amassing and surrounding ourselves with stuff may seemingly
make us happy at the time and further build the nebula of our control over the world,
said acquisition is ultimately only another drug that provides the temporary satisfaction
which always fades with time. Until we must feed the beast again and again with more
and more such that we may embark upon darker paths which eventually gets us into
trouble. So while letting go of belongings, power, and freedom may be gut-wrenching,
once you do learn to do it, the materialism that previously bound you to it is no more.
And you can then embrace a new reality of action as being the key to awareness,
consciousness, and responsibility to yourself via enjoying the simple pleasures of life,
both within and then out of prison.
In prison, the mantra is that acceptance for your past deeds is a part of the healing
process and that being aware of the emotions that cause improper actions are the most
important steps towards redemption. And that those who have accepted their faults and
both learn and grow from are then less likely to commit immoral acts once they are
freed. Or, alternatively, that acceptance of any situation is the necessity for change and
it is denial leaves us stuck on a hamster wheel.
What I will do is to move on because that is my choice and that freedom to choose unto
itself is the most powerful reminder that we need not ever be defined by our prior
circumstances or external circumstances that are imposed upon us by any system. And
given the choice of remaining shackled to or burdened by any past versus soaring on
the wings of future purpose and resolve, I for one would always choose the latter, just
because that is who I am and who I’ve always been. And to break the shackles of the
past, I will use the tempest of my internal volition that is couched in both the forgiveness
of my former collective stupidity and the multiple injustices of the system to both
personally succeed and continue to be a correctional system activist! As they say, what
goes around, comes around. And it does.
To me, coping with the fallout of any trauma has always meant dealing with it in baby
steps and small moves. Because trying to deal with it in one fell swoop becomes far too
overwhelming for a psyche that is not used to handling such magnitudes. I realize that
with my subconscious having absorbed it all, that part of that absorption may assert
itself outwardly in various ways during my waking hours as mental inertia and other
forms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And that I sought help from the Camp
psychologist if I felt I needed to and that even more importantly, that I knew that it was
okay for me to seek said help.
The first thing you must cope with at Camp is just being there, knowing that there is a
hostile environment, and trying to adopt a mental outlook that you’re on a mission and
that it will come to an end. The guards are in your face every day and many do sexually
harass you as they did me. But you just tell yourself that it’s not permanent. The
second thing that you must realize is to take it one day at a time and not try to
comprehend the total length of your sentence. You just try to get through each day,
each week, and each month. The third thing you must do is to establish your friends
and support network, hopefully beginning with your bunkie – because you can’t nor
should you try to do this alone and you do need the consolation and strength of others
who are going through the same thing. The fourth collective thing to do is to quietly do
your job, stay out of trouble, attend your required classes, never miss your counts, take
the demeaning and disrespectful guff from the guards, don’t talk back, and you don’t
ever let them see you cry or get to you. And the last and final thing that you do is to
toughen up and accept, adapt, tolerate, improvise, and overcome. You do this by
adopting a mental outlook such that you will never let Camp defeat you, that you will
survive it as many the others have done before you, that you will emerge victorious, and
that you will beat the disparities imposed upon you by the dysfunctional FCJS by
making a daily difference once released.
Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover
This was perhaps the most eye-opening revelation for me as some of the kindest,
philosophical, and most caring women that I came to know on the inside were the
harshest-looking and tattooed individuals. A seemingly derelict and subcultural
countenance which was very hard for me to overcome from sheer aversion of that look
but also from my childhood fears generated by it that they were folks to not interact with
and stay away from. Folks I wouldn’t have even given the time of day to on the outside,
sad to say.
Despite that, only in prison would you ever have the opportunity to learn the truth behind
the diversity of appearances because of the chance and time afforded you to interact
with and come to know such folks. Through casual discussion or helping each other at
first and then through longer and more meaningful interactions. Simply because of the
time that you have and your proximity to them. It truly makes one realize how
prejudicial and judgmental we all can be upon first glance and preconceived notions.
This is what I did – every one of the five of them. And I came out better, stronger,
tougher, more resolute, more patient, more pliable, more resilient, even more
successful, and with a relentless lifelong mission to congressionally interact and bring
forth badly-needed change within the BOP.