Post-Prison Letter (sent)

Hello All,

I’ve been out of prison for almost a month now, but I haven’t spoken or written to almost anyone.  Incommunicado.  Sorry about that.

Fact is, I don’t really know what to say about it.  About my crime and punishment, I mean.  How can I tell the story?

One story is that I robbed a couple of banks.  Just like Jesse James, but without the guns and with considerably less success.  So nothing like Jesse James, actually.  More like a sneaking, lying, note-passing, false-moustache-wearing, thieving, thief.  This story doesn’t speak very well of my character, or intelligence, or morals.  I hate this story.

The other story is that I was crazy.  Off my nut on a manic episode.  Psychotic.  Wacko.  Mentally ill.  I hate this story too, even if it did get me leniency.  “I’m crazy” manages to sound self-serving and humiliating at the same time.

So forget my story.  Or look for it on my new blog, if you must.  Here are the answers to some of the questions people seem to ask:
No, I’ll never ever ever do it again.  Robbing banks is bad and wrong and stupid.

Yes, robbing banks is scary.  Many of the bank-robbers I met in jail were adrenaline junkies.  It’s a thrill.

Yes, I was scared, but No, I wasn’t terrified.  The first time I thought I was invincible, and doing god’s work.  The second time, I didn’t care if I got caught.

Yes, prison really sucks as much as you think.  It’s boring boring boring, it’s violent but mostly latent violence which only occasionally erupts, it’s all boredom, arbitrary rules and sanctions, bad tempers, bad food, discomfort, overwhelming racism and misogyny, bad luck, bad choices, bad attitudes, and asshole guards.

Yes, there were gangs.  Everyone is in a gang.  Even if you’re unaffiliated, you are in the Unaffiliated Gang, by default and of necessity.

No, there isn’t anything good about prison.  I didn’t get anything positive out of the experience, except a lot of time for reading.

No, there isn’t anything good about prison.  Prison is a warehouse where good and bad and indifferent men are thrown together and they all come out worse.  Out of perhaps 200 people that I spoke with, maybe a dozen of them were really bad people who I’m glad are locked up.  A dozen, tops. Another 80 were Piscas (Mexicans) who were there for re-entry.  Innocent people who got a four year prison sentence for their second traffic ticket in America.  Everyone comes out of prison more accepting of crime, disillusioned of justice, more racist, more likely to refer to women as “bitches”, more hateful, especially towards cops, older, sadder, angrier, less resourceful.  On balance, the value to society of our prison system is far to the negative.

I’m staying with my parents for two more weeks, and then I’ll be moving to Denver.  I’ll be staying in my grandmother’s house.  She’s in a nursing home, she wants to go home, but she needs a full-time looking-after person.  Which I’ll be.  Good for her, good for me.

I’m on probation, which puts certain limitations on me.  I can’t drink or use drugs.  Good stuff.  I’ll be in Colorado for at least a little while, though I can have it transferred with a little difficulty.

So.

Mostly, I just wanted to say thanks for your support this past year.  Thanks for all the letters and the books.  And I’m sorry to those of you who I’ve alienated these past few years with my craziness and my drinking and my bizarre behavior.  I feel lucky that I still have any friends left.  You’re gold.

And I’m back.  I look forward to talking or seeing you soon.

Best Regards,

Christopher

(I sent this as an email to 15 or 20 people.  A bad habit of mine.)

Post-Prison Letter (unsent)

I’m free.  Hi.  Hi there.  I’m free.
I spent this last year in prison. If you don’t know, I am a felon. I was caught robbing banks. And now that I’m out I want to explain.

Hell. I’ve been telling this story all year to bad men and unlucky men. Now I want to tell my friends.

I have bipolar disorder. In the summer of 2009 I had an episode, triggered by a period of binge drinking. Technically, it was an acute psychotic mania, followed by an unhappier thing called a “mixed-episode”. The character of mania, for me, is all epiphanic insight, raging grandiosity, and impetuous action. The paranoiac and paralyzing aspects which many people experience were muted until the end of my episode.

My thinking during that summer, delusional mostly, fixated around economics. I came to believe that I had some dreadfully important insight into the causes of poverty. For several months it seemed I had access daily to a vision of such granular clarity and truth, that it only could change the world. Justice for all would spring wholly formed from out a hole in my head.

But that wasn’t why I robbed those banks. Delusional as I was, I never thought that stealing from Premier Bank would cure the world. Only that it could save my company, and put me on the road to riches, and help needy children, and be a lark. I had been working that year as a fundraiser to advance education in the developing world through technology, in which effort I felt that I was failing. I had two employees who weren’t much use, and payroll was exceeding revenues. Fundraising is hard, so I said screw fundraising. Robbing banks is faster and more fun. And why not?

Like some drunken Robin Hood I would steal from the bad, bad government and give to good impoverished children. I was psychotically deluded, in thrall of a maniacally grandiose self-image. I was Christ in the temple of money-changers. I was invincible. I was godam Jesse James.

It’s true that I gave a portion of the money to charity. Not as much as half; easy money spends like water. But a portion. Between the money I had raised and the money I had stolen, I gave $10,000 to buy laptops for schools. I have no illusions, now, that this was a good or noble thing, but it does make me unique among the bank robbers I met this year.

These things–the mania, the giving away money–didn’t buy me any points in prison. But they did get me a nice report from a forensic psychologist, and then a very, very nice decision from a judge. I got lucky. Federal District Court Judge Robert Blackburn was the most sympathetic person I could possibly have drawn. He reduced my sentence, which would otherwise have been 4 to 5 years, down to just a single year. God, was I overjoyed when he gave me his sentence. And how. But still, a year in the feds is a bad year.

The leniency I received earned me even fewer points in prison. Short-timers are distrusted by default. 5K13 reductions for snitching on one’s co-conspirators are common, and commonly earn violent reprisals; 5K12 reductions for mental health are unheard of, and commonly believed to be mythical. I had to tell my story and show my paperwork every place I went.

Federal prison is nothing nice. It’s miserable and boring and violent and racist and misogynistic. It’s a warehouse where bad men are locked away with good, and they all come out worse. I got through it with a minimum of trouble. I have no stories worth telling. I have nothing to show for it but anger and shame and one year less to live.

So. Now I’m free from prison, but not free from my disease. It’s so strange to take on this identity. Mentally ill. My brother is mentally ill. I’m not like him. No. Except, sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m worse. I’ve had two major episodes now, and many more hypomanic ones. They were all extremely destructive. To my relationships, and to the life I had tenuously constructed. I had to leave New York. I had to leave Portland. I had to leave Denver. I went to jail. Twice.

As destructive as the episodes are, they are also astonishing, fascinating, profound, and fun. I was invincible. Mania is the highest high I can imagine, and it lasts for weeks with no comedown, no doubts, no limitations, and no need to sleep. I believe that it brought me into contact with the limits of my personality—creative, spiritual, intellectual, social, sexual—in a way I would never have known. Going mad is certainly the strangest and most interesting thing that has ever happened to me.

But most of all, mania is just destructive. By the time I decided to repeat my robbery for the second and last time, the episode had changed into something awful. A “mixed-episode” combines the frenetic mentality of mania with depressed ideation. I was desperate for escape. I considered the military. I considered suicide. And I decided that prison would be no bad thing. I was caught right outside the bank, which I had chosen at random, by a uniformed police officer who happened to be sitting in the bank lobby, just out of sight.

Going to prison is sadly unsurprising for a person like me. Many manic-depressives spend half their lives in institutions. Mental hospitals, prisons, and shelters. Twenty percent commit suicide successfully. Many more die alcohol or drug related deaths. Drinking is an entwined problem that half, fully 50%, of people with bipolar get themselves into. It starts as self-medication. It makes the lows fuzzier and the highs more beautifully high. And it has developed, in my case, into its own, distinct illness. Two illnesses then, with an ugly synergy, like pouring Bacardi on smoldering embers. Alcohol reduces the effectiveness of my mood-stabilizing medicine. And getting drunk every day, the way I was, is a sure way to push myself into mania again.

But enough. I’m rambling off-topic. Mostly I just want my friends and family to know that I’m back in the world and I intend to stay free. I intend to be moderate in all things. I have a much better understanding of my illness and intend to do everything I can to keep it in remission, to keep it, as far as possible, from progressing any further.

Thanks to everyone who sent me letters, or books, or kind thoughts. I look forward to talking with you again soon.

I like these songs

I might be a little music-starved.  I hear these sounds.  These sounds!  And I feel like a teenager hearing the good shit for the very first time.  These are a few songs I’ve heard in the last 3 weeks, over which I flipped.    Maybe I’m a little bit music-starved.  Deprived.  Sand for sandwiches.  Or maybe each of these is just as great as I think they is.  Listen.

One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula by Dengue Fever

Glory Box (cover) by John Martyn

Hot in Here (cover) by Jenny Owen Youngs

Bang Bang by Sara Schiralli

Sort Me Out by Winston McAnuff and the Bazbaz Orchestra

Brother Where Are You by Oscar Brown Jr.

My new blog

You found my brand-new blog. This is my very first post.  Here I am writing it.  There you are reading it.  Maybe it’s no big deal for people like us, but we still should be proud of our accomplishments.

Congratulations to us both.

Words go here. Here they are. There they go. From me to you. It’s as if we’re connected, somehow, isn’t it? We are connected. Through space and time. By the magic of words. And the internet web. Can you feel it? The connection?

Can you?

While we are savoring this interconnectedness, in our times and our spaces, I might just mention that the title of this website, Where Do The Words Go, is taken from a poem by James Tate, the very next stanza of which goes thus:

The moon in her white nightgown,
the moon in her nightgown of nonchalance,
the warm drawers of the moon:

It is like that, this connection of ours. Don’t you think? It’s exactly like that.

And So. Here we both are. Heaven’s little soldiers. Reading these words. Wherever they go.

Thank you for reading my blog. Do check back once in a while to see which words went where.  You can also find (or anyway you soon will be able to find) other writings, as well as pictures, and perhaps videos and who knows what else, from my home page, WhereDoTheWordsGo.net.

Very Sincerely Yours,
Christopher

my mouth should chase them