Tag Archives: prison

Prison to a bird

These are satellite pictures of the two places I was locked up.

The Federal Detention Center in Engelwood is where I was held pre-trial.  Since my time was so short, I ended up doing most of it here.  What is there to say about it?

It wasn’t that bad.  Or at all good.  I saw a young man get mouth-raped here.  I played a lot of chess.  Worked on my novel.  Slept.

And this is the Federal Correctional Institution in Herlong, CA, where I finished out my time.  What is there to say about this place?

It’s no joke.  It’s the kind of place where you can catch a very serious beat-down for reasons so trivial you’d never think of them.  They had a race-riot while I was there.  I met a lot of guys with decade sentences.  Some of them were really bad people.  Most of them weren’t.  I was miserable.  I did 2 months in the hole there.

Memory of love

From prison blog   aug 4 2010

… I was lying up thinking, abstractedly now, about Love.

There are people who you love forever, I know.  People for whom the love you feel, no matter how much time passes, will always equal your whole capacity for love.  I’ve known this since I first loved a girl and had to leave her (at 17, for college).  Love can’t end or even diminish just because people part ways.

I have always known that.  Then again, I have always been young and never wise.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter that I have a handful of exes whom I can’t get over.

More recently (years already?  It feels like yesterday) I left someone else, and did a poor job of it, telling her as I walked away that our love was forever.  This someone told me No.  She said that life goes on, and life would draw us apart, and that without the daily things, the body in the room, the dancing, the fucking, the cooking and eating, the voice saying something new, without those things it would slowly become the case that we used to be in love.  Or perhaps she didn’t say all that.  But she said, “Please cling to me, for there are no do-overs, and what passes is past.”

And so, I’m wondering if I might have been wrong and she right.  Is all that love I seem to feel still love, after all?

Perhaps I have been misled all this time by a quirk of my particular memory?  It seems that my memory for emotions is very strong, where my memory for the details of my own autobiography is  faded lace.  Old hurts and humiliations, old joy and old love, seem to grip me.  But other types of experience I recall with difficulty.  Have I mistaken memories of love for a continuing experience?  And is a vivid memory of a feeling different, in fact, than the feeling in its creative, vital moment?

I see now that she was right, at least about this:  There are no do-overs.  What passes is past.  And life begins to feel very short.

I might ask Why every night and never get past Because.  I hear my own voice saying that one one word.  “Because.”  And I freeze, intent, focused on the next word, which never comes.  I wish I had understood you when you explained it.  Love,

A different prison

I’ve just been released from prison, and now I’m volunteering for a different kind of bondage.  Responsibility for my Grandma. Living in Grandma’s house. I’ll get three hours furlough each day, while the nurse is there.  The other 21 hours a day I’m stuck, unable to leave, in case the moment I do is the moment she chooses to fall down the stairs.

There are some distinct advantages over Prison prison. My own food. My computer. More space.  A yard with grass and a tree.

Even so, I long for real freedom. Living in a town I love.  In a place of my choosing. Some sort of obligations that ends at six o’clock and the rest of the day to fill in any way I want. The feeling of being an independent adult. At the moment, that normal life seems like a far-off dream.

One month, no words

I’ve been out for just over a month now.  I’ve yet to talk to most of the people who I ought to call.  I’ve written almost nothing.  My book is kaput.  I’m not even keeping a journal.  The emails I’ve written have mostly gone unsent.

Why?  I suppose I’m ashamed.  And confused about how to explain the last year.  The people that I have spoken with have either ignored the issue of my felony, or else treated me with pity.  Or else I imagined it.

I’m a felon.  I’ve been through something bizarre, something that changed me and changes how people will see me.  Perhaps I’m making more of it than there is, but whether for good reason or bad, I feel like it’s standing in the way of resuming my relationships.

The two posts that precede this one by just a few minutes are emails I wrote.  To explain to my friends, and for my own sake, to try to put this behind.  I wrote the first and didn’t send it, then wrote the second and almost didn’t send it either the other night.

Blah blah blah.  There they are.  Post-prison letters.  T

My old blogs are defunct.  My old website is offline.  This is it, now, so I’ll just get on with it.

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.