Writing from Prison
by Todd Newmiller
Originally published in Newspeak, September 2007
When you help to care for a child from the time they’re an infant, it forges a deep abiding bond beyond what a strictly reasonable person would believe possible. As with my brother (some 9½ years my junior), I have been privileged to enjoy such a relationship with my niece. This weekend she turns eight.
Since finding my way into this system that breaks every promise and principle of the American premise, the only thing that hasn’t been successfully stripped away from me is the strength and support of my family, who have visited me absolutely as often as possible. I’ve been very fortunate to share quite a few visits with my sister, my brother-in-law, and my wonderful niece.
The last time they visited, the facility was staging 100% vehicle searches. This kind of authoritarian intimidation scares many families away from their visit, but not my family. After braving the indignities of the "security" process, my niece was unusually quiet, a bit preoccupied, bit otherwise the same brilliant and cheerful little person as ever.
But the following night, as my sister got ready for bed, my niece walked in, troubled, and asked if they could talk. She had been greatly disturbed by her experience of the previous day. "I love uncle Toddy, and I loved visiting him, but that place gives me the creeps. When we go there, I feel like a cat in a cage."
The excesses of our legal system, the unanalyzed biases, minor obfuscations, slight inaccuracies, and major deceptions of police and prosecutors, the passive complicity of judges and juries, these things don’t only affect the ostensibly "guilty." Our system visits these same abuses on entire families, shares its injustice with adults and children alike.
"I thought we were going to be arrested. I love you, Mommy, and I don’t know what I’d do if they arrested you and I couldn’t see you." And so, I won’t be seeing my niece this weekend, or the weekend after that. She needs some space from the unreasonable universe in which I reside. We’ll just have to see from there how she feels. I wish I could tell her honestly that her fears of the caprice of our legal system were unreasonable. I wish her fears of our capricious legal system were unreasonable.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
"The Gulag Archipelago had already begun its malignant life and would shortly metastasize throughout the whole body of the nation."
-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
My boots are in desperate need of replacement. This is hardly surprising. The boots in question are made in China (probably by prison labor) and are constructed almost entirely out of plastic. No doubt, they were selected as part of an open bid process that insured the lowest possible quality without taking into account the durability or the longevity of the product.
When I arrived at DRDC, I was informed that they were out of size 12 boots; I had my choice of size 11’s or size 14’s. Because I enjoy the idea of being ambulatory, I selected the size 11 pair. They were smallish but tolerable. I have now been wearing this same pair of progressively disintegrating boots for over a year. It was my understanding that I could get replacements after a year’s time.
Of course, the delusionally optimistic side of me was convinced I wouldn’t be wrongly imprisoned by the lies of police and prosecutors for this long. Touché, Corruption, you have bested me again.
And so it was with some degree of cognitive dissonance that I went to get my new issue of clothing, believing I would get a new (or at least lesser worn) pair of boots. Au contraire, mon ami, I was informed that they had no size 12’s, that I should check back in about a week. Of course, as I’m in prison and don’t exactly have free run of the place, this is easier said than accomplished.
Nevertheless I’ve been back to Laundry (the fiefdom of which includes boots) a couple more times in search of boots. So far, no luck. On my most recent trip, I was informed that they were changing the protocol for getting new boots. I was not informed what that protocol would be.
And so, each day, my boots become more battered and worn out, less able to afford any real protection from the weather or the daily pounding that results from just living. You see, boots are the thing I rely on to put a little bit of protection, a little bit of traction, between myself and the abuses of a hostile world; kind of like the Bill of Rights.
In fairness, my boots are probably in better shape than the Bill of Rights – no one has been actively trying to destroy my boots.
Thursday, August 40, 2007
"Abusing your little sister is one thing, but when you feed a hungry dog, that’s were I draw the line."
As if having the state steal everything from me, forever altering the course of life, weren’t enough, the system subjects its "clients" to a maddening array of highly bureaucratic rules, utterly divorced from reason. Currently, I’m stressed about the very real probability of getting a write-up for lending my headphones to another inmate. Sharing, apparently, is strictly verböten. To wit:
"Bartering, Selling Goods and Commodities or Services an offender commits this offense when he barters, loans, sells, gives, receives, or buys any item without the prior knowledge and permission of a DOC staff member…."
-Colorado DOC Code of Penal Discipline
[X] is my next door neighbor, a young man who has made his mistakes, and a young man who has done his time with very little financial support from his cash-strapped family. Whatever his mistakes, I think he’s a nice enough kid.
On the occasion in question, [X] was "caught" in possession of my headphones while I was at a visit. I had a few options: I could claim ignorance, essentially condemning [X] to a write-up for theft, recovering my headphones in the process; I could claim the headphones weren’t mine, avoiding a write-up but chocking up the headphones to a loss. Or, I could do what I did, which was to honestly acknowledge that I had lent [X] the headphones out of a simple desire to help out whoever I can as long as I am caught up in the Machine. Now I may face a write-up.
It confounds me why it is that the System punishes honesty, advantages deception, at every turn. Government should reflect the aspirations of the people to a more civil society, to a better world. Unfortunately, ours has become an army of bureaucrats enforcing the rules without passion or intellect.
"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.
With stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."
-Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, The Maid of Orleans