I have planned these blogs for months now. It’s the kind of thing that you always know that you must write someday but now that the day is here, where do you start? I guess the easiest thing would be to explain the title. One day shy refers to my journey really since leaving the Marine Corps. A lot of my friends and associates will be surprised to learn that as of yesterday, January 14, 2014, it will be exactly 10 years since I was released from the Indiana Department of Correction. That, in and of itself, is not all that uncommon. People are released from prison every day. What is extraordinary is the length of time it took for me to get to that release. To begin I have to go back, waaaayy back, to 1984. Specifically October 23, 1984. That was the day I was sentenced to 44 years in prison. The particulars are not that important, many of my friends and a few of my classmates went to prison that same year. Oh, yes, you did read that correctly, 44 years which in Indiana means that a convict serves 50% of his sentence. That’s 22 years for those that are slow counters. Needless to say, that relatively short statement (44 years incarceration) had a profound effect on my life and the man that I became. I was released a few months early for good behavior as well as earning my degree so I was released after 19 years 364 days. In other words, one day shy of 20 years.
Many of my friends always ask me why I know so much about prison/jail related issues as well as criminal justice in general. I just smile and tell them I read a lot. The truth is, I know so much because I lived it. I watch theatrical representations of prison. I watch “reality” shows about prison. I read, listen to podcasts, watch news stories about prison and think to myself, “if only they knew.” A lot of what you see on television is sanitized, it’s a caricature of what incarceration is, and only begins to scratch the surface of what a long term bit is like. When I went in 1984 prison was different than today. Now prison is sectioned off into pods. In the early eighties, prisons were “wide open,” a term that meant that inside of the forty foot wall I was behind, convicts ran everything. Convicts were responsible for everything from race relations to prisoner movement. Convicts controlled what you ate, when you went to the doctor and even what particular religion you practiced. If you ask many of my friends, prisons were better then. I use the word “better” very loosely as prison is never good, its just a matter of being marginally “better” one day than the last.
That being said, I went to prison at 22 years of age. That is considered young by many prison standards. Due to the seriousness of my crime I was sent to a maximum security prison in southern Indiana. The Indiana State Reformatory was designed to hold only prisoners with sentences in excess of 30 years. It was also where the “young bucks” went as opposed to the Indiana State Prison which incarcerated older, more seasoned convicts. An ongoing shell game existed in the DOC whereby the administration would transfer prisoners between the two to control their influence and to break up what would become lifetime bits. You’ll read the term “bit” a lot in this work as it means to serve a sentence. A sentence is a bit, and doing time is considered “bittin.” To say I was subject to culture shock doesn’t even begin to do justice to what was to become every waking day of the next almost, one day shy, twenty years of my life. One of the common misconceptions the uninitiated have about prison is the time worn vision of getting off the bus and walking between two lines of degenerate, homosexual rapists just waiting to prey on the first-time prisoners. Nope. Didn’t happen, doesn’t happen. Most people, and I think I’m qualified to say most, who go to prison know someone there. It can be a friend from the block, a cousin, an uncle and sadly in many, many cases your father. I’ll touch later on how many fathers and sons I was locked up with. I’ll even tell you about a real good friend of mine who saw his son join him AND his father in prison. (Before you profile them, this was not a question of a bad family dynamic where there was no guidance, it was a case of really, really, really bad luck.) Their story was atypical.
I will also mention many people but I’ll change their names, one for their protection/privacy, two due to the disheartening fact that, hell, I just don’t remember. I also don’t want my writing to make one think that I’m looking for sympathy. I did what I did, I did my time for it. I learned more than one can expect from a fucked up situation and I became a better man for it. My main reason for sharing, and in some cases oversharing, is to enlighten the uneducated. I’m not special, everything that I’ll describe is happening as we speak to some other ex-convict. I hope that my writing will help some of you understand what your brother, uncle, cousin, father, son and increasingly, sister, aunt, cousin, mother and daughter is going through trying to reconnect with this crazy world we live in.
I encourage you to share my story. Comment on my blog, suggest it to others. Oh, and click on an ad so Google will pay me my measly pittance for using Blogger as opposed to WordPress or one of the other blogging sites. Also look out for the collected works to be published later on this year.