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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Forever Young

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By Craig B. Harvey

Say world, as you can see, I'm back working my pen. My goal this year is to write more. I was motivated to do so when, while doing some research in the library, an old timer shared  with me this African proverb: “Until lions learn to write books, history will always glorify the hunter.” In other words, I will never be given credit if I allow my enemy to write my history. I must write my own. 

The irony in struggling to be heard from behind walls is that prisoners are society's castaways, yet society is entertained and intrigued by criminal life and drama.  On television any given night, crime and punishment shows abound: Law and Order; CSI; Rosewood; Forensic Files; Cops; Lock Up; Jail and How To Get Away With Murder (Wow! What a name!). Even the first 10 minutes of primetime news sensationalizes murder, rape, robbery etc.. Society condemns us for living a life we were conditioned to live but gives awards (Emmys, Oscars, Golden Globes) to creators, writers and actors of shows that allow the viewer to live vicariously through us on screen. In essence, condoning the entertaining aspect of criminal life.

The “entertaining” world of prison is a unique environment to mature in. On average, we enter IDOC between the age of 17 and 24 (in my case 13yo), with an overwhelming majority of us having some sort of substance or alcohol abuse problem. A problem more social issue than criminal. Most of us will remain emotionally stuck at that age or younger. Prison was built to house young men. Policies are designed to punish and restrict NOT rehabilitate young men or give proper medical attention to ailing old men. 

Many will grow old with no sense of responsibility, spending a large portion of our lives being told what to do or not do, and when to do it. Many of us have never worked a 9 to 5 job, never learned how to communicate with a woman.  Hell, many were never taught how to wash clothes, clean our bedrooms, or maintain proper hygiene.  And prison is not a place these habits are learned without brothers of great compassion teaching them. 

Administrative rules are designed to perpetuate ignorance, dehumanize and humiliate able-bodied, strong-willed, young men. A few days ago, while I was handling my early morning “business,” I reached back to give the toilet a courtesy flush and it didn't work. My first thought was damn the toilet broke. The disappointing smell of the non-functional toilet hit me along with the realization of what was happening.  I tapped the bunk and said, “Cellie, wake up, they on their way.” Because of the smell and him being locked up 32 years he knows what “on the way” means.

The hot water was still on so I took a hurried bird bath in the sink and brushed my teeth.  My heart was racing, my stomach bubbling like I needed to finish my morning business but couldn't because before I could I heard the thunderous roar of 300 plus officers. Dressed in neon orange jumpsuits, black bullet-proof vests, black combat boots, black helmets and red mace canisters strapped to their legs, they yelled “GET UP, TURN ON THE LIGHT!” All while clanking three foot wooden sticks against the bars.

In front of each cell two officers instruct both occupants to strip nude: “open your mouth, stick out your tongue, run your fingers through your hair, lift your nuts, turn around, lift your feet and wiggle your toes, now bend at the waist, spread your cheeks and cough”.

After they search our blue pants and shirt we're allowed to get dressed. Just blue pants and shirt and flip flop shower shoes. No socks, boxers, coat or regular shoes. This is the attire, no matter the weather, rain, hail, sleet, snow and 10 degrees. We are then handcuffed and escorted to the chow hall where we'll sit from 8am to 2pm. Although I've been through this close to 20 times, and it's something I can never get used to. I have experienced the strip search procedure hundreds of times because it occurs before and after each visit. This entire episode is referred to as a statewide shakedown. Officers throughout the state are selected to search our persons, living space, and property. Really they destroy and confiscate approved items as a way to provoke and control, establishing order out of chaos. 

Please pause for a second and imagine how you would feel? If someone you loved endured this, would you still be entertained? Some find it difficult to feel compassion for prisoners. The lifestyle that led us here may not be your experience, the path of a very small percentage that lives a thug lifestyle.  Selective enforcement of law allows officers to feel comfortable shooting Black men and women, or tossing around Black school age girls, a system created with no compassion for the small percentage of us who insist on thuggin' and trappin'.

Until the community develops compassion for the so-called “thugs,” the guilty, the innocent will continue to be gunned down. Why? Because society views all Black people, that look or act in a certain way, as being guilty. What is compassion? It is defined in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as; “Compassion – sympathetic consciousness of others distress together with a desire to alleviate it” Do you have compassion? With compassion our social ills would be healed. Until next time, peace. 


Craig B. Harvey R15853
Stateville Correctional Center
P.O. Box 112
Joilet, IL 60434

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Addict Speaks: My Long Road to Recovery

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By Christian Weaver

When I say that getting high was my first true love, I´m not just using an expression.  My earliest memory from age four, is of being dizzy, blurry trees and sky rushing past.  Every three or four seconds I would glimpse my smiling mother as she gave another push to keep the merry-go-round turning.  It was love at first spin.  When it was time to leave the park, I started to whirl around in circles to keep the dizzy feeling going.  I never wanted it to end.

I spent my teenage years in Crossville, Tennessee, a rural area near the Smokey Mountains.  My parents were probably upper middle class.  There were six of us in all living in a five bedroom house on a sixty-four acre farm.  During most of this period we were homeschooled by my mother.  Our family was a part of the local homeschooling community, about thirty or forty families that would gather once in a while cook-outs and field trips.  Apart from these events, we had little fellowship together.

My parents provided me with a unique childhood, including missionary travels to Guadalajara, Mexico, Uganda and Kenya; Brussels, Belgium, and even Switzerland near the Alps.  I remember once being bitten by a baby cobra and another time seeing children my age with machine guns and camouflage uniforms, and another hiking through ice caverns made from holes in melting glaciers.  Looking back on it now, I am shocked by how little I appreciated the experience.  I was simply too young.

Most homeschooling families were Christians, including the Amish and Mennonites. I led a sheltered life, with no exposure to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or even cigarettes.  I found myself rebelling against the Leave it to Beaver atmosphere.  At fifteen I was an A and B student, a serious poet, excellent athlete, and piano player, but I had zero interest in going to college like the other homeschoolers.  My heroes were rock-stars, dead poets, and even the psychopaths in movies.  I wanted to be reckless and crazy, the black sheep of the homeschooling community.  Christian morality, which of course included temperance, was my nemesis.

One evening, a church buddy introduced me to cough syrup.  You had to guzzle four ounces of it and it sent you on an intense, zombie-like, ten hour trip that seemed to last for many years. Your entire life was recapitulated through the span of one day.  Large doses can cause brain hemorrhaging and damage the liver.  I also gobbled dozens of caffeine pills and pseudoephedrine, a sort of over-the-counter speed that you could buy at gas stations. Between these and the cough syrup I was every bit as blitzed as a junkie doing speedballs.  I would crash our group events, the life of the party, ranting, laughing manically and falling over like a drunk.  I grew popular with the kids but shocked and horrified the parents.  Because my potions were still a secret, they just assumed I was evil or had a mental disorder.

When I was sixteen I ingested a lethal amount of seeds from a hallucigenic plant  called Jimson weed, or Devi´ls weed.  I ended up in the hospital for three days hallucinating insects on my skin – i.e. tubes and IV´s – and talking to people who weren´t there.  Though the doctors had pumped my stomach, they told my parents that I would probably have permanent damage from all the toxins.  I didn´t notice any difference.

I spent the next few months in Chattanooga in a long-term Christian rehab called Teen Challenge.  It didn´t take the staff long to see my heart wasn´t in it.  “In fact”, said one counselor, “I think you´re just getting started”.  On the Greyhound back to Crossville I met an older, attractive woman and talked her out of four pills…I blacked out for half the day and have a vague memory of my father finding me in a Hardees parking lot with a suitcase in my hand.

At age seventeen I actually started to huff gas (later I would experiment with lacquer thinner, airbrush repellant and the infamous gold spray paint).  It was a different buzz entirely, a sort of Disneyland Fantasia where inanimate (and for some reason, domestic) objects like brooms and tables would whisper and grin and even point with wooden fingers.  Several times I almost panicked when I forgot I was human and didn´t know my own name, home, planet, etc.  I only knew that I was conscious and that I therefore existed.  One time I found myself in my parents´ attic surrounded by two-by-fours and pink insulation.  With one hand I was smoking and with the other I was holding the yellow nozzle of a plastic gas container.  I was alternating between puffs from the cigarette and drags from the nozzle.  Miraculously, I didn´t burst into flames, burn the house to the ground, and kill my entire family.

When I turned eighteen, my father gave me three options:  enlist in the military, complete a long-term rehab, or get the hell out of his house.  Can you guess which one I chose?  Once emancipated from the homeschooling-Christian community, I finally had access to real drugs like alcohol, marijuana, and pills.  On my eighteenth birthday I passed out in the middle of a road and woke up in the county jail.  The officer who’d found me said he´d almost run me over.  For me, the entire year of 1996 was one prolonged blackout with spotty memories, mostly of girls and couch surfing, because I drank until I puked and always mixed it with pills.  I would take whatever drug I could buy or was given – no questions asked – and was hospitalized more than once for either overdoses or adverse reactions.  All I remember clearly from age 18 to 20 is multiple stretches in the county jail.  I was arrested nineteen times and racked up a pile of fines and charges for missed court dates, bail jumping, and drug-related misdemeanors.

Not only did I mix alcohol with other drugs, but I also drove my car around in that condition.  I perceived it as a challenge, as a skill to be mastered.  To me it was no different than one of those old school racing games in a video arcade. I was a very careful driver.  As long as I was conscious, I could drive without crashing. One night I dropped five hits of blotter acid and drove to Cleveland, Ohio to pick up my girlfriend.  I remember seeing faces in the mountains and clouds and even vehicles on the freeway melting into the pavement.  Another time I was huffing gas and driving through town when suddenly the road became a lake and my car became a hovercraft.  I started to swerve it back and forth enjoying the hum and the glide. I found myself parked on the sidewalk.  “Are you okay?” somebody shouted.  I had totaled my car – wrapped it around a telephone pole – but didn’t remember the impact.  How often I cheated injury and death.  I never even broke a bone.  Probably the stupidest thing I did, if I had to pick one, was getting drunk and lying down across a set of train tracks.  I nestled between the crossties and thought I´d rest a couple of minutes…

At age twenty two I moved to New Orleans.  I had relatives in the French Quarter who introduced me to  bikers, offshore workers, and alcoholic ex-hippies.  I started working on oil rigs and painting houses uptown.  A buddy talked me into trying heroin and it was love at first poke.  It was superior to any and all the other drugs combined.  I can only compare it to dreaming while being awake – Mother Poppy, Leading Lady…Soon I was doing speedballs and even breaking down and injecting crack cocaine.  The houses I had to paint were old Victorian-style mansions, like wedding cakes the size of castles.  Often I´d be found atop a forty food extension ladder, paintbrush in hand, trying desperately to keep myself from falling asleep.  Though I would nod for several minutes my feet remained on high alert.

An older couple I knew – a former merchant marine and his Cherokee wife, who were both alcoholics – won forty thousand dollars in an injury suit.  I crashed at their apartment for two weeks and we probably smoked about ten thousand dollars-worth of crack.  I remember my heart beating with bird-like intensity – in quick staccato bursts, like a machine gun – and my brain feeling like it was frying in a pan.  But the heroin was even scarier.  It was far less predictable.  The first time I OD´d I was out for three days; I sweated to dehydration and lost control of my bladder.  The second time was even worse: my head and chest began to pound like they were going to explode, like they would rupture or hemorrhage.  That was the only time I was sure that I would die.

By age twenty five, ten years of continuous inebriation finally began to take its toll.  I was filled with self-disgust, regret, and paralyzing grief about my wasted potential.  Delusional thoughts crept in.  I started to think I was dying from some mysterious disease, that I´d be dead in six months.  My last year in New Orleans – 2003, before I came back to Crossville – was when my sanity finally snapped.  I felt it break like a twig.

An old buddy from Crossville introduced me to meth; it made me hallucinate from lack of sleep and gave me the energy to keep drinking, eating pills, and smoking weed without stopping.  Suddenly, I grew convinced that there were people out there to kill me.  I began to carry a loaded pistol and rant and rave, starting arguments.  I could sense my own apocalypse, but I wanted to speed it up.  In December 2003, one of my handguns was stolen by a young man who I knew casually from drug circles.  After several weeks of complaining and making threats, I managed to lure him into my car, where I shot him, execution-style, three times in the head.  I dumped his body in the woods, burned the car to its frame, and started walking down the street like nothing had happened.  I was famished and barely conscious when the officers picked me up, so intoxicated that the murder seemed fake, like a movie.  But the nightmare became real when I examined my affidavit:  I discovered, to my shock and utter horror, that the victim was no man.  He was only fifteen.  Drugs had so deteriorated my perception and judgment that I actually mistook a child – a skinny child! – for a man.  What´s bizarre is that I couldn´t even remember his appearance.  I couldn´t have picked him from a line-up.

After a year or so in jail I had an encounter with Christ, a “Road to Damascus” experience, that made my attitude and nature and behavior change drastically.  It really filled me with love and desire for integrity.  I apologized to my victim´s family in open court and voluntarily pled guilty to First Degree Murder. I started my sentence at Turney Center (a fairly dangerous prison) and improved myself rapidly through church attendance, exercise, and intense self-discipline and education.  I had a column in the prison paper called “The Pen and the Sword” and was published in free-world magazines over thirty times between 2005 and 2012.  I also studied journalism and wrote two novels, four books of poetry, a full length play, and plenty of essays and aphorisms.

The biggest mistake I made at Turney Center was not joining the Narcotics Anonymous Program.  Unaware that obsessive and/or addictive behavior is a type of personality, like introversion or Type A, I just assumed that I was cured.  I didn´t know my own psychology.  By 2007 I could morally justify taking small amounts of non-narcotics like Baclofen and Neurontin.  I would take them as prescribed and never go up on dosage.  I had yet to discover that just the slightest shift of consciousness can prove virulent to the addict.  Any chemical that alters his awareness, even over-the-counter drugs, will start the process of dependence and addiction all over.  Soon I was smoking weed and rationalizing it to myself because I avoided the “real” drugs like morphine and meth.  I didn´t catch the growing pattern;  in my mind, I was a godly Christian whose only addiction was self-improvement and knowledge.

In 2012 I was transferred to Northeast prison.  In 2014, four months before my transfer to Bledsoe, my identical twin brother attempted suicide three times.  He nearly bled to death in a bathtub and even tried carbon monoxide.  Then his phone got turned off and he refused to answer letters.  The grief I felt was unbearable.  That week I stuck a needle in my arm for the first time in nine years.  When I came to Bledsoe in 2014 I was still sober about ninety percent of the time.  I didn´t need drugs daily, but I wasn´t strong enough to resist them when I felt depressed or stressed out.  Also, I couldn´t avoid them when they were right in my face.  If I could see them or smell them, then I would usually cave in.  My only method for staying sober was to hide from, or fearfully avoid drug users and situations. I was lacking in power.

From 2014 to 2016 I alternated between abstinence and intense binges of Seboxone and synthetic marijuana.  As usual, God protected me from the consequences of my actions: I never failed a drug test or got a drug-related disciplinary.  Though I was higher than Mount Olympus, couldn´t walk without swerving or even find my own cell, I wasn´t  snatched up and shipped like many other inmates were.  When I joined the NA program about a year and a half ago, I still continued to have relapses for the first ten months.  It took me hundreds of hours of applying and internalizing the NA philosophy before I believed it unconsciously.  For example, I knew that I was powerless over drugs (Step One), but unconsciously I thought I could smoke a little weed without falling off the wagon.  I also learned that having relapses -- so long as they are lessening in frequency and duration -- are not a symptom of going backward, but signs a battle is being fought.  Only addicts who are recovering are even capable of relapse.  Active addicts cannot stumble because they never try to quit!


In the last eight months I have found a new strength, the inner power of sobriety.  The same stresses and triggers – the same unchangeable situations – no longer push me to use.  Instead of numbing the sharp feelings, I am learning to bear their full intensity without changing or compromising my behaviors and beliefs.  Instead of running away from fear, I turn to face it without flinching…until I fear it no longer.  The attraction of getting high, like that of an ex-lover or spouse, is still present and real. But it is not overwhelming.  I have fallen out of love.  Gaining a new identity and peer group and being known on the compound as a member of NA has made it easier to resist the temptation.  Sobriety is no longer a state of mind to be endured, but a world – a new horizon – to be explored and discovered.  I´m not just leaving the old path but embarking on a new one.  A new city awaits.


Christian Weaver 271262
BCCX -24B-202
1045 Horsehead Road
Pikeville, TN 37367

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Escape Hatch Below My Bunk: How Board-, Card-, and Role-Playing Games Help Me Leave Prison Whenever I Want

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By Rosendo Rodriguez III

“Es-cap‘ism, n. the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or fantasy.”
-Webster's Dictionary

We humans are social creatures by nature, a characteristic that evolved within our ancestors when they were still living in trees, and refined later when they banded together to hunt woolly mammoths and fend off sabretooth tigers. It is deeply ingrained in our DNA, as well as our collective psyche. We would not be here today had traits in our primate forebears not been naturally selected: instinctive self- and group preservation, a deep seated desire to reproduce, and even aversion to ennui. When you are in a segregated environment in prison (such as Texas death row), where you spend 22 hours a day in your cell, similar instincts come into play, albeit in much different forms than when dealing with tigers, and mammoths. 

Physical survival here consists of merely having a healthy diet, good hygiene, and a daily fitness regimen of cardiovascular exercise. We are separated from one another no matter where we go and what we do, so it is rare to experience bodily harm. The struggle for mental and emotional survival and preservation however, is quite a different matter altogether. Some choose to escape the daily boredom by reading; others meditate and practice yoga.  Numerous gifted artists and writers create works of art on illustration art boards or through the written word. But if there is a ubiquitous hobby, one pastime everyone engages in to preserve their sanity and emotional well-being, it is board-, card-, and role-playing games.

"[Strategy] is more than a science: it is the application of knowledge to practical life, the development of thought capable of modifying the original guiding idea in the light of ever-changing situations; it is the art of acting under the pressure of the most difficult conditions"
-Helmuth von Moltke

Also located deep within our hominid DNA is the sense of competition, going back to when the first ape punched the second ape over the right to eat at a termite mound in Africa. This competitive spirit exists on death row, though there is no eating of termites and only the occasional shouting match. The day-to-day monotony of isolated prison life can bring pressures to bear on a person‘s mind, and can make one's existence difficult. Game-playing and competition can alleviate stress through the use of strategy. Neuropsychologists employing fMRI equipment have recorded the effects of strategic activity in the brains of game players. The level of activation of "reward-related mesolimbic neural circuits" (areas of the brain responsible for experiencing reward and motivation) was significantly higher than that of those who simply observed the game and did not participate. According to a 2010 study by the Department of Defense, findings showed that gamers have a ten to twenty percent higher cognitive function than people who do not play any types of games.  In addition to an increase in cognitive skills, there are also marked improvements in other areas such as problem solving and critical thinking abilities.  These are all beneficial side effects that oftentimes, are unbeknownst to the player during a gaming session.

We employ strategic thinking during games of chess, dominoes, Monopoly, Scrabble, Magic: The Gathering, and Dungeons & Dragons. (Although there are other types of games that are played, these are the most popular and widespread). We can play in groups or in pairs, depending on the game, and physical proximity to one another. On death row you play games either in front of your opponant’s cell (if you are in the dayroom), or with a partition separating you (if you are outside in the recreation yard), or while standing at your cell door along with other players. We can buy dominoes and chess sets through the commissary, a prison-run store that sells foodstuffs, hygiene supplies, correspondence materials, and the like. Other games are fashioned from commissary purchased supplies (paper, pens, cardboard, etc.) and the rules and information are derived from rulebooks that we can either order from outside retailers, or have them printed out from internet sources such as wikipedia.

Most here are creatures of habit and stick to only chess and dominoes. Some will expand into Scrabble and Monopoly. Some like myself, that run the gamut up to and including Magic: The Gathering, and Dungeons & Dragons.

"A novice chess player soon learns that it is a good idea to control the center of the board. This recognition will recur, in novel disguises, far from the chessboard. It may help to seek the equivalent of the center of the board in any situation, or to see that the role of the center has migrated to the flanks, or to realize that there is no board and no singular topology .... "
-Carl von Clausewitz

Chess, in one form or another, has existed over the millennia, and countless variants continue to be developed. We do not have much to do on a daily basis, and since playing the same version of a game can become rather dull, we rely on ingenuity and innovation in order to make it more interesting. For example, Iraqi chess employs a standard board and pieces, but has a novel exception: One piece is, unbeknownst to the opposing player, equipped with a "suicide bomb", and can be detonated only on one‘s own turn by yelling "BOOM!", resulting in the destruction of the suicide bomber and its surrounding pieces. This variant of traditional chess is quite handy, especially considering the limited amount of time (2 hours) that we have to spend during our indoor and outdoor recreation periods, since it considerably shortens an otherwise long and drawn out normal game.

Since dominoes requires both math and loud noise (the repeated slamming of the pieces, as well as "washing" them), two things I do not particularly care for, I will not be discussing it in this article.

Scrabble is an entertaining twofer: It is both fun and educational. By utilizing an extensive vocabulary (which you may not have had before), you can score the most points while confounding your opponents. Part of the appeal of Scrabble is the ability to bluff on the spelling of the word in question (and even the definition, if asked), and calling one‘s bluff by challenging the spelling (but not the definition). Bullshitting one's way to victory is cause for many a laugh; I once made up a word, "Junned" and it‘s definition, "v. the harvesting of summer vegetables in the month of June", to pull one over on my good friend Big Lou.

Monopoly, with it's ruthless seizures of real estate, massive amounts of money, territorial claims, detrimental and beneficial chance cards, and the ability to both go to and get out of jail, has a special appeal to those of us behind the walls. One variant, "Slumlord," takes place in an inner-city ghetto, and was, alternately, a sad and hilarious commentary on urban blight, crime, and gentrification that is for many here, all too real of an experience growing up.

Magic: The Gathering is a collectable card game that combines aspects of chess (forethought to plan several steps ahead), poker (the shuffle of cards, having the right combination in one‘s hand and on the table, as well as incorporating luck of the draw), baseball cards (the collectibility of over 7,000-plus cards, all varying in rarity, has not only an aesthetically pleasing value to hobbyists who collect for their stunning artwork, but also a monetary value ranging from just a few cents, up to tens of thousands of dollars), and fantasy (you represent a spell-caster that travels to different planes of existence, collecting creatures, spells, enchantments, artifacts and allies, all of which can be called forth at your command by utilizing "mana," the geomantic energy that resides within the lands of the worlds you travel to). Drawing from an infinite amount of card combinations and, players have endless amounts of opportunities to one-up their opponents, depending on how complexly or simply they want to customize their decks. I have played and won with one deck against an opponent, beating him soundly, only to lose minutes later using the same deck (and my opponent his) due to not being able to draw the cards I need. 

The element of chance is the great democratizer in Magic: The Gathering, because you can construct a deck of cards that (were we to buy the actual cards out in the world) would cost thousands of dollars, but it would all come to naught if you cannot get the right initial and/or subsequent draw. One of the most ingenious and fun mechanics of the game is that although there are a set number of rules that govern the game, there is the "golden rule"; i.e. if a card changes or even directly contravenes the rulebook, the card then takes precedent. New blocks of cards come out every year, create an ever-changing game that never lacks an appeal to any of us prisoners, from age 15 to 65 (which, incidentally, is the age range of the friends with whom I play).

"Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely. There is the science of the organization of armies in a nutshell"
-Colonel Ardant Du Pica

Dungeons & Dragons bears special mention here, since not only is it the game with the most comprehensive and complex rules we played on death row, but it is the way I have met fellow prisoners who have become my best friends here; men who I consider to no different than my own family. 

When I arrived here in 2008, I didn‘t know anyone. That quickly changed after being invited to be a part of a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign. Although I had played strategic board- and card games such as Battletech, Warhammer 40,000, and Magic: The Gathering as a teenager, I had never played a role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons. 

D&D is a fantasy-based game that incorporates acting s a character you develop by interacting socially with others, all while following a storyline that takes place during both peacetime and war. Like in sports, the class of character you choose is vital to winning or losing contests and conflicts. Divided like football teams into offense and defense, both sides are further subdivided into specializations, sometimes having an overlap. 

Fighters are the main brawlers of any group, usually (but not always, especially when discretion is the better part of valor) charging into the fray with axes and swords swinging. Wizards employ arcane powers to cast fireballs and lightning, and even alter reality through the use of dusty spell books. Rogues are the thieves and spies, breaking into domiciles, gathering information and contacts within the underworld as well as high society, and are vital when disarming the myriad of traps that lay hidden in dungeons ruins. Clerics keep their fellow adventurers safe by praying to their deities for protection and healing, and should such measures fail, even bring them back from the dead. There are many other classes one can play, -- these are but a few D&D has to offer.

You also choose your character’s race, each with varying abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Orcs are big and very strong, but not very patient or intelligent. Dwarves are dour and standoffish, but are powerful in battle and are superb subterranean fighters. Humans are jacks-of-all-trades, easily adaptable to any group or situation, but possess no special traits. Halflings are small humanoids that are quick on their feet and have a natural affinity towards objects of value and as a result, make perfect rogues; Elves are dexterous and aloof, preferring to quickly strike with a sword or bow and arrow due to their frail bodies.

I created a multi-class character named "Samuel Elf Jackson" after one of my favorite actors, an amalgamation of his roles from "Pulp Fiction", "Snakes on a Plane", and "Jackie Brown". The character speaks, acts, and looks just him, as he portrays Catholic Monk/Cleric black elf that knows kung-fu and yells out lines such as "WHAT ARE THESE MUTHAFUCKIN' ORCS DOIN' IN THIS MUTHAFUCKIN‘ DUNGEON?!", and "HELL YES I KILLED THAT DRAGON, AND I HOPE HE BURNS IN HELL!!". Our adventuring group gets no small amount of commentary and laughs (as well as a few curse words of complaint and derision) from guards and neighbors here.

Over the years, I have had the honor and privilege of knowing guys who have had lives that are salvageable and worth knowing about. When the lights go out, and all is quiet, we all get together and grab the playing materials from under our bunks that qualify as an "escape hatch", enabling us to leave this place at the time of our choosing. How valuable is giving us a modicum of freedom in an otherwise infantile atmosphere, where actions, behaviors, food, and clothing are dictated on a daily basis. In the world of prison, where rules are fixed, the games we play afford us a chance to engage in world-building of our own design, giving us control of our own lives without interference from authorities. Games provide a rather wide latitude of choices and interactions that promote opportunities to leave the doldrums of real life, to obtain a reputation, and moments of recognition, and the chance to be a part of a community. The therapeutic value of playing games cannot be overestimated. Deep satisfaction and the resulting bonding experience that comes with overcoming a difficult mental and/or physical challenge is one of the main rewards. Friendly and even familial bonds are built here over the years and decades, and are often struck up over a game between strangers. 

I met a guy names of Arnold Prieto one night, during a D&D gaming session. We didn't know each other at all, but our characters were fighting alongside each other in a dungeon crawling with demons, undead, two chimeras, and a 7-headed hydra. There was an evil knight under a greater invisibility spell that kept giving our adventuring party hell. Samuel Elf Jackson pulled out a 2-pound bag of flour and threw it in the air, and immediately the knight's outline became visible. Prieto‘s character proceeded to whip the knight's ass six ways from Sunday. Afterwards, Arnold said, "The good news is, the knight is gone; the bad news is, no biscuits for breakfast." We all had a good laugh at that, and it is one of my fondest memories of him. Unfortunately, Arnold Prieto was executed by the state of Texas a few years ago. His writings can be seen here.

"While knowing that we will die someday, we think that all the others will die before us and that we will be the last to go. Death seems a long way off. Is this not shallow thinking? It is worthless and is only a joke within a dream... Insofar as death is always at one's door, one should make sufficient effort and act quickly."
-Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo

When it comes to any group of people who have formed a deep and abiding bond, mental states and emotions are highly contagious, and more often than not, joyous and humorous ones spread like wildfire. Being sentenced to death, these bonds and feelings make numbered days feel more worthwhile, and they cannot be stolen. With each final move of a chess piece, or final draw from the deck, or with your last throw of the dice, whether it is a game of skill or the game of life, make it count no matter what situation you may find yourself in. If you have nothing to lose, you won't. 

Rosendo Rodriguez 999534
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Musings

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By Michael Wayne Hunter

As one gets older, and I´m nearing sixty, you start to reflect on the past while relentlessly marching toward entropy.

Like a wild plant refusing cultivation, I grew in Sunnyvale, a suburb near San Jose.  My parents divorced, and my mother had to overcome challenges to find her way.  Although she had degrees in microbiology and math earned in the 1940s, she was unable in the 1970s to find work in her fields of study.  As a middle aged woman she returned to school and learned computer programming, and then worked at NASA´s Ames research writing code to interpret environmental data radioed back to earth from the Viking Mars Lander.  My mother had just been accepted to the Venus Project when she passed away from cancer.

My mother did not have an enemy in the world, freed from a dismal marriage she was just coming into her own personally and professionally when she was taken away.

I was twenty and in the Navy serving as an air crewman operating various avionics systems from the backseat of an aircraft carrier based jet.  After my mother´s memorial service, I returned to my squadron aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in the South China Sea.  I was not coping well, I was self-mediating with drugs and alcohol.

In a brief moment of clarity, I asked a chaplain about drug rehab, and he discourage the idea since it would jeopardize my flight crew status.  Increasingly alienated, my behavior became so erratic I was removed from flying duties and assigned during the midnight hours to a desk to watch a phone that rarely rang.  I remember reading an article in the middle of the night, thinking my mother would want to see it, but when I went to address the envelope, reality crashed in and I felt desolate.

Despite my poor performance over my last few months, I was honorably discharged.  As I was processed out, I felt hopeful.  I thought if I could find a special girl, decent job, a white powder bench with a pumping surf break, I´d be happy.  Fairly quickly I found all three but I was using more substances than ever and felt empty.

I went to the funeral of someone, who like my mother, died of cancer.  My mind disengaged as I internally raged much like Job 3: 24-26.
“Instead of eating, I mourn and I never stop groaning. Everything I fear and dread comes true. I have no peace, no rest, and my troubles never end.”
At the time of the funeral, I´d been accused by my father and his second wife of entering their house when they were gone, drinking all their alcohol, and stealing several inexpensive items.  All true.  In my alcohol/drugged mind I thought my actions a malicious prank, a screw you, not criminal behavior.  But of course, it was.  We exchanged threats, the police were investigating me, emotion was running high.

My father who I thought evil was alive, my mother who was good was dead and I could not reconcile this in my head.

The next day my father and his wife were dead, and subsequently I was sent to San Quentin´s Death Row for their murders.

On death Row, I went daily to an exercise yard with other condemned men.  Drugs/alcohol were available, and I chased chemical bliss.

Years passed as my appeal wended its way through the courts, and one day mother Teresa, the Catholic Saint, came to visit.  My life was so numb, I was indifferent at least until I met her.  I felt her warm spirit flow through me, and I watched in wonder when she said to a sergeant, “What you do to these men you do to God.”

Still, I was not ready to embrace any sort of Higher Power.  I lived in a place where my friends died by suicide or execution.

One day I was locked in the hole, charged with battery on an inmate with a weapon. My right hand was broken. While my hand swelled and turned black and blue, I clung to the notion my actions had been righteous.  Hands had been placed on me, so I handled him.  Case closed.

In the early morning hours, as the pain really hit, I started pondering all the opportunities I had passed on to avoid conflict.  My actions had made violence inevitable.  I had an epiphany, a moment of profound insight, and realized for the very first time my choices were leading me to violence again and again.  I made a resolution that night to do better, just simply do better, something I knew would not be possible if my thinking continued to be distorted by substances.

My hand was nearly healed when I went to my hearing.  The battery and weapon charges were dropped, and I plead guilty to fighting.

At first, I was welcomed back to the Death Row yard, but as it became clear to the fellas that I was no longer using they cut me loose.  No one invites a sober man to a party.  I was a buzz kill.

I started to take advantage of the opportunity to attend church in a fenced-in area of death row.  The service´s main message seemed to proclaim: “Our Mythology Rules!”  Kicks ass on all other myths/legends.”  Cynically I watched the condemned men who had littered the landscape with scores of corpses smugly boast that Jesus loved and forgave them their sins.  The unstated, but clear subtext was the State of California needed to get religion, see the light, and open the doors of Death Row and set them free.  I never drank the Kool-Aid, but the Bible study exposed me to concepts worth contemplating, lent me insight , as my mind free of substances began to clear.

The California Supreme Court denied my appeal.  I was served an execution order, and housed in a Death Watch cell. The chaplain came to see me, and I politely asked him to leave me alone.

The Federal Court accepted my appeal, stopped my execution, and eight years later ordered a new trial where I received life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Eventually, I was transferred to another prison where I had the opportunity to attend college and receive a degree.

I no longer attended church or studied the Bible, but I had remained substance free and disciplinary free since I´d broken my hand and made my resolution to do better.

I went to work as a clerk for The Sergeant.  The sergeant was not soft, far from it, a career marine corp sergeant until he retired and joined the Department of Corrections. He loved to talk about the corp.

“Marines are in the department of the Navy,” I scoffed.

“Men´s Department”, he shot back.

As I moved over the next six years from sergeant’s to lieutenant´s and finally the captain´s clerk, I watched the sergeant closely.  Highly respected by staff and prisoners, anyone could approach him with a problem, he´d patiently listen and usually find a solution.  A devout Christian.

I flipped on my TV to the local news one evening, and the sergeant sitting on a couch in his living room appeared.  The sergeant´s son, a marine serving in Afghanistan had been killed.

After taking time off to take care of his family, the sergeant returned to work, and it seemed that everyone, prisoners and staff, welcomed him.

In a private moment, I expressed how sorry I was for his loss.  Without a hint of anger or bitterness, he told me how much he loved his son and how proud he was that his son had served the United States.

Listening, I could not understand his sense of peace.  My mother and his son had lived good lives, and they were both taken too soon.  How could the sergeant´s loss strengthen his connection to family, community, country, God, while mine had broken every single link.

I asked the sergeant, shouldn´t one reap what they sow?  If so, why did our loved ones reap death?

Tilting his head one way and then another, the sergeant finally answered softly but firmly, “Sometime suffering is not the result of personal sin, but a consequence of living in a fallen world where God has blessed us with free will.  We are not privy to God´s mind, so we must lean on our faith to stand firm and trust God´s plan.”

The sergeant told me to read Job 23:10:
“He knows the way that I take when He has tested me, I will come forth as Gold.”
The way the sergeant lived his life every single day is what connected with me and made me seek out his words.  Our conversation took place several years ago, he´s a lieutenant now, and I´ve moved onto another prison.

I spend my days in a sewing factory assembling California Transportation vests and overalls, and in my spare time I go to devotion, church, veteran´s group and various self-help groups such as Communication, Anger Management, and recovery.

James 1:2 says: 
“My friends, consider yourself fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way.” 
When trials came my way, I did not come through as gold.  I was an angry young man, full of grievances and my actions profoundly hurt people and destroyed God´s gift of life.

I do know I have honored my resolution made more than two decades ago to do better.  Clarity of mind is a gift, and I´m grateful for what it´s brought to my life.

Michael Hunter C83600
Sierra Conservation Center
5150 O'Byrnes Ferry Road 5L-238
Jamestown, CA 95327