Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Coloring Contest

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By Samuel Hawkins

I can't believe that I am writing this. It is shameful to me, that where I live, what was once called prison is having a “coloring contest.” An inmate just came by my cell with a piece of paper that had a pumpkin on it and “fall” written on it. It reminded me of what the teachers at school in the first or second grade gave us, and then hung up on the walls around the classroom.

This is what the administration has found to occupy our time. I have never seen anything like this. Mind you I am 42 years old, and have been in prison since I was 19. So it is safe to say that I have seen almost everything, the good and the bad in prison.

I have played Bingo, football, spades tournaments, chess, basketball, and weightlifting competitions. I have seen concerts on the yard, and family barbeques in the visiting area. I have had trailer visits, and been in cancer walks to raise money for cancer research. I have been in fights, assaulted others and been assaulted by them, been in riots, and witnessed death. What most people who have never been to prison can simply not grasp I have seen, from violence to sex. I have felt the cold air of being left naked in a cell for seven days with no clothing or other form of covering. I’ve felt the burn of pepper spray used to gain control of inmates who were fighting. I have seen good guys go bad and start snitching. And bad guys who thought they were good. Rapists and snitches that thought they could still be part of the click.

But I promise you this... This is the first time I have ever seen a coloring contest. This is disgusting and despicable to me, that the administration would feel that they could demean me or placate me with a children’s coloring book page, photo copied and handed out.  I reject this paper. 

Who do they think I am? This is more difficult to reconcile than anything I have experienced to date. A coloring contest, for convicts... Excuse me, inmates, no, offenders. That is what they call us now. Offenders. Imagine that. Offenders. It was a term once reserved for "Sex Offenders." But at some point in time it became a title, shortened, for all offenders. How this fits all prisoners, I am not sure. If I steal a car, I am a car thief. When arrested I am charged with auto theft. When I am convicted, I am a convicted felon. So when I come to prison, what makes me an offender? Now if I commit a sexual assault, I am a rapist, or child molester. When I am arrested I am charged with a sex offense, either rape or child molestation. I go to trial, am found guilty and while I am convicted, I am convicted of a sex offense and this makes me a sex offender. So it is natural that I would be referred to as a sex offender.

Now I may appear to have travelled far away from the theme of this short story, the great coloring book caper. But let me connect the dots. Sex Offenders are often viewed as having a sickness. Therefore they are patients who need therapy. I have also heard of similar situations occurring in mental health facilities, or with geriatrics in retirement homes. This is referred to as therapeutic living.  But where is the therapy for adults serving ten-…twenty-…fifty-year sentences, and life without the possibility for parole. 

And then you give me a coloring book page to fill in. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, all I have is a three-inch pencil or pen to color this in. Is this what they expect it will take to take my mind away from the many grievances and issues that I have against the facility? The food cooked yesterday, reheated and served today, the zucchini that they have served for sixty-three consecutive days. The cold “boats” provided to us with our dinner meal each night that are meant for breakfast. They contain a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bran bar, a muffin, and a powdered milk pack with a cold cereal. They don't serve real milk at this facility. 

The coloring contest is meant to placate me, to cloud my vision of the bugs in the showers, and the three week period since the last time I changed my sheets, because last week a guard was assaulted in another unit, and this week they ran out of clean sheets. There are more issues but they apparently are deemed insignificant and hidden behind this sheet of paper with a pumpkin on it. 

Prison. To think they let me out early, I should be celebrating. But they only moved me to a worse place. I never would have thought there could be a place worse than prison. But what I am experiencing now is. It is a mental challenge today. The threats of yesterday still remain, though they are remote. What I am fearful of now is a goon squad with coloring books in hand telling me to cuff up or else.

Samuel Hawkins 706212
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N. 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

1 comment:

marco said...

I can understand your feelings, there are some things that may (I don't say will, just 'may') color the scene a bit differently. Coloring books for adults are a thing these days. I was surprised to hear about it at first, but they are very popular. As long as the winner of the contest doesn't get a box of crayons it could be just a lack of sensitivity instead of cynicism by the prison officials.