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Thursday, June 11, 2020

Staying Sane: How to Stave Off Incarceration's Concomitant Madness

By Tomas Keen

1. Wake up at six thirty to the steady metallic beep of your sports watch. Seriously; wake up. Do not simply reset the reminder for another half hour or, even more enticing, shut it off entirely. 

2. Walk to the cabinet and plug in the hotpot.

3. Retrieve your coffee mug from the shelf and fill it with two scoops of freeze-dried, smoky-colored caffeine pellets. 

4. Perform 210 push-ups while waiting for the water to warm. 

5. Wipe the floor with wet toilet paper to remove the previous day's dust and debris. If you notice that the accumulating dust bunnies are growing large enough to name, make a note to get the bucket of cleaning gear later in the day and thoroughly sanitize the room. 

6. Make your bed before seven. 

7. Do not turn on the TV--watching the brain-numbing light waves before dinner breeds laziness. You don't want to be lazy. 

8. Once the hotpot starts clicking the water is warm. Pour the water into your mug and allow time for the caffeine pellets to dissolve. Drink the coffee. 

9. Make yourself a healthy breakfast. If time is too short, grab a protein bar. 

10. Read something educational. 

11. When the announcement speaker calls "signs out for movement" push the sign out, signaling to the booth officer that you would like to catch the seven-forty-five movement to the phones. 

12. When the door to your six-by-eight cage clangs open, rush to beat the crowd of other detainees to the phones. If you aren't fast you'll have to wait. If you have to wait you'll get frustrated; your loved ones are expecting you.

13. When you arrive at the phone, call the people who love you. Start with Mom, then your sisters, then the one friend who hasn't stopped accepting your calls. Spend each 20-minute-allowed session listening to the great adventures that continue despite your absence from the free world. But, before the end, tell them that (1) you're doing well and (2) your spirits are high.

14. Again, call the people who love you. Remind them that you are doing well. If you aren't insistent they won't believe you.

15. Return to your cage--be mindful to move quickly through the door opening so you will not get slammed--and occupy your time with something constructive.

16. Around ten thirty, the blue-suited authority figures will strut the tier with clipboards in hand and practice their counting abilities--they need the practice. One cell, one person; one cell, two people. These are the only two options yet, depending on the competence of the captors doing the count, often the numbers don't match. When this happens you will be counted two or three times.

17. When count is complete the announcement speaker will squawk that it is time for "mainline." As you navigate the line to the chow-hall, identify potential seating partners. Make the appropriate head nod indicating your wish to form a temporary alliance for the sake of obtaining sustenance--that is, that you want to share a four-man table with them. This nod shows them that you are not one of the "creeps" who no one wants to sit with. If they respond in kind you will know that they too are not "creeps". But still, choose your tablemates wisely: In the eyes of others, where you sit, and with whom, defines who you are.

18. After chow, change into some appropriate workout attire--stained sweatpants and a rough looking t-shirt will do.

19. When the squawking speaker announces "recreation," make your way quickly to the weight pile.

20. Identify appropriate weight lifting partners, using the familiar head nod employed in the chow line. Lift weights with these people. Make sure, however, that you do more repetitions, heavier weight, or both.

21. Return to the unit when your captors allow it--usually around two thirty, though this varies if they haven't yet finished their doughnuts, coffee, or other treats.

22. Eat something healthy.

23. Trek back to the phones and call the people who love you. Try not to get mad that each call is costing you--more accurately, them--two dollars and fifty cents. If you do get mad about this, don't tell your loved ones.

24. Return to your cell and prepare to be counted, again.

25. After count, when the door opens once more, it is time to eat dinner. Do the same thing you did at lunch.

26. Throughout the day, find ways to challenge yourself--workout harder, read more books, write something meaningful--because if you are not then you are failing. You either grow or decay; choose the former.

27. When you can, challenge others--this will help them not to fail.

28. Gather around you those who consistently do not fail. These will be your friends and they will keep you from failing.

29. As often as possible, call the people who love you.

30. When eight forty-five rolls around, return to your cell for the nightly lockdown. Prepare to be counted yet again.

31. As you lay in the dark, don't think about the future. Don't nurture hope, build plans, or think about what could be--these will destroy you. More importantly, don't contemplate what makes you different from the millions of people who know freedom. If you realize the answer--that is, nothing--your mind will break. 

32. Repeat 7,305 times.

Tomas Keen 310445
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

Tomas Keen is a model of personal transformation. He entered prison for the second time at 21 years old, and quickly learned that "violence, apathy, repeat" are the first and most frequent words in prison's survival guide. After five wasted years, and upon learning of (big surprise) shady conduct by prosecutors in his case, he found himself in front of a desktop PC searching the depths of LexisNexis. Although his legal case died on the commissioner's desk in the Washington Supreme Court--leaving him to finish a 20-year sentence--he is now a jailhouse lawyer with aspirations to attend law school after his release. While he waits for freedom, he strives daily to advance his qualities as a snoot by learning from the styles of great contemporary writers such as Bryan Garner and David Foster Wallace. Tomas knows that words are the weapons of wise men--and when the time comes he hopes to have the right ones.

3 comments:

urban ranger said...


Some people (unfortunately for them) seem to need a 'challenging environment'
to find their true path in life.
Congratulations on finding yours, Tomas.





Cynthia K said...

Really enjoyed this. Great writing.

Unknown said...

Great motivator. Thanks for taking te time to post this