Prison Pete

Monday, October 27, 2008
  Nothing new.
Hello there. I am using the borrowed typewriter again. It is just 9:00 PM here so I have about 40 minutes or so to get this typed.

We are having the semi-annual Residents Encounter Christ (REC) retreat in two weeks. It starts at noon on Friday. This time it looks like I will be responsible for setting up the sound system and playing organ for some Spanish songs, but more on the whole chapel thing to come.

I have heard nothing new on my leg. It was the Friday of last April's REC that I started my journey to the Saturday morning leg surgery. Time flies when you have to do it on one leg. Ha Ha

It is time for lights out, so off this goes. More to follow.

Hope life is being kind to you.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
  What Next?
It is just after 4:00 PM here at Camp Run-A-Muk and I have managed to stay somewhat on task up till now. Mail call has occurred and I received last Sunday's NY Times along with this past Thursday and Friday. I have looked at the page one's of each and scanned a few special items I usually look at first in the Sunday paper. The second page of the Week in Review, for the cartoons and late night talk show jokes from the past week. The Ethicist from the Sunday Magazine section is another area of first perusal.

Today's mail also brought the latest Hamilton Books catalog. This one is the one with all books costing $2.95, $3.95, and $4.95. A two disc DVD collection of the 2003 & 2004 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues is available for only $3.95. Hmm, I guess babes in swimsuits have a shelf life.

Now what do I write more? Start to work on filling out my bi-weekly commissary sheet, practice the keyboard, make some dinner, read through at least one of the three papers received. No shortage of things to do. I have my bed covered with the various stacks of papers I have been using to type today. That has the side benefit of preventing me from lying down.

As I think I mentioned I am now in leg limbo. The doctor that did the operation to put the three pins into my femur to get it to heal has handed off my case to another surgeon in the office that does hip replacements. I am willing to challenge the notion that I need to have the operation NOW. As strange as it may seem while I am certainly tired of not being able to stand on my own two feet, why give up after investing almost six months in the healing process? My alleged higher than normal metabolism does not appear to include fast healing of broken bones. Since this is my first broken bone, it is sort of late in life to find that out.

All of the above items mentioned as To-Do should be done yet today, before 11 PM. The only must do, if I want to have any treats and not have to eat state issue food for the next two weeks, is to fill out the commissary sheet. I did receive some good news last week. My latest cholesterol levels have apparently gone done to the proper range. As a result of the commissary only carrying artificial cheese, I no longer buy the American and cream cheese.

My basic diet now consists of starting the day with a bowl of oatmeal, one toasted English muffin and a large mug full of ice tea. Lunch usually is in two parts. A peanut butter (crunchy) and jelly sandwich at 10:00 while at work. Yes I work in the mess hall, but I do not usually eat the food. And a second sandwich around 2:00 PM. Dinner is either a can of black beans with some chopped onions and other spices added or a can of tuna (chunk in water) either as part of a pasta (cold spaghetti noodles 1/3 pound) salad or tuna salad sandwich. I have been using some nacho chips to flavor the beans or as a dipper with the tuna salad.

Still have not come across that beef jerky article.

Before I begin to type pure nonsense, let me put all the paperwork away for the day, take it as being a good start at getting back on the writing track and begin to tackle the other must do items for today. I want to thank you all for reading my musings, and as always feel free to leave comments or questions. I know this blog has been rather thin on stimulating content lately and that has been caused by a number of events that have just left me with the feeling that not much I do matters.

The fault in that thinking is obvious. One must live as if each and every minute provide an opportunity for growth. It may not always be in the area or direction one wants, but life is indeed what you make of it. I am grateful for each of the people who stop by on the blog. Comments are always appreciated but I do appreciate all who just stop by, by accident or misdirect search and still spend a minute or two looking at what this blog is about.

So until the next posting arrives, stay well, safe and enjoy life it is after all here for each of us to enjoy.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
  Piano - Electronic versus Acoustic.
Let me see if I can use this one post to shoot three birds at one time. Bird one, the reason to buy a budding piano student an electronic keyboard instead of a real piano. Bird two, get some questions I have about keyboard/computer interface and what options are available for building a library of songs to enable the use of the keyboard for prison religious services. Bird three, some more pieces to the puzzle of Prison Pete.

First I need to confess that one of my major faults is my failure to accept that if I can not just do a particular task without the need for practice or background grunt work I will not do it at all. There are some things in my life that have come exceptionally easy to me, and that has sort of cast my life into the realm of if I need to work at it, it is not something I will never become accomplished at so why start.

For example back when I was 13 years old and went on my first ski trip and by day two was already being taken off the beginner slope and up the mountain to ski the real trails. I knew that skiing was something I liked. I do know that at the time the 14 or so fellow classmates were all sort of pissed at the special attention I was receiving from the headmaster. I remember him yelling up the stairs early that second morning that I better bundle up because he was taking me up the mountain.

Jump ahead to my long journey to learn to play the piano. While I have been at it for over seven years now, I still can not do anything more than play one note melody lines. Why? Well part is certainly somewhat impaired fine motor skills. But then again I had been a computer programmer for over 20 years and it took my time in prison to finally buckle down and learn how to touch type.

Over the last few weeks I have begun to truly practice piano on an almost daily basis several Spanish Christian songs, with the goal being to be able to play for the Spanish Catholic service held on Monday evenings. As a side issue of my broken leg, I am not able to carry my keyboard back and forth to the chapel. This means I can no longer take the time in the unit to store up to five songs in the sequencer in the dorm, carry the keyboard to church and plug and play as it were. No, I need to be able to play live.

So as luck would have it a couple of the Spanish songs have a rather simple chord pattern, and all of a sudden I am able to use my left hand to play the auto chords, and the melody with my right hand. Yes, with that dreaded P word (practice) I can do things that in the past I was willing to accept defeat and say I would never be able to do it. Yet another benefit of incarceration I have learned that I can learn, and that not all things have to just come to me.

Granted the songs are not the most difficult, but that is another point. I do not have to start off at the top. Start with the easier part, and work my way up. Boring? No, not really. I am celebrating the little steps of progress. For those that may be familiar with Spanish music the songs I am currently working on are:

Arriba los Corazones

There are a few others I am practicing, but they have a few more chord changes so will take a little more practice.

I should point out that with the Yamaha keyboard you have an auto-chord option. Any single key on the right side of keyboard plays a major chord. Hold down the G key and you get a G major chord. Hold down the key or the chord you want and the next lowest black key and you get the minor chord. Hold down the next lowest white key and you get the chord with the 7th note included. Hold down all three keys, the one for the chord you want, the next lower black and white key and you get then minor chord with the 7th included. Once you play the chord it continues until you select another chord. So for now as long as the chord changes are not too frequent and the chords themselves are one of the four types that I mentioned above I am go to go.

Now a few things I have found that the keyboard really can help with the discipline needed to be a great piano player. The first is the built in metronome. Yes the old click, click, click. The electronic version does have the advantage of being able to chime on the first beat. I have found it vitally important to not just play the song without worrying about the timing. It is far better to start off with the tempo you can play the whole song at then increase the tempo as your skill with a particular song increases.

It is interesting, and frustrating at the same time to realize that a major fault of some of our current musicians in church that do not read music and play by ear end up not only changing the value of some of the longer notes in a song to make them shorter time wise, but if there is a part of the song with frequent chord changes, the tempo slows down to squeeze the chords in. This particular group gets really upset when I try to encourage the use of the metronome during practice.

So once you have practice with the metronome, and are getting the piece down, you can store it into one track of the sequencer. Once you have stored the copy played with the metronome, you play and store it again in a different track, without the metronome. Now play back both tracks and you will find which parts you need to work on your timing! I also played back the non-metronome part with the metronome pinging away to see how many beats I lost. In one case once I slowed down in one particular place, the rest of the song I was on time; in another case there were several places where I either held a note too long or not long enough.

This way of using the keyboard to provide feedback allows me to sharpen my skills and readily see the progress I am making. I do need the reinforcement that my practice is leading to progress. Step by step. Not an easy lesson for me to learn, but one is never too old to learn. A few regrets that is has taken this long to acquire the patience yes, but better now than later.

Another area the keyboard is helping sharpen my music skills is being able to put a melody line into the sequencer and then using one of the bass guitar sounds try different bass riffs. This has proven invaluable recently as a new arrival has some great raw talent with the bass guitar and what seems to be a great sense of timing, but alas no music reading skill. Yet he is willing to learn to read the bass clef, which I am gladly teaching him. In the meantime, I am able to come up with some simple bass riffs for some of the songs we are playing. Some of the music we have is only melody line with the chords written above the staff. Since the new bass player does not know what notes make up the various chords, I will be able to write out different bass riffs for each song.

The sound quality of the low end keyboards has certainly improved over the years and even the low end keyboards have the ability to determine the volume of any individual note based on how fast the key is pressed down.

I know that most of the software available for making 'electronic' music allows the computer to handle the whole thing. The tones these days are all samples of real instruments and the only use for a musical keyboard is to use it as an entry device to get 'notes' into the software. Back up a few steps and this is where I need some more information.

I know you can transfer MIDI files from the Yamaha keyboard (my model is the PSR-E403, YPT-400) to a computer. I also know you can load new songs into the Yamaha, but I wonder how much room there is for these songs.

What I would like to design is a way to take songs that I have entered into one of the 5 songs available on the Yamaha, and transfer it to a computer. I know that this is already available; the key here is to be able to edit these MIDI files and also enter new music directly to the software. It is my assumption that software exists that can take a standard MIDI file and display it on the screen in normal music notation. Any errors can be easily corrected and the song saved. Each week we could load the hymns for the service that week into the keyboard. The hope is that the way this system would work is that we would not need to have the computer attached to the keyboard to 'play' the hymns. And since we are not using the computer to generate the musical sounds we would not need to have the latest and fastest computer system.

There you have it, three dead birds and I wonder if I was clear enough to have made their deaths worth it. Please feel free to ask any questions on the above. I love comments. I would like to get this blog back on track and be able to share my journey with the rest of the world, yet not go off on a whining campaign or cast aspersions on some of my keepers. This music issue is really one of my top ten concerns and I would really appreciate any information anyone has about putting together some system that would allow prison chapels to have 'live' music without having a live musician.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
  Problem Solving.
A major problem for me is moving off square one. As many of you know from reading this blog, I tend to have periods of intense activity, and then long periods of nothingness.

Over the last four years one consistent thing in my life has been the delivery of the New York Times. Damn I just spent 30 minutes looking through four of those black marble hard cover composition books looking for an article that I thought I had put in one of the books. The article was about beef jerky, and how one college in Texas had developed a 'natural' beef jerky. It was selling this at a price that was about 25% cheaper than usual prices. The article listed about four companies that were the subject of 'jerky' reviews. The reason I had cut the article was to ask anyone out there to get information on how I could order some of the jerky. Now I do not know where the article ended up. I know I have it here somewhere, but where?

If someone is so inclined, you could go to the NY Times website, search for article on beef jerky, and if you have found the right article there will be a listing for one of the Texas schools that sell jerky. Now once you have gone this far, if you could obtain the ordering information and drop a note as a comment on the blog that would be great.

Related to this issue is a book review blurb I have in front of me that is from the Thursday, June 15, 2006 New York Times. Yes 2006! See what I mean about moving off square one? The book, "Leaving Church, A Memoir of Faith" by Barbara Brown Taylor. She was a rector of an Episcopal Church. She chronicles the challenges she faced. The book was published by Harper San Francisco. At this point I am wondering if anyone has a copy of this they might be willing to send me, and then I could return it after I have read it? There are a number of books I have clipped reviews for and I will dig through them to see if there are any other books out there that you all may be reading and are willing to share.

As an alternative, perhaps someone who likes to find book bargains online would be willing to act as my shopper. I would be willing to forward a deposit to cover the cost of ordering the books. I am assuming that a book like Leaving Church originally published at $23.95 could now be found for around $5.00? If this is the case then this would be a great way for me to get some of the specific books I would like to read.

I and my fellow residents at this secure location will read almost any book, so if you would like to clear out your closets or bookshelves, you can take advantage of the deal the US Post Office offers for sending books, "Media Mail" and know that your former books will indeed enjoy a new and long life of entertaining and possibly educating people that desperately need both!

How long ago was this article? Duh. I am not sure.

The point of this post was to point out some of the problems that exist being "Fenced In." Something as simple as stopping by the local library or the local mega-book store to pick up a book of interest is next to impossible. Yet reading is one of the most basic ways those of us being housed by various government authorities can enrich our lives and add to the rehabilitation efforts that is provided to us.

Okay, so now that I have places the title of a book I want to read on the official record of my journey through prison I can now throw out the article. One less piece of paper. Either someone out there will see this post and send me the book, or once I am out, I can review the archives of this blog and go find my own copy.

In the meantime I have also listed yet another piece to the puzzle that is Prison Pete, and might end up encouraging yet another reader out there to become a pen-pal. Yes a shameless plug for pen pals, but it never hurts to ask, does it?

While the rest of the world is moving at the speed of instant communication, there still are some of us who rely on the life line of snail mail for our contact with the outside world. Guess that is the point, we are not 'outside' we are the insiders and for the most part all of us will be an outsider at some point in the future.

If you know someone who is currently in prison and you do write to him or her, let me confirm that there is never a time that the receipt of a letter from the outside doesn't make one of us insiders smile from ear to ear. Those of you writing keep doing so, it is a very important task you do.

Those of you that are not among those that know someone in prison that you could write to are encouraged to adopt me as a pen-pal. Yet another shameless plug. See what happens when I am not otherwise engaged? I happen to have an entire day off from work and other programs, so am endeavoring to make a major dent in my to do pile. Before starting this post, I typed two letters for two of my neighbors, and a thank you note to one of my relatives for some family pictures of my dad's 80th birthday party.

So let’s see, the book review was from 2006, the pictures were received September 12, 2008, now on to some of the to-do stuff in the middle.

But first a break for some lunch and let us hope more typing this afternoon as opposed to giving up and taking an afternoon siesta. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
  Leg report - Breaking News.
Be careful what you wish for. I had been anxiously awaiting my next follow-up appointment. I had a second CAT scan back in August. After more than five months on crutches and not putting any weight on my right leg, it appears it is still not healing! The alternative to the femur not healing itself: rip it and part of my perfectly good hip out, and replace with man-made (as opposed to God-given) parts.

Now I again am reaching out to my ever faithful readers and asking for any input on the subject of hip replacements. I know there is more than one type, and at this point I still have not met the surgeon who will be doing the operation. The surgeon that did the first operation, placing three pins into the femur to hold the ball end of the bone in place, no longer does the full hip replacement surgery. This could be a good thing since this created the opportunity for an automatic second opinion.

From a pure layman's perspective, I see reason for my continued use of crutches, keeping all weight off my leg until the bone either heals or begins to die.

So now if you are reading this you are asked to put your two cents in. What are the questions?

How long can I wait to see if bone will heal?

And do you have personal experience with hip replacement hardware?
Monday, October 13, 2008
  Emotional shutdown.
I am typing this letter on a borrowed Wordsmith. I am helping an inmate with some legal work so I am able to use the typewriter with my ribbons to type this letter.

I have been running on emotional shutdown mode for the last several weeks, and as you have noticed there has been no letters flowing your way. There were a couple that might have crossed with your last letter, but I certainly need to get my act together and start writing again.

This is not meant to be a poor me letter, part of the lack of mail is precisely an attempt on my part to not end up writing you pages of poor Pete shit. I think that is an improvement, but with little other emotional support available, it ends up taking me forever to get the energy up to write.

I had another CAT scan of my leg a week ago last Friday, and expect to see the surgeon some time in the next few days for yet another follow up. I had seen the doctor around the end of July and an in office X-ray showed that the screws were now sticking out from the site of the break. I got the impression that this was due to the bone pulling itself together, but the doctor still insisted that I keep all weight off the leg. It has now been over four months on the crutches. I will say this though, my back feels great. I even had to lengthen the crutches last week as I appear to now be standing straighter.

I was sort of psyching myself up to the fact that I must be losing weight having cut back the biweekly pint of ice cream to just a nutty buddy cone, and went from 14 bags of M&M's to 8 but alas on the scale this past Friday I am holding at 210.

Damn time for a shower before lights out.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
  Dealing with emotions.
It is now 5:45 PM and I will hopefully work on this letter to you right up until 10:00. I am not going to type a draft out first since we are dealing with emotions here and I want to be able to cover as much ground as possible. Life it seems would be really easy to deal with if we left emotion out.

Yes life would certainly be different without the emotions. While I would have hoped for some support from the home front with my current medical problems, such as practical things like some high protein foods and the flow of emotional concern through phone call and letters, but all I have been met with is silence.

I think I have done some good writing in the past about how prison affects my emotional state and it is my intention to again return to that kind of writing. Life lived with emotion and vigor is a constant balancing game. Certainly I have felt ignored by you from time to time, yet you have certainly been the greatest friend one could hope for while doing time. Another example for me is that while I am back in front of the computer, I am not able to devote any time to typing letters yet that would certainly be much easier (and cheaper) than using this typewriter.

Acknowledging that there is a finite amount of time, how do we know we are spending it the right way? One of the things my ex-wife use to complain about is how while we were living with my parents those first years of our marriage, I would always end up talking to my mom first when I came home from work before heading downstairs to our 'home.' And she was right to feel slighted!

I do not want to turn this into a poor Pete piece. I am wondering as the song says "Is That All There Is?" On this point I think we both have some common ground to cover. Am I doomed to a life of homeless shelters, poverty and loneliness? Are you never going to experience life as complete, a relationship that is based on mutual support and LOVE? You mention you are envious of other couples that seem happy, but perhaps there are other aspects of their relationship that would drive you to drink? Maybe not. It becomes a question of dealing with what we have, and what changes we can make and at what cost.

I am still confident that once I am able to have some type of access to a computer I will be able to earn a living where my background will not be an issue. I am not talking about even earning a lot of money, just enough to be able to support myself. I am serious about trying to rebuild a network of friends something I never really had before, but now with a much better understanding of who I am, I think I can be the kind of person others would like to get to know.

Can the blog help start this process? Certainly not the way I have been not writing lately. I have got to change that. Other then the current ribbon shortage the good news is that I have only myself to blame for lack of postings and I can also remedy that. Cool I have control of something in my life.

It is happening. I am losing desire to continue on this subject. It amazes me how much more aware of my emotions I am. The one drawback is the lack of options I have to handle the running down of the emotional batteries. No Internet to jump on to, no friend to call; I could stuff myself on the food in my locker, but I have been getting better at not pigging out. I do have plans to pig out a bit tomorrow. I brought an 8 oz pack of shredded mozzarella last Tuesday and will be making 6 - 8 English muffin pizzas in honor of my 52nd birthday.

Thanks again and again and again for being my friend.
Friday, October 10, 2008
  On the Dad front.
I finally received a letter from Mom and Dad. At the time Dad wrote the letter he was still getting advice as to treatment options. He mentioned that he needed blood transfusions on Friday and Monday.

My dad will be 80 this year, and certainly I have wasted the last 12+ years of my relationship with my dad, and it now looks like I may never get to see him again.

I think I do not read enough of the New York Times, but yet I read things you did not. Asperger's tends to leave one with a troubled sense of balance. How much time should I spend reading the paper, how do I decide what to read. I do remember a recent article that said the average reader spent 40 minutes a day reading the paper. One of the things I do think the hard copy paper has over the web is that with the web you are more likely to read things that interest you, and may even have various sites set up to filter stories that cover a certain company or location. I do scan each and every page to the paper and constantly end up reading stories that if I was searching for news as opposed to allowing the Times to offer a smorgasbord of stories to pick from.

For example while I am certainly not a sports fan, I love to read the stories about the new baseball stadiums being built in New York, the way the Mets are honoring Jackie Robinson and other techie-type sports stories.

I have hundreds of articles that I have clipped out of the paper. I decided to start going through them and thin out the 20 different manila envelopes. The first story was about the Pentagon sending nuclear arming devices to China instead of helicopter parts. Oops. That would make a great blog post.

To err is human, to really screw things up you need a computer, but to really, really, really screw things up it takes the US Government. Also I thought perhaps that might make a great plot line for an espionage thriller. That is my problem, I see these articles, know that I might be able to use it at some in the future and so the collections grow. Sure if I had a computer, with internet access I could build an electronic index but alas...

If you remember I was doing the volleyball thing while back at Club Fed. I dislocated my ring finger on my left hand. It was reset by the PA on duty and the finger is not exactly the way it should be. Rule number 1: if they have no sports medicine in prison, I better not play sports. So how the hell did my leg get broken? But there is a lot more to that story too.

Should I mention that your hard earned tax dollars are keeping me here in the lap of luxury? Sorry, I know that it is not a laughing matter. I do think we need to have a serious look at what the government should be responsible for, and then how to pay for it. I think it is amazing every time there is a story about how much of the war effort is done by "private" companies, and the billions of dollars that is paid out under the no-bid contracts. I think I have an article that says it is over 50 percent of the dollars spent by the Pentagon.

As an aside, I wish I had met with the parole board this month. Apparently, the word came down from the governor that he wants to close some prisons. This despite the fact that the four that were supposed to be closed under the just passed budget will remain open. So it appears a few more inmates than usual that met the board this path month were released. Guys who already had been denied several times before. That just shows how flawed the system is. It is not, as it should be, whether you would be a law abiding citizen upon your release, it is let us see how many bodies we need to keep in the system this month. Life is not fair, and then there is the justice system.

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