What Is A Need, and What Do You Need?
A recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article on the author James Patterson included the following quote from him:"I have a saying. If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for a few friends, get a blog. But if you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs? A lot of people in this country go through their days numb. They need to be entertained. They need to feel something."
There is that word again, need
As you may have read on this blog, being able to prepare your own food is a big deal in prison. For most of the last thirteen years, I have been able to prepare at least one meal a day for myself. I have been blessed with both financial and emotional support from my parents. Now that is no longer the case and that has radically altered the way I exist here.
I am not complaining or looking for a pity party. Hopefully I can use my current circumstance to explore with others what our individual needs are and how we meet them. You might think that would be easy but I challenge anyone to be able to define what another human's needs are. Think about it -- life would be a whole lot easier if it was that black and white.
Okay Pete, here is a list of your needs, and here is the package that contains all your needs. How cool would that be? Some of you may say I am in that position now. Doesn't the prison meet all my needs?
Upon my arrival in the NY State Correctional System, I was issued three sets of clothing. Each set consisted of a pair of pants, a short sleeve button shirt, poly/cotton blend T-shirt and boxers, and a pair of socks. In addition, I was given one of each of the following: a winter coat, long sleeve sweatshirt, hand towel (large size or small bath towel depending how you look at it. It measures 20" X 40"), a washcloth, a thin blanket, a pillow and pillow case, a long sleeve button up white dress shirt. Also two twin-size flat (as opposed to one fitted, one flat) sheets.
I did not mention the footwear. That was an area where my needs did not match what the State normally supplied. I happen to have extremely wide feet. (The better to perform my walking on water trick.) My feet usually fit into a size 12 EEEEEE (that is six E's) shoe or sneaker. The short term solution was not to issue me the normal heavy duty work boots, and simply give me a larger pair of lace up sneakers. The closest size that I could get into turned out to be a size 14.
The problem with these was that my feet still pushed out the sides, and there was more sneaker out front of my toes then should have been. Eventually I was provided with both a pair of boots and sneakers ordered from a special supplier of wide footwear. The point being that it took a while for "the system" to provide for my needs, which admittedly are not the norm. Instead of the cheap canvas low-top no-name sneakers (at one point they were dubbed "Air Pataki's", I have not heard them renamed, "Air Paterson's") I ended up with an $85 pair of New Balance Walkers (leather uppers).
On the one hand, my needs were different than the average inmate, but it was a need that was easily quantifiable once they put my foot in the shoe size measurer. All our needs are not that easily defined.
Now as far as the clothing goes, I happen to be a "brief" man. (Although that might not be readily apparent from some of my writing.) Also I tend to be more comfortable with 100% cotton close to my skin. Luckily, in both the federal and NY State systems, you are allowed to purchase 100% cotton underwear.
In the federal system you are not allowed to receive any items from the outside world, but the commissary carried a full selection of 100% cotton underwear for purchase, provided you had some personal funds. While the prison provided underwear, they recognized that not everyone would want to wear what they issued.
In NY State you are allowed to order certain items from outside vendors, and as luck would have it, 100% cotton underwear is one of those items. Once again, as long as you have some personal funds, you can clad yourself in cotton comfort. Ahhhh, it feels so nice.
That is one solution to meeting a person's needs, give them an option. Of course in the case of the underwear, it is only an option for those with personal funds.
There are over 800 inmates here, ranging in age from 17 to over 65, weighing from around 100 pounds to over three hundred pounds, and each inmate is given exactly the same amount of food. One scoop of this, one cup of that, four slices of bread, one spoon full of veggies, etc.
In the federal system, you were able to serve yourself as much beverage, vegetables, beans of some type, and rice or potatoes as you wanted. If you wanted to pass up the main entree being served you could still build a healthy and satisfying meal with the beans as a source of protein. The entree was portioned controlled; two hamburgers, a piece of fried chicken, or two slices of meat.
In NY State all meal items are rationed. You are even limited to one 8 oz. glass of Kool-Aid with each lunch and dinner. For the breakfast meal you can have up to two 8-ounce cups of milk.
The main problem I have with the food here in NY State is the abundance of carbohydrates and lack of protein. I need protein! I can tell when I am not getting enough protein; my brain just does not function at peak efficiency. Yes there is protein in most foods, but when you have to eat a ton of extra carb calories to get the protein, that is tough on the waistline.
For example, this evening I had a bowl of black bean soup. Soup may be stretching it a bit. I opened up a sixteen ounce can of black beans, added one medium sized onion, some black pepper, oregano, and garlic powder, a dash of ketchup, and nuked it at 60% power for five minutes. I topped it off with some crushed saltines and Parmesan cheese. The can of beans provides: 420 calories, 28 grams of protein, 0 fat, 21 grams of dietary fiber (84% daily requirement), and 52% of the recommended amount of iron.
Now compare that nutrition wise (and cost) to a Big Mac or a Whopper and see what a difference that is. The cost of this meal is 55¢ for the can of beans and maybe another 15¢ for the onion and spices.
I received your card and accept your apology for not writing, with one caveat. You mentioned receiving a couple of letters from me in January, but failed to mention the correspondence that headed your way back in December! I did not realize my letters to you carried an expiration date. If my memory is working, with the exception of the Christmas card, your last letter to me was written way back in November of 2009.
I have been forced to cut back drastically on my commissary purchases and am missing the freedom of eating when I am hungry as opposed to when the chow hall is serving. I am still doing a few meals of beans or octopus with pasta, but without all the extras and only 3 or 4 times a week.
I need to gather all my letters from the last few months, along with what posts I have sent and get back in the saddle as it were. My only hope for the future is building some sort of support system through the blog or at least bulk up my writing so that being able to publish something in the future is not just a pipe dream.
I did finally get a short note from my brother yesterday. It was the first time I had heard from him since his initial letter. The note said:Pete,
Mom requested I send this $100 money order to you. Overall she is doing o.k. She tends to sleep a lot and her memory fades in and out.
Take care of yourself,
"Trying again, last envelope was returned, because I forgot your ID #"
I still have no idea what Mom is aware of; though it is apparent she remembers that she used to send me money. Since this was a second attempt, I wonder if Mom is thinking of the $100 as a monthly thing. The New York Times is still arriving. It would be great to know what to expect so I can budget accordingly, but hey I will work at assuming this will not happen too often. Eating in the Chow hall sucks.
I would love to work together on dreaming up possible revenue streams for you to give you some options if the "expensive American white guy" thing starts to cave in and your job gets outsourced to India.
It is Christmas Day, 2009. This is the first Christmas that I have not had any contact with my parents. As some of you know, my dad died last year in September, but I still had contact with my mom. This past September my siblings felt that it was in Mom's best interest to move her into an assisted living facility.
I know that her memory was not the best, but I am not sure if it is only the short term memory. At this point my only point of contact is with my brother and he has only written to me once in the thirteen years I have been in prison, and that letter came in October of this year telling me that he had moved mom into the assisted living facility and was only writing to me because Mom told him to.
He did not tell me the address of where our mother is, saying that he would bring any letters and cards I sent to her when he went to visit her. I sent out a letter to him, including one to Mom, on November 1, and since then I have not heard anything.
This is one of the most vexing problems for a lot of people in prison: contact with family members. There is often a lot of tension, bad feelings and emotional confusion when a member of the family ends up in prison. Sometimes it is seen as a badge of honor. Sometimes there is a sense of gratitude that an out of control family member is getting the "help" he or she needs.
At the recent Residents Encounter Christ weekend we heard from one mother whose son was suffering from drug addiction. Since being incarcerated, he has turned his whole life around, taking every program he can get into, including college classes. His mom told us, with tears in her eyes, she is so grateful to have her son back. Even though he is still incarcerated!
That is one of the rarer success stories. It is not always the case where parents and other family members are willing (or able) to provide the very much needed emotional support for an incarcerated family member. While it is true that all our needs are supposed to be supplied by our keepers, reality presents a much different picture.
Up until this past September, I have been blessed with parents that have supported me both financially and emotionally throughout my journey as an incarcerated person. It is really up to family and friends to provide the emotional and other support that an individual needs.
Yes, we are all provided "three hots and a cot." But there is no way any system can provide all an individual needs. That is exactly the problem. Individual needs. The very words "individual needs" would be tough to put into the same sentence with the word system.
It is my opinion, backed by thirteen plus years on the inside, that one of the most common holes in an inmate's life is having his or her individual needs met. A lot of the time the problem is compounded by an inmate not even knowing what his needs are. I suppose a definition of the word need is in order.
Run and Hide.
As you can see, the enclosed blog post has been around far awhile. It has been typed and ready to go for more than a month, and was waiting for the rest of the thought to finish it off.
I have done little so far this year but run and hide. I am having a hard time emotionally, but am not wasting time just whining about it. True, running from a problem does not lead to solving anything, but on the other hand neither does whining.
My basic time fillers have been reading, 15 books since January l; running up the hill to the chapel, usually two to three times a day, four or five days a week; and last but not least, countless hours mopping, waxing and buffing floors.
I have not heard from my brother, and at this point it seems fairly clear that he will not be writing to me at all. I have also lost all hope that any of my worldly possessions, tools, clothes, etc. will be available to me when I get out. It would appear to me that all I have to look forward to upon my release is what I take with me from here.
As far as human contact goes at this point it is down to Abby and you. I guess this is as low as I can get so I better start the rebuilding phase soon! I have plenty to say, I need to let it all out and see what develops.
I am wondering if the blog is really the place to write the true inside prison story. Oh yes, plenty of mano on mano sex, gambling away all my money, beating up on the weaker ones here, etc. Kidding.
Maybe we could go the taxpayer report route. How about how all the overweight staff members continue to belly up to the inmate food bar and stuff themselves at taxpayer expense? Okay just a little bitterness.
I just caught a line in the NY Post about Amy Fisher raising money for Haiti by going nude at some Long Island strip club or something. Apparently this mother of three and product of NY State Department of Corrections is embarking on a cross county strip club trip to promote her personal porn web site. I did read her memoir of her time in the system that includes at least two or three rapes from prison guards. One strange thing in my own life is for some reason I continue to receive the NY Times. I am not sure if perhaps my brother has just not figured out yet that it is going on Mom's charge card or what.
A powerful anchor in my life.
I have not heard from my brother since his one letter, and I think I sent you a copy of my response. I did send a Christmas card to mom, but have received nothing from them.
Ironically the NY Times is still coming and I can tell from the mailing labels when the next payment is due. It is every four weeks. I wonder if Bill has figured out that it is being billed to mom’s credit card or not. I could write and say okay instead of the paper send me the cash, but to be honest while I know it is expensive, it provides a vital link to a world outside that gives me a little hope for the future. Not to mention the little nuggets I get to share with others.
For example did you catch the story around Thanksgiving about the drama camp that was performing in the Macy's Parade? I know you said you discontinued you daily newspaper delivery, but do you catch it online? The title of the article is around here somewhere on a single piece of paper for me to tell you and I do not know where the note is now. I thought it might be something to look into for your creative non hockey playing son.
Hey I found the note. The article was in the 11/20/09 edition. "Happy Campers Command Stage in Macy's Parade." The name of the camp is Stagedoor Manor Theatre Camp. Not sure if it would be something of interest, but appearing in the Macy's parade is not too shabby a place to be.
Time is fleeting, and I must end this typing session. I could try to continue by hand but it would quickly become unreadable.
Hopefully I will get some more sleep, and continue this letter to you. Then I could easily take the issues in this letter and make plenty of blog material. The one true hope I have still of being of some use to at the least reinforce my sense of self and my humanity, and maybe still, a small but powerful, community of people that can take some part in my future existence.
You are, as always, a powerful anchor in my life. I hope you are not being tossed around too badly out there in the real world. I know you too have pressures and demands on your time, and look forward to any part of that time you can share with me.
I have even mentioned the missing night's sleep. I have become the sole keeper of the floors for the day area and much of the dorm. Yeah we allegedly have porters, but this is one dorm where porters get away with not doing their jobs. More on this to follow.
But for the last four or five months I have been responsible for mopping up the day area after 11:30 PM. Then starting in November that included stripping the floors, and now I have put over eight coats of wax on them.
This Sunday evening I decided to not only mop the floors but do some buffing and rewaxing too. Just mopping the floor usually involves at least two or three changes of the water in the buckets. One for the soap, one to rinse.
So after doing a super special mop job I start using the high speed buffing machines to both remove some of the scratches and put a shine back on the floor. I am doing this work all by myself, which is actually a good thing, while all the other inmates sleep.
I finish up around 6:30 AM Monday morning, just in time to make me a bowl of oatmeal and start laying the first three coats of wax in the dorm area. This takes me till about 12:00 noon, and then I have lunch which was another gift of venison, and up to the chapel I go both at 3:00 and again at 7:00 PM for two hours each time to work on the clerk stuff and computer program I am trying to do in Excel, which is a trip since there are no help files installed. But what I can do is record macros, which are shown in Visual Basic, and try to edit them into workable code.
I arrived back at the dorm around 9:00 PM and napped for about 90 minutes, and was back up at 11 PM to mop the floors. I got to bed around 1:00 AM this morning, but was up at 7:00 AM to put more wax on the floors.
Today we ended having our inmates move out of the dorm, and as a result a couple guys got to move into single cubes from the double cubes, and then we had a few new guys come in. So this high tech operation prohibited me from waxing today. I need to get about eight coats of wax to have the floor really shine.
So instead of trying to catch up on my sleep, I ended up heading up the hill to the Chapel at 9:00, 12:30, and 3:00. I finally arrived back at the dorm at 5:00, and around 6:30 was chowing down with a half pound of pasta with octopus tomato sauce. By the way since I have eliminated most of the comfort/munchie type foods from my diet I am down to 206 since September when I was pushing 225!
I tried to disappear for a bit and take a nap but that did not work. So I have pulled out the typewriter and penned this opus to you.
As I think I have mentioned to you, Ray has sort of become an adoptive son to me. Heck my oldest son is older than he is. Anyhow, for the last couple of months, we have prepared and eaten at least one meal a day together.
Ray is extremely conflicted about receiving financial support from his family, but they are certainly able to provide it. I need to tell you some of the stories Ray has told me, to let you get a clearer picture of his life.
One recent night, he sought me out to talk after getting an emotionally conflicted call from his adoptive mom. His Bio mom is apparently a real jerk. One note is of course I have no outside collaboration which adds a layer of mystery to this whole thing. So Ray tells me it is not fair, I have it all together as to how to handle life, and his life is in total chaos.
Ray's payroll from the mess hall has varied from $14 to $28 every two weeks, so once we decide on the meals for the next two weeks, he would spend most of his money, and I would pick up the rest. In addition I would still get my three boxes of oatmeal, ten packets in each. I use two at a time, and two jars of peanut butter plus two loaves of wheat bread for my lunch. The meals would be pasta or bean dishes.
The point is that now with my funds all but gone, he still has not gotten around to getting in any funds, and while there are a few specific amounts he owes me, it was always assumed that at some point in the near future, he would become the larger contributor. Or not. That is what I deal with: is he for real in seeking out my wisdom and support, or is he a fine tuned con man who has managed to eat well for the last few months at my expanse? It is hard to tell.
Yes, I could choose to not share my resources with others, but that is not who I am. I laugh when I tell others that did not realize when I moved into my cube that it was also the condiment bar for the dorm. One inmate for instance, who is leaving in six weeks, gets monthly packages from home, full $55 buys from commissary, yet he ask me for ketchup to dress up his food bowl. Another inmate that works in the kitchen and has access to all sorts of condiments also asks me for ketchup etc. to dress up the burgers and things he takes back from the mess hall.
Another inmate just tonight said he needs my help. he apparently did something dumb at work in the mess hall and ended up getting a ticket.
One other golden tidbit Ray dropped at dinner tonight was that Darnell and another inmate that lives in our dorm were caught fucking around in a back area of the mess hall. The officer that caught them is the one that Ray said did not want me working there. As a result the one inmate lost his job, but it looks like no penalty against Darnell.
For the record, Darnell is 240 pounds of solid muscle. When I asked Ray if he meant fucking around in the sexual sense as opposed to a more physical horseplay, but also prohibited behavior, he said the sexual. So go figure that one out. In other words, the fucking around was at least consensual, but at worst, Darnell was the aggressor.
Mind you, the truth is such a hard thing to find out around here. I do not know who or what is the truth. Although Mark, heretofore the unmentioned inmate, did lose his job in the mess hall, the really strange part is that Mark is about 80 days from the door. Go figure.
So I am not sure if I have mentioned Darnell Biggins to you before. He is the inmate clerk in the mess hall, and in the past has made my life miserable, and made it tough for me to find time to work on the computer once they had taken my personal machine from me.
Today I see him up at the chapel and I happen to mention the $2.00 and change missing from my pay. He says that should not be. I further mention that it appears they have switched my job number, which governs the normal hours I get paid, and the rate. He claims he did not know that it was switched.
It has been going on for over six weeks, and I know he personally fills out the preprinted time sheets with all the hours for each of the 100 plus inmates listed. Since I used to be in a group of six or so inmates listed on their own page, and am now on the regular list with about 65 other inmates, it would be tough to miss.
He is either stupid, or lying to me.
I happened to mention to Ray (Carlton) that I talked to Biggins, and that Biggins said the reason I was still not working was that two staff people did not want me around. One is an officer, the other, one of the civilian cooks. Ray mentions no, it is another one of the officers down there that does not want me there.
Ironically, all of the people mentioned have been there for a while and while I might not be their best friend, I was working with them in the past. The point is that I do not know how much of what Darnell -- oops, so used to staff people calling inmates by their last name -- is saying is possibly the truth, nor what Ray says is the whole story either.
It still amazes me not only that any staff person is willing to look the great gift of my services in the mouth, and how little power John Black, the food service manager has over what goes on in the area he is responsible for.
Are you able to follow any of this, or do you even care? I am not sure how much of this I really want you to write back about, but if you want better (more) detail just ask. I would rather you not mention specific questions just in case your letter does get read on the way in.