Archive for April, 2010

#167 Just pay separate S&H…yeah right!

Just pay separate S&H…the hook!

Hi there, hope everyone is having a decent Friday, all things considering. I know many of you read my blogs with the concerns of a loved one in prison, so I can understand if “decent” is relative. But I still have to try to instill in you the hope for today and tomorrow. Anybody can talk about losing faith, being down and depressed, but to talk about how to overcome it can mean so much more to a person with a loved one in prison.

Today I am glad to hear from the very kind person who sent me the $50 gift card to Office Depot, I was able to let her know how much I really appreciated it. My goal now is to continue to encourage her in her trials, and to believe that anything is possible… and I DO mean anything.

And my thanks to some of you that are emailing me, I do appreciate that as well. Some of you asked about my books and products, and I will start making that available in May. One of the things I do is when I give you a price, I let you know how much for the product, THEN how much for shipping and handling.

This is important because I learned that if you don’t factor in the cost for stamps, weight and the large envelopes used to ship, you actually lose money. If money was no object, then I am sure I could find better ways to mass produce my books and cards and other stuff, but right now, it’s just me and this computer, and the help of Staples. Let me explain how I do my books.

Right now I have 3 different “Grades of Honor” books, and I also have a Blogbook as well. The way I try to do it is to make a book of about 100 pages max, there is a reason for this, which I will get to later. Since printing books ahead of time takes too much paper to prepare, I have to kinda do it by request. If someone says they want “Grades of Honor”, part 2, then I can print it out. By printing, I mean page by page, but two-sided, on my computer.

The problem with my computer is that because it is old, I have to hand feed it one at a time…if I try to do multiple pages, the old printer will actually take in multiple sheets, and mess it up. It is supposed to feed one page at a time, but it does not. This kinda makes my process of printing a book longer. I think I can print out a book in about 45 minutes.

Once that is done, and I put a title page on it, I take it to Staples (or any office supply store) and have them bind it. Not like notebook paper, but book binding, using a certain machine to glue the pages and put a nice cover to it…you really have to see what I am talking about. It does look nice after it is done.

The trick however, is the number of pages. My first book is 77 pages, the second 97 pages, the third 107 pages…don’t ask why the 7’s keep popping up. The Blogbook I think is 100 pages. But binding books depends on the number of pages. 77 pages is much less than 97 or 107, so you have to have the right number, or else when the machine binds the pages, it might not look right. Kinda like a person wearing size 40 pants putting on size 44, if the pages aren’t right. So the number of pages does make a difference, and it also adds on to the weight. I try not to go over 100 because the extra weight for the book can cost even more.

Once I get the book, I add a few free items to show my appreciation to the buyer, and get a large envelope to ship it out. Last time I sent books out, it cost about $3 to ship, but I have to see if it went up. Even at book rate, I have to make sure that the cost is covered.

The cost of everything I do for the book, or any products, have to be reflected in the price. Its not enough to “break even” because after all, I need to make some profit so I can do more things, and take care of my own. Then there is this habit I have…called eating…(as we all do).

So the price of my books, and cards and certificates are separate from the cost of shipping, because I want to be honest with you as how much it may cost to send what you ask of me to you. This is not a new idea, but ironically, businesses have gone backwards to mislead people in what they are actually buying.

If you ever watch any of those infomercials, pay very close attention to any product that says, “just pay separate shipping and handling”. Further, at the end of the commercial, pay VERY close attention to see if they tell you the price of such shipping and handling. I say to you, if they are not telling you the price for shipping, you may well be walking into a con.

Just the other day, my mom was asking me about a product she saw on tv some hair curling product that advertised $14.99. She told me she wanted it but when she went to Target, she saw the price was $100. She was like, why is it so expensive. I told her how a lot of those “as seen on tv” ads are con jobs because they don’t tell the consumer the full price of what they will pay. As it turns out, we went online to check it out, and some consumers are very upset at the product, because the $14.99 is a trial period, and after 30 days they charge you $40 for 3 payments, plus the $15.00 shipping and handling, for about $150! If she had bought it from Target, she actually would have SAVED $50!

But often times, these businesses hide the true cost of the shipping and handling, because that is where they make their money. Once you order, they usually get your credit card info FIRST, before telling you the price. This is because once they have it, they can take that money as fast as they can, and you are stuck with a shocking bill afterwards. To me, if you are going to be honest about a product, tell the consumer EXACTLY how much they must pay for it. If its too high, fine, at least they know what it costs. But don’t try to sneak it under the credit card, after you get their info.

And the idea of the “free” item isn’t really free, if they are going to overcharge you for shipping and handling. Lots of these businesses will super charge you because they are not really using the best shipping service…mainly the US Postal Service. They have a commercial that says that if you are shipping anywhere, they can ship at a low flat rate, as long as it is under 70 pounds. That means if it you are sending it to Oklahoma, New York, Florida or California, it would cost the same if you are sending the same product. If so, then there should be no problem of giving that info to the consumer, so they know what they are paying for.

But that is the hook. Since you DON’T know, they can charge what they want, and usually that price is to cover the free item they said they are sending you. Now, I have no problem with any business trying to make money, but to have hidden fees in the shipping and handling takes advantage of the consumer.

It bothers me because when I make my products available, I want to be as honest as I can with those who take the time to support me. For example, if I say my books are $25 each, plus $3 shipping and handling, that $3 is to cover the cost for sending it by mail, and the cost of packing it in a large envelope. At this moment, I have may have to change that a bit, but when I do, I will let you know. If I sent a book out and it costs me $4 to ship, I have to eat the extra, since I sold the book in good faith to the consumer. After that, I can make an announcement of the change in shipping, and work accordingly.

I imagine there is more I will have to do, since this will be a starting point, but I have sold my books before, it just has been a little while since I have pushed it like I am now. I really think you would like the book, or some of the cards or encouragement certificates, and I will try to add something extra for you. It gives me a chance to win you over, so you can see that I really am trying help. As usual, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me.

So anyway, I better get some lunch…and if you see any “as seen on tv” commercials, watch very carefully for the signs of the con…look for the “just pay for separate shipping and handling” and also see if they even give you the price for shipping. If you see that sign, and DON’T see the fee, be careful.

Oh well, until next time…

April 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

#166 My thanks for your support

My thanks for your support

Well, I am feeling pretty good about the last few days, people are emailing me, people are reading my blogs, and it seems that I am getting more and more support. I can’t say to you how good this is to me, because every time I get that vote of confidence, I feel more empowered to do my best to share what I can to help those with loved ones in prison.

I blogged earlier today about going to Office Depot, since a wonderful reader sent me a $50 gift card. After I put up the blog, “Proverbs in Prison”, I went out of town to the nearest Office Depot to get some supplies. I got some certificate paper, which will be quite useful when I do my Prison Encouragement Certificates, got some envelopes (small and large for shipping) a USB to store my works (so I won’t lose it to a virus) and got a large bin to keep my works in. That and a couple other small things like post its and stuff, and it came to about $42.

Folks you can’t know how it made me feel to be able to see some fruits of my writing. Now I know I don’t always get it right, but when you write and write and write on blogs for so long, for thousands of pages, you never put first the idea that people will support it. But you still hope deep down that you made some kinda impact, that somebody out there read the blogs and got help from it. And if so, then maybe, if they were in such a position, to give some support to the writer.

There is indeed a very fine line between asking for support and looking like a con man, and I think often I am seen on the negative side…I mean, all ex felons are con men, aren’t they?

(as a fool would say)

So when somebody steps up to support what I am writing, it disproves such a theory and reproves that there are people that I can help…perhaps I’m not such a loser after all.

(written with a few tears in my eyes)

I have received several emails the last few days, people who have indeed been reading my blogs and got some help, or some words of hope in it. I have had several people ask questions about prison, or how to encourage a loved one in prison. I have also had several ask how they can support my blogs, whether by a gift card or a financial gift. It really warms my heart to get those kind of emails, because it keeps me on the path of writing. I never thought of doing this for money, but I realize now that in order to do this in the capacity I wish to do it, it will take money.

I can only give you my very best when I write, if someone has a question about a prison issue, I can talk about it as best I can. As many of you know, I don’t do a lot of short blogs, I enjoy the ability on these blogs to cut loose and say what’s on my mind. If its 2 pages, fine, if its 20 pages, cool. The idea is for me to give you my best. I mentioned awhile back that we have barely scratched the surface of the journals and letters I brought back home from prison. There is so much more we can talk about, so much more I have experienced and went through, that I can use as an example that you can get through this, and encourage your loved one as well.

So if you’ve been reading my blogs the past few days or weeks or even months, I hope to reaffirm to you that I hope to share even more and to do my best to try to encourage you and build some faith in you. I say as well, because I am human, I will figure that there may be days that I fall flat on my face…we’ve all been there. If you have read some of my older blogs, you know that there were days where I had a great many problems, but still had to try to get through the day with a smile. But for ever time we fall, there is an opportunity to get up. I say that as a human being, and an ex felon.

So my warmest thanks to those of you who are emailing me and supporting my blogs. Remember that I will start making the prison encouragement certificates available in May, perhaps by the second week. I want to print up a lot of my works, and make them available as soon as I can. Feel free to email me on that as well.

Once again, my best thanks for your support. Until then…

April 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm Leave a comment

#165 Proverbs in Prison

A Proverb in Prison

“The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord”

Proverbs 21:31

I hope you don’t mind me starting out with that, it lays the basis of my blog today.

Anyway, before I get into the blog, my thanks for several new readers, and some that have been reading my blogs for awhile, and decided to email me about prison matters. It is always good to hear from readers because it reminds me that what I am doing is indeed helpful, and the encouragement and support gives me strength to continue to write these blogs. For that I am most grateful.

Later today, I will be going out of town to get some supplies at Office Depot, thanks to a friend who sent me a $50 gift card to get some much needed items. I might even leave before I finish this blog, since we have to go out of town (no Office Depot in my town), so I hope to finish this either before, or after I get back.

And further thanks to a few new people who asked how they can support my blogs, it really is a good feeling to know that people believe in what I am trying to do.

Now, today’s blog is based on a recent event, and one that happened while I was in prison, both kinda similar if one thinks about it. I blogged a few days ago about a kind reader who was concerned about her son, who was put “in the hole” for getting into an altercation with an officer. He son was upset when his loved ones, who came from a VERY long way to visit, were denied a visit because they were late. Folks, when I say a LONG way, I don’t mean several hundred miles…it was MUCH further than that. But a sequence of unfortunate events, which was not their fault, caused them to be late, and thus lost their chance to visit him. The kind reader’s son got upset because they were there, but not allowed to visit, not even for a few minutes. He lost his temper and got into it with an officer, and was put in segregation with the threat of possibly having charges filed against him.

I emailed the person and she had actually written a very good letter on his behalf, and asked me if there was anything more I could add. I added some details about the importance of visitation for rehabilitation, but personally I think she did a very good job herself. The idea was to send it as soon as possible, in hopes to make a case for her son. Note folks, this wasn’t about defending him, because she knew that he was wrong for what he did, but her argument was that sometimes outside circumstances beyond your control can make people do what they normally would not do. She was not defending his actions, but she was supporting his reason.

Personally, I wish more people would do this, instead of fearing that if they do anything, the prison will retaliate. Sometimes you just gotta stand up for your loved one, and be his last line of defense. It takes action and faith to do that, and many times people are just too afraid to do anything when their loved one gets in trouble. Sadly, when things like this happen, we often look at the most negative and feel sorry that he got himself in trouble, without even considering that maybe there can be some grace and mercy applied.

So I emailed her back, and the idea was to get that letter to the prison ASAP, to give her son a fighting chance when he goes before the prison for his charge. Worst case scenario, he gets an extra charge for assault on an officer, and his incarceration period increases…nobody wants that.

Her situation reminds me of a charge I got while at Sanford Correctional, in Sanford, North Carolina. If you have been reading my blogs of late, you know that I said I have been “kicked out” of several prisons for writing grievances or letters to prison officials and even elected officials about prison issues. This was one of those situations where the retaliation by Sanford was intended to severely discredit me and demote me to a higher security level.

While at Sanford, I had written many letters about the prison, and encouraged other guys to write a grievance if they had a problem with how Sanford was running things. On one day, I was called to the warden’s office and was chewed out by the warden, his two lieutenants and I think a case manager. I knew that if I even tried to argue, there was no way I could win. Even if I said “2 +2=4” I would lose that argument, because somehow, someway, they would disagree just to make themselves appear right.

So I sat there and took it, saying to myself that the second I get back to my dorm, I will write this up in my journal. So I left, not raising my voice, or arguing at all, but absolutely determined to write this situation up, and send it to as many officials that I could. I wrote my journal, then went to dinner, where I also worked. While I was there, finishing my dinner, an officer came with chains and asked me to come with him.

I kinda knew it would happen, but everyone else that knew me was shocked. Of all the guys to have chains put on them…ME? Now don’t get me mixed up here folks, I am not trying to imply that I am anyone important, but the way I carried myself while at Sanford was as honorable as I could. I didn’t cause trouble, I helped other inmates when I could, no officer could say anything bad about me. But because I did write about prison issues, and the warden apparently didn’t like what I was doing, he decided to do something about it, and it started with them having to put me in chains.

In chains, I had to walk back through the prison yard, while the yard was open, and lots of guys saw me walk back to my dorm in the chains…everybody was likely asking, “what did HE do?” I got back to my dorm and had to empty out my locker, since it was apparent that they were going to ship me out immediately.

In all this, by DOC rule, somebody was supposed to read me my rights, and part of that was to also inform me of my charge…nobody did. As one of the officers read me my rights, he asked if I understood what they read. I said to him, “I have no idea what I am being charged for”. The officer said to me, “I don’t either, but I think you know.”

Still chained, I was put in a state car and driven out of Sanford to Guilford Correctional. It was interesting because the officer decided to stop by KFC to get himself something to eat, while I sat in the back seat, dreaming of fast food. He tried to make conversation with me as he drove, but I only answered one question…to me, we had nothing in common, and nothing I said would change his mind or the prison about me.

By evening I was in the hole, at Guilford county, with not one idea of why I was there. For days nobody told me anything, but it was sure that I had a date with the prison to determine my fate. I was told by another case manager about my charge…and it was a heavy one.

I had been charged by Sanford Correctional of attempting to start a riot, as well as several other smaller charges. The riot charge is an “A” charge, which is one of the worst you can get. If found guilty, I would very likely be demoted to a higher security prison, lose any gain time I had earned and likely other lost privileges. It was almost as bad as it could get for me. But I took comfort in that at least I knew what I was fighting against, since Sanford never bothered to tell me.

With that in mind, one of the first things I did was read scriptures, looking for answers. Again folks, I am not writing this with a halo over my head, but I understand a little about faith. The idea was to build some faith, and then plan my defense. I went over all kinds of ways I could defend my position, starting with the fact that Sanford didn’t go by the rules to even inform me of my charge. I knew that with my word against the warden, his lieutenants and even my own case manager, I had an uphill battle. But I knew I was right, I did nothing wrong.

For several days I was in that cell, thinking, planning, praying, staying in faith. I really believed that not only could I win this fight, but I would also be able to go BACK to Sanford to let my friends know what really happened. And I will be honest folks, I wasn’t scared. Something inside of me just kinda relaxed me to believe that I will get through this. Maybe it was because I had built up so much faith that it could not be shaken, or that I just KNEW that I was not guilty.

On the day I had my “trial” I went with other guys too, guys that had their “day in court”. I remember the Sergeant that was with us before we went in and how he told us that almost all the time the inmates lose, so the best thing to do is admit guilt and they will go easier. To me this was foolishness, because I was not guilty. I was not going to admit guilt for something I was not guilty of. So I was determined to fight for myself.

When it was my turn, I went in full of hope, and I had rehearsed the things I would say to the board many times in my head. I had a plan and I was going to say a lot of things in my defense…but ironically I didn’t have so say nearly as much…in fact, almost none.

The board asked me about the situation, and what little I told them included that I started no riot, and when asked about the rule, my point to them was that if sharing any legal information is against the rule, then an inmate even sharing the address for Prisoner Legal Services would technically constitute as being against prison rules…which would be foolish to consider.

It actually amazed me how little I had to say, but in the end I was found not guilty of all charges. I grinned to myself all the way back to my cell, and told the other guys in the other seg cells about it. I was so happy that I did a lot of praising, and it was then I realized that my plans had virtually nothing to do with my victory. It was all in God’s hands.

Interesting.

I spent a lot of time during that week preparing for arguments, counter arguments and debates based on DOC policy and even statutes. But when it came down to it, none of that was even necessary…it was my faith that took over, and God honored it.

You really have to understand this situation folks, most times an inmate’s word is not equal to an officer…let alone the warden of a prison, and his two lieutenants, and a case manager. I was outranked severely, and the charges against me were very heavy. In most cases, I would have to figuratively fight for my life, but in actuality, I barely lifted a finger…I didn’t need to.

I was prepared for battle…but my safety was from God.

The very same thing applied to the kind reader and her loved one, as she emailed me today. The letter we worked on and she tried to send actually didn’t get to the prison in time before her son’s judgment. But as it turned out, he got a very favorable decision, and the prison even acknowledged that under those circumstances, his actions were indeed understandable. No charges will be pressed against him, so certainly the kind reader got what she was praying for.

But it happened without her help…although spiritually it was with her help because of her faith. She had the faith, and she applied action to it. She didn’t sit there and whine and cry and stuff like that. She applied faith, and she acted as best she could. It would appear to me that this was what God was looking for…someone to act on that faith. If so, then He would do His part.

And it makes sense this way too, because in both cases, mine and hers, God gets the glory. If I had argued and debated my case, and won, I might have bragged on how “smart” I was, and how I beat the prison…but this way, I can’t say that. I certainly had a plan, but none of it was used, it was by grace from God that I won so completely…so He gets all the glory.

The same for the lady and her son… I read her letter, it was very good and I believed if she got it to the prison, it would have strongly helped her son…but in the end, it wasn’t necessary, because God saw her faith…and took her side, as well as her son’s.

What this seems to imply, as the proverb goes, is that you can be prepared to fight (literally or figuratively), but the true safety comes from God. There is a carnal warfare, and a spiritual one. Most times we forget the spiritual one, and feel often times that we have to fight the carnal one without God’s help. But if we have faith, it is there. Our problem is that we can’t see it, so we often believe that if we can’t see it, then either it isn’t there…or it MIGHT not be there…both are cases for doubt.

Now look, I say again to you, I am not writing this with some glowing light around me, I am no different from you, probably less than you, but I do understand a little about faith. I have seen it work for me and others, and it works whether you are free or in prison. I urge you folks to hang in there, apply some faith and don’t give up. Faith works with action, and without it faith is empty. I am convinced that anything a person asks of God, He can do, if we believe. I think often times we slip because we focus too much on what WE can do, rather what He can do. If you ask God for help, the let Him help.

Oh well, I hope that helps a few people today, I got some emails from new readers I want to get back to, and I also have a few people who asked me how they can support my blogs. I guess you can say that is a blessing to me, and to be sure it is. I’d love to get to the point where I can make a steady income doing this, I have so much more I want to share with you in prison issues; we’ve barely scratched the surface, even after all these years of my writing.

So hang in there ok, if you want to email me, you know my email. If you want to ask about my products, no problem, I have prison cards and prison encouragement certificates already printed. I also have a couple of books too, but because I work off an older printer, it takes a little longer to print them out before I take it to Staples to bind up. You know how it is when you put two pieces of paper in the printer, expecting to print two pages, but the printer snatches both up…I think the heads of the rollers need cleaning or something.

Anyway, best wishes to you all. Until then…

April 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

#164 Prison PRS (Pack Rat Syndrome)

Prison P.R.S (Pack Rat Syndrome)

Today I was putting out our trash for the city spring cleaning, and I noticed as I was putting some of our trash out, some of the cars slowed down, to see what we were putting out. Last year when we did it, we had cars actually stop and check out our junk. In fact, almost all of it was picked up by other people than the city. As I said in a previous blog, it is amazing how one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.

But as I finished, I thought a bit about how similar this is to prison, something I like to call “P.R.S” or “Pack Rat Syndrome”.

And while it might sound negative, I think in many cases it is out of some form of necessity. Not every inmate does it, but many have either been approached about it or did it themselves.

PRS is where an inmate looks to get extra items from another inmate at the point, or near the time, of that inmate is to leave the camp. Now, when I say “leaving” the camp, I mean basically one of two ways. Either the inmate is about to be released from prison entirely (as in going home) or that inmate is about to be shipped to another camp.

There are lots of inmates who are always looking to find out who is leaving, because when an inmate leaves, sometimes he has to discard some items. If you are on a camp for a certain period of time, it is quite possible that you may have accumulated more than you should have. If you are being shipped to another camp, it is quite possible that you are not allowed to take some items with you, meaning you may have to throw it away… or give it to somebody.

There are, as I said, many inmates who are quick to pounce on an inmate leaving the camp, and they are looking to see if the guy leaving has anything he has to get rid of… or wants to get rid of…or even willing to sell before he goes.

Call them opportunists if you want, but the guys who go around “pack ratting” are looking for items they either need, or items they believe they can turn around to sell. Anything is up for bargain when you are in prison, from stamps, canteen, pens, paper, even state hygiene supplies. Anything you have that might have so much as a nickel in value is what these guys are looking for.

Just now I am thinking if I ever did that myself, if I ever asked a guy if he had anything he wanted to get rid of before he left the camp…and to be honest, I think I may have, but to me, I think that should apply to guys that you really know, because lots of guys in prison won’t speak to you unless there is something in it for them. I’d hate to be approached by some guy that never talked to me, and asked me if I had anything I didn’t want…for him that answer should be no.

I’ve gone through this “Pack Rat Syndrome” a few times, and noticed it many times and how it worked. Because I was kicked around to many prisons throughout my incarceration, I often saw myself in the position where guys would ask me if I had anything I could give them before I left.

One example was while I was at Pasquotank Correctional, in minimum custody. It was the first time I was being retaliated against, and at the time I had no idea that it was going on…I only knew that I was the only guy getting a transfer, when I never asked for one, and almost NOBODY got transfers off that camp.

Yet I got one, and was to be shipped soon. When guys heard about that, I had a lot of guys come to me, seeing what I had. When the day before the transfer came, I had to pack up my belongings, since we would ship very early the next day. That meant in a dorm full of inmates, there was no hiding that I was shipping.

And understand what I am saying here, I said “no hiding”. I learned that if you are about to ship out, don’t tell everybody your business because if you do, that means the entire camp will be bugging you about freebies. Best to tell the friends you made there, so they know that you are leaving, and leave it at that.

But on the day before you are shipped, the officers will give you up to 3 white plastic bags to put your worldly belongings in. This is a bright light sign to anyone in prison that YOU are about to be shipped…there is no hiding that.

So when I got those bags while at Pasquotank, there was no more hiding that I was indeed about to leave the camp…and the pack rats came out. Guys were looking at my stuff, seeing if there was anything I could leave behind for them. I actually had quite a bit of canteen, like cup o soups and stuff like that, and I had a bunch of guys that wanted to help me take some of that off my hands.

The problem with me is I value my writing more than other stuff, and when it came time to pack, I noticed I had MORE than the three bags could hold. They won’t give you any more than 3, and the three I had were not the strongest bags anyway. I had to pack as light as I could, but saving all my written material. It meant I had to leave a lot of stuff behind, which of course was great to anybody who was looking for canteen. I remember leaving some canteen for a few guys, some designer paper and things like that and I also know that I gave about 20 or more faith magazines to the prison library.

On another camp I had the same situation. While at Sanford, I was about to be shipped and like before, guys come out of the woodwork to see what you can give them. Its almost like paying a fee to leave prison, rewarding them for having to stay. Now, I was never threatened to give anything (thank goodness) but sometimes guys get on your last nerve about stuff. One guy liked one of the books I had, a DuPont Registry issue… anybody who knows what that is knows that this is a magazine with some of the finest cars on sale. One guy begged and begged and begged me to let him have it. I told him that I didn’t get too many of those books (because it is expensive) and told him I would be willing to sell it to him. He said he didn’t have any money to buy it…to which I knew he was lying. When you see an inmate day in and day out buying stuff…he’s got money. I think I even offered to sell it to him for just $1…JUST ONE DOLLAR, just to say I got something out of it, but he kept trying to get me to just give it to him.

I relented, but before I gave him the book, I tore out about half the pages for myself before I gave it back to him. I didn’t really feel good about giving him the book, because I knew he could have bargained with me for it, but maybe he saw that I was too kind.

The last time I remember being in the PRS was before I was released from prison, while at Dan River Prison Work Farm. I knew my release date, and told in private the closest friends I made while there. I told them that if they want anything I have, to “put their bid in now” before anybody else finds out. Now, by “putting in their bid” I was not talking about buying my stuff. This time, I was more than willing to give it away, since I was going home, not to another prison.

For a couple of weeks I was able to keep my leaving private except for a few of my friends. When the last day came, and I had to pack my belongings, the pack rats came out to see what I had. By then, I had given most of my belongings to my bunkmate, or other friends. I saved my writings, because again, they were most important to me.

Again, this might kinda sound chaotic, but there is some method here. Lots of guys in prison don’t get any support from those on the outside, and sometimes they have to hustle to make a few dollars. Now granted, this is frowned down by the prison, and certainly by society, but lets face it folks, this is a different world they live in. Sometimes a dollar or two to buy canteen can lift the spirits of an inmate.

I’ll go one further, the different between prison soap and REAL soap can mean a lot to an inmate as far as self esteem. Lots of you may not really understand that, because some of you will think that soap is soap….really?

Try buying to ultra cheap brand for about a month or two, and see how you feel when you switch to a better brand. You will notice the difference. The same in prison. One thing that a lot of guys tried to take pride in having was name brand hygiene. I say again, don’t think that getting the “el cheapo” is just as good. When you are in prison, it is vital to keep your self esteem, and often times hygiene is directly attached to that. Having good smelling deoderant, good smelling shampoo or good toothpaste means a lot more than you can imagine.

So when guys get a chance to ask somebody else for these things, they are looking to secure some self esteem by having better-than-cheap products. Now, not all guys are so honorable…many look to get stuff just to get stuff. Like pack rats, some guys try to get everything they can get, whether they can use it or not. The idea behind this is likely to sell it to somebody else at another time.

For example, before I left, I remember one guy giving me a folder full of certificates, like “Mother of the Year” and stuff like that. It actually is the basis of the Prison Encouragement certificates I make now. In fact, I STILL have those, even today. One of my friends left prison before I did, so he left them to me. I tried to sell them, but didn’t do so well with it. So I took it home with me.

Almost anything an inmate has can be given away, except personal things like letters or cards. I am trying right now to think of the things I gave away before I left prison, apparently one of them was not my radio…I still have that cheap $&@& thing…

(pardon)

My toiletries, some batteries, designer paper, I think a little canteen, some other things I gave away before I walked out of that prison, but I still came home with about 3 bags full of stuff. Almost all of it was my journals, letters, and writings. All of that I still have today. But in retrospect, it may have been good to give what you can to other guys. To friends I had no problem with, but even to other guys, I guess it is ok. After all, every inmate in prison is trying to make it one way or another, who is to say that one way is better than another?

Almost everything has a value in prison, even if that value is none. One of the things I could NOT give away is the state supplies of hygiene. Because anybody can get them, and because it wasn’t worth a penny anyway, nobody would take them. In fact, you might laugh at me for this, but just last week I threw away a bar of cheap state deodorant, called… Maximum Security.

Yeah folks, I kept it in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom ever since I got home in 2001…only used it once…and regretted it since. So last week or so, I threw it away. It wasn’t worth anything in prison…and certainly not worth anything now.

Almost anything else has value, and because of that, guys are always looking for someone who is leaving the camp, in hopes they can get something from them. I suppose all inmate are like that in some way, so maybe we are all pack rats when the time presents itself. No different than today, as even during this blog somebody came by in a pick up truck, stopped and scooped our old satellite dish and Gazelle workout machine.

Again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Same in prison, same in life.

Anyway, I gotta go, do email me about my prison encouragement certificates, prison cards and my “Grades of Honor” books. Until then…

April 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

#163 Thanks but no thanks

Thanks…but no thanks.

Well today seems like a pretty decent day, sun is shining and it is nice and cool. I started to walk to the post office today because one of my readers sent me a $50 gift card to Office Depot, and I really need to get in touch with her to let her know I got it, but because I cleaned out my inbox on my email, I accidentally got rid of every email I sent, so I don’t have her email to send back to her. So I typed up a letter last night with the intent of sending it today. As it so happened, just as I stepped out, ready to walk to the post office, the mail lady was putting mail in our box. I asked her if she can pick up mail already stamped, and she did…it saved me a walk…although I would have been put too much out of the way if I did.

So today I have to get some junk out of the house to move to the curb, since the city is picking up “junk” this week. I say “junk” because as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It amazes me that each year we put stuff out on the curb for the spring cleaning, people drive by and pick up most of it. I think its neat because at least it does not end up in a landfill. I would rather people come get it than the city. Last year, we put a lot of stuff out, and the only things left after people scooped up our “junk” was a blown out monitor and an old tire. Hopefully it will go as well this year too.

But I got an email the other day from a site called Write-A-Prisoner, a site I have not written for in years. Apparently they have in their data base of my birthday, and sent me an email wishing me a happy birthday, and to continue to participate at their site.

Thanks…but no thanks.

I have absolutely no intentions of going back there, because sites like that are examples where the people who run those sites have absolutely no idea what they are doing. The irony is that sites like that and LostVault pride themselves of connecting inmates with “regular folks” but those same sites don’t listen to anything an inmate, or ex felon has to say. And God forbid if that person says ANYTHING that sounds commercial.

I joined Write-A-Prisoner awhile back, and I started posting some of my retro blogs, to add some content to the site. As with nearly every so called “prison support” site, they don’t have any insight from the inside, only opinions and thoughts from people who have never been in prison.

I added some, and as you know, I do mention that I have books and cards. It is not the focal point of what I talk about, but I make reference to it. I try to keep my straight sell of my products for my blogs. But I do make mention that I have books and cards. After only a few days, I received an email from Write-A-Prisoner that I was banned from the site for 30 days for trying to sell my books. They said after 30 days, I would be more than welcome to come back.

With that kinda attitude, I don’t see why I would.

So I never went back to the site, but every few months I would get an email from the site saying something like, “we noticed you have not been back at Write-A-Prisoner” in awhile, can we entice you to come back”?

Answer…hell no.

I just don’t see the value of going back to a site that clearly does not understand the inmate perspective, nor wants to. If all you want to do is grab inmate addresses and write to them, fine, go ahead and do that. But if you are trying to understand what those guys are going through, and how you can be a positive flow for them, then you need to listen to what some ex felons are saying, and stop trying to ban every person that gets the least bit off of your righteous trail.

The implication from this site to me was that they thought I joined, then started sending my sales pitch to them, to try to solicit sales. Whoever read my posts never even tried to see what I was saying. If I write 10 pages, and spent only 2 sentences mentioning my books, that would have been all they needed to read to condemn me. That apparently must be true, it is what they did to me.

So no, I will not be going back to that site…unless it is to find out how to terminate my membership…which now sounds like the best idea, so I am not bothered by those people again.

But other than that, the weekend was great, now this week I am trying to prepare for my products to be available in May. As usual folks, email me to ask about it. If you have any questions about prison issues, or just need someone to talk to, let me know. I don’t promise to know it all, but I just might be able to help. Until then….

April 26, 2010 at 2:42 pm Leave a comment

#160 Inmate Hierarchy of Needs pt 3 (retro)

Inmate Hierarchy of Needs, part 3

This is part three of an ongoing document I am working on, which means if you are new to this topic, I strongly advise you to drop back and catch the first and second one.

I mean it guys, if you have not read this one, go back and read parts one and two so you can understand what I am talking about. It will make more sense if you do.

If you HAVE been keeping up, then hopefully you understand some of what I have been discussing lately. This is the third part, or you can also say the third level, of the subject on inmate needs. I know I title it by “inmate’ needs, but this more or less is for those who are nearing release, or have recently been released.

This is important because what I am talking about isn’t the “bare necessities” for ex cons. What I am trying to discuss reaches much further than that. We are talking about how to get an ex felon back on his feet and give him the tools (or beliefs) to succeed in his life.

You see, this goes further than what society cares to think. For the most part, people who go to prison ought to have at the MOST the most basic elements to survive… no more than that. But if we are going to find a way to help a ex felon (which includes myself) to get his life back and find prosperity, we have to first understand what has to be accomplished before he or she can get there… and how you can help.

Now, to recap, we discussed that there are basically 5 levels of needs that inmates need, or ex felons, as based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which I am adapting to the needs of those who have done time in prison. We are working from the bottom up, and unless each lower level is satisfied, an ex felon cannot move further, and thus not be in a better position to better himself after his sentence.

We discussed the most basic level, that of human needs to survive. Now by Maslow’s rules, this includes air, food, sleep, water, sex and …depending on what source you read…excrement.

“ewww”

Yeah, I know, but when you really get down to it, that is true. However, the basic elements in my discussion are based on a first world condition. Even though a guy does time and is released back in society, here in the US it is still a free world, which does give that person a couple of slight advantages. But it cannot be ignored that if an inmate cannot eat he cannot better himself. His needs MUST be met before he can advance himself.

The second level was based off the need to have an orderly and protected lifestyle, as reasonable as possible. This included having a job, insurance and things like that. In most cases this second level cannot be met unless the primary needs are met. Let’s face it, an inmate released out of prison doesn’t care about insurance if he does not have a place to stay or food to eat.

But if both of these levels are met, we move to the next level. The third level of Inmate Needs is Social Needs, or the desire to be loved or to be in some form of an emotionally-based relationship.

In short, we all want to be loved.

As the theory of needs suggests, we all want some sense of belonging, no different for inmates or ex felons. In a strange way, it is also the same reason that gangs exist, to have some level of belonging. Even if you are not in a gang, many times you live in a dorm, and you get to know the guys in there almost like a family. But you will notice that is MY interpretation, so it is based on what I may have wanted to see, meaning a deeper idea of wanting to be accepted by other inmates.

The fact of the matter is that even inside prison, inmates want to be part of some group. Nobody wants to do time completely alone. Maybe it’s why guys always ask where you come from, trying to find some common bond for friendship in prison. My first cellmate found out I was from the same town and wanted to trade cellmates to become mine. He is mentioned in my first book, and although he wasn’t perfect (and who is) he was a pretty cool guy to have as a cellie. He really helped me understand prison much better.

Outside of prison, this need still applies. You still want to be loved or appreciated or belonged to some group. It seems to be part of human nature that we cannot completely ignore. In relationship to Maslow’s Needs, those same characteristics apply here:

Friendship

Intimacy

Having a supportive and communicating family.

Again, we know these things can apply to any human being, but I want to focus just on inmates, and how these needs can determine how an ex felon can get his life back together. The great irony here is that society expects ex felons to “stay on their side of the street” as if they lost the right to be loved, or TO love. This is foolish thinking and very unfair to place on any human, let alone one who is trying to get their life back.

Let’s start with friendship. Sounds real simple. Ex felons want friends, so they go get friends and everything is cool. No, it goes much deeper than that. Remember that many of these guys have been “branded” and on their release it makes it very hard for them to be free when they have their charges over their heads like some eternal sin. The easiest ones to identify with this are those with sex charges on them.

It really is a terrible shame how we treat people who have served their debt to society, and yet after they serve that debt, they want to create new levels of damnation for those people just so they can seem righteous to the rest of society. I don’t suppose it is too much of a surprise, men and women fight to defend our country, some giving their lives, but when they come home…so what?

And to note on that subject, I have never been in the military, but my dad served in a war, and my two brothers both served in the military. So I understand the sacrifice those people give, only to be treated less than honorable when they come home. It’s bad enough that people who served their time in prison get neglected, but it is a sure embarrassment to our country when soldiers get neglected….

But I digress…

When an inmate is released, one of the things he will want to find is a friend. In fact, and in a perverted way, it is why many guys end up going BACK to prison. They get around the same guys that got him in trouble, and history repeats itself. But was that person looking for trouble, or looking for a sense of belonging?

Think about that.

When I look back on my life, I never had a ton of friends. Not that I was a jerk, I was kinda quiet and kept to myself. In high school I knew a lot of guys, but could probably count my friends on one hand. In college though, things changed. I knew some of everybody because I was outgoing. I worked in the student radio station and had the Friday night and Saturday night party show. I worked at the campus newspaper and became the editor of sports. I was involved in the student entertainment organization and involved in drama.

By my senior year I was pretty popular, and I think I had a LOT of good friends… many I miss now…

In prison, I did have a few friends, not many but a few.

But when I got out of prison, I had none. Time had passed and people’s lives move on. And I was so stressed about being an ex con that I was just too embarrassed about looking up any of my friends. So I spent a lot of time at home, amusing myself with video games and of course writing.

Sure we have people come to the house, but they are friends of my brothers, not originally my friends. That’s not a knock on them, they are pretty cool, but I miss MY friends. It’s really a soul-searching thought to think if an inmate has friends. And understand that I don’t mean “dudes you know”. I mean FRIENDS. I think the sad thing about me is right now, I don’t have any, and maybe it has forced me to blog and write more, in some attempt to be accepted. Ironically, it has also gotten me banned and kicked out of numerous prison support sites.

Inmates who come out of prison need friends, GOOD friends. Don’t confuse that with perfect people, because there ain’t none around. But a good friend allows that inmate to have someone to talk to, whether about life or just about the big game. But often times, what this also means to ex cons is a similarity. In my case, I don’t have any good friends that were also incarcerated, so I don’t have anyone to open my heart to about how hard it is to make a living selling my books, and how easy it would be to just get a low wage job and quit all this….

And why I keep coming back to write even after I feel that way.

I don’t have a friend to talk to about that…so maybe in a deep sense this is why I blog, to kinda talk to myself…corny maybe, but there could be some truth in it. Yet let me slip this in here too…those of you who have emailed me, or took the time to comment or support my works…that is a form of friendship. It shows that someone accepts me for who I am, and gives me a sense of belonging. So in an odd way, you guys are my friends.

But remember that the term “friend” can be negative too. A bunch of guys who does nothing but stay in trouble can be “friends” to an ex con, and surely lead him back to prison if he is not careful. But to him, that friendship is important to him.

The second part of this level is intimacy. Simply put, having a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s funny that by Maslow’s needs, “sex” is considered to be a basic human need, yet the intimacy is here on the third. It implies that the need for sex is greater than the need for a girlfriend or boyfriend….

NOW THAT IS A SUBJECT OF ANOTHER MATTER….

So I won’t touch that.

But what we can agree that an intimate relationship is the step forward from a friendship. It is more valuable because a guy can spend a few hours watching the football game with the “boys” but he’s likely going to spend much more time with his girlfriend.

“He better!”

Uh… you know what I mean.

And if you think about it, this makes sense to an ex felon. A man spending years in prison, with no contact with a female, and the longing desire to be loved by someone of the opposite sex. This could be a piece of the puzzle to a lot of prison relationships, and why he acts the way he does…but again that is another discussion. An ex felon coming out of prison needs that intimacy with someone he can truly love. More than just hanging out with the boys, something with more meaning, more purpose. An ex felon seeks this just as much as anyone else, but remember that this is the third stage, and if he has not satisfied the first two, he is not going to be focused on an intimate relationship…

Which implies that sex is more important to an ex felon than a relationship, since Maslow does in fact describe sex as a basic human need. As we all know, you can have sex with someone you don’t truly love…

The third part of this level is having a supportive and communicating family. You notice that these words are joined, not optional. It has to be supporting AND communicating. Lots of guys spend time in prison away from their mom, dad, siblings and children. It is a real pain to see your family come visit you while you are in prison because often times it is a reminder of your failure. I know it felt that way to me.

But after the person is released from prison, he has a great need to want to build that family, or be around a loving family. This brings in the desire of acceptance into the “fold”, even if the “family” isn’t blood related. There are some people that can go to someone’s house and feel like family, because they believe they are loved and accepted.

It’s weird that sometimes the last people an ex felon wants to be around is his own family. Why? Because lots of times he feels that they are looking down on him because of his sentence. It just isn’t comfortable being around your family when they all know that you are an ex con. The belief of acceptance is no longer there, so he feels unwanted.

Now get this… he can feel that way even if nobody in the family is looking down on him. It can be a false belief deep inside of him, based on shame, that would suggest to him that his family might not care about him as much as they used to. These can cause an ex felon to back away from his own family for fear of being rejected.

But to be sure, he WANTS to be accepted, we all do. It is important that he is given a chance to become a part of the family that he is already a part of. It was told to me while I was in prison that when you get out of prison, you have to do twice as much to prove yourself to your family. There is a lot of truth in that. But if that family is willing to bring him in the fold, and embrace him and help him, then he can accomplish his goal of being accepted once again in his family.

Remember folks these are not perfect solutions, just ideas. Even though I am using Maslow’s Needs, it is still a theory. Few things apply to every human being that has gone to prison.. But as we are seeing, an ex felon who is finding levels of achievement on these needs is actually bettering himself by finding the right path to a better life.

Now understand this too, the need to be accepted is not always beneficial. Sometimes it can be misguided. A person might do silly stuff to be part of a “gang” or in college, many fraternities and sororities “pledge” their candidates by doing a number of very silly (and sometimes dangerous) things to them. Some young girls will starve themselves to death (literally) so that they might be accepted by others. Peer pressure is a very dangerous relationship but unfortunately it seems to fall in the level of acceptance and social groups.

Ok, we touched on that for a bit, and we see that once an ex felon has met his basic needs of life, and has security for them in case something goes wrong, he then can focus on being loved and accepted. If these things are accomplished, then he can move on to the next step:

Esteem needs: The need or desire to be respected and confidence in one’s self.

We’ll chat about that next time.

April 25, 2010 at 9:09 pm 1 comment

#159 How can you keep him positive (retro)

How can you keep him positive?

There are a number of things I want to chat with you about today, and I may have to break it into a few different blogs, for a subject issue from a particular reader who emailed me. It is my intent to do my best to share what I can on particular prison issues so I can be of some help.

As I say that, I encourage some of you who read by are afraid to email me to consider getting in touch. These blogs are only going to be as strong as the support I get. Last night I said to myself, “I am not blogging tomorrow if nobody responds or if I don’t get support for my works”.

I meant it.

But today I get up, and check my email and I have some emails from people who are reading my blogs. As soon as I read them, I said to myself, “I have to blog”. If they took the time to email me, I owe it to them to help them if I can.

Which is where I am now.

I got an email from a reader who remembers my previous blogs (before depression forced me to remove them from the internet). She brought up something that I truly feel many other readers need to address.

How do you keep them positive in prison?

I won’t share her particulars, but in essence she went to visit him, and he was so depressed that he broke down and cried at the visit. One very touching thing he said that I know all to well…

“I want to go home”.

How in the name of God can you comfort a person who says that? If a person has any humanity inside of them, it would touch the deepest parts of your soul. What was she supposed to do when she sees her loved one broken down?

I want to address that…because I have been there.

Since I know my “Grades of Honor” books have not been on the best sellers list, I know many probably didn’t know that my first couple of books actually touched on this thought.

I made a post awhile back about crying in prison, and before I get any jerks with the “that’s what you get”, I REALLY suggest you stop reading because this blog is not about shoveling hot coals over somebody’s head.

To that person that emailed me about this, and to the many people who can put an “amen” to her situation, let me say this; don’t give in.

And that sounds simple, but we all know how hard it is. I have broken down MANY times while in county jail, and as some of you know, I attempted suicide more than once.

While in prison, I broke down a few times and cried. My second book covers that pretty well; even now when I recount it I get a heavy heart. The reader told me how bad he felt, and how he had a lot of beggars who asked him for stuff…I know about that too.

I know I gave away much more than I received, even though I had a hustle. Maybe I was too soft, maybe I had a kind heart, or maybe I was just foolish. But sometimes you wonder if your “charity” is actually based on atonement. Sometimes we give not because we want to, but because we feel that we owe it because of our faults.

And maybe that is part of the depression, because it falls on guilt. Now, I am not going to sit here and say that every inmate in prison feels that way, to be sure there are a lot of jerks in prison that NEED to stay there.

But there are in fact a lot of guys that screwed up, and want nothing better to just do their time and get a second chance at life. But often times that guilt and condemnation, with the conditions of prison life, can really break you down.

How can you change that so that you can help him?

Mentally and maybe spiritually, this is very possible, but physically, you can’t…

Or CAN you?

No, you can’t break him out, but physically speaking, there are some things you can do. The first is what you are doing right now, being there for him. Sometimes a cry can help more than you understand. Maybe he needed someone to pour his heart out to in hopes to get a grasp on his situation. Perhaps you were the only “release valve” he had, and as such, you, just by being there, allowed him to be human for just a few minutes.

When I broke down in the shower (as in my book), I cried and cried, hating life, hating myself, even hating God. But after a time, I had cried all I could. I had hit the bottom, and once you do that, you can only go up. That does not mean I was happy and joyful, because I was still depressed, but I didn’t feel as miserable as I did.

Once you find that point, you then can see that there is hope. There is a tomorrow.

For you on the outside, if your loved one breaks down, YOU have to be strong. He needs that from you. Even if you cry, that is ok, after all, we are human. But you gotta make sure that he understands that you are there for him, and you are GOING to be there for him. Give him a foundation that somebody loves him. Give him a reason to look for tomorrow.

Then, work on giving him hope. What does that mean? That means finding ways to encourage him, that means identifying what he would like to do, and nurture that. For example, if your loved one wants to start a business, then add your faith to it and see what it would take for him to make it happen. You don’t have to dive in the library and swamp yourself with all the details, but if you can show interest in his dreams, he would then believe that you believe in him.

I don’t like to use cheap advertising, but a person could send an encouraging prison card, or a prison encouragement certificate to lift his spirits.

Trust me, there are things you CAN do. You can do this. You have to.

He needs hope, and in prison, that is very hard to find. However, with you, it can be as abundant as the sunshine you bring him. Don’t give up on him, and don’t let his depression bring you down.

Well, I suppose I could say more, but it is a start. Remember to email me or make a comment, or ask me about my books and other products. My email is derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com.

$5.00
(please include $1 for shipping)

$10.00 Package:
Items: Cover letter and Brochure
Rose Encouragement Certificate
2 Personally made cards
Document, “When they take him away from you”
2 Grades of Honor Flyers
Encouraging Thoughts document
Plus 2 extra items free
(please include $2 for shipping)

$30.00 Package:
Items: Cover letter and Brochure
2 Personally made cards
Rose Encouragement Certificate
Document “When they take him away”
Document “Canteen”
3 Grades of Honor Flyers
“Grades of Honor” First project (77pages)

(please include $3 for shipping)

$50.00 Package:
Items: Cover letter and Brochure
4 personally made cards
3 different encouragement certificates
Document “ Broken Wings”
Document “Canteen”
“Grades of Honor” First project
“Grades of Honor” Second project
(please include $5 for shipping)

Package:
Items: Cover letter and Brochure.
Rose Encouragement Certificate
1 Personally made card
1 Encouraging Thoughts document
1 Grades of Honor Flyer
Plus one extra item free

April 25, 2010 at 9:01 pm Leave a comment

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