#200 Fear of Retaliation (retro)

May 21, 2010 at 5:05 am 1 comment

Fear of Retaliation

Today is a very cool (literally) morning and I went for an early walk to the park to get a soda. It feels so nice I might go back, but while there I saw the city workers fixing the recreational outdoor pool for the summer. Amongst the regular workers I saw a couple of honor grade inmates working, and it reminded me of when I was in prison working outside the camp.

Before I go further, please email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask how you can support my writings. I have been very fortunate to receive some gifts from some readers and I am truly thankful for them. Others have asked about my books, some of which I am mailing this week. I will mail another set of books at the end of the month, so make sure you get your requests in so I can prepare one for you.

The reason why I took the walk was to clear my head for what I am about to write. Last night I got an email from a reader…

(you know, when I say “reader” I can also say “friend”, because when I get emails from you guys and respond, I do it as a friend, to me, when you look for help, you want to hear it from a friend, not just anybody. A friend implies that there is compassion in whatever is shared)

Anyway, my friend emailed me about a situation involving her loved one. I blogged about this a few times; the issue with the inmate who was caught on a charge of drugs (alcohol) and was sent to a rehab without any visits or phonecalls. I won’t go over all that again since you can bounce back to those blogs.

I was given an update on the situation and what happened and how her loved one was doing. He’s having some heavy problems where he is now, and it sure looks like he could use some help.

He’s having a lot of problems, from the entire situation of this “rehabilitation” program to his bunkmate and other problems. He wants to write a grievance, he wants to do something, but is afraid of what might happen.

I read the email and saw the overtone of the message…fear. He needs help, he needs a venue to fight it but does not know what to do. I emailed her back and told her that I would sleep on it so I could be in the right frame of mind to blog on it. So here I am.

If you don’t mind, I want to blog out some thoughts on this.

First off, I know fear in prison too. Everyone knows fear, no matter whether you have been in jail, prison or not. But fear is a terrible thing to embrace…and ironically it is what we do…we embrace it.

Lots of times we think fear grips us, we use descriptions that imply that fear does the action to us. I might say to you that while I was in that county jail for almost 17 months that “fear gripped me like a vice”.

And trust me folks, I faced fear MANY times while in prison. And further than that, I often faced the fear of retaliation while in prison. You already know by now that I have been retaliated against by several prisons during my incarceration. There are basically two types of fear in prison: fear of abuse and fear of retaliation. Now I know there is a fear of returning to society, but right now I want to address the fear of abuse and fear of retaliation, or more specifically, fear of retaliation.

What do I mean when I say, “fear of retaliation”? Some of you might not really know what I mean by that. There is a very real fear that if an inmate tries to stand up for himself against the prison, they will take revenge in some form of action against that inmate. What can they do?

Lots of things.

They can “trump” up a charge, put the inmate in the hole for awhile, take away is visitation privileges, phone privileges, deny his mail, refuse him medical aid or even physically abuse him. Understand folks, NONE of this is humane, but it does happen.

Greatest country in the world, huh? That which you do to the least…..you know the rest.

But how do you fight that fear? Because if you don’t, you surrender yourself totally to whatever happens to you if you choose not to fight for yourself. There has to be a clear belief that what you are doing is right. You can’t waver on it because if you do, then fear will convince you to give up and give in.

And that IS what fear does, it convinces you to not only give up to the situation, but to also accept whatever happens next…which usually isn’t good anyway. But here is something you may not know (or believe in), fear is optional.

That does not mean it does not exist, it means YOU choose to embrace it or embrace faith. And when you talk in prison terms, this is a very heavy thing to believe in. Everything about prison is based on fear, how then can an inmate, even if he is right, possibly believe in faith.

He’d better if he’s going to make it.

Lots of us think that when a fear comes, we HAVE to take it and accept it, not always. Just as you can have faith for something to happen, your fear can also support something bad to happen. It’s kinda opposites, so you can’t have both in your heart…

And that’s where the answers start.

I never said you won’t have fear around you, because we all have troubles, which brings fear. You notice that troubles always accompany fear. Good tidings don’t have fear. If so, then I will say right now that I am soooooooo scared that Bill Gates is going to send me a gift of $10,000,000.00. I am soooooo scared that I can’t sleep at night!

Doesn’t make sense does it? That’s because fear works with troubles, not with good tidings. FAITH works with good tidings, because it is the substance of the things you hope for.

You might think I am spending too much time on that thought, but is outlines everything else you are going to do if you are going to fight fear. You simply have to have a greater sense of faith that God is going to get you through instead of fearing what might happen.

And this goes for every mom, grandmother, wife, girlfriend, pen pal or whomever with a loved one in prison, both YOU and that person in prison have to fight fear. So you must choose what you are going to invest in. If you cannot get past that, then that fear will continue to be what you embrace, because after all, you chose it over faith.

When I wrote grievances in prison, I KNEW that there was a chance of retaliation by the prison. I remember when I was kicked out of Sanford Correctional, and put in the hole for my writing. I beat the charge and was SUPPOSED to go back to Sanford. I did not fear that at all, in fact I WANTED to go back. I knew that the second I got back on that camp, the guys would know the full story of why I was put in shackles and taken off the camp.

I did not fear going back… I had actually prayed to go back.

But Sanford had other ideas.

As I was on the bus to Sanford, just before we pulled out, an officer came and opened the back door. He called my name and asked me to step out. Before then I was so excited about going back, but now I found out that Sanford didn’t WANT me back. Apparently the staff at Sanford saw who was coming, and saw my name. They changed it at the very last second, and I was rerouted to Robeson Correctional.

(See… prisons FEAR too…)

I was quite disappointed when I got to the camp, and I called home to mom since I had not called home in the last few weeks (being in seg). I explained to my mom what happened and I could tell she was so worried. She told me to be careful because she heard of how some prisons can do when inmates try to stand up for themselves.

She was fearful for me, and with great understanding. But she didn’t know what I knew, and there was no way I could live with myself giving up on me like that, or those other inmates who asked for some help writing grievances. The threat of retaliation was always real whenever I started writing, but I had convinced myself that it was something that I had to do. I was NOT going to let prison take my self-esteem and dignity. But I was also faithful that God was going to look after me. I don’t say this as a person who is in the top 100 of the “most faithful”, I am no different than you guys. But I chose to believe that God is willing to look after me far better than my mom…

No offense to my mom, but that is the truth.

Every one of you our there knows that you can’t get in your car, drive to the prison and walk in to your loved one’s dorm or cell and talk to them. In the same measure, your methods to help him are quite limited.

Note I didn’t say NON EXISTANT, just limited.

But if you are willing to put some trust and faith in God to get you through, then there comes a feeling of peace and empowerment that if you stand up for something that is wrong, you have Someone that will get you through.

I never said you would NOT have problems, because I certainly had a bunch of them, but I look back at them all and see that I made it through them all pretty ok. You’ve got to be willing to see it through in order to fight the fear of retaliation. If you are not willing or able to stand up to the fear, you will then be accepting it.

It’s almost like people who talk all the time about their health. You notice that the people that keep talking about not wanting to get the cold end up getting it anyway? Why? Because they kept talking about the fear of getting it. They in essence are surrendering to the idea that they are going to get sick, and eventually do. They keep saying stuff like, “I hate the winter, I always get a cold” and stuff like that.

It’s fear, and they chose to embrace it, so they got what they asked for. Funny how the mind works, isn’t it? We’re all like that at times, because we’re human. But that does not mean we have to accept it.

Fear in prison is a very natural thing, but thousands and thousands of guys have done their time with few major situations. They ALL had problems, but many guys can get through them. Fear of retaliation is one of the greatest weapons of the prison system, because it keeps the inmates in check, thus allowing the prison to do exactly what they want to do.

Is it right? Of course not, but when inmates accept that fear, it empowers the prison. But if you can get past that first step, the step of refusing to give in to fear, then you are halfway there. That’s why I spent so much time talking about the mindset of fighting fear, and why faith has to replace that fear. If an inmate cannot get past that, he cannot possibly find the true strength to defend his dignity and self esteem.

So, let’s say I’m an inmate and I need to do something about my situation. The first thing I might do is spend a little spare time reading some scriptures. Why? Because you are trying to build faith, not fear. You need a foundation of support, and it starts with finding some scriptures to support what you want to happen. When you start to see that you CAN get through this, and that Someone has got your back, it makes it much easier to fight the fear.

Once you get your heart in line, then the body will follow.

Once I see that I must fight fear, then my head tells me to do the thing I seem to be good at doing…writing. In such a situation where prisons may be wrong in what they are doing, I have to be resolved that I AM going to address it in a way that is intelligent and dignifying. I will think through the problem, see what is wrong, why it is wrong and how this can be resolved. You don’t want to argue just for the sake of arguing, there has to be a resolution to the situation.

But you need support as well. Asking other inmates is a very, very slim chance because remember, most inmates believe in the fear of retaliation, so they have chosen to embrace the fear as well. Until someone shows them that they should not fear, you are not going to get a lot of help, or support from them.

I actually tried this once at Pasquotank, on the minimum custody camp. A lot of the road squad inmates were upset that the lunch meals they had were very skimpy. Remember, these guys work outside the camp picking up trash all day. As such, they need to replenish their strength, especially on warm days. But often they get simple sandwiches, which don’t really put too much strength back in a tired body.

The guys didn’t know what to do, and I suggested filing a petition. I was not on road squad, but I was willing to write it up if they were willing to sign it. So I did. I wrote a petition about the road squad’s complaint that the meals were too small, and started going around the camp soliciting signatures.

A lot of guys did sign because they didn’t like the current situation, but others were afraid to sign because they feared retaliation. I was told by another inmate that he heard that if we continued to do that, the coordinator could write us up for “inciting a riot”.

You know, I STILL have those papers with me and the signatures on it…that is something I have to cover later on in my “Grades of Honor” books. But you see my point, even when you try to stand up for something, there will always be guys who are more afraid of what MIGHT happen bad, than what MIGHT happen that is good.

So getting support is going to be difficult from other inmates, but there are other forms of support. One, if you have settled on it, is already there. If you are trusting in God to get you through it, that is your greatest support. And again, remember that you are not talking to a saint, I am no better than anybody reading this, in fact as a felon I am considered less than you guys.

But I KNOW faith, because I have experienced it just as much as I have experienced prison life, and I know that it can and does work. It can work for any inmate who is willing to put even a touch of effort in it. That support is something you just gotta have.

But once you get that, you still need natural support…which is where YOU come in…YOU the mom, or YOU the wife, or YOU the girlfriend, or YOU the pen pal. The inmate in prison needs your support if he is going to get through this. And so you wonder, what can I do?

You become a very important part of this fight, because you have far, FAR more resources at your fingertips than any inmate. While the inmate in fact can have the faith in God inside, there still needs to be action. And while he does need to act, you are in a very critical role to support him.

If you listen, I am going to give you a plan. Note before I go on that this is not the only plan to use, and as you know, every situation is different for any inmate and every prison, but since this is my blog, I can give you a plan of how to fight this situation and conquer fear.

You ready? I’m serious, if you’re not ready, then go back to the beginning of this blog and read it again. No plan is going to work until you first truly believe that it can, and that means having more faith than fear. I never said that you would have NO fear, after all we are all human. I write this to you as a person that still have to fight fear.

Sometimes I wake up early in the morning, and it’s like a thorny blanket is tossed on me, full of negatives. Some mornings I have to truly struggle to find a positive reason to get out of bed. Things like:

“You’re an ex felon, you’ll never see any dreams”

“Nobody cares about you, God Himself has turned His back on you.”

“You’ll never be successful because you are an ex felon”

“You’ll never sell enough of those books because nobody trusts you”

“Why don’t you stop asking folks for support, all you’re doing is scamming them”

“Why do you keep writing all these blogs? Nobody cares about your pathetic life”

“Why do you keep writing, it’s not helping anybody”

“God hates you”

“Even people on prison support sites hate you, look at what Prison Talk did to you, and LostVault and all the others”

“Nobody supports an ex felon, you’re wasting your time”

“Why don’t you just give up and find a minimum wage job, at least you’ll make a few dollars”

“You’re a fool to think you’re really helping anybody”

“If God loves you so much, why aren’t you profiting in this so called writing”

Guys…this is a very heavy burden to carry first thing in the morning. There was so much fear and negativity on me that it was literally tormenting. I tossed in bed trying to fight it, but it just kept coming. There was a fear that my writing had no future, and was a waste of time, like my life.

But I fought it, believing that it is much better than that. I KNEW that if I am helping others, and I have faith that God hears prayers, then I had to be doing the right thing. I also knew that me writing was something I strongly believed God wanted me to do. It had to be true, because I tried to quit prison writing more than once, but my heart kept leading me back. This, for the time that is presented to me, is something I am supposed to be doing.

So it can’t be wrong. And if I am doing something that pleases God in helping others, then I also believe that He is going to take care of me and my efforts. I mean, God ain’t broke. I knew I was doing the right thing. It didn’t stop the negatives from coming, because they did, but I was able to beat them with faith. And the more of that faith you have, the easier it is to conquer the fear.

Note that it never goes away, because we live in a world of troubles, but the more faith you have, the stronger you are against fear. THAT is what you have to put stock in if you are going to help you loved one. If you cannot get past that, the following plan may not work (as well) for you.

This has got to get on the inside before it can affect the outside. Simple case in point: right now it is chilly in the house, and I am a little cold. I make some hot tea and after a few sips, I feel myself getting warm on the inside. The more of that hot tea I sip, the warmer I feel. The circumstances around me has not changed; it is still chilly, but my insides are warmer and I feel better about it…you understand what I am saying and how this applies to an inmates self-esteem and dignity?

So, would you like for me to tell you my plan to help this particular person? Cool, let’s begin:

This plan requires me to first write a grievance…for starters. This is critical because the grievance procedure is an official record made by the inmate. In practically every state, it is serious business against the prison if they destroy, “lose” or do anything to those written statements. This is why they often try to discourage inmates from writing them.

The plan first is to write a grievance, and as the inmate I have to be very clear on what my problems are, and how the prison can help come up with a peaceful resolution. Even if the problem is the prison itself, I have to still allow the chance that the prison is reasonable…if not, then there is a backup plan.

My first priority is to be specific on what the problem is. This is where I have to be careful. If there are 3 different problems, I cannot argue all three on the same grievance. I have to pick the main one and focus my argument on that. I also have to use reason, not emotion, to make it as intelligent as possible.

Let’s say I am the inmate in question from the reader’s email. If it were me, I would focus on the failure of the “rehab” program and explain why I feel it is nothing more than “excessive punishment”.

This is important because many of the problems stem almost directly from me (the inmate in question) being in this program that, by the email, seems to have absolutely no value or intent to aid the inmate.

Now, you guys know how I am…I LOVE to write. This however works against me because you can’t write a novel when you write a grievance. It’s not helpful anyway because too much writing might count against you….

(gosh I hope nobody feels that about me…)

So when I write my grievance, I have to keep is much shorter. That does not mean a sentence or two, because you have to get your point out there, else it will be defeated the second you finish.

So I get a grievance form and sit down to write. This is what I might say on that grievance, when they ask me to describe the reason for the grievance:

I am at a complete loss at the true intent of me being in a rehabilitative program that neither gives me a chance to rehabilitate nor allows me to continue to do my incarceration in a constructive manner. My being in this rehab program should not be based on the prison’s idea of punishment, but rather on the idea of sincerely trying to help an inmate rehabilitate himself.

All of the characteristics of this rehabilitative program all seem to favor excessive punishment rather than rehabilitation. We wear yellow clothes to make us embarrassingly identifiable to the rest of the inmate population; we are not allowed visits, we are not allowed phonecalls, our canteen privileges are very limited. The classes are almost literally voluntary.

Even the living quarters are abusive. I am not comfortable with my bunkmate at all and am worried many times about my safety with him. And I certainly do not understand why we have to practice fighting, and what sort of rehabilitation I am supposed to be getting from being physically abused.

There must be a better way to help an inmate do his time constructively rather than insert him in a program that seems to have no desire to help, rather to punish.

That is what I might right as an inmate.

What I am trying to do is be specific as to why I am having problems, and at the same time, challenging the prison to honestly say if what I am going through is valid or if it is indeed a form of cruel and unusual punishment to an inmate.

So, after I finish, I send the grievance off. Either I personally hand it to an officer or mail it by prison mail. But the plan has only begun.

If YOU were someone on the outside that cared about me, then it is important that I let you know what I did, so you can be on the same page. It is important that SOMEONE outside the prison walls know what I have written, because I will need their support.

If at all possible, I may have to hand write the exact words I put in that grievance and send it to you, so you know word for word what I wrote. This then puts my words in your hands to further the plan.

The idea here is to assume that the prison isn’t going to properly resolve this issue. That is the assumption. Now, they COULD, but if you are bothered enough to write a grievance, knowing that prisons often defend themselves, you need to be prepared for a backup plan.

That plan involves you. You can turn right around, and use the very same grievance I wrote and use it to write to prison officials, and elected officials. Why? Because what we are trying to do is create a check and balance; we are trying to make sure that prisons are held accountable for what they do, as they must do. Prison is not some far off world where law for inmates or rights of inmates are negated by prison officials; that is not their job or right. Prisons are accountable for wrong actions, just as much as the inmates themselves. We want to stack the odds in our favor by doing that.

So what you have to do is get some letters together and prepare to send them out…I said PREPARE, because even though I wrote the grievance, we have to at least give the prison a chance to respond. There is a possibility that they can reason with you and possibly find a solution…isn’t that what we all want?

But if they don’t, you must be ready to fire those letters off at the first sign of negligence by the prison. What this means is that you have to identify several prison officials (you can check online and get that info), and prepare to send them each a letter which mentions your concern of me (or your loved one) and the grievance he has filed. This proves that I did take the proper action to try to resolve a problem, and that it is an official complaint.

I would hope that you would find at least 3-5 different prison officials to write to. One could go to the prison I am at for starters. A second goes to the warden of that same prison. A third can go to the Division of Prisons or Department of Corrections (or both if you have that). Another goes to the head of that department, and another to his second in command.

After that, I would ask you to identify a few state senators and representatives to send a letter to. You might think this serves no purpose, but I submit to you that they do. Even if they don’t answer it directly, they are likely to pass it on, or “delegate” it to the proper channels. That is fine, because for every “channel” that reads it is another person outside of the prison that sees what is going on.

By the time those get to the prison, the warden of my prison will know for sure that outside eyes are looking at my situation. Whether they truly care about me or not, the now know my grievance. That means that the complaint is no longer just under the prison umbrella, and if indeed the prison is responsible for something wrong, they will be held accountable if they don’t fix it.

At the same time, I have to write as well. I might write to the very same people you wrote to, or I might identify others. Even if I write to a prison ministry about my problems, it is part of the plan because one, the ministry it likely going to pray for me, and two, it is another complaint through the fingers of the prison.

If you identify prison support groups that might be of interest, write to them too, I would. This is almost in the idea of “shaking the trees to see what falls out”, or “ringing bells to attention”.

I would hope that you would have maybe 5 or more letters ready to go, maybe as many as 10. I would write to as many as I could, and in such a letter this is what I might say:

Dear (whomever),

I thank you very much for taking the time to read my letter. I write in a request for advice or council in a situation that bothers me. I am an inmate at ______ prison and I am here to do my time as best as I can so I can return home to my loved ones. I realize I made a mistake and have no issue with my incarceration, but I am very concerned at what that form of incarceration should imply. I don’t think that the addition of excessive punishments and physical abuse would be humanitarian to an inmate who is trying to do his time as constructively as he can. Yet this may well be the case.

A few days ago I was caught on a drug charge that resulted in me being put in segregation cells and was given my punishment. I am not arguing that, but I am questioning the level of punishment. I was put in a rehabilitative program and refused of my privileges of visits and phone calls as well as very limited canteen for the duration of my “rehabilitation”.

Sir (or madam), I sincerely understand the necessity of rehabilitative programs in prison, and I applaud that effort, but when the characteristics of such a program seem to imply only punishment, not rehabilitation, then it (the program) in itself is nothing more than punishment, and excessive at that.

Please see my enclosed copy of the grievance I wrote to understand more about my situation, and please consider what can be done to allow me to do my time more constructively, rather than being in a more destructive atmosphere. The purpose of prisons is to isolate and incarcerate, but it must also give hope for rehabilitation if it is to be truly helpful. I know I am no saint, but I to ask for your help in this matter.

That is what I would write, or something like that. A letter would go to many different places in an effort to sow some seeds of return. My goal is to make sure that the prison understand that all I want is to do my time peacefully, and that there can be a sincere resolution. I need you to do the same thing, because if you sent out 5-10 letters, and I sent out 5-10, then there are now 10-20 letters on my behalf out there speaking for me. And most will trickle back down to the prison I am in, which is EXACTLY what I want.


Because it creates accountability to the prison. And if you understand that, you will then see why this can be a powerful counter to retaliation. If a prison thought they could get away with it, they would retaliate against the inmate, knowing that only you the inmate and the prison know what happened.

But if the warden of the prison got a letter sent from a state senator or state representative, then he KNOWS he cannot retaliate. Not with his superiors over him looking at the situation. If that warden gets a letter delegated from the DOC or Division of Prisons, he KNOWS he can’t retaliate because other eyes now see the situation.

Can you see why this is a very strong counter against prison retaliation? As long as you make it clear that others are concerned about your welfare, there is then created a level of accountability if your welfare is compromised. I mean, what would it look like to the prison if something happens to me and you write to those same officials stating the events. Those officials will have to say, “she wrote to us a month ago on this, and stated her concern in his safety, and it came true. Something must be done”.

That prison would be in some trouble for prison abuse…and no prison wants to be called out on that. This is where the check and balance comes in. You have to create that check against the prisons neglecting their responsibility. I have to do my part too, otherwise none of this will work.

Now, does that mean I won’t be retaliated against…no it does not. Remember, I was kicked out of several prisons for doing stuff like this, but that was the worst of it, other than when Sanford tried to put bogus charges on me, but I beat those…

Because I had Support….and faith.

Not fear. Fear was there, but I chose not to embrace that. It’s a hard thing to ask of an inmate, and a hard thing to ask you to do, but the problem won’t melt away. The inmate has to find strength to do what he must do, and you have to help him build some strength. That means you need some as well, also meaning you cannot embrace fear. If you do, it will control you and even those around you, because you’re going to share what you have, whether it is good or not.

If you have the flu and you go to a party coughing and sneezing all over the place, you are sharing something negative…whether you intended to or not…and I certainly hope you did not INTEND to do that.

So keep those things in mind folks. I know I cannot speak for any inmate, but I wanted to blog this out to help some people. Please feel free to support my writings by emailing me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com or ask about my books. Feel free to send me a nice comment too.


Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#198 The FEAR of inmates (retro) #201 Faith for a felon or ex felon (retro)

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. docexposed  |  May 25, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    My loved one is being “targeted” by Dan River Prison Work Farm in Yanceyville NC.


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