#227 Prison Talk: Power of Choice

June 10, 2010 at 5:27 pm Leave a comment

Prison Talk: Power of choice

Well, I guess I am finished sulking…

(you’d have to read my last blog to understand)

With today being Thursday, I put the last can of Coca Cola in the freezer to get a real chill on it….not quite frozen, but very cold.

After feeling down about how I can’t get any checks or money orders cashed unless I get a bank account, I was bummed out trying to figure out how to get a revenue going to I can then GET a bank account. I had to send back the checks and money orders I had received lately and had to apologize to those who put their trust in me. If we can find another way around it, maybe I can get back on track. A few of those folks have told me that they would continue to support me by sending support in other ways, which is cool. If I can just get off the ground with this maybe I can get moving and do more.

Well, today I was checking my emails and got one from a person who writes to pen pals. Personally I have not had very good relationships with prison pen pal sites, like LostVault and WriteAPrisoner, it seems those sites don’t really care much about what the inmate is experiencing, and thus don’t listen when an ex felon talks about prison. And Heaven forbid if I mention the slightest idea of my book, I get run out like I stole something.

So I don’t really support those sites, because it is clear they do not support ex felons…odd, since they encourage people to write to them….

But anyways….

Today’s discussion is based on the email I got from a person that was concerned about sending money to people in prison, a question a LOT of you have. Although I have talked about this in the generic form, I wanted to take a different approach, if I may.

The title is “power of choice”, what do I mean by that?

This has a LOT to do with the mentality of inmates, money and doing time. Now, society in general may not believe in that, or that ever inmate ought not get anything, but I believe that rehabilitation takes on as many forms as there are inmates. And one of those forms is by self-esteem.

Self esteem is defined as a favorable opinion of one’s self, and if you are going to get through prison, or have a loved one currently IN prison, this is critical. But you notice that nowhere in prison is this actively pursued. Prisons don’t do much to help encourage an inmate, only help in establishing the stigma of prison and inmates. And by doing this, they offer little to no help for inmates to establish self esteem. Because of this, if an inmate is going to generate self esteem, he has to do it himself…and most times, by himself.

“What’s that got to do with your title!”

I’m getting to that.

If you read my first book of “Grades of Honor” one of the things I talked about was the frustration I had in prison, as a first time felon. But there was something I did that helped me tremendously to adjust…I bought a soda.

“You’re kidding”

No, I’m not kidding.

You’d have to read my first book (and I hope you ask me for it after you read this blog), and how I felt during my first few weeks in prison. I was about as low on myself as humanly possible, which of course, is the very opposite of self esteem. I felt miserable about myself, my life and even God. Now, I didn’t show it on the outside, because having been an actor, I know how to play things off, but deep down I was absolutely terrible.

But during my first few weeks in prison, mom send me some money and I went to the prison canteen. I still remember the drink I bought, although I might get the name wrong, but it was a Tahitian punch drink (trust me, I know it when I see it).

Having bought an ice cold soda, in the middle of my worst days of my life…when I drank that soda, I tell you, it was like a very refreshing breeze on a very hot day. Now, it didn’t change anything in prison. I was still an inmate, I was still a first time felon, but mentally, there was something very soothing about that moment.

In a corny way, it was almost as if something was telling me, “its gonna be alright”.

Now don’t laugh, because unless you have actually been in a situation like that, it is easy to underestimate the value of something so incredibly simple. But in that moment of time, I managed to build a little self esteem, giving myself some level of value in this world.

But I could not have done that without money, or the ability to buy a soda. And don’t miss that fact folks, because remember, its not like that was the only cold thing I could drink. There are water fountains in prison, and they serve cold drinks at the meals, but those were not by choice. If I am going to drink, I HAVE to drink that.

But in going to the canteen, I then had the power to make a choice. The prison may, in theory control WHAT I buy, but I still have the power to make a choice in what I want to spend my money on. And in that is a strong sense of self esteem.

And if you really think about it, there is something to it. Even some of you can identify with this a little. Sometimes when you feel bummed out, a good thing to do is to do what….go shopping.

(for those who can afford it).

There is something mental about having the power to make a choice, the power to buy something. It is no different in prison, and in fact might have a greater meaning than we can imagine. As I said, when I was in prison those first few weeks, it wasn’t like I didn’t have anything cold to drink…they had water, they had those “syrup drinks” that were cold, as well as milk, tea and sometimes orange juice. But there was no choice in what we could drink…either you take it or you don’t.

Your choice.

So there is a level of control in prison that covers every aspect of your life, 24 hours a day. And while there is indeed a need for that, what this might be doing to the inmate is slowly deteriorating his esteem to the point where all he thinks of himself is that he is worthless. Prison does a very terrible job on rehabilitating inmates when it comes to esteem, and the way this is done is by controlling the power of choice by the inmate.

But when an inmate gets a chance to make a choice, there is self esteem involved. It makes sense because he is making a decision that gives him a more favorable way of doing time. By this I mean the canteen. Even if for a short period of time, like the duration of drinking a soda or eating a snack cake, it can be a incredible boost of morale to that inmate.

Remember folks, they serve food in the cafeteria too, but to make a choice, to buy something out of the prison canteen, gives the inmate a boost of morale that he may not have had a few minutes before.

When inmates are allowed the power to make a choice, it can indeed give them a better view of themselves, if not for a few minutes or a few weeks. String that along for awhile and you can have an inmate who is doing his time as best he can, far better than maybe he thought he could…me being a prime case.

A very good example I can give you is a very basic item in prison…hygiene.

In NC prisons (when I was in, just in case they changed it lately), the basics for hygiene were a nail clipper, comb, brush, a razor, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant, and I think lotion, and now I include soap here too, but there is a slight difference with soap.

All these items can be freely given to inmates, but these are the LOWEST brands of hygiene. You won’t see these items sold in stores, because they know NOBODY would dare buy crap like this. The only one I would give exception to is the single blade BIC razor, which of course you can buy in stores, but you know how much they cost…probably like 10 cents or less.

Inmates who enter prison get this “care package” from the prison, and these items are all low grade….very low grade. But if you don’t have any hygiene materials, then you have to use what you have. I remember just recently throwing away the deodorant that I brought home from prison, named “maximum security”. Its like the prison is making a joke at the inmate’s expense, and we have to grin and bear it.

So inmates have to deal with the generic brand of hygiene materials. For some it might be as long as they are incarcerated. Imagine using the same generic toothpaste, or deodorant, or shampoo for months, or years. Now, if it does not bother you, then fine, and I am also sure a lot of society is not going to shed a tear for “criminals”. But you’re missing my point if you ignore the strength of self esteem here.

To have the power to make a choice breaks an inmate from the day-to-day mentality of prison. The same hygiene materials day in and day out, which is no different from any other inmate can be very numbing. And the soap of DOC is nothing more than a blue block of stuff they get from somewhere, which not even Wal-Mart would put on their “roll back” days. The soap they issue to inmates dries the skin, and some guys even have a reaction to it. I have used it many times, and it is worth about as much as a sheet of paper after you have scribbled on it.

Now, think about your loved one using those products for weeks on end, or maybe months, and then think about what he is able to do when he receives just $20 from you.

The possibilities open up, and the inmate now has some choices he can make, choices that can make his incarceration much more endurable. Again, this seems small to you, but believe me, it has a great meaning to self esteem.

When I got money like that, the first thing I did was think of what I can buy from canteen to take care of my hygiene. To me, the most important hygiene material to me was lotion…I always liked to have nice soft hands. So I would buy some REAL lotion, not the watered down crap they gave us.

You see what is happening…I am now empowered to make a choice that helps me do my time better. I don’t have to use the cheap lotion, I can choose to by a name brand, like Jergens or Suave. And with that comes the newness of feeling better, with REAL lotion, with a nice scent. It won’t change where I am, because I am still in prison, but it gives me some comfort and a small morale boost.

I might buy some nice smelling shampoo, rather than the regular crap they give us, or I might buy some REAL deodorant, with a nice fresh scent. And I can buy some REAL toothpaste, like Colgate or something, rather than the less than generic mess I had been using.

When an inmate can make those kinda decisions, there is a strong influx of morale that can give an inmate a boost in self esteem. He is now in a more favorable position of doing his time. He can’t change his release date, but he can change the day he is currently living to a slightly better one.

Try it yourself and see what it does to you. Go to your bathroom and remove all your name brand hygiene, and go out and buy the cheapest brands they sell. Use that for a month and see how YOU feel. You learn to appreciate the value of name brands, and the morale it gives you. For inmates, there is an appreciation of the freedom to purchase, the power of choice, that you have every day. In prison this is severely restricted, and in such inmates must learn to appreciate what they used to be able to do.

So when they receive money, this is part of what they might feel, I know I did, although I may have been a bit more technical with the explanation, but that is due to having stepped away from it for awhile.

But with power of choice comes corruption of power…..

If an inmate cannot control his power of choice, it can become greed. This might be what a lot of people are experiencing when they email me about inmates asking for money. Now granted, a lot of these guys are out to take your money if you are willing to give it to them, but sometimes it can be based on the corruption of that power of choice.

If I got money from a person, and was able to buy name brand hygiene, and snacks and soda, I am now in a position to do my time in a more favorable way. I think we can all agree that an inmate with money to spend can do his time better than one with no money, but sometimes that same inmate will start to get to the idea that he SHOULD be able to do his time that way, rather than appreciate what a person has given him.

When that happens, that same self-esteem becomes twisted, in that the inmate starts to believe that he is entitled to receive from you, and then expects you to continue to support him. Maybe the greed of getting money, or the fear of running out, or both, might have him believing that you OWE him more money.

Inmates often forget that any money they get is a gift from someone, and it ought to be treated as a gift. But often times once they get that first bit of money, they want to be able to do their time as if they are getting paid to do it, with a weekly or monthly check sent to them. I’ll admit, that would be a GREAT way to do time, but I wasn’t so fortunate.

But this is still based on the power of choice, the inmate, even in manipulation, is exercising his power of choice, but in such a way, there is a false sense of self-esteem. Remember, self esteem is a favorable opinion of one’s self, and to be sure, an inmate that manipulates others to send him money is certainly looking at himself in a favorable way. But this isn’t a righteous way, because the inmate isn’t fairly looking at those who are helping him. In his eyes, those people are worth nothing except the value of money they send him. So if they send nothing, or not enough, he starts to feel that they are being unfair to him, as if they owe him something.

Be very mindful when this happens folks, because it DOES happen often. The moment an inmate expects you to send something, that can be a problem. Now, if you promised to send him something, and fail to do so, that is YOUR fault. He is riding on your word, and inmates will cling to a promise because there is very little to believe in when you are in prison. So don’t tell somebody that you’ll send them $20 and then two months later get upset if he is disappointed in you. You built him up to expect something, and he didn’t get it. But if he is bugging you about sending more money, and you don’t send it, then that is HIS fault, and be careful of him trying to manipulate you out of money.

Some of the better times in prison was when I had money, because on days that didn’t go so well, I could always lean on going to the canteen. I had the power to buy what I wanted if the dinner wasn’t so good, or if it was hot that day, or if I wanted some ice cream. When you can control any aspects of your incarceration, it gives you self esteem, or a favorable opinion of yourself.

I think in my second book I talked about when mom sent me $300, and how my time in prison skyrocketed. If ever there was a time I could say to myself, “I can do the time” that was it. It was like everything was going great for me, all things considering. Now I am not saying to anybody to send their loved ones that much money, you send what you can afford. But after that money ran out on me, and I didn’t receive any money for months…it was tough. I dare not ask mom for money, it just wasn’t right to do it, but I knew if I had just a little money each month, I could pick myself up. There were times where each day was just a pain, but I had to endure, broke or not.

For months I would be getting about $2 a week because of my janitor job, and I had to make it last. But I always treated myself to a soda, and I remember how refreshing it felt to drink it. In that refreshing there was a calm, although temporary, that I had to endure this incarceration. As long as I had the power to make a choice while in prison, I would be ok.

So consider that next time you send your loved ones money, but also be mindful of those that try to manipulate you to send money. I know I say that with a double-edged sword, since I ask readers to support my blogs if they can, or to buy my books and cards… now made a little harder since banks won’t do third party checks, but if you are really willing to support me, there are other ways around that to give me the support.

At any rate, my soda is gone, and it is almost 1:30, email me if you wanna, and ask about supporting my writing, or purchasing my “Grades of Honor” books and stuff. Until then…

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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.

#226 Dealing with setbacks #228 Prison Q&A Prison pen pals

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