ALL I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PRISON I LEARNED FROM KINDERGARTEN: Part 1
I can receive five books at a time through the mail and my cousin surprises me with a package of books almost every month. She is awesome and has been a cheerleader through this whole crazy adventure. She goes to a thrift store, prays over the books, and then picks out 5 random books to send. It’s fun to get these because I never know what I am going to get. I can’t say I would have picked a lot of the books, but I sure have enjoyed reading them and passing them on. One of the books in the last package was “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. It is an entertaining little book full of random stories, but the first chapter is my favorite and really intrigued me. When I got to page 4, he provided a list of basic concepts or rules to live by, and I decided I would apply those to prison life and blog about it. I guess I could call this one, “Dear Lori Loughlin, this is all you need to know about prison.” Living here is simple, I mean simple. You truly go back to the basics. The rules, written and unwritten, are clear and obvious and these ladies have the candor to tell you all about yourself if you step out of line, and that is perfectly ok and how it should be. So, here is my spin on the basic rules listed in this book applied to prison life…
1. SHARE EVERYTHING-
Well I don’t know that I would say EVERYTHING. Keep your toothbrush, bath sponge, soap bars, underwear, and shower shoes to yourself, but feel free to be giving with everything else. There are some generous ladies here and being generous is encouraged here. Of course you can’t let people prey on you, but here people are pretty cool and we don’t stand for bullying, but we don’t have much to worry about because we make sure people have pretty much everything they need. A lot of times when people leave to go home, they leave behind all their belongings to people that will find homes for things and pass them out to anyone that is in need. I personally can’t wait for the day that I get to pass out all my belongings and walk out that door. You get some grey shorts, and you get a grey shirt, and goodbye.
We keep some clothing and shoes left behind at the gym for emergency workout gear. The other day a lady had just arrived and showed up to a fitness class in her uniform and institutional steel toed boots to work out, but we just couldn’t let that happen. Before we even started the class, someone had run and got a pair of shoes just her size to give her and someone else gave her sweats. It was really inspiring to watch these ladies rise to the occasion and make her feel welcome and loved. It is truly a blessing to be surrounded by caring, loving, generous ladies.
One of my favorite ladies I have met so far, is one of the coolest creatures I have ever met in my life. This 74-year-old lady was here for 18 months, hit the ground running, and never skipped a beat. She didn’t know a stranger and I don’t think she had any true enemies. She talked to everyone and asked all the crazy questions she wanted to without a hint of a filter, she was one of the orneriest people I have ever met, and we all adored her. Like so many grandmas, she loved to feed people. She worked in the kitchen wiping tables and would talk, or more like hustle people into being her mule and taking their food back to the dorm for her. Many people throw their bread away here, but she wouldn’t have it because it was her mission to make peanut butter sandwiches for all the hungry people. She was my neighbor, so I had the pleasure of witnessing a lot of her shenanigans. I used to warn her to be careful with all that contraband food she was bringing back, but she didn’t care and night after night people would come to her if they were hungry. Then one day we had a holiday feast and on our way out the door we were given a box meal to take back to the dorms with us. I told her the bread and peanut butter packs from these meals was “legal” because they gave it to us to leave with, so it was fine that she had it in her locker.
The next thing I knew, she had hustled a locker full of bread for her peanut butter sandwich soup kitchen that seemed to be evolving. Then the next day she showed up at her Criminal Thinking class and announced to everyone, including the officer, that she had something like 72 slices of “legal” bread in her locker. I about died when I heard this story and I quickly negotiated with her to get rid of most of her excessive food supply. She wanted me to keep some for her, but I wouldn’t. Looking back, I’m pretty sure she had bread stored everywhere.
When I think of sharing and prison, I think of her. She made sure no one was hungry and with her around you always had a friend, especially when she could talk you into playing cards… Which brings me to the second
topic, Playing fair.
2. PLAYING FAIR-
My 74-year-old friend struggled to play fair sometimes, ok most of the time. She loved playing cards, but she HAD to win at all costs, and I think she just loved to cheat. I don’t play cards, but of course I observe people like it’s a hobby. My friend would play cards with my Bunkie all the time. I guess since she was a sweet, white haired lady that took care of everyone she could, I guess I just didn’t think of her as someone that was into cheating.
Then I started finding cards hid behind the locker where they played. Yep, she was cheating and come to find out that was her thing. She would argue and hustle people all day every day and it was really entertaining to watch. My Bunkie was really nice and easy going, so she would just let her get away with it. For a long time, she just never stopped playing cards. She was like the energizer bunny and kept people on rotation because she would ware everyone out. Then some would get mad and wouldn’t play with her and yell about how they would never play again, they always came back. I would come home from working in the warehouse and people would be mad at her for hustling them, and she didn’t care. Nothing brings on an argument faster than a cheater, but around here it’s pretty sedate, the only problem is you can’t get away from the people you cheat, so you better think twice.
3. DON’T HIT PEOPLE
Well this is obvious, but most people have a different perspective of what prison life is about. When you think of prison, you think of dreary place with scary people just looking to cause problems, well I did anyway. I was shocked at the shiny, happy people that live in this peaceful existence around here. I worried about defending myself and took boxing and just knew I would have to fight for my life at some point. I was wrong, wrong, there has been one fight in almost 2 years here. If someone starts swinging, they are most likely going to a county jail and never coming back. This camp does not have a segregated housing unit (SHU). If someone decides to fight it better be worth it because it is a ticket to be shipped straight out of here. As much as people like to complain, they really don’t want to leave this place for the most part, and it seems when people get shipped, they don’t always get to keep all their property. Anything altered in any way won’t make the trip and a lot of opened items won’t either. I have never been to another prison, but from what I see, not having an option for a timeout where you come right back after being segregated for a period of time seems to be helpful to keep the peace around here. With no do over’s and no coming back to this camp once they ship you out, it gives people a different perspective on the days they may be feeling froggy, they must strongly consider the value of the jump. Prison camps and the federal holding are the only places I have been and there really is nothing to worry about.
4. PUT THINGS BACK WHERE YOU FOUND THEM-
In the evenings I am the wellness clerk in the gym, and I like to call one of my jobs, picking up the kid’s toys. We have a lot of 20 something’s that I refer to as the kids and they squirrel off and chase something shiny and leave all their equipment out and all over the place. If you say something, they are happy to pick it up, but the youngins just seem to forget. I also keep a lot of magazines and workout books in the office and for the most part people look at them and bring them right back. Some have been lost, but normally show back up at some point.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS
Yes, you should totally do this. I work most of the hours I am awake, and I am surrounded by moms that just love to spoil me. On laundry days I come home to folded clothes and my floor just magically stays clean. I’m blessed. There are a lot of people here. If you spill something, clean it up. If you leave enough hair behind in the shower to make a wig, take it with you. Coming to prison I must say I have encountered some strange things in the bathroom that I may never recover from, and I will just leave that right there.
6. DON’T TAKE THINGS THAT AREN’T YOURS.
I would never have thought I could be so trusting here, but I am. I leave things everywhere and when I come back, its right where I left it. Water bottles, shoes, my watch, makeup in the bathroom, nothing ever gets taken. only lock my locker during the day when I work in the warehouse, and I think that is mostly out of habit.
According to the federal government, I am surrounded by criminals and ironically, I have nothing to worry about. have really gotten spoiled with this and when I leave, I will probably lose everything. You are probably thinking that there must be cameras everywhere here, nope, there aren’t any cameras inside any of the buildings. Around here, these big scary criminals have a pretty cool respect for one another and each other’s personal belongings. There has been a minimal amount of theft since I have been here. It is simply not accepted, and when no one thinks it is cool, peer pressure will prevail.
7. SAY YOU ARE SORRY WHEN YOU HURT SOMEBODY-
No matter where you are or who you are, forgiveness and mercy is so incredibly important. In prison, you live in tight quarters and you are stuck. There is no getting away from these people. You may be able to get out of the unit, but when you wake up the next day, its ground hog day all over again with the same people and in the same place. So, you better get things figured out and learn to apologize, get over things, and to keep it moving.
If you hurt someone, ask forgiveness. If they hurt you just forgive them right away or as soon as possible, no need to wait for an apology because the forgiveness is more for your peace than theirs. Learn to be humble and forgive because you will need forgiveness at some point in your life too. None of us are perfect and our days are not all full of rainbows unicorns and butterflies. Everyone has bad days, and it is totally human to lash out. Don’t let it fester and evolve, don’t let someone’s hurt feelings, hurt your feelings and ruin your day. It is simply not worth it.
The issues I see people having around here are mostly mistakes and misunderstandings. There is a lot of people going through some pretty painful things here. Your own perception can easily be the cause of the demise of your day. I have discovered that they found the center of the universe, and it wasn’t me. I believe most people’s problems and attitudes, are not about me, and thus, not my problem. It is so easy to get your feelings hurt but living in tight quarters you must get your feelings on a leash.
8. WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE YOU EAT
Well I would like to expand this one. Wash your hands every chance you get. Make sure you play in the soap and scrub a dub. There are a lot of people in prison and everyone has their own germs. When you touch the phone, someone’s mouth and hands were all over it. Did they cough? Did they wash their hands after they went to the bathroom last? Did they pick their nose or their butt? Have they left the lint in their belly button alone? If you let your mind wander, you may go insane. Same thing when you use the computer and type after someone else’s dirty fingers or use the fingerprint to verify your identity. You just must wonder what all these people have as a hand washing policy. I have seen people use the bathroom and try and leave without washing their hands. It just really doesn’t go over well here. Most of us are the hand washing police in the bathroom. If we see someone do this, most of us are going to say something. In cases like this, I believe shaming is quite effective and regarding this topic, I am ok with it.
I am not going to elaborate too much on this. Like I mentioned before, humans and bathrooms absolutely baffle me.