In prison, you can be anyone or anything you want to be. It’s like going back to the dark ages before social media when you had to take someone at their word about who they are and what they do, because it’s not like you can just Google someone here. People are quick to take advantage of this and will spend countless hours in peoples ear pumping them up for causes they have no knowledge about.

Before I came to prison, one of my dearest friends, who had been through the federal system, warned me emphatically to stay away from the jailhouse lawyers. I even had to pinky swear to not let people get in my ear about anything. It seemed a little excessive, but apparently he felt like it was a big deal. Honestly my eyes just glazed over and I stopped listening, but the topic was sure to be brought up again. Once I got here, it didn’t take long to figure out why this was so important, and it’s easy to see that it goes far beyond legal matters and extends to pretty much anything that can pull on your heart strings. If you have a loved one incarcerated or you are on your way to prison, beware of anyone campaigning to rent space in your head for any reason and really think twice about taking someone at their word for any kind of advice. There are a whole bunch of people that don’t know anything but can’t wait to tell you all about everything.

I will admit, when I met someone on the street, I was quick to look them up and search their presence on social media. I searched for anything pointing toward lies or just poking holes in anything they had said. Now you may be sensing I have some trust issues… yes I sure do. So, coming here, I had to put my suspicions on a lower level of concern, or I was going to quickly lose my mind. I just made a little agreement with myself that I would stay concerned with myself and avoid deep conversations, getting close, or engaging with anyone until I watch people for a while to see who they really are. Our only way of getting any kind of dirt on someone here is if they have a case on appeal you can sometimes find it in the law library, but that doesn’t give much on their character or any reason to make anything they say valid. So, if your curiosity gets the best of you, and you just have to know, then phone a friend.

Some people are rather entertaining. It’s really everywhere, but in prison especially I have found there are a lot of people claiming to be some sort of “professional” and they just love to offer advice. So many people fall for it because these folks manage to be so sure of themselves and won’t stop even when they are so obviously out of their element. There are people with some serious truth deficiency around here and if you pay much attention you can quickly realize they don’t know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ladies in prison that don’t bother with any kind of deductive reasoning and make the huge mistake of letting people into their head and even worse, in their case. People are quick to file all kinds of motions for their case without much consideration. They let people write the motions without having a clue as to what it should look like or having any kind of understanding as to the grounds for this motion. They don’t even check to see if this person has any qualifications or experience. This infuriates me to watch and is next to impossible to stop.

The insanity of the First Step Act roller coaster has provided an endless platform for some inmates. It is emotionally exhausting to listen to people that have no idea what they are talking about but won’t shut up. Of course, we all want to hear good news. We all want to hear that we are going home and that we are going to be the people that benefit from the changes that are on their way. But when no one really knows anything, and even the truth continues to change, how can you possibly put your sanity and your future in the hands of someone that doesn’t know any more than what you do? With a place full of people that either need help or people that need to be helping others, the First Step Act just helps to create some real madness.

My favorite example of the insanity that some people spread like a virus involves email services. All we must do is add legal service emails to our contacts and we will receive email updates on cases, appeals and legislation. I don’t know how long these services have existed but leading up to it the First Step Act passing, these services became an obsession. A few examples of these services are Jeremy Gordon, Lysa Legal, Brandon Sample, etc… I’m sure you can Google them in the real world for more information. I remember before the First Step Act passed, people were watching their emails obsessively checking for updates. I had people berate me for not subscribing to these services and because I have been skeptical from the beginning, they were just too sure of themselves when no one else was. Then one day I started getting the emails because a service had somehow added me and suddenly, I found myself caught in the flood of questionable information.

One day I came home from work and there was an email sent by this mystery service that shared a new special program that was basically a home confinement situation with a little catch. The catch was the inmate had to send $200 to a third party company to be considered for this program and if you were chosen, you had to purchase an Apple watch for another $200 and then poof, you were out of here. I can’t remember the details but now I wish I would have printed it.

I read this and thought there was no way a rational person would believe something like that. I was wrong, people believed it. It turns out that wishful thinking goes a long way and will overpower your ability to reason. One lady, we frequently would find comfortably placed upon her soap box, jumped on this one just like everything else. As soon as I walked out of the computer room, there she was, going on and on about her extensive knowledge about this email and the amazing program that was going to be available to us as per this crazy, unbelievable, email. She had taken it at face value and placed herself at the front of the unit explaining about this extraordinary opportunity and the Apple watch like she was a representative sent straight from the company. I was shocked and appalled but just kept watching as more and more people gathered around her listening to her carefully explain all the details and then proceeded to give advice, repeatedly. I watched her tell people that they qualified and to not wait to tell their family and get them involved and on board to get them out of here. This email gave this woman her time to really shine, she was in her element and the center of attention, this is what she lived for. I walked away in disbelief, but it didn’t end there because for the rest of the night I heard people that had taken part in her forum continue to spread the nonsense. Thank the Lord for the gym and ear plugs…

Guess what? The very next morning, this crazy, scandalous, email was debunked. All these excited inmates that were sure they would buy an Apple watch and go home were completely deflated, but they quickly moved on like it never happened. I was surprised that people weren’t infuriated by the false representative that felt so compelled to run her mouth about what seemed like such an obvious scam. No one did, it was quickly forgotten, and it wasn’t long until the same lady was back at it with something else.

People headed to prison LISTEN UP! There will be people coming at you from all angles wanting to “HELP” you. Do not seek random people for advice and guidance on writing motions on your cases as well as writing grievances. It infuriates me to watch as people take advantage of unsuspecting people just dying for relief from their cases and will listen to anybody that will talk to them, especially ones that will sell you a dream and an Apple watch. I also found out that this is a hustle and some people make money “helping” with these motions and charge for “helping”.

The problem we are running into now is this First Step Act. These same inmates are back on their soapbox “helping” and I can’t help but see the events following that spam email in my head and I am quick to pull people aside and tell them a little story about an Apple watch…

I may be wrong, but I think the First Step Act was created with good intentions, but has a really long way to go and it is terribly frustrating for inmates, and to a lot of us, it seems more along the lines of a publicity stunt. Every time we get information, we get the same disclaimer that things are constantly changing, and no one really knows anything for sure. However, even with that disclaimer, inmates can be quick to sell their assumptions to anyone that will listen. Some inmates are irate because they feel the Bureau of Prisons are withholding information from us. The way I see it, the BOP has never been in the business of getting people out of prison. Yes, the First Step Act has passed, but I understand that it doesn’t mean that things are going to change like a light switch and hopefully they can handle the task. I know it’s going to take some time, but it gives me so much hope to know that society is finally accepting that change is necessary with the prison system and now we are starting to see some movement. Of course, we all want to hear good news, but we must realize and be careful of who we listen to and not let our emotions get hijacked.

Beyond the jailhouse lawyers, you must also watch out for the “doctors” and “nurses.” There are a lot of people that are quick to diagnose you and again you must be careful who and what you let in your head. I watch people sit around and eat everything they can get their hands on for days, weeks, even months and then when they realize they have gained a ton of weight, but, it is not their fault, it’s their thyroid. I never knew so much could be blamed on a thyroid. One lady swore she committed her crime because of her thyroid. Again, this seems obviously untrue, but you wouldn’t believe the people that will jump on this train. I once was talking to someone and mentioned I felt like I needed to pee. Another lady walking by jumped all over it and said that was a sign of a bladder infection. Um, no, I think I just need to head to the restroom, but thanks.

Being a wellness clerk and constantly involved in fitness programs and classes, people come to me for advice. The fitter you get, the more people swear you have the magic potion they have been missing all along. Let me tell you what they don’t want to hear. They don’t want to hear you have to change your diet and that you will battle that the rest of your life. They don’t want to hear that truly getting fit takes a long time, like as long as you have been doing nothing, yeah that long, and it hurts every single day. They don’t want to hear that what you did yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow because you simply cannot be complacent, it just doesn’t work.

I have found that when you tell people the truth, it’s not always the truth they want to hear, and they will continue to seek until they find that person that tells them what they want to hear. I guess it’s human nature to seek comfort and to want to hear what makes you happy and comfortable. Unfortunately there are a lot of people seeking validation and dying to feel needed that will be happy to jump up and down and tell you exactly what you want to hear and even “help” you try and fight for something, for a small fee that is.

In conclusion, if you have a loved one incarcerated, I strongly encourage you to pay attention to what they are telling you. If they are fired up because someone was in their ear, you need to intervene. Or if you are on your way to prison, know to look out for things like this. Let me be the friend to alert you and bring this to your attention. Please know that it is so important to keep a positive space and surround yourself with positive people. Truly positive people that don’t have an agenda and won’t hijack your happiness getting you fired up for no good reason. Do not allow people to get you fired up for a losing battle or a cause that they are no expert on. In prison your world is too small to allow your time to be clogged with fighting battles and having people play on your emotions like a shiny new toy.

I started blogging from a Federal Prison and now I have come down from my Ivory tower to face the world…