11.16.2006

The Island of Misfit Boys: The Sequel...

The last week and a half has involved weather that is the rain equivalent of receiving a lap dance from Rosie O'Donnell. In other words, it has been so bad, so volumous, that it could inspire one to use a loaded gun to aid of exit of one's brain from the back of one's skull.

Today, however, was a marvel. The sun was perched peacefully in the sky, unobstructed by the blanket of clouds that have lately served as harbingers of depression as well as precipitation. It was the kind of weather that makes people fall in love with this little corner of the world, and as such, it was the perfect day to go to prison.

My second visit to McNeil Island Corrections Center was in slight contrast to my first, which you can read about here. Although the weather was just as mild then as it was now, making the 15-minute ride across the Puget Sound feel like a maritime vacation, the mood was decidedly altered from my maiden voyage. I felt more at ease, confident, looking forward to the workout; there is a lot of walking and stairclimbing to do on the island.

I never cease to be amazed at what goes into keeping one of these places running. For anyone who is a fan of hardline structure and rules, you will get it in spades while visiting a prison. There is no running and no wearing of certain colors. Both of those guidelines will save you the trouble of getting shot. Even the act of spitting gum directly into a garbage can is forbidden. There are more restrictions, but suffice to say that walking through a penitentiary is like attempting to navigate through a cave without touching any rock; however, what you see is nothing short of fascinating, at least to someone who doesn't have to see it every single day.

Prison seems to be a cornucopia of interwoven themes: fear, uncertainty, hardship, and penance for one's bad choices, but what also seems to come through, like the tarnished shine of a penny at the bottom of a deep well, is tentative optimism. While the legitimacy of these men's wrongdoings (some of them egregious) cannot be ignored, and while some of them are truly beyond saving, the great majority of them seem to carry an awareness of their natures, and with that a true desire to change. Of course, the structure and security of those walls, and the absence of the chaotic culture of crime that they encounter on the other side, can do a lot to encourage hope. Especially if they are finding success in their mental health or drug treatment, and are forming a brotherhood with the others on the inside. Therein, however, also lies the problem. In our society, where recidivism is almost actively encouraged, the prisoner leaves one set of walls and immediately encounters another, one erected by a population uninterested in making the sacrifices necessary to help reintegrate these people into everyday life. It makes that theme of tentative optimism, at best, bittersweet.

I welcome more opportunities to visit. There is a particular inmate I met previously of whom I feel the need to keep track. I guess you could say I'm pulling for him.

And thanks, Bart, for the pics of the island. I stole them from your website. :)

10 comments:

  1. So when does your dad get parole?

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  2. I find myself watching the Inside Prison shows all the time. You know, the documentary one where they look at the life of the inmates. I have always been fascinated with those who live in the fringes of society. I think I should have studied Psych. I might go back for a Psych degree after my Ph.D. Yes, I am a bit nutty. And, dude, some people would LOVE a lap dance fro Rosie. I am not naming names. ROTFL.

    -N

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  3. I just want to know if The Gouda met the Prison Head Cheese?

    Talk about topping a salad toss...

    Entirely way too early to contemplate Rosie lap dances. Eww!

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  4. Wow, this is such a great experience for you. I'm glad you're able to keep checking in. Awesome.

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  5. Matt- he might end up with a few more years on his sentence after he sees someone talkin wrong to his little girl... ;)

    Natalia- it's never too late. :) Hell, if I can get my PhD within 10 years, I'll be lucky. lol

    Scott- it's never too early for dastardly imagery... lol

    Kristen- it has been a great experience, both times. I feel grateful for the opportunities I've had to explore this side of society...

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  6. I move too fast...well, when I'm not drunk anyway.

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  7. Here's a fun little conversation I had with a coworker after sending out a calendar notice to say I wouldn't be in to work that day, so my wife could go to prison:

    Ken: Watching kids while my wife goes to prison

    Mark: Way cool your married to criminal….. How long is she in for????

    Ken: Dude, all I know is she was mentioning something about a conjugal visit!

    Mark: Can anyone go have conjugal visits?

    Ken: At that point I was afraid to ask!

    Mark: So is she going for a conjugal visit or are you going to go visit her for a conjugal visit…. I’m confused… While you are there she if there is a sign up list…

    Ken: That's the thing! She's going over there with some friends while I stay at home!

    Mark: Hey…. Are the coming home with a bunch of money????

    Ken: She better be!

    Mark: Let me call my girlfriend to go too!

    Ken: We just need to come up with a catchy name to incorporate, give the girls "majority ownership", then be first in line for a no-bid government contract! How about PEFP inc. (Prison Ease For Prisoners)?

    Mark: Sounds great!

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  8. Yeesh. Not to get all serious and stuff, but my gem of a brother has been in and out of prison for years. Mostly DUI's and stuff like that, though he also has an assault charge too. Charming.

    I don't like to pass judgement on all people in prison, but it's tough when the one you know deserves the sentence but usually doesn't serve it. I've learned that people like my brother know how to work the system better than I ever could. Jailhouse lawyer anyone?

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  9. Some of them definitely know how to work the system, SQT. Sociopathic tendencies are going to be present in some people regardless of what new policies are implemented. But the simple truth does remain that for the vast majority of incarcerated individuals, they learn more about how to be criminals when they are in prison, and the revolving door policy of the prison system only reinforces the fact that most of these men continue to be products of our own fucked up system. Not that they aren't responsible for their choices, but it's a simple fact that when you take a guy who has been immersed in criminal culture for his entire life, put him in a community where there is nothing but more of that criminal culture, and then send him packing with nothing more than what he came in with and $40 in his pocket, that is an engraved invitation for someone to re-offend.

    At this prison there are several mental health programs and classes that emphasize accountability and self-awareness, something that the vast majority of prisons don't offer. Seeing the men who have changed dramatically under these programs is inspiring and gives me hope that one day these practices will become a matter of course. For now, there simply isn't enough money to get the job done. And the cycle continues.

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  10. I agree with what you're saying about the system, and recidivism rates.

    I can't be entirely objective. My brother is just messed up and has no real desire to be a contributing member of society. Multiple attempts at rehab have been made and he just stomps all over anyone who offers him any help.

    I think I would like to see more attempts made at the juvinile level to keep them from returning to the system. I think if you get them young enough they won't be so set in their ways. It's really hard to take an adult and change their mindset once they've decided this is the life they're going to live. It's not impossible, just hard.

    I was a school teacher before I had my daughter and I worked at a school in a tough neighborhood. The culture these kids are exposed to at such a young age is hard to combat. Many of the parents were drug addicts and some moms were prostitutes. CPS made regular visits to the school and the teachers pretty much could spot the signs of abuse at a glance.

    Many of these kids grow up in homes where the parents are in and out of prison and they get a jaded attitude so young. The burnout rate at that school was 5 years.

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