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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wearing Prison Orange: On Assignment, Part 5

Mike Runner is our Sunday Guest Contributor, and he brings a perspective to Wings Like Eagles that is unique and challenging. 

I normally cover topics relating to the horror of having someone else bring darkness into the home.  Mike covers the same topics, but from a completely different angle.  He was the one who brought darkness to his family.  Mike is an alcoholic.

It is my hope that the perception of what we think we know about Family Crisis is shaken up a bit.  Because there is far more involved than we think.  Much can be understood by examining the other side, and I deeply appreciate Mike's willingness to help us gain understanding as he shares with us the mind as it is affected by alcoholism.

He isn't just an alcoholic.  He is an intelligent mind, has a bright, hopeful future, and he is my friend.  And this is his story.

If you read Part 4, you know that I am waiting for some rather serious good news, or bad news, or maybe something in between.   There is no update and I continue to wait.  

I give credit to God and my recovery program because I have traditionally been about the worst person at waiting in the history of mankind.  Right now, I rarely even think about it and I am not particularly stressed. 

Strong recovery works, and the fact that I can wait patiently is very encouraging to me.  It is progress. People can change if they both want to, and if they get help. 

It was never the traumatic events that brought on drinking for me.  As a matter of fact, I am great in a crisis and I never overreact.  I would often drink to dull the tedium of life, because I was stressed about waiting for something out of my control, to shut down my head, because I was bored, or at times because I could not function without it. 

There need be no “trigger” or “why” for a true alcoholic to drink.  Alcoholics will name all kinds of triggers or justifications for drinking.  I worked so hard today, got in a fight with my wife, I deserve to celebrate, I lost my job, my client bought it for me so I was obligated, I’m happy, I’m sad,  ad infinitum.  

In my case, my two triggers were breathing and days that ended in the letter Y.

For new readers, please be aware that I am writing these things so you do not have to go where I went, and to remind people who have been there, that they don’t want to go back. 

Jail is where my alcoholism eventually took me. 

We mumble the word yet in recovery meetings a lot.  Often someone will share that they don’t think that they have a problem--they are there because their spouse made them go, or something similar. Because, after all, they don’t have a DUI, have not been to jail or been through what some of us have been through.  Yet. 

If you are an alcoholic, the “Big Book” of AA promises that eventually you will end up in one of three places:  jails, institutions, or in the morgue.  I have been to the first two and I would like stay out of the third at this point of my life. 

If you stop and work a strong program, you need not go through the yets.  If you keep yourself in a state of denial, and you don’t stop and work a strong program, you are more than welcome to take my old bed in 14A.  Families, if they do not stop and work a strong program daily, be prepared for the calls from the jails, or the hospitals because they will come. 

Back to jail.

Before I start at 5am in the joint, I realized something yesterday that was interesting.  The color of jail is very drab.  Everything is painted the same color, other than the cell doors.  What is strange is, the color was so drab that a month later I cannot even remember the color and I tend to notice just about everything.  I believe it was an extremely dull light beige.  I can see myself in my top bunk looking up at the ceiling, which I did for hours on end at times when we were not allowed to get out of them, but I just can’t remember the color. 

At 5am my name was called and I went through a series of slamming doors until I reached a window.  At the window I was handed my new wardrobe.  My new outfit consisted of white socks, underwear and a t-shirt.  My pants and my over shirt were prison orange.  I was sent back into a cell to change clothes.  Though prison orange is not my best color (orange just doesn’t bring out my eyes), I was relieved to change out of my current clothes as they wreaked of holding cell smell and probably had about every bacteria known to man crawling all over them. 

I was also handed a care package in a plastic bag.  In the bag, there was a tiny toothbrush and toothpaste, a black comb, a hotel-sink sized bar of soap, an inch and a half long razor that didn’t work at all, a pencil stub, two pieces of lined paper and two envelopes.  

I soon realized that two important things were left out of the care package… a cup to drink out of, and more importantly, deodorant.  The lack of deodorant I believe to be flat out cruel.  In jail, you only get a full change of clothes once a week.  That is gross enough in and of itself, but without deodorant the smell of 50 men is almost unbearable after a week.  

On about day five I smelled horrid and I knew it.  I could smell myself from a distance which doesn’t make any sense but seems true to me.  It is very discouraging to take a shower and then put clothes back on that smell far worse than a men’s locker room. 

After I changed clothes, a deputy told me that there was no need to worry, because I was going to a unit that was filled with young drug addicts and crazy old men.  He was trying to be reassuring but it didn’t work.  I guess he wanted me to know it was unlikely I would get stabbed or murdered where I was going.  

I walked through another steel door that automatically closed behind me and I stood in the longest hallway I have ever seen.  A voice over the speaker said, “Keep moving” in an extremely rude tone to which I was already accustomed. 

I felt like I was in a horror movie as I walked down the silent corridor that seemed to stretch for a good city block. I halfway expected Jason or Michael Myers to step out in front of me.  I could see another steel door far off in the distance.  I eventually reached the door and walked into a small room with a person in it who told me to grab a bed roll.  The bedrolls were about the thickness of a yoga mat and probably less comfortable to sleep on than dinner rolls.  I immediately noticed that there were no pillows anywhere in the room.  I asked the deputy in the room if there were pillows and he just laughed. 

I learned that week that it’s amazing how much more easy it is to sleep with a pillow.  I never did learn the reason why there are no pillows in jail.  I imagine it is just to make people uncomfortable.  I would understand no pillow cases as I suppose someone could strangle someone or put items in it and beat someone to death, but I still don’t understand the lack of pillows.  A two-inch thick bedroll on a steel bunk with no pillow would be how I would sleep for six nights.

As I walked through the door into block 14, I was thinking to myself about how gigantic the jail must be, because the nearly endless corridor only went to one cell block.  In the middle of the area there was a round raised room that resembled a small air traffic control tower with windows on all sides.  This is where the deputy could watch all of the cell blocks.  There were at least 4 units in the block, perhaps 5 but I specifically noticed 14A – D.  

I noticed a man with a white beard in 14B standing by the gate.  I would later be told that people called him Santa Claus and that he had poisoned his wife of 40 years because he had “just gotten tired of her constant nagging,” which they found funny in a twisted sort of way. 

They yelled at me to step to the door of 14A.  The door opened and I walked into my new home.  It was the loudest slamming of a door I had ever heard.  By this time it was roughly 5:30am and everyone was asleep.  I had no idea of where to go, or what to do, and I wondered how well it would go over if the new guy woke everyone up.

For some reason, around this time I noticed a tag on my bedroll that said, “Bob Barker Enterprises.”  Later I would learn that everything in jail that is not bolted down is made by Bob Barker.  Go figure.  Of course Bob was not a fan favorite among inmates and we would never watch The Price is Right on the little TV.  

If you have money in your account, you are allowed to purchase small items once a week, and they’re all overpriced.  A popular phrase in jail is, Bob Barker: The Price is Wrong.

Assuming nothing odd happens this week, next week we will look at life in 14A, people who dress up like Norman Bates, and we will explore the question, How exactly do people get contraband into a cellblock?

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