Federal Prison Camp
CONTINUING NOTES FROM FEDERAL PRISON
took a bad fall in the kitchen last week, causing my first major
physical problem since arriving here at the prison camp. I had
loaded some ice in a mop bucket to mop the dining room floors.
The floor is waxed and buffed daily. After each meal, I mop
the floor with ice water, which keeps the wax smooth and lets
the linoleum maintain a glossy finish.
hallway from the kitchen to the serving area was blocked by
a cart and I had to maneuver backwards through a five foot opening.
But a three foot fan had been put in the opening to dry a wet
floor area and my foot caught the base of the fan. Down I went
solidly landing on my left hip, leg, arm and shoulder. When
I fell, I assumed I had broken something. The pain flowed from
head to toe.
a physician’s assistant was in the cafeteria when I fell,
and was there to help. He cleaned out a large gash on my left
arm, determined I needed x-rays, and ordered something for pain
relief. (400 mg. Ibuprofen, two tablets three times a day.)
next day, I was sent to be x-rayed “behind the fence”
at the main prison across from the camp where I am kept. Going
into the main prison makes anyone a bit apprehensive. At the
prison gate, I presented my I.D. card and was told to put on
an orange jumpsuit. The prison yard was cleared of other prisoners
as a guard escorted me to the gates, around a maze of various
buildings, and to the medical facility. A courteous lab technician
took the x-rays, and told me he had read about my case.
final result was no broken bones, but soreness that will no
doubt last for the next few weeks. I cannot sleep on my left
side, and lower back pain has returned. Ice on the bruises,
medication, light stretching, and rest will hopefully get this
62 year old body back to normal and exercising again in the
not too distant future.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Two members of Congress are proposing that a nationwide military
draft be required as we get closer to going to war in the Middle
East. A Washington Post story said recently:
Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and John Conyers, D-Mich.,
both military veterans, said this week they would ask the
House to consider legislation to reinstitute the draft, perhaps
as early as next week, at the start of the 108th Congress.
United States hasn’t drafted troops since 1973.
there an alternative to our sons and grandsons being drafted
and going off to war?
there is a serious threat to the safety of our country’s
borders, then the draft certainly should be reinstated. But
it would seem we are a long way from that point yet. Is there
a present alternative to our sons and grandsons being drafted
and going off to risk their lives half-way around the world?
Yes, there is. I see a solution every day here at the prison.
are thousands, no hundreds of thousands of young men, under
forty, in good shape who are willing to enlist and fight for
their country. They are in prisons all over America. But aren’t
they hardened criminals who will not take orders and who will
cause major disciplinary problems? Baloney!
am surrounded by some 70 inmates, under 40 years of age, who
are in good physical shape and work out regularly. Several of
these fellows served in Desert Storm and have had extensive
military training. There have been no serious disciplinary problems
since I have been here. (Three inmates were put in solitary
confinement for making some homemade brew on Christmas day,
and one other fellow was fifteen minutes late in getting back
to the prison from his furlough.)
all the inmates here, and a majority of federal prisoners throughout
the country, are non-violent and are serving time for drug-related
crimes. The inmates here are not what we know as drug lords,
nor are they “street pushers.” Yes, they are guilty
of being involved with drugs, usually as a hauler or a “mule”
in the drug trade. They should be punished.
given the choice, most of the inmates here would take double
their sentence to go in the Army. Why not give some the alternative
to go off to war under set restrictions? When not on duty, inmates
could be restricted to their barracks, with limited freedom.
soldiers fight, there is a large cadre of support troops. Soldiers
who work in food services, unload supplies, act as clerks, clean
the camp sites, and do the general maintenance that supports
the troops in battle. That’s exactly what many of the
inmates do here; clean, unload, paint, repair, cook, give general
support to the prison camp. If they do the same thing in Iraq
or Afghanistan, our country will be saving hundreds of millions
of dollars, training inmates for future jobs in civilian life,
have a solid base of young men to fill the needs of the military,
and not require the reinstitution of the draft. Sure there are
problems to work out. But isn’t it worth considering?
* * * * * * * * * *
prominent Baton Rouge physician was up to see me a few weeks
ago. We talked at length about the divergent paths our lives
had taken in recent years. He wrote to me last week and had
the following thoughts:
forgive the delay in writing this letter…I have been busy
this week, not so much with my work, but in trying to sort out
both intellectually and emotionally my very pleasant visit with
you at “the camp.” Please know that you are never
far from my thoughts and that I hope this letter finds you doing
well. My daughter got your letter and enjoyed it immensely—I
am hopeful that she writes you again soon.
my thoughts (for what they are worth!)
I am amazed at how well you looked. I sensed a relaxation that
I have never seen. It seems, though the circumstances aren’t
the best, you have found a way to make the best of them!
somewhat selfishly, I wonder who the prisoner really is!
I get up at 5:15 a.m., race through the shower, eat a bagel
and dash to work, arriving usually at 6:30 a.m. and feeling
already 30 minutes behind. I am “shackeled” in the
office by patient after patient and then rush back to the hospital
to do a procedure or so and then back to the office to finish
a ton of paperwork…then home to the family.
wonder what/how I would react to the “monastery”
life, stripped of worldly possessions and really devoid of any
responsibility, and equally important, any expectations? Frankly,
could I be content and happy getting to know myself…somehow,
I get the feeling that you are happy with yourself and that
gift of serenity has allowed you to relax. I was struck by what
you missed…pasta and a movie…you Mom’s pumpkin
pie…certainly not the power and prestige of the Commish’s
the utter stupidity of your incarceration!
I was impressed with your ability to look beyond the act and
see the person. ‘The poet hopefully will get a college
degree and return the favor to someone less fortunate than he.’
sleep well. Believe it or not, I am a better person for knowing
you and your journey has helped me reflect on my own.
All the best,
A moving letter that helps me keep my tragedy in better perspective.
What has happened to me is so unjust, yet the message from my
doctor friend is that there is value in making the best of the
situation at hand. I’m not really succeeding, but trying
to make chicken salad out of chicken____. I suppose to some
extent I am on a “sabbatical” for six months and
have the time to read many things I never was able to get around
to in the past. Through letters, I have shared and received
thoughts with many old and new friends I never would have explored
in person, over lunch or at a reception. I’ve lost sixteen
pounds and am in excellent shape. But you know what? It’s
Both for what happened to me and being stuck here.
* * * * * * * * * *
real treat arrived in the mail here a few weeks ago. My friend
Robert Rector sent me a copy of Tom Robbins’ new book,
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. Robert is a
post-modern abstract painter with an international reputation.
Come by my home when I get out of this place in April, and you
will see several paintings by Robert gracing our walls. He lives
and paints just north of Baton Rouge at his home in Ethel, along
with his wife, Lois.
you have ever read a Tom Robbins novel, you will find an author
who is deranged, rowdy, irreverent, philosophical, and an absolute
delight. So are his books.
Invalids Home from Hot Climates is his seventh novel, about
a whacky C.I.A. agent who falls in and out of danger and love
on four different continents. He is cursed by a Peruvian medicine
man who lets him know if his feet touch the ground he will die.
This doesn’t slow down Agent Switters one bit, and he
is off by wheelchair and stilts to hang out with renegade nuns
the weird plot is almost beside the point. Some readers may
be turned off by Robbins’ lectures and his rants. They
would rather just read the story. But the author won’t
let us. He insists we join him in a wild, mind-bending trip
into cosmic truth. It’s a ride that covers politics, religion,
culture, sex, spirituality and innocence in one big gumbo pot.
satirizes everyone and everything. His characters quote the
Bible and read “Finnegan’s Wake.” He is humorous,
even outlandish---yet often current and right on point. Tom
Robbins is to contemporary fiction what Robin Williams is to
you want a deceptively funny and deadly serious diversion from
your daily routine, I suggest you read Fierce Invalids from
* * * * * * * * *
Prison need not be the end of the road,
But the beginning of an interesting and productive life.
and justice to you and your family.