re-post of jail to home culture shock

Jail to home Culture Shock
[in a shameless effort to increase blog traffic, this is a repost from january 10, 2010]

Out of Jail

Upon returning to Twin Oaks Cameron asked me

“How was jail?”

i quipped “i’d rather be in jail than in a bad community meeting.” Which is actually true, but a bit beside the point.

The food was horrible (as in – skip meals for variety), my blanket was too small, the TV was on more than half of the day (even after “lights out” which i found weird), the poor mattress gave me a sore back, the cell was uncomfortably cold, the only natural light in the huge cell came from a handful of long thin windows too high off the floor to look thru, there were 60 guys in my cell, there was basically no privacy, i could not leave the single room cell block for 45 hours, my ride to get home was hours late, the police stopped me when i tried to hitch from the jail, there were a number of felons in K block with serious charges against them. And the overall experience was great.

i got lucky. For what ever reason they decided to place me in thetrusterdy cell block (which is block K at the Central Virgina Regional Jail). This means most of the people in the cell are working in the jail – laundry, cooking, cleaning the building. Most do this to reduce their time. If you are sentenced to a year on a misdemeanor charge, you only serve 6 months. If you work while you are there you can cut it in half again. Most cell bock K inmates have a vested interest in not screwing up their shrinking jail time with petty disagreements with the likes of me. This made the initial experience fairly comfortable. I intentionally arrived exhausted and had not trouble falling asleep shortly after arriving at the cell block.

I see jail as an unintentional community where the cottage industry is killing time. I got wiped out in chess, had a number of good conversations with inmates (including a very spooky one where an inmate guessed i was from Twin Oaks right after guessing i was from Louisa), i had no trouble sleeping a lot (noise does not bother me much), and i dont fear going back for a longer time if that is what is needed at some point for some pending campaign.

For me, going to jail is emotionally similar to hitchhiking. Before i go i am worried about it, present to my fear of all the bad things that might happen. Then i do it and remember why i went, the kinds of connections you dont find elsewhere, what it means to trust people you dont know who could be slightly dangerous. And in the end i find myself feeling better about humanity than before i went.

i also think in ways that i dont normally about my life and choices in jail. I wrote 17 love letters. And i was unusually well rested.

“So are you going to do it again?” Jeff is the first guy in K block who shares his name with me. I assure him i am not retiring from non-violent civil disobedience 

“You do it for your beliefs?” He wants it to be true and his appreciation is why i need to be in this large institutional room every so often. We speak briefly between Jerry Springer vignettes.

Jail is an almanac of sad stories. Jeff was doing 12 months for failure to pay child support. His son is 25 years old and he had not heard from the child support people in 10 years. He was actually negotiating w/ his son to give him a car loan. Jeff went to church w/ his new girl friend, his ex-wife got upset, called child support and relatively quickly and quite unexpectedly he found himself in jail. There are 200 dead beat dads in this facility, which is around 1/3 of the total population. But Jeff says the law will likely change in Virginia to garnish wages instead of put people in prison seems wise and late. [Another half the jail population is combined drunk driving and drug possession (mostly marijuana) - hardly hardened criminals]

There are lots of small gifts and favors in this cell block community. I was offered shower sandals three times in the first three hours in jail by different people, i finally accepted a pair and started wearing them, just to stop the offers. Every time i was asleep at the start of a meal (breakfast at 4:30 AM) someone would wake me and not wait to be thanked. No food is wasted, so even when i skipped a meal i got a tray of food and gave it to other prisoners – there was little trading and lots of gifting.

I got out fairly quickly and regretted not stealing the gray stripped jail jump suit, which mysteriously had 8 snaps down the front, but only 4 clasps to connect them to inside. Some strange jail house style or budgets cuts or something. The jump suit would have been a great costume for me “get out of jail” party. i borrowed a tight fitting yellow one from Christian instead and it had a completely different effect.

The jail is quite hard to find. Pele had three sets of directions and could not find it and almost everything was closed so their were few people to ask. In all fairness, Trina and i got lost dropping me at the jail and Caroline and Keyvah had a hard time finding it when i first landed there. No sign, no street number, it is basically hidden. So i decided to hitchhike and as soon as i stuck out my thumb a cop pulled in behind me. And he said the best thing a cop has ever said to me as his first words.

“Your not in trouble.” i wish every cop would start this way. I am hitching directly across the street from the jail so he has to check to make sure that there are no warrants out for me as a possible escapee. But once we establish this, he is happy to give me a ride a few miles down the road towards Twin Oaks, from where Sparkle is being dispatched to rescue me. My driver cop worked the longest 29 months of his life in my jail, he was happy to have moved on, tho his wife still runs the medical program at the jail.

Thru a classic cell phone game Sparkle and i coordinated our approach to each other and after 3 miles of walking. we meet and i got swooped up, i might have saved him 20 minutes of driving and i got some exercise (pacing the cell made me feel like a caged rat) and re-established that hitching is fading in amerika.

i returned home and Trout and others had organized a “get out of jail” party for me and it was amazing. We talked about A grade parties, parties which changed peoples lives. This was at least an A- and Trout claims higher. Winter came out as Autumn in drag and the pictures will show off this metamorphosis. There were certainly sparky romantic moments as well in the upstairs TupeloNorth Wing LR augmented by Trouts perfectly designed room for an additional 12 to 15 partiers on his bed, couch and soft floor.

We established that A+ parties are ones that are remembered, oft named (like the fuzzy tunnels party) and mark changes in the local culture or world view (like the make out party in the cuddle loft where several guys kissed other guys for the first time in their lives).

We played a modified version of ImaginIFF my new favorite game, especially good for finding intimate insights. Michael was a subliminal msg, both Firefly and Moss were time bombs, i was a nuke. i can’t do it justice here, it is quite funny.

We danced, we flirted, we rubbed feet, we were serenaded, we laughed. Trout got a whole bunch of my types of things to consume - girly drinks, mixed fruit juices, chips and salsa and fruit salad. Sparkle and Biddy were stunning in drag. And Autumn was tantalizingly hot.

So i swung from a morning of boredom and jail to an evening of memorable celebrations. And i would trade none of it.