June 29, 2011
Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #180: Joys of My New Digs
Greetings! The big Independence Day weekend is coming up, so I wanted to be sure and wish each of you a very Happy Holiday, unless of course you prefer Merry Christmas, as 91% of shoppers do. I hope you have a fun and safe celebration. (If you’re not celebrating, you’re just completely un-American, obviously, as is the case with 2% of my readership, currently residing outside our borders.)
Now that I’m incarcerated, I prefer to call this holiday by its informal title of “The Fourth of July,” rather than “Independence Day.” My scheduled independence day isn’t this weekend, but approximately 618 weekends from now, so I celebrate the 4th.
Today, however, was my first full day of freedom at this facility. The prison has finally completed the transfer process of the mainline inmates, separating them out of our compound. That done, they’ve let us all return to what is considered “normal program” here. Granted, it’s not what you may consider as normal, but it is as close to normal as it gets for me.
First of all, I finally get to make phone calls! I’ve sorely missed being able to talk to my family whenever I want. The beauty of these out-of-state facilities is virtually all-day dayroom available, with phones. I love the true freedom to choose when in the day or week to make a phone call. Small choices, yes, but a real blessing.
At this facility, I am able to call any phone number, and I get connected for a brief 30 seconds, before the person I call gets transferred to the phone company for instructions on how to receive very expensive collect calls from [Christopher] an inmate at [La Palma Correctional Center].
Another aspect of my new-found freedom is that I get to walk to the chow hall. Now, I would actually prefer to continue receiving room service—it is quick, easy, and painless. An officer simply opens my door and two trays of food appear. Ten minutes later, the meal is over. Sure, it’s not very romantic, but it’s the prison equivalent of a drive-through restaurant.
Now that I’m on the normal program, I get to experience waiting in the dayroom for 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half before walking to the chow hall. And, it’s not as if you’re awaiting an audience with royalty, you know. It is the classic prison-movie chow hall setting. You enter, grab a tray, then look for a spot to sit. Often, officers posing as a maître d’s point us in the general direction of empty six-man tables. You look around and try not to run into any really big, ugly dudes as you make your way to an open seat. It’s challenging and yet fun. Weird, I find myself thinking in situations like these, that this has become a natural part of my day and feels completely normal.
Yet another freedom I’m experiencing involves my footwear. At this facility, two pairs of personal shoes are not allowed, so my old basketball shoes were taken away. However, the closest thing they have in my size for state-issued shoes (my daily wear; my other personal shoes I wear to church and visits only) are classic Crocs knock-offs, made in China. I’m sure they would be extremely comfortable if (a) they had size 14, since the 13s are a bit tight, (b) they didn’t exactly match a shoe style worn by my little nieces, and (c) if I were living in a blind colony. I just finished a game of full-court basketball, during which my every move was announced along with my footwear
of choice: “Oooh! Christopher rejects Shawn’s shot … in a pair of Crocs!”
The best freedom we enjoy here is the freedom to worship—which makes the “freedom to step from the basketball court into the shower without removing your shoes” pale by comparison. We had our first chapel service today, with around 75 of us all squeezed into a small room. Peggy, a volunteer we’d met at Florence, was there, and she’ll be coming every Wednesday. We will be starting up a choir and worship team and establishing church leadership shortly. Also, we’re seeking permission for a combined Unit Bible Study (three 120-man pods) in our unit’s multi-purpose room. I’m grateful for the freedom to hold corporate worship services—HERE!
Thank you for praying!