240 | “My Boy, Bullet”

August 30, 2012
Thursday, 1:00 p.m.
Letter #240: “My Boy, Bullet”


Dear Family,

Every week I meet with two inmates—eight different inmates total per month—for an assessment of how they are handling prison and to put together a plan preparing them for a successful release. Whether the meeting is initiated by the inmate, me, or a prison staff member, each guy fills out an “Exit Strategy Elements” questionnaire, giving me a beforehand look at which areas of the inmate’s life need my assistance most.

I designed the questionnaire to also give me an idea of how serious the guy is about his situation: those who take the time to thoughtfully consider the general, practically based questions usually have already dealt with the emotional and psychological effects of their incarceration to some extent. Usually, however, I find that most guys haven’t dealt seriously with what they did, nor do they know how to.

My consistent message is that each one of us must take into account whatever behaviors brought us here and make changes, choosing to live differently. The mindsets and attitudes and lack of inner character all contributed to bad behavior, and those need to be worked on, changed, or built up.

What is most frustrating to me is observing inmates who don’t change. Here we are (and society thinks they’ve done well to remove us from our communities so that we can get help), and yet little to no help is offered. Behaviors haven’t changed: stealing is commonplace, deception is expected, and attitudes remain the same; anger flares up over small issues; hatred against another race is okay.

With the availability of virtual isolation via staying in your cell and not interacting with others, deeper issues can often go undetected. Some I notice: the intoxicated guy who still finds it fascinating to get drunk on homemade hard liquor (Mt. Dew cooked down to sugar and fermented ketchup, anyone?), often bought—for $24 per 16 oz. Folger’s coffee jar, refilled—with money his family thinks is for personal hygiene items or snacks from the prison commissary.

Other men bribe the underpaid and overworked guards to bring in pornography. Many choose the same vice that landed them in prison in the first place. One guy told me that his wife used to hate how he’d virtually eat, sleep, watch TV, and do nothing else before prison. Now, he proudly told me, the only change is that she can’t bother him while he does it.

This week, a young man died in his cell. The medical staff was rushed to his aid, and then the paramedics arrived to work on him. Eventually, the decision was reached to cease efforts to save him, realizing it was too late.

The young man’s cellie, per regulation, was taken to administrative segregation until the cause of death was determined. However, one of my business class students, Amir, who was a good friend of the deceased inmate, knew right away what had happened: he’d overdosed on heroin.

Amir told me that “my boy, ‘Bullet’” had plenty of money, enabling him to get whatever he wanted. A drug dealer and user for years, he’d gotten caught up in the dark side of illicit drugs and hadn’t shaken his fascination with them, even though he had been incarcerated for years.

Amir said he’d warned Bullet, but when I pressed further, it turns out Amir had actually told Bullet to “have fun, but be careful.” Amir then told me he hoped “they will take Bullet to a hospital and do something for him, to help him out.”

Realizing that Amir seriously did not understand the finality of what had happened, I explained it to him. It’s not surprising, actually, since he’d not stopped his friend from living like he’d never die.

This tragic event, experienced by some family I’ve never met, makes me question my own actions: Am I living for today or living for my future? Am I living in light of eternity, knowing we aren’t guaranteed another day of life?