480 | Anticipating the Move

February 2, 2020
Sunday, 8:30 a.m.
Letter #480: Anticipating the Move


Dear Family,
I have not met a single inmate who likes to move from one prison to another. You’d think that years in captivity at one zoo would make the tiger antsy for a road trip of any kind, a chance to see the urban jungle just beyond the fence, but no. The tiger has made a home of sorts in his current confined space. He has made allies, forged meaningful connections, adjusted to a schedule and way of life unique to each facility, built trust with the zookeepers, and typically earned himself a halfway decent spot to lay his head at night on a painfully-acquired homemade pillow with a docile cage-mate or nearby dorm-mates. The new zoo means beginning again from scratch, an uncomfortable prospect that no promise of a beautiful road trip or greener pastures upon arrival could ever persuade the tiger to just voluntarily leave.

But volunteering is not what the prison system is noted for. You come when called and go when sent, and you don’t have to like it. So, when I was first “endorsed” to be transferred to another prison a few months ago, I thought nothing of it. I knew that this small 700-bed prison, Golden State MCCF, was slated to close its doors to California inmates by the end of June.

The private-company-run prison hoped to land a lucrative federal contract to house immigration detainees, but local city support voted it down. California had complied with a Federal mandate to reduce overcrowding in its prisons by simply contracting with private prisons to house inmates—which is why I was transferred to Arizona nine-and-a-half years ago. Now, the governor is trying to reduce the prison population while bringing all of us who were housed in private prisons back into state custody. So, I knew I would be moved eventually. The questions were simply when and where.

Then, in the last couple of weeks, staff told me that I was on the list for the next bus to Avenal State Prison. Avenal wasn’t my first choice, and my dear friend, Ken, who has faithfully studied alongside me in all of my BA and MBA classes, can’t be transferred to Avenal due to his asthma condition. Avenal is known to have a high rate of a respiratory illness called Valley Fever. It got so bad there that several inmates died of it, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain types of inmates cannot be transferred to Avenal.

I knew that anyone who has not had Valley Fever before could not be taken to Avenal, so I requested a doctor’s appointment to discuss my history of asthma (including hospitalization) and to request a Valley Fever test. Medical staff refused to grant me an appointment with the doctor and lied, saying that asthma was not one of the factors that would prevent someone from transferring to Avenal.

My frustration with the system’s ability to do whatever it wants grew as staff claimed I’d already had a Valley Fever test, supposedly proving I’ve had Valley Fever before and am thus cleared to be transferred to Avenal. My family reached out to the Office of the Ombudsman, and they looked into the matter before concluding that it was okay for the Powers That Be to transfer me to Avenal.

Friday, it became official, as I was asked to “transpack,” the prison term for boxing up your earthly possessions so that they can be shipped with you or separately to your next destination. I knew that God is sovereign, and He always has in mind what is best for me. It may not feel best or seem best, but He is faithful to use every circumstance to build my character and bring Him glory. I just knew that I had to faithfully do whatever He lead me to do—and I had to stop whenever He lead me to stop. Thus, when He gave me a peace in my heart that He was taking me to Avenal State Prison for His glory, I gave Him thanks and began looking forward to whatever comes next.

In R+R (Receiving and Release), I got to pack all of my belongings into three boxes, one that would go with me on the bus and two that would follow, up to a month later. I carefully determined which items should go in each box based entirely on spatial logistics, cramming as much as I could as best as I could in a very short amount of time.

The real game in all of the moves is deciding what you should attempt to take with you and where you will pack these items. For example, if you want to take all of your, say, 16 rechargeable batteries and you are only allowed to have eight (because who knows what horror you could unleash upon the world if you were to have more than eight rechargeable batteries, right?), then you may wish to put eight of them in the bottom of envelopes in your box of envelopes or in a small plastic bag inside your coffee jar. And no, I did not do either of those things. I would not divulge my packing tactics in outgoing mail that is monitored! I will tell you, however, that such packing tactics make arriving at a new facility a bit like Christmas: every day, I get to find little gifts like a personal property advent calendar.

Saying goodbye is always tough, because I intentionally pour myself into the lives of the guys around me, and I really do care about them and their families. I’ve been at Golden State MCCF for three years and ten months, and I’ve seen lots of guys come and go. But I will particularly miss the daily companionship and camaraderie of two guys in particular: Daniel (who paroles later this month!) and Ken. Both have truly invested in me as a friend, and I plan to keep in touch with them in the months and years to come.

So, tomorrow I’ll officially wave goodbye to this zoo and welcome the next, because this tiger has learned to be content no matter where he is housed. Well, maybe not wave, exactly, since I’ll be in handcuffs chained to my waist. Maybe blow a kiss …