By Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher
Normally when you are being transferred to another joint you try to find out what they don’t have there that they do have where you are. Then you buy a bunch of it, pack it in your property to transfer to the new spot and sell all of it for exorbitant prices. I once got $150.00 for a $21.00 Marathon Timex watch, just because it was a model that the new spot didn’t have and anything different is definitely worth money in here. The world of prison economics would amaze most people. In here books of stamps or pouches of mackerel fish are considered currency, or the “street to street” transfer of money from one person to another person is considered the top of the pay chain. So I would take two pairs of Skullcandy ear buds that cost $21.00 each and sell them for $45.00 per pair. A pair of wolverine work boots that cost $73.00, I have sold for $150.00 and if I had some bottles of prayer oil cologne, and body washes, I could make a killing on the stuff.
When I hit Petersburg Low (aka Sweetersburg) in Virginia it was Father’s Day and hot as hell. Only when I got there did I discover there was no A.C. in the units and to sleep you had better have a fan. By my last summer there I had 9 electric fans in the cell. I paid one of the Native brothers to come down and replace my outlet with a four-plug outlet and put another one on the back wall. He also put in a new light switch with an outlet underneath as well, for a total of 9 power outlets. It was like living in a cyclone, but a cool one.
The first thing I did was to try to meet up with a couple of the Native brothers, so I stopped the first guy wearing a Native American bandana and asked about the pipe carrier and the lodge and the group and all the “what about’s.” After I met the brothers I went back to the unit to get my stuff squared away. Petersburg is the first and last prison I have ever been to where my property was already there and waiting for me with a “just sign here” from the R&D cop. Amazing how this made my life so much easier.
So I’m assigned to “Delaware” unit and there are a couple Natives in there, but I am quickly told there are pretty much nothing but sex offenders there as the Native car, from the pipe carrier on down. However, there are several brothers there with “clean” paperwork, meaning they are not in prison for child molestation, child pornography or rape. Usually they are not informants but they came to me that evening as I am going out to the yard to check out the band scene. We talk and it is explained that if I want to sweat then I will have to just tolerate them and not cause any problems because it is “their” yard and all they have to do is say I’m a problem and I’m in the hole and on the next thing smokin’ out of there.
Anyway, its laid out like this, we know who is dirty and not, so do they, but if we want to sweat then we have to at least be cordial to them out there and when passing on the compound. Otherwise just don’t bother to go to the lodge area. They are going to be there, they do stay in their places and are very grateful to have people accept them or at least speak to them like they are ok.
You have to understand the dilemma, I do not like a sexual predator; I pray for the women and children and to have to sit across from one in order to approach the Creator would literally be very, very hard.
This place is a super sweet spot, the only hitch is I would be mixed in with some creeps in order to pray. Then it hits me, even if I don’t want to pray for them, I can see that their families – mothers, fathers, kids, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles – people who need the prayers of those who probably would cringe if they were aware of the member of the family that did whatever they did, DO deserve prayer. It would not at all be unlike the Creator to put this in front of me as a character hurdle to navigate.
See I don’t know if I told you but I was not always a good man. In fact I am deeply ashamed of the man I once was, but I’m even more deeply committed to the man I have and am becoming on a daily basis thru the Native ways and ceremonies and Creator’s guidance. So I made the decision to sweat and attend the pipe ceremonies and to continue to grow and to pray for the changes I knew I needed to make and needed to happen to have a chance when I walked out the door.
Now, I have only been here for not even a day but I’m already in a cell, got my property and one of the “clean” brothers said they needed quality assurance people in the factory, and that he works for the quality assurance manager and would get me in to see him about a job on the coming Monday. I’m elated to be able to get in like that and with a sponsor to boot.
I got into the factory there with a good brother’s help and became a quality control inspector (Q.A.). I had also previously worked to earn an ISO certification that no one else in the factory had and in fact, this was really the cincher on the job.
The staff was duly impressed, so now I’m working in a major government print plant which does all the printing of government forms and notices for numerous agencies including Social Security, the IRS and all the insurance agencies as well as the Department of Transportation and the military. It was a very demanding job and I was learning the printing industry from the ground up – from paper cutters to paper types, from paper folders to 4-color Heidelberg printing presses, from ink to computerized press plate image burning machines, major Ricoh laser color copiers – all the tricks and traps, all the defects and cures for them. The more well versed I became, the more valuable an asset I became to the UNICOR Corporation.
Near the end of the first year the plant management decides to let all the quality assurance workers go except for three – one for the day shift, one for the shipping department and one for the night shift with the night shift being the most difficult since only the plant foreman, the quality assurance worker would be there with the essential workers, pressmen, collator operators and folder/cutter men. When the decision was made I was chosen to be the night Q.A. This meant they had faith in my ability at this point to trouble shoot and burn computer plates for the presses.
In actuality, the way things work, I would be running the plant, with my foreman being there with further expertise, but a non-hands-on approach, supposedly. As it turned out, let me tell you about my boss, Ms. G., for she was very special woman.
Ms. G was a prison employee, a professional with 20-plus years’ experience. She had raised a son as a single mother and had competed in a job with men for decades. She had risen thru the ranks, not on the “I’m a woman” card, but on the simple fact that she was good at what she did and could do anything in the plant the men could do.
I cannot count the times I saw Ms. G. on the floor teaching the guys how to run a folding machine, or a paper cutter or a binding machine during my final 2 years working with her. I can see her in my mind’s eye right now, sleeves rolled up, ink on her hands and explaining or moving and adjusting to move a fold or a perforation this way or that. She taught me more about the printing industry than any of the four college textbooks on the industry I read.
Ms. G. truly made an impact on my life, and on the last night I worked before packing out to leave for transfer I let her know how much I appreciated her. Ms. G was a Christian; she loved it, she embraced it and she walked the walk, but she was far from weak or shy. She was a stalwart human in a place where there are not many that will treat you with dignity or respect. Never once in the three years I worked side by side with Ms. G. did she waver in her willingness to teach or learn, to be pleasant while professional.
If Ms. G should ever read this, I want her to know she made a change in this man. She taught me a lot, and I still appreciate her for it. See prison is not where you would expect to find a person of this caliber. Ms. G., you are a diamond in a mud puddle and you shine all the more brightly for it. May the Creator watch over you and yours and keep you ever in his sight.
Self Portrait The stranger staring back at me, stranger than before, Bringin’ pain and suffering, always waging war. Take away your dignity, strip away the shell Wear you down, weight your soul, how the mighty have fell. Mirror, Mirror on the wall, rushing tide we try to stall, Shadows cast across your grave only hope your soul to save. Hero, Hero, time has passed, life goes by us way too fast Grasp at straws and silky strings, life is but a fleeting thing. We cross our paths like ships lost in the night, night, night, Pretend we know what’s wrong from right, right, right. There’s more to me than meets the eye, eye, eye, My world is hollow, and I’ve touched the sky. Mirror, Mirror, guise pretense, this is why we’re so incensed. The ache cuts deeply into the bone, look around, you’re not alone. Zero, Zero, lower class, drinking from an empty glass, Shun the image you have made, do what you can before you fade. If you view life with much regret You’ll wear the time you forget. It weighs you down with guilt and shame The stare that’s you is the one to blame. Mirror, Mirror, fool you save, are you master, are you slave? See the writing on the wall, you’re the biggest fool of all. Hero, Hero, life sentence, have you lost your innocence? It keeps us in a trance-like stare, as it makes us see we’re there. Self Portrait lyrics © Steven Maisenbacher (Walks on the Grass)