Kinda, Sorta, Almost, No Not Really

Light In the Distance…

OUTDATE – 193 Days and Counting

By Steven Maisenbacher

Walks On The Grass

So now it has been like 18 days since I quit my job and was moved here to a non-UNICOR unit, Let the Circus Begin, and just as you might expect, I wasn’t here a full 24 hours before something went haywire and boom! we were back on lockdown. This was not just any old lockdown, but a full blown federal system lockdown of all BOP facilities.

This latest round of abusive chaos was all over prisons being prisons, and gangs being gangs. See it went sorta kinda like this: Gang A doesn’t like Gang B. Gang A makes an assault on Gang B wherein a member of Gang B is killed. This in turn prompts Gang B to kill a member of Gang A and therein lies the reason the Federal Bureau of Prisons locked down 135 Federal prisons for almost 3 weeks incurring several million more in costs to you the taxpayer.

All this because a prison gang from another country gets into a prison gang fight with a prison gang from this country which leads to the death of 2 gang members. Might I add that this occurred in a penitentiary that is a maximum custody-high security facility, far higher than this medium security/low custody prison where in the 3 years I have been here I’ve seen or heard of only a handful of fights, none of which had anything to do with a gang, but I’m getting away from the point here.

The point is that all this causes everyone no matter their circumstances to have been locked in their cells 24/7 with the exception of several highly controlled 20-minute breaks to take a shower. So I have been in an unfamiliar cell, that incidentally leaks water through the walls when it rains, with a man who is 30 years younger and totally unknown to me other than his name and where he is from. Luckily, it turns out that the guy is a pretty good guy, respectful and considerate, able to read a book and not bother me, or bother me when I’m reading a book.

He is going on down the line to another jail in a few weeks and I’ll have to break in a new cell mate. This is always a pain in neck. See when you’ve gotta live in a tiny cage (for lack of better description) it’s rough enough with the best of friends and a social experiment with someone you really don’t know. Now long ago I told ya’all I was born broken. Well it seems that to some extent that is still the case because I have become so inured to being locked down that it really doesn’t even phase me anymore if I’m in the cell or able to go here or there. I know this is flawed but it is what it is and prisons were never meant to be fun. After so many decades and so many lockdowns I have become numb to it so yeah, I’m still kinda broken.

Anyway, just in case you wonder, let me walk with you thru one of these lockdowns from the beginning. First, some corrections officer yells “LOCKDOWN!!!!”  Everyone jumps up and tries to rush to the ice machine or the hot water dispenser or the store man to get a little something extra just in case. Then they put you in the cell and you sit there until they say it’s over. The staff brings everything you need to the cell (kinda, sorta).

Now this is a fairly spread out compound with asphalt walkways between buildings reminiscent of a college campus. There are 8 units, not counting the special housing unit or the quarantine unit, so really there are currently 856 people in 10 units. It’s a goodly distance to the chow hall, so they have to push a rolling food cart to each unit. First they have to prepare the 856 meals in these clamshell styrofoam trays for each unit, then push the cart to the unit, thru the rain sun, snow, whatever, and it never fails, when they get the carts to the unit they do not plug the them into the wall to keep the food hot so it’s always cold. Always.

Next the officer in the unit generally gets another officer to help him pass the trays out, but first they’ve got to go cell to cell, opening the “bean slot,” the locking flap in the door that food can be passed in thru and garbage out thru. Then they come back down the tier and get to passing the food out cell by cell, one tray per man.

The best part is watching the officers have to go thru this rigamarole, especially when it’s time to feed the upper tier and they have to load these big flat pans and carry em up the stairs. So it’s quite a lot of work, and guess who doesn’t want to have to do it? Smile.

Next are the particulars, like they have to come and let men out, 3 cells at a time to take showers, a legal minimum of 3 times a week. As long as I’ve been locked down in prison it’s always been Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Next is laundry. A couple times a week we put our dirty stuff in our laundry bags, and stuff it out the bean slot. Then it comes back the next day and they have to pass it out by cell number/bag number etc. which is also quite the chore, and yeppers, another one they would just as soon not have to mess with. Ha Ha.

Now last but definitely not least, commissary. Generally you fill out the store list of the items you want to purchase and they will bring it to the unit. The items available are always limited and they fill whatever they feel like giving you. Then the next day the officers bring it to the unit and pass it out. Now you’ve got to understand, when on lockdown the food trays they send out are never going to be enough so you need to purchase extra food to supplement what you get on the trays or you will be constantly hungry. I have been hungry before for weeks at a time. This is not good for many reasons. Living with constant hunger makes you get angry and you can’t sleep so you just want to lash out… just not a good thing for anyone. So you NEED every little extra you can get.

I take bird baths on the days I don’t get showers, that is a sink bath, with the wash cloth, hot water and body wash. I do not like to feel grimy, or like I could stink so I’m a weirdo when it comes to hygiene. That and water… In years past, I have been forced to live out of my toilet because some sadistic people thought it would be cute. In order to get any water to bathe or even to drink, it was first scrub the toilet out with soap or whatever I could get, flush, then scrub me out of it with the soap. Then I’d flush again to get a drink. Man, I’m not proud of it but I am alive!

I have been thru so much more than I have ever documented. I’m saving those stories for once I’m out because some of them a really bad. They show the full extent of both human mental strength and human capacity for cruelty towards others, but that’s not the story here so back to the article at hand. Smile. Let me promise you this, with the Creator, there is no adversity you cannot endure. This I know and I’m trying to share it with you. Believe me, the Creator and His ways are more powerful than you can ever begin to imagine.

So, we have been in the cell for a couple of weeks or so, and got some commissary and showers, then they began relaxing a bit, not a lot. The other day we were let out of our cells for 3 hours, then the next day 4 hours and as I write the entire unit has have been out in the commons area since about 7am. Tomorrow it is supposed to be back to normal operations which brings me to kinda, sorta, no not really…

There is no normal in this place…


in a moment reality can change,
it can wreak havoc upon your brain,
and the normal you thought you had,
becomes the normal that wasn’t so bad...
it can always be worse...

now I’ve been slammed inside this damn cell,
for how long it’s hard to tell, 
cuz they won’t tell us a dang thing,
or even what kind of changes this will bring.
it can always be worse...

the devil ya know is better than the one that you don't, 
the hardship it brings is not at all what you want,
and it’s probably gonna get worse before it gets better, 
but it definitely won’t make a whole lot of matter,
it can always be worse...

lockdown, and it can always be worse.........

© Steven “Walks On The Grass” Maisenbacher, February, 2022

Published by Sings Many Songs

I'm an 80-something child of the great depression and WWII. Throughout my life I have been a seeker, an outsider, never quite belonging anywhere, still always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A lifelong student with many interests and a love of writing and editing, my elder's path led to encouraging and assisting some remarkable people to write out their amazing stories. This calling became the magic elixir that keeps me growing, keeps me alive.

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