Soliloquy: Interview of a Convicted Felon- pt 2
By Prince F. Rashada
January 28, 2020~
“The world is a prison.”
Often times, a prisoner is voiceless in the eyes of society, because he is regarded as an offender or menace to that society. So his or she drops in value according to some, despite the fact that prisoners are human beings that are someone’s relative, friend or spouse. As long as our political leadership continues to view prisoners as something less, they will continue to use unjust laws, policies and regulations to abuse those who’ve made mistakes, were misguided or perhaps those who were wrongfully convicted. What our leaders lose sight of when making decisions to keep people locked up longer, they are literally destroying lives and eliminating the possibility in the heart of the convict to make amends for the injury against the public.
After all, penitentiary comes from the Latin root ‘pēnitēns’, meaning to repent or to show remorse. So prisons are really places that allows the prisoner to correct his or hers thinking and behavior, by accepting the responsibility to change. The first act in this process is the acknowledgement of the wrong they committed against society and the feeling of regret, this is where true restorative justice begins. Therefore, prisons are not meant to keep people there, unless the crime is so serious that the individual is a real threat to public safety.
8. What was your experience in solitary confinement and how did you cope?
Answer: My first experience of being in solitary confinement was in Green Bay Correctional Institution in the late 80’s, and I was 18 or 19 years old. I felt suffocated by the room being so small with only a metal bed, sink/toilet and a metal mirror with gang insignias scribbled across the surface. It was a very lonely pastime, as I spent the majority of my time pacing back and forth and reading all the messages on the paint-faded bricks. I use to talk to myself as a way to talk myself through the madness, for there was nothing else to do. I remember I was given books to read, which were western and romance novels. This sort of helped to pass the time, and I don’t remember them having a clock or a window to look out of. So I told time by when meals were served, which helped to give me a sense of connection with time itself. When I was placed in the hole, all I did was sleep the time away. But you get tired of sleeping, and you start to find creative ways to keep yourself busy. So I use to work out, count the bricks, find ants to play with, hit on walls and rap, yell under the door to my neighbors, read, write letters or just lay back and imagine the world outside the prison gates. This was my strategy for not slipping into insanity, even when I spent half the night talking to God or begging Him to rescue me from these administrative torture chambers.
9. Have you ever considered suicide?
Answer: Yes I did. After doing extensive years behind bars, the systematic routine of doing the same exact thing everyday begins to play tricks with your mind, and you get tired of the monotony of doing time. For being in prison was like experiencing a perpetual nightmare that you can’t awaken from, and this was the hardest reality to face. Knowing that you were frozen in time and stuck into a little box, while the world outside was moving fast and you were moving in slow motion behind bars. As a man, you learn how to suppress your tears and disguise your pain behind a facade, when this prison life was really destroying you inside. So during some very weak moments when I was feeling low, depressed of not hearing from my family and lacking outside support, I became desperate in wanting the pain of abandoned to go away.
Therefore, during the late hours of the night in the hole, I prayed my last prayer hoping that the angels would come and comfort me but they never came. I cried in silence and thought about my mother’s smile cascading through my mind as I told her I was sorry for being a troubled man, and tied my sheet on the top of the door after stepping onto the sink. I stepped off the sink and was hanging there and passed out, and woke up in the prison hospital. I was placed in observation status to be monitored by the clinical staff, to determine if I was still a danger to myself. I have to say that over the years, I’ve learned how to cope with the agony of being in prison while suffering from PTSD, depression and feeling alone in the world surrounded by fellow convicts and overzealous prison guards. I now believe that death wasn’t a solution or could never be the best option to numb yourself from pain, for inside each individual lies the secrets of overcoming obstacles.
10. Have you received any treatment from a counselor to help with the reality of prison life?
Answer: Yes I received counseling sessions from the PSU (Psychological Service Unit) counselors, who’ve attempted to probe into the dark interiors of my mind to help me sift through the good, the bad and the ugly parts of my ego. I guess I must have giving them hell since I possessed several altered egos, who were definitely playing tag-a-war to see who would dominate my awareness. I don’t believe I ever gave this process a chance to work, because I was too torn up psychologically to allow a stranger to open up Pandora’s Box inside my head. So I had to crawl deeper into myself and find another way to self-medicate, and this is when my naked soul became my therapist. Prison modalities and cognitive behavior techniques became obsolete, and I had to create an outlet for me to mentally decompress from all the negativity around me. So when I went through my own process to psychologically detox, this is what helped me identify the root to my pain as an abused troubled child growing up in the dark ghetto. For no external treatments assisted me in dealing with prison life, it was my attachment to the street hustler inside me that provided the means to cope with prison life; which was another form of ghetto.
11. Did you make friends in there or do you have this ‘trust no one and suspect all’ mentality?
Answer: I believe that when you’re in quicksand with others and sinking, you don’t have time to make friends, for you just identify with those around you and you connect with them to deal the situation at hand. I believe this was the case. Sometimes you meet people from your neighborhood, affiliate with others with mutual gang ties or just connect with those who share a particular interest as you in sports, board games, working out or studying law. So it varies. When I came into the system, I didn’t trust anyone period. This was part of my inner city instincts. So I carry this with me for many years, until I became more conscious of my transformation from a hood nigga to a black nationalist thinker. Then I began to see fellow convicts as comrades, and that they were not enemies but victims of a permanent underclass like myself. So we wouldn’t consider this friendship but a brotherhood, because it was still difficult to trust when everyone is typically out for themselves. There isn’t a lot of unity in the Wisconsin Prison System compared to other states, only because there is no structure among the prisoners. If they could learn how to eliminate their petty differences, stop all the constant horse playing, playing games and ribbing each other for laughs but pick up a law book, enroll in a trade, study the nature of politics, embrace a spiritual path and learn how to conduct themselves as men; then the battle would be half won when it came to criminal justice reform. Most of these prisons in Wisconsin are run through fear due to a loss of privileges, and this is what’s used to maintain order and control in the prison population.
12. Can you describe what doing time is like and how do you keep from going insane?
Answer: Doing time is like being stranded at the airport with an indefinite delay in a foreign place or being stuck at the DMV for the entire day for a simple licence renewal or placed in detention at school when all your friends have went home and you’re left there starring at the clock. Now times that by the 5th power! See doing time is when life stands still, and you struggle to keep it together as time flies by leaving you left behind while the world keeps moving on without you. What is meant to be punishment is no more than slow death, but death to the spark of hope that left at the door when you enter the prison gates. To me, I had to first arrive at the rationalization of what prison wasn’t, which wasn’t a summer vacation at a five star hotel. I had to accept the fact that I was in a dirty prison with rats tiptoeing around my window, observing tiny footprints in the snow in search of a friendly morsel.
Despite the fact that I have to deal with broken floor tiles hiding black mold, breathing in asbestos, drinking contaminated water laced with lead, copper, arsenic, nickel, radium, uranium, sodium and fluoride. Despite the fact that I’m forced to purchase overpriced canteen items, abused by PRC recommendations to keep me warehoused in Fox Lake Correctional Institution, denied lateral transfers to other facilities with more programming opportunities, denied the right to practice religion and overly punished for minor infractions. Despite all of this, I detach myself from the general prison culture and do my time as if I was enroll in college. I go to the library and study law, business, history, economics, psychology, religion and health. These subjects became my curriculum and the library books became my textbooks, as I self-educate myself to expand my intellectual prowess. This is how I destroy the boredom of doing time, by keeping myself absolutely busy. Idle time, keeping your mind glued to the outside and lacking a positive routine in prison is what makes you’re time harder. Doing time is the key, and not allowing time to do you! This is how I stopped from going insane.
13. What do think about Kevin Carr, the new DOC Secretary and do you think he will make drastic changes in the prison system?
Answer: I think he is a reasonable man with a lot responsibility and a very complex prison problem that he inherited from his administrative predecessors and the curse of Truth-in-Sentence. He is charged with the task of overseeing, maintaining and supervising the operations of all the correctional facilities in Wisconsin, and to basically ensure the successful outcomes of the DOC primary mission and goals of rehabilitation and reentry. Part of the rehabilitation and reentry goals have been modified and overshadowed by the dictates of the new law, which eliminates parole and require inmate to serve their full sentences with the exception of those eligible for ERP or the 75%/85% positive adjustment petitions.
The only way the prison system could change if Mr. Carr uses his power and authority to utilize the laws that’s already on the books, by: (1) directing the PRC in each facility to recommend transfers to minimum facilities to inmates who are under 3 years to obtain work release, (2) recommending parole for inmates under the old law, (3) recommending special action release to relieve overcrowding, (4) recommending a risk reduction sentence for eligible inmates, and (5) recommending inmates who qualify under Act 89, to be transferred to county jails to finish out sentences in order to participate in employment and educational opportunities.
These options could drastically help reduce the prison population in conjunction with the Governor’s plans, and could create a domino-effect across the regional board. Mr. Carr could change the image of the DOC’s racial injustices, by: (6) putting in systems that addresses unfair policies that support the racial divide inside the corrections. (7) terminating the employment of correctional officers who has a pattern and history of abusing his or her discretion and mistreatment of inmates, which includes writing excessive and unnecessary conduct reports to fatten prison records. (8) admonishing or demoting administrative staff for restricting and limiting the opportunities for inmates to participate in programming, receive lateral transfers or interfering with inmate treatment by falsifying documentation that lessens AODA and mental health symptoms. (9) creating a Supplemental Grievance Board to monitor inmates complaints independently outside the facilities, so inmates won’t have to deal with facility staff who are colleagues with other staff members causing the injury, conflict and problem with the inmates.
Lastly, Mr. Carr could hire more African-American employees to equal out the racial imbalances of staff for administrative, correctional officers and prison union positions in servicing an overcrowded prison population filled with blacks and people of color. Not because Mr. Carr is an African-American but because he has the power to so and happens to be an African-American who decisions, plans and practices will affect a prison population that is 90-95% African-American and Latino. So I do believe that Mr. Carr will make good changes in the DOC.
Prince F. Rashada
Fox Lake Correctional Facility