Wednesday, June 21, 2017

William Myrl; Letters to No One (79)

Dear No One,

Country was a round faced fluff bear of a man, mighty and full of farts. He came to me in the dead of night and said, "I'm sure glad you're white." It's what we all think, at first. People naturally come together in tribes, like with like, and the most obvious sieve is color. The chow hall is gradated, white up front, mixed, and black in the back farthest from the CO. This is not racism, it is just the way things happen when you don't try to force it. 

Country was not an educated man, but he was wise in the ways of the world. He complained that all the people who sold drugs here were actually junkies, the prices were spiked because they really didn't want to let the product go. After he turned down a few tall pitches he swore off the game, unless the opportunity came for him to move product himself, but that wasn't something he looked for. He taught me how to make floss out of the plastic sleeve saltine crackers come in, and how to weave it into rope if I ever wanted to hang myself. He showed me how to make a cutting disk out of a peanut butter lid, and taught me a few ramen recipes that were new to me.

Country liked cars, four wheelers, women, and crystal. He had a good girl at home who was waiting for him, against all good sense, and he talked to her on the phone twice a day, or thrice. There was also an ex who emailed him photos of herself, mildly suggestive selfies. He said he wanted to hit it one good time before getting serious with the old lady. 

As a cell partner, he was generous with his relative wealth. We both bought as much popcorn as we could and split a bag most nights. When he went to store he would blow everything he had in one go and we'd eat like MSG czars for a week or two, then fall back on my supply of ramen and pickles for a more conservative period until he had money again. He liked to play in a rowdy, brotherly way, grabbing nipples and showing his ass. Not at the same time. At his insistence I started exercising again, basic body weight stuff, and finally got over the nerve pain in my shoulders. His sister was in jail, then out of jail, and he complained that she was siphoning money from their mom he should have been getting. His sister was a bit of a junkie as well. Country wasn't, he was a cook, a producer when it suited him. And he almost couldn't help himself. 

When they took him out, it was over three gallons of wine in his property box. I was sorry to see him go, as he was the most comfortable celly I'd ever had, and it would have been a hell of a party.

Hearts and Stars

William Myrl
June 15 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

William Myrl; Letters to No One (78)

Dear No One,

So there were two envelopes from PEN yesterday. The PEN prison writing contest is something I've talked about before, a national contest open to anyone incarcerated within the last year. It has five categories; drama, fiction, poetry, and they split nonfiction into essay and memoir, which makes five. I submitted to four categories last September, there's about a nine or ten month turn around for these things. 

Any who, first place for my drama submission, second place for my essay. I'm a bit bothered they snubbed my poetry, but I will take the two prizes happily. It's not the most prestigious contest, given the state of its applicants, what it does is pad my resume a little and give me the satisfaction of having won something. It isn't exactly vindication, it feels more as if the somewhat nebulous future me that I aspire to had some tiny piece of itself solidified. There is money as well, they will have to mail the check to my mother and then I will have to convince her to send it to me instead of putting it into the same purposeless though good intentioned account as went last years winnings. I like to pretend I'm self supporting. 

I can only believe that there are fewer drama submissions than in the other categories. Last year that was the Dawson prize (fancy fourth) for me. Both years, my drama scene has been slap dash last minute stuff. I am more prideful of my poetry than any other medium, and yet it is the most difficult market to succeed in. 

Naturally, I'm excited by all this. However, it seems that stoicism cuts both ways. The same filter that allows me to accept failure and mischance all unblinking partially numbs my response to positive turnaround. I waited to open the envelopes, afraid of yet more disappointment, preparing for it. There was something wonderful and fleeting in opening them and seeing that I had won. 

I called my parents and my brothers, told Matthew to update my query letter. My life hasn't changed, I won't have the prize money for several months, and that won't be exactly life changing either. It is a step, a piece of a much larger game. There is always the next thing, the further submissions, hopes to be dashed. I am thinking about next year.

Also, a man was elected as the representative in Montana's only district who is both a young earth creationist and a bully who physically attacked a reporter shortly before he was elected. Thinking about that too.

Hearts and Stars

William Myrl
Letters to No One

Friday, May 19, 2017

William Myrl; Letters To No One (77)

Dear No One,

We had group today, I'm sure I've mentioned it before. If I haven't, its the only group of it's kind in Virginia, and it exists solely because of our workaholic psychiatrist. There's usually about ten of us in the group. We come together to gripe about medications, prison, and the decline of civility in the west. He leads the conversation by asking us questions, but there is no set plan or lesson. It is meant to be organic. He told us a story that had been shared with him in the early nineties, when he took his position at Augusta. 

The institution had been through five or six psychiatrists in as many years. One doctor interviewed and told the warden that he couldn't work there unless he had a CO with him whenever he was with inmates. The warden said they couldn't do that, they didn't have people to spare,and for the doctor it was a deal breaker. The warden convinced him to take a tour of the facility anyway and they eventually came to the room we occupied for our group. It was different then, there had been a grating bisecting the room, with the smaller section storing things inmates weren't to touch, and an ophthalmologists chair. The doctor had asked to see the area, and told the warden that is where he wanted to take his appointments. The warden agreed.

The CO who had shared this story with our Psychiatrist said what followed was some of the worst behavior he had ever seen. They had cursed the doctor, threatened him, grabbed the grating and shaken it. He came three times, and they were looking for another practitioner.

Our psychiatrist said he knew the man this had happened to, that he had gone to an excellent school and that he was a smart doctor, that he cared, and had helped many people. But he left the prison with the conviction that he had been right all along, these prisoners were animals and he had been right to take precautions. He learned the wrong lesson.
Our psychiatrist stood and pointed to the bolts in the wall where the grating had once been.

I haven't been keeping up with you at all. I won't lie and say it's going to get better.

Hearts and Stars
William Myrl
Letters to No One

William Myrl; Letters to No One (76)

Dear No One,

Several changes in security procedures coming up. We are in the process of making special visitation jumpsuits in the tailor shop. They zip in the back, and we will change into them before being able to go in. Other shops are busy making complete sets of whites, so when we have a visit we will be wearing a complete set of communal clothing. Socks, t shirt, and underwear all stamped red for visitation. This is intended to cut down on the illicit materials that are smuggled into this place. It will be a lot of bother for everyone, and slow down the visitation process, not sure what it will do for the smuggling industry. In addition, the vending machines in visitation will no longer sell chips, or anything without a clear bag, or any microwavable foods. 

The changes to mail policy are what inconveniences me. Everything we receive will be photocopied and shredded, the copies will be delivered to us. Cards, photos, no more. Nothing my family physically touches can be touched by me. I am almost religiously offended by this. It's as if they are attempting to combat the magical law of contagion. Moreover, they will limit individual correspondence to five pages or items per letter. They will copy up to three sheets, front and back, and the envelope itself counts as one page. They will make no effort to fit multiple small items onto one page, or to accommodate oversized paper. I'm glad I stopped sending home manuscripts as I wrote them, because getting back copies will soon require a laughable number of envelopes. This policy forces us to rely more on the Jpay email system, which will be great for their percentage. 

We'll get used to all this, and in a few years prisoners will come into the system accepting it as the status quo. Things go up and down, but it's a longstanding truism that when there is change, it is change for the worse.

On the lighter side of the news, Washington and Lee is hosting a class for the third year. Very exciting, and for the third year, I have unable to get past the application process. Submit a one paragraph answer to the question, "why am I interested in taking this course", those selected write an essay, and the top ten essays can take the class. Cool program, but I've never gotten as far as being allowed to write an essay. My paragraph answer was completely revamped, I thought I'd learned from last years failure where I talked myself up too much. Apparently not. There are a lot of people who put in, but you have to be three years charge free to qualify, so really we're talking less than a hundred legitimate applicants. Twenty get to do essays, ten get to be in the class. 

It is truly frustrating to me that I am not in the eightieth percentile or above in this process. I've not been graded this low in my life. I am technically an award-winning author (The award was fifty dollars, but I'm counting it.), and I'm not good enough for the Augusta Department of Corrections educational screenings dream team. After last time, my expectations were tempered, so I am not as angry as I was. It would be nice to be in a class, to have an actual teacher, talk to actual students, it would be a very non-prison experience. I'm disappointed that it seems like I'm never going to be a part of it, and its hard to swallow knowing that I simply care more about it than the people who are accepted. This is not a general statement, I personally know many of the people who were able to participate in the previous classes. I don't care a lot about a lot of things, most of what goes on in here falls below my register for emotional affect. Prison drama is not important. This would have been something different, so it meant something. With ten fresh slots, I thought, surely, I would be able to fill one. That's what happens when you have hope, William.

Hearts and Stars

William Myrl
Letters to No One

William Myrl; Letters to No One (75)

Dear No One,

There were three students at group today, and I remembered their names by associating them with famous persons. Someone told the doctor he looked like Stephen King, which he doesn't, particularly. He asked us about King's popularity, and we listed off titles. Other popular authors were mentioned. The doctor said he wondered if there was anywhere the entire population could fit in a ring. Maybe on the rec yard, certainly nowhere inside. He asked how many people would raise there hands if everyone was in a circle somewhere and told to if the bible was their favorite book. In the group, hands immediately went up. 

We talked a bit about kairos, a christian group that holds regular "reunions", popular because they bring cookies. They used to hand out cookies to the entire compound, but offenders ruined it by trying to steal huge bags for themselves. This is why we can't have nice things.

There is a fellow, Bucky, who was brought up. Apparently, he is known for his exploits as a devout crazy person. He went to a group of Muslims on the rec yard and tried to teach them about the bible. He drank diluted cleaner, making himself sick, as an effort at internal ablution. The doctor was concerned, as he had never met this offender, but no one knew his last name, or was willing to offer it.

Landstander and Waddle wanted to know why so many crazy people have religious delusions. The doctor asks if anyone has experienced manic symptoms relating to religion, and I start thinking about Alethianism, which I made up while I was in segregation. Bopedi raised his hand and explained that he had become hyper religious before. The conversation drifted again for a while, until the doctor brought it back to Bopedi, who talked about other manic symptoms like hyper sexuality. Tattoo gave an example of Bucky getting on the top bunk in his cell and masturbating with the sheet over his head while his celly was on the bunk below. At least he used the sheet, I said. I continued to think about Alethianism, half following the shifts in the topic train, until Anna Nicole Smith (one of the students) asked Bopedi a question. What is it like to come down from a manic episode? 

Bopedi said it was disappointing, to see that you weren't really everything you thought you had been. He mentioned his art, and how hard it made it to work without that light. The light was gone. I made an observation at the end that it felt like the light was always there, maybe behind my head, or behind a locked door. I knew it was there but I couldn't reach it. You carry it with you.

Hearts and Stars

William Myrl
Letters to No One

Sunday, March 5, 2017

William Myrl; Letters to No One (74)

Dear No One,

It has been an odd week. Annual inventory came up in the plant, so I only had to work one day out of four. When we go back they are going to begin a massive jumpsuit order as the state begins insisting that inmates not be allowed to wear their own clothes to visit. These jumpsuits are special, they will all have a zipper in the back so that a CO has to tuck us into them.

Better news, the art contest came and went. There was a black history month production in the gym, and the submissions were displayed on tables opposite the stage. I watched the performance on its final afternoon. There was a guest speaker from wherever, and he took questions from people who had heard him the previous day. Some of the questions were as long as his answers, maundering hither and thither before coming to an incoherent conclusion. The speaker seemed knowledgeable, and I was impressed by one of his answers. Someone asked him what they should try to study, apart from basic reading and math, to be able to take back with them into society. He said microfinance. Our drawings had been up and down several times, but the final day thirty judges traipsed by to pick winners. The rec supervisor had all the administrative/paperwork people in the building do the judging, along with some COs who were in the area. I won the animals category, as one of two entries. The other guy had made a spider out of toilet paper and his own hair, which was neat, but it looked pretty meager beneath my life sized pair of foxes. I was offended that nine out of thirty voted for him. Cretans.

The DND game has come to an end. After six or more months of running it, I'm ready for a break. The personalities involved could be fascinating, also exhausting, or contentious. Dick was much better after he started taking medication. He was less likely to accuse people of harboring ill feelings toward him, less likely to interpret their actions with a negative screen. One of our players was transferred, and we replaced him with a middle aged man whose enthusiasm was unreliable. Sometimes he had a headache, or was too tired. Then there was Mao. Pretty sure he's on the autistic spectrum somewhere. Doesn't read people well, or if he can, doesn't react to them as if he does. Has a very strict pooping schedule, and regularly finds himself in conflict with others because of "misunderstandings", where he hears what others don't say or says what others don't hear. His turns would routinely take ten to fifteen minutes during combat, and involve a lot of book research. If you tell him not to do something, he will do it more, no exceptions.

Art contest update, I will probably get a six pack of mountain dew. Which is huge. There would have been many more entrants to all categories if a prize had been advertised other than a free picture ticket. Slipped in there.

Marina and the Diamonds is fantastic, FYI. She sings the music of my wierdass heart.

Hearts and Stars,

William Myrl
Letters to No One

William Myrl; Letters to No One (73)

Dear No One,

I heard about it at breakfast the morning after, Balerider had been vanquished. It was someone from another pod who gave me the news, the arrest had passed entirely beneath my notice. There was an almost festival air in the plant that morning, it was all anyone could talk about, a delicious end to the drama. Jokes were made ad nauseum. 
Words like shoot, pull, member, weapon, and admire all were twisted into Balerider puns.

"Pow pow pow," the inventory clerk would say. "Pow pow pow."

He shot from the hip. Fastest gun in the west. Balerider asked me if I could stand and talk to him while he's in the shower. He signed his grievance in white ink. He said she locked in, right?

No one was particularly incredulous. Balerider had that wierdness about him, an intensity that could make people uncomfortable, especially women. He went out of his way to talk to female officers, nurses, administrators. Stories emerged that he had been caught before. They were believed.

"I'm almost finished."
"That's what Balerider said."

It went on and on, happily ever after. The inmate advisor let slip that Balerider had refused a plea bargain for ten days in seg. He was officially taken off of the list at work. Once payroll went by, he would have to start over from .55 cents even if he was hired again. After about a week the talk petered out. (As had Balerider.)

On day nine, he was released from segregation.

People were friends with him again. I saw him in the pill line after work, he was walking up and down, telling the tale of his woes. He had a five year out of date copy of the shop rules in his shirt, and he would whip it out (heh) for anyone who showed even the most politely cursory interest in what had happened to him. The Balerider version of events went as follows.

Captain A convinced Officer B to falsely accuse him of infraction C. Captain A did this out of retaliation for a grievance Balerider had filed against him four years earlier. The major dropped the charge, and there would be an investigation into the matter. Every big hat he could name had assured him he would be able to go to work on Monday. One of our supervisors walked by on her way out of the compound.
"Hey! Hey! Can I come to work on Monday?"
"Why not?"
"You were terminated."
He insisted, moments thereafter, that the hearings officer had told her he was supposed to be back at work. Apart from the hearings officer having nothing to do with VCE hiring and firing, she had walked by without taking part in the conversation. But even to those who had witnessed the conversation, he would insist the hearings officer had taken part and advocated for him, despite the fact that it simply had not happened.

He yelled at another supervisor as he went by, but this one ignored him.

As far as anyone could piece together, the charge against Balerider could not go to a hearing because the original paper had been "lost" in a room with two lieutenants. The major was somewhat vexed, not about a conspiracy against Balerider, bit because of one in his favor. This happens sometimes, that when an inmate proves particularly useful to security, things slide by. There was a case recently when a yard worker was caught with a knife and kept his job.

On Monday morning the phone calls started. Balerider bullied the booth officer into calling the shop more than once on his behalf. Balerider was informed that he would be given an unauthorized area charge if he attempted to come into work. All day, the joke became, "Balerider's on the phone!" He moved up the ladder, a sergeant, then a lieutenant called on his behalf. If there had ever been a question whether Balerider had some kind of unusual leverage with security, there was none now. 

His argument stemmed from a line in the shop rules that says "an offender in segregation more than fifteen days may be terminated", it is taken out of context, and he used it to mean that since he had not been in segregation fifteen days, he could not be fired. 

What was strange about this delusion was not that he espoused it but that he had so many COs agreeing with him. The building manager in seg had terminated him, completely within his purview, and the plant managers had been happy enough to go along with it. Balerider hadn't burnt any bridges, he'd set the sea on fire.

Outside my door one afternoon, I heard him describing how he was going to "take them to court", and how the managers pay was going to be garnished until Balerider had his back -pay for the days and hours he'd lost since he was taken off the cutting table, and Balerider was going to work there for three weeks then tell them all to go fuck themselves.

His requests and complaints have been filed. All the bighats know who he is. He's got the plant people "dead to rights three ways to Sunday." The general consensus is that Balerider is going to cause so much fuss the facility is going to transfer him just to be rid of the noise. It happened once before, the last time Balerider was fired from the plant, half a dozen years ago.

Hearts and Stars,

William Myrl

Letters to no No One