Now granted I have been to prison more than once and the whole process is at best a learning experience, I’m not really sure I would go as far as to express a lot of rehabilitation. Yet like everything in life, it is an opportunity. Like most opportunities, you can get out of it based on what you put into it.
Going to prison has sure educated me in the whole process of understanding just what it is to be incarcerated. I myself being somewhat of a fast learner I didn’t need a 10 to 20-year sentence to understand the whole being locked up scenario. Believe me, there are many who have spent many more years than me behind bars.
Being in California and I basically fell under the drug offender type sentencing which was famous for following a 16 / 2/ and 3 sentencing pattern. That means 1st offense was 16 months, 2nd offense was 2 years, and the third offense was 3 years. If there happened to be a 4th offense, well they just encouraged you to run for public office.
All and all I had already done my 1st offense of 16 months and while out on parole and still active in my addiction I was arrested for breaking into cars where I had found some knick-knacks and a gun. The short version of the story would be along the lines of “a felon with a gun gets 5 years automatic,” I mean that is the law in most states. Not so fast. Call it “Luck of the Irish” or “God Had His Hand on Me,” or maybe just my “Winning Day at the Lottery!” It seemed that the gun I stole out of a vehicle, which by the way was parked right outside of an establishment known for prostitution, just happened to belong to an off-duty police officer.
Now I am not jumping to conclusions, but neither was the city. They were not going to allow the press to get a hold of this little mishap and quietly decided not to charge me for the police officer’s gun I was in possession of. Granted, I had broken the law, so they felt the best-case scenario would be to violate my parole and return me to prison for a year.
Usually on a sentence in the California Department of Corrections in the 80’s you were given what they called 2 for 1, every one day of incarceration you received credit for 2 days. Granted there were some stipulations – you were required to brush your teeth, not talk back, and the big one, don’t kill anybody. Follow these few rules and you would qualify for the 2 for 1 statute. Except there were certain offenses that did not qualify and well, guns fell into that category.
Doing time was different for everyone with a big emphasis placed on keeping busy, which was called “doing your program.” This was different for everyone, yet generally meant to keep busy doing a repetitive daily schedule of events to occupy your time. Some did a lot of exercises and weight lifting, others were always playing cards, many read, and there were a few opportunities to hold some type of job where you worked to add to the running of the prison such as laundry, chow hall, library, cleaning, fighting forest fires, and well the list goes on. Usually, everyone fell into one or more of these areas filling their day staying busy doing time.
I found myself fighting forest fires, but not able to keep my mouth shut and my hands to myself I found myself in lockdown at the famous Folsom Prison in a 2-man cell with Albert. Albert was serving 3 life sentences for I’m going to guess murder, but he really wasn’t the talkative type especially when it came to his crimes. By the way, those who think Jonny Cash was also incarcerated at the famous Folsom Prison in Folsom, California would be wrong. He did perform for the guests at this fine facility at which time he requested overnight lodging in a holding cell and they obliged. That was almost 20 years before my time there, yet Albert told me all about it.
Everyone did time differently but those of us who had a realistic understanding of when they were going to be released did some type of counting. Years, months, weeks and there were those who to me were not so smart, counted days. I myself used the milk carton method which prompted me to count weeks up until I saw my parole date on the milk carton. You know, the expiration date. Every morning they would bring our trays to our cell with breakfast and there was always a very small carton of milk on each tray. Once I saw my release date as the expiration date on the milk carton, well it was time to prepare for going home. Maybe that was a little dramatic because I really didn’t have a home except for prison. One thing for sure, I was going to be released and soon.
What goes through your mind when being released from prison? Of course, nowadays things are a bit different upon release as to how and where you go. Back then in California upon your release, you were driven to the bus station with a ticket to whatever town you were originally arrested in. I mean that makes sense right? You were given $100 when released and a promise to receive another $100 upon your first check-in with the parole department.
Now there was a large number of folks in prison who to a degree were somewhat really ok with being in prison as that is all they knew, they were comfortable in a sense, and often that was generationally a way of life. There was not a lot of responsibility, rent was cheap, utilities were free, and the chances of you starving to death were really minimal. This was not so much the case with me. Granted I did have a lazy side to my thinking and found myself falling somewhat into that thought process “well as a backup plan there is always prison.”
This is my second departure from prison with somewhat of a pattern developing in my thinking, what is it that I am going to do? Running for a public office was always on the table, yet I didn’t quite qualify just yet. I mean being Irish and a bit shady what could go wrong? Not dwelling on that too much, I did feel changing my scenery or location might prove to be a benefit. Where would I go, where would I work, how do I provide just the basics for myself, what about my addiction and love of the whole drug scene, which by the way only looks appealing standing on the outside looking in. It’s crazy how your mind works. I’ve been doing this so long, what’s going to be different this time, what are my resources, where would I go for help? I really didn’t have any supportive network or family set up. Let’s face it, who even cared?
I did. Really, it was important to me that I succeeded, became some positive element in society, but then reality kicked in. Doesn’t everyone leaving prison want to succeed to some degree and yet they continued to ride the whole revolving door policy of the judicial system? Not me, not this time, I have a bus to catch. Right now, it’s just putting one foot in front of the other and all I keep repeating to myself is “I’m not going back to visit Albert, I’m not going back to visit Albert, I’m not going back to visit Albert.”