Letters From Prison 2006 #4- A Roller Coaster of Hope and Despair

A Roller Coaster of Hope and Despair
By Steve Clemens, FPC Duluth, MN. April 18,2006

I've seen this before in prison--getting your hopes up that something "special" has arisen in your case meaning that you'll get released sooner, have an appeal granted, or...(fill in the blank).

"Beetlejuice" (that's the nickname he prefers over his given name, Stacy) came back to the room this morning ecstatic. "I just talked to a guy in the library who used to be an attorney. He says I just have to file Form #___ and I will automatically qualify for a half-way house." I asked him where he would get such a form (from our "counselor" [sic]) and whether he'd cooperate with filing it. Beetle burst out, "I'll be out of here--two weeks max. They have to give it to you."

Talk around the compound the past few days has been about a new court decision which affects anyone sentenced to more than one year. Twenty-five years ago, back when there was credit for "good time" given if one did not have it revoked for disciplinary reasons, one could go to a half-way house early if you didn't have violence on your "jacket" (the file of your criminal history). In the rush to "get tough on crime" during the Reagan years, "good time" was done away with in Federal prisons and it was to be replaced with more realistic sentences which would remove such selective judgments from one's length of incarceration. But this new supposed court victory that everyone is talking about has given rise to all kinds of speculation.

Beetle, who only has a couple days more than two months of his relatively short 18 month sentence to serve, claimed that with his disability (he was run over by a combine 12 years ago and collects SSI) they’ll probably just give him an ankle bracelet and let him finish his sentence at home in Northern Iowa. “I just have to file this form and they must approve it—it’s a slam dunk!”

At lunch time for the past two days there has been a lineup of “dignitaries”--the chaplain, some “counselors,” Case and Unit Managers, and today—the Warden and the Associate Warden. I haven’t met them yet, so I asked some other convicts which one was the warden since I’ve only seen his/her? name on some documents or notices posted to bulletin boards. “Did you see that big guy with the sports coat and a mustache? He’s the Associate Warden. The Warden is that little black guy who is dressed like a pimp.” Now that brought a smile to my face.

Anyway, I’m told “he’s a nice guy.” Beetle comes back to the room after lunch and says, “I talked with the Warden and he says I’m too short to qualify for the early release.” (Too short means you don’t have enough time left on your sentence to “bother” with the extra paperwork). I told him he should file it anyway, because it is your right to do it. Immediately the other two of my roommates said, “No—you don’t want to piss off the Warden; he can make your life hell for the rest of your time here.”

“But,” Beetle adds, “he did say if Dr. LaSalle here keeps threatening me with having to work (thus revoking his disability status), he’ll intervene for me.” Hope and despair. Hope again and be ready to be crushed again. Novice and transient that I am in this penal system, I said that I’d file the form anyway, insisting they do their jobs. We are constantly lectured to “obey the law” yet every day this prison violates Federal law regarding minimum standards for treatment of federal prisoners. But most are vulnerable here. They are told that “camp” is a privilege and if you cause too much “trouble,” you are likely to be shipped off to a higher-security (and greater hassle) prison.

So, Beetle continues to sleep away his days and evenings. Despair doesn’t give one extra energy and hope, although it springs eternal, fades quickly in this confinement. I hope he at least can dream he is free.

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