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Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media VIII

Once the Coffee Man had caught up on his sleep, he began to talk. At first, he restricted his conversation to mild, rather creative epithets hurled at the guards. Some of these were good enough to elicit suppressed grins from their targets and absolute guffaws from detainees.

God, it was good to laugh. By this time, any doubt that I had fully emerged from depression dissolved like Alka Seltzer in water. Indeed, there was even an effervescent quality to the thoughts I tried to suppress in order to deal with incarceration. The key to navigating time in jail is to live in the moment. Any successful inmate keeps her/his thoughts of the world beyond the walls tightly controlled. Inside or out, it never pays to worry about things one cannot control unless there is a determination to make colossal change.

There I was in jail under the most ludicrous pretexts and my head was exactly where it should have been. And I was laughing. After so many months of emotional turmoil, this realization was like finding a strong box full of cash while digging up weeds in my backyard. I knew then and there that regardless of how long I was to be deprived of my freedom, I’d be OK. All I needed was to get processed and placed on a unit so I could start working the phone. In the interim, I kicked it with my cellies.

Over the years, I’ve talked with people who have had limited or no experience with the justice system. Many seem to believe that people in jail sit around feeling sorry for themselves and commiserating. That may be true for some prisoners, but most are preoccupied with either getting out or getting comfortable.

The routine pressures of life are amplified behind bars. Everyone has her/his own problems and those looking for sympathy are shunned. The exchange of information, however, is another matter. When an inmate decides to discuss details of her/his case with others, she/he tends to be analytical rather than emotional. Anyone angling to slip a legal snafu can best help her-/himself by conversing with those who have walked the walk, and one cannot expect truth if one isn’t willing to offer it. This is not to say that jail is some kind of wholesale confessional booth. No one walks around extending her/his hand to a total stranger and says “Hi! I’m Blankety-Blank and I’m totally guilty! Wanna play Spades?” Cagey detainees say only what they think is prudent at a given time.

On the other hand, any detainee obviously experiencing an emotional collapse can quickly find her-/himself sitting alone in the day room wearing a proverbial bulls eye on her/his back. Even worse, such a collapse can preclude one’s abilities to learn and adapt. While in the bullpen, I had a chance to observe every man that entered or exited the place. It was clear to me that, over time, some might fare better than others, but there wasn’t a rookie in the room.

The Coffee Man? He’d certainly been around. He was doubtless a student of the “When Life Gives You Lemons…” school of thought. When the guards served us what passed for lunch, his reaction to the substances in the styrofoam trays was hysterical. Most guys in the cell laughed themselves to tears, me included. What a terrific start to my stay.

Wait…there’s more!

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