Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Transformation Within the Jail/Prison Culture

I want to write often, as many things come to my mind, but so much relates to the details of my case and as you know that part has been shut down for the time.  In staying with the purpose of my blog I have somewhat limited my scope.  In thinking over this dilema I have returned to my book draft and the very earliest experiences of my case, I believe there are things I can speak to as they have nothing to do with my defense, the prosecution, pretrial hearings or the trial itself. 

As a business woman, mom and rule follower, not at all acquainted with our justice system, I found I was in for an enormous culture shock.  Part of the preparation I had to handle this was in the 70's at the University of New Mexico.  I had taken a few sociology and psychology classes and from one of those had a reading assignment that made a tremendous impact on my thinking.  Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock" was the beginning of my training grounds.  His definition of "future shock" was "too much change in too short a period of time".  Ah, yes that certainly did happen to me.  While Toffler was talking about the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaving us disconnected and with a feeling of "shattering stress and disorientation", I could apply that feeling to the culture I found in the bowels of our justice system, that being the county jail in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  In addition, my many years of attending courses at The Option Institute in Sheffield, MA, coupled with my Christian beliefs brought me through the experience.

I was first contacted by a Dallas PD detective December 9, 2003.  I was then indicted by a Grand Jury in March 2004.  I was officially notified of that indictment by a call from the DPD detective on the morning of April 5, 2004.  Following that call I spoke to several attorneys both in New Mexico and Texas.  I was arrested 48 hours later on April 7, as I was on the phone arranging payment and transfer of information to a Dallas attorney.  I was taken to the county jail in Santa Fe.  It was an entire week before I was released on bail.  That week is what I want to share with you over the next couple blog posts.  Following is an excerpt from my book draft:

     Being in jail was like walking into a whole different country with a completely new language.  My first 32 hours were spent in the holding cell.  There were 8 to 10 of us women at any time, dressed in red pants and shirts, sitting on benches that surround the inner wall, with a metal toilet sitting at one end of the room.  At the other end was the door which was bolted, latched and electronically controlled, with a long thin window.  The walls were made of cinder block and painted a dreary white, the floors were cement, which I understand is quite vogue these days.  This was a stark contrast from the last time I stayed overnight in Santa Fe at the beautiful La Fonda Inn on the square with my two young sons.

     There was absolutely nothing to do, so we all just talked like we'd known each other for years.  Now some had heard of each other or knew of family members or distant relatives and a couple had an old boyfriend in common.  This appeared to be a very small world that seemed to reacquaint itself from generation to generation inside these barricaded walls.  Some were buying their supplies of crack from another's mother, while others were looking for a new source.  This holding cell was a true place for "power" networking, depending on how one defines power.

     Every sentence spoken had the "F-word" at least once and one time I was able to count up to four "F-words" in one sentence.  I had to ask the woman how she did that, I was amazed at how she structured the sentence, and would have written it down if I'd only had a paper and pencil.  The "F-word" can be used as an adjective, verb, noun, pronoun, adverb, even a dangling participle.  To think, Webster's doesn't even seem to know this.

     It took about three hours before anyone asked me why I was there; I hadn't offered and was content to listen to everybody else's stories.  But, even there, the rules of being a group member apply.  Once I started to explain, it seemed they were mesmerized because my story was so different from the others and we spent the next two hours on the subject of autism, belief systems and changing attitudes that create new beliefs.

     What seemed to take place in those two hours was a group of women with very little hope transforming to a place of hope.  After all, if there can be hope for these special needs kids who have been written off by society, couldn't there also be hope for them?  This is a transformation they were able to generalize for themselves, it was not a thought I had directed.  As humans, when we hear something, we naturally put it in perspective by seeing how it relates to self.  After just three hours in jail, I had become an avid student of my fellow inmates, learning and adapting to this new culture.  And, within four hours I found myself informally teaching (albeit to a captured audience) belief systems and how they mold our experiences.

     "No place to go, nothing to do."  Those were the words in a recent relaxation exercise in which I had participated.  These words were meant to clear the clutter and chatter we carry in our heads.  In jail, there were hours where time ticked away slower than I could barely stand, and to think I had actually worked at finding this place in my mind just a few weeks earlier.  Everything I had come to know in the healing of my life was being tested.  I found it difficult to sit still, especially since I didn't know how long I would be there and if they would ship me to Texas, regardless of my fear for my life.  I knew the key to my sanity was to move out of these thoughts and stay completely in the present moment.  I remembered one of the quotes from Barry Neil Kaufman's books "Unhappiness exists either as a regret about the past or a worry about the future.  The cure: be present."  I had the answer, now it was up to me to find that place of peacefulness and calm inside of me, only focusing on the moment.

     While public speaking and training others I had taught people we are in charge of our every life experience, I was struggling to hold that lesson for myself through the long, excruciating hours.  I had to keep taking charge of my wandering fearful and angry thoughts.  In the past I could move on by just consuming myself with doing something and quite often that took the form of allowing numbers to just wash through my existence.  Someone in the cell started counting the cinder blocks to make the time go by.  Those numbers did not comfort me; they only served to irritate me.  I could not use my left brain to hide this time; I had to pull from the depths of my soul to keep going.

     Another thing I had to learn was my every request would be ignored.  I supposed this was some form of behavior modification, perhaps trying to teach us this was not the place to be.  Or maybe this is where people worked who had a need to wield power over those who are helpless and did so under the guise of the penal system.  I suspect the answer is both behavior modification and bullying needs being met; another form of displaced anger which continues to be fueled.  I remember thinking, no wonder most inmates don't rehabilitate, there appears to be two responses to this treatment, one is anger and the other is to withdraw, each a matter of survival.  I thought of the children who had come to us at The NOAH Project (special school for children with autism) from a behavior modification discipline and how some came in very angry and violent while the others were completely exclusive (within their own world), there seemed no middle ground.

     Instead of the two extremes, I wanted that middle ground.  I was looking for a happy place inside of me so time would pass effortlessly and I could create the best experience for myself moment to moment with every person I met, rather that person was a jailer, inmate or visitor.  This became my focus and I found myself a much happier participant of what originally seemed to be an unfriendly, rigid system.  I wanted to move beyond the survival mode to a place of meaningful existence.

     There were times I could feel anger building and building inside of me, like a spiral down to darkness.  There was anger toward my false accusers and the Detective.  Sometimes the anger circled in my head as if it would explode and I would ask myself the questions, "How is this anger helping me?  Is it somehow serving me?" and the answer was always "No."  Then I'd remind myself, what we focus on becomes bigger.  Years earlier, while working with Nate (my special needs son) in our home based program, I had decided to commit myself to love, compassion and being present to live each moment fully.  By the end of the second day in jail I re-upped that commitment and repeated if often through those first four days.

     I found I had to consciously direct my focus on what I wanted.  When I did this, I was able to create much more positive actions which clearly served me.  Eventually my focus for what I wanted became constant and a calm came over me.  I came to believe no matter what happened I would be okay, letting go of the results and trusting, how often I had taught that to parents of children with autism.  I then grew that light by giving myself a mental exercise of listing in my head, all that I was grateful for and sending that list up to God, it helps to share.  I felt an intense sweet joy in those moments, a most unlikely attitude under these circumstances, but oh how it served me and my desire to have a meaningful existence.

I will continue with the story of that week when I make my next post.  Until then, think of all that you are grateful for and up the amps by 1,000.... Don't forget to share your gratitude as part of upping those amps!  WOW, what a difference that can make in your life!

1 comment:

  1. What a message for all of us, Audrey!!
    Thank you for it!!!!!!!

    (I still have this Monday down to come see you...!!!)