First, I was called in on April 20th, two days before I went to quarantine, and they told me they were working on getting me an earlier home confinement date. My case manager reluctantly told me the date they were looking at was May 6th, she then gave me a number to the halfway house and advised me to call my mother to ask her to give them a call and install a landline. My head became filled with childish excitement and skepticism. So I took the logical next step, I started packing, and giving all my excess stuff away. A move I would later regret.
The conversation with my mom was full of excitement and anxiety on both ends. I could tell my mom was nervous about me coming home, and I was nervous too. But there was no time to process, so I thought, but once I got into quarantine, I realized I had plenty.
Quarantine was 15 days of semi-solitary confinement. The unit was Kingsbury; I lived here for three years when I first arrived at Yankton five years ago, before I went down to the Residential Drug Abuse Program housing unit (Durand). The unit had been closed a year earlier, because the population had dipped below 500, and it was consuming additional money. That left Durand (my unit) and Lloyd, completely packed (or almost), which became not ideal living conditions when a virus killing pandemic hits, with roughly 250 inmates in each unit.
So the deal is, whoever you go over to the quarantine unit with, will be your roommates for the duration of your stay. I went by myself, therefore I was alone the whole time. This was both a blessing and a curse. I am extremely extroverted, and after a week, I realized I was going insane and longing for conversation.
So what did I do with my time? I wrote 100 pages in a notebook, read five books, thought way too much, and got a little weird.
The rules of quarantine were simple, stay in your room, leaving only for bathroom use. You were supposed to announce anytime you left your room, and only one room could leave at a time. Once 30 inmates were packed into the range, it was impossible to follow this rule strictly, so we did the best we could to maintain social distancing. We got yelled at a couple of times, threatened to be sent back to the general population, but in the end, they were just blowing smoke.
Days 1-7 (detox)
So, after doing almost seven years in prison, getting out of the culture, a detox, was the most amazing thing in the world. Throughout my prison time, all I wanted was some peace and quiet, and this is coming from someone who struggles with being alone at times. I’m a super social person, and companionship is what makes me happiest. Eventually, in prison, you get over that feeling, because you rarely can find, “me time.”
Once I got to quarantine, I quickly realized that I was going to get plenty of it.
In the first seven days, I wrote in my journal every single day how much I appreciated the Memorex digital clock radio, that each room received upon entering the unit.
In prison, if you are listening to any type of audio, music on your MP3 player, radio, or watching TV, the sounds are coming through headphones of some sort. This radio had speakers. It’s one of those things that you don’t know actually matter until you can’t do it. There I was staring out the window for hours, rotating between country and pop. From 6 am when I woke up, until 10 pm when I went to sleep, the radio stayed on. Taylor Swift’s, “The Man” was my anthem; I stopped whatever I was doing when it came on, I went over by the radio and belted out the lyrics I knew and guessed at the ones I didn’t.
One thing I regretted early on in quarantine is giving all my stuff away, even after knowing that I still have to do another two weeks. I guess I blacked out, and by the time I came to, my locker was empty. I had five flat books of stamps (20 stamps = one flat book), they told me there would be no email or phone access, which leaves only snail mail (post office). I realized I screwed up as soon as I got there and wanted to write someone a letter.
I also gave away most of my food, thinking if I needed more, I could buy it once I am over there. Well, I’m now here, and I got the commissary slip in my hand. It’s the same one they give the people in the hole (disciplinary housing unit), as for food, your options are chocolate bars and snack crackers, three of each. So I started rationing what I had left. I could eat a protein bar every other day, one rice cake a day, one scoop of peanut butter, plenty of oatmeal, and two handfuls of nuts.
I start to think this is actually going to be a nice break before I go home!
The first seven days were full of serenity, surrender, and peaceful bliss, that changed with week two!
Days 8-12 (going insane)
The novelty of the first week wore off by day eight. I often found myself pacing my floor, the long way which happened to be exactly 20-12″ tiles, I counted, numerous times, and then I drew a picture of the room. Then I drew a picture of the bathroom, the hallway, and the prison yard (outside recreation) that I could see from out my window. This illustration included a key, describing what each symbol meant. I am a terrible drawer, but I drew regardless, trying to make trees, grass, the fence around the perimeter, picnic tables, workout stations, basketball, volleyball, and handball courts, the track, and sidewalks, and street lights.
I started to question things, “I am starting to wonder how someone could possibly do years in solitary confinement. I guess because they have to. My time is simple 15 days and 18 hours with glorious light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m still struggling.”
“It’s day 10, and all hope is gone and everything I previously said is now out the window. Chris, I apologize, you were correct on counting days, not only am I checking them off one day at a time, but I am not counting the day I leave, or the day I am on.”
I made a homemade calendar, and I usually check the current day off by noon, because I am so anxious to get it over with.
If you want to step into my shoes for an hour, I have an exercise for you. Stop whatever you are doing and find a watch or clock. Okay, now sit still and watch each second tick off and count each minute for 60 minutes, welcome to my world.
I also have criticized Ivan, my “bunkie,” numerous times throughout our time spent together and now look at me. I’m eating drowsy allergy tablets like a kid eats his Halloween candy. One night I slept for 16 hours. On top of that, I am no longer reading self-help or biographies, mindless reading only. I just took 50 Shades Darker off the book cart, and I haven’t even read the first one, and I love every page of it. I know it wasn’t more than a couple of weeks ago when I said I was done with novels, I believe it was “Doing Time or Wasting Time,” but I am hanging on by a thread here.
On day 12, I almost threw the radio out the window. I couldn’t listen to music anymore. I often found myself dancing in the room, no music on, and talking to myself at times. I promise, I never responded.
I started writing words in my notebook to remind me how lucky I was.
I also realized on day 12 that I hadn’t done a single step from my 12-step program since I arrived. I knew Dennis would ask me the second I got out, so I started for that reason. Within two questions, I realized this is what’s been missing. That easily I snapped out of it. I knocked out roughly eight questions, because question nine demanded action, and I promised to start the next day with it.
Days 13-15 (home stretch)
Day 13 started with prayer, the action that was requested from the step from the night before, and it set the tone for the day. Something else happened on day 13, a blessing sent from God to cheer me up, and it worked, Ben arrived.
Not only did Ben arrive, but they put him right next door, so I knew we could get away with standing in our doorways and having conversations. Ben became my life coach over the year that I knew him. He’s a sales guy, and discussions with him generally leave you feeling motivated.
On day 14, Ben motivated me, but first, I had to admit he was right. He told me flat out, well before the coronavirus hit, that I was going to be getting back to my family early. He didn’t know if it was May, August, or anywhere in between, but it was going to happen. I told him he was crazy, and that September is my date and that’s what I’m focusing on.
So now we are standing in our doorways, both being released early, he was right. He told me, it doesn’t matter who was right, what matters is we are leaving. Then he began to tell me the power of positive thinking, and how it translates to every aspect of your life, especially sales.
“It’s all about selling yourself first. Because if you can’t even convince yourself, then you are already dead. Your business will fail, relapse will be waiting around the corner, and the next step is back to prison.”
Having recently finished my post on, “Self Doubt,” this saying now rings more true than ever.
I walked out the next day on May 7th. I slept good my last night, which is rare for most inmates. I was also up bright and early, packed, showered, and waiting anxiously for my name to be called. The rest is history and documented in “I’m coming home” and “First Week Out Of Prison! Now What?”
Thanks for being there,