Do you Count Down your Days in Prison, Why I Do | Chris Warren, an Inmate’s Story

Hey guys, Noah here.

I hope you all had a nice Christmas and holiday! We did plenty of eating and watching TV in here, you can rewind back to where I talk about what holidays are like inside prison if you’re interested.  

But prison is more than watching sports on tv, working out and doing leatherwork. A great debate rages across the United States penal system at every level: Just how do you track your time left in prison?

Do you count days? Do you not count days?

If you count days, how do you count days?

These fundamental questions get to the root of how an “inmate does time” or “bids.”

Here are two different perspectives, the first here in Part One offered by my friend Chris who’s written here on c2s a few times (see: Gifted Table, Bagel Cutter, International Fugitive) and the counter-punch in Part Two will be offered by myself, Noah.

Noah with Inmates 2 | construction2style.com

My friend Chris is all about counting down the days where I am not and here’s him sharing why?

PART ONE: by Chris Warren 
Count Your Days Inmate, And Here is How

As you all know I am about to finish up a 14 year, 7-month prison sentence. I will have served over 11 actual years “inside” since this journey started, and I have counted the days, months, and years, the entire time I have been in.

That will total for over 4,050 days of incarceration. Each day marked on a calendar, each year and holiday season marked, and each birthday season of my children, parents, and friends recorded with cards and well wishes sent.

To some, this may sound like a horrifying proposition. In fact, many men I have met over the past 11 years, nine facilities, and various security levels have tried to persuade me to “stop the madness.”

But they knew then as I know now that I am not alone in this. Probably since the beginning of incarceration being a thing, inmates have counted days. With charcoal or scratches on a wall, calendars, tattoos, or totems – many of us count, track, and document the days.

The offer from the other side was tempting though. It sounded more comfortable, and I tried it for a while. Got rid of the calendar. Stopped thinking about days, months, and years. And it was more comfortable. But in my heart, I felt like I was robbing someone, or actually, multiple people. And that, in some sick way, I was lying to myself.

Here’s the long and short of my perception on this topic: by not counting the days I trivialize or minimize what has happened and its severity, thereby undercutting the suffering others have endured because of me and my own suffering.

I count the days.

My hiatus from counting was short-lived, maybe less than three or four months back in 2011. Effectively I have counted each day. On my locker wall, right now, are the last two calendar months of my prison bid, with many of the December advent days marked off with an “X” and a date in January circled for my departure from this version of my life.

By counting the days, I make each day matter.

I recognize what it has cost.

Each day is a day I was not able to pick up my boys from school, be there for a play, or for a football game.

Each of the eleven Christmases is a holiday where my parents had a missing body at their table.

Each month that passed was another month where a primary wage earner for my family was absent, creating a huge burden on the mother of my children and my parents, and potentially dropping a generation of my family from the middle class into the working poor or worse.

My incarceration has a huge cost.

In other words: my past choices have had huge consequences for many people. For my children, their mother, my siblings, and my parents. For me, I was a professional, holding licenses in multiple states for banking, lending, and brokering services in real estate. Each day is another day removed from the working world, another day without retraining, and a day closer to my new reality – unlicensed, unable to return to the field of my training and expertise, and a good deal older than fresh high school and college graduates who find themselves in similar positions as myself. Each day has mattered.

So I count each day.

And I have worked diligently over 11 years to make each day count in a positive way.

By building the foundations of my own life for the future on more solid ground so I don’t have the same type of egoism and lack of moral turpitude that led to my incarceration in the first place. I have earned five college degrees, and am almost done with an MBA. I have spoken to middle school, high school, and college students over thirty times in three states from three different facilities about the power of making choices – good and bad.

Each day counts. So I count each day.

The good and bad of each day, and what it has meant, for me and others, teaches me that life is precious. Not to be taken for granted. Not to be wasted, or trivialized.

So I count each day.

And as I have said to Noah before, I have earned each one of the days in that 4,050. My children have earned them. My ex-wife has earned them. My parents have earned them. And since they have been earned, and there has been a price, they should be counted.

Then comes the argument over how to count days.

This was never really an issue until I became friends with this big, friendly, semi-adonis named Noah. And he laughs, continually, at the way I was taught to count days by other inmates. I was always taught to “never count the day you are living” and to “never count the day you leave prison.” So if it is February 1st and you leave on February 14th, you have “twelve days and a wake-up.”

This is how inmates around the country say it: “twelve days and a wake-up.”

To some, including my friend Noah, THIS is a form of lying to myself! By deluding myself into thinking I have less time left to serve than I actually do. But then I must say the logic I was taught has some solid ground to stand on. At least it made sense when I heard it. Then I heard it again at another prison from another man, and from another at another. So maybe I am just suffering from the same type of echo chamber that dominant cable news outlets suffer from 🙂

But it goes something like this:

  1. An inmate doesn’t count the day they are on because there aren’t 24 hours left in it.
  2. An inmate doesn’t count the last day when they leave because when they go to sleep on that day, it won’t be in prison.

And since I could not refute these two reasons, I have adopted them, much to the chagrin of my friend, and some others out here living that Yankton FPC life.

As may be deduced, there is no shortage of quasi-intellectual debating and speculation in prison life.

And there you have it. Why I, Chris, have counted over 4,000 days of incarceration, and why I say my release days in the form of “X and a wake-up.”

May I find forgiveness if I have done this in error! I hope you are all well out there, and remember, count the day and make every day count.

From the inside, 
Chris Warren

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