Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Simple Appeal

Hello, world. I've been having a minor writer's block lately, or more so an everything block. Not much has changed in regards to my habitat. My neighbor and friendly acquaintance, The Sicilian, has moved from the upper tier (where I reside) to the bottom floor. This is unfortunate since we now have to scream to communicate, but good for him considering he got a radio out of the deal. Other than that my shorts are still orange, my windows are still bulletproof and my butlers are still on time to interrupt my imaginary adventures displayed on the underside of my eyelids.

I find my days mostly exciting, but still at times stressful and frustrating. The excitement is a product of my nascent interest in everything. It derives and is fed through the literature I read, the news I follow and the correspondence I keep with many interesting and special people. I have four cousins (mother, father and two sons) who recently moved to the island of Jakarta in Indonesia. The father keeps a blog and I exchange emails with his wife and get interesting updates about what life is like in such a different place. I have an uncle who lives a few miles from the penitentiary. He is probably my favorite pen pal simply due to the rich substance of our conversations. We talk politics, philosophy, news and every now and then just how each of our lives are going.

He has something around forty years seniority on me along with a trough of intellectual experience and wisdom that I am very fortunate to be welcomed to inquire on. I state my opinions based off a half-forgotten elementary education and my current stint with auto-didactism and usually get put in check on most subjects, but that is a piece of what makes our relationship so meaningful. These are just two examples of a large and supportive family who have truly been wonderfully unconditional in their love. I also have two dedicated and interesting parents as well as a lovely, mischievous and clever little sister. I have many cousins, aunts and uncles who even amidst this epic of a decade find the time to drop me a line and say, "I love you" every now and then.

My excitement and blessings truly outweigh my frustrations, so much so I almost forgot to elaborate on the latter. Well, I'd say the source of my discontent pretty much boils down to conflicting actions opposed to my aspirations - meaning the procrastination that so often cripples the potential extent of my perseverance. Simply: I'm enjoying my learning, but waste time thinking about wanting to learn more and the possibility that I'm not learning enough. Can you relate? I could also use some suggestions on how to read critically and effectively and techniques on expanding my vocabulary. I'd appreciate even the slightest suggestion.

Until next time, take care - don't be square.

Note from the "scribe." Should you have suggestions (i.e. websites, resources, etc.) to pass along to Sway, please feel free to leave comments here and/or send an email to I'll be sure he gets it!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Letter to an Addict - "fiction"

Dearest Me,

Wake up, slap yourself! It's Me, You, and somehow I'm sending Us a letter from Myself in the future. I know what you're thinking, Pal. You think that it is considerably far into the future. Far enough that technology has granted Me the ability to send our foolish, younger self a warning through some sort of time traveling fax machine. You're probably surprised we're still alive. You are also likely thinking I am now a pathetic and toothless old man who got lent the stereotypical idea while enduring his 314th trip to rehab to write his not so bright younger self an urgent message reporting the tragic news on just how devastating a toll that first shot of whiskey has taken on his poor brittle bones... or something.

Actually, no, it's only next year, not much farther into the future than tomorrow and to admit that I understand how You, Myself, is actually reading this non-existent note is way beyond my own faith in the potential greatness of future technology. When this note is finished I plan on slipping it into a state-issued envelope addressed to our wonderful mother still living in Los Angeles. I'll then hope it is somehow sucked into a portal that is kind and understanding enough to teleport its contents somewhere near a city sidewalk, last year, soon to be crossed by an ignorant and reckless young man on his way to spend his last greasy one hundred dollar bill on a peculiar brown, toffee-like substance barely the size of a gumball. You know who and what I'm talking about, Me. And you are probably expecting at this point for me to direct you to turn around, go home and ask our fiscally responsible father to invest that stained one hundred dollar bill in gold, identity theft protection or something - you know - with "promise."

Alright then brother - go home now, turn around, the destination you've chosen happens to be an empty and forsaken place. When was the last time you told that wonderful mother or fiscally responsible father that you love them? When I venture to be realistic I realize that these words are no use. You will continue your quest to buy the sticky heroin and when your itch has been relieved you will then go home and tell mom and dad how much you love them. Sounds good. Unfortunately the next time you will get a chance to tell your mother how wonderful she is, you two will be separated by a piece of bullet proof glass. Your eyes will sweat briefly in harmony with hers, but your tears will not drain on her behalf. Your pain will be selfish but justified for such torment suppressed is likely to leak every now and then.

As I continue to write you, my friend, I playfully expect to suddenly disappear and be where I would have been if we would have listened to that adversarial voice, the unconditionally loving, forever sabotaging, Myself. But as I sink back to reality once again you whisper, "It's no use." Even if science fiction were to play a part in these affairs, a miraculous letter appearing at your feet wouldn't hold more than an initial shock. These words are no different than the nagging spirit that chimes in every time you begin to do something I deem extremely foolish and vice versa. What an ambivalent conscience we have! And what an irony it is, the lack of respect it's been provided. And you are with me now. I don't need a time machine to tell you anything. Sometimes I want to hate you and sometimes I exhaust myself doing so, but like a small child scored for an unconscious mistake, the contempt is never any match for the power that is wrought through patience, love and understanding.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Indecent Exposure

"Frankl came away from Auschwitz convinced that there are two basic types of people: decent ones or indecent ones. Here's the interesting thing, decency and indecency do not fall along national political lines. There were decent Nazi guards just as there were indecent inmates." --Oliver Thomas (USA Today)

I'm not comparing this state penitentiary to a Nazi prison camp, but as I read this paragraph today in my newspaper I thought, "Couldn't have said it better myself."

I've been struggling a bit lately dealing with my anger when I come across an "indecent" personality. First of all, we all have our own perceptions of what defines "decent" along with "indecent." Some of my associates both in prison and out are most likely considered "indecent" by someone's moral standards. In fact, I think it's fair to say everyone on this planet has been thought of as indecent at one point in their life or another. But what is it that actually defines a decent or indecent person?

In the past I've mysteriously embraced a life of crime. I've done some things that most definitely had more negative effects than positive. I've run drugs and guns, stolen things and have sabotaged many would-be meaningful relationships in the name of drugs, alcohol and the instant gratification of selfish oblivion. I trashed excellent job offers, abandoned musical and artistic talents, not to mention a wonderfully "decent" family. Am I a decent person? I still think so.

I sit in a cell now 23 hours a day. My fate depends on my arch enemies - correctional officers. They bring me food, books, paper, pens and toilet paper. They bring me clean sheets and clothes. They walk me to a phone to call friends and family five times a week and to shower three times a week. Every time I leave my cell it's in handcuffs. I'm paying my debt. My "indecent" behavior has caught up with me.

I haven't felt the sun on my face going on seven months. I'm allowed two books and two newspapers/magazines in my cell at a time. I love to read. There's a hole in my wall, so sometimes I talk for hours with my neighbor. His name is Thumper. He's been incarcerated for five years and in all that time he's been visited only once. I'd say he's a "decent" enough guy. Some of the interests we share are in politics, history and exercising. We exercise a lot.

I thought it would be nice to choose a book and then both get a copy of it sent in. We planned to read during the day and have a discussion regarding what we read at night. Kind of like a book club. We chose an anchor of a book on the old British prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Since Thumper doesn't have much, if any, family support, I asked my family to send him his copy. I received my copy a few weeks ago and we've been awaiting the arrival of his. Today the property officer, a guy named Gonzales, came up to my cell and instantly began to play what I call "cops and robbers." He started ridiculously interrogating me about the book as if Winston Churchill had recently transformed into a bag of crystal meth. He asked why my family sent us both a copy. I told him it was none of his business. He stormed off, refusing to give Thumper his copy. No more book club. That, my friends, is what I call a prime example of an "indecent" person... to say the very least.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ship of Fools - on Vonnegut's Galapagos

"Leon! Leon! Leon!" he implored. "The more you learn about people, the more disgusted you'll become. I would have thought that your being sent by the wisest men in your country, supposedly, to fight a nearly endless, thankless, horrifying and finally pointless war (emphasis: Vietnam) would have given you sufficient information into the nature of humanity to last you throughout all eternity!

"Need I tell you that these same wonderful animals which you apparently still want to learn more and more about, are at this very moment proud as punch to have weapons in place, all set to go at a moments notice, guaranteed to kill everything?

"Like the people on this accursed ship, my boy, they are led by captains who have no charts or compasses, and who deal minute to minute with no problem more substantial than how to protect their own self-esteem."

These words spoken to the haunting narrator, Leon Froutsky Trout of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Galapagos, by his even more dead father, Kilgore Trout, are part of his plea to Leon to end his days of haunting the world as a curious decapitated ghost and join him by agreeing to enter the squirming blue tunnel into the afterlife.

"Had enough of the ship of fools, my boy? You come to Papa right now. Turn me down this time and you won't see me again for a million years."

None of us knows exactly, if it does exist, what awaits us in the afterlife. But imagine for a minute you are Leon, a conscious if not living soul, having been undead for some time already when your father appears in a blue portal for the fourth time begging for you to leave at once this senseless, confusing, at times diabolical "ship of fools" and join your family and friends in something that might or might not be paradise, but is certainly the answer to that internationally common question, "What happens after we bite the dust?" What would you do? If I had to guess, I'd say most of us would gladly skip into the portal without thinking twice or even looking back.

As it turns out, this is a much more difficult decision for our friend Leon the Ghost, and whose second option - to continue haunting the Earth for at least another million years - might hold the answer to the equally as popular, possibly as important question, "Why are we here?" To Leon this question is much more interesting than the former, and he is willing to pay the million years of ghostly existence to research the paradox of human nature.

And a paradox it is. I love the perceptions Vonnegut shares on human nature. Some are pessimistic and most are critical and sarcastic, but in my eyes, overall soothingly funny. He has the effect of say George Orwell's 1984 while replacing the headache with a gut laugh.

Unfortunately, the human race is far from perfect. We all might have given up on the idea of a paradise utopia. But does this mean the world is any less lovely? Sure there's alot out there that isn't right. Nobody would choose genocide of peace if they had a choice (save a few particularly special maniacs.) But that is essentially human nature - Insanity. We are all a maniac at one point or another. We are capable of atrocious actions and thoughts while at the same exact time beings just as capable of beautiful, loving deeds. It's the process of denying this inevitable oxymoron that hurts people the most.

It's ok you didn't think a joke was funny (Could you help it?) It's ok that you slept in all day long. It's ok that you're not really sure if there's a God listening to your prayers. Quit worrying about that look someone gave you. Quit losing sleep over the atom bomb. There's a whole lot more fish in the sea... That could have been you... We've all messed up sometimes, ok? Give yourself a hug.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aluminum Musings

I wake up to metal. Aluminum trays crashing against aluminum tables downstairs. The cops have to be doing that on purpose, don't they? Crash, Crash, Crash! I'm up. Shirtless, I stumble to my sink. More aluminum. I splash cold water on my face and take a sloppy sip from the faucet... tastes metallic, but it's soothing as it hydrates tubes that nearly dried up during sleep.

My muscles ache. Steel toe boots upstairs and soon a key pulls open my tray port and I'm served breakfast. I choose not to say thank you this morning. I eat the breakfast, wait for the sound of boots, return my tray and tuck myself in for a few hours more of vacation.

The few hours more pass in what feels like ten minutes. I want to stay and sleep, but the symphony of crashing has started again and I know within seconds lunch will be served. I say thank you this time and the guard's stupid looks and silence remind me why I usually don't.

I wrap my bread in toilet paper to save along with peanut butter and jelly packets. I eat the cookies, chips, macaroni and fruit. Not bad. I lay back down and wait for my steel-toed butlers to come for their precious tray. The queue has sounded and the quiet is a thing of a few minutes ago. I hear Muslims praising Allah, Mexicans giving each other morning salutations in Spanish and combs sliding across the floors like mice to pick up packages of coffee, envelopes or notes.

I walk to my door and look out the window at the tier. Behold, my town, my community of voices. I hear my name. "Yea!" I yell. It's the Sicilian, my neighbor two cells down. "Get your line ready. I got somethin' for you!" he shouts. The rooster has crowed. "Alright," I say and pull the spool of string out of my sock. "Give me a minute."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Today's Utopia

I was sitting in my cell, listening to some oldies, drinking some coffee and writing a letter to an uncle that I just now finished. I planned on writing a post afterwards, but I think a section of this letter will do. It tells some of the topics that have engaged my mind recently. It starts off with me speaking on the John Steinbeck classic, "The Grapes of Wrath"...

I did reflect on my relatives who migrated to California during the depression and even if they didn't suffer as much as the Joads did, which they very well may have, if Steinbeck's portrayal is anywhere close to accurate, it sounds like painful journey for any family packing west in those days. In my opinion, the most powerful quote in the book is near the end when Tom Joad's mother is saying goodbye to him after his young sister let it slip about the murder and his hiding in the woods. His mom cries for she knows the chances she'll see him again are slim to non and he says confident and reassuringly, "Whenever you see a cop beating a guy, I'll be there. Whenever you hear a hungry new born baby cry, I'll be there. Whenever people are struggling to be free, look for me, Ma, I'll be there."

Tom might not have had it all figured out but his ideology says, people die but ideas live on and those words echo through history.

I have educated myself a bit more on politics recently and though I understand the central ideology reflected in 1984 and Animal Farm, I plan on re-reading them both after I've read more on socialism, totalitarianism and utopia prophecy. Tell me more about your political points of view. I had to cancel my subscription to the New York Times, partly because the only thing I received from them while being subscribed for a month was ONE book review, which I enjoyed, but I wonder how their business is doing and why they forgot the rest of the paper... four weeks in a row! The New Yorker is plenty along with my USA Today and yes, the cartoons are great.

I am impressed with the blog you included. Despite my lack of comparative understanding with the Biblical story of Elijah, I understand the portrayed concept which you made pretty clear. We do live in a greedy, unruly, "sinful" world, that in my opinion resembles a verging Orwellian utopia written about by say, the Founding Fathers.

The headlines these days are constantly disastrous and depressing and even though I haven't been a consistent newspaper reader for very long, I can see that if the patterns had been this bad for any past number of years, the world would have burned up a long time ago. The odds are surely against us in this plentiful, industrious twenty-first century where we gamble with mother nature for a green bill that is constantly declining in value. Maybe some day, we will look back, releived, at what a mess things were at the start of the century. Then again, maybe someday the price of clean water will dwarf the price of oil and fresh produce and poultry will surpass the value of gold. I hope not that the latter will resemble the future world for my unborn children and their children alike. But like you said, it's in God's hands. I don't know who God is exactly but I'm sure He knows better than any human being what our doom is and will be of our own making. How can we pray for assistance if any elementary educated person can see the cause of our troubles is us?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fishing for Poems

I was trying to figure out what I wanted to blog about this afternoon but couldn't come up with much more than these words you're reading now. I'd like to share a poem written by a friend of mine who lives two cells down the tier from me. I live in a super-maximum security prison unit where they don't let myself or anyone else physically interact with each other. Despite these restrictions, strong relationships are built by yelling to each other or passing notes. The latter is done with a technique called "fishing."

To fish I slide a comb with a long piece of string tied to it under my door and down the tier as close to my target's cell as possible. Then he pulls my string into his cell by hooking onto it with his own comb/string missile. I connect the note, newspaper or whatever I'm sending over to the end of string still in my hand and he pulls it into his cell. Boston and I share notes, news, poetry and artwork by fishing. He has been in prison for 21 years and has around 15 years and two life times before he's legally considered free. I think his poem is a look into the constant daydreaming that goes on in this solitary place called home, but I won't try to critique his work. Enjoy.

After doing 10 straight years in segregation in Walpole's D.D.U. Control Unit in Massachusetts, two things can happen to you; one, you go crazy or two, you grow stronger mentally; I chose number two even though sometimes I feel like number one found a place inside of me!!! My writing poetry helps stave off number one. Enjoy.

"Seasons of Reflection"

Does the purple dawn silently creep or is it more a misty blue?
Does the black crow outside still screech as the day drinks up night's dew?
I don't know anymore, but I know you do!
Let me tell you what I'd like to do;
I'd like to take a long walk outside and try to lose myself in the treetops where inside my mind I'd find a warm safe place to hide and let my eyes lick the foliage like lollipops, surely I shall be reminded by the radiant colors of the trees of my youth and sin of existence and a decade shall be reflected on the scent of a cool breeze as I refuse to let my age wear down my resistance!

The Autumn chill wraps tighter around my bones with time and wrinkles the faces of familiar expressions. Those colorful leafs of yesterday shall be long left behind as their purpose leaves illusional impressions...

As my memories fade and go back to where they stay and the trees are left standing naked and bare, I am forced into another season where age and time reason but refuse to let my dreams become dust in the air...

And still be reminded by all my reflections during their daily inspections on how quickly they try and steal all my graces, as my senses become dim and their changes grow slim and one day we'll both be gone without traces...

Everything D.O.C.'s ever done will turn into particals in the sun, even my gravestone will turn to dust; just like these words, butterflies, bees and birds, even all of their iron and steel will turn to dust!!!

Daniel T, aka Boston
Still Going Strong 21 Down
© Daniel T. 2010

"Are we animals in a cage,
or caged because we are animals?"

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Few Paths I've Crossed

I once met a man who had lost his legs in what he called a fishing accident. His legs were crushed by another boat as he hung for his life off the side of his ship after nearly being thrown by a giant wave into the violent abyss that roared beneath him. We were at a bus stop downtown and he invited my friend and me to his apartment to smoke a joint and eat dinner. He would have gone hungry to keep our bellies full if it had been necessary.

My friend and I were homeless at the time. More so, mobile with a different kind of mobile home. The mobility lived in our sneakers and home was your couch or your floor or maybe your parents bed if they were out of town. We almost always found a place to sleep, my friend and I. We didn't even have to ask several people. In fact, most people who would have us over at all already assumed we'd be staying for the night.

I had a pretty girlfriend who would have snuck me into her parent's house every night, but I tried to limit stays at her house to a few times a week, since we would usually get caught in the morning. Her step dad hated my guts. One time he told me he was going to get his gun and that when he came back I had better be gone. He didn't come back. He didn't even know where his rusty gun was. We did. We used to play with it. The gun was actually hidden under my girlfriend's bed while he stormed off to fetch it. He didn't worry me. My girl and I were sixteen and in love, or so we thought and he was no more than a source of annoyance who had a habit of making hallow threats. He probably still can't find his gun. Maybe he never even looked for it.

I washed dishes at a hole in the wall "home style" restaurant. The food was deep fried and delicious but there was never more than a single table or two occupied. The host ended up being a good friend. He would sneak shots of whiskey to me during my shift and sometimes when the bosses left early, we would smoke a joint in the back alley by the trash bins. My girlfriend's house was only a few blocks away and sometimes she would walk over and smoke with us and wait in the empty dining room for me to finish my shift. On Friday nights after work the three of us would walk twenty blocks to the host's house, stopping at the lucky mart for a twenty-four case of beer. We'd drink and laugh and order pizza and I would sleep in an empty room across the hall from the host's on a half-inflated blow out mattress with my girlfriend for company.

One night the host had ten or fifteen people over to barbecue. A few hours into the gathering after most were one too many beers full, the host in a drunken rage broke his hand on a windshield as the driver pulled off barely escaping what had started out as a mellow party and ended in chaos justified by reasons not accounted for. A few minutes later as the few people left over sat around the host's bedroom, passing a joint and watching him nurse his swelling hand, four police officers walked into the room with their guns drawn and told the host to put his hands behind his back and the rest of us to exit the premises. That's the last time I saw my friend, the host. His roommate said he had had warrants out for his arrest for years. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that the police raided the house on that particular night. I spoke with him a few times on the phone. He said he was happy and that he hoped he could turn his life around some day.

Sometimes I'd stay with a kid I'd met in middle school. His mother had smoked crack while she was pregnant and he had been born nervous and manic and addicted to drugs. He stayed with his foster dad in a giant house in a nice part of the city. His foster dad had grown sick of the kid's behavior long ago, but instead of trying to "discipline" him, which seemed impossible, he would keep the fridge and garage constantly stalked with frozen food, soda, ice cream and would supply the kid with a carton of Newport cigarettes every week. The entire house pretty much belonged to the kid, a giant playground except for a room in a remote corner of the top floor where his foster dad lived safely sealed behind a door thicker than the one to the vault at your neighborhood bank and with more locks, alarms, and safety measures. I would almost never see the foster dad. I would walk through this house and be amazed at how many man-sized holes covered the walls. Some of them actually had the perfect shape of a human body as if some mysterious wall people had detached themselves from their native habitat leaving only their hollow shape as evidence to their existence.

The kid sought constant attention and he was overly hospitable. He would feed anyone who would keep him company and give us cigarette packs and there were several rooms to sleep in if it got late. Sometimes I would wonder what would happen to the kid when his foster dad passed away or decided he wanted his house back. It wasn't the kid's fault, the way he was. He had a good heart, but was doomed for failure in terms of any productive role in society from the moment he took his first painful breath of air, shrieking and clawing at the strange emptiness, already feeling the loneliness and urgent neediness that would galvanize his simple ambitions and conduct his torn relationships. A future of yesterdays and constant setbacks. A revolving door of sort of friends to pat him on the back and ask for a cigarette, then a light and thank him for the dinner and for his hospitality at such an odd hour.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

About Me

"No matter how high the gates or charged with punishment the scroll. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul." --William Ernest Henley

I am 21 years old and living in a State Penitentiary. Despite my present circumstances, I have many passions and dreams that don't have anything to do with the criminal life. We've all made mistakes on our journey, some mistakes carry greater consequences than others. Some mistakes get people thrown in jail - some times for a few hours or days, some times for a lifetime. I'm blessed to have landed somewhere in between. I have plenty of time to further educate myself, build a stronger relationship with my family, and work hard on my character so I can be successful in whatever I decide to pursue upon my return to society.

I am starting this blog to share with you, whoever you may be, some things about life inside this place. To share with you some things that cross my mind from day to day; and to share with you some of my ideas and reflections. And I hope, at some point, we can relate to each other, you and I, and hopefully learn something from each other as well.

If you decide to email me or leave a message on my blog page, I will respond as soon as I can. I do not have computer access in prison. Everything I blog is written on paper and sent to a good friend of mine who then enters it onto this site.

I hope all is well.