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.


  1. I guess life can brutalise both the "cops and the robbers". Perhaps he was worried about the influence of Churchill's cigar habit... Horrible that your book club was scuppered.

    Psychologist Scott Peck wrote a very interesting book years back called People of the Lie, Hope for Healing Human Evil. I lent it to a friend so can't quote from it exactly, but I remember being chilled by something he said to the effect that during his long career he had met - I think it was two - people/patients whom he considered to be actually, irremediably evil. That evil is terrible and often has terrible causes, and can often be treated by psychiatric intervention. But in these two cases, he had the deep knowledge that it could never be made right.

    I think my bleeding-heart-liberal tendencies are sometimes a bit too perkily hopeful that absolutely everything can be "cured", but in fact we live on something of a knife-edge.

    Anyway, the Peck book is a bit of a side-track to what I originally intended to say, which is that as you hint, there is indecent behaviour, and there is being fundamentally indecent. Sometimes they co-exist in the same person, sometimes they don't.

  2. I squirm a little though when you lose patience with your correctional officers - might you have stood for a little more interrogation and come out ahead with Thumper's book copy intact. Using the phrase "none of your business" has been a sure reason for a fight since we were all in grade school. It certainly didn't gain any ground for you here nor will it serve you well in the future.

    This is still a well-written post and one I enjoyed in spite of the squirm!

  3. Hi there - I red your blog with interest. I am an official Prison visitor her in UK. I have visited men who serve very long sentences for mor than 10 years now. Andy the young fellow I have visited for 7 years now and he tells me over and over again how some officers think they have so much power. I have to tell Andy to be careful and not retaliate but it is so hard for him. He wants to better himself but often gets knocked back.
    I do hope that your friend gets his book so that you can start the bookclub. It is an excellent idea.