Life In Prison

Finding Value in Federal Prison

I had a good week in Federal prison.  Another bus arrived this week and many of the women said that they felt as if they knew me from reading my blog.  One woman came up to me and said, “I know all about you Portia and I’m so glad I got assigned to this unit. When I found out I would be coming to prison I was so scared! I wanted to go to Mexico and just run away.  My daughter found your blog and I read the whole thing.  She added, “It really is a blessing to have a voice from prison because we are so cut off from the outside world. I find purpose in my pain through sharing these experiences, and I’m grateful for the support that I feel from my readers.  A friend of mine here has a pen pal in the free world that reads my blog. He had a book sent in that I read and found very inspiring. It’s called “The Anatomy Of Peace”, by the Arbinger Institute. I highly recommend it.  It talks about having a heart that’s at peace and having a peaceful heart is the only way that we can help those around us. Weather it be our children, a spouse, warring countries, or women in prison. It’s a great book!

We come to prison broken. We are each assigned a federal number and our individuality is stripped away.  It can be a very devaluing experience.  When I first arrived, the group mentality really disturbed me because  I felt that taking away a persons individuality and creating an atmosphere of unimportance was damaging.  We are each issued 2 uniforms, 2 Tee shirts, 7 pair of underwear, 3 bras, a bedroll and a black pair of work boots.  They give us a small toothbrush, a bar of soap, a small tube of toothpaste, a comb, and a sample size bottle of shampoo. From that point we are identified by our inmate number.  We are convicted felons, and we are on our own.  If your family can’t send money in to help it is very scary because there would be no way to contact loved ones or pay for much needed toiletries and supplies.  One of my good friends from education told me recently that an officer got angry during count time because one of the cell doors was closed. My friend explained to him that the room was unoccupied  and that’s why the door wasn’t open.  He said, “Who asked you to talk?” She responded, “I was just trying to be helpful.” He said, “You’re the last person I would want help from. You’re a convicted felon.  Why would I believe anything you say?” It’s disappointing that some of the officers have such a ignorant, jaded perspective. I have found many of the staff in prison to be outstanding people though. A few days ago my counselor said, “Louder, you need to quit doing such a good job around here. The BOP isn’t ever going to let you go:). ” I laughed and said, “Maybe I will put in for an extra year, I love this place.” He said, “I don’t blame you, Utah sounds like a third world country as far as the legal system is concerned.  I wouldn’t want to go back there either. I told him, “Don’t rip on Utah, it was the feds and the US Marshals that violated my rights. The state of Utah had nothing to do with it.  I don’t believe for a minute the state of Utah would approve of the treatment I received. If the video footage of me pounding on a glass window naked for days with male officers and inmates walking by me laughing is released, I’m sure the state of Utah would want those responsible to be held accountable”  He said, “I hope so. It seems like they pretty much drove you crazy, then argued you were too unstable to be released from jail unless you pled guilty and our system doesn’t work like that.”

I met an amazing woman in education this week. She is a lovely black woman who really has life figured out.  She has been here close to ten years now and is as calm and kind as any woman I have met.  I asked her how she does it? She said, “I wake up early every morning and start my day. I spend hours walking the track to free my mind and my heart.  You have to value yourself first. I followed all the wrong people in the free world and I have learned not to be a follower. I won’t click up with people in here, I eat alone and enjoy meeting new people every day.” Being in prison can be a humbling experience. It provides a great opportunity to find out what really matters. Our value should not come from the clothes we wear, the possessions we have, or the way we look.  My value comes from knowing who I am, knowing that I am a daughter of the most high God makes me feel infinitely important.  Time in prison is so different because we do the same things every day and many of the women see the time as a complete waste.  Some become expert sleepers, they call it sleeping your time away.  The group mentality is certainly not one of importance. I choose to see the time I am spending in prison as the most important thing I will ever do.  I told my students yesterday in my photography class, “I want to impress upon you how valuable you are to me. It wouldn’t make a difference to me if the BOP was paying me a thousand bucks an hour to teach you because I put my whole heart into this job.  You all have the greatest opportunity of your lives because everything you do in here is of the upmost importance.  Consider this an opportunity of a lifetime and treat each day as though you are working the most important job you will ever have.”  I think enduring our trials well can be the most important thing we will do. It will define us, and shape us into a mighty people. There is great suffering in our world today, but we get to decide how to respond to our challenges. How we respond will define us and might just be the most important thing we will ever do. Of course I would love to be home caring for my children right now but I think the next best thing I can do is care for someone else’s child in Federal prison

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