Well, as you’ve hopefully heard by now, my original Hearing Officer recommended me for a June 2016 release back on May 20th. As expected, the first Parole Commissioner to review my case rejected his recommendation – something that apparently happens in most cases. So on June 1st I requested an appeal of that decision, which I was told would take about two weeks since a panel of two Parole Commissioners would be thoroughly reviewing my case.
And so began the longest psychological trial of my life. I was told by everyone here – from other inmates to my teacher to the COs – that a ”No” usually came during that two-week period, and that a “Yes” would take a bit longer to arrive. So starting on about day 10 after requesting an appeal, I would spend all day trying to distract myself as best I could, and then toss and turn waiting for the night-shift CO to come by and put the rolled-up passes into the metal grate over the window of my cell door sometime between one and three in the morning.
Many of those mornings a pass would slip into the grate, my heart would fall out of my chest, and I would slowly uncurl it to reveal … a pass to Medical for my cell-buddy. Or a pass for me to go to the Package Room. Or a pass for my cell-buddy to stay late at his job in the Plumbing Shop.
So by the time passes were given out each Friday morning I would let relief wash over me – at least I could relax through Saturday and Sunday mornings since no passes would show-up over the weekend. And finally, on the Friday morning before Fourth of July weekend, I let myself feel a small kernel of elation. It had now been four weeks since I requested my appeal, and not only could I look forward to three days of no passes due to the Fourth being on Monday – it had been twice as long as hearing a “No” was supposed to take.
Maybe all of this was almost over. Maybe I was close to walking out the gates, hugging my parents for as long as I needed, and going to lay on their back lawn to watch the clouds turn into stars.
And as July stretched on I found myself spending my days in a weird sort of stasis – after I got back from tutoring my brain didn’t want me to do anything other than lay on the bottom bunk, stare up at the top bunk, and half-listen to the news or whatever was on PBS or live sports if they were on. Honestly, I can’t really remember too much from June or July other than small snippets.
My cell-buddy made some really good egg-salad one afternoon. A scrawny white dope-fiend finally got rolled off the tier for repeatedly screaming into the phone that he was going to kill his wife. I finally figured out that one of the lumps I was laying on wasn’t the mattress, but actually one of the towels I use for extra padding getting wadded-up. One of the impressively obese guys across the hall made a pizza using milk-soaked bread as dough that was damn near DiGiornio’s. The Nats played an 18-inning game.
And as the days went on, little by little, hope built up. Five weeks turned into six, and my efforts to beat back my daydreams of coming home grew more half-hearted – maybe it was finally okay to let go of my pessimism. On Monday of week six I asked the CO who works next to my classroom to see if he could pull any strings and check on what was going on since I was slowly losing my shit, he made a call and reported back that finalizing a parolee’s Home Plan takes five weeks, and that was almost certainly what my delay was about. Besides, he’d never heard of someone getting recommended for parole by their Hearing Officer and then getting rejected by the Commissioners unless their home plan fell through or a detainer from another state or the Feds came up.
But, despite the burst of optimism that brought, not far in the back of my mind was the abject laziness and incompetence of nearly every employee I’d encountered here – maybe my delay was simply someone letting my paperwork sit on their desk beneath a cat statue. And yet, at the same time, maybe my Advil hadn’t gotten refilled yet because Medical had me marked down as leaving soon? Maybe the teacher I work for was so sure I was about make parole because she actually knew, but wasn’t allowed to tell me?
So as week six of waiting came to a close I had my Dad get someone at Case Management on the phone (my Case Manager apparently wasn’t around) and he was promised that I’d be called in at some point the next week. And then finally, on Wednesday, July 27th – over seven weeks after requesting my appeal and being told that I’d hear back in ”about two weeks” – I found out that the final panel of two Parole Commissioners had rejected my hearing officer’s recommendation to release me because I “hadn’t completed enough cognitive programs.”
My hope of coming home on parole was dead. And they’d actually made that decision back on June 6th, it had simply taken a month-and-a-half to get to me for some unspecified reason. Probably a fucking cat statue.
Thing is, I’d asked my Case Manager to sign me up for all the cognitive programs he could get me into, as well as any other sort of program, back in the fall of 2015 and met with a psychologist who told me there weren’t any cognitive programs being offered due to understaffing. But that therapist met with me every few months to talk all the same, and wrote a letter giving me a clean bill of mental health. Beyond that is the dozen or so books I’ve read about everything from behavioral economics to neurobiology and cognition to the 200-page cognitive-behavioral therapy workbook I’d done, mailing its exercises to my therapist on the outside. And just the sheer unbridled absurdity of the idea that, out of all the unrepentant ignorant assholes in here, somehow I was unfit for release back into society – that’s something I’m still wrapping my head around.
It’s hard to explain to people who have never been incarcerated without coming across like the Grand Wizard or the Headmistress of a British finishing school, but given the obnoxious, entitled, myopic, self-absorbed behavior that’s not only prevalent but actively engendered by prison – the idea that more time in here is somehow going to positively adjust someone’s cognitive processes… Kafkaesque doesn’t even cover the half of it. Odds are, since I’m a sex-offender I never really ever had any chance at all of making parole – my lawyer said I was the first sex-offender he’s ever heard of whose Hearing Officer even gave them a Yes.
So not only will I spend the rest of my life knowing that every single person I meet is a few finger-taps away from newspaper articles documenting a sensationalized version of the worst thing I’ve ever done, the nature of my charges dictates that no matter how hard I work to rehabilitate and better myself in here – the system could give two fucks, and even though non-violent sex-offenders have the lowest recidivism rate of all we functionally have no chance at all of making parole.
So, all that said, here I am. And although I have a sentence modification I can still request from my judge, I won’t be doing that for several months – and it’s far from a ticket home. Which means there’s a very good chance that I’m looking at being here until the spring of 2018. Which is something, at this point – after having been so hopeful for so long that this experience was nearly over – I can’t really let myself think about too much.
The good news is that the Olympics are almost here, and after that is football season – distraction is an inmate’s most precious currency, so in that sense I’ll shortly be a very rich convict. And there’s still the small sliver of hope that my sentence modification will come to something, however unrealistic that hope may be – it’s something that’s helping me hang on.
And, realistically, the worst is over. Both in terms of that whole parole experience and in that I’ve settled in and pretty much have this idiotic shit-show figured out. However I do have one small favor to ask. Obviously visits and letters updating me on how life’s going are always really, really appreciated- but on a more selfish note: I profoundly miss stupid internet memes, and would sincerely appreciate receiving as many silly-ass memes as you have time to print-out and send in.
For some reason I feel like those will really cheer me up. Don’t ask me to explain why, because I really can’t. Hopefully everyone reading this is having a better time of things than me, and I miss you all dearly. But then, after nearly two years in here, I also dearly miss sushi, padded furniture, pooping behind closed doors, the ocean, carpeting, and mowing the lawn – so don’t feel too bad if you end up not visiting or responding to this letter