Confined to the same maximum-security facility…

Case, Byron

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Byron Case, #328416 Crossroads Correctional Center 1115 East Pence Road Cameron, MO 64429 Confined to the same maximum—security facility for (at the time of this writing) twelve years of my life sentence without possibility of parole, my perspective on the amount of correction being done by the Department of Corrections is a blinkered one. However, anecdotal evidence tells me that the facility that's housed me for more than a decade isn't the exception but the rule, that prisons everywhere are sorely lacking in effective behavioral, psychological, and education programs for their populations. Personal experience has left me with the knowledge that self—initiated efforts at personal betterment are often stymied by institutional rules and regulations. I am, it should be noted, not the typical prisoner. The widely accepted stereotype of the heavily muscled and tattooed convict who passes his time with drugs, gambling, and general thuggery comes nowhere near applying to me, a slim, bookish sort of guy. On my typewriter, purchased from the prison canteen, I compose perhaps a hundred pages each month —— of essays, poetry, fiction, and correspondence —— from the relative solitude of my nine—by-eleven cell. I have a prison job for which I sweat in the prison's kitchen for five hours a day, five days a week, but writing is my work __ my work and my escape. With the faintest hint of irony, I enjoy telling people that I lead a rich inner life. There is an incredibly affirming boost that having one's writing abilities validated by publication brings, particularly when one otherwise receives little spiritual sustenance. The act of writing itself can be cathartic, whether the writer works in fiction or nonfiction (or, of course, in poetry), as ideas and feelings are processed on the page, unimpeded by any social posturing. For the prisoner, whose life is governed by heavy restrictions, these benefits cannot be found in any other activity. Prison writing workshops and ongoing programs have sprung up around the country, because of these benefits, and they seem to generate uniformly positive results; however, they are always initiated by passionate volunteers, not from within the states‘ departments of corrections or the prisons themselves, the administrators of which are almost solely concerned with the prosaic matter of warehousing product. All of my own efforts to found a writers group here, in the absence of volunteer assistance, have thus far snagged on bureaucratic red tape that gives every appearance of being strategically placed for maximum deterrence, maximum restriction, maximum frustration. Case, page 2 Crossroads Correctional Center is a newer facility, its construction and habitability achieved in 1996. Immediately thereafter came years of the sort of chaos typically depicted in movies and TV series about prison: frequent fights, stabbings, rapes, and a single, locally infamous escape. By 2002, when I arrived, the vast majority of prisoner misbehavior had been quelled, thanks to the addition of numerous chain-link fences, many hundreds of feet of razor wire, a slew of cameras, and countless policy changes. Crossroads has continued to reduce the number of incidents of prisoners acting out, violently and otherwise, to the point that, now, many aging convicts who've seen how things used to be consider this facility less correctional center than day—care center. In this relative peace, this waifish intellectual has been free to remain in most ways himself, untainted by the cruelest aspects of an environment very different from any he knew before. Not that it's always been easy. There is immense concern —— much of it justified —— on the part of the administration that we prisoners are all out to commit a crime at every opportunity, and at no time is this concern more prevalent than when someone in custody makes contact with the outside. Visits are chaperoned and videoed, phone calls are recorded and monitored, letters are opened and read. The First Amendment is given lip service, but a fine line exists between prisoners‘ free speech and what the powers that be regard as a security threat. By writing, I find myself perpetually toeing Case, page 3 this line without meaning to, and sometimes even crossing it. I have come under scrutiny no fewer than three times, interrogated by staff and subjected to significant mail delays, for maintaining a blog (by proxy) that unabashedly describes my life behind the walls. Even though a letter from the Missouri Department of Corrections is in my institutional file, stating that the posting of my writing to the Internet would not violate DOC policy, the harassment repeats itself every few years. Undeterred, I continue to type and mail out pariahblog.com posts three or four times a month. At least twice I have been called to a caseworker's office to answer questions about my intent in mailing multiple, identical submissions to literary magazines. For participating in two telephone interviews, for which I spoke with podcasters about my essay collection, The Pariah's Syntax (redbat books, 2013), I was taken from my cell and locked in administrative segregation for thirty days, stripped of my contact visit privileges for three months, and removed from the position I'd occupied for the past five years in the prison's commodious honor dorm. Security is one thing, but are these really sensible approaches to incarceration, putting the screw to the rare prisoner who uses his time productively, creatively, and to the benefit of Case, page 4 others (i.e., his readers)? What kind of system is this that operates so, and how can taxpayers in good conscience support it? The implementation of prison writing programs, along with other proven rehabilitative programs, should be demanded for all levels of incarceration by the public. The initial expense would be returned, then rewarded handsomely, by the inevitable resulting drop in the United States‘ prison population. Until that day, imprisoned writers like myself will continue honing our craft without widespread support, isolated by our avocation in an already lonely place. Case, page 5

Author: Case, Byron

Author Location: Missouri

Date: October 24, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 5 pages

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