essay #03

Dean, Tommy Lee



Prisoner 103060919, essay #03: Upon accepting my second essay for posting, APWA informed me they now looked forward to more of my work. I have decided to fulfill this honor by submitting a piece every six months to a year, hopefully creating a series within the archive. As long as the staff @ APWA accepts these essays, that's what should be expected of me unless the system I am in decides to interfere. And though I am not saying that there's a great possibility of impediment by someone within this system, I do recognize that it could happen. We should all recognize that it could happen! Like a real live "Lucifer Affect", certain individuals, who hold one title or another, and for whatever reasons they have, take it upon themselves to make it extra terrible for the prisoners under their care while, in all fairness of exposing both sides, some prisoners do take it upon themselves to undermine the entirety of this system's authoritative structure. So whether it was the chicken or the egg, whatever the case, my life is directly affected, from time to time, no matter how much hard work I try to put into nurturing my emotional intelligence these days. This being my perception; my reality. The subjective realizing the objective for what it all is. Your window into this world, through the eyes of Prisoner 103060919, every six months to a year. It is my theory that after maybe a year of existing in any locked door institution, most people develop a distorted grasp on reality and adjust accordingly. This being what it is, I do realize that my grasp on reality could be lacking in one way or another because I've served around twelve years of confinement now. On the other hand, might this realization and/or theory be the precise advantage I need for an honest and true outlook? My goal being to deliver the most realistic view of this environment as I possibly can by choosing to present my perception creditably and without twisting it for self-serving needs. Whereas many around me give into one distortion or another, I try very hard to function on in proper form. For example: a good number of prisoners are prone to believe or say that there is no need for prisons in our society. I find it obvious that they might feel this way because of identifying with a certain victimization through being prisoners. But, as much as it hurts me to say, due to so much captivity during these last thirty years, prisons are a necessity. Let's face it, people such as the person I've been for most of my life would burn civilization to the ground if allowed to run amok. Yet, I also believe these prisons are a complete failure simply because it has recently been my experience that when I finally attempt to establish positive change, and try taking the steps in the direction of doing so, I find very minimal support from my captors, if not full-blown opposition. I was a threat to the world and if I don't enact this positive change I will still be a threat: I know this, I embrace this, I do not deny this; I've been terrible and need not be anymore. As a child; authority figures, of all forms, tried to get through offering more help than punishment. This I know. I was stubborn and hardheaded though. It was during my teen years when punishment started to become a more standard way of dealing with me, and, by the time I was a young adult, had it become the primary result of my actions. I am under no illusion as to why I am serving this sentence nor as to why I served the ones before it. Same as anyone else, each time I awoke I faced a series of daily choices and I chose those actions that led to this present, lengthy sentence. Presently, yes, a sad condition. I feel small and trapped, but there's a part that has blossomed within this storm my decisions unleashed. This part now flows out of me and sometimes I might not understand or even know where it's from - but it's there and undeniable and mine and I get to share it. I get to share it with you. No longer am I that child so many tried to get through to and help. These days it seems my life is all about the punishment. It seems I have been wrong for so long that very few to no one in any position to manage my life believes I want to get right, or they simply don't care. Who can blame them? So many on my side of the conflict insincere as they are. So many of us locked away and all alone within a crowd of each other where we lose our humanity to the form of a file. An image forms for those who manage us when they read about our institutional history; our physical existence invisible. Files full of every wrong doing we have been caught for or suspected and possessing very few sporadically placed positive actions for the researcher to discover. So, I am constantly stigmatized by the descriptions of all my past wrongs. For whatever reason, the trend seems to fall away from putting authentic effort into restructuring the lives of we who so desperately need it and towards more so concentrating on their petty vengeance, against us, for our past sins. Why they become who they do is beyond me: I try to empathize but I do not see this world through their eyes. I'm sure they all have their reasons just as we do; it depends on the individual. Same as on this side of the cell door, one shoe does not fit all; it's the overall structure of all the individuals navigating the positions in which they find themselves that dictates a sort of collective outcome: the Lucifer Affect. A constant state of anxiety affecting both, them and us: the real losers being those of us who are finally ready to rehabilitate, as well as those who still need to make the choice to. You see, this constant anxiety tends to reek havoc on our adrenal cortexes. Might we be so bold as to theorize that a steady flow of cortisol, every day, day after day, for however many years of a prison term, leads to a constant state of anger that very well could be responsible for such a high rate of recidivism? Whether people get out and self-medicate with street drugs or give into the anger and commit murder or other violent crimes; these are all sure paths right back to prison where the mixture of institutional violence, boredom, impatience, frustration, and tiredness all serve to activate this stress hormone. It's all biochemical. An institutional environment full of daily stressors pushing prisoners to their breaking point all the time, this being that "stress" I referred to in essay #02. So where might we find the rational? Fact of the matter being, once our negative feelings become predominant it's hard to shut down: a biochemical build up and/or reaction to stress and anxiety that enjoys primordial roots in our evolution. The areas of our brains involved in said build up being far more ancient than the thin layers of neocortex where rational thought forms. Our brains operating by storing different aspects of an experience in different areas: the source of a memory being encoded in one zone; sights, sounds, and smells in others; and so on. The site storing our emotions evoked by an experience: the amygdala. No matter how subtle the emotional reaction to an experience, it is stored here. As the repository for everything we feel about our experiences, the amygdala constantly signals us with this information. Accumulating experiences condition certain chemical reactions and feelings causing for choices made by the individual: these are conditioned choices. A constantly angry person can be as bad as or worse than any psychopath because anger is driving their decision making abilities. Whereas psychopaths have impairments in the interconnected brain structure including the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex - which help process emotions, make decisions, control impulses, and set goals - an angry person is acting on all the negative emotions stored up throughout a lifetime and making anger influenced choices. These choices made under such influence, mimicking those decisions that put him or her in this position to store up so much negative conditioning in the first place. Voila: recidivism. A constant, negative assault on the prisoner, by this environment, instills emotions as if under a constant threat. When the amygdala hits the brain's panic button, it induces a cascade that begins with the release of a hormone known as CRF and ends with a flood of stress hormones - mainly cortisol. These stress secreted hormones are enough for a single bout of fight or flight, but, here's the kicker: once secretion occurs, they stay in the body for hours and each successive upsetting adds to these levels already there. So, in reason, a nonstop onslaught of stress and anxiety would continually add to the build up of these hormones, never giving them a chance to subside. Fighting or engaging verbal conflict pretty much on a daily basis. Feeling pressured. Waiting for mail that never comes and sometimes when it does finally arrive, the mail room might reject and not let you have it because maybe your child drew in it with crayon and the prison DOES NOT ALLOW CRAYON. Even at night might not there come relief: cell lights flipping on every hour or two when the cops walk and if that doesn't wake you, some have been known to hit the door just to see you roll over each time they walk. Imagine not being able to escape this constant condition of stress and anxiety ever; not even during the hours of slumber. The lie fed to the public here being that we get our eight hours of undisturbed sleep, each circadian cycle, because of a nine o'clock PM standing count and six o'clock AM scheduled ending to the nighttime lockdown, when, in reality, count usually doesn't happen until nine-thirty or sometimes closer to ten and they've been known to get us to breakfast as early as five till five the following morning. Shshshsh, this is our stressful, little secret, okay. He who enters here needs not necessarily abandon all hope, though. To counter all the agitation of our stress related conditioned choices, the prefrontal lobes release their own chemical cocktail. If one's prefrontal lobes are functioning correctly, they immediately start shutting down the amygdala's escalation and thinking about how to make whatever's going wrong right. Basically; this is reasoning. If one is capable of reasoning and enacts this as their primary go-to, they can enjoy more success in all that they do by keeping calm. Our prefrontal lobes being the site with the capacity to pay attention to what is on our mind at the moment. So, for example, if I realize that my living arrangement keeps me angry all the time, I can choose to give into the animal instinct called for by the more primordial parts of my brain or I can benefit from this energy. Anger can therefore be an intense source of motivation, particularly if it stems from the urge to right a perceived injustice or inequity. As long as the anxiety isn't too overwhelming, it can prod the creative spirit within. There being a crucial difference in brain function concerning the challenges that motivate us and the threats that overwhelm: high energy, maximum effort, and a positive mood can enact the brain chemicals that generate enthusiasm, but the day to day negativity of this environment so drab and bleak seems to take form of an immediate threat, making the amygdala the correct responder for this particular assault. So, what I have to do is fight this chemical imbalance, daily orchestrated by the details of my present life, and constantly try to will the release of more catecholamines than cortisol. It is the catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) which arouse us to action in a more productive way than does cortisol. When our brain is in emergency mode, it pumps out cortisol and vastly elevated levels of catecholamines - but our best work is done when only the catecholamine system is engaged. In this institutional world where one's brain is in a constant state of emergency, anxiety, or boredom, the vehicle has to commandeer the operator. I have to force my brain to fire as if I am in the flow: something I achieve through exercise and illustrated art most every day, and the creation of literary art every day. I fool myself into reason. I have to force myself to "flow" to reduce the possibility of acting out in the manner I always had before. I play on this difference in brain function to keep my mind firing efficiently and precise in direct opposition to the panic mode that always seems to be stirring within. Idle hands become the Devil's playground - so goes the old adage - which is strangely fitting to the reality of what takes place when those within the situation I find myself allow for this real live Lucifer Affect to take hold. We, these subjects, may become bored, apathetic, frenzied with anxiety, etcetera, which causes for the activation of poorly focused, high level brain activity. This means that our brain cells are firing in sporadic, far-flung and irrelevant ways: panic mode. So what it all boils down to is that creativity through my writing and art is therapeutic for me. Now, if I (an "uneducated" and simple ward of the state) can research all this and apply it, in a constructive way, to true change within myself and life, why does the overall entity, that is the Colorado Department of Corrections - with all its resources, paid professionals, and what have you — have such a hard time realizing the same thing? With all that I've been going through since I've finally decided to enact this change, I constantly question why certain "professionals", who's mission statement declares they seek to return us to society as reformed individuals, still insist on hindering my advancement in this therapy? The self-worth I feel when I achieve a monumental moment, concerning all the hard work I put into this career I now seek, does wonders replacing that same feeling of self-esteem that I used to get from violently hurting others. Recently has it been revealed, to me, that since my book, Brain Pulp, was taken out of print - due to those problems I had with that publisher - a used copy of it sold through amazon for $978.32 + $4.70 shipping. This leads me to believe that my book has actually become a collector's item and, even though I won't see a red cent of this money either, I am so stoked that I can do fricking cartwheels! These feelings, they are such a powerful thing (such a powerful motivator) implanting those type of positive emotions that will lead to the positive change that I seek. See how that works? The punishment and forms of mental torture that most prisoners perceive as their reality is directly opposed to feel good emotions that can actually aid in the positive change of any of these subjects: a positive reward for good behavior versus punishment for bad. And whether this perceived punishment and mental torture is the actual objective or not doesn't really matter because, the way things now are, this is the perception of us subjects within, and that makes it our reality. A reality leading to conditioned-panic-mode-thinking and resulting as a possible reason our rate of recidivism is so sky-high. It was around Christmas time, 2018, when I saved a life and got punished for it; or so is my perception. But it was also the perception of some staff - them who were honest enough to inform me that they, too, thought the way I was treated was wrong. Sadly, the majority of staff either express no opinion or make up excuses such as: "it's policy in a situation such as that" or "we had to make sure it wasn't some sort of attempted murder". I've led myself to believe that the latter either express no opinion or make these types of statements because even the majority of them know that such treatment was wrong and are in an attempt to not only justify it to me, but to themselves as well. The facts are, I injected myself into a life or death situation, that I had no initial involvement, solely to do whatever I could to save a man's life. Applying what I could remember of my CPR training from 25 or 30 years before, I stopped this man from dying. I was repaid for my efforts by being put in segregation for three days, and, upon release, finding that some of my property was either took or lost by the authorities. And though I told myself that I saved a life and they couldn't take that fact away from me, no matter what they did, it did nothing to soften all the angry thoughts that invaded my conscious mind whenever I thought of how hard it was to sleep with the lights on the whole time and the cell so cold that my toes hurt. I really had been punished after all! There were things to become clear when trying to understand them and their actions, though. I did realize that the first two staff members to arrive were probably a bit scared. They had acted very meek and timid, being in close quarters with multiple prisoners and unsure of those prisoners' mind-set. The thing is, annually, in the Colorado prison system, there are 200 to 300 assaults on staff, and, about a month prior to this incident, four officers were jumped in one of the chow halls, here, and beat so badly they were hospitalized; one of them getting facial reconstructive surgery only after the swelling went down enough for the procedure to safely be performed. Around this same time, a cop was also stabbed, at Limon, up the road from here. So, these two first responders did not aggressively attempt to assert control. Instead, they stood there quietly watching me try to save this life. The sergeant did place a radio call for medical and more first responders; she mentioned that an offender was conducting CPR. I finally had to ask them if they wanted to take over. She agreed and I yielded my position. Not until there were about six or more surrounding me, in the office, later, when they then asserted their authority by placing me in cuffs. But, they did submit me for sixty days off my sentence due to saving a life. It seemed nice enough until I got the paperwork back. Sixty days was reduced to thirty by the next signature on the form, and I ended up with ten days off by the end. When I'd rather be reimbursed all the property I lost than to get the full sixty days off my sentence, that little ole ten days seems like a slap in the face. But to know that I could of got sixty yet more than likely would only end up with ten is, sadly, an outcome expected so I'm pretty much aloof. There is good news considering my writing, though. After so much conflict, certain individuals have now gone and decided on a move that significantly advances me in this I've been clawing and scratching to achieve since the denial of that publication contract back in 2012. As awesome as I thought my case manager, Buckner, was, and as sad as I was to lose her to a new career as a probation officer, my new case manager, Dupps, seems to have come in fully supportive of all that I'm trying to achieve. Major Deal, who has replaced Major Higgins, also seems to be pretty supportive of this career I seek. But most of all, programs worker Frazier has really stepped up by scanning Lou Cifer into a PDF file capable of being converted into a Microsoft Word docx, and it looks great! Case manager Dupps is trying to get clearance for me to go directly to Lulupress and, if we can't get this kind of permission, he will at least e-mail this file to anyone who can assist me. He says that my persistence along with the success of my writings shows how serious I am and how potentially far my work more than likely will go - rewarding me for all that hard work and granting the validation that reinforces those good feelings needing to be stored up in place of all the hostility. We'll see how it all goes: they could of granted me sixty days off my sentence, for saving that man's life, too, and we see how that turned out. Often do I joke, telling other offenders that it's up to the prison staff if I get out of here with a positive attitude or if I get out with nothing but a hatred in my heart and inkling to acquire an assault rifle, plenty of ammo, with the idea that I owe some payback. I've got to watch this sense of humor, tasteless as it is, though, considering that I have been in two different incidents involving gunplay and police, as an adult, and one (I swear I didn't know it was a cop at the time) when I was a juvenile. It's scary, it really is, and I hate it anymore, so I am doing everything I can to become that positive citizen I want to now be. Facts are: by offering me this outlet, for these essays, Hamilton college and the editors at its APWA were doing more for my rehabilitation than this prison system ever had, but hopefully that's all about to change with this scanning of my novel. My thousand dollar book is still on that banned book list, no matter its artistic, literary, and, now, "collective" value, though. No matter the fact that a family oriented corporation, such as Walmart, actually distributed it when it was still in print, nor that some of my captors are now realizing that maybe giving me a little support is actually maybe the right thing to do for the best shot at fulfilling their mission statement, we do still have this little fact, concerning my book's banning, because of earlier actions by them who were fighting me for whatever reasons they had. And it is these types of haters, on the authoritative side of this real live Lucifer Affect, who don't give two craps if I leave prison, this time, truly rehabilitated or not, and that's as scary as the tasteless joke, I made, earlier, about the assault rifle. I want to view these people as other fellow human beings - something I've never done before - but then one of them does that certain something that feeds all the discontent the old me thrives on. I do realize that they are simply people who just have crummy jobs, but it's what they do to their wards which reveals them for the type of people each one is. I do find that sometimes my communication with them is broken and awkward because most past experience dictates that they are only trying to or going to harm me in some way. That animal instinct screams from deep down inside. I don't trust them and I know they don't trust me either. I even understand why they might not have trust for me, considering who I used to be, but do they return me the same understanding? We've got a history of being so much at odds with each other. My last two arrests rife with so much violence: firearms being discharged, the deployment of K9 units; I was shot, beat and bitten between both incidents, took an ambulance ride one time and was brought to the hospital in the back of a cop car the other, operated on and treated. My aim not as good as theirs, but that didn't stop me from trying. I could of shot and killed one of those pursuing officers, at that time, and felt as bad about it as I would feel about walking to the corner store and buying milk. So I guess we have come far from those days: I really do want to see them as fellow humans and some of them are even coming around to do nice or supportive things for my positive change. It's the barriers set that reinforce all the anger from a lifetime of negativity and the way those barriers still affect my change in such a harmful way that's so frustrating. Sure, it is nice that some of these people are finally getting onboard in supporting my efforts now, but there's a lot of damage to overcome which I believe wouldn't even exist if not for our prison system failing the public and me when I needed it most. Got questions for Prisoner 103060919? TommyLee Dean (or) jpay letters And remember to include a postal address if you wish for me to respond.

Author: Dean, Tommy Lee

Author Location: Colorado

Date: April 20, 2019

Genre: Essay

Extent: 15 pages

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