It’s been a busy week. After months of planning and coordinating we finally had the “Art from Inside” art show. Since the start of the year I had been working with my friend Jeri to put on an art show of incarcerated people’s artwork in her studio. I tried to get lots of people in here to contribute and many said they would but we only ended up with works from 5 artist, myself included. It’s funny, you would think that people in prison would have plenty of time to finish artwork by a deadline, especially when that deadline is months away, but several people kept finding excuses to not even start working on a piece, even in here. *sigh*
The art show was this past Friday during the First Friday Art Walk in downtown Lincoln and my friend Jeri not only put it all together and displayed it but she also wrote a press release about the show and sent it out. A reporter, JoAnne Young, from the Lincoln Journal Star contacted her and wanted to interview her for a piece in the Friday paper. I called Jeri on Wed. to see how things were going and happened to catch her in her studio…as she was being interviewed so the reporter asked to speak to me. I am actually quoted in the article and she explains that she spoke to me in my cell on my phone tablet. *smile* The article was a very nice piece but the most impactful part was that they included a very large photo of a painting by Michael McKenzie titled Just Beyond the Fence. The article was titled Finding ‘ways to heal.’ A lot of the article focuses on my memorial to Terry Berry so I’m happy that his unnecessary murder is getting more attention. I’m using the article to spur interest in participating in a future show, and to prick the conscience of those who couldn’t find the time to finish their work this time. Ha.
Jeri said that there were approximately 100 people who came through her studio on the First Friday Art Walk, which is more than she’s ever had through her studio in one night. About 1/3 of those came because of the article and 1/2 had read it. At least one NDCS employee attended, one person who teaches college classes in prison, and a lawyer who had represented people who are incarcerated now. My dad had sent an invitation to all the state senators and 3 had replied and said they might attend but Jeri didn’t know if any had or if the Ombusdman or Inspector General had. I would say that the show was a brilliant success. It’s interesting, I have been writing to public officials and the local media for over 2 years and this show got far more attention and traction than any other effort. The lesson may be that the best way to address an issue may not be to come at it head on but instead approach it sideways. *chuckle*
The one downside to the show is that nothing sold, at least so far. All the proceeds from any sales were going to go to the Lincoln City Mission but no one was willing to lay out any cash. Well, one thing did sell, but it wasn’t officially part of the “show.” Jeri has also displayed the beaded jewelry that I had sent out even though it wasn’t officially part of the show. JoAnne, the reporter, liked one of the bracelets so much that she bought it. *smile* Jeri was going to give me the $30 but I said if it sold with the show the money should go to the Mission. At least there will be a small donation from us. I suggested to McKenzie that if his painting doesn’t sell we should ask the Inspector General if he would like it for his office but we could also donate it to the Toastmasters volunteers who are fundraising for our club’s International dues. We’ll see what is still there by the end of the month.
I am very grateful to Jeri for not only hosting the show in her studio but also for putting in the work to frame the art, stage the show, and drumming up media interest. I am very lucky to not only have friends that have stuck with me during my incarceration but that are also willing to help me with projects like the art show. She is even excited to put on another one next spring or fall. Thank you Jeri! *big hug*
Another thing that happened on Friday was my annual reclassification. Well, actually, the process ran all week but finished on Friday. A new case manager, O’Hara, not only did my annual reclassification but he also did my Strong-R which is a recidivism risk assessment tool that NDCS is supposed to use on everyone eventually. He did an interview with about 70 questions on Wed. and then scored it and got back to me on Friday. There are something like 10 categories of risk factors like Mental Health, Violence, Residential, Employment, Attitudes/Behaviors, etc and they score on a scale with ranges of Low, Medium and High. Only one category scored High for me, and just barely; that was Mental Health. I assume that the High score is completely based on my charge. My second highest category was just barely below High and was, oddly, Residential. I don’t know how that category scored at the top end of Medium when I had a stable residence for 6 years prior to my arrest in a very good neighborhood and I will parole back there.
How exactly are Residential factors contributing to my risk of reoffending? :/ There were 4 categories tied for my 3rd highest and they were all just barely into the Medium risk range. Violence and Employment didn’t even register as risk factors. So with one category barely in the High range, 5 in the Medium but mostly at the low end of Medium, and all the rest in Low if they even registered a score at all, I somehow ended up with a Medium overall score. Probably because it is impossible in their tool for a sex offender to score Low. *sigh*
After we discussed the Strong-R results and made a case plan on how I plan on working on the 3 highest risk categories over the next year we moved on to my reclassification. O’Hara told me that they were keeping me at 2x, which means medium custody level. I realized that they couldn’t drop me lower than that because then I couldn’t be at TSCI any longer because TSCI is a medium/max custody facility. Then he told me that they were putting me in for transfer to “LCC/OCC for programming needs.” I sighed and slumped in my seat because if my transfer is contingent on “programming needs” then I will sit here waiting till a spot in the program opens up. I told O’Hara that what I wanted was to just move to OCC, independent of any programming recommendation, because I had already wasted the past year waiting to move to LCC but never going because I wasn’t at the top of the wait list for the program, iHelp. He told me that he had to write it that way because his superiors had told him to (remember, it was his first reclassification). But, he told me he was going to push hard to get me moved to OCC sooner rather than later. Here’s the thing, after the case manager makes a transfer recommendation it is either approved or denied by the DRC (director’s review committee) and if approved the central office decides when to move you. No one in the sending or receiving institution seems to have any influence over when you’re moves so O’Hara means well but he won’t be able to expedite my move. *deep breath* He did say that I was pretty high on the wait list but that still means that the central office won’t even consider moving me to OCC until iHelp has started there so I won’t be moving before Jan. *sigh* I’ve heard that OCC doesn’t allow beadwork as a hobby so at least I’ll be able to make all the beaded Christmas ornaments that I was planning on sending out as gifts with my Christmas letter this year. Look on the bright side, right? *smile*
Here’s a story that gives an idea of what life in prison is like and how we become accustomed to it. One evening a couple of weeks ago I was on the phone talking to McK. I was using the phone tablet and sitting on my upper bunk. My cellie, Cleetus, was on his bunk reading or watching TV. Now, someone on the outside might think that it would be uncomfortable to have a “private” conversation with your partner while someone else is in the cell but to us it’s a luxury of privacy because before the tablets we had to talk on one of the 4 phones in the dayroom. It’s much more private to only have your cellie overhearing the conversation than the whole dayroom. So McK and I are chatting and all of a sudden he says “are you going to the bathroom while talking to me?” No, I was still on my bunk…but Cleetus had gotten up and was taking a leak. McK was shocked to realize how tight the quarters are in here. I had told him that the toilet was only 8 feet or so from our bunks but the fact that he could so clearly hear him brought the point home. What I realized from the situation was that Cleetus’ taking a leak hadn’t even registered with me. That’s how accustomed to zero privacy we become in here. LOL!
I have recently faced one of my greatest fears in moving to A gallery. We had our room searched by CO Gilbert, the one I’ve done my best to avoid even talking to. She takes 20-30 minutes in a cell when she’s searching and usually comes out with a garbage back full of stuff. I was certain I would loose the blankets that I use for yoga and possibly even get a write up for some something or other. It’s impossible to not have something that a CO can write you up for if they really want to. Well, she didn’t take her usual 20+ minutes and she came out with…nothing in her hands. She barely even moved anything in our cell. I hate to be glad about this, but it seems that the rumors of her playing favorites based on race are true. The 2 older white guys didn’t deserve a tough search but Joe, the black guy my age, got more write ups in his first week in A gallery than he had in the years he had been at TSCI. I count myself lucky and hope that I don’t get another search by her before I leave for OCC.
I have written up a draft of the court filing I will need to make if I have to sue over NDCS’s misapplication of 191 good time. I haven’t heard of any response to my letter to state senators so a suit is the next step. I also have not heard back from Amy Miller at the ACLU. My friend KK had sent her a letter from me asking if the ACLU would be interested in representing this class action suit. I had KK send it because if I write the ACLU directly the receptionist sends a boiler plate response that they don’t represent individuals and I would have to hire a private lawyer. But what I’m working on is a class action and would actually help alleviate the overcrowding which they are already suing over. I am going to have my dad email and mail the draft petition I’ve created to Amy Miller with a cover letter asking that if they aren’t willing to take on the case can I at least get some feedback on the draft. I hope to get the suit started before the end of the year but if I have to file on my own, pro se, there is a lot of supplemental documentation I have to write up first. I could still approach the private lawyer that former senator Council recommended. We’ll see if Amy responds first.