My stay at LCC didn’t last too long. Last Friday, the 13th, they gave me 2 hours notice that I was moving to OCC (Omaha Correctional Center). There were 9 of us that moved from LCC to OCC, 6 who were waiting to start the iHelp program. I guess as we weren’t actually IN the program yet they decided that they could move us ahead of the rest and use us as shock troops to test the waters here at OCC. We are sort of like the first soldiers to storm Omaha beach. It didn’t go well for them but we’re doing better. *smile*
The ride up was a bit cramped as there were 9 of us in leg and wrist/waist shackles so every seat in the van was full. The processing at OCC’s intake went pretty smoothly but we had to sit and wait a few hours while they cleared out bunks for us in the unit where the program will be run. Apparently the unit hadn’t been informed that we were coming so they had to move some people out on short notice. Needless to say, when we did get to our new rooms, some of our roommates weren’t all that excited to see us. The 6 of us waiting for iHelp were all sent to J3 unit, C wing which is all 8 man rooms (they still call them cells but they don’t lock the doors so I think of them as dorms). They put us in pairs into 3 different rooms so we all had 6 new roommates. In my room, C4, there is a lifer, Thomas, who’s been down for 25 years and was clearly not happy to see us arrive. For the first few days he would never initiate a conversation with me and would only give single word replies to my questions. I think he, and a couple others in the room, were upset to have lost the 2 roommates that were moved out. They’ve all warmed up to us now, but it was sort of an unannounced, sudden change and people in prison don’t deal well with unannounced, sudden changes. *chuckle*
The other guy in C4 who came from LCC is my bunkie so at least we didn’t have to deal with resentful bunkie. Dennis, or Big Show as he’s known, is a bigger white guy, probably in his late 20s. He’s pretty quiet but we’re getting along well. Actually, all 6 of us who came from LCC have bonded pretty well through shared adversity. *chuckle* There’s me, Dennis, Tom, John, Ralph and Steve. Hmm, all middle aged or older white guys. Ha!
J3 is the only unit at OCC with 8 man rooms. J1, J2, and K units are all 2 man cells which I hear are pretty cramped. J3 has 3 wings, A, B, and C. Each wing has 2 tiers with a total of 13 rooms for a max of 104 people in each wing. A wing is the SAU (Substance Abuse Unit) and C wing will be the iHelp program which typically has around 50 people in it at a time so the rest of the space is supposed to be people waiting to start or who have just finished the program. B wing has no program, nor do the other units, J1, J2, or K.
The layout of OCC feels a lot like a small college campus. There’s a large central space with sidewalks criss-crossing it and several trees (yes TREES, real living trees that we can touch…though not climb LOL!). The buildings are in sort of a ring around the central space with the housing units along the southern part and support facilities around the rest, like the library, medical, education, the chow hall, and the gym. Round the outside of 1/2 of the buildings is a track that runs right inside the fence so you can actually do a nice long walk when the track is open, which is most of the time. If it weren’t for the razor wire topped fence around the perimeter and the COs with radios and pepper spray around the compound, you’d feel like you were on campus. *smile*
I’m still getting used to OCC’s schedule but over all I can say it is by far the most comfortable environment of any facility I’ve been in yet. Even when you figure in the 8 man dorms. The biggest drawback that I’ve noticed is that the staff are more strict and nit-pickie than at other places. As the warden said at our orientation on Wed., if you’re not here to program then he’ll gladly move you back to a higher security facility. Follow the rules or you’re out. So far I haven’t tripped up on any of their nit-pickie rules but it’s probably only a matter of time. For instance, we can only have 35 food items in our locker at any one time. Well, I often have at least 10 crystal lights, so there’s almost a third of my limit already. I’m going to try but we’ll see if I make it out of OCC without any class 3 write ups. *chuckle*
– Sunday –
It’s been a busy weekend. Friday afternoon a group of 19 people arrived from LCC so they moved a bunch of people out of C wing to make room for them. 3 people got moved out of my room and we got 3 new people from LCC. Well, they were people I had met while I was briefly there so “new” is a relative term. Ha. One of the people who moved out of my room was Thomas, the lifer who had not been too receptive to our arrival a week ago. He had started to warm up but now he’s in B wing. What I didn’t know, until he had moved out, was that he had lived in this room, in the same bunk, for 25 years. Wow. That’s a long time to live in an 8 man dorm. No wonder he gave us the cold shoulder when we arrived, though it wasn’t our fault he was going to have to move, we were still the most immediate sign of his imminent displacement from his home of 25 years. Thomas was the dayroom porter and cleaned and buffed the floors out there so he also buffed the room’s floor every weekend too. Since he was moved I decided to take over that responsibility and I buffed our room today.
Last week I ran into another lifer that lives here at OCC. I had a pass to an early appointment so I went to early chow and ended up going with K unit. I didn’t know anyone at any tables so I found one that only had one older guy in a wheel chair sitting at it and asked him if I could join him. He had a long scraggly white beard and looked like he had lived a hard life. I introduced myself and he said he was Art.
He didn’t recognize me as being from K unit so he asked how long I had been here. I told him I had just arrived days before and was from J3, not K unit. He went silent which I took as a cue for me to continue the conversation so I asked how long he had been here. He said he had been at OCC for 34 years; he arrived 1 year after it was built and he had even been born only 2 blocks away. I was blown away that anyone had lived at OCC for that long and commented that I guess he had outlasted all the wardens then.
I had heard there were around 25 lifers living here at OCC but it’s one thing to hear an abstract number and another to meet some of them. I can see why you’d want to be here if you had life. It’s a much “nicer” facility, for a prison, than anything else in Nebraska’s system. I count myself lucky to be here too but hopefully I’ll only be here for the year that it should take to complete the iHelp program. *smile*
After Thomas was moved out and the new guys from LCC moved in the atmosphere in the room changed a lot. There is a lot more chatting and banter back and forth. Thomas liked to keep everything quiet, out of mutual respect for each other’s privacy, but many of the guys in the room now know each other from LCC so they get along well. Unfortunately, one of the guys snores pretty loudly. He’s even kept my bunkie up with snoring which is ironic as my bunkie was the loudest snorer until now. The new guy who snores, Lowe, also has an old CRT TV which he’s managed to hang using laundry bags at the foot of his bunk. One big difference between LCD/LED TVs and CRTs is that you can view CRTs from a pretty acute angle, and as his bunk is just opposite mine the glare from his TV illuminates my bunk very brightly…and he’s prone to falling asleep with it on at night. *sigh* I’ve politely asked him if he’d hang his towel as a curtain to block it at night and he agreed to try it. Let’s hope it works tonight.
The weather the past couple of days has been really nice for mid Dec., in the 50s, so I’ve been going out and walking in the mornings. I think I’ve established my new routine will be go to breakfast, come back and sweep/mop the room, go walk the track for an hour, shower, and then do yoga on my bunk over the 11-12 count. Eventually, I would like to get them to allow me to do yoga in the dayroom every morning but I’ll wait until the program starts because there is technically a rule against sitting on the floor in the dayroom. Maybe the program staff will support me doing yoga in the dayroom and encouraging others to participate. I’m also going to ask the Club Coordinator if the guy who was leading a yoga class in Tecumseh, and teaches an Alpha program here at OCC, would be willing and able to lead a yoga class here too. Someone I knew from Tecumseh also wanted me to ask the Rec. Manager if he would schedule a yoga class in the gym and have me lead it. The more yoga the better, right? *chuckle*
I also want to talk to the Club Coordinator about starting a Toastmasters club here. I asked her about it at our orientation last Wed. and she was open to the idea. She had done the volunteer training for the Toastmasters volunteers at TSCI, 2 Georges and Floy, and she remembered them so I’ll ask her to contact them about helping to start up a new chapter of Toastmasters.
The orientation last week was the first time I had ever had an orientation at any NE prison and it was quite long, 2.5 hours. It seemed that everyone in the administration took it as a matter of pride to come speak at the meeting. It was long but I enjoyed meeting some of the important people in the admin., including even the Warden himself. Warden Cruickshank is a no-nonsense, hard-nosed type of guy. He made it clear that if you don’t want to program you won’t stay at OCC for long. He ended by saying to follow the chain of command if you have questions; don’t just write him first, contact your case manager or other admin. person responsible first. Then he asked if there were any questions. I mentioned that NSP, TSCI, and LCC all have Intentional Peer Support programs (IPS) and that I had gone through the IPS training, along with his daughter, Associate Warden Cruickshank at TSCI, and that I was already a certified IPS Specialist if they were going to start it here. He seemed confused about what program I was talking about, maybe I threw him by referencing his daughter, because he started in about some rewards program. When I asked whom I could contact with questions about IPS he seemed to grudgingly say to contact him. Haha! So much for the chain of command. I hadn’t been here a week and I’ve already sent a kite to the Warden. *grin*
This past Thursday afternoon I received my first visit here. Mom, dad, and McK came to see me. The visiting schedule is pretty open here: afternoons or evenings Mon-Fri and mornings or afternoons Sat-Sun. We can even get a weekday visit AND a morning visit on Sat. or Sun. which is different from any other facility. The visiting room is pretty small though, maybe half the size of LCC’s room. Also, the vending machine food selection was quite limited. There were no chips at all and even though there were 2 machines with drinks, most were Gatorade type drinks. At least there was a decent selection of sandwiches. Because the room was so small with hard brick walls, my dad had a hard time hearing and because the back wall is glass, looking out on a courtyard that is open in warmer weather, my mother was cold the whole time. I think 2 visitors at a time would be best here and if they come on the weekend they have to come early (it opens at 7:45) because if the room fills up they start turning people away. I wouldn’t want them to drive all the way up here and get turned away. We’ll have to work out the best way to handle visits here.