Friday, August 26, 2016

August 25th 60th Birthday

Today is my 60th birthday.  That's supposed to be a significant birthday, but it doesn't feel special to me.  I don't feel any different.  I guess I'm surprised I made it this far, but that's only because I lived such a dangerous life.  They say "The good die young" so by inference the bad live forever. So I'm 60 years old today and going strong.  Doubt I'll live forever, but do feel like I've got more left in me.
The heart attack and quadruple bypass heart surgery six years ago was a scare, but I've been feeling good since.  Since today is Thursday I'll play soccer with the youngsters.  One of them just slapped me on the back and reminded me about the game tonight.  Said something about me being too old to remember, but wanted me out there to play.  He doesn't know today is my birthday because I keep that a secret.  No reason for it, but I don't want any one here to know.
Think I'll call Mary tonight so she can rub it in that I'm 60.  Got to let her have some fun too.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"True Detective" Book Review

Just finished reading "True Detective" by Max Allan Collins.  Though it is not listed as such, I'd go so far to call "True Detective" a story of Historical Fiction.   It's a detective story set in 1932 Chicago that accurately portrays the depth of the city government's corruption and ties to Al Capone's mob, which was being run by Frank Nitty at the time.  I'm not particularly interested in this period of time, but this book was so well written that it drew me in.  It was full of period facts, like that you could have a good meal in a decent restaurant for .15 cents, or that you could buy a four year old Ford for $40.  The author would use a period term that I didn't know without explaining it, which was a writing style I liked.
This was a rare book that I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Drunk Pigeons

This story goes back about twelve years ago, to the days when hooch, or prison wine was common. You never see it here any more, but back then hooch was a way of life.  It was a constant struggle with the inmates who made it to hide it from the correctional officers, who were always trying to find it. Often when they found it the officers would dump it down the nearest toilet, but on this occasion the hooch was inside a large plastic milk bag, so too much for the toilet.  This bag they took outside the block and dumped it in the grass.
The hooch was made out of assorted fruit with a considerable amount of bread to work as yeast. So when it was poured out into the grass the liquid leached into the ground, but the fermented fruit and bread rested on top of the grass.  It didn't take long for the ever present pigeons to spot the smorgasbord and land to dine.  Most of the pigeons gave up after the first bite, but a few stayed and ate more.  I was one of a group of guys who stood at the windows watching this, wondering if a pigeon could get drunk.  Turns out they can.
Of those that stayed to eat the fermented meal all but one left in less than five minutes.  I watched those that flew off carefully.  I'd once made the mistake of flying my airplane after drinking a single beer.  You can drink a beer and drive a car just fine, but as I learned then, an airplane is an entirely different matter.  Knowing I'd made a mistake I landed at the first airport I reached and stayed on the ground for eight hours, just as FAA rules dictate.  "Eight hours from bottle to throttle."  I found it interesting that all the pigeons that flew off landed immediately on the adjoining building.  As best I could tell they all stayed put.  Smart birds.
But this one pigeon liked those fermented bits.  Shortly after all the other birds had left him alone this pigeon started to walk funny.  A couple of minutes later when she leaned over to peck at a piece of fermented bread she tilted forward until her belly was on the ground but her feet were not. Even though it was funny no one laughed because we all thought the bird had died.  This was an issue because we often fed the birds, so sort of liked them.  But in less than a minute the pigeon righted itself, took a few wobbly steps and ate some more, then fell over again.  Now we were all laughing because this was hysterical.  The bird kept eating and passing out.  Each time it fell forward until only its belly was holding it up.  It never fell all the way over, which was odd, but entertaining to watch.   In response to our loud laughter it attempted to fly, which might have been the saddest thing I have ever seen a bird do.  On it's first attempt it only flapped one wing, on the next all it did was beat the ground with both wings.  After a few failed attempts to fly it gave up and ate more fermented bread.
If we'd have had this on video it would be a You Tube sensation.
We'd noticed that it was staying passed out longer each time, so we figured it wouldn't be long before it passed out long enough to sober up.  About this time someone remembered the cats. Every night about time for the 4:00 count several cats would show up under these windows because we fed them there too.  As that time drew near I went to the cop and asked if he could do something to help the pigeon.  I couldn't get out there so I had hopped the officer would help. He seemed sympathetic but couldn't leave his post do save a drunk bird.
When we were locked down for count the last I saw the pigeon she was stumbling around and looking a little better.   When I was able to return to the window after count twenty minutes later a big feral cat sat in the midst of pigeon feathers licking it's paws clean.

Big House Pranks

Any time you put a thousand men of different backgrounds together into a small area for an extended period of time you end up with a lot of funny stories.  I can't use guys real names so I'll make up names to make the story flow better and I won't bother with trying to assign a time frame to it as that won't matter to the story itself.  What will matter is that these stories will give you a little insight into what prison life is like.

Ken was large black guy with limited cranial ability.  Meaning he was fat and not too bright.  But he was a nice guy and everyone liked him.  I liked him.  A good example of Ken's personality is that one day I saw him staring at this new guy, but not saying anything.  The new guy was a young white fellow who wore his paints low on his hips, braided his hair and talked like an inner city black guy. The new guy didn't know Ken so when he realized Ken was staring at him he became offended and in a confrontational way said, "What!"  Not realizing the new guy was irritated, Ken said exactly what was on his mind.  Ken couldn't figure the new guy out so he said, "What is you?"  Everyone laughed and the situation was defused.
At the time I made fudge which I sold for an income.  I didn't make much, but my fudge was so good it was in high demand.  I also experimented with making candy and other sweets, so Ken was used to seeing me with something good to eat and he wasn't shy about asking for some. One day in the art room a guy found an old case of Crayola crayons.  There were thousands of them, but as no one used crayons I accepted a 24 pack to use as a joke.  I used a razor to cut the tips off which gave me 24 multi-colored bits that looked like candy.  I went around the room offering this "candy" to guys but they weren't going for it.
I was about to give up on my prank when Ken came into the room.  I acted like I was eating something, which pulled him in.  "What you eatn," he asked.  I had my hand open so he could see the multi-colored "candy" which is what his eyes were focused on.  "Candy," I said.  "Want some?"  He held out his big hand so I dumped them all into his hand.  Ken immediately popped half the crayons into his mouth.  I'm not very good at keeping a straight face so I just walked off, laughing as I went.  I left the art room and went back to the block, soon forgetting about the event.
I saw Ken later that day and he said, "Very funny.  You got me."  So we shared a good laugh and the rest of the night guys were laughing about it.  All in good humor.
The next day Ken walked up to me with a pair of scissors and a sheet and said, "You ready?"  I said, "Sure." then sat down and let him cut my hair. Ken was my barber, not the best we had but he was cheap and I wasn't that particular about my hair.  Nor did I pay attention to when my hair got long, so Ken would let me know when I needed a cut, which I always appreciated.  So this was a normal event for us that I didn't give a second thought.  As was my habit I kept telling him to hurry up as he cut my hair and as was his habit he ignored me and took his time.  When he was done I thanked him, complained about how slow he was and paid him.  The first guy I passed after the hair cut looked at me funny.  The next guy laughed.  This caused me to find a mirror. Ken had given me a creatively horrible hair cut.  He'd gotten even with me and somehow done it with a straight face.  Every time guys told that story, which they did often, I was the dummy.
Such is life in the Big House.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Soccer Day

Before the game I heard one regular player say that he wasn't going to play because it was too hot. The guy saying this is a Haitian, so I said, "Really, its too hot for a Haitian.  I've never been to Haiti, but I've been to Florida so I know it's hot in Florida.  Cuba's south of Florida and I hear it's pretty hot there too.  But Haiti is even further south so it has to be hot there.  So how can Pennsylvania be too hot for a Haitian?"  The guy hung his head and said something about his back hurting so I mentioned that I was sixty years old and I was going out, which was all it took to get him to change his mind and agree to play.  One thing about these Latin American men, its easy to play the "macho man card" on them.
The prison I am in is a "Special Management Unit", which means they keep guys who have done bad things locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.  The prison has a small "Cadre" of high security prisoners who are here to do our time as oppose to being here for punishment, so we are only locked down at night.  Which is why I am able to play soccer and softball and able to go to the art room.  This is good for us in that the fewer convicts the fewer problems.  The down side is that we often don't have enough guys to play organized sports.  So when a few guys decide not to play soccer there is a good chance the game will be canceled due to lack of players.  This is why I had to play the macho man card to get the Haitian to play.
I recently learned that a soccer field is actually called a pitch.  Odd but that's the name.  So the Haitian manned up and came out so we had a full team.  Good game.  One of the Jamaicans pulled a first and played barefoot.  The pitch is good grass, but the problem with going barefoot is that everyone else wears cleats.  It turned out to be a smart move as he moved faster than ever before and every opponent he encountered was aware of his bare feet so were careful around him. He had a great game.  I asked why he played barefoot and he said that's how he played growing up in Jamaica. It was an interesting lesson.  I played goalie the entire game, which I was fine with do to the heat. Soccer is a great workout for me.
Today I made arrangements to start playing racquetball regularly with my buddy, the former soldier.   Without softball all the exercise I get is the two days of soccer and feel like I can handle more. Racquetball is a fast game with just the right amount of movement that I get a good workout but don't have to push to exhaustion.  I could walk the track or even jog, but I know I won't keep that up.  A competitive sport is a different matter.  That I will do and push myself, so I'm looking forward to playing racquetball twice a week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Emotional Dad

I can be emotional.  It is rare that this side of me manifest, but it did tonight while talking to Hope. Her and Joshua were home from the hospital and doing fine.  I was always a mess when Mary had our babies but I tried to hide it to put on a strong front for her.  I didn't fool her.  I try to put on a brave front with my daughters, and that works most of the time because I am not there with them.  But with Hope on the phone tonight I failed and she saw how soft I really am.
We have a bank of four telephones in the cell block, all lined up ten inches apart against the wall in the busiest part of the block.  There is little privacy when on the phone.  So it's not considered "manly" to cry on the phone, yet that is what I did while talking to Hope.  Of course when I started crying she did too, which didn't help.  I couldn't help it.  It was a combination of going from worried to relieved and just how happy I was for Hope and how proud I was of her.  It was all too much for me so I couldn't help myself.
Some tough guy I am.
I am in awe of women.  The process of having a baby amazes me and puts me in awe of the women who do it.  It is such a painfully horrible ordeal, yet women from the beginning of time have had babies.  They didn't use to have a choice in the matter, but today they do.  A woman can avoid getting pregnant, and even if she does she can avoid having a baby.  Yet women everywhere choose to have babies.  Just like the women who came before them, modern women choose to endure the worry and pain and they choose to devote themselves to the care of that little one for many years.  Every person alive on this planet is here because of the strength and courage of a woman.  I am in awe of the strength and courage of women.  And I am exceedingly proud of my wife and our five daughters for the courage they displayed when they brought life into this world.
I going to stop here before I start crying in the computer room.  Guys are already beginning to talk. Lord help if they figured out what I was all mushy over.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Wild Life

The United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg is an interesting place for wild life.  Like all such places we have a healthy population of pigeons, but we also have regular visits from a couple of hawks.  The hawks are interesting to watch but they make life rough on the pigeons.  We also have as a regular a very large snow owl, which is a beautiful bird.  There are a number of smaller birds to be found, the largest population of which is the starling.  We also have the occasional lost goose and duck that will drop in for a few days.  As a bird lover I enjoy watching them.

On the ground the most prevalent animals are wild cats.  We also have a healthy population of ground hogs that live on the grounds and fairly regular visits by a skunk or two.  I do not exaggerate when I say these cats are wild.  Lewisburg was built in the 1930's so it has an interesting building.  The design provides the cats places to hide and breed.  And breed they do. I've watched generations of cats come and go.  The staff use live traps to capture them, but there are so many of them that I bet every barn within fifty miles of here is protected by a feral Big House Cat.
Despite the age and size of this place the rarest sighting are the things you don't want to see, like rats, mice, and cock roaches.  I've never seen a rat here.  I've only seen a few mice, and that was rare.  I've seen exactly two roaches here.  I know they work hard to keep the pest out, but I am always surprised at how well they succeed.

My least favorite time here is winter, when it always seems a new litter of cats shows up. Inevitably a kitten or two will make her way from the basement where she was born into the weight room and art room.  The kittens will enter these spaces at night when no one is there then be surprised when men rush in the next day.  Every year these kittens climb up into the exposed pipes and there they stay. The real problem with this, at least for us, is that heating pipes are up there and before the day is over one of those cute little kittens will pee on that hot pipe.  You have to experience this smell to appreciate it.
The ground hogs dig their holes on the opposite side of fences were inmates roam.  Some how they understand they are safer there.  I have no doubt that we have guys here that would eat them if caught.  Some guys feed apples to the ground hogs.  We used to have a guy called "the Ground Hog Whisper" because of how he'd trained a few of the young ones.  Skunks roam much like the cats do. It's not uncommon to see a skunk eating its dinner where the cats dine, but it is clear that the skunk is the alpha.  The cats give them a wide birth.
Pigeons are everywhere.  There is a window ledge on an inner court yard where every year a single pigeon pair will set up a nest and lay two eggs.  This is an interesting spot in that every time I go anywhere out of the cell block I pass this spot.  Because I am able to walk up to the glass without disturbing the birds I am able to watch the baby birds from a foot away.  Every year I enjoy watching the birds grow and fly away from there.
Until arriving here I had never witnessed how pigeons flock and fly together for protection when a predator arrives.  I see it here often and am always fascinated by the spectacle.
We also have the occasional small flock of geese or duck land on the yard.  We once had two ducks that spent several days in a large puddle left by a heavy rain.  I thought those ducks were going to end up in the microwave as two Vietnamese guys were pretty serious about catching them.  I think the ducks got away, but I was never really sure.
For years I had heard guys talking about a giant white owl roaming our grounds but I had begun to discount this.  Most of the guys here are from the city so know nothing about things like owls. Then one night I saw the fellow myself.  It was early morning and I couldn't sleep so I was pacing my cell. At one point I looked up and out the window and there was the owl.  He was on the roof of the next cell block over, but so large as to seem anything but real.  It was most definitely a snow owl.  I'd seen snow owls before, but never one half this large.  My window is set high on the cell wall so I stood on my chair to get a better look.  The instant my face appeared in the window the big owl spotted me and put its big eyes on me.  Not wanting it to fly away I stood still.  It watched me for a minute then continued its careful search of the ground thirty feet below for something to eat.  I watched it for five minutes until something drew the big bird's attention.  It's body went tight, then it leaned forward and seemed to fall off the roof, then it's wings caught air and it flew with fluid grace.  Its prey was below me so I couldn't see what it had killed.  I watched for some time for it to fly off the ground but I never saw it leave.
That snow owl was the most beautiful bird I have ever seen.  He was also the most lethal looking flying predator I have ever seen.  That was five years ago and I look for him every night now, but haven't seen him since.

Grandson & Snickers

I'm a grandpa!  Again.  Our 15th grandchild was born last night.  Joshua was 8 pounds and 11 ounces. Mary was there with Hope through the labor and birth.  I talked to Mary and Hope at the hospital and heard Joshua express his displeasure over something.  Baby's perfect.  Hope is tired but good, son-in-law Scott seems to have survived the ordeal as well.  I'm relieved to hear that everyone is okay.  I usually worry when one of my kids is having a baby, but more so this time than normal.  I am sure it was because it was Hope having the baby.  I have seen her on visits as a woman, but in my mind she will always be "my little girl."

Mary has a Delta flight home in two days, so hopefully the airline will have its computer squared away by then.
Smoking has been prohibited in federal prison since 2004, so I couldn't get cigars.  For this reason I started a tradition twelve years ago with Snickers Bar.  No, I didn't smoke the Snickers Bar, I ate it. Also part of the tradition I got two Snickers Bars and gave one to a friend as payment for having to listen while I bragged about my latest grandson.  I'm quite the braggart when it comes to my children and grandchildren so it seems only fair I bribe my friends with a candy bar.  My friends put up with me because...well, other than the candy bar I'm not sure why but they put up with me.
Soccer tonight.  I'm feeling healthy and ready for a good romp.  Life is good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

August 8, 2016 Commissary Day

Monday is commissary day.  The commissary provides a critical function in prison life.  While it is true that they provide us with every thing we must have, they don't give us everything we need. For example, at no charge they do provide three meals a day, meals that are reasonably nutritious and not horrible, underwear, socks, t-shirts, pants and shirts, and even boots that seem designed to hurt your feet.  They give us bedding and bath towels.  And once a week they give use two rolls of toilet paper, a bar of plain soap, a single blade disposable razor, and a small tube of horrible tooth paste.  In theory a guy could live just fine on what they provide for free.  But in application it doesn't work that way.
The gap between basic need and small comfort is filled by the commissary.  The stuff in the commissary is limited and tightly regulated by security protocol.  We can "shop" at the commissary once a week and in that time we can spend up to $360.00, which is the monthly "spending limit."  I never spend nearly that much, but some guys do.  I wont itemize all the things at the store, but to give you a general idea they have canned soda by the case, potato chips in large bags, microwave popcorn, instant coffee, tea bags, and  Gatorade.  They have numerous hot sauces and seasoning, cheese, oatmeal, honey, peanut butter and nuts.  Cookies and candy bars of different varieties.  Tuna, Sardines, Mackerel, pepperoni, sausage, and pizza kits.  Various instant soups, pop tarts, and bagels. There are Bic pens, pads of paper, photo albums and typewriter ribbons, an assortment of vitamins and fitness bars.
They also sell portable radios, book lights and batteries to run them.  They sell an MP3 player (only one brand), Skullcandy ear buds and Skullcandy headphones.  They sell all kinds of over-the counter medicines, soap, shampoo, hair gel, and even "Ponytailers" which I use because I haven't cut my hair in three years.  They sell expensive Gillette Sensor 3 razor blades, which is why I have a beard. Timberland socks, boxer shorts, t-shirts, sweat pants and sweat shirts.  And the things that everyone must have, a Timex Ironman watch and sneakers.  And of course there's postage stamps and a copy card to use the copy machine.  And last but not least, ice cream by the pint.
In the cell block we have an ice machine and microwaves, which  are both used in conjunction with what we buy from the commissary.  If you can afford it you can eat pretty good out of the commissary.  You can also get fat off all the junk food, but that's true anywhere.
Everyone has to have a job and all jobs come with a pay check.  My job pays $28 a month, some are as high as $95 here.  Other federal prisons have industry jobs where a guy can earn as much as $300 a month.  But most guys have to make due with low paying jobs and are dependent on money they receive from family and friends on the street.  There are a few guys in prison who have a lot of money put back that they draw on, but they are rare.  Most guys are broke, like me, so are dependent on a combination of prison wage and outside support.
 All in all it is a system that works reasonably well.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August 7, 2016

Today is Cody's 27th birthday.  I always call my children on their birthday, but today I have to settle for an email Happy Birthday.  Cody's in LSU's Law School, but is studying the first semester of his third year at a law school in Buenos Aries Argentina.  For the few months he's down there he didn't set up a local phone to save money.  He did the same last summer when he studied law in Lyons, France.  Cody paid for his undergraduate school by doing time in the Army National Guard, but has had to foot the bill for Law School himself.  He started off with a good scholarship, but has handled the rest through hard work.  It's pretty impressive what he's managed to accomplish without any help from me.  As you can imagine, I'm pretty proud of him. So I don't mind that I can't call him on his birthday.
Received an email from Cody yesterday.  He said Buenos Aries is strange to him because it's a large city and he's never lived in a large city.  Plus everyone there speaks a foreign language. Actually, he said he speaks a foreign language and not Spanish like everyone else.  Plans to learn Spanish while he's there.  I nearly suggested it would have been wise to learn the language before going to school in a Spanish speaking country, but held my tongue.  What do I know about law school.  He didn't learn French before studying in France but that worked out so I am sure this will too.  Cody is a competent man who always figures things out.
Cody also mentioned that travel around South America was more difficult and more expensive than travel in Europe.  I found that comment interesting.  He figured the difference was due to South America's larger land mass.  Perhaps, but I suspect South America lacks Europe's modern transportation infrastructure.  I've never been to either continent so I don't really know.
Soccer today.  Knee still hurts but I stayed in goal and took it as easy.  Well, mostly.  It was a good game and no one was hurt.  Win win!  After soccer I took a shower then watched a little TV to recover.   For TV we have standard cable plus a few HBO channels.  Bureau of Prison policy prevent us from watching "R" rated movies so that eliminates most of the good movies.  A good example is that Friday night "Charlie Wilson's War" was on.  None of had seen it so we were all eager to watch it.  We had our microwave pop corn (bought in the commissary) ready and everything, then when the movie was set to start the parental block kicked in.  We had heard it was PG-13, but turns out is was rated "R".  You have no idea how frustrating it is not to have internet access so you can check something as simple as a movie rating.  Saturday night's movie was "Charlie Brown" which we could watch but opted not to.  Watched Big Bang Theory, which I really like, and the Olympics.
Friday night I finished the Brad Meltzer book and am now reading "The First Hostage" by Joel C. Rosenberg.   Interesting book, the premise intrigues me.  It's about a sitting US President being kidnapped by ISIS while attending a peace conference in Jordan.  The main character is a New York Times reporter.  It's an improbable scenario, but the author pulls it off.  I've read another of Rosenberg's books, "The Twelfth Imam" and liked it too.  Hopefully we have many more of his books in the library because I like the way he writes.  Smart, creative, and well written.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August 6, 2016

Today's kind of slow.  Had planned to play softball but it was changed to football, which I've decided to pass on because of my knee.  This surprised everyone as I usually play everything, but as I said, that 60th birthday later this month is a solid reminder of my age.  I plan to play soccer tomorrow, but prison football is a bit too rough on my old body.  Now that I've admitted that I feel better about it. Not!
Responding to that first post Rebecca told me she found the story about hamburger day and condiments fascinating.  She said she had no idea that's how it was.  When I was surprised that she didn't know any of this she reminded me that I never told her anything about prison.  In fourteen years of visits, thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls I never told her about life inside.  She says that most people are curious, so to fill in the gap when I have nothing else to talk about I'll talk about prison life.
Guess I'll start with how I communicate with everyone.  We have telephones on the cell-block.  I can make a call out but no one can call me.  I can only call people on my phone list, but I can change or update that list as often as I want on a contact file that I access through the computer (more on that soon).  When I make a call the person on the other end hears a recorded message saying it is a call from a federal prison, then gives my name in my recorded voice.  The person I call has several options, one of which is to have their number removed from my list, the other is to accept the call. That done we can talk for up to 15 minutes.  In fourteen minutes it warns us that a minute is left, then at fifteen disconnects.  I can make a maximum of 300 minutes of phone calls a month, but they increase it to 400 for December only.  The call doesn't cost the person I am calling, but I pay .21 cents per minute.  So a 15 minute phone call to anywhere in the United States cost me $3.15, a three minute call cost .63 cents.  Unless something is going on where I have to make a lot of calls, I rarely reach the 300 minute maximum.  I would like to call that much, but the cost is a limiting factor.
We also have email.  This is relativity new in the federal system, I think we've had it for six years. Like the phone call, a receiving part has to agree to getting an email from me before I can send it. There is a sign up procedure.  I send a request to a person's email account and then they have to do a one time sign up.  Once that is done then we can email each other.  It's not really email in the classical sense because the person on the street has to go to a web site to send or receive an email from me. They can get a notice sent to their phone that a message is waiting, but they have to go to the web site and sign in to read it and respond.  Not what you are used to, but my family and I are thankful to have it.  Also like the phone calls, there is no cost to those on the street, but I have to pay ,05 cents a minute so type or read an email.  I can log on to the email system for up to 60 minutes at a time, so a full hour of email time cost me $3.00.  Cheaper than a fifteen minute phone call, but it too adds up fast.  There is no limit to how many email minutes I use as long as I can pay the price.

And of course there is the U.S. Mail.  I can send and receive letters to and from anyone with normal postage.  I can receive books as long as they come from a book store (even on-line book stores like Amazon) or from the publisher.  Same goes for magazines and newspapers.  I can get them all with a subscription.  I used have a subscription to Wired, Plane & Pilot, and Flying, but they have expired. Yes, Rebecca, that was a hint.
I also have an MP3 player, with music I can purchase and download through a closed system that is accessed through the same computer I get my email on.  That computer gives me access to an internal bulletin board, legal research, prescription refills, my contact list (which is how I add someone to my phone and email) and my commissary account information, which allows me to see who sent me money and how much I have left.
We don't have access to the internet in any form.  No web sites, not anything like that.  In the works are a Skype type video system so I can see and be seen when on the phone, but I hear that is expensive.  And it seems in the near future we'll be able to purchase an eReader with eBooks and subscriptions also available.  This one makes sense to me because in prison they encourage you to read, but because of other physical concerns limit the number of books you can possess.  An eReader seems like a perfect match for prison life.  As an avid reader I like this idea a great deal.
That sums up our communications stuff.  Will explain visits and other stuff another time.  If I run out of things to talk about I can always fall back on the "personalities" of my peers.  I can't give anyone's name, but you'll find some of these guys interesting.  I certainly do.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

August 5, 2016

Friday's are usually a slow day for me.  Lunch is always fish that is only tolerable with hot sauce, but today's was a new breaded fish that was pretty good.  No organized sports today.  Normally on Friday I go outside and walk for exercise, but it's hot and gloomy outside, plus I'm still nursing my knee, so I'm taking it easy.  Working on the later parts of "A Life Wasted" and reading.
I called my youngest daughter this afternoon.  Hope is 23, married two years and most significantly pregnant with her first child.  She's very pregnant in that the baby is due any day now.  I caught her coming out of her doctor's office so we talked about the visit.  Her doctor "weighed" the baby, which I didn't know they could do.  Some type of new medical technology I've not heard of.  The baby weighs 8 pounds and 13 ounces: nearly 9 pounds.  Hope is a bit apprehensive, as all moms are with their first child.  She is pleased her mom will be there with her.  If I were having a baby I'd want Mary there too.  I am sure she'd enjoy that reversal of roles.
So grandchild #15 due any day now.  With our nine children and our previous fourteen grandchildren, this child will be the 24th baby born as a result of our marriage.  Okay, it's wrong for me to take credit for the grandchildren, but you get my point.  Three of our sons have yet to have children, which I am sure they will have, so more grandchildren will follow.  My guess is we'll have ten more grandchildren.  Twenty-five grandchildren has a nice ring to it.  Give Mary and I something to brag about in the retirement home.
I mentioned reading.  The only good thing about prison is that it gives me plenty of time to read.  If I were home Mary would have me doing chores all day, but here I get to lay around and read.  Mary gets mad at me when I call this my "retirement" and promises to abuse me when I get home, which I don't doubt.   So for now I take advantage of the situation and read all I can.
I like to read fiction, but I also read newspapers and magazines.  I read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, every day (a guy in my cell block gets it and lets me read it).  I read an assortment of magazines.  I like Wired and Fast Company, but my favorite are flying magazine. When either "Flying" or "Plane & Pilot" arrive, the officer giving out the mail says, "Waagner, your porn is in."That always turns heads because we can't get porn.  All things aviation really are porn for me.  All those lovely planes that I'll never get to fly are a thing of my fantasies.  In my defense I do more than look at the pictures, I read every word of every article in every flying magazine.  I even read the ads.Can't help myself.  I'm addicted.  I love everything about aviation.
I average four fiction books a week.  Today I am reading Brad Meltzer's latest book, "The House of Secrets."  I've read ten of Brad Meltzer's previous books and they are all solid reads.  Same with this one.  Good read.  I'm also reading Seth Godin's inspiring business book, "The Icarus Deception". This is the second time I've read this book and I figure there will be a third.  Seth Godin is a smart fellow and his books have such deep meaning that it takes me a few reads to learn all I can from them.

Friday, August 5, 2016

August 4, 2016 Soccer Day

Soccer day.  I play soccer every Thursday.  Sunday too, but this is Thursday.  We have a large recreation yard with multiple hand ball and racquet ball courts, a basketball court, a tennis court, a botchy ball court, a softball field, a weight pit and a grass soccer field that doubles as a football field in the fall.  The first twelve years I was here I didn't play any organized team sports.  After experiencing a heart attack followed by a quadruple open-heart surgery five years ago everyone figured I'd take it easy.  I thought so too, until two years ago. At 58 years old I started playing softball for the first time.

I only played because an injured player had to leave the game.  There was no one to replace him so I filled in.  To ensure I didn't have to move around too much they put me on first base.  It didn't hurt that I am 6'1" tall as a first baseman needs to be able to reach wild throws.  To my surprise I was pretty good on first base.  Turned out that I have a natural ability to track a fast moving ball and catch it.  It is still strange to me because I rarely see the incoming ball, but I always catch it. Even the wild ones.  The second surprise is that I can hit the ball well and far, which is fortunate because I don't run fast.
So after that first softball game I was a regular.  We play twice a week and I am always picked in the top four, which is impressive since I'm the oldest player.  This success led me to play soccer. They made me the goalie as it requires less running.  I was good at this too.  I have fast hands and make a decent goalie.  I've played both soccer and softball every game in those two years and loved every minute of it.  I even played football last year, every game.  This wasn't so smart though as last year I injured my left ring finger so bad that it requires surgery.  It's bad enough now that I have trouble getting my hand in a softball glove.
So it's soccer day.  I'll be 60 years old this month so I really shouldn't be playing soccer with the kids.The next oldest guy on the field is 43, so I'm the grandpa out there.  Federal prisons have an interesting cross section on nationalities, but no place is this more evident than on the soccer field. For the 38% of my readers who are from the United States I'll point out that while soccer isn't that big in this country, its huge in the rest of the world.  I never played soccer as a kid, but almost everyone I play with here grew up playing the game.  Of the regular players on my field there are several Mexican nationals, several Puerto Ricans, two Dominicans, two Jamaicans, a Haitian, a Panamanian, a Colombian, an El Salvadorian, an Antiguan, a Lebanese, an American Indian and a hand full of Americans, one of which is a real live Wyoming cowboy.  It's a rather interesting mix.
During the game I'll hear a great deal of Spanish, some French and every now and then Arabic from the Lebanese as that is his first language.  The play is always fast and furious.  The non-American players are always hot tempered during the game, screaming at each other with a little cussing, some of which I even understand.  To those who soccer is a national sport it is not a game to be taken lightly.  At first I was put off by all the game level vitriol, but it didn't take me long to realize it was part of the game for them.  Soccer is a game of war to these guys.  After the game all the screaming and cussing is forgotten and we were all friends again.  It is not uncommon to see guys apologize to one another over something said or done after the game. During the game there are no apologizes and no one is your friend.
At first I didn't understand this aspect of the game.  Once I figured out that it was a cultural thing I did just fine.  I haven't learned to cuss in Spanish, French, or Arabic, but do just fine in English. Prison soccer is great fun.  I have a feeling it's just like a neighborhood soccer game in Latin America, the Caribbean or the Middle East.  Good hard fun.  A real man's game.
Last Thursday I hyper extended my knee kicking a high placed soccer ball.  I would have had trouble playing on Sunday but didn't get the chance since my son's showed up for a visit . Tuesday was softball, but for the first time in two years I didn't play.  I skipped soccer today too. I don't walk with a limp today, but still need to give the knee time to heal.  Not playing is a real show of maturity for me.  I feel pretty smug about this.  Mary would be surprised.  She'd think there's hope for me.  I'll be 60 later this month, and that looming date gives me pause.  If I were smart I'd stop playing.  Of course I'm not that smart so I'll be out on the soccer field again Sunday.  Playing hurts, but I like it too much to stop.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

August 3, 2016 Hamburger Day

Today was hamburger day.  Something to count on every Wednesday.  Thirteen years ago Thursday was hamburger day.  At that point Thursday had been hamburger day in the federal prison system for several decades.  I remember well when they changed hamburger day to Wednesday because my buddy, who'd been down for twenty-nine years was extremely upset over the change.  I said, "Wednesday or Thursday, what difference does it make?"  Well, it made a difference to him, which he expressed to me in his usual colorful way.  This was an early lesson for me.  Prisoners need a consistent pattern in life.  Change that pattern in the slightest way and it upsets things.

So back to hamburger day.  I like hamburger day.  The hamburger's aren't that bad.  Well, they're not great either.  The secret to hamburger day, as is the case with most prison food, is condiments.  On hamburger day I carry ketchup, mayonnaise, and jalapeno peppers.  If I have the time I saute jalapenos and fresh garlic in olive oil, which I cook in the microwave, then bring all that to the chow hall.  Get it right and that hamburger is a treat.  I like hamburger day, so I usually bring all the fixings and have a good hamburger.  Bring the right condiments and the food's not too bad most of the time.

Tonight is beef taco, which will require lots of garlic and hot sauce.

I have to purchase those condiments, which I get through the prison commissary.  Commissary day is Monday, so I'll tell you more about that on Monday.
Of note in the outside world today is that President Obama signed more than 200 Commutation orders (like a pardon but only dealing with the sentence, not the conviction).  Two of the guys to receive a serious time reduction from the President today are guys I know from here.  One of them I know real well.  The time cut will mean he has two more years to go, but after serving twenty-three years he's pretty excited about it.  The guy is sixty-seven years old and as harmless as a man can be.  The President got it right in giving him a break.

Daily Blogging

For awhile now Rebecca has asked me to write general stuff every day so she can share it with you guys.  I resisted this because I didn't think anyone would be interested in this because my days are fairly routine and my thoughts are, well, they're my thoughts and I rarely want to share them.  A couple of events have served to change my mind on this.

Last Sunday I had a visit from two sons, Luke and Colt.  During the visit I shared an idea I had for an App/Web site with them.  Before I even started explaining it they were both extremely interested.  It was kind of funny because before I went into any details Colt asked Luke to go to the vending machines to get us some food and drinks.  Luke knew what his brother was up to and refused.  Colt had tried to send his older brother on an errand so he could hear about my idea alone.  I was pleased that both son's placed value in my idea before knowing what it was.  So you know, they both liked the idea and are now working on who is going to do it.  I'm encouraging them to do it together.  Should be interesting to see how that works out.  They'd be upset if I shared this "great idea" for an app with everyone, but I will tell you about it after they have launched it.

The other thing that convinced me was a user comment from SeanMark6.  A week or so ago I had responded to a WattPad comment he had made to Rebecca on my autobiography, "A Life Wasted." In it he made positive comments on the candid way I write and mentioned that he was writing a Journal. I gave him a rather wordy response and encouraged him to continue writing.  He answered with the below, which really touched me.  So if I make a mess out of this we can thank SeanMark6 as his kind words convinced me to do it:

Wow! Is all I can say - what an honor to receive such deep, even personal words from 'Dad' - I am reeling... I am so very grateful for the insight; and the time you have taken to share with me. Mostly I will treasure these words forever from CW... I'm not sure how to address him respectfully... Thank You - regarding the writing... I am moving house soon...but will make every effort to write...and publish soon... now the inspiration is really blossoming... I almost feel I owe it you....aargh...the pressure... Stay Wonderful My Dear - and blessings to the big guy...