By Jason Neff
I’m struggling this morning to not fly off the handle. As usual I’m beyond frustrated dealing with the incompetence, and ridiculous bullshit that is the norm in the Bureau of Prisons.
Counselor Bob De la Torre arrives at my cell pushing a cart with a box. He mentions my lawyer was waiting out front to pick up boxes of my legal work.
About a week after returning from the hole, I was given some of my property, but Lt. Montgomery would not permit me to have 2 boxes of discovery, claiming they were books, and I had too many already. When in reality the bag he thought was my property that contained several books belonged to another inmate who had returned from the hole over a month ago. It was his property which was never returned to him. Upon going through the voluminous disarray of my new property contained in trash bags, I realized it wasn’t all mine, and based upon the book selections another inmate helped me locate the correct owner, who was quite happy. Of course with property lists and procedure for securing property, one has to question how this is so commonplace. The guy mentioned when he returned from the hole, they had even given him someone else’s stuff and failed to return his property. The property given to him by SHU (Special Housing Unit, which is what they refer to as the hole, solitary, segregation in the feds) Property Officer B. Jones was random mail, and family photos of an inmate who had just left to prison that had been in the hole.
Anyhow, I went into my cell with this empty box provided from the counselor standing at my cell door, quickly stacked legal papers inside, added a photo album, stacks of pictures that were somehow mostly damaged through my transfer to the hole by staff, and a few stacks of envelopes and letters I’ve received over the last few years.
BOP staff has constantly complained about my possessions, that I have too much legal work, property, etc. Though most of my property was stolen, damaged, thrown away, or misplaced when I was transferred to solitary, which was an exaggerated response to a security need to begin with – long story. I decided to just get rid of the majority of what I had left, as most paperwork and items were mixed up, no longer organized, damaged, etc., so I placed the materials in this box.
The counselor motioned me to follow him out of the unit. He pushed a cart with the newly stuffed box, and headed to a nearby hallway. This area of cells and hallway was once used as segregation or the hole for the jail, pretrial inmates. Though now they are housed in the WWII internment camp building with no air conditioning, at the actual prison compound, next door. This was where I was tortured for 37 days with no disciplinary infraction, of course.
The counselor goes to a random closet in this hallway, opens it, and there are the two boxes of discovery. They are the boxes the Lt. would not permit me to have last week. Inside should be the 4 hardcover books I wasn’t allowed either, because I had too many books, which were really the other guys. But I quickly notice one is laying on the ground nearby. I realize this is a water closet, with pipes, and as I pick up a hardcover copy of Wild by Cheryl Strayed, it is damaged, and soaking wet. It upset me. I express my dissatisfaction and begin complaining about my various property that has been missing, damaged, stolen, etc. throughout this entire excursion. The counselor continuously tells me that it isn’t his fault, and presses me to file a grievance and tort claim, essentially a big waste of time for all parties involved. I’m not pleased or appeased with his advice or lack of. I want to know who is responsible for securing my property, who failed to follow policy and procedure, and what is the policy and procedure? I want to know how the Lt. can justify denying my legal work, and then remove a book from a box with a lid, and throw it on the wet ground. How is that ok? I’m tired of this bullshit, I’ve lost approximately $1,000 of property at this point, along with stacks of emails I paid 15cents/page to print, roughly $1200 worth of writing for my book and general communications over the last year, as well as various discovery and legal work that only halfway filled one of the boxes I was refused access to. Which I didn’t know until now, was missing.
I then followed the counselor to his office, back inside the jail unit, he hands me a stack of paperwork for complaints that are freshly printed off his HP. Essentially what I chalk up to ineffective procedural bullshit, really a joke. I inform him I will gladly wipe my ass with the paperwork. But if he wants me to generate paperwork, I can stop being passive about everything over the years, and quickly begin filing mountains of complaints to the regional office, and DC. I can become a problem, a thorn in the side, much more dedicated than anyone who has previously taken on these tasks. I’m furious at this point, overwhelmed when communicating my various damaged, stolen, missing, property and discovery. I went on loudly complaining that I’m tired of being fucked over, and there is no excuse for the way property is being handled, mismanaged, destroyed, etc. Whether an inmate goes to the hole for disciplinary reasons or not, this cannot be excused, or accepted. We exchange more ‘pleasantries,’ and I walk out of his office running my mouth.
He calls me back to his office moments later on the intercom and addresses me ‘threatening him.’ I explain again what I said, how I’m not making a threat, and I can promise he will no longer say he doesn’t care or doesn’t give a fuck, because I will make him care. I will begin by filing my Prison Rape Elimination Act complaint, for sexual harassment that occurred while I was housed in solitary. I lay out a laundry list of issues and complaints I will begin with, and ensure he understands I mean nothing in a “threatening” manner as he implies. I don’t want my words taken out of context. Though he begins his threats, informing me that he could write me up, as though I even care at this point. I stopped caring about being polite and not earning disciplinary infractions after weeks of punitive conditions and deprivation of basic human needs while housed in solitary, when I did nothing wrong.
I’m so angry. I’m thinking about crazy things in my head, obviously I cannot write here, I scoff and laugh at the thought of his bullshit little “write up”. Get real. Do you know who I am? Google. I’m tired of being fucked over, all the bullshit I put up with, then not responding or being passive about it, not doing anything, letting it slide, letting it go. I’m ready to put my foot down, to attack, to defend, to do my time generating paperwork, and putting paper in their life as the professional prisoners say. All this mayhem and destruction and unfairness for me doing the right thing, and avoiding an unfair fight or attack by a gang essentially, which would have resulted in disciplinary infractions, etc. Instead of being transferred to the other unit like I was informed, I was punished for 37 days, I can’t stop thinking about it, then of course the property and items I did have, the family photos, the discovery detailing the government’s ersatz conspiracy, my emails detailing my prison experience someday to be published, mostly everything damaged, missing, stolen, or gone. Just keep chalking it up to not a big deal and drop it? And I just walk the other way, and let it go, nothing I can do about it? Frustrated doesn’t begin to explain it. I’m upset.
So I come to email this. To write. To vent. An outlet, I guess, before I just lose control. The counselor calls me again to his fucking office. I save this as a ‘Draft’, I leave, and report to his office. He hands me my lawyers card, Bruce Anton, and mentions how my lawyer asked about the “emails” and something else. I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying. Though I’m so thankful my lawyer came to retrieve the little property I did have left, legal materials, as they obviously aren’t secure here. From what I could tell, the stacks of emails contained in one of the two boxes were mostly missing, essentially $1200 wasted of my Mom’s hard earned money, printing at 15cents/page, and I quickly explain this to the counselor. I begin complaining about everything again in detail. He tells me he isn’t the punching bag, and urges me to write my complaints and begin the administrative remedy process, which is clearly a joke in my opinion. Though it must be exhausted prior to any litigation in court. He then tells me, “I’m here to help”. We both smile and laugh, as I tell him he is so full of shit, and I walk out of his office.
I talk to my neighbor Barrett Brown, we agree the staff and counselor are worthless. He listens to me vent. I then run into his cellie, John. An old man, always with kind words, knowledge and wisdom to share, and great books (previously he has shared with me The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer). We discuss my turmoil, as he can tell I’m fired up and angry, and he heads off to the shower. But he comes right back calling me over to his cell, he hands me a copy of – Awakening The Buddha Within – by Lama Surya Das.
I go to the index and look up the word “meditation”. I know that I need to slow down, and I need help. I’m beyond angry. Tired of all the bullshit. What I want to do, I shouldn’t. I can’t. I want to go home one day. So I find the closest table and sit down, I take my mind off the madness, and begin perusing this great read. The first page the index sends me to for meditation is Page 207. I will share the lesson here:
Training Ourselves in Generosity
The Buddha didn’t only deliver negative edicts such as “Don’t steal.” He also exhorted his friends and followers to let go, give, love, rejoice in everyday life, and share. He said, “Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous; we experience joy in the actual act of giving something; and we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”
A classic teaching tale relates how the Buddha once counseled a wealthy householder. The man’s problem was that he just could not give or even share any of his wealth or possessions. This was a clear-cut metaphor for his inability to “let go” in ‘any’ area of this life. In this teaching tale, as the Buddha shows the stingy house-holder how to train himself from the outside in, the Buddha appears to be an early and intuitive expert in the benefits of constructive behavior modification.
Buddha instructed the rich householder to begin by thinking of his two hands – right and left – as being separate and disconnected; then he told him to practice generosity by taking a coin in his right hand and giving it to his left. Once the householder learned to part with a small coin, from one pocket to another, from one hand to another, the Buddha told him to experiment with larger sums of money. Eventually the man began to cultivate letting go, generosity, and nonattachment. As he became accustomed to parting with the money, the Buddha told him to soften his hardened heart and better use his riches by making gifts – first small, then larger – of his money and possessions to family members, then to friends, and finally to beggars and strangers. Through this practice of dana – giving – this man became much happier, freer, more content, and beloved by all.
Don’t we all need some concrete form of retraining so we may learn to be more generous and let go more gracefully? We all – each of us without exception – have so much to give, if we only knew it! We can make gifts of kindness, prayers, support, time, and empathy; we can give to friends, family, strangers, and even to the earth itself. We can train ourselves to become more yielding, equitable, and flexible, giving up our rigid stances and fixed ideas. Each act of giving is a good deed that will be carried with you as part of your good karma. We can’t take our wealth, possessions, or friends with us beyond the grave, but we can ride good karma as far as we can imagine and even further. Give now, use your wealth, talent, and energy for the greater good, and it will indeed follow you into the afterlife.”