Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rehabilitating Jails from the #InsideOut / #America #criminaljustice #sports #fitness #positivedisruption

Part 1: 
A democracy is as strong as we exercise it or weak as we let it slide. It is not static, but waxes and wanes according to our practice of it. Just like a muscle.

I violated a mutual restraining order by bringing flowers to my ex-wives job. I was sending her a marshall to order her to court to deal with sharing the children. I never see them. They are young. I broke the law by bringing the flowers. She reported me and I was arrested in the courthouse. God bless her and God bless the great state of Connecticut. I harbor no ill will. This post is not aimed at bringing a critical eye to what is wrong with our criminal justice system, but about how we can make it better.

Genuine hope and enthusiasm are central to an understanding and application of the best instructional methods and strategies to use when teaching or coaching. It is an energy that is expressed by one and picked up on by another and serves as a bridge allowing for teaching and learning to remain fluid. They both greatly impact the expectation of the clinical teacher and the progress of the student. To this end, generating these qualities perspectives and attitudes is one of the greatest growth mind set qualities that can be imparted as part of a successful mode of operation or process. It demonstrates strong understanding and use of ‘soft skills,’ such as empathy, compassion, honesty, teamwork, humility and grit (perseverance). How we care for each other as families, neighborhoods, a country and as a world comes down to the way we use these soft skills.

Recently, I went through something… back in early November. It was harrowing for me. I am not sure if I am ready to share it, but I will. It is my hope that it brings about critical thinking and critical feeling about a matter of dire importance to each family, neighborhood and the country itself.  It has to do with how we treat each other when we are at the bottom of the barrel, in jail.

In early November, President Barack Obama toured a drug rehabilitation center, as well as a prison in New Jersey. He spoke of the need to get serious on just how we go about rehabilitating ourselves when we go through the criminal justice system. A few days later I was arrested. I violated a mutual restraining order. My first night was spent locked up for 24 hours in a Greenwich, Ct. jail cell. The cops were total gentleman with me. They almost offered me a wine list. They checked on me every hour. They brought me warm food from the Glory Days diner nearby also. Still, I was confined to a very small room and not allowed to leave it for 24 hours. It was hard to exercise, much less do handstands (which I managed to do). After that, the next day I was arraigned in the Stamford-Norwalk courthouse and put on the jail bus to Bridgeport’s correctional facility.

My family had no idea what had happened to me. In jail, it feels like everyone is in a constant huddle with everyone all the time. We are in each other’s faces. Soon after arriving, we were numbered and put into different holding rooms for the next six hours. There are no advocates. There is no direction. The reality is nothing like the outside world. In here you are trapped and you have to keep your heart and mind calm, cool and collected. You have to keep it together. The feeling of oppression is palpable. No one is coming for you. The outside world ceases to exist. Eventually, around midnight, I am injected to check for tuberculosis and asked what I live for by an intake secretary with a Jamaican accent. I tell her that vaccines and shots have trace heavy metal preservatives and that I don’t want to be injected with anything. She rolls her eyes and tells me I will be put in confinement if I don’t take the shot. I visualize quickly what that would do to my mind and then tell her that I am a Special Educator and that I work with kids on the autism spectrum and that I am well-informed about what these injections have. Everything is sugar-coated with a polite tone of voice (paraverbal skills-how you say what you say).. but, it was late… and she didn’t seem chatty…. After a moment of visualizing myself in solitary confinement she breaks my daydream and asks me what I live for again.

I tell her I live for God.

She injects me and I leave the room, rejoining the twelve or so other prisoners that are in my particular holding cell. The only one with a telephone from the dark ages. Still, there was a telephone. But it’s not so easy to call out. Things happen. Calls don’t go through, or don’t get picked up. Everything is a collect call that costs a great deal per minute. What’s more, my family lives far away from Connecticut and my friends live in far flung places within the state. Who was I going to call? My sisters live in Florida and Puerto Rico. Mom lives in Italy. Dad passed away last new years. 

When the collect call from a jail house comes in to my sister she is given a lousy two second recording of my name and a request to accept charges. It took her off guard. Call dropped a few times. Other prisoners took their turns talking. Then I would call my sister back. This time it was not answered. My goal was to get her to post bail for me. She didn’t have the money. No one did. I didn't know my mothers number by heart. She’s financially over-extended helping out all her kids. I always touch-dial straight through by a person’s name on my iPhone and didn’t have many memorized in my mind.  At the moment, I knew the numbers to two of my sisters phones and two friends who live in the state who might some how be able to work together to spring me. But it was close to midnight and there were communication problems on the phone with my youngest sister. Nobody else answered. It was time to buckle down mentally. a guy called Jersey told me to pace myself mentally. I was going to spend a second night incarcerated and there were no motions to take me out. I looked around at all the faces and continued to introduce myself and talk to everyone in the room. It was important to feel at ease and to display that your at ease. It is important to make allies quickly also.

An hour or so later, about 40 hours into my ordeal I am given a pair of jail-issue pants and a white-t shirt. Half a bar of soap and fluoride toothpaste is handed to me along with a small bottle of liquid soap. I told them I had contact lens on and that I and not been able to take them off in 40 hours. That my head was getting aches that came and went. I don’t carry glasses to wear so it’s not like I can just throw them away. Then I would hardly be able to see. That would put a new curve on the experience. 

Because of my request, I was sent to the hospital ward. That is where the saline solution was kept. Walking to their I thought it might be better than general population in one of the wings. Each wing has over 240 prisoners living in bunk beds in an open room. That would entail massive amounts of emotional intelligence usage just to stay calm, cool and collected.

At any rate, by the time I was on my way to this.. lovely.. ward I had made three ‘friends.’ Price, Jersey and Pat. Price and I were arraigned in court earlier and shared our stories in the holding cell at the Stamford Courthouse. We were also shackeled wrists and ankles together for many hours. Pat and Jersey I met in the first holding cell upon arriving to Bridgeport. Jersey was not feeling well but seemed the most level-headed of the three. I would see Jersey and Price two days later. As for now, it was just Pat and I.

Pat talked and talked and talked. I gave him the only bed in the room so that he would be elevated. He had a heart condition and was seeing a doctor.I took a plastic ‘boat’ and slept off the cold  floor. I had a sheet for a blanket and we were locked into the room with each other 23.5 hours of each day for over 48 hours. Day became night and night became day. This we knew only from a small five inch window that looked onto barb wire and a grassy jail park that went unused. It was Pat and I. I would do lots of push ups and stretch to stay warm and seek to be as calm as possible. There was no access to a phone. The half hour we were given to sit in the wards small common area was filled with the sounds of Jerry Springer on endless loop. You can’t make a phone call unless you have a special number once you are inside the jail and beyond ‘initial booking.’ The phone calls are problematic for everyone and expensive. Every moment lasts a lifetime. 

I delivered flowers.

Memorial Two. Bunk Bed Living.

I will not get into the things Pat said to me. I had requested to be taken away from him and within a day I was transferred over to the regular jail wing with the general population. My bunk bed was in front of the security desk (thank God). My bed area was called ‘over flow’ because all the other bunks were taken. So mine was right by the bathrooms, under one of two  television sets, straight in the middle of the common area. The word ‘sports’ was over my steel-grate bed. Chow time is at 4:45 am, 11:45 am and 4:45 pm. We usually ate grits for breakfast.


Should rehabilitation and empowerment be part of how jails and prisons operate with every prisoner? If every life matters, do our lives matter less if we are behind bars? Would bringing in a robust life skills program into jail and prisons across our land lead to reduced ‘return to prison’ issues? I say less. It takes a team effort of the community to care for each other when we are so many. More practically, would having a robust sports and fitness offering in jails serve to strengthen the heart and minds of the prisoners?

Why can’t the boys and men play basketball on a daily basis? Are there other sport activities that can be integrated on a daily basis into the prisoners life so that they don’t mentally breakdown? What is it about being confined to our beds for almost 24 hours each day that is not healthy? Is it healthy or not healthy to get fresh air each day? In eight nights incarcerated in Greenwich and Stamford Courthouse and Bridgeport jails I breathed no fresh air, I saw no skylight and had no place to work out. Working out calms my body. The whole experience is incredibly taxing on the mind and heart. No one has anything to do all day and we have to be confined to our beds over 20 hours a day in general population. Is that rehabilitation? That is more like a recipe to be feeble-minded and physically broken down. 

I spent a total of eight days behind bars, four of which it turns out I was held unconstitutionally. I believe that the state can serve its communities better by getting seriously proactive about its sports and fitness programs, or (wellness programs) to rehabilitate and strengthen prisoners, rather than let them just be idle. Bridgeport’s correctional facility is a great place to start. I am happy and would like very much to be counted on as a source of direct help to this facility. We could have a skateboarding program and a meditation program that compliments the sports and fitness focus.  I’ll work for free. Reach me at CoachBill.US to get started.

It’s time to spruce up their gyms, their sports offerings and even their libraries. Why not? Let’s work on empowerment rather than 100% retribution where we lock up and throw away the key. That leads to more of the same. Same thinking leads to same results. The prisoners will love it and it would change the atmosphere in the prison. These activities would be engaging for their minds and provide a social skill framework of interaction rather than simply walking around in each others face in a closed warehouse with no windows.

Beyond what is baseline and practical, that is, more robust sports and fitness program, what correctional facility would take on a challenge of training up social entrepreneurs that serve the community? We can create pathways for the exercise of servant leadership with prisoners. They should be beautifying the community rather than just eating yucky grits.

Ask me how. CoachBill.US

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