Here at the Federal Prison in Three Rivers Texas, there are four main cell-blocks. Each of these buildings have an “A” side and a “B” side with a finger-like connector holding the Staff Offices in-between and connecting the two buildings; there are approximately one-hundred and twenty men in each side … to visualize this, picture two bigger boxes with a shoe box in-between the two.
When you step outside of my cell-block door you are in a breezeway that spans the shoebox length of the Staff Offices; these offices are divided from this breezeway by a wall. This breezeway is open in the middle with another short retainer wall guiding you onto a sidewalk. In this retainer wall is an opening archway the size of a window … Yeah, there’s a story here! Hold your horses! Anyway, in front of the offices, there’s a hallway and in this short hallway in front of my Councilors Office, is a window, one with bars of course.
Once you exit the building, at a distance of 73 steps, you come to a 15 degree right-angle elbow and with another 49 steps up the sidewalk you pass between two oak trees set to the left and the right, about twenty meters out on each side; we’re not allowed to leave the sidewalk and touch the trees. From this intersection of those trees if you take another 31 steps you come to a fence, gate and metal detector; this means you have left one section of the prison yard and entered into another which holds the Chow Hall, Administration Buildings etc.
Once every week we, two cell-blocks at a time, are allowed to go to the prison store, and, if we have money, we can shop – I’ve explained this in detail in other blog entries. Well, today was my day to shop. So I left my cell-block walked up the sidewalk to the metal detector, passed through it, hung a left and took the 35 steps it takes to go inside a fenced cage to await my turn.
Inside this cage there are benches for the men to use while waiting for their name to be called; like I said, it’s crowded. Me, I don’t like been’ cheek to cheek in a crowd, so I forgo the opportunity to sit and instead, stand – always, without exception. I walk to the edge of the cage, and even if it takes an hour or two before I’m called, I stand, mostly with my back to the fence facing the crowd … I’m sure you can figure out why.
Today however, being that I was at the end of the line I stood as normal until the crowd dwindled, then I turned towards the fence, put my hands on the wire and stood facing my cell-block … and, and subsequently facing, those two trees I told you about. After a few moments of deep thought I began to silently talk to them … NO!!! I ain’t some nutjob, I just love trees! and as crazy as it seems … I think that they can sense me, too! Yeah, I talk to trees. Remember, I spent 14 years without even seeing a tree. SO by the time I transferred to the prison in Pollock Louisiana I was amazed when I saw those big pine trees outside the fence line, but those trees were a long way off. These trees are so close I can almost touch ’em … almost.
As I was standing there looking through the fence and loving those trees, I saw the grass on the yard, I saw little white butterflies, birds and other critters … amazing things, and I became mindful of how blessed I am to actually see them for what they are, for the beauty they bring to my world. Just as I was deeply in that place of humble appreciation, I heard off in the distance, gunshots; there’s a gun range behind the prison where the Guards go to target practice. No ma ‘am I didn’t think about violence or hatred, I didn’t judge, I just blocked out the “pop, pop, pop” of the guns and the non-productive chatter of the men behind me and focused on the contrasting silent beauty of nature as it played its symphony on the harmony of my willing mind, against that of the pounding music of man’s violence. Yeah, I stood there and listened as the gunfire off in the distance and the conversational addiction to a failed thinking process behind me reached a crescendo and then briefly went into a lull … trees and peace to my front, anger, hatred, racial disharmony, drug addition and gunshots at my back. In my mind I processed it all.
Sometimes I’ll go into that little hallway in front of my Councilors Office and look out that window and line it up with that little archway I told you about … and when I do, the strangest thing occurs … can you guess what it is? Yep, one of those two trees, the one on the left as I pass between ’em on my way to the metal detector, she’s perfectly centered, a painting in waiting, a subliminal message in the apostasy of this place, or maybe nothing more than an amazing coincidence … okay, I go and look at her everyday, but that don’t mean I’m crazy! Alright!
Spending time with her, my tree, today and listening to the gunshots and the conversations at my back, that whole experience made me a little, emotional – no I didn’t cry, hell, I ain’t a damn wimp or nothin’ its just that the contrast was so … so, apparent … emotional is not the right word, I was actually ashamed, and I wondered what purpose we humans serve on this planet. I mean, what do we actually contribute that makes the earth a better place? No, I ain’t trying to sound like one of those tree-hugging fairies, I’m just asking the question … a question I can’t find an answer to. So I’ll ask it again, “What purpose do humans serve on this planet?” This is really bothering me that I can’t readily answer that question. I mean, if someone told me that God created the earth and then Lucifer created man to be a blight in that creation, that would make sense, but other than that … I simply can’t figure out how we improve our environment.
Thousands of people better qualified than me have written thousands of books about the affect of long-term incarceration on the human mind, hell it might be the most often debated psychological issue of the past thirty years, since, well, Mr. Reagan, Mr. Clinton and the Bush’s incorrectly decided that mass-incarceration would fix our crime problem. And though I ain’t the prolific writer I’d like to be, I do have what most of those other writers lack, I have personal experience. And, yeah, this personal experience has altered my mind, hell, I talk to trees – I guess that’s the first damn clue that long-term imprisonment has consequences.
When I first got out of the army I bought this house in Ingleside Texas. In the front yard of that house were some oak trees. One day as I sat outside and watched my children playing I noticed that there were these big red ants going up and down the tree I was sitting next to – I realized that they were going in and out of that tree … they were hollowing it out! They were eating it up from the inside out. You know what I did about it? Nothin’, not a damn thing. I never gave it more than a passing thought, but them there ants, they were murdering that tree right there in front of my eyes, and I didn’t do anything to stop it. Ain’t never forgot that either.
You know I think about that tree ever now and then, and I realize that that’s what prison does to folks, it hollows them out until there ain’t nothin’ left but a shell. Yeah, like that tree I’ve been slowly eaten away at from the inside out, ever so slowly my guts have been removed one ant, one day, at a time. Yeah, maybe this is my karma for not helping that ol’ tree in my front yard, and maybe, just maybe, that ol’ tree I’ve been talkin’ to is here to remind me of the sin of complacency… or maybe its here to let me know I’ve been forgiven.
Thank yall for reading this blog, and do me and yourself a favor … go outside and put your hand on a tree, and let that tree know that you understand its purpose in divinity.
As always, Peace be with you.
Three Rivers, 5-2-18