Wednesday, July 31, 2019

My Pillow By Ryan Erker

For the past few years I have become obsessed with the idea of owing a "MyPillow". For the few of you on the face of this earth that do not know what a MyPillow is, it appears to be the key to slumbering in comfort. Not only am I going to purchase a MyPillow, I am going for the whole shooting match. Yes, I mean the mattress topper and the sheets.

I am confident that Mike Lindel (inventor) will be kindly looked upon as the Johnny Apple Seed of slumber. Instead of trapezing across the country planting apple trees for all to enjoy, Mr. Lindel is utilizing technology, bringing comfort to the masses. God Bless this fine American. 

Ryan Erker 390480
PO Box 888
Monroe Wa 98272

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CBT, Weight loss, and the Unwanted Neighbor... By Rory Andes

The other day I saw a commercial for Noom, a weight loss program constructed around a process called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and they showcased a gentleman who was an Olympian who became an overeater. Seems like a striking fall from grace, right? Athlete to obese? CBT is a tool he used to help reclaim his sense of self.

CBT isn't a new concept, but to use it as a weight loss tool beats overpriced supplements, dieting fads designed around niche food menus, and the yo-yo. The yo-yo: the monster of an obstacle dieters face when they still don't have the tools to regulate the way they think about themselves. All the best foods in the world mean little if the person in the mirror still looks hideous to the viewer. Up and down...

Dieting is a brutal thing to witness. My mother battled diets for years when I was a kid. She was an amazing woman who died at 60 years old from a stroke, perhaps because of the supplements or the inability to regulate how she ate. Perhaps both. She was abused in her adult life before my dad came along. Knowing what I know now, there's a lot of those things that can impact how a person sees themselves, the demons they fight, and the comforts they take to become tolerant of themselves. As an Iraq war vet with PTSD from both the war and a devastating marriage, it took me a long time to admit that the most comforting thing for many years was an empty six-pack holder. 

But what if, cognitively, they could change that? What if they could identify a series of distortions, enact safeguards against them, and change from a damaged person who harms themselves by overeating (or any variety of self and social destruction), into a person who sees themselves as having a beautiful place in their skin? A place that empowers them to become better to themselves? To others, to their community, or their futures, even?

So, here's where I take a controversial turn. Would you want a sex offender living next door? Assume you know nothing of the sex offender's background and have even witnessed the sex offender's daily behavior looking typical, normal. A cognitive distortion is now forming in YOUR thoughts. 

By not labeling him or her as a person, you've already started to disassociate the humanity from them. The term "sex offender" is a label. Labels present a bias, if you can't relate the nature of the label. But I'm not writing this to change you or your mind, I'm trying to state the facts about people convicted of sex crimes and get you to reestablish faith in both them and the ways they are being psychologically repaired. As a matter of law, all Washington citizens convicted of a sexual related crime are ordered to undergo a treatment plan. The leading method to fix these problems is CBT, like the one to help the overweight. (Its ok, Noom, I'm not comparing your apples to anyone's oranges. Just highlighting the usefulness of the processes.)

In no way am I trying to equate the two problems. They can't be. Sex crimes causes extreme damages to others in a very overt manner and they destroy people far beyond the crime. But think, many who have committed these crimes, have also been abused or damaged in some way. Many, if not most, in the SAME way they offended. This is the foundation of the importance of CBT. It can change the systems of cognitive distortions that lead to such crimes. People are destructive in monumental ways when the image in the mirror is shattered. Some of those destructions implode to self harm, or as in sex crimes, explode outward, creating a victim.

So, here's where I try to make this make sense. The recidivism rate for subsequent sex crimes from those previously convicted for them is 5% nationally. In Washington state, the rate is around 3%. Then that rate drops to less than 1% after treatment. 1 person in over 100, after treatment, may not remember or be able to implement the safeguards taught to them through cognitive behavioral therapy. I get it, as you read this, you think "one is too many, dude". I agree on so many levels. But I want you to find the faith in the method, CBT, and then find trust in the person. If you don't trust him, base it on his current merits, not his neighborhood notification. He's the guy next door. He's one of roughly 27,000 registered in this state, but he (or she) is your neighbor. Treat him as such, because he's been super awful to himself for earning that distrust and anger from whomever he harmed. But he's working on seeing something different in himself. Embrace him for it.

And truthfully, there's nothing you can do to them that they haven't done to themselves. You want to punish them? The state did that with lengthy sentences, the smallest legislated good conduct time credit and the only crimes that carry indeterminate sentences. The thought of suicide prior to treatment and a shattered family is a pretty brutal punishment. You want to shame them? You got a notice in your mailbox, a dot on your neighborhood "sex offender" map and will continue to get updates about him. The state has you beat at shaming him. You want to avoid him? Get close to him. He's required to disclose his crime to his boss, his church and that girl who thinks he's cute. Dude, everyone avoids him.

But, with the help of CBT, these folks can get through life seeing the true image in the mirror. That one isn't distorted anymore. They've grown used to the lowest level of the caste system that they find themselves in. The court ordered one for the explosive and destructive result of years of mistreatment by either themselves or others. In the end, just like people who use Noom to change their bodies, people convicted of sex crimes work hard at changing their way of thinking with CBT. Perhaps you can change yours and find them as a wanted neighbor, with any luck.

by Rory Andes

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Fear of Job Interviews By Ryan Erker

The other day I was asked to give a short lecture for a reentry class. I had no idea what I was going to spend my allotted hour pontificating about other than my speech should have something to do with being ready for a job interview, a topic I was told to speak about as the class was walking in. I had to wing it. 

Long story short, the conversation with the students went very well. The point of this post is not to brag about my abilities as a public speaker. The point of this post is that I asked a simple question and was shocked at the groups response. The question I asked seemed to be a simple one. I asked the guys by a show of hands how many of them were afraid of being released and having to sit down for an interview. The majority of the room raised their hands. 

I have suspected that fear is a prime motivator for a lot of guys in the criminal world. I was surprised that most of the fellas in the room would actually admit it. The first step towards rehabilitation is being honest with yourself, which I suppose is the same for any situation, whether one finds themselves in prison or not. 

Anyway, in some circles of the prisons people are really trying to change their lives. This is a net benefit for society and also for everyone who is currently the guests of the State of Washington. By making our environment a safe place for reflection and growth, more and more guys are willing to embrace learning how to become better people. It is amazing what one can accomplish when you do not have to worry about being stabbed with a sharpened toothbrush. 

Ryan Erker 390480
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Monroe, Wa 98272

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The Walking Dead... By Rory Andes

I had a conversation with a buddy, Darrin, who just moved into my neighborhood. I live in a minimum security unit and this guy originally came from a medium unit. I first met him there when I started doing time. He's doing an 89 year sentence, so they had him in a housing setting with "lifers". Most people serving life without parole are unable to graduate to minimum security, but his case is a little different. He has an end date, regardless of how far out it is. I was surprised to see him on my unit. Where he was, he had a single cell, there were about 30% less people, and he had a pretty good rapport with the staff, so I had to ask..., "Why did you elect to come down to minimum?"

Excitedly, he said, "Its the walking dead down there!!" He explained that his neighbors, about 15 of which were serving life sentences, all ACTED like they were dying in prison. Negative, angry, unmotivated. He told me that even if he dies here, he wants to be around positive, upbeat and forward thinking people. Anyway, things can always change. He cracked a smile when he said, "I wanna live, man!" Pro-social engagements and community involvement really help keep people grounded in the good things that life has to offer. I guess that if you have to wake up every morning to bitter, disgruntled people with no belief in a beautiful life or hope, its like being sentenced to a loveless marriage. I understood where he was comming from.

Darrin's message to me is much like mine to most people I meet. Be better, be beautiful, be brilliant, be bigger and live well, regardless of where you live at all. Don't mill about life like a zombie. Find shit to be happy about and do those things. Don't be the walking dead, be the wonderfully alive. Get involved and stay upbeat! You'll keep good neighbors that way...

by Rory Andes

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I'M DONE CARRY ME! By Renee Permenter

Who would have thought working out would ahve been so hard and sweat filled. I feel like I just ran a month long marathon on my hands. I recieved 7 new blisters this morning and it SUCKS!
What I am remembering is the pain growth gives you when you do it right. Whether mental, physical, or emotional, pain usually follows growth. I have found this out in so many ways. From my relationship with my mother, concussions from jumping off unimaginable heights, to headaches from hours of laborious studying. The pain has reminded me that I am doing things right. 
So like a puppy to exhausted to walk, 



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Recovering News Junkie By Ryan Erker

I am a recovering news junkie. One could say recovering is to strong of a word. As I am writing this post I am listening to the impeachment chaos in preperation for Muller's testimony tomorrow before congress. I hate to tell you fine folks, but I am going to stay home from work to watch the craziness. Me thinks I have a problem. 

I suppose that due to our lack of everyday stimulus, prisoners become quite informed about politics and current events. A majority of the guys here are constantly reading papers, watching the news, and having debates. Yes, we even wager on who is going to win elections. While we cannot vote, which I fully understand, we are as engaged as much as we can be. I figure that is a good start toward reintegration into polite society. Well, as polite as a good political discussion can be nowadays. 

Because we do not have the distractions of everyday life most of us look for something to keep our minds busy. That is the key to surviving a prison sentence. Some people can handle this well while others fail miserably. In a small way this experience mirrors life on the outside. Some people thrive while others struggle. To take a page out of "Mans Search For Meaning" by Victor Frankel, we all have one freedom that can never be taken away. That freedom is the ability to choose how we are going to act in any given situation. 

Being in prison does not need to be a negative experience. Where else can ones sole focus be making a better version of themselves? Granted the food is horrible. True, some of our neighbors are seriously lacking in character, but most of the folks I run into here are quite high functioning individuals. I continue to find myself quite surprised. 

Still, I would much rather be on the other side of the barbwire fence. However not all is lost. From my bunk I have a beautiful view of the Cascades! 

Ryan Erker/390480
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What if I told you I had no culture? by Ruth Utnage

I reach into my past like I'm reaching for a treasured toy in a bag. Excited to answer the question "from where do you hail, what made", only when I search for the piece that so many others hold so near to their heart I find nothing.

Culture? The set of societal morals and precepts for a given people whom share a similar heritage, land mass, or plight. They have their own food, their own land, they have something that's theirs they all hold in regard because nobody has that one thing.

I know nothing of my ancestral roots. European, obviously, I am white. But I have zero European identity. I have a picture of Queen Elizabeth on my corkboard next to my mirror in my cell. She's young, maybe early 20's at most, walking down some street lined with soldiers whom are rigidly taught, she is staring one of them right in his eyes as she passes. I kept it because I seen another photo where she is wearing a similar dress and laughing with a group of girls, her youth and perhaps obliviousness to her future role on display. But then there's this picture, where I like to imagine this is the moment where she realized "I'm f*****g Queen Elizabeth bitch". I respect that. So I keep the photo to remember, we have all had our moments of naivety and its perfectly fine to grow up, so long as you're Queen, which...clearly I am.

That's my only tie to Europe, a photo. My soul does not dance to the sound of a sacred drum that beckons me to Valhalla. My heart does not beat to the footsteps of a nation from long ago. My face is not set like the flinty stone of the mighty African nations of old. I do not hear the ancient song of Asian clans nor do I smell the burning incense of fervor that please the spirits of my family tree. I cannot hear the tongue of a guiding sign soothing me into my path. I have been robbed, my culture is missing.

I did not choose this land. I did not choose this...thing that I am. A woman born a man. Most days I barely feel like a human, even the poorest of nations have roots, even war torn nations have culture to protect, to fight for. But not me, not us. These labels of trans or American or United...they are rootless. Seed that has been sewn on rocks that I used to cherish, to feel protected by, but now have grown to be scorched by the sunlight of my yesterdays. Trod upon by the feet of bitterness and restlessness of my cultureless heritage.

Missing father...a whole half of a tree simply gone. Traded as a child like a commodity, like a baseball card that wasn't good enough for a collection, a mistake that someone else found to be treasure. My roots begin in the city dump, rescued from the toilet of a Midwestern hospital where I was to be condemned to death before I was given life. It's easy to demonize those who simply gave up.

"From where do you grow, dear child?", the moon asks me in the night as it lulls me to sleep and ponder my own days work in the lucid reality of a second realm I visit each night.

"From the land of...I have no answer yet again Luna, perhaps tomorrow I can ask the Sun 'from where do I grow, dear Sun' and maybe she'll say 'my dear Ruth, you have grown from such and such, the land of such and such', then I will have an answer for us Luna." Perhaps then I will feel like hanging my Home Sweet Home sign, perhaps then I'll unpack my things, perhaps then I will make a good wife.

Maybe one day I can replace the sour memories of my past with the lulling guidance of a distant and ancient civilization I can call "my people". Where I will find roots that when I entrench my fingertips into the soil the energy of my calling will flow through my veins like a current and ignite my guiless history into one of veracious pride.

"Goodnight, sweet Luna" I say to her evening rising "I bid you a pleasant watch."

With Love
Ruth Utnage

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Jeff aka Ruth Utnage 823469 D-610-2
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Birthdays Behind Bars by Marshall Byers

Early morning knock at my door. I call out, "state your business". Many voices reply, "Happy b/day Marshall, we made you your favorite cake!" I jumped out of bed, opened my door, and shazzzam, strawberry cheese cake! Ummmm. All day in passing people yelling out happy birthday followed up with expletives with much enthusiasm. For days I feel like royalty. I received countless birthday cards from friends and family. Emails full of encouragement, along with joyous visits from super cute girls. Wow, its so magical, even in prison birthdays are what you make of them. I treat myself extra wonderful. Oh, by the way, I learned how to do the Floss dance.. I think that's what people call it. Wooooooooo!

I took two days off work and did nothing but sunbathe, daydream about dirt bikes, girls... and girls on dirt bikes! Thaaaaank you everyone for making me feel special and cared for. Two more to go and I'll be celebrating with you out there. Heck Yeah.

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With a full heart,
Marshall Byers

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Marshall Byers

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