Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Deserving     by    Ruth Utnage

Sometimes I struggle with who deserves to be hated and who doesn't. Who deserves to be ostracized? Someone believes I should be, maybe many people. If I find someone who is deserving of my social disapproval, does this make me feel better?

Hardly.

I conceptualize a caste system in which I am not the lowest class and in order to do that I must look at someone and think "You are not deserving," and it is always with the second part of that sentence that I come to my senses: "You are not deserving, so that I can be". It is here that I remember I cannot trample underfoot the beauty of our world simply because someone did it to me for the same reasons. No...no I cannot.

Deserving. The very existence of the word indicates our human brutality and unconscionable selves for if someone is deserving than by the nature of existence of the deserving than someone must be undeserving. What child is undeserving of love? Yet, as adults we divie one another up as if we were never children. How odd.

Do you remember when you were a child? Think back to a time when it felt as if the world was crashing down in you and you reach for the bigness and magnitude of your parents love and protection. Here we are bigger versions of that hurt child with no one to seek shelter in lashing out at one another as if that helps.

I am in prison. Among the deserving. Men and women (yes, women at a men's prison too) who deserve the humanizing effects of compassion and love.

End the cycle of violence. Reach out.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

Contact Info:

To contact me you must be a humanist...

"A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, then by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust." ("Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire )

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Alone Like Me...    by    Rory Andes

If you're reading this, you may be scared and alone. Our world is being swallowed in the darkness of the Coronavirus and it's the first time in our lifetimes that we've been enveloped in a viral pandemic. It's scary. And for many, it's the first time you've felt this isolated because you can't do the things you want or enjoy the people you love. It feels alone. Terribly alone... But, you're alone like me. You and I are experiencing the same feelings and the same sensations. You have every right to feel upset, worried, lost... anything. I understand. I feel those, too.

It's ok to be human in this difficult time. You're not weak for it. I understand because we are both in an imposed prison and as overwhelming as it is right now, we both will survive it. One day, you and I will both see the traffic down Main Street, have dinner at our favorite eateries, enjoy a collection of our friends, among collections of others' friends, and it will come soon enough. But for now, know that I, we, are here with you. It may be lonely out there, but you're alone like me. That means you're not alone at all. Keep your head up and enjoy tomorrow, because it's coming for both of us...

by Rory Andes

When you're scared and uncertain, it's ok. You're human....

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Q and A: What Do Inmates Do For Entertainment?     by    Ruth Utnage

What do inmates do for entertainment? This is a question I received recently that I found interesting to answer. There are many things we do.

I personally do lots of reading and I conduct social experiments. Though over the years I became a very good portrait artist as well. Many people begin a hobby of some sort, drawing, crafting, painting, beading, etc. Crafting is a popular one because the supplies are cheaper, many supplies are sourced from recycling garbage.

Some people play sports and/or watch sports. Some only watch sports, and when I say only, I mean their whole world revolves around sports...very, very disheartening to see. There is a lot of Magic players and D and D players, they spend hours, days even, playing this stuff.

Most have a variety of things. Watch TV, take walks in the yard, work' play some cards, write letters, craft something, do homework, listen to music...

There is a distinct difference between those who have worked hard to change themselves and those who have not. My theory of 15-70-15 percentages of inmates who rehabilitate, stagnate, and who refuse to rehabilitate, respectively, comes into view here.

I'll work on writing something more in depth on this soon.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

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Contact Info:

To contact me you must be a humanist...

"A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, then by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust." ("Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire )

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Nuggets...    by    Rory Andes

"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement." - Rob, Defy Ventures Washington

As Rob was talking about this, it was used primarily in the business context. It's a great statement for the topic, but it's a great statement for a lot of life's topics. I hear stuff like this all the time and while some I imprint into my brain verbatim, some of these nuggets of wisdom sit in my mind in their generalities. Another favorite of mine, "A setback ain't nothing but a setup for a comeback," is something I heard on Sunday Morning on CBS spoken by Ice Cube during an interview. I heard it a few years ago and it resonates with me. I use that one to move forward after adversity. I also use "You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life." It was sent to me in a photo of an internet meme and I keep the photo tacked to my corkboard. It's a brilliant nugget for perseverance, because there are some bad days here. Sometimes, there are bad days in life. And I believe in a great life that's earned.

But one of my favorites came from an interview I saw on Fox News not too long ago by Lou Holtz, former football coach for Notre Dame. He's quoted as such: "If what you did yesterday looks big to you, you didn't do much today." What a great nugget to try harder and be better. He also gave a list of rules to live by...
1. Do the right thing.
2. Do the best you can.
3. Show people that you care.

I really focus my life on numbers one and three in his list. That's why I live the way I do and write about the things I do. I live this way in here. I care about people. Coach Lou Holtz also said, "These days people say they know their rights and privileges. In my day we said we knew our responsibilities and obligations." A cautionary statement spoken by a man with a lot of experience, kind of like Rob.

There are a million little (and sometimes giant) nuggets to collect to build your life's wealth with. And each one adds another level of insight to another one of life's complexities. But, after all your years on this earth, you only get these nuggets if do one major thing... pay attention. So, pay attention.

by Rory Andes

There's a lot to learn from other people. Take the time to....

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Rory Andes 367649
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Friday, March 27, 2020

Ruthie's Travels    by    Ruth Utnage

With all this time on my hands I have plenty of time to imagine. Our world in prison has been turned upside down, along with the rest of the planets, and I find myself looking for ways to keep my mind healthy and fresh. So...trips it is.

This morning I took a walk by this wonderful pond. The surrounding grass has a thick moss base that is bright green and soft. I took off my shoes and walked through it barefoot for the first time in over a decade leaving my footprints in the springy material. The sun is up high and just a touch hotter than normal, clear blue skies with a few wispy clouds slowly materializing into designs only clouds and smoke can make.

This pond has a bridge over it, arched and spanning the center of the pond, made of stained oak. Cattails line the edge of the water, which is so smooth it looks like black glass with small trout on the other side. I can stand in the center of the bridge and look down to the pond bottom and see the algae being disturbed by passing fish, I think I see someone's pennies, wishes of those in need of a miracle I suppose.

I spot a duck couple on the other side of the lake, the male ever so slightly in front, for now. It makes me think of me sitting with a partner on the front porch of a country estate over looking the rolling plains of the Midwest, where you can almost see the curve of the earth. A slight breeze comes along and brings me back to reality and with it the smell of earth and lavender. I close my eyes and find a spot in the soft grass to sink into the impossibly soft ground and let it absorb me into its comfort.

Yeah...good trip.

Where would you go?

With Love
Ruth Utnage

Contact Info:

To contact me you must be a humanist...

"A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, then by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust." ("Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire )

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Them, Me, and PTSD...    by   Rory Andes

The first time I touched live ammunition, I was in seventh grade and it was on an outside basketball court at my junior high school. The first time I heard live gunshots fired in succession, it was during a drive-by in front of school where I had no idea of the target. I hid behind a parked bus and waited. I was a sophomore in high school. That was circa 1992. Twelve years later, I would be in Baghdad experiencing the devastation of combat that would invoke psychological trauma that was second only to the trauma of coming home.

The latter would become the origins of my prison sentence. I had a loving home as a kid, before the army, before the war in Iraq, before the homecoming. Although I grew up in a community in southern California that knew its share of crime, I didn't develop PTSD from growing up. My parents were amazing and my family supportive. But I sure as shit developed it later. I promise you, I'm the lucky one. Others in prison learned hate, others were beaten, others were destroyed emotionally, all as part of their family legacy. All from day one. A lifetime of trauma and the stress disorders that comes with it...

In 2014, I sat in a conversation with a Hispanic man from Texas who spent his whole life in a gang family. He deeply respected my service and made sure I knew that about him. To this day, I think about how he shared powerful compliments. For him though, as a kid, he dealt drugs, got into gunfights, ran missions for family members in a Mexican cartel and spent his entire childhood worried about getting his ass kicked until he was responsible for doing the kicking. It was a childhood that would lead him to prison for life. Trauma in unbelievable measure. He wanted help for PTSD, but felt because he wasn't a veteran, he wasn't worthy of asking to be free of his demons. My heart broke. You don't have to be a veteran to be damaged by violence and fear, but it was tough to convey that to him. His family, his homies, and his self beliefs all confirmed that help is for those that are worthy and he wasn't. It's a bullshit view, right?

This week, I ran into another man who expressed his PTSD and he explained how he's not worthy either. Fear, anxiety, anger, rage, depression, and suicidal ideation are this man's normal range of emotion. He grew up as a white supremacist under the discipline and instruction of a grandfather who was in the Ku Klux Klan. He was beaten to toughen up and at the age of thirteen, he discharged his first firearm with intent to kill. He missed and the black kid he shot at, shot back. While he wasn't wounded, the fear of death still sits poorly with him. He was beaten harder for being "a failure for not doing his family duty" per his grandpa's instruction. A failure! He cried as he told me how much he hates his family for the ways they believe. He's forty five now and knows he could use help, but "that kind of help is only for veterans. They earned it." He did, too. He earned it through being born into a hellish life.

I don't know if the average citizen sees what trauma leads to here. Trauma creates more mental illness in prison, years after convictions. There are more trauma victims in prison than I could ever explain and many victimizers have endured a lifetime of unmanaged pain. They are long standing victims from long lives of trauma. It's a deep cycle that is too often disregarded as simply, "criminal behavior".

Here's my experience of how prisons deal with trauma... When I first came to prison, I tried to address my combat related issues, but the psychologist said that the department "doesn't deal with PTSD. But if you agree that you're a threat to yourself or others, we can deal with that." Was he fucking serious? Agreeing to that gets a guy put in the hole for a crime not committed, as a matter of security. No thanks. I'll spend the next decade or so sleepless with anxiety and depression, until the VA can help after release. I figure that's not nearly as bad as spending an entire lifetime in the trauma of a terrible family legacy. One with no hope. One without help.

PTSD is real in prison and everyone deserves the opportunity to heal. But I, like my incarcerated brothers and sisters, am not worthy anymore either, at least not for now, because we're confined for carrying the felony conviction. Please recognize their damages and don't throw these people away for their traumas. They do that enough to themselves...

by Rory Andes

Everything you read here is written by a human surviving some trauma....

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Rory Andes 367649
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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Aha! Moments     by    Ruth Utnage

I imagine most people have had their aha! moment in life, some point where they realized that something had to change. If you're anything like me, you've had many. I remember one particularly impactful aha moment that happened in December of 2012, I had been in prison for about 16 months by this point.

I came to prison with the idea that I was going to get tattooed, a bunch of them. In fact, I planned on getting suited (which is when you body gets covered except feet, hands, and neck up). I had plans for nearly every square inch of my body and it excited me.

At one point I received a letter from my mom that contained letters from my two youngest children. One of them said (in handwriting only a child could create, beautifully) "One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. Dad I want to go fishing with you. When are you coming home? When are you ever coming home? Do you remember me?"

Then he signed with a picture of two stick figures fishing off of a boat, he added "your son" with a little arrow after "do you remember".

This tore me up inside. All I could get was updates about my two youngest and supervised contact as long as the foster parent was willing. (This is not the case anymore.) Getting that drawing was painful. I felt I deserved to feel that pain though, I had that coming. So I planned to get that whole piece of paper, precisely how it looked, tattooed on my rib. My other sons on my other side. I was super proud of my decision.

I knew getting tattoo's was wrong because it was against the rules. But I justified it, like any other rule I was breaking at the time. Actually, how about the truth, I just didn't care what was right or wrong. I made up my mind to get my body covered and wasn't nothing going to stop me, my only hang up was what was going where and by who.

I had already made arrangements to get my back done first. I got "Bondservant To Christ" in big Greek letters across my shoulders. Below that is a demon with his wings torn off, chained by his hands and neck with the chains going into my back, kneeling with his hands outstretched toward the letters. It is unfinished. That's as far as we got before we had to take a break.

My back was still bleeding when we got caught. I had two tattoo motors and set-ups on my shelf that the artist had set there while he inked my cellmate, plus ink. I was also making soot for another round (which means I made an oil lamp and it was burning when they got caught) when we got caught. I needed a break but my cellmate was ready to go for his, so I left, 3 people in a two-man cell is one to many, besides, they were smoking, which I hated (and still do).

I was hit with two major infractions, serious violations that could easily prevent me from getting out of prison later on down the road. I didn't care, I was actually proud of them. I was already thinking of my next piece. I called my Mom and told her I had gotten two majors for tattooing, proud and arrogantly. I didn't know I was on speaker phone. I didn't know my son was in the room when I announced that my next piece was going to be that letter "because it meant so much to me".

Then, my aha! moment. I heard my youngest ask my Mom "Didn't Dad just get in trouble for that?"

"Yes"

"Why can't he do the right thing?" he says. It stopped me dead in my tracks. My head sank down with the phone. Then he spoke directly to me "Why can't you do the right thing Dad?! You always do the wrong thing."

It wasn't an accusation but a simple truth. It stung so bad.

I vowed right then and there I wasn't going to get into any more trouble. That I was going to do the right thing. Ain't nothing like that pain, of hearing that little boy wonder and realize why his father was so fundamentally broken, such a hypocrite. I didn't like that pain.

That was 8 years ago. I still have an unfinished back piece. I stopped dead in my tracks. I have not received an infraction, minor or otherwise, since that day.

One of many moments of change in my life. How about you? Any aha! moments coming to mind? I'd love to hear one.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

Contact Info:

To contact me you must be a humanist...

"A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, then by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust." ("Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire )

Visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ExperienceHumanme/