Sunday, May 31, 2020

Is Self-Reinvention Possible or Am I Kidding Myself?   by    Ruth Utnage

In Tara Westover's memoir "Educated", which is a fascinating page-turner of a book, she is constantly reconciling her former self with a her new self. For me the question "can I reinvent myself" continues to emerge. As I read each page this question has become quite the plague.

Here is this person who was uncovered an independent and intelligent woman within and it is painfully obvious in her memoir that she asks herself similar questions about her own past. Can she move on or will she be forever her past. I wonder the same thing. Clearly our pasts are incomparable, I'm not suggesting otherwise but I would be lying if I said I didn't see at least pieces of myself in her writing, there's a certain resonance that I cannot help but identify with.

I have less than 18 months left before I potentially release from prison and I am not wanting to pretend my past never happened, to include my crime and previous life, but I don't want to be defined by my past only. It seems as though my only real barrier is, me. It's the inner voice inside my mind that whispers things like "you're not a real woman", "people will never accept you", "you'll never be a grad student, let alone a post-grad student"...and on and on and on.

I'm getting better at adding personal definitions to who I am but I am not so good at deleting old ones. I can confidently say I am an intelligent, perseverant, confident woman and in the same breath, same sentence even, say that I am also dumb, foolish, and part male. Some part of me believes every word to one degree or another. Sometimes it's not even my voice inside of me that affirms one or more of these things. Sometimes it's the hostile voices of my former family, other times it's the loving voices of my new family but the worst is when it's my own.

I have to wonder if I am alone in this back and forth inner monologue, if my lack of absolute and resolute certainty is normal. There are things I know to be universal truth's about myself:

I am a changed individual, for the better.
I no longer think the same way.
I refuse to hurt anyone else again, myself included, verbally or otherwise.
I know what love is and isn't because I've done and experienced both.
I am a woman, despite having male anatomy, and,
I don't care what anyone else thinks about that.
I am going to accomplish my goals.

I have zero idea who sent me the book "Educated" by Tara Westover, but to whoever it was...thank you and expect a full review of it in the next few days.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

Feel free to contact me...


A Night on the Town (the Yard)…    by   Rory Andes

Not too long ago, I wrote about "Family Dinner". It was Saturday nights in the sewing room with the most important people I have in prison. Because nothing ever lasts forever and we must evolve to keep up, Ruth decided she had other obligations for her release that would interfere with Family Dinner night. Of course she needs to do what she needs to for release. But it was a heartfelt loss because I deeply cherished that space with her and Marshall. So to make it up, we moved the Family Dinner concept to Friday nights on the yard.

This Friday, Ruth, Marshall and I, along with now Christopher, were able to walk together outside and talk about big dreams and the plans Ruth and Marshall are making for the very near future. Plans about going to UW and taking charge of their lives. We all share the same ideas. Christopher's addition was a lot of academia mixed with comedy and I laughed for an hour straight. It was amazing....

It reminded me of being nineteen again walking with my college friends (while I was a soldier) down the streets of Manhattan... Kansas... home of Kansas State Wildcats. Super free and connected to dreams of success. A Night on the Town (or Fridays on the yard) are going to be great in the summer months. And to dream that big with amazing people is still something I look forward to at the end of my week. One day, it will be a night through Seattle for all of us to meet in a restaurant and talk about all of the great things we did despite prison. I welcome the night on the town....

by Rory Andes

Keep your dreams big. The world is big enough for all of them....

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Rory Andes 367649
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Mathematical Reflections     by     Christopher Havens

Last night, during my studies of category theory, I found a passage in my textbook which brought me into some neat thoughts. It reads: "Mathematical discovery is by no means a matter of systematic deductive procedure. It involves insights, imagination, and long explorations along paths that sometimes lead nowhere." by Robert Goldblatt
I love this passage because I've experienced this intimately. My first discovery was born from tying to solve the continued fraction whose partial denominators make the sequence of natural numbers. If you're familiar with number theory, it looks like [1:2,3,4,...] . Also my favorite irrational number! But it has been solved using things we call Bessel functions. Really, solving it in terms of integrals and infinite sums is not hard. But I wanted to find an explicit expression in finite terms.. like e or pi. I tried for a year! Failing and failing at every avenue I took. I even tried to invent nonsensical methods hoping to manipulate the fraction into giving me what I wanted. I kept notebooks o my attempts at solving this problem. I then tried to solve a general case.. I figured if I looked at ALL solutions, I could find THE solution. Here was where things fell apart.

I built closed forms for classes of these fractions. But what I learned in the process was that there WAS no solution in the terms that I was looking for. It really did seem like a long exploration on a path that led nowhere.. well. That's not entirely true. Although there was no solution to my year long problem, it marked my most beautiful failure to date. The closed form formulas I made had never previously been found. It was all new math. the next step was to prove what they were. That was also a long time! But at this point, I had entered into a collaboration to mature my results so that they were ready for publication. When all was said and done, this research gave several new theorems to the beauty that is number theory. It was all because of my exploration into the secrets of the constant [1:2,3,4,...]. I've wanted to name this constant ever since.. because it inspired and led to new discoveries in mathematics. Let's worry about the name later.. but denote the irrational number [1:2,3,4,...] by the lowercase Greek letter Xi (sorry guys, I don't have the symbol). 

Christopher


The Convict Code Doesn't Exist For Many Prisoners    by    Ruth Utnage

If you have watched television or known someone in prison you have probably heard of the "convict code", a set of precepts that supposedly all prisoners follow that enable continued criminal behavior as acceptable and maintain separation between corrections officials and prisoners under their care.

These codes have been immortalized through folklore and maintained through fear of violent repercussions, social isolation, or even death. However, these 'codes' do not exist in all prisons nor do all prisoners follow them and furthermore, dissention from them has proven itself to be the more beneficial choice by far.

Instead of me spoon feeding you fabricated and grandiose takes of bloodshed to fulfill the prerequisite falsity that prison must be brutal, how about we explore truth? Allow me to educate you with reality and if you are in academia I will probably frustrate your research. I have a distinct advantage in gathering data and information because of what is known as immersion. I am immersed in prison, as a prisoner (who is guilty) with the educational capacity to view this space and culture with objectivity. I am able to name my environment as I experience it whereas observers, researchers, and overseers are unable to to immerse themselves because of their role as 'other' than a prisoner. A fact overlooked again and again that skews data.

All prisons are not the same. There are maximum, medium, and minimum security facilities that house different types of prisoners and cultures. The 'convict code' resides, in its truest sense, in maximum security prisons only and comprise 15-25% of prison and prisoners, or less. The other 75-85% are not bound by the same level of violence and cultural 'codes', in fact, the 'codes' get altered significantly.

Covering all prisoners with the limiting label of a convict only confirms a bias and limits possibilities of being something other than a convict. The prisoners cultural value system is drastically different from that of the non-incarcerated populace because of their very placement in a prison. This difference is not taken into account when research is conducted, statistics are determined, and oversight is administered mainly because the existence of someone not a prisoner will alter the information the prisoner supplies in nearly all collection settings, even those that center around surveys because the prisoner instinctually seeks to please the individual who is not dressed as a prisoner. The cultural value the prisoners seeks to fulfill in nearly all instances is to seek to prolong contact and validate their own existence in a community that is not prison.

Having someone produce research as a prisoner is a distinguishable advantaged because of cultural immersion. I hope to help gather and publish robust and accurate information so that together we can establish a more effective rehabilitation theory that adds to the enrichment of all our lives.

With Love

Ruth Utnage

Feel free to contact me for any reason.


Friday, May 29, 2020

The Ant Farm Allegory      by     Ruth Utnage

Let us say we have an ant farm for study and observation. Our job is to discover how ants become as diligent and cohesive as they are, why exactly. We can observe what they do all day every day. We can even use science to detect possible communication structures, perhaps vibration, that will help us in our understanding.

Through this process we understand which ant is most important, sleeping patterns, eating habits, mating, and even observe social interactions. We can know everything there is to know about ant culture. Whole fields of science can engage with this farm and present cutting edge research on why the ant hill is the epitome of cultural perfection and why. Then someone challenges one small piece and the science of ants is borne.

But let us say we become an ant in this ant farm. Will we learn more? We are what's known as a worker ant, by birth and body shape, the lowest rung on the caste system created by human scientific observation. But in the ant world, in our communications the worker ant is not a worker ant at all, we are (in our allegorical ant reality) gatherer emperors, the most revered of the ants because we provide life sustaining nourishment, the position of "Queen" is not a revered position at all, the Queen does not give orders or feel entitled to spaces or possess knowledge that is superior to that of the rest of the ant colony, she is in no way "in charge". In fact, she is quite secondary to her eggs.

We, as ants have our own language, our own counting system, we define our world on our terms and through our lens as immersed in this world, at times subjected to the gods who appear magnanimous and otherworldly sometimes providing food and sugar, other times administering torture.

In this allegory we see a new perspective, one based on immersion, not observations. We gain insights when we participate and become like as opposed to viewing carefully. While we cannot become ants we can become prisoners.

Research on prisoner behavior and recidivism is deeply flawed and egregiously touted as science. Well science is only science until other science emerges with new information.

Well, science, allow me to introduce new information, you're wrong about prisoners and I can prove it. The allegory is simple and could certainly use more depth, but its enough to symbolize my point.

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 )

Minneapolis On Fire...     by    Rory Andes

As I'm watching the destruction of a police station and the surrounding neighborhood tonight by rioters, I can't help but wonder just how much of this wasn't needed. The anger needs to be there, but not the destruction. The video of George Floyd's murder (manslaughter at its lightest) should have the officers that killed him in confinement. I know people here in prison that were in confinement and convicted on far less. The videos tell Mr Floyd's story. Arrest those errant officers. However, don't burn down the city that you live in. That's not a source of justice. Not for anyone.

But this flash point speaks to what it means to not just be black in America, but certainly poor also. Face it, Ben Carson, Shaq, or Kanye will never die with a Minneapolis officer's knee in their neck, while handcuffed and begging for over five minutes, for forging a check. They won't. But then again, they aren't poor either. The clash between a system for the police and the poor is the same regardless of race or location. Arrogance and bad decisions by the system's leaders put the poor in an unjust situation. The store owners who's stores are on fire, the families, Mr Floyd... they all lost to a system that protects some and not others.

While I'm watching this neighborhood burn, I realize the pain of when justice falls short. This situation never needed to be this way. I hope they arrest the officers, and now the rioters, and find justice for that community and George Floyd, the way it should have been done from the start. They way it should be done for anyone...

by Rory Andes

When it's wrong, it's wrong. Be accountable regardless of who you are...

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Rory Andes 367649
MCC-TRU
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Monroe, WA 98272


Math Anxiety     by    Marshall

From the very beginning of life I absolutely hated anything mathematical. I would become extremely agitated, stressed, embarrassed, insecure and hopeless at the thought of attempting math, in fact, every time I attempted to learn I would become more discouraged. I disliked school, smart people, ( not really, but I did feel stupid that I couldn't be like them) and there were even job opportunities I would turn down because I needed math skills. If I were Super Man, math would ultimately be my kryptonite.

Last Friday morning I was summoned by the Edmonds administration staff. I was greeted by two incredibly amazing women. They started humming the commencement song while presenting my high school Diploma. Wooooooh! Heck Yeah! As of now, I've earned my G.E.D, a Business Degree with Honors and now a high school Diploma! Oh, but wait, there's more.

December of 2019 I joined a class/group from the University of Washington called Bridges to H.O.P.E. (Huskies for opportunities for prisoners education) Yep, I signed up for a math class. From the start I was overwhelmed, dripping sweat from hot flashes, holding back tears from 40 years of failed attempts. I voiced my frustration and pain. "I HATE MATH". I was so exasperated I though about talking to mental health. The level of anger associated with math crippled me. I felt all my hope of attending college after prison slipping away.

After class I walked back to my prison cell and began screaming into my pillow like a five year old. If I could have only known at that point that I would be adopted by the worlds best tutor, I most likely would have fainted from relief. Today, because of Christopher's great care, patients, math humor and friendship, my attitude has transformed completely about math. I'm currently enrolled in math 87. Intermediate Algebra. I find it strange to share with you that I'm two weeks ahead of the class, I'm scoring 100% on my quizzes, I wake up with math papers scattered all over my floor from studying late. What surpassed all other achievements so far happened yesterday. A guy from my 87 class needed help...from me! I was able to help someone with math! (silently shaking my head)

I meet with Christopher twice a week. I'm filled with appreciation and excitement every time we meet. I get to learn. I'm honored by his willingness to guide, encourage and nurture a beautiful new passion in my life. Mathematics. I'm fascinated how studying math somehow relives any stress that I might be experiencing throughout the day??? He's teaching me Rational Exponents and Radicals, and shortly moving into Exponential and Logarithmic Functions. Today we talked about my path into Calculus.

I love my life, and although its way to early to say I love math, I'm willing to be friends.

Never Give Up Hope On Your Dreams

Marshall Byers


Mental Health Is A Trying Time...    by    Rory 

I'm a combat veteran of the early days of Iraq. I suffer PTSD from it and my life after. When I left military service, the real fun began. I was married to someone who was mentally ill and the circling of my life's drain went into full swing. I was painfully broken and survived in a shattered, extremely toxic environment. I went from bad to worse. It paved a clear path to prison for me still struggle with everything. Always. Year after year and event after event. What I did, what I didn't do. Where I failed and keep failing. Those I hurt and what I've lost at my own damn hands. Fast forward fifteen years to today...

Recently I awoke, as I often do, at two thirty in the morning to a racing mind. Frustrated, anxious, fearful, helpless, hopeless.... lost. So much loss. So little connection to society. Depressed, more so than ever before. After years of seeking help for my mental health issues in prison with no positive acknowledgement or appointment, I hit the wall. I can't explain the deepest of those thoughts, but they were the very "final" type of thoughts. Hopeless... So painfully hopeless. The trauma that consumed the majority of my adult life was starting to boil over and I wasn't strong enough to stop it.

I sent one last message with everything in me, to convey to our mental health staff what I was suffering. God listened and so did they. For the first time in over thirteen years, I had a meaningful conversation with a professional who wanted to invest in my healing. I had hope. Hope I haven't had in so long, for so many years. He established a treatment plan, a schedule of visits, an appointment with his colleague for other approaches, and exercises at stopping my mind's trauma through establishing new meditation habits. But most important to me, he wanted to know me. I wasn't a burden to him or a byproduct of a system that needs to throw away people. I wasn't a statistic or a diagnosis. I wasn't a crime and I wasn't forgotten. I was a person sitting with a guy who fixes guys like me. I am a person healing with his help. Finally, I have hope...

by Rory Andes

Being this vulnerable scares me. Be kind....

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Rory Andes 367649
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272