Monday, November 30, 2020

Contact... by Rory Andes

If you've read anything I write, I hope you walk away with a sense of the story... The "Story" is that thing at the heart of the information I try and present. I'm not the best storyteller, per se, but I like to connect to the person or situation though the story (I like to connect to my own sense of self this way, too). It carries emotion and hope and life. In my words, I try to convey an element of SOMETHING that you might identify with. On the best of days, you leave a comment. I only know those parts of the story on occasion, but I never read a single word. I can't. But I love you for reading. It's powerful and I've written more stories because I know you exist. But, I want to know you and your stories. Please write me directly and let's converse over the power you might feel about the stories we can tell. More over, please connect to the human in me. You're important beyond words...

by Rory Andes

Alone is an untold story. I've not told so many...

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Complex Ruth Makes A Mess by Ruth Utnage

Once upon a time in prison there was a beautiful warrior named Ruth. Ruth was known for being hard-nosed and perseverant, she kept up with all the boys in sports, she was well-spoken and not afraid to give her two cents. She spoke her mind and made no apologies for who she was or what she was doing. Over time this earned her a reputation and other warriors came to her for help and advice for how to become a great warrior too. This was just what she was known for, inside she felt much different.

Ruth was loud about some things and silent on others, namely, her heart. What gave Ruth, in her estimation, her strength was her ability to ignore her heart and its foolish desires. She had heard of a biblical figure named Samson who had long hair that gave him his strength and Ruth thought to herself "I must get my strength from my ignoring my heart, but I'm not strong like Samson". Ruth thought herself mostly weak and that's the real reason she tried so hard to be perfect. What others seen as perseverance was only her attempt at not making any mistakes. So to protect her secret she told not a soul which meant nobody could get close to her lest they find out she was a fraud.

Ruth's icy disposition frustrated a few but for the most part it just made her seem mysterious. This new mystery created a challenge for suitors across the land and before long Ruth was in battle's of wit against some of the fiercest competitors in the land all attempting to win her heart and rule her kingdom. They tried all kinds of tactics even sharing tips with one another before battle to win her over and Ruth revelled in the games because she always won, always. While their goal was to win her heart and her kingdom her goal was to keep climbing higher into the sky, so high she aimed to touch outer space and that was far too high for any of them. She could climb faster than any of them, her body had become accustomed to the altitude. While their bodies always gasped for air and grew weak hers remained strong.

This went on for years. Finally, Ruth came to a point where most suitors gave up and there was no higher she could climb, nothing left for her to achieve, so she invented new challenges to defeat. What other's said was impossible, she set out to conquer. She won the hearts of Kings and Queens in all the lands, she received every medal 2 and 3 times over becoming more decorated than any warrior before her, she created her own speaking platform and stood on it telling all her secrets in plain language hoping someone would take her literally and join her because in all her achieving Ruth was unable to sate the one thing she desired most, to not be alone.

Once Ruth was on top of the kingdom and had done all these things she began to realize she was just like she was before she was on top, alone. While she was prized as a warrior she was not prized as a woman. She could be a warrior to be conquered, possessor of knowledge to be had, repossessed and ruled, a mentor, a guide, and a figure but she was not seen as the one thing she secretly wanted to be seen as, a good woman to marry. Instead, she was weaponized and seen as a holder of a position that others wanted, a roadblock to destroy or get around. But no one in the land wanted her for her.

Desperate to find love she consulted the lands mightiest Sorcerers, the wisest of the wise, and they told her of strange things she must face to reach her newest goal and warned her of the journey's treacherous nature and that it would be like nothing she's faced thus far. Not one to back down from a challenge Ruth took that battle on head first, confident she could win. The Sorcerer's all told her to do one simple thing that they warned was not so simple, take off her armor, stop battling and show people her heart.

While Ruth understood most of what they wanted, simple enough to not battle and exist without armor, she did not fear anyone or anything, but she did not understand how to show her heart. So she asked people how to show her heart and everyone replied with the same answer "You must have one to show first!" The people scoffed at her inquiry.

Ruth didn't mind being rejected by people, but she did mind looking foolish and having felt deceived by the Sorcerer's she set her mind to their destruction. As all the people laughed at her thinking she was up to another trick to best them she did what she always did, she prepared for battle once more.

She marched through the town square toward the distant caves of the Sorcerers, her mind set on the destruction of their protective mountain and all that resides within. The people looked on and wished her farewell as she confidently strode once again into battle. Along the way a woman in a cloak was standing on the side of the path and Ruth seen she was wearing the Ring of the Royals, a sign she was not only far from home but someone to respect.

"Good day Madam," Ruth began with a bow "I see you are wearing the Ring of the Royals and you are clearly far from home, do you require assistance?"

The woman lifted her head and stared into Ruth's eyes and she instantly recognized her, she was the Mistress of Sorcery to the King and Queen, the Chief Sorceress in all the land as far as the body could travel. She replied with a serious look "No my child, I am not lost, clearly I am well. I am not here by chance but to tell you the folly of your ways and to tell you of your undoing."

To be continued...



Saturday, November 28, 2020

My Prison Covid Quarantine... (2 of 2) by Rory Andes

The cell I was in had a television. I had a means to see the news and learn about local events. During the time I was there, the US had its presidential election and I was able to follow the coverage closely. I was grateful for that. There were a few books on faith to read, but not much else. If there were more options, they certainly weren't communicated by the staff, much like shower days or times, test results, or what to expect. The food was intended to be a hot meal, but were usually room temperature at delivery. They were packed in disposable trays and trash was picked up on most days immediately following the meal. The menu was the same as the prison I came from. I lost a few pounds, but I was pretty ok with that. I had a few to lose. Most people in IMU do anyway. I did get a few items of mail immediately after getting sent to IMU, but then it stopped. I wasn't expecting anything, so can't say definitively how the process worked or if it wasn't right.

The biggest concern I had was the way I was housed. If someone out of prison on community placement does something deemed wrong, he is subject to violation and being brought into DOC custody. They also need to be quarantined in that process and the place they do that is with guys like me, who did nothing wrong, in the same set of cells. I had neighbors that spent all night throwing up from heroin withdrawal or talking all night to the TV because of recent meth use on the streets. The staff generally saw them as noncompliant and, by default, I was included in that perception. There was no real distinction. And the violators exposure to high risk situations created an extension of that risk by them using things like the same phone and high touch surfaces in the shower. IMU is an echo chamber by design and people would be heard screaming in the middle of the night, in some other wing of the building.

By day seven, I was retested by nasal swabbing. Again, the guidance was inadequate and by then, it was frustrating. The instructions for how to be released to go back to my prison varied from, "after two negative tests," to "after two weeks," to "after two negatives and two weeks", to "it's up to custody," to "we have a testing back log, so it may be another week". The guidance was never straight forward and the results never forthcoming.

After 16 days and two apparently negative tests (I never did hear results), I was released to came back to my unit via transport. Once back, I had heard the most frustrating part... The staff member I was supposedly in contact with tested as a false positive and was already back at work a week before they were willing to release me from quarantine. When I asked how his vacation was, he said it was fine... at least they paid him.

by Rory Andes

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Okay Mom and Dad, Why Did You Ditch Me? by Ruth Utnage

I was adopted. I don't exactly know why, I think the truth is just as hazy to my birth parents as it is to me but its something like "I wasn't ready". As a child I was told I was adopted, my blood relative, Aunt, adopted me and I knew who my birth Mother was my entire life. Now, I am going to tell you about my perspective on this and how it still impacts me today. Caution, this gets heavy.

I remember watching my birth mother raise 3 additional children in a near perfect home and adopting via marriage a 4th. She provided a stable, Christian space for her children with her loving husband and the father of those children. I remember thinking that I wanted that stability, that kind of parenting. I had never experienced a father, ever, I wanted that. I kept thinking to myself "What's wrong with me? Why was I given up? Why didn't my own Mother and Father want me?" It never occurred to me that those kinds of questions were unfair and their decisions had nothing to do with me, I was only a child.

But still, I thought about it every, single day. Every time my adoptive Mother (just Mom from here on out, I never call her "adoptive mom") packed us up and moved I thought about my birth mom and her kids in the same house, in the same neighborhood of the same small town. Then there was my father, whom I still have not met. He lived within 20 minutes of me my entire life, always a 20 minute drive away no matter where we moved and despite this, he's never seen me, full on rejection, for 38 years. What kind of person does this? What kind of family does this?

I spent my entire life thinking how broken I must be that my own parents threw me away. Am I that broken that the ones who created me didn't find enough value in me to bother keeping me and one of them, my father, never even wanted to meet me, ever...still. I was just a baby. I mean, within 2 weeks I guess I was gone, discarded, given up, not good enough. I wasn't good enough because I watched my birth Mom raise 4 more kids perfectly, in a stable home, with the perfect Christian value system and she once told me "My kids's idea of a catastrophe is they don't get ice cream for the night." I'll never forget those words because that previous weekend I was at my Aunt and Uncles house in the Iowa countryside watching them all smoke meth and shoot at cherry tree's thinking they were federal agents while I tried to stay small and unnoticed in the "porn" room. I attempted suicide at that time of my life, I was around 12 or 13, twice.

At 2 weeks old no one knew I'd grow up thinking I was a girl in a boy's body. Nobody new I was going to commit a crime or end up in prison, though statistically speaking I became a prime candidate the day my birth parents walked away from me (still, my decisions are my own). I was not good enough in a raw form, born that way, born not good enough to love. And both of my birth parents thought that. Neither of them wanted me.

As an adult, now 38, I am just now admitting I think this, just now in a head space where I can address this deep-seated trauma. It came up when I was trying to understand why I gravitate towards those who harshly criticize me and seek the affection of those who "dislike" me while resenting those who freely love me without my seeking it first. Well, go back to my childhood and now I am starting to see a connection. I don't know what the answer is but I do know this, whenever I'm rejected I think "Why? Why am I not good enough? Maybe if I get them to tell me why I can fix that and be loveable, maybe then I can get my birth parents to love me."

I know how it sounds, I am embarrassed even admitting it, let alone writing about it. I know I'm supposed to say some crap about "It had nothing to do with me, it was just them making a childish mistake", but if I said that I wouldn't be truthful. No. The truth is I want answers and I have been seeking them my entire life behind the masks of everyone who rejected me hoping that if they could tell me why - I can fix what's wrong with me, the reason my parents gave me up, my birth defects. Maybe then I'll meet someone who I can love and who loves me back. I don't know.

I dislike it when someone says "Ruth you're so beautiful and smart, you're like, the whole package" yet, they won't date me. How can you find someone "beautiful" and "smart" and "the whole package" and when they say they want to date you, they won't? Because they're lying. That's why. If I was those things to those people I'd be their partner, now wouldn't I? But I am not, instead, they rejected me. I am left thinking to myself "why?".

I used to think it was because I was fat. Then it was because I wasn't masculine enough. Or smart enough. Eventually rich enough. Then I was a bad parent, with a poor choice in partner (she is a good person, my ex-wife, but I never presented my authentic self to her, or anyone until after prison). So I lost my weight, 140 lbs so far. I am publishing academic papers and am "intelligent" according to many. I have serious strengths. I am resilient and well-liked, popular and highly driven. I am nice to people, genuine and authentic. I intake criticism and am careful with people's emotions. Yet, I am still not good enough to be loved. I'm not dateable and my birth parents still want nothing to do with me. Beautiful and smart but not enough to be someone's partner or child.

I know, I know. Thank God for therapy. I know...

With Love
Ruth



Putting The Whole Compound In Cycle: Who's The New Girl? by Ruth Utnage

Who's the new girl? Me! Sometimes a girl needs to turn up and let herself know that she can still take the breath out of a room. In one of Beyonce's songs she says "world stop...now carry on", that, sometimes we need to do that.

The other day I had a friend put my hair into two braided buns on the top sides of my head. Basically pigtails that were braided, put into a bun, and I tied a bow around each one...because your girl is a motha effin present! The first comment I got was from a trans girl, seconds after it was done, I hadn't even looked in the mirror yet and she began ridiculing me, she got super ugly! So, of course, I knew she was just jealous and that I was looking fierce. I knew I was pulling the look off. The second comment was from my friend Rory and he said "you look good, in fact, good enough that you're kinda outta pocket for it." And by that he means that I am being unfair to the male population.

I spent the rest of the day thinking that people were mad at me. Nobody would make eye contact with me, not even staff. They would just stare. I am a pretty tough chick. I do well when I'm in a room of people who look angry, I have survived a decade in prison, after all, but this was all of a sudden. I kept thinking "damn, I put my hair up and finally think I look pretty, my self esteem was never higher, and everyone begins to not like me, go figure". I was beginning to think I was delusional, like maybe I didn't look good. I walked with my head held high, and since I figured a hair style shouldn't determine my likability I walked with my hips switching, because I can. Because eff 'em all, that's why.

So I spent the day thinking I was suddenly not liked and that evening I'm sitting with one of girls and she makes a comment about me putting the tier in cycle, which is a reference to turning everyone on. I told her she was wrong that nobody would even talk to me anymore.

That's when she corrected me. "Trust me, they're talking, the whole wing is talking about you, look at all the empty seats, they're empty because they're all inside their cells...you know...handling business and calling out your name."

Oh, well, since you put it that way.

Then I went into my cell for the night and my cellmate, who works in the kitchen says to me "You're out of pocket for that hair girl. The whole compound is talking about you. We were in the kitchen and everyone stopped working to peek out the small window to catch a glimpse of the new hottie that just showed up. So of course i'm peeping too and guess who I see? My damned Sister! Girl, you got everyone so keyed up, even the cops was trippin'."

That made me feel good.

Sometimes a girl just needs to turn things up a bit. I'm an intelligent, sexy, warm, and good person and a catch and anyone who passes this good stuff up is gonna see me and think "Damn, I made a mistake." I want to make those who rejected me once to rethink their decisions. Yeah, it's like that.

With Love
Ruth



Friday, November 27, 2020

My Prison Covid Quarantine... (1 of 2) by Rory Andes

Let me start by saying that I didn't do anything wrong and as much as I don't like the process, I don't believe the system intended to do anything wrong either. Whether they did or didn't isn't my place to decide...

On Halloween, I stopped in the middle of some math homework and went to a chapel appointment I had scheduled. While there, I was approached and escorted away by our prison's staff to be sent off to the Intensive Management Unit (IMU), a place set apart from where I live, typically used to manage problematic inmates. This place is often referred to as segregation, solitary confinement, or "The Hole". But within IMU, this prison has established a set of cells for quarantine and isolation. I was shackled by my prison's staff who were in full protective wear. Here, they were extremely helpful in regards to my situation. They let me know that I was identified in contact tracing by being near a staff member that I work with in my prison job. I was informed that I wasn't going to be able to go back to my room. I informed them that I had just made some food that I was going to eat when I got back from my appointment and they gladly accommodated me by disposing of it. They knew I didn't want that mess to sit for at least 14 days while I was taken. They loaded me in a vehicle and off we went, through a series of gates. All said, the information flow and transport to IMU wasn't a bad experience. Inconvenient yes, but very understandable...

Once in IMU, things got different, although still not "bad". For much of the staff there, there are specific practices to deal with inmates, regardless of why they are there. One method is to provide limited information. You can't complain if you don't know what to complain about. For someone like me who isn't usually in any trouble, it was nerve wracking to figure out the landscape. Limited information was true for the day to day stuff there as well. I was placed in my cell by myself and given a change of clothing. I was then tested by swabbing for Covid. When I asked what was next to expect, I was otherwise given no further info. For the duration of my time there, I'd be given a temperature check twice a day by medical staff. When I asked further questions of them, I was given a wide variety of inconsistent answers, to include reasons I couldn't have the result of my Covid test swabbing on day one. These checks, meal delivery, and one stop by a mental health representative would be the only interaction with people for the next 16 days...

Two days after I arrived, I was allowed time out for a shower. I had the option of phone use, but when they took me from my prison, I didn't have my phone book with me (I usually email my loved ones anyway), so I couldn't think of phone numbers to call. I had no method of emailing them because as a matter of disciplinary course, when being sent to IMU, the email is shut off (not that I had the means to email, but over the course of 16 days my loved ones had been denied messages they sent me without explanation and they became worried about my situation). With Covid being a gripping event everywhere, contact is generally strained with loved ones from prison already. I was allowed a shower every two to three days and I had a method for ensuring the hygienic practices in my cell. I was given a wash basin and could wash clothes and "birdbath" in between showers. I was given soap, shampoo and dental care items that I felt were sufficient. Bedding was exchanged on Sundays and I was able to secure an additional towel and cleaning spray to wipe down everything from ceiling to floor to ensure I was in as clean an environment as possible.

by Rory Andes

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Holidays by Ruth Utnage

Every year I have to survive the holidays in prison. I get through them as best I can and then in late January I regroup and make a plan for next year. You see, my holiday season looks like this:

-November 25th, middle child's birthday
-Thanksgiving
-December 2nd, Mother's birthday
-December 13th, oldest child's birthday
-Christmas
-New Year's
-January 25, youngest child's birthday
-February 25th, my birthday

The last one, my birthday, I have refused to celebrate since I've been in prison because by the time it hits my guilt and shame is so visceral that I cannot imagine celebrating my life. Once I get out I will have missed 11 years of all my children, in fact, they will all be grown and will have experienced the most important years of their lives without me and because of me.

What's to celebrate?

But I do understand that at some point I have to move on, I have to rise from the ashes of the life I torched. So I plan ahead of time. This year I am determined to make new memories instead of flogging myself over old ones. I'm going to appreciate what is and not what might have been if I just didn't...This year I'll give gifts and cook chocolate thingies and sweet somethings. I am even thinking about making a mold to make my own 5-lb Cookies n' Creme bar of chocolate, because why not?

I might make little decorations and string them up, snowflakes for my cell and little paper rings to spruce up some holiday spirit. Either way, this is the year I move on, this is the year I take my life back.

With Love
Ruth Utnage



The Body In The Road (Act III)... by Rory Andes

The third dead body I saw in the road during my second tour in Iraq was part of a pair and it happened one day in response to a Quick Reaction call made by our battalion. Our unit, a chemical company, worked under the direct supervision of a MLRS field artillery battalion. They had some cool tricks in their bag, to include a radar that could triangulate the origin of a detected aerial munition. During a recent rash of attacks, our FOB had been the target of routine mortar strikes. We lived in full battle rattle, body armor and kevlar helmet, around the clock. Sometimes it was hard to unwind between missions like that. But that wasn't a worry on this day. We were some working mother feffers on QRF and we were hoping to catch the guys intent on killing us. For the days leading up, whenever the radar did its thing and gave us an origin, we'd drive to it and find nothing. They were quick, shoot and move. But their luck would run out sooner or later and we would know about it.

After a mortar hit the FOB, we were sent to the origin about 2 miles or so north of our position. We drove fast as hell with little regard for the other traffic. Smash through, if we must. As we approached the area, we saw a crowd building around what was the remnants of a little white Toyota pickup with rust colored doors. Beside it, two dead bodies. We edged our way in between the crowd and the scene and I talked my driver through not hitting anyone in the crowd. As I focused on them, I saw the look of horror in some of their faces. We rolled over one of the bodies trying to clear a lane. They were already a mangled mess. As we did our investigating, we realized that the two bastards that were laying there were the guys we'd been looking for. They died from a mortar that blew up in the mortar tube they had fixed to the bed of their Toyota. That's how they were moving away so quickly. But not that day. That day they were just some more bodies in the road in the middle of Baghdad...

I wish the bodies from these three scenes were the only bodies I had to see. There were more, in more places. And they're always there, in my sleep, when I'm anxious, when I fear... they don't go away. When I think about them today, I sometimes get edgy that I see them at all. I get edgier about the bodies of our guys more, though. They're all part of the wild west scenes from combat memories I can't forget, shit I carried home packaged deep in my brain. But therapy helps and I'm writing about it. That's a decent start...

by Rory Andes, Staff Sergeant, United States Army

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Body In The Road (Act II)... by Rory Andes

The second dead body I saw in the road during my second tour in Iraq was just north of an intersection of two routes named Irish and Widow maker in southern Baghdad. That intersection, an overpass, was a place where one of my mentors and his driver lost there lives to a 500 pound bomb, snuck in under the cover of night, and rigged as an IED. Under that same overpass, someone threw a grenade at my Lt and I. Needless to say, patrolling the route always had me on edge. I hated driving it at night and I hated being the vehicle commander in a rig where I was also the gunner on top. My abs hurt most times from those missions because of the tension I kept in my gut to keep from throwing up. But there I was, with my crew running up and down route Irish from Widow maker to Baghdad International Airport (I later learned that Newsweek called the route "Baghdad's Death Highway").

Of course in the middle of the night, on top of the vehicle behind an M240B machine gun that had no ballistic shielding and wearing goggles that caught all of the road dust, the patrol really didn't sit the best with me already. God, it was brutal in the middle of the night and this particular night, it started to rain ever so slightly. With the rain, comes the smearing of that goddamned dust. When your vision is obscured in a place you need every bit of it to see anyone who tries to kill you, you shit a little. As we picked up the pace to blow through the intersection, I dropped the goggles for a second to see past the mud that was building. When I did, I yelled out to my driver, "On the right!" It was a man, face down on the road shoulder, dark spots in his light blue shirt. He was an Iraqi Police Officer, executed and thrown in the road, clearly visible in his uniform. I remember feeling so pissed because I was startled. Had I not dropped the goggles, we would have rolled over him with all 20 tons of our Fox Chemical Recon vehicle. More over, was the son of a bitch who killed him still watching us? I hated moments like that...

Another day on the streets of chaos...

by Rory Andes

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Monday, November 23, 2020

The Body In The Road (Act I)... by Rory Andes

The first dead body I saw in the road during my second tour in Iraq was in an intersection in Baghdad near the Green Zone in broad daylight, right in a well trafficked residential neighborhood. We were called out to the location to support the very new, but very tattered Iraqi National Guard. As we rolled on scene, our job was to just secure the area, collect whatever information we could through the interpreter, and turn it over to the ING or the police, whoever showed up first. We were fairly new to this sector and as routine as it seemed, we were full of apprehension. People were in their homes looking over their fences to keep an eye on us. Keeping it real, I guess I would have done the same if I were in their shoes. We had just flipped the country upside down and captured Saddam. We operated in a lot of Sunni neighborhoods with folks who didn't care for us.

As we looked around, the scene seemed so goddamned senseless. Senseless because the body we discovered in the road was a man who was carjacked, shot to death, thrown from the car, and left in the middle of this intersection for the whole neighborhood to see. This man lost his life over a car that was... or was attempted to be... stolen. The real shitty part was that the carjacker drove the car for about 75 feet down the road before he crashed it into a power pole and fled the scene, engine running and door wide open. There was blood everywhere inside the car and I couldn't help but think, "Why? Why the hell steal a car you're just going to crash and why did this guy have to die for it?"

Welcome to Baghdad in the days of the wild, wild west...

by Rory Andes

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Proving Myself... by Rory Andes

I've noticed something odd in myself lately and I've gone on a quest for self discovery about it. Recently, I've had an old friend come back into my life, I've gained a friend by way of penpal, and I've had the chance to interact more meaningfully with a family member of one of the dearest people I know from here, all by telephone. The conversations are wildly invigorating, because it's been a long time since I've put real time into real world conversations and that's were I noticed a glitch in my system... I over talk them on the phone. I seemingly cut them off on accident, then just continue, because I'm a shotgun of information for the twenty minute window we're allowed for the call. I vomit my life in chunks and catch myself feeling guilty when I step on their responses...

Why is this such an odd thing to me? Why do I do it? Part of it is because in here, with my friends that I can have longer conversations with, I ask a ton of questions to encourage more information from them. I ask because I want to hear every element in the way they think of something. But, we have time. In the course of asking, I don't need them to think anything of me other than I care about what they have to say. I ask and listen with every fiber in me, however long they need to answer. But for some reason, I step on the folks in the phone conversations because, as I work to develop an outside support network of more people, I need them to understand that I'm worth knowing. I'm attempting to prove myself through shot gunned information about my life and the way I live in here. I will give you everything at the expense of your response in an effort to establish a more perfect bond. It sounds crazy as I write this...

I know they don't need me to prove anything, but for some reason, it's a strange desperation. What if they don't think I'm doing enough, or what if I'm not engaging enough...? What if they think...? What could they think...? Jesus, it's exhausting. I guess I still associate the phone with some level of trauma of being emotionally discarded by the outside world. If I've talked to you on the phone recently and I didn't let you get a word in edgewise, I'm sorry. More importantly, to the very few that might answer, I love you beyond words and I'll work on it because I owe it to you. What you say is infinitely important to me...

by Rory Andes

Never take freedom for granted. People break in strange ways in here...

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Inconveniently, Math Fridays by Ruth Utnage

Showing my work in mathematics was a constant struggle in high school.

In fact, I would get the answers right but would fail the class because I couldn't show my work. I got frustrated enough that in 10th grade I simply went to the local college on my own and took the GED so that I could scrap high school altogether but it was mostly math that chased me away. It made me feel dumb. My intelligence is a source of major insecurity for me, maybe one day I'll flesh that out publicly, but for now understanding that my intelligence is enough of an insecurity that I dropped out of high school and took my GED in one shot because I didn't know how to "show my work".

Here I am 25 years later, in prison because I ran away from everything that was hard. All I can think about is showing my work, a way to reclaim the life I threw away, because then I might finally understand the "how". I spent hours arguing violently with my high school teachers about why I didn't need to explain how when I got the answers right without a calculator. Walking away and ending high school so I never had to deal with that again seemed fitting at the time but all I can think about now is "how?".

At the moment my life is complicated. I am doing some deep psychological work in preparation for finally releasing. I am facing things from my childhood (and beyond) that I have held onto for decades and it is the hardest thing. Fridays are therapy days. They are the days I face my childhood self like a ghost watching the painful memories of their life only, there is an angel who meticulously repackages them inside of my soul so they are seen in healthier lights. Then, 3 hours later I'm sitting in a classroom where I learn the "how" of math.

Every Friday is math day. 5 of us (incarcerated individuals) and a few college staff find an unoccupied classroom where we can social distance and we talk about mathematics.

There is so much about this I am still processing. My first packet of homework had me doing basic mathematics, for instance, "How many multiples of 10 are between 9 and 101? How about 11 and 103? Why aren't the answers the same?" The answer is simple enough to spout off without much effort because that's how my brain works, get it done and move on. However, my problem with math has always been understanding the how. How does it actually work? I was supposed to prepare a small presentation on how I came up with the answers 10 and 9. Show my work...

I spent some time with a close friend, a fellow Friday math-er, and together we came up with a solution that involved division. I felt good because it cleverly included fancy things like a's and b's with multiple layered steps that led your eye from 10, 20,...90, 100 to 1, 2, 3,...9, 10. Then, I had it all squared away, the how. I went back to my job confident I finally bested my brains laziness and feeling like might have reclaimed a little of my youth. But I didn't write it down and when Friday rolled around I had no idea what to say.

Remembering the how of math for me is like asking a trauma victim to remember the trauma their brains blocked out, it makes me freeze up. Which, I did on Friday. I have spoken to rooms packed full of hundreds of people on topics that are difficult to explain privately, let alone publicly and in prison. I have faced some of prisons most dangerous and have had them stand up in the middle of my speech and shout "go off yourself!" and I didn't bat an eyelash, I crushed that speech and won him over along with the entire room full of his clones...

But ask me to explain how there is only 9 multiples of 10 in the number set 11 thru 103 and I lock up like a neurotic pygmy goat in the middle of a bleat.

Neat-o.

But I did it. I don't remember how, but I did and the more I do it the more I remember. Each time I edge closer to feeling like I am beating back my childhood shame and trauma and reclaiming my life as my own. It's hard, but soul work is never easy, or clean. Sometimes we have to get dirty.

So, math, c'mon, let's go roll in the mud for awhile.

With Love
Ruth Utnage
(For interviews or media inquiries please contact me directly!)


Ruth Utnage fka jeff 823469 C-510-2
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA. 98272

or via Jpay email service (you have to use my birth name, but, please do not call me by it, my new legal name is Ruth)

Jeff Utnage
823469



Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Hostage Situations... by Rory Andes

Partway through my first tour in Iraq, in the opening of the war, we finally had access to email to communicate back home. My ex wife and I had access to each others accounts and she responded to someone who wrote me and said "contact me on mine and I'll tell you how it's going." I didn't know who the person was, but I hopped on hers to follow the conversation. There, I found the emails of her bragging to her friends about an affair with the neighbor. It was crushing and, in the moment, I had to shut my mouth and operate as though other lives were on the line. There were... it was a war zone. I told one person, my platoon sergeant, so he could make real calls if I was too far off from thinking right. But, I knew this critical information and if I tipped my hat in any way, what would she do? What if she ran? What about the kids? I rode with that all the way back, battle damaged from the home front and stuffing it down relentlessly. A hostage to the information...

Fast forward 15 years... I'm still locked in a hostage situation with knowing my youngest daughter. Her mom (who I met well after I got out of the Army and left my ex) and I fell apart almost three years ago and still, to this day, if I say what's on my mind, I run the risk of never knowing my kid. The impact of this is overwhelming most times and I work real hard at shutting out the conflict. But it's so hard. I have to beg for any info. She'll show pictures on social media and give updates to another inmate and I have to shut my mouth, because I know neither. It's difficult to know that if I rock the boat in any way, I'll never get a chance to know my kid. It doesn't mean I just gloss over it or that I can begin to know how to resolve it, but I am keenly aware of it and these hostage situations suck real bad. Once I get out, I can find a legal route to resolve this using a professional negotiator. But until then, I'll sit in this corner with a little bit of fear and wonder about how this is going to play out. Lesson learned, lesson learned. Leave the bank when you see masked people in the parking lot...

by Rory Andes

I'm not the biggest fan of writing my pain, but here you have it...

Email at Jpay.com using Rory Andes 367649

Or by Mail:
Rory Andes 367649
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Data Mining: Big Tech v Government by Ruth Utnage

The government gathers data on most anyone it wants, all conspiracy theories aside. Between the IRS and the NSA's attempt to track terrorists we all know that "big brother" is data mining us, even you.

Then we have big tech companies, like Google and Facebook, among others who also data mine. Our habits are all known. They say it's so that they can provide "better, more customized service".

Now, we have one data mining agency (US government), who feels entitled to our every piece of info, now getting miffed off at big tech for doing a better job at it. Now our government wants to control companies like Google in the name of our "privacy" but I see little difference between what big tech is doing and our very own government. One is openly doing it so that they can make trillions of advertising dollars, the other is doing it for God knows what.

Doesn't our congress have other crap to handle?

Weirdo's.

With Love
Ruth Utnage
(For interviews or media inquiries please contact me directly!)

Ruth Utnage fka jeff 823469 C-510-2
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA. 98272

or via Jpay email service (you have to use my birth name, but, please do not call me by it, my new legal name is Ruth)

Jeff Utnage
823469



Monday, November 16, 2020

Don't Say Can't, Don't Hate, and Tell The Truth... by Rory Andes

I watched a great interview with one of Marshall's heroes, Matthew McConaughey, last Wednesday on TV and he was promoting his new book, a memoir titled "Greenlights". It sounded like a great book and he talked about how he's been journaling since he was a kid, fourteen I believe he said. One of his comments was about his dad and how he influenced him and his two brothers with some monumental values. One of those was "Don't say can't, don't hate, and tell the truth." What great lessons to know...

I think rebirthing in prison the right way involves all three of these fundamental elements. If I said I can't, then what the hell am I doing? Why work towards anything if I just stop if it gets rough? (Please view "The Gift..." for better context in this.) Nothing in life is worth it, if it's too easy. As long as I know that, I can... more importantly, I will. Don't hate... how much more of my life's space is wasted if I hate everything? Things worth anything are already difficult to work towards, so why waste the energy on hating those that have it, or even those that piss it away? Don't hate means staying in my lane and being in command of my own life. That sounds like an ingredient to a recipe for success. And tell the truth... I came to prison because I wasn't honest with myself and how unmanaged my life had become. Real problems swallowed me in real ways. Others suffered at the truth of that. But truth is also set in knowing that I've driven miles from that point and I can see all the little details of the life around me. Telling the truth also includes saying "I can". And I will. I'll even be honest enough to ask for help if I need it.

I give a big thanks to Matthew McConaughey for the great words from a cool guy during an inspiring interview. I hope that when our own Marshall gets out and meets him, I get the selfie of both of them. If you read his book "Greenlights", let me know how it is...

by Rory Andes

Great words are so simple sometimes...

Email at Jpay.com using Rory Andes 367649

Or by Mail:
Rory Andes 367649
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272



Sunday, November 15, 2020

I could spend my days
wishing
that I didn't have to see youanymore.
Pretend that I don't come home
excited
to be in the same room,
still,
I get butterflies.
I could pretend that's not true.
Business as usual,
Par for the course,
Cost of being me is
falling
in love with my
work
and I pretend that I
hate
that my work
is
you.

I know that we have
feelings
that are new and
strange,
being us isn't
easy.
Queer
to trans,
a semblance of
normal,
just to be queer once more.
How
maddening it is.

Pretend,
just for a few minutes,
that
this could work.
That
when you see me
I am not hope for your
future
with someone else.
Pretend
it's
me.
And I'll pretend to not
love
my work.
And
we'll pretend to
not
objectify one another.
Just
for
pretend.

------

With Love
Ruth Utnage
(For interviews or media inquiries please contact me directly!)

Ruth Utnage fka jeff 823469 C-510-2
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA. 98272

or via Jpay email service (you have to use my birth name, but, please do not call me by it, my new legal name is Ruth)

Jeff Utnage
823469




Saturday, November 14, 2020

Cuts, Slices and Pascal's Triangle... by Rory Andes

Last Friday, we had a problem on the board in the Havens/Edmonds Math Lecture Series we attended (really, it's a math playground full of inspiring thoughts of shared discoveries... I've never been in a learning environment like it. It's brilliant!) Anyway, the sequence stood as such...

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 31, ___,... What's the next number in the sequence?

As we further discussed how to solve this little sequence this week, we had briefly seen how to visually use Pascal's Triangle, but the solution (which I won't give here) isn't intuitive to find IF you're not familiar with the triangle's breakdown. One discussed idea was to take a circle and put points around the perimeter of it then count all the slices inside to develop the answer. There are cuts in a pie, then there are slices of a pie. Knowing how to define each helps. Anyway, it was a moment of cool realization...

We walked in this week and a series of letters were written...
a, b, ba, bab, babba, babbabab, babbababbabba,...
What's the next set of letters?....Cool, see ya next week!

by Rory Andes

I'm not the best at math, but I love the learning environment...

Email at Jpay.com using Rory Andes 367649

Or by Mail:
Rory Andes 367649
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272



Friday, November 13, 2020

What Transitioning From Male to Female Taught Me (So Far!) by Ruth Utnage

I have this unique perspective, if you'd like to hear it.

I began taking hormones to feminize in February of this year (2020). Before then I had all the chemical compounds that support masculinity coursing through my veins to include experiences. My body reacted to stimulation in a way that a man's would and I did not understand that women and men react differently to intimacy, arousal, and stimulation. Feelings were more of a stubborn problem to be rid of, as a man the tacit quality of leadership is stoicism and levelness.

The physical nature of my manhood was a giant wall in the way of emotional expression and the joy of experiencing the intimacy of communication and feeling feelings. Then, slowly, over the past 10 months my masculine makeup has diminished to an almost forgotten memory, like a bad dream from a few weeks ago that still edges from my memory in the right light.

Now I experience feelings as the primary form of physical arousal. My body literally reacts to emotional intimacy in a way that physical (sexual) intimacy used to. My body and mind crave touch, not in the way I used to either, in a new way. When I communicate it feels disingenuous without the warmth of another body at the other end of my fingertips. This is new. Also new is this deep, deep seated empathy for emotional expression. It's so new that it makes me highly uncomfortable. The very sight of emotional expression activates my brain in such a foreign way that I literally don't know how to react to it.

These are significant differences in masculinity and femininity that are difficult to understand fully until they are experienced and even then describing the experience is lackluster because I know I don't quite have the words, yet.

With Love
Ruth Utnage
(For interviews or media inquiries please contact me directly!)

Ruth Utnage fka jeff 823469 C-510-2
MCC-TRU
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA. 98272

or via Jpay email service (you have to use my birth name, but, please do not call me by it, my new legal name is Ruth)

Jeff Utnage
823469