What kept you going?
If not for the reading and visits from family and friends, such as my daughter Nicole and my lawyers, prison is totally a “sensory deprivation” — you have to do something or you’ll go nuts. Prison is a trip into boredom, with a side trip to monotony. It is tough if you make friends because some leave before you do, so you lost a friend and have to think about whether it is worth doing it again. After a while you realize that you must do the time or the “time” will do you. So you work to occupy your mind. I noticed that a lot of people in prison have no self-esteem, usually because they are going to be there for so long, they give up. I believe now that many people are in prison far longer than they should be and it does not help them to think about reordering their life, they are down so much. This is especially true of young drug dealers with terms of 10 or more years.
What motivated you? How did you fight the boredom?
I have always proclaimed my innocence — that keeps me going even today. In prison I focused on that and largely on my legal appeal for the better part of a year or more — working on that, hoping on that. But that fell through when my conviction was not reversed. Then my sentence was not reduced, even though the US Supreme Court had ruled while I was in prison that the federal sentencing guidelines under which I was sentenced were not mandatory but were recommendations. So then I determined to keep looking toward the day I would go home and what it would take to keep going, stay out of trouble, and finish my sentence.
During my stay there was a food strike in the prison promoted by Latino inmates and they asked me to join. I declined, went to the cafeteria that day, which was only half-full, and stayed away from the strike action. The administration then put us all in lockdown for three days, which meant we ate in our living quarters. We ate just baloney sandwiches and soda for those few days. I was determined not to get involved. I did not want to mess up my good behavior time, which can be up to 54 days a year off the full sentence. During that lockdown period the guards pulled a few of the strike ringleaders out during the night, shackled them, and took them off to other prisons, to break up the strike. We never saw those guys at Fort Dix again. I believe the key to happiness is freedom, and the key to freedom is courage — that is, to do what has to be done and keep doing it until it is accomplished. Having a routine each day helps a lot.
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