My Experience in Washington State Prisons

Recently, I’ve had a couple of nightmares of being in prison.  I thought I’d have these when I got out a year and almost five months ago but I didn’t until the last few days.  There are some things about the experience I want to relate.

Most of the guards belong to the Teamsters union and the Teamsters are pushing for more guards for safety reasons.  The murder of officer Biendl was a tragedy and it’s something that shouldn’t have happened.  It was able to happen in part because officer Biendl was alone.  More guards would allow activities without leaving officers alone and placing them in that kind of danger.  The safety is important to everyone and the activities adequate staff make possible are important to the prisoners and society in general because it impacts how they will function in society upon release.

There are many other issues that fuel anger and create hazards in the prison system.  Just adding officers isn’t going to make society any safer when prisoners are eventually released but addressing some of the other issues would.

I went first into Shelton.  That is what they refer to as an intake facility where they haven’t got people sorted out at all yet.  People who are non-violent are put in cells with people who are gang members.  So much goes on in the court system and there is time that you spend in the county jail before hand.  This time should be used to perform some classification before someone even gets to prison so that those groups can be segregated from each other.

My next stop was Airway Heights, a prison just outside of Spokane Washington.  One of the things that readily became apparent is that many of the people who are in prison are there because they have severe mental illnesses that render them incapable of functioning in society.  At Airway Heights people with bipolar disease, that is manic-depressives, were extremely common, people with schizophrenia or other forms of mental illness that left them prone to hallucinations and paranoia, also not uncommon.  People with generalized anxiety disorders, like I had when I went in, also not uncommon.  People with serious anger management issues, NOT uncommon.  Most of these people either weren’t be treated or they received very minimal treatments.  Psychiatric drugs were problematic in prison because of their potential for being abused and psychotherapy pretty much non-existent.

There were also people with serious physical health problems that weren’t getting treated.  One man with a pacemaker with a dead battery fainted almost daily.  They’d take him away and he’d come back later the next day until the next time he passed out.

I was fortunate in so many ways.  I snore like a bear.  When I came to Shelton I hadn’t slept in three days.  Every time I went to sleep my cell mate would wake me because of my snoring.  I ended up in what they refer to as the IMU (the acronym means Intensive Management Unit, prisoners refer to it as “The Hole”, the media refers to it as solitary confinement).

While in the IMU I had an experience that resolved my anxiety issues.  If you don’t believe in God, or do believe in God but aren’t acting according to your beliefs, your heart knows what your head doesn’t, and that will cause you anxiety like nothing else.  God made that clear to me in my stay there and I resolved to do my best to act according to what I know in my heart and that has been a blessing, I learned there what forgiveness is, now I’m trying to learn to apply it myself towards other people and that’s been a bit more difficult.  But the 2-1/2 year trip would have been worth it for that alone.  I had suffered from often severe anxiety issues for three decades prior.

I was also fortunate in that I had family to write to me, talk to me, and when I got back to Monroe, visit me.  So many people there have no family, few if any friends.  Both Airway Heights and Monroe had volunteers that came in and performed religious services and helped prisoners with one-on-one counseling and other services.  The prisons often made it very difficult for these people to function but the importance of their presence there can’t be understated.

It is true that a lot of prisoners will “get religion” and within about a week of being out will lose it.  But some of them will get God and have their lives altered in a way that not only benefits them but also benefits the community when they get out.

In prison, some of the tiniest things are the source of the greatest anger, and addressing those things would be a lot less expensive and more effective than adding a boatload of guards, things like razors that cut skin but not facial hair, toothbrushes that are garbage, pens that won’t write, people like me who snore badly, being celled with people who don’t.

One problem at Airway Heights is cold.  In the winter it gets very cold, the cinder block walls do not provide much protection.  They give you two cotton blankets that have an extremely loose weave and let much air through.  I spent many nights there balled up shivering all night long.

I owe a great deal of debt to Steve McColm, a therapist that is now retired.  His retirement is a loss to the program, but he deserves to be able to spend some time with his wife.  He had stayed up there 100 miles from home during the week to work with us.  He introduced the concept of mindfulness, which really comes down to being aware and in the moment.  I’ve found it very helpful in managing my emotional state.

There was a group of Buddhist volunteers that came in and they offered a mindfulness course and I found that helpful.  I don’t know the name of the group, but I also want to thank them.  Which brings me to another point.  So many people who are religious put down other religions, but I’ve seen God use people of different religions in so many beneficial ways.  The Buddhists were one example, but also, the day before I was to go down and plead and turn myself in, a Jahovas Witness came to our house and witnessed to me, and really hit on some things that were important, and they visited me every week while I was in King County and there is no doubt in my mind that God used them.

One of the women that came in with one group up there, I talked to her about this and she said, “God is so big that no man can wrap his mind around him”, and I think that is so true.  I do believe in one God, but I think God is God, not a particular label we want to put on him and is so much bigger than any of our religions can get a handle on.  All you have to do is look at this vastness of a universe and realize that is just his creation, and even that part of his creation is only a very tiny portion that is visible to us, there is much more that we can’t even see.

So what is the point of all this rambling?  Well there are a few points actually.  1) Listen to your heart, and if it’s telling you you’re not doing the right thing, change.  2) Addressing mental health to help those who can’t function in society become able to function would be more cost effective than putting them in prison as well as more compassionate, and is just the right thing to do.  3) These churches and other groups that volunteer their time to help prisoners have a huge impact and they deserve your support and participation.

I’d like to urge people to write their congressman and representatives and urge them to provide funding for treatment of mentally ill rather than imprisoning them.  Also, write them to encourage the prison system to allow these volunteer religious groups to function as they are very helpful.  Educational programs are also helpful, another reason people end up in prison is that they don’t know how to make an honest living and for those people teaching them a trade is valuable.  The SOTP program is valuable, has been proven to reduce recidivism to less than half of what it would be otherwise, and is worth funding, and just little things like having enough blankets to be warm in the winter is valuable.  Most of these people are going to be released back into society, they are already damaged goods, they need repair and healing not more damage.

Sleepless in Shoreline

Watched The Avengers (the movie with super-heroes not the television series) before going to sleep last night and had a very restless night where I kept dreaming I was a character in the movie, not sure on which side, but was in constant physical battles being thrown up against walls, etc.

I don’t always have movies intrude upon my dreams like that but for some reason it seemed like REM sleep was the only sleep I could get and I’m feeling a bit stressed out over some things, and my shoulder is gimped and giving me pain, the result of an ancient injury resulting from hanging from playground equipment, followed by neglect of not keeping things exercised enough to hold the joint in place, to then being aggravated by moving it in a manner it didn’t like while disposing of brake rotors.

When I awoke I thought I needed to be grounded a bit and I turned to the Bible hoping for some reassuring words or direction, but I opened it randomly to a section of commentary about the profits and it was talking about the book of Obadiah being the shortest book of prophesy, and then randomly opened exactly to the one page in the entire Bible that was that book.

I don’t know what to make of that, what it means to me or about God in general.  People say God never changes, but it seems to me the God of the Old Testament is characteristically much different than the God of the New Testament.  But perhaps it’s a perspective thing, man in the Old Testament is perceiving God from a perspective of not knowing a savior and from the new knowing a savior that gave his life for them.

What I do know is that life is a struggle and I am having some problems focusing and getting things done that I need to get done.  Sleep has been problematic and I’m tired and need a way out of a situation that I’ve created.  And I know it’s not going to happen overnight but it just seems like one thing after another, and sometimes all at the same time.


I’ve been off of anti-depressants for three years and four months now.  I was on them not so much for depression per se’ but for anxiety.

Even this far down the road since I’ve been off the meds, I still find myself being overwhelmed a bit at the intensity of emotions.

I put on some older music which included The Byrds “My Back Pages”.  As I told my oldest son, Carl, chills and tears.

Being off meds means I get to feel all the negative things that happen, my Mother’s death, my children’s well-deserved anger, awareness of the mess I’ve made of things, economic woes, all in full force, but I also get to experience the positives, love of family that is still around me, friends, music, humor, the warmth of the sun, the taste of food, a happy crazy dog, all that stuff I get to feel in full force too.

I realize now that it was not so much a fear of dying as it was a fear that I was already dead, and in an emotional sense, I was.  It’s like having a color TV but the color is turned down all the way so you watch it in black and white for several decades before you finally figure out there is a knob you can turn up and see everything in living color.


Someone asked if I were using WordPress (if you look at the very bottom it says powered by WordPress), so yes, I am using WordPress.

They also asked if it required any HTML experience, no not strictly speaking, however, it is helpful to know some basic HTML for linking and if you want to customize at all, then it’s helpful to know CSS as well.  But the basic blog is a WYSIWYG environment, doesn’t take any HTML or CSS to do most of what is here.

Strange Power Thing

In the evening, a high frequency can be heard from anything magnetic plugged into power lines, arc light ballasts, computer power supplies, you name it.  This is happening between around 8pm-1am.  Usually it’s very high frequency, just on the edge of what I can hear and not very loud, although my son Carl can hear it better. Occasionally, it will drop in frequency and get much louder but that is uncommon.

I’ve heard of devices that trick the power meter by putting a high frequency back in the line.  Apparently the motors in the mechanical meters are more sensitive to higher frequencies than lower, so if you put a high frequency back into the power line, you can trick the meter into stopping or even running backwards.

I suspect someone in the neighborhood is doing that, probably to defray the costs of a few 1.5kw super-halides growing herbs.

I’ve called City Light, but they are completely clueless, have no idea what I’m talking about, and no interest in resolving whatever is causing it.  I’m concerned that the high frequency component on the line might damage power supplies in electronics.

We’re trying to figure out where we can get our hands on a spectrum analyzer or something similar to put on the line and see exactly what it is that we’re hearing.

I’m wondering how wide-spread this phenomena is and if others are hearing it?