Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]
Episode 7 General Assembly
From Surviving to Living
(07) GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Burning Rubber)
Loading
/

It is November 2011. I finished the WoW program and became eligible for the workforce. Nervously I checked my mail daily, waiting for a job assignment. I’d been fired from my last job so I could not choose the next one. It would be assigned to me based on the needs of the prison. It could be anything.

Starting wages varied from 25 to 50 cents an hour and top pay ranged from one to two dollars. A few jobs even allowed for $4-$6 per hour occasionally.

Prior to incarceration I wrestled with finances for several reasons. First, I saw it as a performance issue. Financial success that I could proudly demonstrate – and I really enjoyed showing off – would give me the affirmation I desired. So I struggled with what it meant that I performed so poorly here. I did not budget; I hated the rigidity, the very concept! I sometimes engaged in “retail therapy”. If I could I would attempt to out-earn my over-spending. I wrote many a bad check and also played beat the bank with a check before the anxiety of such behavior caused me to abandon checks altogether.

C.S. Lewis states accurately in Mere Christianity, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”

I believed many people performed far better. I tried to avoid thinking about these things. When forced to face my behavior I employed much justification, excuses and blame-shifting. I yearned to be a self-disciplined financial success!

C.S. Lewis states accurately in Mere Christianity, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” He states further, “Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good….

“All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.'”

Admittedly, I did not correlate these behaviors with God at all, but I did feel they were painful and undesirable. I was the “try harder next time” person.

Do you find yourself seeking success or trying harder in order to be liked or feel worthwhile?

Alarmingly, if I could not manage wages at hundreds of dollars a week or thousands of dollars a month, how was I now going to manage living on just a fraction of that? Successfully? With sanity?

Some things about prison are shocking to learn no matter who you are. I’m not suggesting these things are good or bad.

Most inmates receive only half their paycheck. The rest is taken in enforced savings, fines, fees, and the like. For many (and often me!) that meant working for 12.5 cents per hour, full-time, and receiving a two week total paycheck of $3.50 on average.

I struggle with what to share. How do I adequately contrast ordinary life outside of prison, the radical foreign world inside prison, and where I fell in the mix? Some things about prison are shocking to learn no matter who you are. I’m not suggesting these things are good or bad.

When I first arrived at prison I was loaned $15 from the prison whether I needed it or not. This $15 would be paid back from my first paychecks, which I would not earn until I had finished R&O. For some it could take months and months to repay this $15 because their monthly pay is so low.

I was also loaned a few needed items such as an alarm clock. We were warned we must return these after orientation. The prison strongly recommended we use our loan to purchase our own alarm clocks and other important items that would set us up for success.

It is hard to imagine future consequences when faced with immediate suffering.

This is no small suggestion. The prison runs on a firm schedule and individual cells have no clock. Failure to stand at one’s cell door for an inmate count results in discipline. Failure to go to work at the right time results in discipline. Too much discipline escalates to worse discipline. Alarm clocks become a lifeline!!

Orientation lasts 2 weeks, just enough time to order these things before loaners are taken away. Many inmates do not order their own. It is hard to imagine future consequences when faced with immediate suffering. For example, one often arrives to prison from county jail dirty, hungry and in pain, without personal belongings. Purchases other than an alarm clock seem more significant. Like shampoo.

Inmates are expected to pay for everything except food and shelter. They must do their own laundry, for example, with laundry soap they have purchased. All hygiene must be purchased, as well as paper, pencils, envelopes, school supplies, and so on. If an inmate wishes to call someone they must pay for phone time, which can be expensive.

I raged for years in frustration when my order was short due to stock outages without warning on needed items. I overspent. I went without. I ranted about the system. I blamed prison policy for my shortcomings.

Where do we shop? Canteen. What is canteen? Canteen is a retail store currently run by MINNCOR in Minnesota. MINNCOR is the state’s prison industry program formed by the Department Of Corrections.1 In 2003 MINNCOR took over and centralized the state’s canteen operations which had previously been run autonomously at each facility.

Even though prisoner wages are very low, canteen does not have low Dollar Store prices. It also does not have much variety. I don’t know why, but both things surprised me when I got to prison. Did these people not know where the good prices could be found? Did they not understand supply and demand? (No and no)

Canteen will be ordered by inmates on a Sunday, for example, and their order will arrive not that week, but 10 days to 2 weeks later. MINNCOR is frequently out of stock without warning on many items (so many items). Inmates are limited on the amount of property they are allowed to stock in their cell. This means scrupulous planning, budgeting and ordering if one wants to succeed! Failure, anger, so much anger and frustration was about to enter my future for years!

So much could be said about this subject. I imagine I will say more. It’s an emotional subject. Such potential for growth is here. I raged for years in frustration when my order was short due without warning on needed items. I overspent. I went without. I ranted about the system. I blamed prison policy for my shortcomings. I blamed MINNCOR outages for my inconveniences, discomforts, and hardships.

I did actually order that alarm clock while I was in R&O, but not because I was wise or future forward thinking. Probably because I lacked the ability to look ahead and be afraid of the discomfort that was my future. I was pretty good at avoidance and denial so I just did what was suggested.

Fast forward to November 2011. Faced with retail priced necessities and low wages I set my heart on the highest paying jobs so that I might use some of my past coping skills (out-earn my overspending). These were the MINNCOR industry jobs. Finally I was rewarded with an assignment – and industry it was – General Assembly, known to us inmates as Rubber.

I began the week before Thanksgiving.

Deuteronomy 8:7-8

17 And beware lest you say in your mind and heart, My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.

18 But you shall earnestly remember the Lord your God, for it is He Who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Holly describes her struggle with finances before incarceration, emphasizing her desire for financial success as a form of affirmation. How do societal expectations and personal aspirations contribute to individuals’ perceptions of success and self-worth? In what ways can financial struggles impact one’s sense of identity? Are you struggling with self-worth and identity?
  2. Holly acknowledges her resistance to budgeting and her past reliance on “retail therapy” to cope with financial stress. Have you ever used shopping or spending as a way to cope with stress or difficult emotions? How effective do you think this coping mechanism is in the long run?
  3. Holly reflects on C.S. Lewis’s idea that one must turn to God and acknowledge personal limitations. Do you see a connection between personal struggles, seeking external validation, and a potential spiritual journey? How might faith play a role in overcoming challenges? Do you find yourself on this journey?
  4. Holly expresses frustration and anger at the prison system, blaming it for her hardships. How might externalizing blame be a common coping mechanism in challenging situations? How can personal responsibility and accountability be maintained in environments with limited agency, such as prison? Do you struggle to be accountable, responsible?
  5. The passage ends with Holly reflecting on her decision to order an alarm clock during orientation, even though she lacked foresight. How does the theme of foresight or lack thereof resonate throughout the passage, especially in the context of financial decisions and coping mechanisms? What role does hindsight play in understanding the consequences of actions?

READ MORE…

  • BEFORE
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Before my arrest at age 35 in 2010 I never thought about prison, jail, or the criminal justice system. Everything I “knew” I learned on TV. I really enjoyed news and drama… Read more: BEFORE
  • JAIL
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]I was arrested in March 2010. Again I heard the familiar questions, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I had long believed myself to be the source of conflict… Read more: JAIL
  • WELCOME!
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]
  • BAIL, SENTENCING, & PRISON INTAKE
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]A year passed after I was first arrested in 2010 before I was sentenced and sent to prison. During this year I served 3 months in county jail, was released on bail,… Read more: BAIL, SENTENCING, & PRISON INTAKE
  • ORIENTATION (CHANGE, SHOCK & AWE, SUICIDE WATCH)
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]I have said I was unaware previously that I needed to change. What does that mean? I believed myself to be a good person or at least a person who understood what… Read more: ORIENTATION (CHANGE, SHOCK & AWE, SUICIDE WATCH)
  • A PADDED ROOM (THE PICKLE SUIT)
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]Suicide watch in Shakopee takes place in the facility’s segregation unit. While inmates are most often taken to seg for disciplinary reasons, suicide watch and health concerns are other reasons why segregation… Read more: A PADDED ROOM (THE PICKLE SUIT)
  • WoW
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]In October 2011, as I waited to be released from seg, I received a kite (internal institutional mail) from the director of Shakopee’s Women of Wellness program (WoW). She invited me to… Read more: WoW
  • General Assembly (Burning Rubber)
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]It is November 2011. I finished the WoW program and became eligible for the workforce. Nervously I checked my mail daily, waiting for a job assignment. I’d been fired from my last… Read more: General Assembly (Burning Rubber)
  • RING TOSS & DOPPELGANGERS
    Click to rate this post! [Total: 0 Average: 0]I began my job in General Assembly the end of November 2011. Also called Rubber, it was housed in a large warehouse building shared by several educational and industry job opportunities. There… Read more: RING TOSS & DOPPELGANGERS

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]