Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yep, I’m a Junkie

I’ll bet that when you first read that word “junkie” tour thoughts immediately went to the stereotypical street junkie desperately looking for that next drug fix, as that’s how most of us see junkies. But there are many other forms of additions far beyond those hooked on illicit drugs. When you think about it, most of us have something in life that we crave and at least to a limited extent we will push ourselves and those around us to have this particular craving fulfilled. For some of us it could be something as simple as that all important cup of coffee we crave the first thing in the morning. For others it may be that insatiable need to go shopping and others might find their strength and refuge in a bottle of wine, or perhaps something stronger. But each in our own way, we all have something that lights up those electrical pulses deep inside our brain and compel us to get that fix. It’s all part of the human experience and there are countless books written by the brightest minds out there who tell us that our brain is designed to crave things and when that craving is satisfied the parts of our brain that release those good feelings we experience after indulging in our addiction lights up like a Christmas tree. It doesn’t matter if its cocaine, coffee, chocolate, or sex – or even a good hug from someone we love as to that portion of the brain; it’s really all the same.

If I were into drugs then there would be the usual drug dealers willing to exploit my need, but I gave up on drugs long, long ago. I do still have my coffee at least 5 times a day but I no longer see that as a habit as I’ve read a lot of recent articles telling me coffee is actually good for me – so coffee is no longer a designated drug as it’s really a health food and I should drink even more.

Then there are the treats I buy from canteen here and I do love my treats and I’m not ashamed to admit I often eat at least one or two of the really sweet “iced honey buns” each week. And they are good and I love them, just as I chocolate chip cookies and other snacks I buy each week. But before you start stoning me for the sin of gluttony, you may want to know that I actually eat only half a honey bun or half a pack of chocolate chip cookies at a time. Yep even when indulging in my favorite junk food, I do show remarkable self restraint by carefully cutting that honey bun in half and then setting the one half aside as I slowly savor that first half and then, and only then, after I’ve consumed that first half will I reach out and eat the other half! That way if anyone asks I can look them in the eye and say I only eat half at a time!

But there’s a new need in town and many of us are being pulled into the cortex without the strength to resist. Unlike that honey bun, this addiction comes complete with a well organized team of pushers that shamelessly come around at regular intervals to tempt us with the latest goods…yep, I’m talking about the FDOC recent implementation of the sale of MP3 players and of course the songs.

I actually do not have my very own MP3 player as the cost is somewhat prohibitive. But already my mouth is watering and I kind of get the shakes as I write and rewrite my intended play list with all the songs that when I hear them transport me back to a time when I still had a life. That’s what it’s actually all about. Through that personal selection of our favorite songs we temporarily escape the reality and this place, and the never ending nightmare that our lives have become. There’s that song from way back when I went to my first junior high dance and for reasons I’ll never know the prettiest girl in school danced with me. Then there’s that “classis rock” that allows me to think about the old friends I used to hang out with in high school and that makes me smile. Then there are the songs that remind me for one particular reason or another of the people who have come and gone through my life and now all that remains is a song and that’s alright.

Some of the songs are corny and nobody is going to understand why I like it but me and that’s ok too as I think we all have songs that hold a personal significance to only us and you got to admit that we all have them on our play list.

Since they started selling these MP3 players it’s become the new “must have” toy here on the row. And it really is an addiction. Just ask the guys who already broke down and bought one, swearing that they would only buy a limited number of songs as each song costs $1.70 (you must buy 5 at a time, minimum for $8.50) and that quickly adds up. Guys who swore they would only buy a hundred of their favorites are now way beyond that and all but competing with each other to have the latest and greatest songs first.

Yeah, my days of having a half honey bun may soon end as I’m already cutting back, saving up to get one of those Mp3 players and once I do I’m sure I will join the others around here and find myself craving even more songs and feeding that insatiable hunger as I am, as we all are, a junky and these MP3 players are the new drug. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mutually Insured Destruction


Last week I was transferred from Florida State Prison to the main death row unit at Union Correctional Institution. I am only too familiar with what is known as the North East unit at UCI as I have spent many years there before I was moved back to FSP in December 2009. But for all that was familiar, it was still as if I had stepped off into a strange and unfamiliar world as although structurally the unit remained the same, this place has substantially changed.

What surprised me the most was the pervasive thick fog of malice that now exists within this unit. I have been on death row now almost 30 years and never before had I seen this tangible presence of malice towards death row that now exists. But this is not merely a coincidence – as I quickly came to realize, those that run the prison deliberately created this environment, systematically transferring officers who had worked death row for years out and replacing them with handpicked guards consumed by their hatred towards prisoners, especially those on death row.

Even as difficult as it is to explain this destructive presence that now hangs over this unit, it’s that much harder to understand the why of it all. Don’t get me wrong – I do understand the concept of uncompromised hate as I’ve been on both sides of that fence only too many times. But I’ve been on death row too long to know that it makes no sense at all to hate us simply because we are condemned to death. Anyone even vaguely familiar with how our judicial system really works knows that the only real difference between those on death row and those now serving “life” in the prison general population (“gen–pop”) is not the native of their alleged crime, but the quality of legal representation that we were provided. Death row does not hold the “worst of the worst” as those convicted of far more heinous crimes routinely get “life” instead of death. So it doesn’t make any rational sense to hate us simply because we happen to be on death row instead of the gen-pop.

But projecting our hate upon others very rarely (if ever) is governed by such a novel concept as rationale. Those that project their hate and malice towards others are almost always so completely blinded by their own sense of self righteousness that they cannot objectively step back and see what it does to themselves.

Although some might argue that it probably took me longer then it should have, over the years I have grown up – or at least, I’d like to think that I have. It wasn’t so long ago that if confronted with the same circumstances, I lacked the self discipline to control that spontaneous burst of anger. If anything, I even embraced it.

When I left Florida State Prison, not including boxes of legal materials that seem to grow larger as the years pass, I had about 5 boxes of personal property, mostly just all sorts off stuff that accumulated through the years that meant nothing to anyone – but to me. Most of it was important to me, as it’s all I had that accounted for the life I’ve had the past 28 years – and the life that I didn’t have. There were photographs of my kids growing up through the years that I couldn’t be a part of their life, pictures of the few friends whose smiling faces gave strength and support and reminded me that no matter how alone I might feel at times I’m never really completely alone.

But now they are all gone. By the time my property was returned to me, all that remained, including my clothes, barely filled one box. A single sheet of pink paper told the story. This is known as an “inmate impounded personal property list” (FDOC form DC6-220) and the first item listed was “16 pounds misc. papers” that were marked with a “c” (contraband) No reason, no nothing. It was all just thrown into the trash as since I am a death row inmate, that’s all anything I might have had is – nothing but trash.

It is way beyond their comprehension to understand why what they did was wrong, why that they did inflict such pain upon me. In their eyes I am something far less than human. They threw away all that matters to me; they are so completely blinded by their malice towards those of us on the row that they lack the capacity to see what this does to us.

This is one of those truths that give me the strength and dignity to rise above the environment I’m forced to exist in. All that matters to me is now gone and getting angry won’t bring it back. Hate and anger only perpetuates the never ending cycle of more hate and anger. The only hope of breaking this vicious cycle is to find the strength to rise above it and make that conscious decision not to respond in anger as anything else can only result in our mutually insured destruction. For all that I lost; I can still gain by growing as the person I have chosen to become. By choosing to find the strength within myself to accept what I cannot change and hope that by choosing not to respond in anger, those responsible for the unnecessary pain they inflicted upon me, perhaps they will find that moment in time when their own suppressed sense of moral conscience will remind them that I am not the enemy and perhaps even find the strength to show empathy and compassion towards the next prisoner.

This is the simple truth that I have been stressed to learn – hate and malice may cause great pain upon those we inflict it upon, but ultimately they destroy only those consumed by their destructive power. Only by finding the strength to choose not to respond destructively will there be hope of breaking that never ending cycle. I find comfort and strength in the choice I made as I know it has made me a better man.

Michael Lambrix
Union Correctional Institution
Florida