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How To Eat An Elephant

11:50 AM

I realize that I do not talk about it often, but religion and spirituality are topics that I am very interested in and drawn to. Through my own journey I have come to my particular beliefs, and I do not claim to have a monopoly on truth. I became unitarian universalist because of their tolerance for all belief systems that are not harmful. Most people aren't even aware of this group, but that's okay. I don't scoff at what others believe, I encourage them on their particular path and attempt to help them in any way I can. I think that's why I'm drawn to the Chaplaincy Department.

Wilkinson County's Correctional Center has, in recent months, hired a new chaplain to meet the spiritual needs of the prisoners housed here. Mr. Roscoe Barnes, Ph.D., is the man for the job. Working within the limitations of the prison environment he has begun weekly Jumah services for the Muslim prisoners, weekly Christian services, and even arranged for auditions for a praise group/choir á la American Idol. One man can only do so much when trying to meet the needs of over 900 prisoners, though.

What Chaplain Barnes needs right now are volunteers who will come in and share their time and love with prisoners. Mr. Barnes has reached out to the local congregations, and Christian volunteers are being vetted and trained to help. But other faiths and belief systems are underrepresented. I have seen that a lot in Mississippi, and I am asking for your help to change it. We need to see Islamic volunteers, Wiccans coming into prisons, Jewish believers sharing their love, Thelemites living by agape instead of mouthing the words, Kabbalists teaching from their wisdom. We aren't asking you to come in and try to convert everyone. Rather, we are asking that you share of yourself and donate your time, live by what you profess to believe.

Chaplain Barnes has a lot on his plate, but is undaunted by the enormity of the task. When I asked him how he plans on getting it all done, he asked a question in return. "You know how you eat an elephant?" Laughing, he answered his own question with a simple truth, "One bite at a time." I am glad to have Chaplain Barnes filling the position he does and I am asking that you help us to help him. We are looking for any groups that might be interested in donating materials and literature pertaining to their particular faith to the Chaplaincy Department at WCCC. Know of any covens or temples in the surrounding area that might have members interested in volunteering to do some prison outreach work? Have any suggestions or advice? You can contact us by emailing us at prisoninmateslife@gmail.com or by emailing Chaplain Barnes directly at roscoe.barnes@mtctrains.com or even by calling (601) 888-3199 ext. 2214 to speak to him. We look forward to any feedback from you.

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The Language of Touch

4:32 PM

One of the things I didn't get a chance to do is to be there for my younger brother and sister, as I should have. Now my sister has a child of her own and is studying to become a nurse. This is something she really wants. She just recently participated in a competition with 14 other students, placing fourth on the written exam and second in the practicals. The most difficult part of the competition for her involved the medications and types of injections, since they aren't told which meds they will be tested on. I had a bright idea- maybe I could help my sister study by corresponding with her about these things. If we both have the same book to study from, we could quiz one another on definitions, types of meds, drug interactions, etc. Our mother ordered the book - one for my sister and one for me. She received hers. Mine arrives...but no, doing something to foster family ties, something positive, is counter to prison policy.

Instead of the book, a guard gives me a notice that says I cannot have the book because the contents of the book are contrary to regulations, so I got the guard to escort me up the hallway to the mailroom window. When I asked Ms. Groom why I couldn't receive the book, she said she had flipped through it and "couldn't understand it," and she asked some other people and they said I couldn't have it. I asked for names, but all she would say is that she "asked around." This is how they determine what we're allowed: If Ms. Groom doesn't understand it, she will ask around. Maybe she polls random shoppers at the local grocery store, or discusses it with her choir at church.

As I thought about all of this walking back to the pod, I became angrier with each step. I miss out on 16 years of my sister's life and when I find a way I can possibly help her, I'm thwarted by a mailroom clerk who can't understand it. I have not hugged my mother in over a decade because some desk jockey asked around
and the consensus is that my mom can't visit me. The DOC touts reform and rehabilitation, but when it comes down to it, rehabilitation is bad for business.

Very seldom do I get angry. By the time I calmed myself down I had made my mind up about a couple of things. First, I'm going to have that book. Come hell or high water, I am determined. Second, things are going to change. Last time I made my mind up about something like this I helped the National Prison Project shut Unit 32 down. Anger can be a positive thing when channeled in the correct way.

So what does any of this have to do with the language of touch? Nothing and everything. I have done a bit of studying about touch and the lack of it, and thinking about not being able to hug my mom helped me redirect my thoughts. Imagine seven or eight years where the only physical contact you had with other people is when you're being placed in restraints. This is extreme sensory deprivation, but this is overlooked in our Western culture where advances in technology cause us to use our distance senses -sight and hearing- more, and our proximity senses -touch, taste, smell- less. We are distancing ourselves literally and metaphorically.

I am very glad that my nephew is being raised in a home where he is hugged, cuddled, comforted, tickled and not deprived of touch. Touch stimulates nerve connections in our brain, especially during infancy but also throughout a person's life. A plethora of nerve connections is the hallmark of intelligence, creativity, and behavioral plasticity. Studies also link a lack of touch during childhood with violent and antisocial behaviors. This makes sense when you consider that research in the teaching of reading indicates that not only is verbal facility -the ability to use words- not our primary mode of communication, but children who do not crawl, and touch, and handle things, almost invariably have difficulty with language.

A New York pediatrician named Henry Dwight Chapin published a report in the early 20th century about orphanages in ten different cities. Ninety-nine percent of infants did not survive the year of their admission, and those who survived were severely retarded. Why? What caused this? They called it merasmus, a general wasting-away. Further research revealed that orphanages with more attendants had higher survival rates for infants. Wherever babies were held and played with more, they were more likely to survive.

How can it be that we overlook the usefulness of touch with adults? Headaches, somatic pains, digestive/ eliminative dysfunctions, heart conditions, apathies, depressions, obesities, loss of appetite, emotional tensions, physical stresses... all could at least be made easier to deal with if touch therapy was factored in. Touching and being touched literally change brain chemistry -soothing, uplifting, relaxing. In both babies and adults, touch has been shown to develop and organize sleep/ wake cycles. Consider how many people suffer from problems that are sleep associated. But we've been brainwashed into thinking that touch must lead to sex.

We all long to share and communicate our thoughts and feelings. Some thoughts and feelings are so deep that words cannot express them, and sharing with others cannot be satisfied solely on the verbal level. Yet, we are so terrified of touch that we have forgotten its language. But why does touch terrify us? There is power in touch; when we touch, I am vulnerable unlike at any other time. The ability to do harm with touch will always exist as long as there is a power differential between individuals, sexes, races, and classes. We've feared it so deeply that we legislate laws, cultural mores, taboos and conventions to control it.

Adults have limited touch to 3 areas: the handshake and other similar symbolic gestures; sexual intercourse; hostility and anger, where anger protects us from other emotions that might burst out. The handshake is a ritualized caress; a reconnecting, but a buffer. Sexual intimacy is really our only area of open intimacy, and there we can speak as only touch can, of who we are and how we feel. We fill that one allowable intimacy with all our needs to touch. No wonder our culture is obsessed with sex and plagued with problems and frustrations about it. The sexual revolution is misunderstood, in that it is about more than new attitudes towards sex. It's about relearning a language we've lost through disuse.

Ever wonder about the appeal of contact sports -those we participate in and those we watch? Ever shake your head at parents who lose control when physically disciplining children? Baffled by physical violence and antisocial behavior? There are many children who only receive physical intimacy when they misbehave. Also, expression of strong hostility keeps other feelings from being revealed. As with sex, all sorts of completely inappropriate feelings are thrust into this outlet for emotions. We should not be freed from, but freed for emotions. One thing that sets humans apart from the animal kingdom is our capacity for the depth and complexity of emotions we experience.

We need the power of touch more now than ever before, especially in our Western culture. So take this lesson from me, and please don't take touch for granted. I hope to see therapeutic touch used more in dealing with troubled youth, and maybe it will make inroads into prison in the near future.


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Prison Sex?

10:26 AM

I have now spent half of my life as a prisoner of MDOC, so I've been around long enough to see- or hear- a lot of things. Some are funny. Some sad. Some you wouldn't believe. However, I never cease to be amazed.

How many of you have heard the classic "Don't drop the soap!" associated with prisoners? I've never found it amusing. Here's the reality: Most prisoners are members of a gang. All gangs I've been around have a rule against homosexual acts among their male members. So rape by gang members in Mississippi is a rarity, and any gang member involved ends up "smashed" (beaten very badly).

Rape does happen, though. Most cases that get reported are more along the lines of new prisoners being manipulated into the act. One full-grown adult male raping another would be a bloody and difficult thing. I know this sounds odd, but the majority of you have never been in a fight or fought for a long period of time. One minute isn't easy. Two minutes is pushing the limit for the average person.Three or more? It will seem like the longest time in your life.

My friend, Ant, had a blunt way of questioning those who claimed to have been raped...
Ant: So, you got raped?
Them: Yeah.
Ant: Did they knock you out?
Them: No.
Ant: They tied you down?
Them: No.
Ant: It was more than one, and they held you down?
Them: No.
Ant: Did you fight back?
Them: Well...you see, what happened was...
Ant: Man, you ain't got raped!

From what I understand, there is a gang of gay guys at EMCF in Meridian who operate like an actual gang. EMCF is an odd place, however, seeing as how it houses prisoners whom the State deems in need of treatment for mental illness. Don't get me wrong, there is quite a bit of undercover homosexuality that goes on amongst guys who would never admit to their acts. And for those who can manage it, sex does happen between staff and prisoners. Always a risky proposition for whatever staff member is involved.


Over the course of the coming months we may see how Commissioner Epps' decision to stop conjugal visits will affect the rate of violence and rape inside Mississippi's prisons, if he doesn't change his mind. There's something you can do, though, especially if you are a resident of Mississippi. Right now Senate Bill 2735 is on the table. Check it out. This bill is being pushed by Kelly Muscolino, President of Mississippi Advocates for Prisoners (M.A.P.). The bill is an attempt to keep conjugal visits for Mississippi prisoners and their spouses. You can contact Mrs. Muscolino at mississippiadvocatesforprisoners@yahoo.com for more info on how to get in touch with the proper representatives to vote for this bill.

I have ordered some of the bills being discussed and will soon be writing about them. Hopefully, I will be able to offer a prisoner's view on them. In my experience, prison sex usually involves the courts, legislators, and MDOC officials screwing us over. Maybe I will be able to share some good news with you all.


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Coming Full Circle

3:28 AM

I don't remember my first Christmas in prison, in particular. What stands out for me are visits that I received around the holidays; one moreso than the others to date. It was the first visit I had with my Mom while I was housed at Unit 32.

Until the last couple of years Unit 32 was open, there were no contact visits allowed because it was a maximum security facility where death row and high risk prisoners were housed. When I had my first visit there with my Mom, they only allowed us one hour and we had to communicate via telephone, separated by security glass. Before that I had been housed at Unit 17, which is a much smaller unit - 60 prisoners compared to approximately 1,000. A big change for me and my family.
 
This visit was in December and Mom was telling me what they'd been doing. Mom always fills me in on what my younger brother and sister have been up to. Leah was 3 years old, just getting old enough to really enjoy Christmas, and Tommy was excited. They had been given some early Christmas "happy," including these hollow plastic candy canes filled with M&M's. Tommy had been eating his candy and it was almost empty. Leah had only eaten a few of her M&M's. Seeing that Tommy only had a few left, she opened her container, then opened his and- being careful not to spill any- poured half her M&M's into Tommy's container.

I couldn't help it. I cried. Some tough prisoner I am, eh? This December promises to be memorable, too. I hope to soon meet my nephew for the first time. I left my sister when she was a baby, and now I get to meet her baby. That will be a Christmas present to remember.

Merry Christmas from our little Marcus!

Wishing you all Happy Holidays. Take care, stay safe, and don't take your loved ones for granted. We thank all of you for your support and for caring. Love and light to you all.

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Wasted Youth

1:41 PM

When I came in the system, I was always the youngest prisoner around with few exceptions, until I was shipped off to Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in 2001. Often people wouldn't know how young I was unless I told them, and then they thought I was joking. Fifteen years later there is no "youth correctional facility" and I am around young guys (who are around my brother's age) coming into this system. It's an odd experience.

In prison, when you start associating closely with people, giving them advice when they ask for it or if you get them out of a problem... you become responsible for them. And having been locked up so young, I still don't see myself as the "old convict" these youngsters view me as. I have had to let my guard down a bit to associate with them and it is taking some readjusting on my part.

A couple of them in particular are lighthearted and upbeat, which I encourage. In prison, anything that might be slander against someone's "manliness" is avoided and considered disrespectful. These two joke about each other and it's no big deal. It's no-holds barred - gender, sexual preference, whatever. I overheard one say to the other, "Bitch, I need a hug." I couldn't help but laugh because I knew he was playing, but he wasn't. And no, neither one of these youngsters are gay.

I worry, though. I remember when I was at WGYCF, when guards and staff would comment that I smiled so much. After ten years of being harassed, moved from cell to cell every week around prisoners with mental illnesses that weren't being treated... I stopped smiling so much. It took me awhile to come back from that bitterness, but I've become even more introverted due to my experiences. Guys have commented that my face doesn't show emotions, that I always look calm. A lot of that is due to meditation, but prison has trained me to be less outwardly expressive. I worry that prison will affect these young guys as it has affected me.

I will probably be writing more about these kids in the near future, so brace yourself. They aren't politically correct. They don't care if it upsets you or if you're offended. Actually, that would amuse them no end. It's like being around a couple of Howard Sterns in training, so shocking people is always a plus for them.

Just a reminder: If you have a loved one in prison, the holidays are difficult. Support them as you can, and I hope they'll reciprocate. If you are reading this and are only involved on the fringes, send some prisoners a card and let them know they are not forgotten. They will appreciate it.


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Under the Dome

12:08 PM

More often than not I read nonfiction instead of fiction, though I enjoy both. Recently I have read a few novels to pace myself and take a break from my studies. I am currently reading Stephen King's "Under the Dome." Some of you might be familiar with the TV series based on this book. As is to be expected, there are a few differences between the two, but I always prefer the book, personally.

The Dome's environment is something I can understand. It's a prison. Being incarcerated is comparable to how the inhabitants of Chester's Mill, Maine felt when the Dome fell. You wake up in a different world. The rules have changed. Learn fast or suffer the consequences. Put a group of people under constant stress and things come out that you wouldn't believe they would be capable of - good and bad. People clique-up for strength and safety. The pecking order is in full effect and leaders are self-appointed by the rule of brute strength and ruthlessness.


Don't worry. I'm not going to spoil the book for you. Think about the situation, though. How do you keep a group of people that have been unwillingly cut off from the the rest of the world from devolving into chaos and savagery? I am not finished with the book, but I look forward to learning how Stephen King handles the situation. Will he be spot-on? Or will he rely on some deus ex machina to save the day?

There are a lot of people who immediately shy away from anything associated with Stephen King. I was exposed to his novels from an early age and took comfort in the worlds he created when I began to read those books after I was incarcerated. "The Stand" is still one of my favorites, and is a classic. At the heart of his work, King shows us that we each have our own story and that we all have a mixture of the hero and of the monster in us. No matter how outlandish some of the stories might seem, King is a realist.

How well do you think you would deal with living under the Dome?

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They were more than MDOC numbers...

1:57 PM

In most parts of the world, the beginning of November marks the time when we slow down and focus on the dead, on how fragile life is, and we wonder what awaits us after we  the earthly chapter of our existence ends.
Here in Poland, we visit graves of our loved ones, and we light candles- a tradition which dates back to the pagan days- bonfires were meant to warm up souls wandering among those still alive.
It has always been my favorite holiday- when I feel so close to the Absolute and to the mystery of transitions in life. The figures of crying angels, the dates on the tombs and a question without answer- why something has to end? I remember stopping by graves of people I did not know and I tried to imagine their life… that was my tribute to them… to think of them, to remember them, even if they were strangers to myself.
This is the time when it strikes me the most that we all are nothing but dust in the wind… 



And even the great ones are gone at some point. Writers, singers, scientists, activists, good people whom the human kind owes a lot. Newspapers and magazines print their stories to make sure they are not forgotten. That we spare a minute of prayer or a minute of silence to honor their lives.
Yet, there are millions of stories that are never published. Each person had their story, and each of them might have meant the world to someone, although for the world they might not seem important. Some of them the world decided to forget while they were still alive, and then taking it even a step further and getting rid of them… Here I have in mind inmates executed in the name of justice… You can lynch me for that, but I believe that those men and women were more than numbers they had on their prison IDs and they were more than the crimes they had committed… They had mothers, they had wives, they had children. Perhaps some of them, perhaps all, were guilty of what they had been convicted of. Does it matter now, though? I still want to remember them because who am I to judge?
I asked Steven to write a few words about the men he had met in Parchman’sUnit 32. Here are his short obituaries for those whom most of the world does not want to remember. But we will. They will be in our prayers and in our thoughts.
John B. Nixon, Sr., executed on 12-14-2005 - We called him Mr. Nixon, and he was always respectful, if distant. He spent two decades waiting to be executed.

Bobby G. Wilcher,
executed on10-18-2006- "Big Bob" had an appetite for noodles and cheese puffs as big as his sense of humor.

Earl W. Berry,
executed on 05-21-2008- A victim of our justice system. He was mentally retarded and should not have been executed.

Dale L. Bishop, executed on 07-23-2008- I spent quite a bit of time around "Bart" and you definitely shouldn't judge a book by its cover. He was a music aficionado without peer and never ceased to amaze me.

Paul E. Woodward, executed on 05-19-2010- Used to laugh uncomfortably when I would imitate his voice to confuse other guys on the tier.

Joseph D. Burns,
executed on 07-21-2010- "JoJo" was from the area I grew up in, and that was something we had in common. He was the last person I saw escorted out to be executed and he was at peace with his Creator when he went. He'd had a spiritual experience before he was taken to be executed.

Larry Matthew Puckett,
executed on 03-20-2012- One of the most intelligent people I have met in prison. Minded his own business, but would stand up for others when needed.

Henry Curtis Jackson,
executed on 06-05-2012- One of the first guys on the row I met, causing me to re-evaluate my preconceived notions of them.

Jan Michael Brawner, Jr,
executed on 06-06-2012.- My big bro. Loved his family and was always concerned about them. Had one of the loudest bellows I'd ever heard when he needed to get someone's attention.

Gary Carl Simmons,
executed on 06-20-2012- Told me to hold on to hope and not give up when things seem to be at their worst.



Written by Steven Farris and Marta Dziewulska.


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About Me

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
WCCC
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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