Thursday, July 16, 2020

Day-To-Day On Federal Death Row (For Me)

I exist inside a roughly seven-foot by fourteen-foot concrete cell with a solid metal door on a "range" (hallway) of 24 cells facing each other altogether. In every cell there is a stainless-steel shower stall, toilet/sink combo, metal desk/stool, bunk, and metal locker. The locker stands about 40 inches tall, so there is room on top to put stuff like a T.V. (a clear plastic 12'' LCD-HD issued by the prison) and DVD player (issued by the education department, but used mostly to view religious and non-religious DVDs from the chapel library). There is a metal mirror (usually warped and scratched) above the sink, and a narrow window on the back (outside) wall that is screened (which makes it difficult-to-impossible to see anything outside) so only light can come in, as mandated by Federal guidelines.

Everyone also gets two plastic open-top foot lockers for storing stuff under the bunk. We are allowed to purchase personal shoes and some clothing items on commissary (sweat shirts/pants, socks, underwear, sneakers, etc.), but I prefer to settle mostly for just the state issue items when I can (e.g. I've never bought shoes here and just wear the cheep deck shoes I was issued when I first arrived anytime I need to leave the cell).

We normally get "rec" five days a week, and can choose to go "outside" (to one of the walled-in monkey cages that barely let you see the sky directly above) or one of the inside "rec rooms" where they have some treadmills and exercise bikes that some prisoners here use (like caged rats as far as I'm concerned). I rarely go to "rec" (I've only been "outside" maybe three times in the last ten years), and when I do it is only to one of the "rec" rooms with a computer so I can print mailing labels (which are required on all outgoing mail) and re-validate my MP3-player (which must be connected to the prison computer system, "TRLINCS", every fourteen days or it stops working).

Mostly I'm quite content to exist in my cell, receiving meals three times a day passed in through a slot in the door, and mail (five days a week). I avoid talking to other prisoners since they always seem too focused, even obsessed at times, with their cases (legal matters) and whatever is on T.V. (which is mostly a bunch of gobbledygook as far as I'm concerned).

I have been spending a few hours each week in the "leisure room" lately with my "rec partner", "Steve", who is an older gentleman whom I am allowed to be in the same room with (which is considered a "privilege" that must be earned with "good behavior", etc.). We play chess and talk about things other than our cases or what's on T.V. Like me, Steve is more interested in the philosophical aspects of our existence, and though we don't always agree (philosophically) we do get along okay conversationally. But, I don't trust him with private or personal matters, or anyone else in this place for that matter. (Trust is a fool's gambit in any prison.)

So, other than the polite conversations I have over a friendly game of chess with my "rec partner" I really don't socialize here at all. The other prisoners treat me respectfully in matters that require interacting with them (such as asking to use the phone next, or trading store items for stamps, etc.). In fact, the only harassment I have experienced in all the years I've been here has come from a handful of guards who don't seem to realize they aren't in high school anymore, so they bully me because of my crimes the same way I'm sure they bullied "weaklings" when they were in school. Fortunately there are no guards here now (that I'm aware of) who are so immature (though there are a few who seem to harbor some resentment toward me, probably because they were "molested" as a child, or have some other dark secrets of their own that my crimes remind them of).

I usually sleep most of the day and stay awake at night while it is quiet. After so many years in prison (literally most of my life) I've learned to sleep through almost anything, and wake up automatically for things like meal or mail (unless I have earplugs in. But, I only wear earplugs when the noise is exceptionally bad, which is actually more often than I like lately since I've moved to this "phase II" range (with "leisure room" privileges for good behavior) where there are several "lonely" prisoners who like to yell conversations from one end of the range to the other, which I find quite annoying, but tolerate because they are such pathetically lonely souls (i.e. I feel sorry for them).

When I'm awake I like to read (non-fiction books or pages of material from the Internet that my people on the streets find and print for me), write (letters, and blog stuff, like this), listen to music (I have over 500 personally selected songs on my MP3-player that I listen to nearly every day to relax, or sometimes just to block out the loud conversations from outside of the cell; everything from 70's rock, 80's pop, contemporary pop, and classical, with several "meditation" tracks as well), or watch a little T.V. (actually, probably more T.V. than I like to admit, but most of the time the T.V. in my cell, which I keep tied to the side of the locker facing my bunk so it doesn't take up space, is turned off). I enjoy thought provoking dramas, like "Breaking Bad" and "Killing Eve", or a good documentary on PBS or History Channel; but I honestly can't stand better than 99% of what they call "entertainment" these days, and probably despise as much as 80% of it, especially all the "pig fiction" and "faux reality" crap (my terms for things like "Law and Order", "Criminal Minds", and "The Kardashians", which makes me want to "gag" intellectually if I ever try to watch it). Even the so-called "news" ends up disgusting me most of the time. It's not even news anymore, it's all commentary and little else, no real information at all! Which makes me miss the Internet even more, where I can set up a filter directly on the A.P. wire and get my "news" directly, then investigate anything I find interesting for myself.

I usually masturbate at least once a day, and frequently two or even three times a day still, which I am very happy and almost proud to announce at my age (57, last I checked). I believe it is good for my body, mind, and soul. I still like to imagine having sex with children, even rape and such, but more often than not I just like the fantasy of being with my beautiful young soulmate (and fiancèe) and satisfying her, on all the levels and in all the ways one might satisfy the person they care more about in life than anyone else.

I call my girl as often as I can, though the 15 minute time limit on all personal calls makes it impossible to have anything resembling a full conversation. We manage at least to touch bases on the numerous philosophical and theological topics we discuss in depth in our letters. This helps clarify our discussions, but it'd be really nice if we could take our time and really think more about what we are trying to say on the phone so we might actually have a chance to "connect" the way people like me are so often accused of not being able to (it's like "they" don't want prisoners to "connect" with their loved ones, because that might go against their whole "sociopathic" theory or something.)

For the most past I am comfortable, and have no real complaints at this point in my life. I sometimes wonder if there is still something left for me to do in my life, like write a book, or discover some great secret (become enlightened?). But for now I am very content if my only purpose is loving my fiancée, and showing her my love in any, and every, way I can. That's far far more than I could have ever hoped for on this ride that I call my life.

[J.D. May 13, 2020]

Other details:

I have a small paper trash can that I keep wrapped in an extra sheet so the two-scoops of ice we get each day will keep cold and I can store a few items, like milk from breakfast, or meat from lunch to make a late night snack with, etc..

I have a homemade HD-TV antenna that lets me get about 15 extra channels, which is nice because they are all much clearer (digital, and some HD) than the prison channels we get (which are all fuzzy analogue channels).

I crochet and draw too, but not very often. I made a nice hat for my mom, and some warm booty-socks for myself most recently. I am allowed to purchase a very limited selection of materials, such as yarn, pencils, and paper, via special purchase order (SPO) that I must pay for with a 30% make-up.

I can also purchase limited "religious items" by SPO as well. For example, I have a "religious medallion" and a beautiful deck of tarot cards with Jung-inspired artwork that I bought via SPO. (The medallion is a pewter pentagram/wolf that I wear in honor of my commitment to my fiancèe in lieu of an engagement ring, which I'm not allowed to have.)

We can order commissary once a week. I usually order coffee, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, and salt (i.e. things that make the meals here a little more palatable). I sometimes buy "treats" for myself, like cookies, chips, or candy, but I try not to make it a habit. The selection is very limited. We must also buy our own hygiene and stationary items, also very limited in choice (e.g. no dental floss, unperfumed soap, and only one kind of pen with black ink --- no other pens are allowed, not even via SPO).

I also buy tweezers, and use them to heat water for my coffee by clipping two pairs to the tongs of my T.V. plug then holding a cup of salted water up to immerse the tweezers which then heat the water to a boil in about 30 or 40 seconds. I then use the heated water, which is tainted with iron oxide in the process, to heat clean water in a separate bottle that I immerse in the tainted water. This all takes about four minutes, but the effort is worth it for a drinkably hot cup of instant coffee. The tweezers end up rusting away and must be replaced every other month or so, because of the salt (without salt it takes too long to heat the water). Some of the other prisoners have more elaborate "stingers" for heating water in their cells that use cords and sometimes even an insulated cup to make a kind of double boiler. But, I prefer the much simpler tweezer method.

Currently, due to the corona-virus scare, we are only allowed out of our cells if we sign up a day in  advance to use one of the TRULINCS computers. There is no "rec" or "leisure room", and all our meals are either in snacks or Styrofoam trays. Most of the guards have been wearing masks (usually bandannas for some reason) and all prisoners are required to wear washable cloth masks (that were made and issued by the prison itself) anytime we leave our cell (I've only worn mine twice since they were issued over a month ago, which goes to show how rarely I leave my cell). So, I've been washing my hands frequently, and wiping down the phone with disinfectant every time I use it to be safe. No one in this unit has gotten sick yet, but I expect they will sooner or later.

Overall, the "pandemic" has actually improved my life considerably. Too bad it won't last (though, like many, I believe this "pandemic" is only the beginning of something that will get much worse, and soon). The meals are better (probably because they are made more simply), I have fewer reasons to leave my cell, and I get more phone time with the love of my life. I don't think it will ever get much better than this, which is okay too.    

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Turkey Day On Death Row

Today is "turkey day" in the U.S., which means I should get lots to eat. Sometimes it feels like a "day" for me is a year long, or rather, a "year" is only a day long. What I mean is that I look forward every day of the year to the good food we get once a year, so when that day - or, those days, Thanksgiving and Christmas - come and go it seems to me like only another "day" has passed, not an entire year. In other words, nothing else ever happens around here, so I have only the extra food I get once a year to "mark the passage of time", if that makes sense.

[J.D. November 28, 2019]

Monday, August 26, 2019

Time To Die; Or Not?

If you watch the news then you know that five Federal prisoners here in the Terre Haute USP/SCU ("Death Row") have been selected to be killed by the government upon order of the U.S. attorney general. I am acquainted with four of the five, though call none my friend (I was on the same range of cells with them, so we were neighbors for years). It seems more will be selected soon, and like these first five (first in some 16 years, that is) they will be moved to the higher security cells on "A-range", which have sat empty 'til now. You could say A-range is the real "Death Row", since that is where they hold prisoners with an actual "execution" date, and it is a row of cells rather than a hall like this range I am on ("B-range", both "B" and "C" ranges are halls with cells on both sides facing each other, but A-range has all its cells on just one side).

When I first heard this news I felt relieved. I've been a little worried that the Federal government might actually stop killing its prisoners before they got around to killing me. I don't want to grow old and die of "natural causes" in here. I read a book once, "How We Die", by Sherwin B. Noland, see: 5NBooks) about how the body dies "naturally". Let's just say it is almost never "pretty", and certainly not pleasant. Being "put to sleep" is clearly a much better way to exit this "ride" we call life. So my hope has long been that the Federal government would adopt the single-drug protocol (which is the "cleanest" way to kill someone if you must do it in my opinion) and kill me before my health --- or worse, my mind! --- starts to fail and I begin the long, slow and painful process of dying "naturally", which is made many times worse by being in prison and having to rely on people who care little to nothing about me (and some who literally wish me ill!) to provide my needs, just to keep me "alive", forget about being kept "comfortable"! They don't do "comfortable" in prison health care.

But my hope may yet be dashed. My lawyers think this recent move by the U.S.A.G. is a political distraction, ordered by the president (Trump) to keep people's attention off him while he flounders in the news, again. There is also a rather well-known and strong "wind of (social) change" that this move by the A.G. goes against. It seems people in the U.S. are starting to wake up to the insanity (and injustice) of a government killing its prisoners (who present no real danger as they are rendered defenseless against the will of the state). That's actually the reason I've been a bit worried in the first place that they might never get around to killing me before this "wind" blows out the so-called "death penalty" flame once and for all.

So, I hope my lawyers are mistaken. Or, if they are right, then I hope the powers-that-be decide to "distract" everyone by actually killing us again! Like I said, I am acquainted with most of the five who have already been selected (and given "dates" for their "executions"), as well as with most of the rest of the other prisoners waiting here with me for their "dates", and there is not one prisoner here (that I am aware of) who I think would be better off without being "put to sleep". Obviously most of them feel differently, but then they don't seem to know what I know... in fact, most of them seem to desperately avoid such knowledge. And I believe that's the reason "death" scares them so much (judging by the way they talk about it and "fight" against it so much).

But, not me. I welcome a peaceful death, or even a violent one! It's only dying "naturally" in prison that concerns me a little. And I'm not suicidal either. I don't want to die at all. I just don't see any reason to fear it. So I don't mind knowing when and how I might die; in fact, I prefer knowing to not knowing! Why wouldn't I?

[J.D. August 5, 2019]

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Learning How To Shave @ 56

I shaved my face for the first time in prison. So I didn't have a father around or the Internet to help me figure out how. And not long after the first time I shaved my face I was shaving my legs, and yet still had to figure it all out by myself. And now that I'm 56, and in prison for the rest of my life, I'm still figuring out how to shave.

I thought I had it down pat. When I lived in Fargo, I figured out the best way to appear "clean-shaven" on a daily bases was to shave "down" (with the hair grain) each morning on weekdays (workdays), and then only shave "up" (against the grain) on Friday, so I'd be extra smooth for the weekend "fun". I did it like this because if I tried to shave against the grain every day I'd get irritated skin and razor burn. So I thought I had it all figured out.

Here on death row I don't need to appear clean-shaven at all, but I still don't like the itch and hassle of having a beard, so I've been shaving "against the grain" just once or twice a week, which I can do without the skin irritation, and which gives me the personally pleasing "extra smooth" mug once or twice a week for my own gratification (i.e. it "feels nice").

Then the other day while flipping channels I saw part of a popular sitcom where a man was in the bathroom explaining to his young son how to shave while he himself did so in the mirror. And to my amazement he told the boy to first shave with the grain (down) and THEN shave against the grain! I had never tried this, nor heard of it being done that way before. I always assumed you must shave one way or the other and never considered doing both in proper sequence.

So, I tried it, and it works1 I can now shave extra smooth every day if I like with no skin irritation! I'm 56 years old and have been shaving for at least 36 years, and I'm only now figuring this out? How strange the way we learn, and don't learn, at the whim of life.

[J.D. March 29, 2019]

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Religious "Management"

As anyone who reads this blog should know, I don't profess or subscribe to any organized religious belief system. I believe only in what has been given to me personally to believe, and I hold that belief above all others, not because I think it is the "true" or "right" belief, but because it is MINE, and mine for a reason.

That being said (and hopefully understood), I have engaged the "Religious Services"-program here (USP Terre Haute) in order to get permission to obtain certain so-called "religious items" that are consistent with my PERSONAL beliefs. As a consequence, it seems I have been formally registered by the BOP as "Pagan" and associated with "Wicca" (i.e. people who practice "magic" and call themselves "witches" and such), all because I ordered (through the "Religious Services"-program) a deck of Tarot-cards that are consistent with my "belief" in Jungian synchronicity (i.e. I believe there are no "coincidents" and that everything that happens, happens for a reason, and these "reasons" are connected and related to apparently "random" events, such as the order of cards in a shuffled deck). In fact, the Tarot-deck I ordered uses artwork that was directly inspired by Carl Jung's "archetype"-studies, which Jung himself relates back to synchronicity, which is the reason I ordered them.

Before I ordered the Tarot-cards, I had been "associated" with "Asatru", because of a "religious pendent" I ordered to honor my belief (and also as Jung believed based on his own studies and experience - which he considered "science", and not a belief system) that symbols can represent and influence the "synchronistic" coincidences that we experience. I chose a small pewter pentagram with a howling wolf. The pentagram is a historically very positive symbol that has long represented our "journey" through life (as a cycle that repeats from birth-to-rebirth), and the wolf represents Fenrisulven in the Norwegian tradition.

All this is very consistent with my beliefs, and though it corresponds (synchronistically!) with certain belief systems (such as Wicca, Asatru, not to mention Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and too many others to say) it was the (Christian) "chaplain" in charge of the "religious services"-program here who "associated" me with various religious groups, not me. And in so doing, I was allowed to participate in the Asatru Ceremonial meal" last year (they brought an extra tray of food to my cell that other "non-Asatru"-prisoners did not get), which I genuinely appreciated in a "spiritual" sense because the meal represented a "synchronistic" event that corresponded meaningful with other events in my life at the time.

So, this year I decided that I'd like to participate in the Asatru "celebration" again, and sent an "electronic message" (intra-net e-mail) to the chaplain requesting to be allowed to participate. But, as the attached image (of my request and the chaplain's response), I was rejected essentially because of the Tarot-cards I bought.

I spoke to the chaplain himself when he made his rounds here on death row, and I asked him how he could justify telling me how I am allowed to practice what I believe. He replied by saying he was only doing his job "managing religious services" so they are not abused or otherwise taken advantage of. I started to tell him how hypocritical such "management" was, but realized quickly that I wasn't just challenging his ideology, but the very nature and premise of his chosen profession. So I interrupted myself and told him that I "accepted" his decision with reservations. And then a few days later I attempted to "spell out" my reservations for him in another "e-mail" to Religious Services (see attached image). It has now been several weeks, and the chaplain has yet to either respond to or even acknowledge my e-mail.

[J.D. January 6, 2019]

Monday, August 13, 2018

No Shit Sherlock

As I've said before, I can't really say too much about what really happens around here, out of respect for others' privacy, but mostly because a lot goes on that is "against the rules" and I don't want to stir up any shit.

But, I can tell you a little about the stupid shit that happens. A couple of months ago, two of the old men on the range, a black man and a white man, both obviously prejudice, who were celled next to each other (so only a cinder-block wall separated them) got into an argument over the "noise" the other was making (and thus being "disrespectful"). The argument became quite verbose and involved the usual impotent threats of death and violence.

I've noted that it is only the less intelligent sort who end up arguing like that. The rest just laugh at them (and also laugh rather than argue themselves as well). So it was all nothing as usual, until the white guy decided to report the black for threatening him and "keeping him awake at night" (this went on for several days, btw!). Then the black was moved, but before he moved, he decided to decorate his cell with his own feces.

Normally the black is a fastidiously clean person, but in his mind, smearing shit all over the cell walls and floor (and in the shower) was the only way he could "hurt" the white guy for being a "rat". He actually announced (several times) so everyone could hear that he expected the white guy he was mad at to have to clean up his shit the next time they moved cells.

But, that's not what happened, of course. Instead the guards ordered one of the "orderlies" (trustees) to clean the cell instead, which he did describing the mess in graphic detail as he did so we could all enjoy the madness together.

And that's just typical shit that happens in places like this, where a man's illusion of power and control is so hampered by reality that they will resort to extreme stretches of the imagination in order to maintain their illusion, as both of these men did (one by smearing shit all over, and the other by being a "rat"). I feel fortunate that my own illusions don't require so much external maintenance.

[J.D. August 2, 2018]

"Child Porn": Final Update

My name is Joseph E. Duncan III. I am on Federal "death row" at the Terre Haute, IN USP (prison) for kidnapping, raping, and murdering children. If you've read this blog, then you already know that a few years ago my fiancée sent me a picture of a famous French child model named Thylane Blondeau, who is known for her very provocative pictures in popular magazines, such as Vogue.

My fiancée had found the picture in fact on Vogue Magazine's website, and she printed some off to send me as part of a discussion we were having about the way children are sexualized in popular media.

I received the letter with these pictures through regular inmate mail. The envelope had been opened, and (presumably) the contents had been inspected and found acceptable. I had no reason to think the pictures were not allowed, nor that they should have been restricted. In one of the pictures, little miss Blondeau was indeed shirtless, and posing in a pair of pants in her signature provocative way. But, the girl was clearly prepubescent, and as flat-chested as any boy would be at the same age, so I figured, reasonably, that the prison policy against having pictures of women's breasts did not apply. I was wrong.

When a guard found this picture in my cell he wrote me up for having "child porn". The guard said in his "Incident Report" (disciplinary action) that I had violated rule #305 "Possession of anything not authorized and not issued through regular institutional channels".

Obviously, the picture had been issued to me, after being inspected by staff in the mail-room, and I still had the letter it came in to prove it (the letter itself clearly references and describes the pictures enclosed as they were being discussed). But, I was found "guilty" by the DHO (Disciplinary Hearing Officer) and harshly sanctioned (120 days loss of commissary, visiting, and phone privileges, plus a $75 fine - which happened to be all the money I had at that time!).

So I appealed over and over again. My main issue was that I was found "guilty" for something the policy itself says explicitly I was not guilty for. The picture was issued to me through regular prison mail, and I had no reason to think it was not "authorized" accordingly.

Nonetheless, I lost one appeal after another, for reasons that became even more ridiculous than the original incident report! The regional office claimed that the picture does show a "female breast" even if it is "undeveloped"... seriously? And even if it did show a real woman's breast (fully developed), the fact remains that it was handed to me by a prison guard passing out mail, and the envelope was opened and contents inspected... per policy, so I had no reason to think it was not authorized (there is no policy that "forbids" prisoners to have pictures of women's breasts, only a policy that requires the warden to restrict such pictures coming in through the mail. So if any policies were violated it was by the "warden", not me!)

All of my appeals fell on deaf ears, until the warden at some point decided that because it was my first "incident report" (ever) that it should have been handled at the "unit level" (UDC instead of DHO hearing). So they found me guilty again, at another hearing, ignoring again all the facts and evidence, not to mention rules, policies and Federal laws that I presented as "evidence" at my hearing that I had done nothing wrong.

After several years appealing (in order to "exhaust my institutional remedies"), I eventually tried to take it to a Federal judge by filing a Habeas Corpus in Federal court. But the judge quickly dismissed my complaint, stating that as long as the disciplinary action does not cause me to serve more time (which it can't because my sentence is "death"), then the prison can punish me however they like, and the court (judge) has no jurisdiction.

Of course that's not true either. But, I don't have the legal prowess nor financial resources (it would cost about $400 to appeal the judge's dismissal, and/or proceed under a different legal avenue... and new "prison litigation" reform laws require prisoners to pay the full amount of such fees, regardless of any "forma pauperis" status).

So, once more the System has proven to me that I have no "rights", and that "they" can punish me however and whenever they like, regardless of any rules or laws that pretend to prevent them from doing so. And once more I ponder how they could ever expect me to "respect" them or their "System" of so-called "law and order", which has only proven itself to be anything but what it pretends.

The System does what it wants, and then uses the premise of "justice" as an excuse. The "good guys" are the real "bad guys", and us "bad guys" are just a bunch of beaten down dogs with little choice but to bite back whenever we can in order to defend ourselves. Thus the System propagates...

[J.D. August 1, 2018]

P.S. If you think I deserve to be punished "unfairly" because of what I did to children then you are using the exact same excuse that all "do-gooders" use when they do "evil"... judgment and condemnation. There's nothing "wrong" with having an opinion. But when you impose your opinion upon others, it becomes a judgment that can never be "right". I would know.