January 31, 2018

Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp is staffed most weekdays from 7:00am until 4:00pm by a Camp Officer, a Case Manager, a Counselor, and a Secretary. After 29 months here, I'm not exactly sure what any of these people do. I do know that the Counselor retired this month. Until then, all these positions were oddly held by women. The new Counselor is a man who is apparently a huge Virginia Tech fan, as he has the school's logo on his door and his name in matching orange and maroon. Typically, within the Bureau of Prisons, this doesn't mean he graduated from this esteemed institution of higher learning. Maybe he attended a football game or drove through the campus once. Maybe he can identify Blacksburg on a map. To find out the extent of the VT connection, I would have to initiate a conversation I have no intention of starting. But if the opportunity arises I may ask, because Blacksburg, VA, is one of my favorite towns.

Thomas Merton writes in The Seeds of Contemplation that God is infinitely...

January 26, 2018

For those burned out on religion, there is a natural tendency to run from tradition and take refuge in a vague and fluid belief system shaped by experience and abstractions. Those who desire a contemplative union with God often begin this search as an escape from the church. As a Recovering Baptist, I understand very well this desire for union and for escape. But the journey can seem like a road full of potholes shrouded in fog. Differentiating between the Holy Spirit's still small voice and an unfortunate gastric reaction to bad Mexican food can be challenging. 

I'm convinced there is no need to throw out the baby with the bath water. As Thomas Merton points out in New Seeds of Contemplation, "...the truth is the saints arrived at the deepest and most vital and also the most individual and personal knowledge of God precisely because of the church's teaching authority, precisely through the tradition that is guarded and fostered by that authority."

The first step to a contemplative life...

January 22, 2018

As I write this while eating a piece of chocolate pie made in the bathroom by a friend I call Bounce because he walks with a bounce caused by cerebral palsy.  I take for granted many weird occurrences here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp which would seem odd to a normal person unacquainted with prison life.. Many of these are directly or indirectly related to eating.

Our Chow Hall has a capacity of 44, with 11 tables each seating 4. If everyone eats, that means that 175-200 inmates need to circulate through there in 30 minutes. So our seating needs to turn over several times to make that happen. It's not a leisurely dining experience; but then again the food's not that good either, so there's no need to linger. 

Typically when an inmate is finished, instead of saying, "Excuse me" or "See you later," he simply knocks once on the tabletop. Then the other 3 inmates knock on the underside of the table and acknowledge the knock and extend their "Goodbye."

Why would anyone do this? The...

January 17, 2018

It appears that I have survived another year of friends' 7,000 word Holiday Updates chronicling how perfectly wonderful their lives were over the past 12 months. Call me crazy, but I always read every word. They have inspired me to write my own "2017 Year In Review". Or would that be "2017 Year End Review"? Or "2017 Rear End View"? I wonder about such things. Nevertheless, it's been quite a year at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp.

The year started off on a high note when we got 12 chicken wings for our Super Bowl brown bag dinner. I traded 6 of mine for 10 postage stamps and felt good about it.

It was a year of good health, as I self-medicated my recovery from a self-diagnosed case of Legionnaires Disease. I got my teeth cleaned after being on the waiting list for 20 months and made a trip, shackled, to the dermatologist in Bastrop 12 months after noticing several actinic keratosis spots on my face, back and leg. I passed 3 TB tests, got a flu shot, and turned down another, as our crack m...

January 12, 2018

When I lived on the Brazos, technically I was not living on a river but on a narrow lake formed by a low water dam just east of Waco. The dam created a picturesque, constant-level body of water through downtown and Cameron Park, then several miles north of the city. Though the water was typically tranquil, there was a slight, variable current caused by the daily release of water from the Lake Whitney dam 40 miles upstream. Lake Brazos might look serene, but it was always flowing and never quite the same. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, correctly described it well when he said that all things flow. 

The consistently calm water was a perfect setting for all kinds of recreation; and occasionally my dock served as a drop point for floating, canoeing or kayaking. My favorite floaters were some Baylor undergraduate fraternity brothers, one of whom I had known all his life. They planned to end up at my dock, so they dropped off one of their vehicles at noon one hot Saturday and headed off f...

January 7, 2018

No other country on earth imprisons more of it's population than America, where our incarceration rate is 5 times that of Great Britain, 6 times that of Canada, and 15 times Japan's. We make North Korea look soft of crime. 

With no reforms on the horizon, I've feared the status quo would be the future until I read in the December 16, 2017, issue of The Economist that private prison companies are diversifying by building treatment centers and electronic monitoring services. They will undoubtedly unleash their lobbying prowess on Congress to help create human demand for their new products and services. This is good news.

I may appear cynical, but soon after my immersion into 'the system', I grasped the reality that inmates needed better lobbyists for there to be any hope of criminal justice reform in this country. It appears we may be getting some highly paid talent from an unlikely but very influential source.

Even when everyone seems to agree the system badly needs fixing, only money move...

January 4, 2018

I think there is a good chance that I should be in the baseball record book for at least two accomplishments. On one occasion, I was pulled (not because of an injury) as the starting pitcher after 5 pitches to the first batter. That has to be record. The second occasion may not be a record, but it has to be close. It occurred when I made 6 errors in one 7 inning game playing shortstop.

I was reminded of my baseball career when I recently read a Wall Street Journal column by Dan Ariely, the Duke University behavioral economist. Many years ago he was a speaker at an investment conference I attended. He was so interesting, I immediately bought his book Predictably Irrational and finished it before the conference ended. The book was that good. 

Ariely's WSJ column discussed a behavior psychologists call "Fundamental Attribution Error," which, unbeknownst to those psychologists, is really about my shortstop multi-error experience. According to FAE, we all have a tendency to see the good thing...

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© 2016 by Charles D. Jones