12 Things I've Learned at Camp

If you're going to spend 48 months in Federal Prison, which I can't recommend to anyone who's not a jerk, you might as well try to learn something. So what have I learned at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp since my unceremonious arrival in August, 2015?

1. Patience: Nothing, other than punishment, happens here when it should by any normal "free world" standard. How long does it take to fix a urinal? That sounds like the opening line of a joke. So far, it's about 9 months.

2. Gratitude: Going to prison has been not unlike attending my own funeral. Thankfully, I had more friends show up than I expected, but they weren't exactly the ones I thought would be here for me. It's been profoundly enlightening to see who signed the Guest Book and who didn't.

3. Skepticism: The federal criminal justice system, particularly the Bureau of Prisons, cannot be trusted.

4. Humility: As bad as it was here financially at times, I found it impossible to ask for money for commissary expenses. Nevertheless, perceptive and caring friends serendipitously sent me money at my times of greatest need. Once in particular their generosity allowed me to buy food in the commissary to survive a staph infection and a nasty reaction to antibiotics that had me losing 20 pounds that I needed to regain. These gifts have truly been a humbling experience.

5. Purpose: The key to surviving a dehumanizing experience is to try to be productive, and I tried reading, writing, meditation, and exercise. All these helped, but were all inwardly focused. Thankfully, in October, 2018, I was given the opportunity to raise a 7-week-old puppy named Freddy. I was tasked with training him to be a service dog for Canine Companions For Independence. Someday he will be a faithful companion to a deserving person with special needs because of our work here together, proving what I already know. The key to not just surviving but thriving in any environment, no matter how dehumanizing, is to seek, discover, and claim a greater purpose that's outside myself.

6. Perspective: God is much bigger and loves me way more than I ever thought. He's steadfast and forgiving.

7. Social Facilitation: I exercise harder and more often when I don't go it alone. My 2 workout buddies have made me try harder and show up when I'd like to stay inside and do anything else. That interaction works well for tasks that are automatic or easily learned. However, for tasks that are more difficult, the opposite is true. In that case, I'm much better when nobody else is around.

8. Insight: It's hard to watch the morning shows on Fox News or CNN more than 3 minutes without throwing up in the left or right side of my mouth.

9. Tolerance: People of all races, educational and cultural backgrounds, criminal histories, and gang affiliations can get along, but it takes desire and effort.

10. Hope: It doesn't just happen because I look forward to some future event. Hope is created in the moment today by my thoughts and actions. If I want to understand where I am, my past offers the best explanation. But if I want a glimpse of the future, I have only to look at what I'm doing right now. In that sense, hope can be created.

11. Desire: I can exist without affection or chocolate malts, but why would I ever want to just exist.

12. Love: When I found it impossible to love myself, I relearned how to do that by being the recipient of love in unexplainable ways.