I started off Thursday morning with my usual quarantine morning routine. Breakfast out of a styrofoam container, a drink from the water fountain, laying on my floor for the exact 40 minutes when the sun shines through and some time spent writing. I then settled into a book, planning to read until lunch time.
I was tested for Covid on Tuesday but between results coming back, staff reviewing those results and then our being transported to a new housing unit I was well aware that it may not have been Friday until I was moved.
I was surprised to hear over the intercom that I needed to report to the officer’s station, which is downstairs. That likely meant one thing, I was done with quarantine. I had just a few minutes to pack up my belongs, walk downstairs, and then feel the sun on my face for the first time in 16 days. I will never forget the feeling of breathing in the fresh air that morning.
After receiving my bunk assignment and bedroll I walked up to my 8 man room to meet my new cellies. I’m still acclimating to that word, but it is the vernacular everyone uses. Anyhow, it’s an interesting experience as I’m not even sure they are alerted that someone new is coming. I think that a lot of people coming to prison are likely either intimated or simply nervous about the idea of sharing a living space with so many people you don’t know. But so far, for me, I haven’t minded it and actually enjoy it.
Somehow, and someway, our entire room gets along. I enjoy everyone in there, and all of them bring something different to the room. They have all been in prison far before I got here. My misconception about a prison camp was that a lot of the people here would be self-surrender, first time offenders. That hasn’t been the case at Yankton. Most people, my cellies included, came from medium-high, medium, or low security facilities and through lots of time served and good behavior have worked their way down. There are a lot of nuances to prison life, but especially the living quarters aspects. If you pay attention, be considerate, and take advice/recommendations while keeping your ego in check you’ll be fine. People understand if you’re new, and they are even more helpful if they only have to give you a specific piece of advice once.
Going to sleep is pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. Lights on, people talking and me just dealing with it. Everyone has different work schedules and sleep schedules. Although I’m still new here I’m already fine going to bed with noise, conversation and the brightness – the human body can adapt. While the mattresses are slightly thicker and moderately more comfortable than a camping pad, I will say they are better than I had hoped for (the upside of low expectations). At the end of the day if you have a decently comfortable place to lay down with a roof over your head, and you’re safe, you sleep fine. It’s also funny being a part of the evening conversations but drifting off whenever you feel like it.
As for prison fare, the food from the chow hall is better than I expected. Factor in the fact that you do not need to meal plan, shop, cook or clean and the ratings go up from there. Literally, I have zero complaints about the food here. It’s wild how efficient a prison kitchen is…we are all in and out in about 20-30 minutes and I’ve adapted to a less leisurely eating pace. For inmates who don’t like that, they can buy food from commissary and prep food in the kitchen in our housing unit. I had my first prison burrito (cooked with an iron) and it was phenomenal. Seriously, so good…I couldn’t believe it. If you’re not cooking your burritos with an iron you’re not doing Mexican food the right way.
The days are early, which make them long but they aren’t emotionally long, per se. I start work at 5:50 am and wrap up about noon. After that I usually take a quick nap, read for a few, then head out to the yard for 1-3 hours. Back for count at 4pm, supper at chow hall at 4:45pm, then back out to the gym then the yard again if I’m up for it.
I started playing handball. There’s a good crew of people here who are in to it. My tennis background helps some, but hitting a ball with your hand is not the same as a racquet. Getting the hang of it and the competition is fierce (there are some great players) but I’ve slid my way into a great group. We play 2 vs. 2 and if you want in you just wait your line in turn, playing ball boy for the game that happens when you are next in line to play.
The facility is still under Covid precautions so we have a limited/controlled movement schedule. We can only move on the hour to specific locations on the compound, depending on which hour. There’s no freedom of movement like I have heard about at other camps and from what fellow inmates tell me this is standard process at lows and mediums. Once you get to your location you have to stay there until the next hour. I’ve been told that this will eventually change but I’m not holding my breath – I have already learned that it’s easier to not be disappointed when you keep your expectations in check. Which involves expecting the bare minimum over what you currently have, and appreciating the benefits we do have here. No one spends time complaining about much – restrictions, the length of their sentence, etc. It’s pretty refreshing as complaining doesn’t solve anything, and it doesn’t help anyones mood. People laugh when I tell them I have a 42 month sentence…it doesn’t feel short to me but when you’re talking to someone who is 19 years into a 26 year sentence you don’t have much wiggle room to feel bad for yourself.
If you’re one for alone time, say goodbye to it, sort of. You can find it, but when you do, realize it will only last so long. I think inmates are better served to redefine what they want out of alone time and find ways to make that happen with other people around. I can now fully enjoy a book while one person has music so loud their headphones sound like speakers and 4 other people are talking.
My first run at commissary is tomorrow. That means I will have been here almost 3 weeks wearing nothing but my prison issued clothes, of which nothing comes in anything less than an XL (I’m a medium in most everything). It’s funny how when there isn’t a solution to a problem you learn to deal with it…I won’t be buying any XL clothes when I get home, but I can swing it while I’m here.