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Who is Coming to Prison Next?

After I gained my bearings at Yankton I was reasonably comfortable with the other inmates at the Prison.  You start to recognize everyone, they recognize you, you’re not the new guy anymore.  Then a few started to leave, a few more came in, and then a bus of about 20 people pulled up.  The prison “turns over” fairly frequently and before I arrived I spent a lot of time thinking about who would be here, how I would get along with them, and how we would interact in this messy experience.

What I did not anticipate is what it would be like when new inmates arrive.  One day you’re sitting in the chow hall and you see a new face.  Maybe you’re brushing your teeth and someone you’ve never seen pulls up to the sink next to you. Or they are assigned the bunk right below you – hey there neighbor.

There will be people you end up possibly never talking to and there will be people you form friendships with.  One of the more challenging emotional aspects of prison is not knowing what the next day will hold.  You develop a routine of sorts, but at the same time, everything can change in an instant.  You hear over the intercom, “all inmates to the basement” and the warden shares news that in fact, the compound is not opening up due to an increased number of Covid cases in Yankton, and we are now on the continued trend of being locked inside half the week.  Or you hear “emergency count, all inmates return to your unit”.  It doesn’t matter what you were in the middle of…you stop everything and head back inside.

On the flip side, it can mean good things to come.  Overall, however, the unknowns about the future wear on me.  Almost all philosophers speak to how all we have is the present.  The past is gone, the future is yet to be determined, but wow, it’s a difficult lesson to let play out every minute of every day.

A new inmate showed up a couple weeks ago and asked to play pickleball with us.  There we are, three guys who rotate in and out for singles games and a new person comes in who plays at our level, and we have a really good doubles match together.  It’s a small win, but a win nonetheless.  At this point I have to take every one of those I can get.  Just me and a couple recovering methamphetamine users playing pickleball on a Saturday night – that’s what prison is though.  Making a really weird situation work, with people you’ve never met, people you would not have crossed paths with in the free world, and finding common ground so as to make the time here more manageable.

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