Below are a couple of stories for the FAMM stories project. I hope they are useful. There are two books that kept/keep me going. One when I first came in and one just recently after being here for 5 years. Hope they are helpful.
The first book is the Torah (the bible). Having never been in trouble before, coming into prison was the single most frightening experience in my 50 years of life. I considered the other 2 options (like almost everyone else) but I chose not to run or commit suicide. I turned myself into the marshall’s office 2 weeks after sentencing. I went to a series of county lockups and federal holdovers, each one worse than the last. After 4 months of successively worse conditions and less and less time out of the cell I became fearful and despondent. My prayers were something like “Please do not let it be as bad as I think it will be!” When I finally got to the low security spot that I was designated to, I was extremely thankful that I was where I was, and that I found a religious community that welcomed me with open arms. I went to the chapel and found a prayer book and copied a page that had the Shema (a prayer said several times a day in my faith). On that piece of paper I wrote the following: “I will not let this place change who I am”. Five years later I still use that same piece of paper (although I have long since memorized the prayer) everyday and the reminder is still there.
The second book is “Mans Search for Meaning”. After 5 years, the shock of being in prison has worn thin and I find myself getting tugged by the system. In a Psychology group we were assigned to read the book “Man’s search for meaning” by Frankl. Now this book was written in the ‘50s by a man who survived Auschwitz and the Nazi atrocities. Nothing that happens here is anywhere near as bad as what happened there. But the similarities in what happens mentally with the people that work here and the ones that live here are uncanny. The book tells a story of getting in the right chow line and being excited to find that the man serving is the one known to dig deep and grab the peas rather than skimming off the top and serving liquid. The line servers in the chow line are notorious for “shaking the scoop” and serving you less than you are supposed to get. When you have been served less food for several days in a row the hunger starts to get to you and it gets old after a while. There are many examples of the types of things that go on that people on the outside would just not believe. I know that I would never have believed them. But you just cannot make them up and Frankl does an excellent job at capturing them. Bottom line is abnormal reactions to an abnormal situation are completely normal. And finding something positive to focus on is a great way to maintain your values and sanity.
— David S.