Whiling Away the Hours

A lot of the people who have maintained contact with me since I first came to prison over a dozen years ago have asked me the question, "What do you do with your time in there?" And this is a great question.

In pointing out the many faults.of the TDCJ in these pages, one of the saddest is the lack of structured pro gramming that, I believe, could be built by either criminal or psychological professionals to stress change in the life of the offender. As such, many of the things that I do to keep myself occupied during this prison term have been under taken in a self-initiated desire to change.

A few months after I went to my transfer facility, where I'd spend the first two years of my sentence, I was given the address of Family Radio School of the Bible. It was a non-accredited Bible college that offered free prisoner correspondence courses. It went all the way through a doc tor's degree in theology, and it looked like a great way to dig deeper into the Word of God and learn some good things while doing my time. Even though it was non-accredited, I felt like the material was worth while,and I didn't plan on going around calling myself Doctor Powers, anyway. Moreover, it was free, and as my mom used to say, beggars can't be choosers.

The first year's program was mostly like intense Bible studies of different aspects of books of the Bible, and I learned a lot, even though I didn't agree theologically with everything the material presented. They weren't so far off, though, that I felt like I couldn't get anything from it. In the second year,things started getting really good when they introduced a rudimentary Biblical Greek course. The materials they sent were excellent, and good ol* mom even kicked in by sending.a Greek New Testament, which en hanced the course immensely. Over the next year, I ended up readings the whole New Testament in its original languageor at least for the many books of the.N.T. that were written in that language.

In the third year, they sent materials to study Hebrew, too, and that was really exciting stuff. I felt like I was at a genuine seminary, even though I was in a converted train car with 51 other inmates and a bunch of toilets. I'd get lost in those studies for hours. I was really excited about the third year studies, because when I completed them, the first pAitt of my studies would be done, and I'd have a degree. If I recall correctly,there were 8 courses that year, and I completed 6 of them. I'd finished the last two cc-urses and was literally getting ready to put them in the mail the next day when the school wrote and informed me that they didn't have the funds to keep the doors of the school open any longer. If I'd already sent my materials, it said, they would be graded and credited. If I hadn't, then they would no longer accept any other material. ARGH! I'd spent hours every day doing these classes and getting ahead of the year-long curriculum, but I guess I hadn't moved fast enough. I was really sad, too, because the program was so great, and I knew a lot of people like myself were no longer going to have the benefit of the knowledge they were dispensing.

Another way to educate yourself and keep yourself enter tained at the same time in here is through books. Setting aside for the moment that there's no -stich thing as a Kindle in here, there are books everywhere, and it's easy to find something to satisfy any kind of taste. There ARE certain types of books that are prohibited: books with lurid rape scenes, books that teach criminal behavior, anything that shows the breakdown or manufacture of weapons. But even these limitations leave millions of unread books to enjoy. I'm doing my best. Every year since getting imprisoned, I've read at least 50 books a year. I can knock out a good novel in a day, but I really enjoy biographies and history books a lot more. Books are also the ONLY thing left, besides pla in old letters,that our families can send us through the mail, although all books must come from a bookstore or online out fit like Amazon. I keep a list of all the ones I've read, and I give each one a rating based on a fivestar scale. In 2017, I only read four books that earned a 5-star rating. If you want to know what they were, you'll just have to send some fan-mail for me to read, and I'll tell you. I WILL tell you my favorite book of all time. It's Les_Miserabies by Alexander Dumas. A lot of people cite War_and_Peace as being the best novel ever written. Personally, I think those people have never read Les Miz. There is a beautiful scene in the book where the hero has just gotten out of an !?'l8th century French prison. A kindly bishop takes him in, feeds him, and lets him sleep in his home. Jean repays this kindness by stealing the man's silver, and actually striking the bishop with one of the candlesticks he's taken on top of that. When the police find Jean and haul him back before the bishop for identification,the bishop greets the wayward prisoner with enthusiasm and de clares that he "forgot" to take the other candlestick when he left the house. This amazing act of kindness opens up Jean's eyes. He uses the moment, and the money from the silver, to start a new life of great character. You'll just have to read it to find out why such a great story ends up being called "The Miserables".

Of course, we have the good old prison rec yard. There are several activities available out there. There is basket ball (the full-contact kind. .. What? Never heard of that?), volleyball(which we play with"aggravated net";I've only seen two broken fingers and one broken wrist as a result of this genius),and handball,which is like raquetball with no raquets. You can also just run or jog around the yard, or do exercises. Oh yeah, there's also a weight set, even though it's nothing like you see in the movies with 8 Arnold Schwarzenager-types standing around it pumping iron. It's a universal,and it's limited movement only allows for a certain growth of muscle tissue, so no worries, right? Supposedly, we have "tournaments" on a pretty regular basis: basketball, volleyball, chess and dominos. In my 10 years on the Stevenson, I've seen two volleyball, one domino, and four basketball tourneys, so, even though they are "regularly scheduled", they're really rarer than hen's teeth.

As a side note, I'd like the reader to know, as a taxpaying watchdog of the government, that all of our equip ment is SUPPOSED to be bought and paid for by the profit from snack sales at visitation, but with cokes costing a dollar a can...yes, a CAN..• and food items priced be tween 2 to 5 dollars, things don't add up. This unit, anyway, I guarantee is spending no more than $200 a week on new stuff like balls that get worn out so quickly,and I think I'm exagerrating that by a huge margin, but I want to be on the safe side of the arithmetic Meanwhile, if they take down less than $1,000 a week in those machines, I'm a monkey's uncle. You and me BOTH would like to know where the other $800 is going. But I digress.

When I get bored with studying or reading, I usually find someone I can play chess with. The list is pretty short, not because I'm some sort of chessmaster or something, but rather, because the same way basketball looks a lot like football and volleyball is a death sport in prison,you've never seen chess played the way it's played in prison. It's like something you'd see in a comedy movie, with a lot of smack-talking and bullying. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the civilized games of chess where you sit quietly and wait for your opponent to make his next move and take wins AND losses with a little sportsmanship, not, "CHECK! In your FACE, boy!"

There is also Scrabble or dominos. I've never been much of one to be able to count dominos, so I avoid them, although I do like a little "42Mniamong friends from time to time. I really Scrabble,but again,finding opponents is tricky. A certain tempermant is desired across the board, and it's rare to find a wordsmith just so. Maybe I'm just too picky. If ALL else fails, and I do mean ALL, I resort to the television. I only come to this fountain in desperation for several reasons. First of all, have you SEEN what these people are putting on TV these days. Maybe we just get all the wrong channels here or something, but there is some real trash on that sucker. And I'm not just talking about poor-quality programming. Even the well-made stuff is so erotic and immoral, there's no way it would ever have made it on TV just a few years ago. What's happened to you people out there while I've been locked up? Apparently, for one thing, the Federal Communications Administration doesn't give a fig what gets put before the eyes of America's chil dren anymore. For another, I guess advertisers will let their money fund any smut or stupidity Hollywood wants to air these days. It's a recipe for disaster,and it is .

I will admit that show-selection is limited in here. We don't even get History Channel or A&E or Discovery. Those might at least give me some respite. Even if we DID, there would have to be enough of us to "win" a channel check. A channel check is like prison-democracy in action. The officer comes in with a remote control and says "channel check", and if enough inmates want a different show, the channel is "checked" right off the air. While it's called a "check", which would imply that this nice officer will stand there and go through the available channels until we find something we agree on, this never happens. They WILL NOT stand there and surf. You better know exactly what channel you want it on, and if it so happens that nobody has any idea what is coming on said channel because no one has a TV guide, well too bad, so sad. You're stuck with that show for the next hour. You just hope and pray that when the commercials end, you don't end up with Dora the Explorer or something. (Although you never know with these guys. I came back from Celebrate Recovery last night, and saw at least 10 men with an average age of 42 or older watching a Disney cartoon on ABC.)

These are some of the shows that have been big hits around here in recent days: "Empire", "Queen of the South", "The Alienist","Damnation".So,it's interesting to note that while our book list is purged of rape and criminal activity, our watch list is chockful of the stuff in all of it's epic glory. Go figure. Apparently, some objection was made by some inmate to the violence of "Saving Private Ryan", because, for a while until the system could be reset, a warden had put that movie on the censored list, and everytime it would come on, the channel showing it would blank out. Murder of homosexual boy prostitutes,okay. Realistic portrayal of the heroics of American troops on the beaches of Norman dy, forbidden. Or should I say verbotten? Anyway, what with commercials, talking during the show, interruptions by count time, and objectionable content, watching TV in here is not a good way to spend your time. I cry for those who can't read. It's the best escape of all.

It would be nice if the TDCJ would put some effort into providing down-time activity that might profit the offender in his life beyond the razor-wire fences.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez