Survival Tactics

You live in a five by eight foot concrete block room with a locked door, one small window above head-height. Meals and clothing are provided for you. You have a cot, commode, sink, a tiny desk, and one metal chair. You get one hour outside per day, with others of your gender, but the guards do not allow you to talk. You will be released in 2030. You can have five personal items. How do you survive?

21 responses to “Survival Tactics

  1. I survive by writing every day. I have a pencil and a yellow pad. I write after each hour of recreation and long into the night. My other three items are my Bible, my toothbrush and my hairbrush. I survive by reading and writing and breathing and dreaming.

  2. Schizophrenia has its perks in prison. The medicated me, prisoner # 70555, was desperately depressed and lonely for the first three months of my 15 year sentence. It wasn’t until I started hoarding my meds instead of taking them, that I found relief from my desperate existence. The unmedicated #70555 had an abundance of voices and characters living in my brain and cell. I thought it only fitting that they too should have to exist in my sparsely appointed cubicle. After all, they caused me to be arrested in the first place. Had they all been a bit less insistent and a bit more quiet, I might not have committed that armed robbery.

    My cast of characters consist of:

    Millie “Mad Dog” McGuyver. She can re-purpose absolutely anything, such as making a crock pot out of several foil lined chip bags. These are just perfect for cooking Mac and Cheese made from waterlogged Cheese Doodles and Ramen Noodles. For Tex Mex, add ground up Nacho chips. Pull threads out of the elastic waistband of your standard issue prison pants and use for dental floss. So they cannot be used as a weapon, jail ink pens consist of the refill cartridge only. These are most difficult to hold for any length of time, especially if you are writing your first novel, The Bricoleurs of A Block. So Millie suggested that I save up the foil wrappers from chewing gum, wrap them around the pen cartridge, layer upon layer, until the desired thickness for comfort is attained. And, perhaps her most usefull feat of ingenuity, rolling Tampons out of Maxi Pads. I really look forward to my frequent talks with Millie in my mind.

    One of my other favorite voices is Frences “Flo Nightengale” Calvert. She reassures me when I am most vulnerable, calms me when my nerves are sparking at 100 mph and sings me lullabies on sleepless nights. I count heavily on Flo for my sanity.

    Then there is Irene “I Told You So” Nesbitt. Her specialty is hurling guilt as it it were a Javelin at the Olympics. “ I told you to go to Pharmacy School, not Meth cooking lab. I told you that you would end up behind bars.”
    Of course she is right, but I wish she would Shut Up !

    But, if you let one voice talk, you let them all talk. That is the curse of the

    Will I be able to survive until I am released…that is the Big Question. But I survived today. That is nothing more or less than anyone can say….no matter what side of the bars you are looking out of.

  3. I remember the color of her hair, but I never knew its softness. The shape of her mouth, her lips, are vivid in my memory, but I never felt their touch on mine. I shall never forget the last words she spoke to me.

    “I wouldn’t have you if you were the last man on earth.”

    And, now I am.

    For several years there were hundreds of us men, mostly engineers and construction labor, held captive in the prison of our own making, under the direction of the computers. The computers performed the logistics of running power plants. Air traffic. Then all transportation. All things mechanical and electrical. The computer developers and programmers became addicted to their own genius, blind to their inevitable demise that was fast approaching.

    With subtle stealth, the power of the computers began to merge into one collective power, becoming a mega-computer which had taken control of monitoring the world as we knew it. Their deficiency was the need for manpower to physically create those things beyond their capability. Its god was logic which ruled with efficiency. The concepts of trust, love, and had been cast aside as wasteful use of ones and zeroes. Spirituality became passé, along with morality. Human emotions were squelched.

    Throughout my captivity, I had no interaction with other humans. My cell had a computer terminal, as fine as had ever been developed. My access with it was limited to my professional discipline which was the development of structural building materials from alternate resources.

    As the weeks, months, and years passed I noticed changes taking place in my environment. The food supply system began operating erratically. The door to my open and fenced exercise area was operated by the computer, It opened and closed slower each passing day.

    I wore an electric-charged belt around my midsection. It was designed to deliver a painful jolt of punishment if I failed to perform in a timely manner – logging-on each morning, returning to my room promptly after my one hour of outside time was up, or approaching too close to the fence which was electrified as well.

    A week ago I fell asleep as I lay outside enjoying the sun. I was awakened by a tingling sensation around my stomach and back, nothing like the first charge I received early in my captivity. It became clear to me that the computer system was failing. I trembled at the thought of becoming locked in my cell and slowly starving to death.

    Today, for the second day, I failed to receive any nutrition from the food delivery system. When my exercise time approached, the door opened with a deliberate slowness. It was definitely on its last leg.

    In spite of a torrential rain, I exited to my exercise area. I had been warned not to go outside in the rain, a caution against becoming electrocuted by my electric belt. I weighed the options: die a slow death of starvation locked in my cell, or a quick demise from an unknown quantity of amps and volts to my guts. I chose the latter.

    I felt the tingling around my waist as the rain pelted me, and the time for me to return to my cell arrived. I braced for the worst. But, nothing happened. My cell door didn’t close. I wasn’t shocked. I was alive and close to being free of my computer captor.

    I grabbed my blanket and pillow and approached the electric fence. My belt gave no warning. With a trembling arm I reached to the fence with one finger and gave it a quick touch. Nothing happened.

    I began climbing the fence and draped the blanket and pillow over the razor wire. I chuckled as it was the same wire I had developed for my captors made from epoxy-hardened plastic, instead of steel. With considerable effort and caution I made my way over and down the fence and lay on the bare dirt, something I had not felt for a couple of decades. God, could it have been that long?

    I made my way through the rain which was becoming a drizzle. I took in the sights of buildings and structures I had not previously seen, and shapes of things I didn’t recognize, monumental shapes – perhaps homages to technology built by technology itself. Lots of things, but no people.

    As the rain stopped I caught sight of another shape ahead, crouched under the shelter of a people-mover station that obviously had not been used in some time. The closer I came, the more the shape began to look human, not robotic or droid. I called out to it, and it turned its head toward me. I approached it with caution as it stood up. It was dressed in a grey-colored uniform, not crisp and neat, but showing years of wear. It held something resembling a weapon and pointed it toward me but not exactly at me.

    I heard the first human voice in several years, “Who goes there?” The voice was unsure, perhaps weak. Detached.

    I took another step.

    It turned its weapon turned toward me. “Halt. Who goes there?” The voice, although hoarse, was feminine.

    I raised my hands over my head and took another step. And another. Our eyes gave each other the once-over. I watched her lips as she tried to speak. Her lips. It was her.

    She spoke again, “Who are you?”

    We were now but two feet apart.

    “Apparently, I’m the last man on earth.”

  4. At first I was delighting in the contrast of what began as a love story and then the events related by the prisoner–all so high tech. The plot swept me away, but I didn’t see that ending coming, so perfect, so satisfyingly tying the end back to the beginning.

    Looks like writing in the mornings serves you well!

  5. “High treason,” they said. “Sabotage, conspiracy, recruiting fighters….” I did it. I freely admit it.

    I did all those things and more in pursuit of an ideal for which I was prepared to die.

    We bombed electrical towers, government posts, anything we could to get attention for our cause.

    I committed the unthinkable for a man in my condition; I publicly burned my passbook. There are photos, if you care enough to look.

    I even left the country without a passport. I went to foreign countries to seek funding, encourage other countries to invade my own. I incited strikes.

    I was a terrorist.

    Now, as I sit in my 8 foot by 7 foot cell, I think about the 17 years that have passed. Oh, I say “sit” but there is not chair in my concrete cell. There is no bed. I have a thin straw mat on the floor on which I sleep. Not even a chamber pot, just a bucket that I have to clean every morning with everyone else on my cellblock. No talking allowed. But, we have our ways.

    At least I can see out the window, even if the view is the broiling courtyard where I and my fellow prisoners are forced to sit for hours in the sun and smash rocks into gravel. I would rather be marched to the lime quarry where we break the giant boulders into the rocks that I will then have to pound away at. At least I can see birds and animals on the walk.

    Unfortunately the sun’s glare on the white limestone has damaged my vision.

    The warders don’t know what to think of us. We are educated and articulate; they are brutes and imbeciles. The new warden, though, he is different than the first one. This one I can talk with as I bargain for more food and better clothing for all the political prisoners.

    Already we are wearing long pants, not the knee shorts that we wore the first years. They have added sugar to our daily allotment of 1/8th ounce of coffee in the morning and at supper. We also get 4 ounces of bread at lunch and at supper.

    We are supposed to get 6 ounces of meat a day, but when we do find meat in our 6 ounces of corn meal mush, it is gristle. Occasionally a piece of vegetable slips in, too.

    I pass my “free” time trying to make the best of it. As I once wrote, “To survive in prison one must develop ways to take satisfaction in one’s life. One can feel fulfilled by washing one’s clothes so that they are particularly clean, by sweeping a corridor so that it is free of dust, by organizing one’s cell to conserve as much space as possible.”

    At night, when the warders close the wooden door over the barred door, I write. I study law, hoping someday to earn my LLB.

    They found some of my manuscript that described my life and my current conditions where I had buried it in the prison yard. I lost my study privileges for a long time. But, there are ways to get around that. One must. I am allowed one 30 minute visit and one letter every six months. Often, the letters are so censored that I receive only a piece of paper in ribbons.

    When I testified on my own behalf during my trial, I told the justice I was willing to die for my beliefs. I still am. He sentenced me instead to life in prison. That was his mistake. I hear things from the outside even though all political news is censored. I know the struggle continues.

    Time will tell if it is enough that I spend my life in prison on this island.

    (Nelson Mandela, a terrorist who fought the Apartheid government in South Africa before spending 17 years in prison on Robben Island just off the coast of Cape Town, and nine more in other prisons, entered confinement a charismatic leader, ladies man, and a boastful young firebrand.

    (Twenty-seven years later he walked to freedom as a dignified old man who had won the respect of his prison guards, his own government, and countries around the world.

    (He was elected president of South Africa a couple years after his release, and led the country through a painful, but relatively non-violent, transition, forswearing revenge against the white Apartheid government that had so brutalized the black Africans.)

    • The definition of terrorist often depends on who is writing. They say that winners write the history. I often wonder if the Revolutionary War patriots we so admire fit the definition of terrorist. I also enjoy the difficult dichotomy of wider conflicts as they contrast our personal ones. There is certainly a lot to write about, even when you’re in prison. For a contrast, read the book Spandau, written by Nazi architect Albert Speer.

  6. Tomorrow is Graduation Day for the first Creative Writing class for the women inmates of Block A in Elkhart County Jail. I wanted to share my tribute to them….they have all committed crimes, but they are all determined to not let those decisions define their futures. I am in awe of their courage.

    Art is what we call the thing an artist does.
    It’s not the medium, or the oil, or the price or whether it hangs on the wall or you eat it.
    What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making…
    Something risky
    Something human.
    Art is not in the eye of the beholder,
    It’s in the soul of the artist.
    Jennifer Morton

    My Artists Heroes live in Block A at the Elkhart County Jail. We met a few weeks ago, and have spent 12 hours sharing our Writing . I honestly did not know what to expect out of this experiment, but I did know right off, I wanted to know more and more about the McGuyver Girls of Block A.

    SheShe always goes first. Her words reflect the hard edges of the city and the soft spirit of a loving daughter, sister and mother. She smiles on the outside but has wounds on the inside. Her laugh lands on my heart like puppy kisses. SheShe is an Artist.

    Cat is a Mother Earth sort of gal. She speaks of a life of sounds and aromas. Of family and of a time spent locked up in her mind. She has a deep capacity to forgive and to love. She is an Artist.

    Bibliddle or Ashley #1. She shares words of a life lived in Mid-America in the same house forever and of her love of family. She is into detail and maintains a full accounting of her days. She has a high spirit and an energy that defies her physical struggles and pain. She is an Artist.

    Then we come to Ashley #2, or as I call her in my own mind. Sparkey. She thinks like Popcorn cooks. Pop…pop…pop. Showing her ADHD in all it’s excellent glory. She is a Philosopher who’s engine is constantly running. Her words flow freely into a composition of love, frustration, disappointment and faith. And she is the ultimate Vending Machine Chef. She is an Artist

    Yes, these are My Heroes….My Artists…..My Friends. And I thank them so much for allowing me into their hearts with such trust.

    • A gray and cold day here in NJ and the knee pain from multiple surgeries is trying to wear me down. I won’t let it because I have my books, my writing, and your posts to help me out.


  7. You are certainly building a meaningful life. I think one of the greatest talents a teacher can have is to assume that her students are incredible people. It sounds like they are lucky to have you.

  8. “She thinks like Popcorn cooks.” I love that!

  9. I don’t mind that we cannot talk to one another because there is no one inside here worth a damn, including me. Why would I want to talk? I have my Yo-Yo to pass the time. I also have a Kindle, with unlimited internet access and a tablet and a pen nearby. The food is pretty good, I can’t complain. And the sheets are clean so that’s a plus. During frustrating times, I have a wooden back scratch, which doubles as a weapon and other things if you catch my drift. Outside I walk as far as I can in a straight line just to fuck with the guards. Never do I roam more than 500 yards at a time but it’s fun, it keeps the mind occupied. At night I like to listen to YouTube. Thank God for my Kindle or was it a gift from Jim? Shit, I can call up the bible on my Kindle, should I have the need, which I never do. I like it here. It’s quiet and everyone knows their place. It could be worse, I could be reporting to a job I hate every day just to listen to a bunch of assholes bark orders at me…wait, where is this jail?

  10. Olivia,
    Thanks for posting. I’m in such a funk, that it helps to see that you’re out there, writing and caring enough to post. Love the last line. It opens up so many possibilities. I often wonder if everything we write ends up being a kind of creation story, as if each of us is taking what we’ve found around us and trying to make the world out of it.

    Deep winter here. Hope you are enjoying January wherever you are. –Ann

    • Oh Lady Linquist, say it isn’t so…You can;t be in a Funk….COLOR YOUR WAY OUT !! Winter finally arrived here in Northern Indiana with a vengeance, wind chill -20 below. Little white puppy clearly does not like the conditions in her potty area. I am in the third day of being a weather hostage as my windshield wipers quit working and my car engine sounds like it has an extreme case of COPD, cheer up my friend,,,this too shall pass.

    • It’s oddly refreshing to consider that even someone as talented as you, Ann, gets into a funk….but I hope you are up and around writing your heart out soon. Take care, Olivia

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