Sooo... After being out almost 7 years, and going back inside for about two and a half years, finally my 12th prison back inside was the one I paroled from. That's right! Avenal!!
In my 23+ years inside I hit 8 different prisons and 2 of them twice. I settled at Avenal for my final 12 years and it was a trip going back.
Of course we went back to take programs; this time our Connecting the Dots workshop, the first half and it was our biggest presentation yet.
We always say it doesn't matter how many people show up, the presentation remains the same, so we try to accommodate as many as we can. That has ranged from as little as 5 guys in one of the 4 presentations we started at Lancaster, to about 175 guys in the gym at Valley State prison, (my first time back inside). So, this time we set out to do all 6 yards at Avenal. We were prepared for 100 guys each yard, dragging 600 packets with us. Let me tell you, making those packets was no picnic. We spent almost a solid week printing and collating and stuffing folders... After awhile you get kinda good at it!! We burned through 24 boxes of folders and more than 12 reams of paper. We really put our new copier to task!!
You would think that it all being the same prison, that it would run kinda similar on all the yards... Nope!! Every yard had it's own way of doing things and therefore every yard was different. We were fortunate to have a sponsor, Lisa, that worked well with all kinds of staff and was committed to making this happen. Thank you, Lisa, for all your hard work and dedication!!
So, all told, we only got to do 5 yards out of 6 and like I said, different yards had their own set of obstacles. We started on 1 yard, or as they call it now "A" facility. But all the O.G.s still call it one yard. That's the yard with the "hole" so it's short 1 building. Even though there was a sign up sheet, we kinda took them by surprise on Friday evening. Plus, the yard Sergeant was a fill in and afraid to make a call. He wouldn't let us take the bleachers into the gym. Even so our sign-in sheet listed 40 attendees, very attentive and interested. Not a bad way to start a weekend. I'm excited to get back. We know we're making an impact because we're already getting emails from family members telling us how much their loved ones learned about insight...
So, go back to our motel; the 5 star "Motel 6" for the night to start early the next morning. Saturday was our big day with a plan of doing 3 yards that day. Fortunately the night before, Lisa sent a heads up to Saturday's yards and the guys and the staff were less surprised by our arrival. Get up at 6 to be at the gate at 7 to get to 2 yard.. (Fac. B) and in the gym by 8am so we can get started. I have to say that 2 yard took the attendance prize with 99 guys on the sign-in sheets. (They told us before hand they were limiting the attendance to 75 per yard, but then the yards left the attendance open per our request)
Again we had an energizing group; attentive, responsive, and grateful at the end. We got out of there by 10:30, stuffed a couple of egg salad sandwiches from Valero down our throats and setting up in the 3 yard gym by 11am.
Again a dynamic group with the sign-in sheets reflecting 93 in attendance. I guess I should say that one yard was the only yard that was afraid to allow the bleachers into the gym... But the staff on both 2 and 3 yards were very helpful. That's CDCR for you, huh? One thing that was fairly overwhelming to me, was that in the course of the weekend there were over a dozen Correctional Officers that recognized me, and amazingly enough seemed truly glad to see me free. Many of them came up to me to shake my hand and cut it up a bit. I also saw far too many of my friends still not over the hump to freedom yet. Still, it was good to see some of their faces.
On to 4 yard and we arrived in the gym there by 1:45. They started making announcements but the staff there seemed withdrawn. That's when our sponsor told us that the MAC Rep there was resistant to help her put up the sign-up sheets and flyers, even cussing about us coming. Between the defeated demeanor of that yard and the lack of communication, I'm supposing, we got eighteen guys from D yard to close out the day. But... Those that did come were pleased with our coming and encouraged to see our return.
End of the day, we went to a restaurant with our sponsor, (dutch, of course) to unwind a bit and chat it up about the day. I have to reiterate; we really had a good sponsor for this. Then back to our 5 star Motel 6 to play parking space tag and crash (sleep) for the night.
Sunday morning... Up at 6, to the gate at 7 and in the gym on 5 yard by 8. The only problem is that 5 yard had a social issue the night before. I guess the Paisa's and the South Siders had something to work out, and when we got to 5 yard they hadn't started feeding yet. "But never mind.. We're supposed to have normal program today..." They suggested we go to 6 yard, do the program there, and when we were done, come back and we could do the program on 5 yard a little later. Okay, we're adjustable. So we went to 6 yard, and caught them by surprise... They were expecting us at 11 and we arrived at 8:30.
So, we were competing with the Catholic services, and it was a communion day!! So, we went ahead with the workshop like we do. We had 35 guys on the sign-in sheet and we had a good, interactive program they all seemed genuinely grateful for us at the end.
So we get back to 5 yard about 11:45 and the yard is out... But nobody is engaged in any activity, only standing in groups watching across the yard. The C/O's are all tense and strapped and watching intently and it looks like a riot could jump off at any time. It was a real blast from the past I think I could have done without, really.
The lead officer S&E (search and escort) kept saying, "hang around, there's supposed to be normal program... while everybody waited. Finally a Paisa came from one side of the yard while a South Sider came from the other side and they seemingly calmly walked to the center of the yard and proceeded to box!! Nobody else responded. They took the hit for the yard and solved and satisfied the conflict. The C/O's ran out and sprayed them and took them into custody while everyone involved in the "Yard Down" sat...
Needless to say the day was pretty much shot. The yard came up to normal program, but normal wasn't going to happen, not really, for several hours. We decided it would be better to wait until next time. When we come to do part 2 for the other yards, we can do part 1 for yard 5. As we were leaving there was a guy who called out to me and said, "So,I guess you don't miss all of this, do you?..." I'm afraid I really don't, thank you very much!!
So, at the end of 3 full days, (including 3-1/2 hours of driving each way), and a total of 285 sign-ins, we arrived home both thrilled and totally exhausted. We're also grateful for those of you who make these forays possible. If you've given to LSA we believe we've given you value for your support. And if you haven't made any commitment yet, maybe this will encourage you to consider doing so.
One supporter had this to say, "Just wanted to tell you thank you so much for going to Avenal today. My husband was able to attend on B yard and had nothing but good to say about the presentation LSA gave them today. Hearing Dave speak on his life crime made a huge impact for him and several of the others who attended.
Thank you again, C.C."
Signing off for now. David Sloane, Former Lifer Enjoying Life, Life Support Alliance