11/20/2023 (Day #4345)
Obstacles in this setting
My own experience and perspective has shown the prison setting is rife with an array of obstacles that I characterize as “environmental”. Some of these obstacles can be overcome; some can’t, or at best can be adapted to, what I view as “partially overcoming”. The environmental obstacles are a mix of “official”, or known, and “unofficial”, unwritten or implied.
“Official”, known, obstacles include restrictions determined by policies and rules. An example of this is incoming postal mail policies, such as prohibitions on maps, a security precaution to prevent escape planning. I learned of this when trying to assist with finding property-line markers and suggested sending a Google Map satellite picture I could annotate with the marker locations and send back. The Google Map picture arrived and was rejected as a prohibited item. There wasn’t a viable path to overcoming that obstacle, it’s a hard and steadfast rule. An example of an “official” obstacle that can be overcome is program and activity participation priority assigned by Projected Release Date. FSA program enrollment is subjected to this prioritization, but there is some discretion afforded to disregard the PRD for enrollment decisions. I’ve personally benefitted from this discretion several times, and I’m thankful for it.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are “unofficial” obstacles, most commonly resulting from the unwritten “prison rules and etiquette”, essentially a list of do’s and don’t, who can do what, and where and when they can do it. These “rules” are enforced informally by staff as well as the population. Detailing the intricacies and nuances of the “prison rules” would, frankly, be mind-numbing and tiresome. Personally, I abide by them enough to get along, be left alone, and not rock the boat. To me, they are demonstrative of “institutionalization”, and I’m uninterested in engaging in or practicing institutionalized behavior – I view it as unhealthy and counter-productive, and, coincidentally, an obstacle to smooth and successful re-entry to the community post-release.
For brevity and simplicity, there are easy examples for unofficial obstacles. One of these is the dining hall seating sections according to race and ethnicity, and “sub-sections” for geographical association and/or “organizational” affiliation. One exception to this is the group of tables for those with sex offenses, it is racially diverse and devoid of defined sub-sections, although there is a small group of LGBTQ+ people who often sit together in a “regular” area. There isn’t an official policy dictating this seating arrangement, and enforcement is principally a population responsibility unless/until staff intervention is necessary for safety and security. Quarters assignments are allocated according to similar guidelines.
“Unofficial obstacles” can appear in housing units as a result of the diversity of values, beliefs, cultures, and personalities. Overcoming them is often out of reach, and the better, more reasoned and practical approach involves adapting. In some scenarios, activities and behaviors pose obstacles because of different ideas about what is considered “acceptable”. There are BOP policies to set forth boundaries and expectations, but the written policies are only as effective as their enforcement of them, and they are not all-inclusive of the varied behaviors and scenarios.
Overall, the prison environment is a repetitive, ongoing exercise in dealing with obstacles and the challenges of determining whether or not they can be overcome or adapted to. Acceptance and flexibility can help with managing the obstacles to maintain focus on healthy living. Obstacles happen, here and everywhere, and how we deal with them is up to us individually.
Accept, adapt, and overcome.