10 February, 2020

Where's the Time Go?

You think that because I'm locked up in prison I have all the time in the world? I don't. Time slips through my fingers just the same as yours does — yours and everyone else's out there — because I'm alive with purpose, because I color outside the lines, because even after eighteen years I refuse to become someone whose days pass in a gray blur of dominoes, TV, and masturbation between naps. I do things; I use my time.

Without exception, I'm up and dressed and drinking a glass of water before 6 AM. There's no sleeping through the morning count. Besides, I've got a whole day ahead of me.

But first, fifteen minutes of meditation. (I'll do another five hours from now, right before lunch.) It's a good way to begin.

Breakfast is served a little before 7, which gives me just enough time to eat and make it back to the house to shave and brush my teeth before work call. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings are my workdays. I clean the offices of the housing unit next door. It's an acceptable job I took a year and eight months ago, solely to avoid the eight-hour-a-day time suck that is kitchen slavery. No other position I know of here can beat three hours a day, three days a week, even if all I do is sweep, mop, clean a bathroom, shred paper, and put away files.

On days I'm off, I do my morning hygiene routine after breakfast, then check my e-mail and write replies for about an hour before turning to writing whatever's most pressing at the moment. Right now I'm taking great pains to write a synopsis for my novel-in-stories. Sometimes it's an essay, a poem, or a passage for my next book. At other times it's a blog post. At still other times I jot #ByronSays tweets. I probably juggle these more often than is recommended for real productivity.

My reading occasionally takes on an importance and an urgency that most people wouldn't understand. The Missouri Department of Corrections restricts its prisoners from having more than six books in their possession at one time. If someone surprises me with a couple of titles from my Amazon wishlist I've got to either be under my limit or ready to part with two of the books I already have. I like to be prepared. I also like to keep my New Yorker subscription from piling up, so after lunch I'll often pick up a book or magazine and read for an hour or, if I can fit it in, two.

In addition to my normal reading, I took on even more when I signed up for the NEA's Big Read, which the Saint Louis University Prison Education Program is facilitating here — a series of discussions led by visiting academics, about the book we're reading as a community, Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea. It's kind of like I signed up for a one-book club. I am clearly a literary masochist.

On Tuesday and Friday mornings, as well as every other Wednesday afternoon, I hightail it to the gym, where I work out for an hour or so. I do bodyweight training and like to finish with twenty minutes on an elliptical. On days when we don't have gym access, I spend the recreation period working out in my cell, shuffling my "Electronic Exhilaration" playlist at a volume the neighbors might not like but don't complain about.

ERDCC has laundry facilities that wash and (usually) dry prisoners' mesh bags full of dirty clothes, but the stuff inevitably comes back wrinkled, dingy, and smelling slightly sour. I buy my own detergent and keep my whites nice and bright by hand-washing everything I wear. Laundry's an every-other-day chore (plus weekly sheet days) that takes upward of forty minutes. It's meditative in its own way. I make it official by listening to Buddhist lessons on CD.

The odd Wednesday afternoons not spent in the gym are squandered on canteen pickup. Afterward, I dance around my cellmate as we unbag our stuff and put it away. It can take a while.

Thursday mornings, I spend two generally peaceful hours in the chapel, attending Buddhist service. I look forward to our services, led by whichever of us volunteered earlier that month. Our discussions are almost always the best I have here all week.

"Jeopardy!" airs at 4:30 on weekday afternoons. There's another half hour. I don't watch much other TV, now that Legion and Mr. Robot are over. Fargo's returning soon, though....

Between all of this there are telephone calls to make. I keep a lot of good people close to me. Staying in touch is essential. The phone situation at ERDCC is trickier than it was at Crossroads, where honor dorms offered six phones for the seventy-two occupants of a wing. Here the phones-to-prisoners ratio is one third smaller — not great. I wait in line and use them when I can. Unlike the people I call, who can carry me from room to room or store to store as they see fit, I'm tethered to a box on a wall by a very short metal cord. If I could draw, clip my nails, or whatever other trivial shit I felt like doing while gabbing away, it'd be nice to move a little during that time.

I'm in bed before 10:30 most every night, often fighting to stay awake that long, wishing I had more free time — maybe another three hours a day. I'd use it for drawing. I don't draw nearly enough.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Seeing all you do in 1 day... I think I should step up my game.

    I don't have a Twitter account, but from time to time I like to check those #ByronSays tweets


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.