15 October, 2020

Unboxing a Raspberry Pi – a Special Treat

We thought our boss showed up bearing a notice for us to post on the prison's information channel. Instead, what he brings into the little room where I work among ceiling-to-floor computers and DVDs is a package the size of a cereal box. "Here you go, fellas," he tells Luke and me. "Play around with that and see what you can make happen."

The boss grins as Luke, my friend and on-the-job superior, pulls the box's cardboard tab. Cradled inside is our new project: a Raspberry Pi, a powerful, versatile, pretty amazing computer the size of a soap dish.

I resist the urge to coo, instead exclaiming over and over, "It's so tiny," as Luke removes each component of the kit – the board, the case, the power adapter – and sets it on the desk in front of us. The Pi's cooling fan takes up scarcely more space than three stacked quarters. The heat sinks are smaller still. I'm awed.

We ask the boss to copy some files from the Internet (which we, as prisoners, can't access) onto a Micro SD card, and before long we have a fully operational Raspberry Pi to tinker with. The plan is to assign one of these an IP address, hook it up to our local network, and pump a handful of video files out to it, so that prisoners without their own TVs can, during their recreation periods, come into the gym and watch movies. I've never done anything like this before, yet I feel completely capable of making viewing stations a reality.

The Missouri DOC offers computer-based jobs and training programs, but not many of them, and never at a facility where I was confined. The job that's come closest to the level of intellectual challenge and autonomy afforded by my current position in the media center was twelve years ago, when I clerked in the food-service warehouse at Crossroads Correctional Center. Most of what passed for mental stimulation there involved basic math and bantering with three zany coworkers. There's a reason that I never blogged about my workdays there.

One thing I have posted writings about is my techno-geekdom. (See "A Very Technical Boy" or "Hidden Pictures of an Elusive Past," for examples.) Following my sham of a trial, the judge ordered a pre-sentencing investigation be conducted by the Board of Probation and Parole – interviews with me, my supporters, and the family of the friend I was convicted of killing. This was purely a formality. State statutes demand that first-degree murder carries a life sentence without possible parole. The parole officer's final report said that I had "mid-level IT experience" and was interested in a job "working with computers" when I got to prison.

It took nineteen years, but here I am. It thrills me to have code at my fingertips, and hardware all around. I'm even allowed to bring music to work and listen to all the Kraftwerk or Gary Numan I care to – as long as I don't turn the headphone volume up too high and lose all track of time as I configure this Raspberry Pi.

1 comment:

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.