20 October, 2023

A Friend Trapped in the Bardo

We were at work last Thursday morning when he was taken away. A guard in black-and-gray camouflage appeared in the doorway next to our shared desk, told Luke to come with him, then disappeared with my coworker and friend. Luke hasn't been seen or heard from again. As I write this, he's in the Hole, under investigation, not for a conduct violation, nor even for any suspected wrongdoing on his part, but for the nebulous charge of "staff familiarity" a major threat, we are told, to the safety and security of Missouri's prisons.

I've been trying to organize my thoughts for days but still haven't arrived at a stable position. My friend, coworker, and fellow traveler of the Eightfold Path is suffering even more greatly than usual right now, stripped of his purposeful routine, his meaningful job, and even his clothes. (Prisoners in the Hole at ERDCC only get boxer shorts and a T-shirt to wear.) Worst of all might be the likelihood that Luke hasn't been fully apprised of the circumstances. What is it about law enforcement that they can't even be bothered to explain why they're locking someone up? They don't inform you of much here, they just do things. The last time I went to the Hole, eleven years ago at Crossroads Correctional Center, I wasn't informed of the circumstances of my confinement. That trip to administrative segregation echoed the circumstances of my initial arrest, over a decade prior; for my first couple of weeks in jail, I wasn't told why I was there, either. Luke doesn't use drugs, steal, gamble, or tattoo. He meditates. He's almost paranoid about having contraband and assiduously follows the many rules of prison, both official and un-. He's celibate. He freely gives his labors to our community of malcontents. He does CrossFit. He's an active member of Gavel Club. He goes to bed before 8:30 almost every evening. In most ways, he's the kind of prisoner that every employee of the Department of Corrections should want more of. Is the problem that he's worked in the Recreation Department for eight years? That he led XSTREAM from literally nothing, to being what the Prison Journalism Project dubbed a "media giant"? That he has made himself a respected member of the ERDCC community? That, despite his sentence of life without parole, he just earned a rare and much-coveted spot among the latest cohort of students with Saint Louis University's Associate of Arts program? The Department's prohibition on familiarity between institutional staff and the prisoners that they oversee might've been put in place with the best of intentions, but, at least as it applies to workers, the policy flies in the face of everything that corrections should stand for. If someone takes a job and proves themselves worthy of increased trust, even extra privileges, through exemplary performance during years of doing the job, shouldn't that be worthy of commendation? Luke is hardly perfect if anything, he's deeply flawed but if there's anyone I know who deserves somewhat elevated status, it's him. We all have a choice to either endure the uncertainty we encounter, or to lose our shit. I worry for Luke's sanity. He was supportive of me when I went through my midlife crisis. A week or so ago, he seemed mired in much the same mental swamp as the one from which I just emerged. We talked candidly and in depth about it, the way that only two people trapped in similar circumstances can. His job at XSTREAM meant more to him than almost everything else in his life. Our weekly Buddhist service kept him grounded as much as it did the other attendees. Knowing that these things have now been taken from him and him from us is difficult.
Prison strains all relationships, not just those with people on the other side of the fence. In the twenty-two years of my prison career, I've been separated from three friends by sudden turns of circumstance. Ben, at least, went willingly, when he signed up for the Intensive Therapeutic Community at Jefferson City Correctional Center. Zach stayed at Crossroads after the 2018 riot that resulted in my transfer here. I stayed in touch with them for years. Then the DOC instituted a ban on communicating with people in other prisons. There's now a chance that Luke will be transferred to another facility before he's released from ad-seg. There's also a chance that our paths won't cross again. I await with bated breath some word of his circumstances, desperately hoping that they turn out for the good and that Luke, no matter where he ends up, lands on his feet.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to a Halloween post 🎃


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.