Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year, New Blog

I thought that I would like to do something new for 2011. I have wanted to put special blogs up on the May December site but decided that it would be better to post them here.

You will find news here of my life on the inside (prison), what our thoughts are for May December Publications, and anything else that I might want to post for you.

This is My blog.

TW Brown

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Comments From Behind the Fence - 6

Death. Nobody really likes to think about it too much when it comes to our own mortality. Dying in prison? Alone? Isolated from anybody who cares about you? Take a moment and look into your heart. Is there anything about that idea that isn't depressing?

Men (I can assume women, but since I'm a guy...well...) in prison don't talk about dying inside. It is a fear for most, and prison isn't an environment where that emotion is acceptable. But it happens. Sometimes to strangers...sometimes to a familiar face. And, on occasions, to a friend.

A few years into my time I lost my best friend Steve to cancer. I still haven't been able to really grieve his passing. When I was accepted as a hospice volunteer, I went back to my cell and I told Steve, "This is for all you did for me." He never wavered in his friendship. He was an example,and in some ways, a role model.

Now, a couple of years in the program have passed. As I write this, I have an active patient. He was a compete stranger when this began. But now, we've had hours to talk and get to know each other. We've shared past accomplishments and past failures. We've talked about our lives, and he asks me about my future. He knows that I have one. And sometimes I feel guilty that I'll leave this prison and he will likely die before I do so. I'm emotionally vested in this person. When I see him, I don't see an inmate. I see a man. And this person has shown me what it means to die with dignity. He never complains about his lot in life. He has found peace in dying that most don't find in living.

And still, with all I've learned from this dying man, a selfish part of me remains. That selfish part wants him to keep living. Why is that selfish? Because, everyday he lives is a day of pain for him, and a day where I didn't have to hold his hand when he takes the last breath. That only means that I still have so much to learn.

These aren't the things normal citizens think about when they consider prison life. They'd rather watch programs like Lock up that go out of their way to show the worst of the worst. Stereotypes are a terrible thing. Clinging to them has never serves humanity, never contributed to progress, never done a single thing for the public good.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Comments From Behind the Fence - 5

Teaching music can almost make a man forget he's locked up. Being involved in one-on-one instruction is very dicey in an environment such as prison requiring adaptability in a way that my contemporaries on the streets might not appreciate. I loved every moment of it.

Being able to play several hours a day really brought my own playing ability along and I feel that my crowning achievement was the guitar solo from Queen's "We Will Rock You." Pulling it off live in front of an audience of a couple hundred inmates goes down as one of my favorite memories during my time down.

Sadly, as this adventure was kicking off, I lost my best friend. Steve and I met in boot camp in the Navy. We've been each others Best Man and our sons were born one week apart. During this chapter in my life, he never wavered in his friendship. then, the same cancer that killed his mother, claimed him. To say I was devastated does not come close.

There are a lot of people who dont think prison is enough punishment. I know this because I was on of them before I ended up here. You have no idea what it is like to lose a person you love and not be able to grieve properly. The callous and unsympathetic types might have a number of mocking comments here, and if that's what you need to feel better about yourself, I feel sorry for you.

I've met a lot of men who know that they've made mistakes in life and want the chance to do better. Some feel that we as a society (meaning inmates) are not rehabilitatable. Not only are you misguided, you are absolutely wrong. But...I wont stay up on the soapbox because people with that mindset are seldom open for rational debate.

Shortly after Steve died, my prison started a hospice program. Knowing that there are men in here that have nobody outside was a real determining factor in my choice to apply. I have family and friends who love me no matter what. I'm lucky.

Being selected as a hospice volunteer was a lengthy process. It required an application as well as being interviewed by the medical and upper-level management staff of the prison. A dozen of us were picked from out of nearly a hundred applicants. During the class, we came up with a motto:

"No man dies alone."

Graduation was bittersweet. I was proud to be a part of the program. And then I realized what it would mean if I were ever called upon.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Comments From Behind the Fence - 4

There is something wonderful about music: We all have songs that elicit certain memories. Some good...some bad. Having sung in a fair number of stage performances, I'd always been a little envious of guitar players. I mean really, David Lee Roth was cool, but Eddie is a legend.

Having made a goal to learn something new during my time locked up, I decided to pick up the guitar. I started out on a Takamine Acoustic. I sat in a corner with a very basic instruction book and played until my fingers could not bear touching the strings any longer.

I had a couple of guys show me stuff whenever they had time. I still remember the first time I played the intro riff to Enter Sandman by Metallica. Every day, I'd sit someplace and work through scale forms and chord changes; teaching my fingers how to move along the frets.

During a multi-cultural event, I played in my first concert as the rhythm guitarist. The first time we practiced, I still recall how freakin' awesome it was when I struck a simple E5 on the Jackson guitar that was plugged into a Marshall stack.

It was way cooler than I let on , but returning to work the next week and having many of my students expressing their approval on the degree in which we "rocked the house" was a bit of a rush. From there, I started hooking up with a couple of friends and practicing out on the yard during spring and summer.

Then, one day, I was asked if I would consider taking a job as a music tech and teacher in the institution's fledgling music program. Guys with 18 months of clear conduct could now take guitar, bass, keyboard, or drum lessons. I would be teaching guitar, bass and keyboards. That meant being able to practice every day. Plus, I was able to watch instructional videos. (I always tried to stay at least two lessons ahead of my first bass and keyboard classes.)

We had out fair share of students who wanted to be able to play like Eddie or Randy after their first lesson. They got discouraged when they saw how much work it took just to barely make a barred F chord and quit. But many others stuck with it. It was always nice when they could see their progress.

Things really started getting fun once the music program opened up to include band slots. Three times a year, inmate bands would be allowed to put on a concert. Honestly, it's the most fun a guy can have while being locked up. I would now be playing guitar AND singing in a band: Medline. I had no idea just how hard it was going to be. I mean...I could play at least halfway decent...and I could sing. But both? At the same time?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Comments From Behind the Fence - 3

One of the most important things an inmate can do during incarceration is to seek education. My own exposure to the education department at my prison opened my eyes to a culture that I hadn't really considered. It was while I was taking my first few classes that I encountered men pursuing their GED.

After completing my training, I took a job as a tutor where I would work for the next several years. It was the most rewarding experience of my incarceration. to work with men who were determined to end their cycle of failure and accomplish something that many have been told they were incapable of was awesome.

Anybody who experiences that feeling of having somebody walk up to them and than them for not letting them quit when it got tough and for giving them support and praise with an ear-to-ear grin and a look of pride in themselves knows. There is nothing that can adequately describe the rush. And every quarter there is a GED graduation at my institution. That meant seeing that look every three months!

What made it more enjoyable was sitting next to students I had tutored in a NDEP college class. I was thrilled during every single graduation. I attended and always hunted down "my" students to make sure that they signed up.

One day I was offered a job in the brand new prison music program. It happened at the same time a number of new teachers were taking positions in the education department. I decided that it was a good time to change jobs. I would now be teaching. Considering the fact that I'd never played an instrument before prison, this was something special.

A few years into my time, I decided to learn how to play guitar. A pair of guys both named Sam had a lot to do with teaching me. Now...I would be teaching others.