By: Nancy Smith
I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here & to know some
extraordinary women. Many have experienced unspeakable suffering in
their lives, others have made devastating decisions; many face very long
sentences with courage & determination, some are here for life
without possibility of parole. Many others will finish their term, go
home, and repeat the same mistakes they made in the past. Think of them
often, bless them, hold them in your heart. They have been very kind
and generous to me, are indignant that I've been put in prison. "An old
lady - excuse me - like you!" "Miss Nancy, you don't belong here!"
March 17th, 2011
Dear Friends and SOAWatchers,
I've been at Danbury a little over 3 weeks now and things are generally falling into place. We've just had 'count', a very military-like procedure where we stand obediently and silently ("NO TALKING!!") by our doors and the guards walk briskly past us counting everyone and looking stern, keys and chains jangling.
There are ~75 women in our unit, one of many in this institution of about 1,200. This is known as the mental health unit as it houses a program for about 30 women who receive individual treatment and group counseling for a wide range of serious and disabling psychological problems. I'm happy to be in this unit, have a good bunkie and a new friend & lots of others I'm getting to know.
This environment is dense with information and it is taking me a long time to sort it all out. There are rules and regulations about everything that has to be done & a time schedule for doing it. Fortunately the women have been very patient with me, telling me over & over where to go & what to do & when to do it. The loudspeaker blares all day long with this information but, though i hear the noise it makes, I cannot understand the words. I'm not alone in this & there has been some improvement, I'm pleased to report.
The first couple of letters I mailed out were returned because they have to have printed labels. I get these now from the computer by entering my inmate # and two other numbers. Then I type in the name & address of person I'm writing and then I print out a label for the envelope. I can add to this list when I want, but it involves going to the computer room & waiting in line. You can only use the computer for 15 minutes at a time, then you go back to the end of the line again. To send an email you have to have money in your commissary account. Printing labels is free. Same sort of thing for phone calls: I have to register the name, number, etc before I call. I can call collect but otherwise I have to have money in my account. And stamps cannot be received through the mail. They must be purchased at the commissary. But I have just discovered that if I have no money in my account I can get 5 stamps free each month.
It seems to me that if the government is going to put me in prison they should cover my basic costs of being there. Most of the women receive at least some money from home; some maybe $20 a month, others have a lot more. Shopping at the Commissary is a very big deal. Hours are spent going over the long list of what's available: clothing, sneakers, boots, earphones, radios, personal hygeine items, but most of all junk food. Lots of it. It's the central engine of the prison economy: I iron your uniform for you, you pay me in junk food from the Commissary - that's the basic exchange, but it gets very complicated with loans, placing value on favors or services, selling & buying pills from the pharmacy. If you have enough money in your account you can actually maintain your addiction while in prison.
The problem for me as an indigent is that others give me whatever they think I need, even knowing I have nothing in my account. Two days after I got here I came back to my cell to find a new toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, shampoo, soap, etc and a few days later another woman brought a tablet of writing paper, envelopes, stamps and pens. The same thing happened with clothing & shoes - many offers of things they thought I would need or would make me more comfortable.
I now have a prison job and will earn about .12 cents an hour. That money will be deposited in my account but part of it will be withheld to recuperate my court costs of $10 (for a misdemeanor). After that's paid off I'll have the remainder to spend as I wish!
Several wonderful people have written about the possibility of visiting here at Danbury. How wonderful that would be! Alas, the process of getting approval is much more complicated than just placing your name on a list. They mail you a form (Have you ever been arrested? etc.), you mail it back, they review it, then (if approved) mail it back to you & you make a date. If my sentence were longer it would be so worth it, but I'm halfway through, almost. So let's plan on long conversations and many cups of tea after July.
Health services seem pretty good here, tho' many would disagree with me. I got a very thorough check-up and am getting my once-a-month pill plus daily calcium without problems.
All federal inmates are required to complete their GED while in custody (if they don't already have a High School diploma). Not a bad idea. The judge in Georgia did not ask for a PSI (Pre-Sentence Investigation), so they have no information on me and cannot verify my High School diploma. So ... I'll report to the Education department at 7:30am this coming Monday to start a GED program (five days weekly, 7:30 - 9:30).
And then there's my job. With the help of a friend I snagged the job of caring for the outdoor gardens. There are a few perennials scattered here & there about the grounds: hosta, azalea, something that may be daisies of some sort, etc. There is a large box with garden tools: 4 small brooms with no bristles left, 2 small rakes, a watering can & some plastic trash bags. No fertilizer, trowel, shovel, etc (I might make a bomb or kill someone ... ?). Anyway I'm pleased to be out of doors & will do my best.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here & to know some extraordinary women. Many have experienced unspeakable suffering in their lives, others have made devastating decisions; many face very long sentences with courage & determination, some are here for life without possibility of parole. Many others will finish their term, go home, and repeat the same mistakes they made in the past. Think of them often, bless them, hold them in your heart. They have been very kind and generous to me, are indignant that I've been put in prison. "An old lady - excuse me - like you!" "Miss Nancy, you don't belong here!"
Ah, well ... I'll work hard on my GED, sit in the back row & maybe I can help someone who doesn't know where California is on the map.
The mail I continue to receive is still astonishing. At least 5 or 6 pieces a day. Most recently many letters & cards from New York Yearly Meeting Friends. My plan is to respond to you all once I'm home again.
In peace and with many thanks,
Miss Nancy, Outdoor Gardener
18 March '11
A long letter about prison to you pales in comparison with the catastrophe in Japan. It's hard to get daily news or anything more than headlines. I think of my friends in Nipponzan Myoho; their families in Japan, fellow monks & nuns. I pray & chant for you daily, and for us all as the nuclear disaster unfolds.
Palms together, bowing three times,
Nancy Smith is serving a 6-month sentence for trespass for her actions at Ft. Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of the Americas. You can reach Nancy by writing to her at:
NANCY H. SMITH #94641-020
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
DANBURY, CT 06811