Jun 29, 2011

Ski At Your Own Risk: A Lifer Recalls Old School Prison Recreation

I met Mr. X at Coxsackie during my first trip there  one year ago with NY States's County Reentry Task Force Initiative. He has now been incarcerated for over 31 years.

Over the last year, he has been consistently corresponding with me at the Task Force (you can read his first letter here) and agreed to be interviewed for the blog.  Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing parts of his interview.

In this excerpt, Mr. X responded to my question about the changes he has seen over the past 30 years in Correctional Facilities.  Here is his response:

In Clinton, inmates use to go skiing, I couldn’t believe it.  Guys from the ghetto who never went skiing in their life, all of a sudden they are in Clinton with big skis on their two feet; skiing down a hill in Clinton.  The skis they gave the inmates didn’t have the ski poles.  You just had the skis on your feet.  You had to balance yourself without the two poles.  I used to laugh as the inmates came flying down the hill and they would fall, some broke their legs, and but they had waived their ability to file a law suit.  You got on the skis at your own risk.  The prison wasn’t liable if you hurt yourself.  I never got on the skis. Also they had real ice skates and made an ice skating ring. I did get on the ice skates to try it out; it was fun even though I fell a few times.  Elmira had a swimming pool for inmates back then. Also I remember in Attica back in 1981 most first timers there had fish tanks inside of their cell, I had a fish tank with real fish. That no longer exists. I remember in Auburn prison the commissary use to sell food items in glass jars; we use to make glass paintings. 

Elmira also had a lot of booty bandits.  Back then everybody basically resolved all their disputes by fist fighting, not too many fights with knives and razors.  Our families used to be able to cook you some chicken at home and bring it to you.  They stopped that after somebody tried to conceal contraband hidden inside their home cooked chicken.  They always had one inmate to a cell, now on each gallery the first 3 or 4 cells are double bunk.  Two men to a tiny cell.

  As for phone calls, the officers used to make them for us.  He’d dial the phone number for and he would tell you,” You got 7 to 10 minutes.”   Today inmates can talk on the phone for 30 minutes straight, they can also call back if nobody is waiting to go next.  They used to have free college for all inmates and other helpful educational programs.  Now there is no college and there is a very limited amount of educational programs.  If you get a misbehavior report you must pay $5.00 for each ticket you get, back then when I first got to prison if you get a misbehavior report (ticket) you didn’t have to pay. I could go on and on about the changes (I will save all of that and much more when I write a book. Hopefully someone out there  can help me put the book together.)