by Michael Arnstein
Otisville, Day 20
I like to run, it makes me feel great no matter what is going on in my life.There was about a 2 year period where I had a running streak going - I would run at least 3 miles a day no matter where I was or what else was happening.I had quite a few runs where I found myself running in unusual places, like an airport departure gate at 2 am before getting on a 15 hour flight to Hong Kong; I think people thought I was nuts running in a very small circle over and over again for 30 minutes, I'm lucky they didn't call security on me!So here I am in Otisville Federal Prison and still running in loops, but here I run a lot lot more than 3 miles a day.
I have a saying that I repeat to myself often since I've been in Otisville:
'Health is Wealth and Running is Freedom'.
I really believe this to be true for myself. When I run I am free and I am happy.
I feel great usually within 10-20 minutes, after an hour, I'm totally in my groove, at 2 hours I am unstoppable, it's magic.
Me and the wind just doing our thing..
So here in Otisville there are many inmates attracted to what they see in me.
I eat quite well here for an incarcerated fruitarian (as close to fruitarian as can be with some brown rice included).
I run at least 15 miles every day, most days 20 or more miles. I run twice, sometimes three times a day. When it's cooler temps I don't sweat at all, I just glide around the loop like it's a moving escalator.
When the weather is nicer, a dozen or so guys bring chairs outside, sit in the sun; watch me run in loops for hours.
Most are totally impressed, they tell me constantly. I do enjoy the positive remarks of course, in short time I've become well known here for my game face, athletic discipline.
In the chow hall, all the time, while I'm sitting eating lunch or just reading a newspaper, people just walk, and without a pause in their step, place an apple, a pear, a banana on the table right next to me … and just keep walking; like it was some kind of hand-off, a vote of confidence, a 'keep going – I support you, you give ME hope'.
I'd say 50% of the people here really enjoy seeing me run a lot, many have said they want to start running with me when the winter ends, others talk about the days when they were younger, when they ran a lot. On the sunny, more temperate days of the winter a few of the guys count my laps, they call out to me when I loop past them, it's fun. I run extra laps, try to stay humble, not run too fast, I keep my form and poise. Sometimes I break into a fast hard loop like you'd do if you rented a sports car and just wanted to see how fast it could accelerate in a surge of 'let's see what this thing can do.'
But then there are those here who are burned, they are bitter, they have been in the cage, incarcerated for a very long time, most are old, they are out of time, out of hope. Here in Otisville they sometimes call it a nursing home.. For them, they don't think about the future; they think about the past, what they lost, what they will never have. When they see me, my freedom, my health, unconsciously it is all-wealth they see but cannot have.
They hate me.
This wasn't something that I was aware of until about 3 weeks into my prison tour, and I was made aware of it in a very dramatic way.
It's 9 pm in early February, Camp Otisville was winding down. Most guys are watching TV, playing cards, reading in bed.
Me, I'm heading down the hallway with my reflective-issued-jacket. I'm going out for my 3rd run of the day, nothing major, just 3-4 miles under the stars, all solo outside in my favorite crisp winter air. These beautiful nights of solitude and peace, possibly my most favorite time here in Otisville.
I turn around.
A stocky old guy charging fast – HOT, he was red, red hot, his face usually tired, white and drawn out was at peak nuclear.
'WHAT THE F ARE YOU DOING! WHERE YOU GOING!!!?'
'NOOO MORE F'ING RUNNING!!!'
I'm stunned, but instincts take over instantly; my eyes go into high-beam, they close slightly, tunnel-energy-vision.
A narrow focus where surrounding light goes dark, you only see what is directly in front.
Fight or flight is being decided in micro seconds.
My body places its bet, we hope he's just bluffing, if it's the case, he's good at it, he rushes right up to my face.
I don't take a step forward or back, I stand tall, my ground. Game face.
Mind and body says, show me what you need to show me old man – but it better be worth it to you.
My feet aren't moving; nor am I going to make a defensive first strike.
I wait to see how much bark vs bite is in this guy.
He is spitting in my face as he screams at the top of his lungs, he looks as if he might have a heart attack and drop dead right there in the hallway.
Everyone in every room in the submarine empties out into the hall way instantly to see what's going on.
It's full court action.
I continue to stand my ground as he howls and stamps his fists and feet in a temper tantrum of utter frustrations. His boiler has been building pressure for a long time it seems. Seeing me spread my wings over and over again high outside these prison walls that he can't leave, he's furious, totally losing it.
'NO MORE RUNNING!'
'YOU FUCK, YOU FUCK, YOU'RE GOING TO GET US ALL IN TROUBLE'
I bet right, he's not going to hit me, but he's madder than hell.
I respond in a monotone voice, clear and direct without fear,
"You better calm down"
He keeps screaming, many of the guys in the hallway have moved in close, they're yelling at him to calm down.
One huge brother pulls back on his shoulder yelling at him to shut his mouth. The guy shakes him off, pushes back right up into my face again.
I say in clear terms:
"Don't touch me" – I am not going to move.
This guy is about to make his life a hell of a lot worse. If a CO were to see what he just did; he'd surely go to the SHU (solitary confinement housing unit), and he'd probably get thrown out of the Camp for good.
I find out later he's been in prison for over 10 years; he's damaged without question.
I do feel sorry for him, he's old, he's a shadow of a person, it's very sad.
He doesn't touch me but he puts all his rage into a chair that's in the hallway. He picks it up and throws against the wall.
After that to my surprise there is a big rally to my aid from nearly everyone, specifically the one massive muscular black inmate who raises his voice with thunder at the older guy,
'You better shut the f up right now, you can't talk to him like that! Shut the f up!'.
It was the referee ending the match, and although the older guy was piping red hot, and couldn't seem to calm down he was clearly out of line and outnumbered, he kept yelling but was on his way down the hallway in submission.
I pivot to the 300 pound hulk and say 'thank you, thank you, but please please – do not put yourself at any risk on my behalf, I don't want to see you get in any trouble. I can handle it myself, I'm sorry to make problems.'
He replies "F that guy, he can't talk like that to anyone here, you can run all you damn want, f him, f him".
Everyone seems to slowly dissolve back into their rooms to whatever they were doing.
A few Jews come to my aid, they are really worried, and ask me if I'm ok over and over again, they want to comfort me.
They soon see that I am really ok.
I almost savor the experience, another new act in the drama of it all.
I am not timid or changed from it, but I did learn a clear lesson, a reminder of gratitude and awareness.
I estimate about 10% of the inmates here are depressed and angered when they see me run; and 5% of those are without question wishing bad things for me. I don't begrudge them, it is very understandable.
I'm here on a tourist visa relatively speaking. On top of that, I get all the apples, I run all day, I am young, healthy, they probably heard I have an apt in midtown, my presence to them is worse than the perimeter boundaries that they cannot cross here in Otisville.
My running in Otisville is the BMV, the gated community, the guy with the pretty young woman holding my arm, things they will never have, I'm sad for them to see.
But I, I need to run, it is how I survive my own demons and maintain my faith in all things possible.
I run for joy.
Most of the other inmates see this, they want this for themselves, they still have a spark within them, but the 10%, for them the light is out.
I will not wear my reflective vest in the hallways; I will try harder to run in a more hidden way, but largely it won't be possible to stay out of sight. I will carry the torch for the others and myself but with even more gratitude than before.
And now it's time to head out for my evening run. ᐧ
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