by Michael Arnstein
Otisville Prison Camp Day 1 – Part 3
I've been in the submarine for about 8 minutes so far; but now I'm outside again. My brain is still backlogged, trying to catch up with the tsunami of information I just experienced, analysis, revalidating, compartmentalizing and storing for later use. It might have only been about 8 minutes, but felt feels like 3 days of content to burnish and now clear my disk drive quickly for what's to come next.
We go out the door that I had just come in moments ago, a big gush of frigid dramatic wind blows in my face, my head goes down, eyes closed tight, the vacuum blow ends and I look up all around to scan the new directional vantage point. The great big evergreen trees are blowing hard, there are dark clouds moving fast across the sky, the day is coming to a close, light starts to dim in the 4pm winter sky. I knew the weather forecast from earlier in the day that it's going to snow tonight, at least a foot, it's coming, I can feel it in my bones. My Winter soul is awakened to the maximum, I am enthralled. I instinctively take deep powerful breaths, through my nose with pierced eyes, I exhale as my chest decompresses in sync with my slow but large beating heart. I am a snow leopard in the tundra. The arctic air, the winds, all coming to welcome me, I have no fear whatsoever, I am being recharged, reset, reassigned in every way.
I've always been obsessed with weather, especially cold weather, it's part of me since my birth, then reaffirmed many times throughout my life. Mountains, snow, survival, it is the flint stone that created My Heart Beat.
I was born January 15th during a huge blizzard snowstorm almost exactly 42 years ago on the day I arrived at Otisville. That day of my birth, the energy passing when I came into this life seems to have never left who I am, and the force that I can tap into. Like special powers that a superhero would have in a fantasy movie, I recharge in my winter-soul-season.
When I was a young boy, during the winter months I would watch and wait by the window, looking, waiting in ernest. My internal spirit-scanning-transmitter, a next-dimensional radio frequency that hasn't been discovered by science yet, but I know it exists needed the snow, cold temperatures to recharge and reconnect. For me, snow flakes falling from the sky is the most perfect – the most beautiful – the most comforting.
When I was 13 years old I was utterly lost after wandering off a trail high up in the deep winter forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it is another story to tell, for another time. In short, it was my first ultra endurance 'race' to survive. It had a searing, a branding, a never-forget that experience effect on me. I've essentially trained and continue to train since that time to always be able to survive, hold-the-will not to give up. I push me to always engage my physical body to stay as fit as posible; I have such a deep desire to run in this moment. Not to escape this place but to embrace it, to celebrate my homecoming to the deep winter woods.
I've missed 6 years of winter since moving to Hawaii in 2013. Sure the tropics are another side of the ying and yang, I do love climbing coconut trees, the sunshine on my face, tropical breeze, it too is my friend, a true love as well, but that is not now. I have longed. Longed to return to a true winter home, I welcome every moment.
I wrap my jacket around myself tightly, I need to keep warm, my instincts are lit up like a bright led Christmas tree I just saw in Rockefeller center a few weeks ago. We walk the 40 seconds between buildings, no one talks, heads down, wind blowing strong, the temperature is in the low 20's with windchill much lower. I can't get enough. Let's get to bunk 52, dump my stuff, find some running clothes and get outside to tap into forces of my-nature. Nothing else matters to me anymore. Where is the snow! I'm HERE!
The four of us reach the entrance to the other building, the double wide brown boring utility doors; they open one of the doors for me; they're all glad to get inside like they just went through being in a cold shower experience, me; I just want to get back outside in with my tree blowing winter winds. These guys keep talking as we walk down a straight-line single hallway, it feels like I'm in a high school for a moment, classroom on the left, classroom on the right, beige linoleum square-tile flooring, chipped corners here and there. The ceiling is made up of white foam boards, also square, some water stains, yea, it's a high school… (funny how this is a prison and reminds me of high school!); anyway, we keep walking, my guides point out the computer room, the bathroom, the library, the counselor's office, the lounge, the visiting room, wait… am I really back in high school??
We get to the end of the hallway, there's a door on the left, a door on the right; a sign on the door says
'dormatories, no visitors beyond this point'.
They open the door, as if a curtain is opening to the next theater scene of this remarkable experience.
I take the next step into another man-cave, it's dimly lighted, one of the florescent bulbs flickering, it's about to die. The florescent light has been there for 10 years – a life sentence. It's like the bulb knew I was coming, trying to stay alive just long enough to show me it wouldn't give up until the very last drop. I nod a thank you and let the light know it can go out now when it wants.
There are bunk beds stacked in warehouse-like configuration, utility, utility utility, this is housing. Period.
Grey steel lockers stand in attention next to the grey cold metal tubed construction of these horizontal sleeping apparatus. Some older guys lay in their bunks, some dressed in grey sweat suits, like a MASH triage unit, they lay in silent moaning, weeks, months, years on their souls, I can see they are the downtrodden and sad cases in Otisville; I will not be one of them, this I am sure.
Above the bunks there are numbers, 48,49,50,51, Fifty-Two, here is my compartment, my zone, my-space while inside the sub. I will sleep here while we navigate the evening waters waiting for our next mission assignment. I open my steel locker, the handle is kind of broken, but with quick analysis I see I can fix this, I like to fix things, it's added to the internal to-do list.
The guys showing me around are now introducing me to a few of the other bunk mates, 'Hey V, we got a new one for ya'
A well built, 50's-ish aged black man pivots from his seated position of his lower bunk, turns to me, stands up; he's now about 6ft 2''. I reach out my hand, "My name is Mike, nice to meet you sir". 'Sir, you don't gotta say no sir to me man; you save that for the CO's, my name is Valon, you can call me V'. "Ok, got it V, I hope to be a good bunk mate."
V nods his head, seems like he's spent any aggression or anger many years ago at this point in his life and seems to be a relaxed guy. I later learn V was here for marijania, lots of it, about 200 pounds. He got 20 years, been locked up for 13.
I'm then introduced to Dymitry, Russian guy from Brooklyn, here for 5 years for health care fraud, seems like he's still angry about things, but then it's hard to tell; Russians are often hard people, most Russians seem to be kind of angry, so maybe he's fine, I don't know, I'll figure him out eventually…
Another guy walks in the dorm room, it's like I'm in a sitcom tv show, the next guy is right on cue. Murph is an older black guy, has a hat on, grey sweat suit and a water bottle, a towel over his shoulder, looks like he just came from the gym. Very friendly, with a southern accent says hello with a lot of welcome, happy, we're going to have a good time here. "Nice to meet you Murph, glad to be here in Otisville, I hear it's a good place to be if you gotta be locked up". 'Oh yea, Otisville is good man, this place is like a nursing home, you'll be fine, let me know if you need anything.'
There's some other guys in the room, they're speaking spanish, in some heated discussion, I let them do their thing and I keep cuing my guides that I'm ready for them to continue the tour, what's next. They say I need more beding, a pillow, proper jacket size, shoes/boots, say I have to get over to the warehouse as priority with the snow storm coming and get what I need. They put my bedroll on my bed, they start to walk me back out of the mancave dorm room.
20 beds in this dorm room, all being used.
Across the hall there is another dorm room with 8 beds.
Together these 28 men share 1 shower, and 2 johns (bathrooms)
Seems like there are going to be some downsides to prison at this point, but surprisingly it works well.
The 3 guys that have been showing me around are all jewish it seems, one of them has a yamika on, his name is Micky, he's the gabi, which is essentially an usher in a jewish temple. When we walk down the hall we pass the chapel/shul room, they open the door quickly, explain that they have prayers 3 times a day, I let them know I'm mildly conservative and running is my temple, but that I will be involved for morning prayers/meditation on a regular basis. I scan the room quickly, it's full of hebrew books, a tall metal filing cabinet is in the center/back wall of the room, partially draped in a hebrew curtain, I heard there's a full torah here, must be there. It's quite impressive to me that they have this level of facility in what is supposed to be a Federal Prison.
We walk down the hall back to the drab brown double doors, they clank a sound when you push them open like you'd have exiting a high school gymnasium. Again the artic wind rush hits me, I breath deep, I'm enthrawled once again with the dramatic reminder of what awaits me outside in my element.
One guy points to a brown and steel warehouse like building with truck docking platforms about 1/8 of a mile away, says 'go there, tell them you're new and you need 'everything', they'll help you out. Rush, you don't want to miss dinner'.
I rebrace my massive jacket around myself and run shuffle down a concrete pathway to the warehouse where I apparently need 'everything'. So far so good. So far so good…
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