This is the view from our house. That’s the sun setting behind the Morro Bay Rock. If it’s too cold to be outside on the deck, you can sit inside the sun room and look out the glass and have the same view. I love that I can see the ocean and the waves crashing on the jetty. At night, the barking of the sea lions and the blasts of foghorns travel up the hill and through our windows. It’s a great spot to sit and knit or crochet, or just gaze, and be.
I know, I know. Almost a month into this blog, and no pictures of anything crocheted yet. So I present to you:
(Click on any of the images to enlarge.)
A bit of a corner detail:
And another corner:
So pretty, right? So nice and neat and perfectly aligned.
But, ah, this afghan holds a secret.
Behold the back view:
Auugggghhhh!!!!! Unwoven ends!!!!!
Look, even closer:
Yes. It’s shameful. All those loose ends need to be cleaned up. I started and got some of them done. But it’s just not fun, man. I’d rather be doing something else.
Anyway, there’s an easy solution.
It’s like when Sean was a little boy and he and his family went out to eat, and he made a big mess and got spaghetti sauce all over himself, and then later on, after they left the restaurant, his mom happened to glance over at him and noticed his white shirt was spotless, and she said, “How did your shirt get so clean?” and he said, “Oh, I just turned it around, see?” and then he turned around to show her his back, and sure enough, there was the dirty spaghetti sauce part of his shirt, just on the other side.
So, yeah, like that.
My caseload is comprised of men who were convicted of criminal offenses and then sentenced to prison. Off the top of my head, here is a list of some of those crimes: first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon with force to inflict great bodily injury, mayhem, rape, forced oral copulation, lewd and lascivious with child under 14, robbery, burglary, DUI, possession of a controlled substance, transportation and sales of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm by an ex-felon, pandering, evading, aiding and abetting, receiving stolen property, grand theft auto, petty theft, and terrorist threats. These are just the ones that first come to mind; I know I’m forgetting others. Oh, and a lot of these guys are either active or ex-gang members.
I think you have to have certain qualities in order to effectively interact with this particular population. I grew up in a household with four brothers and no sisters, and I tend to have a bit of the criminal mindset myself. I cuss like a sailor, and sometimes I just got no time for your bullshit.
Back in 2011, I had to complete an initial intake interview with a new arrival who was clearly having a bad day. He was rude and snarky in his responses, and even though I was trying very hard to maintain professionalism, I really wasn’t in the mood to put up with him. So I said, “You know what? Clearly this is not a good time for you. I’m going to end this interview, and you can come back another time. I’ll reschedule you.”
I watched the surprise take over his face, and then he was contrite. He said, “I’m sorry. I’m being a jerk. No, let’s start over. It’s just been a really hard week for me. I got some bad news the other day.”
Sometimes I don’t filter the words that come out of my mouth, and this was one of those times. I said exactly what was on my mind. “Okay. So you’re not usually an asshole.”
I bring up that story because that same guy had an appointment with me this afternoon. Now, we have a really good rapport. During our session today, he brought up the first time he came to my office and asked me if I remembered that incident.
“I’m going to tell you something, Doc,” he said. “I’ve had so much more respect for you ever since then. You called me out on my shit.”
I was glad to hear that. Because sometimes it is a pretty risky intervention to call a convicted felon an asshole.
P.S. Don’t worry. It was only that one time.
That I can remember.
“Happy New Year!” I greeted Mr. Y, a patient who I hadn’t seen since around Thanksgiving. “How was your Christmas?”
“It was fine, it was good,” he said. He gave me an update on his recent activities and we talked for a little bit. He was in the 12-Step Program and participated in a bible study group. While the 12-Step Program was facilitated by one of the psychologists in our mental health program, the bible study group was coordinated among the inmates.
“We took up a collection for Christmas,” he said.
“A collection?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
Then he explained that last month, he and the rest of the bible study group pooled their resources including their work pay (15 to 90 cents an hour, depending on their job assignment) for a total of a few hundred dollars. Then they went to canteen and purchased canned soups, ramen noodles, deodorant, soap, toothpaste, and other basic necessities. They identified indigent inmates who didn’t have jobs or family support, and on Christmas day, the bible study group went out on the yard and started handing out packages to their selected recipients.
“Wow,” I said, impressed. “That was very thoughtful of you guys. What a kind and generous thing to do.”
“Guess what happened next,” Mr. Y said.
“The whole yard got wind of it, and everyone came looking for a handout,” I guessed.
“Yep. We started getting all these guys—‘We heard there was free stuff. Can I get some soup?’ And we talking guys with jobs and money on the books.” Mr. Y shook his head. “And then the police come over and tell us we gotta break it up, ‘cause we got too big a crowd.”
“That’s a shame,” I said, shaking my head too. “But I guess that’s how it is. You’re in a prison, so you’re gonna get those kinds of guys, looking to take advantage.”
“What’s that expression?” Mr. Y took a moment to search his memory. “That’s right. ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ ”
Even though I’m in the process of finishing this sock and in the middle of knitting a yet-to-be-photographed sweater, I got bored and decided to start a new project. I looked at the yarn stash and picked out this pink yarn, mostly because it’s a self-striping yarn and I’m into the self-striping thing right now. I like how you can just keep knitting and the yarn does all the work for you, so that the next thing you know, you’ve got a lovely knitted thing that’s changed colors and patterns all on its own.
A few years ago, I took a knitting class in designing your own top-down sweater. It’s not a very complicated process. The first thing you need to do is determine how many stitches you are knitting per inch. I used to be a lazy knitter who guesstimated and never bothered to knit a preliminary gauge swatch, but I learned my lesson soon enough. Nothing says “You should have knit a gauge swatch” like a too baggy sweater that you spent three months knitting and looking forward to wearing.
Anyway, so today I knit a gauge swatch, and I did it in the round so that I’d have a more accurate stitch count, since I plan to knit a pull-over top-down sweater that I’ll be designing as I go. I don’t have any interesting or funny stories to tell for today, particularly since my broken wing sock model headed back to Ventura this morning. But some days it’s just like that: all I do is sit around and knit and try to relax, because I know the minute I get back to work, I’ll be wishing that I could be at home sitting and knitting, even if it is just a gauge swatch.
Remember this fabric I purchased the day I was dismissed from jury duty? I made them into cocktail napkins!
Back in November, I took a napkin sewing class at Picking Daisies and learned how to sew fabric napkins with mitered corners. It was on a Saturday afternoon, and Sean drove out to meet me for lunch. He came into the classroom at the back of the shop just as I was finishing the second napkin.
“Look, Sean!” I held up the square of fabric to show him the neatly hemmed edges and mitered corners. “Check it out.”
He reached for the napkin and grinned. “How did you know? I was just feeling like I had to sneeze.”
We went to lunch, and you can guess who picked up the tab.
* * *
On a separate note, today’s adventure involved driving out to Los Osos to look for the County’s community toilet recycling center, to dispose of the old toilet that Sean replaced yesterday.
Here is a photo of Old Broken Wing, posing for the blog at my request. The broken elbow didn’t need to be set in a cast because it wasn’t a displaced bone, but he is supposed to be wearing a sling on that right arm. Then again, he is supposed to be resting that arm, and not doing things like changing out old toilets and lugging them to recycling centers.
Our house, which we bought in 2012, was built in 1983. It has three bathrooms, which is nice, but none of the toilets are the low-flow kind, which is not as nice, because that means a higher water bill every month. A few days after we had moved into the house, Sean started talking about switching out the old toilets for new low-flow ones. I was on board because it would mean conserving water and a lower monthly utility bill. But he never got around to doing it. A couple of years passed, and then the subject came up again this morning.
“I’m thinking about replacing at least one of the toilets today. I might go to Ace Hardware and see if I can lift one,” old Broken Wing said. “But what would I do with the old toilet?”
“Call the Habitat for Humanity Restore,” I suggested. “Maybe they take old toilets.”
He looked up the local Restore’s phone number and called. The answer was no, they only accepted low-flow toilets.
He set the phone down and looked out the window at our back yard. “Well, you know what that means.”
I knew where this conversation was heading. We’d had this talk before.
“No,” I said. “Absolutely not. We are not going to have a toilet bowl planter in the back yard.”
“Okay, then. So that’s a yes on a toilet bowl planter in the front yard. Even better.”
I kept on knitting and let that one go. I wasn’t about to stop the installation of a brand new water-conserving toilet that would save me a few dollars on my utility bill.
I don’t think he’s really serious about the toilet bowl planter, but then again, you never know. This is a guy who, after that conversation, went to the hardware store, purchased a modern low-flow toilet, brought it home without any assistance, removed the old one, lugged it outside, and installed the new one himself, all with a broken elbow and essentially with the use of one hand.
I don’t have any photos of a handmade project today, because by the time I remembered to take a picture, the sun was setting. So instead I am sharing a photo that I took earlier this week, on Monday, my regular day off. You can click the image to enlarge, and you can see a few things that I’ve written about already. There’s the fish hat that I knitted, and the jars of iced tea instead of soda, and my first quilted placemat, and the people’s favorite, the Mexican wrestling masks placemat. There’s a pile of fabric waiting to be made into something, maybe another patchwork block table runner. And of course, there’s Sean, who didn’t know I took this photo, because otherwise he would have made a goofy face at the camera. I like this photo because it captures a lot about the way we spend our time inside the house– relaxing, hanging out, engaged in leisure activity– and definitely not cleaning up.
It’s usually never a good sign when a correctional officer shows up at your office with a mental health referral slip in his hand and an apologetic look on his face, just when you’re about to eat your lunch.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said. “But I’ve got an inmate outside who I think may need to be seen.” The C.O. then went on to explain that he noticed this particular inmate (a twenty-year-old who happened to be on my caseload) trying to leave the yard in sweats and no ducat. The facility policy is that all inmates leaving the yard must be appropriately dressed in their state-issued blue pants and blue shirts that clearly designate their status from the rest of the staff. Additionally, they should have a ducat or pass indicating that they are due for an appointment or some sort of work or school assignment. This particular inmate had no paperwork to prove that he was supposed to be anywhere, and he acted lost and confused when the C.O. questioned him.
I was familiar with this kid through previous encounters. Even though he was twenty years old, he had a history of impulsive behaviors and the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old. Hell, even my nine-year-old nephew had better insight and judgment.
“Bring him in,” I said, putting my lunch bag away and cursing the poor timing of events.
The youngster was escorted in and left alone with me. I got right to the point. “What’s going on? The C.O. told me you were trying to leave the yard and go out into the plaza.”
“Aww, I’m just tired. Tired of being in prison. I just want to get out.”
“So you were trying to leave?”
He didn’t answer, but everything about his demeanor said yes, that’s exactly what he’d been trying to do. I asked him a few more questions, and he was vague with his answers. I also noticed a few little things about his mannerisms that made me suspect he’d been using drugs, and not any that were officially prescribed to him. My gut feeling told me that he needed to be referred to the crisis bed, officially known as the Correctional Treatment Center, which is basically the prison’s inpatient psychiatric hospital.
I explained to him that I had some concerns and would have him evaluated by somebody from the CTC. I had him wait on the bench outside the sergeant’s office. I let the sergeant know what was going on, and then I called the crisis screener. She showed up in about fifteen minutes.
“What’s the crisis? Is he saying he’s going to hurt himself?”
“No,” I said. “He’s denying it, but I think he’s minimizing his symptoms.” I explained that he had tried to leave the yard and seemed to have a plan to walk out of the prison.
“So? It’s not like he would have gone anywhere. They would have stopped him.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but he doesn’t seem to care what happens to him. It’s like that suicide-by-cop mentality.”
She said a few more things that gave me the feeling that she didn’t trust my judgment or believe that this situation warranted an admission into the crisis bed. But she went off to interview him, and I went back to my office. Half an hour later, I had to go to the sergeant’s office on unrelated business and ran into her. She was finishing up her paperwork.
“I’m having him admitted,” she said, “and I’m ordering a drug screen. I’d be surprised if it turns out that he’s not on drugs. But he’s not safe to go back to the yard.”
I wanted to say, “Of course! I told you so!” But I didn’t, even though she’d been so dismissive of me earlier. Instead, I took comfort in the knowledge that I was right and anyway, what was most important was that this kid would be getting the help that he needed.
I hadn’t been inside the prison since last week Wednesday, so when I returned to my office this morning, it was with some dread. The thing about being gone for a week is that the work just accumulates until I get back. There are always emails to answer, phone calls to return, and inmate requests to triage. The inmate requests are usually placed in business envelopes and delivered to my mailbox. Because they’ve led to bad experiences in the past, I am now averse to opening these envelopes. Naturally, having been gone a week, I returned to find one of those business envelopes addressed to me and sitting in my mailbox.
In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about Mr. X. He was what we call a Third-Strike Lifer. In 1998, he’d been “struck out” under the California Three Strikes Law and sentenced to 27 years to life for possession of a controlled substance. In 2012, the majority of voters in California voted in favor of Proposition 36, allowing the Three Strikes Law to be revised so that a life sentence can only be imposed when the new felony conviction is a serious or violent offense. Under Prop 36, Mr. X became eligible for re-sentencing. He had already been incarcerated for over 17 years. The court finally reviewed his case this year, and last Friday he was released from prison.
I opened that business envelope addressed to me and discovered that it was a letter from Mr. X, sending a “note of gratitude.” He wrote, “I hope to be able to do good by you and everyone else who has helped me along the way.” This is an individual who was going to serve a minimum of 27 years in prison for possession of a controlled substance before he would be eligible for a suitability hearing with the parole board, if not for Prop 36. I know a lot of people believe that there is no point to voting, but know that it can make a difference. It did for this man.