If you would like to respond to Frederick Mason, you may contact him at this address:
Frederick Mason 55487-056
PO Box 24550
Tuscon AZ 85734
On July 1st, 2013, California inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison ignited a hunger strike to call attention to the inhumane conditions in the state’s Security Housing Units (SHUs). At the height of the hunger strike, July 8th 2013, two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons and 4 out-of-state prisons participated: 30,000 inmates refused meals; 2,300 refused work and school assignments. On September 5th, 2013, the strike ended. The plea to stop torture in the isolation units resulted in 4 inmate deaths: Johnny Owen Vick, Hozel Alanzo Blanchard, Christian Gomez, Billy Seal. What was it that brought US Senators, California legislators, advocates, inmates, lawyers to the bargaining table? How in tune are you to the term “psychological torture”? Not your ordinary run-of-the-mill torture, but state-sanctioned, Governor-approved, guard-enforced, prison officials’ hands-on torture?
Mind Games in Our Family
Humans, being creatures of high intellect (there are always exceptions to such generalities), are prone to mind games, whether as assailant or victim. In our Prisoner Express family mind games are unusual, but name calling is such a game played by those lacking the ability to defend their positions intelligently. We all know the types. They’re the ones that think yelling loud and long proves they won an argument and never listen to what anyone else has to say.
It was my honor tonight to read seven letters that were written in reply to my essay, “Standing Positive” and request within it for PE members to give their opinions on censorship of materials that Gary is to mail into prisons. It was written to inform all that I was urging Gary to use caution in what he mailed into prisoners. I was willing to be censored to protect PE. I still am.
Due to my vocation I may be more aware of the position taken by the Texas prison bureaucracy. When copies of my writings are returned to me through the mail they are often denied due to content. These are the same copies I mailed out of the prison only weeks before. The only difference is their being multiplied in the process. Naming prison gangs is a sure way to draw attention, even if you are against all gang activity and state that position. As an individual I can afford scrutiny. PE cannot because PE is dependent on the continual approval of officials for access to prisoners. I also provide books to all prisoners that live in my general area at no cost. That’s in violation of TDCJ rules and regulations and make me have to work within the system, greasing the wheels with respect, courtesy, and kindness, so they never question the amount of books I’m getting in by mail when we have a two cubic foot restriction on the amount of property we are allowed. My distribution operation couldn’t operate without the assistance of officials and many prisoners wouldn’t have reading materials. I’m willing to play the mind games necessary to be allowed to help my fellow prisoners. One thing is guaranteed, we all have to play games to continue our projects and if PE ever gives them a reason they will find their access denied.
Four of the letters were supporting my position. You touched my heart that you were willing to take the time and you each wrote wonderfully. I thank you. We all know it isn’t human nature to write about what you agree with. We humans are more likely to write when we want to voice dissent. The vote was in favor of a little censoring of the minority that misuses PE, by accident or intent, to protect this valuable resource for the majority that really appreciates it.
One person of the three dissenting chose to resort to name calling, maybe he thought to use this mind game to make me ashamed of my position. He said I couldn’t support the 1st Amendment and censorship of a prisoner’s writings to PE. It is not Gary or myself that want to see writings’ censored. Nothing stops you from saying what you wish and mailing it to PE. PE just can’t be responsible for your advocating violence or gang activities. PE must obey the rules and regulations of all prisons or take a chance of being banned after they are labeled a threat to security. Each person’s thoughts are valuable and I support your right to voice them, but I refuse to jeopardize PE to give you a venue to recruit and advocate what is anathema to the goals of Prisoner Express. Yes, there is a goal and PE does have a right to an opinion. PE advocates finding other options to violence through educational opportunities and providing intellectual and artistic outlets for prisoners. They give each member emotional support for their positive goals. Though PE would be willing, if not for prison rules, to allow the most stridently aggressive voice to be heard, it does not agree with violence or any behavior that causes harm. PE is an organization that attempts to promote emotional growth and nonviolent options. Anyone that wants an audience for a violent screed can find one, probably the cell next door. Think of the postage you’d save.
Many of the rules in prison are for the sole purpose of playing games with our minds. I find it in my best interest to work around them and avoid confrontation when that is possible, such as with my book distribution. One of their worst psychological tactics is to convince prisoners that there is no escape from violence in prison. In part, they are right; but because our environment requires violence to survive does not mean we cannot strive to live in peace. The minutes of failure mean nothing when you compare them to years of success.
To each of you that gave your time and made the effort to voice your opinions, I thank you. Know that I read every word, whether you were with me or against me I value your opinions. It was my idea that we come together, as a group (a family if you will), and make this decision democratically. Counting myself and Gary we have nine votes to tally, six in support of limited censorship and three against. If you didn’t vote by taking part in our discussion you have no right to complain about the outcome and shame on you. But I hope that our decision suits you.
If you look at this logically you’ll see we really have no choice except to comply with all institutional rules if PE is to continue to be the open, vibrant and valuable resource Prisoners need to work together in uplifting, educating, and rehabilitating themselves and each other. As a family of very different individuals disagreements are sure to arise about the direction PE should follow. Gary will always have the right of veto, he pays the bills and does the lion’s share of the work to keep PE going. More discussions of this sort may be required disagreement is normal in relationships of this kind. Mind games, especially name calling, are never the best way to resolve differences. I am fully aware of my ability to be a jackass at times. Reminders are unnecessary. To compare me to Bush was a low blow and I have a couple of friends reading this that need to stop laughing. As with any family that is emotionally healthy, I forgive you and hope you will forgive me. It was never my intent to anger anyone, only to protect PE from misuse.
Walk in peace and remember, Prisoner Express members are a rare breed. We should try to set good examples when we can. We are also human, prone to mind games that often fail. The only people who never fail are people that never try. Count the years in peace, not the minutes in violence.
The Ultimate Mind Game
Sitting in a tiny cell and listening to the man next door talking to angels and laughing with god has convinced me that the bible is the most dangerous book and religion a mind game extraordinaire. A warning label should be required on all bibles: “Do not Read in Solitary Conditions or Prior to Psychological Evaluation.”
Christians (being raised Christian I have experiences to go by) get upset if you mention the foibles of heir religious brethren. Can you name another religion where members hear the voice of god tell them to do outrageously stupid things so often? Raping their own and other people’s children, killing the innocent, refusing life saving medical treatment and cutting off their own sex organs are the most regularly and historically attributed to Christians that claim to be acting in the name of god. There are sects that practice the mortification of the flesh through cruel flagellation to subdue their sinful natures. Christians always blame the devil and a lack of faith. I blame the bible and a lack of brains.
Still, every Christian you meet is sure you should convert to their flavor of religion and be saved. In my opinion, handing some people a bible is like giving a child whiskey, drugs, and a loaded gun to play with. It’s criminal negligence. They’re sure to hurt themselves and possibly others as well.
Couldn’t we at least require a psychological test to evaluate a person’s mental stability and licensing before we let them join a church or carry a personal bible? That would protect us all from the outcome when a nuts gets religion. You have to have license to drive a car or carry a handgun concealed. Bibles and religion are much more dangerous. Big-time televangelists aren’t immune to long term contamination. Religion is toxic. It should be monitored like hazardous waste.
Remember when Oral Roberts told his congregation that god had told Oral he had to raise a million dollars or god would kill him? Okay, I admit that was pretty smart, he got lots of money, but think how many crazies sent those checks, one was my grandmother. Maybe it was just my perverse sense of human, but I really hoped he’d fall short so I could see what would happen. I went to Mama Claudie’s to watch Oral preach for weeks on Sunday morning. If he got struck by a bolt of lightning…Boom! I’m a believer for life. He claimed to have got the money. Would he admitted it if he hadn’t?
Pat Robertson’s call for Hugo Chavez’s assassination was surely insane, as was his statements concerning Hurricane Katrina being sent by god to punish sinners on the Gulf Coast. What about the Christians that got punished in the process? They all start to come unwound, though this one might not have been wrapped too tight to start with.
Religion is designed to manipulate a person’s natural inclinations and destroy their free will, which is supposedly a gift from god. It’s contradictory to say god gave us free will and then tell us we are going to burn in a lake of fire unless we worship god in perfect obedience. God didn’t write the bible. Men did. Jesus left no written record. Men put words in his mouth later that suited their ulterior motives. All religions are created by men to control the masses and create an elite class of priests that never have to work and live richly on the gifts of the poor. Christianity is the ultimate mind game and always will be. Unless we all wise up and quit sending in those checks, but that’ll never happen as long as fear of burning for eternity is beaten into every new generation.
Ohhh you sneaky snake, you did it! They said it couldn’t be done, but you did it! Hee-he-hee, you did it! They said it was impossible, but you, you’ve proven them all wrong! Oh my, what a marvelous feat! Simply marvelous! I alone saw it! I alone know! Tee-hee!
“Quiet Sam,” said the man that is not Sam.
Oh, yes-yes, shhh, no one must know. Your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell a soul. No-no-no! My lips are sealed! Tightly shut they shall remain! Oh but how you must feel. So sly. So sharp. Sheer genius I must say. You did it, and got away! I may not have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. And here you stand beside me. What a—
“Quiet Sam,” said the man that is not Sam.
Why-why yes, you’re quite right. Someone may be listening or lurking about. Oh but wait! What if, what if someone else saw? Wha-wha-what if, what if someone else already knows? Why, I-I-I’d be just as guilty, just as guilty as you! Oh me oh my what will I do? What-what will—
“Quiet Sam,” said the man that is not Sam.
Yes-yes, of course! We mustn’t panic. We mustn’t give ourselves away. We must remain calm, cunning, conniving, at the very least! We must stick together! We must—officer! Officer! That’s him! He’s the one you seek! He’s done it! I can tell you all you need to know!!
There he is officer! That’s the man!
Sam hid behind the officer while urging and nudging him forward.
Take him in officer! He’s guilty, guilty as sin! He must be punished! Punished I say! Take him! Take him away!
“Quiet Sam,” said the man that is not Sam.
The officer looked at the man then looked at Sam, puzzled at both and with an irritated look simply said “listen to the man Sam,” and walked out of sight. Sam’s eyes widened as he gasped and went to stand by the man that is not Sam.
Ohhh you clever clever man! You did it again! That was a close one! He almost found us out! But we outwitted him, outwitted him indeed. Brilliant! Brilliant! How crafty are we! How—
“Quiet SAM!!!” shouted the man that is not Sam.
Sam was quiet for all of four seconds, but a second after the fourth came a grin and a smirk as he looked to the man that is not Sam and whispered, “You did it. You did it and got away with it too. You…”
Everyone has heard of “A.A.” Me, I became a member of N.A. Drugs was my downfall. All makes, all kinds. Of course I had to wash it all down with alcohol. I guess that’s why I had to make a few of those A.A. meetings also.
But when it came down to finding a sponsor and working the steps, it had to be N.A. I had heard that some of those old timers (over 15 years sober) in A.A. just switched their drug of choice from booze to prescribed medication. I couldn’t do that. I had to stop it all.
After finding a great sponsor and working the first 3 steps, I got to number 4- Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Wow! No wonder so many people did the “3 step relapse” dance. After working the first 3 steps, couldn’t face their fears with a moral inventory so they went back out to use again.
Me, I was determined to stay clean. I went ahead and wrote down all my dirty laundry. I keep it hidden in a good place because I didn’t want my roommate to find it. Finally my sponsor set a date to do a step 5 with him.
Step 5- “Admitt to god, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Confession time! Boy was I sweating, worried that after it was over with, my sponsor would have nothing to do with me again. But during my “drag my soul over hot coals” event, he shared some of his wrong doings with me. That helped me so much. I was able to finish and move on to the rest of the steps with no problem. I realized then that confessions really are “good for the heart.”
Does it really matter who receives an act of charity, or is the important thing the act itself? In December 2008, one of the greatest acts of kindness ever to have been done for me in my (then) 53 years of life was a sham – it was an act of charity I tried to reverse, yet could not due to the circumstances. Nonetheless, so profound was that act of charity, I need to share it and tell the results of it, for that act was not the sham – I was.
I had been released from Texas’s penal-slavery prison system on October 1, 2008; just 6-weeks after hurricane Ike had devastated the Texas Gulf Coast. Although I had requested to be released to my hometown of San Angelo, or to Lubbock where I, also, had friends; for some unfathomably insane reason the Parole Board ordered me to a “multiple use facility” (MUF) halfway house in Beaumont – which lay in Ike’s destruction zone!
Beaumont was still in the process of initial recovery – tarps were still being spread over torn roofs; debris (and an occasional body) still being cleared away; and, even The National Guard was still handing out free MRE’s to anyone who showed up at the distribution site. Probably 50-65 percent of the area businesses were “closed for repairs”, and almost all the rest had reduced their workforce until business picked up again. Only clean up and construction companies were hiring; and, they were only hiring day laborers and temp-help for the duration of the clean up and rebuilding. There were a lot of illegal aliens in Beaumont at the time – it was like vultures drawn to a carcass – nonetheless getting one of the day jobs or temp jobs was super easy! Literally walking down the street I would be asked, “Hey – you want some work for today — $10 an hour!?” (Sometimes even as high as $20-$30 per hour, depending on the work —- one guy in a pick-up offered us $100 per hour to do ‘Body recovery” along the coast; this entitled combing through coastal brush for debris piles and victims of Ike.) I might have earned thousands of dollars in a single month, but –
Again, for some unfathomably insane reason, the “Beaumont Center” had a rule that prohibited residents there in from accepting any day labor or temp jobs! Such insanity, the first thing a recent release must do is get some kind of work to get cash. We are literally penal-slaves in Texas’s prisons – Texas and Georgia are the only states left that do not pay their prisoners — and are only given $100 release money. When we pay for our state ID ($20.00), and buy food during the Greyhound ride, we barely have enough left of that $100 to buy some socks, underwear, and change of clothes; so day labor is crucial during the first few weeks… more so in a hurricane destruction zone where such is the only work available! Yet, my parole officer upheld this insane policy! So – I absconded – went over the fence (literally) of the MUF, and walked the 23 miles to the Louisiana border. By the time I was missed, I was across the Sabine River and out of State.
A Baptist church pastor in Orange, TX, saw me limping along (I had fractured my right foot going over the 8ft fence) and said, “leaving Ike’s zone?” “Uh, yeah,” I answered, “the place I was staying… uh… “ “Yeah,” he said, “I know. Come on in and have some breakfast.” After the church fed me, Pastor Knight and the Orange County Christians organization went 50/50 and bought me a $150 bus ticket to Tennessee – where a friend (who shall remain anonymous) bought me a ticket to Baltimore, MD. These acts of kindness, while laudable, are not the subject of this essay, though, because charity from churches, charity organizations, or friends is not uncommon. The incredible charity happened in Washington, DC, after a chance meeting on a commuter train –
The minister of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Baltimore had bought me a round-trip ticket to DC on the MARC train so I could go visit a friend there (a gorgeous transsexual college student and activist I have been pen friends with while in prison). As I sat on the commuter train with my backpack at my feet, a man about 30-35 boarded and sat across from me. Dressed in a decent suit, his eyes and bearing literally said “FBI” (or some such). “Tourist? “ He asked me, nodding at my pack. “Not exactly,” I said, “more like vagabond!” “Ah,” he smiled, “You’re from Texas!” “Yeah,” I said. “Me too,” he offered his hand, which I shook, “originally from there, anyway – Michael Samhel.” “Logan Diez,” I returned, “you don’t have much accent.” “Been here in DC since I graduated,” he smiled, “I work as a strategic planner at the Justice Department – FBI,” he confirmed my initial judgment. “Unemployed,” I shrugged.
We were quiet for a moment, and then Michael said, “were you in Ike?” “No,” I replied, “I was near Dallas when it actually hit, but was living in Beaumont until last week.” “So – you’re basically homeless?” “Yeah,” I answered, not, obviously, including that I was a parole absconder. The train pulled to a stop at DC’s Union Station and I stood – “Listen, Logan,” Michael said, “Would it offend you if I give you a little help?” “Uh – no, I guess not,” I said. “Hey, great – just walk with me to the ATM, okay.” “Sure,” I said, and did. I politely waited some distance away as Michael withdrew some cash – and, as gentlemen do, I tacitly palmed the folded bills from his hand when we shook hands, and pocketed them without looking at them. He gave me his card and we parted company.
My friend, Jamie, met me in front and, after a hug, I said “Let me buy you lunch at that Subway – a guy just gave me some money!” “How much?” she asked. “Uh – let’s see,” I pulled the folded bills out… “Wow!” $300 in twenties! I sat down in shock – then pulled out my cell phone and dialed Michael’s number. I insisted he let me give him back most of the money – he refused. “Don’t sweat it,” he said, “I can afford it – besides, we Texans need to take care of our own.” The enormity of Michael Samhel’s charity toward a complete stranger, fellow Texan or not, amazes me still – and he deserves full praise for it, G-man or not.
It doesn’t matter that, had he known, I was an absconder with a Texas Parole Board “retaking warrant” on me, he would have been duty bound to arrest me and cart my ass off to the D.C. jail – who I was wasn’t really the important thing to Michael, nor do I believe our being fellow Texans really decided the matter. Michael Samhel’s act of kindness would have been done regardless of what state I had come from – his kindness was from his heart, not him geographical roots.
For all my peeves against the corrupt bureaucracy in D.C. and Police State Nazis who abuse their powers – Michael Samuel’s selfless act of kindness toward a total stranger proved to me there are still good and honorable men and women in the rank and file of our Nation’s Government.