Chapter 28

Prison is about waiting, yes. But it is also this weird time warp. I have written before about how the time moved too quickly and much too slowly at the same time, but there was also the time warp factor. I wrote Dan a letter almost every day. Sometimes I would save a letter from one day to the next and continue it, but I almost never missed a day. Sometimes I even wrote a few letters in one day. Dan wrote to me too, not every day but most days, and he would mail me cartoons from the newspaper and crosswords or word puzzles that he had solved. What always threw me off was when I would receive a letter from him dated a few months prior.

Sometimes between the prison outgoing security check in the mail room, and incompetent employees, the letters wouldn't get mailed and then when someone finally found them and sent them, it was jarring to read them after so much time had passed. I received two letters from Dan in March 2010, both were dated September 2009, from when he was in MCC. It was disheartening to read his letters and see that not only were we still writing about the same issues, but that nothing much had been resolved or changed. I got a Valentine's Day card he had made for me, but it arrived weeks late. It was a 3D card with decorated by Dan and Tank, with a pop up puppy on the inside. Dan wrote:

Dear Chani,
Happy Valentine's Day.
I know you want a puppy so here is one to pop up and say hello. 
All things considered, I think that the next stretch of time will be hard but it will end with a rewarding future for us.
With love,
It was just a goofy card, but I loved it. Even if it did come late.

Dan was having a rough time in F Dorm, and finding the environment very depressing. He felt that the guys were disrespectful, staying up till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, arguing and yelling over stupid things like who hadn't showered properly. They would yell and fight and gang up on each other. Dan had a habit of sharing extra commissary food with other guys who were too poor to buy their own, and it irked some of the other inmates. They hassled him about it and made life difficult. I didn't know what to do to help him, and it affected our visits. He wasn't sleeping well and nothing new was happening so he was bored and anxious, a bad combination. I ordered Dan a bunch of cryptogram books online to preoccupy him, and he sent me a funny cartoon. It was a woman putting on her makeup in the mirror, and her husband standing behind her, muttering to himself "This is my wife, some assembly required". I liked it a lot.

I tried to get his lawyer to move him to a smaller unit, and finally between my pestering and Dan's pushing, he got moved to G Unit. Which made me laugh. It's much less funny to anyone who isn't familiar with 50 Cent, but he is a rapper and his crew is called G Unit. And yes, every time I said it or wrote it, I intended it the way they say it in his music "G Unnnnnit!" I bought a t shirt that said "G Unit" on it in gold glitter and sequins, and wore it to our next visit. Dan had been so gloomy and down, I wasn't sure if he would laugh. When I walked into visiting and he saw me through the glass, he was smiling before he even sat down. He got the joke about the shirt and found it really humorous (phew!).

G Unit was smaller and calmer. Dan was back in a unit with the few Jewish inmates, one was a Rabbi from Kiryat Joel. He was facing a pretty severe sentence and was a tiny wisp of a man. He looked so frail and fragile, and people would always give him a rough time because they knew they could get away with it. Dan hated seeing that, and would sit next to him while he prayed, doing crosswords. Most of the other guys would leave him alone when Dan sat near him. He knew the power of that small action, because of how Tank protected him back at MCC. It made me sad that anyone would pick on this Rabbi. I was glad he had Dan around to look out for him. I did feel resentment towards some of the other Jews in the unit- they gave Dan a hard time for "not being Jewish enough." Which upset me, greatly. There's no scale to measure that kind of thing. Frankly, gentlemen, you are all in prison so better Jew or worse Jew the time for judging others had long passed. I also knew I could out-Jew any of these guys without skipping a beat, and I was stuck outside unable to do anything about it. Frustration.

Dan had been in prison for just over 19 months and according to him if everything went well, he could be home in 400 days. That really didn't mean much to me, since anything could happen in such a long amount of time, but it seemed to cheer Dan up so I embraced it. A few weeks later, his management variable was set to expire (the note on his inmate file that meant he was a difficult prisoner because of the incident that got him booted from Taft camp). Once it was gone, he could be moved back to a camp instead of a Low facility, if we could get him redesignated. Big If.

I sent him the lyrics to a song called Fall For You by Secondhand Serenade. The words just hit me when I heard it playing on the radio one day driving home from a tough visit. We had been having tense visits, just difficult and unlike our usual easy going ones. We weren't fighting, but we weren't happy with our current situation and the edges of our lives felt like they were starting to fray. Tense and anxious were good descriptive words for how I felt most days as I left the prison.
"Fall For You"

The best thing about tonight's that we're not fighting
Could it be that we have been this way before
I know you don't think that I am trying
I know you're wearing thin down to the core
But hold your breath
Because tonight will be the night that I will fall for you
Over again
Don't make me change my mind
Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
You're impossible to find
This is not what I intended
I always swore to you I'd never fall apart
You always thought that I was stronger
I may have failed
But I have loved you from the start
But hold your breath
Because tonight will be the night that I will fall for you
Over again
Don't make me change my mind
Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
It's impossible
So breathe in so deep
Breathe me in
I'm yours to keep
And hold onto your words
'Cause talk is cheap
And remember me tonight
When you're asleep
Because tonight will be the night that I will fall for you
Over again
Don't make me change my mind
Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
Tonight will be the night that I will fall for you
Over again
Don't make me change my mind
Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
You're impossible to find

Dan and I were both feeling pretty low, pretty discouraged. The no contact visits were making me feel further away from him than I had felt even when he was in SHU. I could see him, talk to him, but I couldn't hold his hand or feel the warmth of his skin. It was wearing me down and I knew that whether we were ready for it or not, as soon as that management variable dropped off his file, something big was going to happen. I didn't know what that meant- we could end up back in California or in an entirely new state... but it was change. Change was coming. Change scares the hell out of me. Especially the prison kind.

Chapter 27

Monopoly is a group activity. I played many rounds over the years, and as the oldest sibling I was usually tasked with being banker as well. They always were suspicious but I have never confirmed this with my siblings before-Yes. I absolutely cheated...slipped myself an extra hundred or moved my piece a few extra spots to land not on their property. In prison, you don't cheat. Unless you're bigger than your opponent.  Then, you can do whatever you want anyway. Dan played Monopoly with the guys in his tier and it frustrated him to no end that they would cheat. Slip an extra hotel onto the board here. Steal a property there. He couldn't say anything, and if he stopped playing he would be really bored all day. He also couldn't win, that made them mad.

So, Dan got creative.

He started taking the tiny metal boats from the games. You know how Monopoly has tiny miniature playing pieces and each player picks one for the duration of the game? The boat was a favorite icon of choice for most of the guys and they would fight over who got it. Dan would hide it from the set they were playing with, and later, mail it to me. When I got the first boat I thought it was sweet. The guys played with a different set, and again Dan hid the boat and it showed up in my mailbox. This continued until I had a full set of seven ships. The CO's refused to bring any new sets to the unit- the guys had to play with the remaining options. And I had seven tiny metal boats. That's how we say I love you to our spouses from prison- via random assorted passive aggressive actions. Apologies to the guys at Geo who had to play Monopoly without them but these are my boats now.
I watched a show called Family Guy often. Dan and I had enjoyed it before he went in, and it felt familiar to watch a show I knew he liked too. There was an episode (Season 8 "Dial Meg for Murder" Episode 11) where Meg goes to prison for harboring a fugitive- a pen pal in prison who she fell in love with. Then she comes home from prison, all tatted up and tough. While uproariously hysterical, the episode is accurate and spot on. I couldn't escape prison, it was everywhere.

In an attempt to reconnect with Dan, we started doing the New York Times crossword together over the phone. Dan would tell me what the date was on the paper he had and I would find it online. It cost us $12 in phone time to do it, but we really enjoyed it. The crossword has the ability to make me feel highly inferior and amazingly intelligent at the same time. I couldn't solve it alone, but with Dan helping me we could usually knock it out in a few hours.

The washer fluid light came on in my car. My car had been leased new and now had 17,026 miles on it. Less than 1000 of those were miles Dan had spent in the car with me. The majority of those miles were commuter miles, me driving to and from prisons for visiting.

My brother-in-law came with me to visit Dan, and he brought with our oldest nephew. This nephew had been best buddies with Dan before he went to prison, and he would ask us often where Dan was. After the visit he asked his father "How do we get Dan out of the box?" It was emotional for me to hear this little kid say it like that- Dan did in fact look like he was in a box sitting there behind the glass. That hit home for me. Dan was in a concrete and cement box and all I could do was look in and see that he was still there. I missed hugs.

Once every six months, Geo granted a contact visit. Ours was on a Sunday and I was very nervous. I hadn't hugged Dan since the visit where he thought he was going to be killed in MCC. It had been a rough visit and I remember when I hugged him goodbye I genuinely wondered if I would ever see him alive again. Now, all I could do was look at him and talk to him, but no hugs. Everything about the contact visit was the same as a regular no contact visit except this time I was escorted to a tiny room with a table and locked in. The guard came back ten minutes later with Dan and outlined the rules. One hug and kiss at the start and end of the visit, hands on the table at all times. We sat facing each other across the table and the guard stood outside the door, occasionally peeking in the window at us. She kept interrupting the visit to yell at Dan and he was upset from the start of the visit. He had been under the impression from the other guys that these visits were pleasant and that we could hold hands and sit next to each other. Our experience was so very different, and it appeared to be because we were white.

Needless to say, the visit went poorly. Dan and I hugged, kissed, sat down (hands on the table)... and then had a fight. I left the visit devastated. Absolutely gutted to my core. All these months and the first chance we get to sit in a quiet room and talk eye to eye... and we fight? We weren't even arguing about something we could change or fix. I went back to my parents house crying and would have crawled into bed and ignored the world for a few days. But my little sister was in the kitchen when I got home, and she asked me to take her shopping. So, I pasted a smile on my face and agreed to take her out. I figured it was better than wallowing in self pity and depression.

After we shopped and came home, I felt a lot better. I decided to go back to see Dan for the regular evening no contact visit at 6pm. I begged my sister to let me bring my nephew, so I could have something to distract us from our fight. Remarkably, she let me bring him! It was extremely cool to bring this toddler to see Dan, once again- a child he had never met before. We sat behind the glass and I made my nephew perform all of his peek-a-boo tricks and baby songs. It really lightened the mood and I felt almost normal. This baby literally saved me when  Dan was in prison. He was a human being I could care for, hug and love. Someone who needed me and who looked at me with adoration and genuine happiness when I was so lonely. When he grows up, I will show him the hours and hours of videos I took of him during his first two years.

Dan and I both wrote each other letters that night apologizing to each other. The thing about prison fights is that they are usually a result of built up stress and frustration and not typically about anything important. It didn't make the fights any easier, but it did make it less painful to resolve them once we calmed down. Dan asked me to play the Pink song "Glitter in the Air" for him when he called that night. He had seen Pink perform it at the Grammy's on TV. For once, no one changed the channel and he got to see the whole performance, and it had moved him. Pink is suspended from the air, does acrobatics and sings upside down and there's water... it is a very emotional performance. And also amazingly original. But it was the words...they somehow hit us both the same way.

The lyrics:
Have you ever fed a lover with just your hands?
Close your eyes and trust it, just trust it
Have you ever thrown a fist full of glitter in the air?
Have you ever looked fear in the face
And said I just don't care?
And it's only half past the point of no return
The tip of the iceberg
The sun before the burn
The thunder before the lightning
Breath before the phrase
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever hated yourself for staring at the phone?
You're whole life waiting on the ring to prove you're not alone

Have you ever been touched so gently you had to cry?
Have you ever invited a stranger to come inside?
It's only half past the point of oblivion
The hourglass on the table
The walk before the run
The breath before the kiss
And the fear before the flames
Have you ever felt this way?
La la la la la la la la
There you are, sitting in the garden
Clutching my coffee,
Calling me sugar
You called me sugar
Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and pulled that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight?

Everything was okay between us again. Valentine's Day came and went. I wore a red dress to visiting for the occasion. We were sitting and waiting for something good to happen. That's what prison seemed to be all about. Waiting.

Chapter 26

Geo Queens was definitely different from any of the prisons we had been to before. The entire time Dan was there, his status on the BOP website showed as 'in-transit' because he was not technically in a BOP facility, since Geo was privately run. There were some really great perks. Unlimited phone use as long as you could buy the minutes. We could also do three way calling, which was banned in regular BOP facilities. On our first call, Dan and I spent 2.5 hours talking on the phone. It was the longest we had talked uninterrupted in over a year. It cost money, but it was so worthwhile to just be able to discuss everything and anything. Dan could call his family, his lawyers, our bank, anyone and everyone as long as they accepted the call.

In light of this new phone freedom, Dan decided we needed to call the bank and get our mortgage modified. Rates were changing in our favor and if we could refi it would save us thousands and thousands of dollars. I printed up everything I could find about our mortgage and mailed it to Dan. I sent him statements and then I looked up all the phone numbers for the departments we would need to speak with. He would call me, I would conference in the bank so Dan could speak to the representatives while I typed notes and then I would fax in documents to them after he mailed them back to me signed. It became an obsession for us both. Almost a challenge to see if we could get this impossible task accomplished under the most ridiculous of circumstances. I was thrilled he had a project to occupy his days and even happier that it was no longer this insurmountable task I was trying to achieve on my own. Truth be told, I had made very little headway  with this refi on my own anyway. Plus, every time I had called without him to talk to someone about it, it was a whole conversation to explain that I had Power of Attorney and could make changes to the account.

There was a downside. Geo was a no contact facility. That meant every visit, although frequent, took place behind glass. No hand holding. No hello and goodbye hug and kiss. Glass and concrete separating us.To get in for a visit, I would park on the street and then wait at the front door (rain or shine) with all the other visitors until they opened the front door to let us in. When the officer would open the door, they would let in a group of ten of us and we would each have to pass through the metal detector then sign in and sit down to wait. It wasn't a difficult process compared to some places. Because the guards were employees of a private company they were usually easier to deal with, even if some were a bit grumpy.

I waited until they called my name and then was led to a room with a little hallway. Along the short hallway were glass windows and a chair in front of each one. The officer would indicate where each of us should sit and then we would wait. Usually five to ten minutes later the inmates would be brought in to the matching hallway on the other side of the glass and find their visitor and take a seat. There were tiny holes in the glass so we could talk. It would get loud and there were some seats that were better than others, but at least I could visit four times a week. Usually I got an hour for each visit but sometimes I would get an extra thirty minutes if no one else was waiting to get in. The trick, as with any prison, was to be in the first group but not first or second in line. That way, if there were a lot of visitors waiting and they started terminating visits early, you weren't the first to get booted out.

Dan was in a unit that had 46 beds and 41 inmates. The unit had 3 TVs, 4 phones, 6 toilets and a shower. Well, really there were four showers but it was locker room style so they all just waited until whoever was showering was done and used it one at a time. The facility had eight units in total ranging from 16-46 per unit. It made count pretty easy, although even just counting 41 inmates, the two officers sometimes had to recount when they came up with different numbers. There was a law library that Dan was allowed to use once a day for an hour, and he would type his letters to me on a computer and print them to mail to me. Mail at Geo was also better- he sealed his own letter's to me and they only opened his mail in front of Dan to check for contraband, no one read our letters.

A Dorm, where Dan was, sounded like a frat house. Although lights out was at midnight, the guys would play cards and draw out tattoos and generally be rowdy until 2am. Dan didn't mind too much because that meant during the day when everyone was sleeping he had unlimited use of the phones. He was also cleared to attend prayer services so twice a day he was escorted to another unit to pray with the six other Jews in Geo. One of the men was a rabbi from Kiryat Joel and Dan would look out for him a little bit. The kosher meals were amazing- provided by Diplomat Catering from the Five Towns (thanks guys!). Dan would stick the labels from his meals on my letters and it was weird to see Vaad of the Five Towns on them.
Dan drew me a floor plan of D Dorm when he moved over there. It was smaller than his previous unit and the inmates there were much quieter. Less people in the unit also meant easier phone access for Dan. Although I loved the availability, I was now tethered to my phone more than ever and it was EXPENSIVE. I upgraded my phone to an unlimited rollover plan just to keep up!

I finally brought my parents and one of my brothers to see Dan. They hadn't been able to visit before so they hadn't seen him in over a year except from pictures we had taken at various prisons. It was nice for Dan to see them too. Just coming into a prison is an experience, and it meant a lot to him that they did it for him. It helped a lot that the location was so close to their home, it made the trip less stressful. We were all pretty quiet on the ten minute drive home. I knew the three of them were processing what they had just seen. It couldn't have been easy for my parents to walk into that building and look at Dan behind a plexiglass barrier. My brother appeared less affected externally, but I think everyone was kind of deep in thought about it. I was glad they had come and seen Dan, it made me feel better, like they knew he was okay and he knew they loved him just as much as before and came to see him.

Amazingly it was already December, somehow. Dan made a beautiful 3D popup card for me for our upcoming anniversary. He had nothing else to do during the day, unless he joined in the board games, and he could only stand letting himself get beaten at Monopoly so many times.
Another Anniversary for us in prison, and then another birthday for Dan. We pretended we weren't sad about the glass separating us in visiting on those two days, but it was tough. Dan's brother came to see him at Geo and he brought his son who had been born soon after the fateful Taft visit. It was awesome for Dan to meet his infant nephew, even if it was through a window. We all silently hoped that next year we would be in much better circumstances.

I seem to have been plagued with many rodent stories throughout the years Dan was locked up. Case in point, I got a frantic call from our tenant, she screamed that there was a mouse in the kitchen. She kind of freaked out at me over the phone and yelled about how horrible I was for there being a mouse. I was not super patient with her, and made Dan talk to her when he called (I conferenced her in). He calmed her down and explained that we usually can't call an exterminator for ONE mouse, but that we would buy traps and put them out. Fantastic. Now I was headed to Home Depot to buy traps and poison. When I got to the house, I saw that the tenants kept dog food for the dogs in the garage, next to the trash. That explained the mouse right away. In New York City, you cannot leave food out. It doesn't matter how clean YOU are, the walls adjoin other people so even if WE didn't technically have mice (or rats!) the reality was someone nearby definitely did. Blech.

A day later, I had to go back to oversee the installation of a sump pump in the basement. It was complicated and I was not confident the workers were doing it right. Dan and I had agreed that he would call me when they started the install, but the phone never rang. I just had to wing it on my own- and I was really upset he had missed the call. The tenant hovered the entire time too, so that was fun. I found out afterwards that Dan had been in the law library typing me a letter and then there had been a s surprise unit search, so he had been stuck in the library for a few hours. He wouldn't have been allowed to use the phone during the search anyway, but it still sucked. We had to redo some drywall in the basement after the sump pump install and I went to Home Depot myself with my brother to get supplies for it. Drywall and compound, my favorites! Dan wrote how envious he was of my construction filled days. I rolled my eyes. He loved this sort of thing, and it was very high on my list of things I despised doing. Dan and I started a Tenant Countdown Clock- trying to see how many days could go by without a new complaint. For a while, our longest record was four days.

The law library at Geo had three computers. I was allowed to drop off a re-writable CD for Dan that had all of our accounting on it from Quicken, so he could get our books organized for our accountant. It was a much preferred method than the one we had been using up to this point- me keeping Quicken organized and printing reports for Dan, which he would review, correct and mail back to me, which I then submitted to the accountant. I made dumb mistakes and he could always find them and fix them easily. Now, he was able to use one of the three computers to review our accounting and save it on the disc. He would get frustrated though, when he would come into the library and see other inmates monopolizing the computers. They would get porn sent to them on USB drives and watch it for hours. It wasn't worth getting into trouble with them over it, but it was annoying to have to wait while the guys watched their contraband. 

We were also still focused on getting the refi from the bank. Dan kept hitting road blocks, but we continued to try. We cleaned up inquiries off his credit report (HOURS spent talking to credit unions on the phones). We corrected a few errors in reporting info for current accounts. It was tedious but I was okay with it because it really did help Dan get through the days. 

My family went away for a week during winter break. I obviously couldn't join them and one of my brothers had just started college and couldn't miss class, so the two of us stayed home. They were celebrating my youngest brother's birthday, and it sucked that the two of us were missing it. We decided to surprise them all, and drove the two hours to the house they were renting, with a cake. It was awesome- they didn't know who was at the front door knocking. It was a fun spontaneous road trip and everyone enjoyed it, even though we only stayed for a short time and drove back the same night. The whole way home we passed a lot of deer on the roads. It started to get to the point of ridiculous and as siblings do, we turned it into a 'thing'. Every time we saw a deer, we would sing out "D'oh! A Deer!". If you are not familiar with the Sound of Music, it has a song called "Doe, A Deer". Now that I've explained it, it sounds less funny, but at the time it kept us extremely entertained for the duration of the drive home. 
I posted my "D'oh! A deer!" joke on Facebook and printed it so Dan could see it too.
One fun fact that Dan and I discovered by accident: When you are in prison and paying quarterly restitution, and it is supposed to auto deduct from money the court already has collected, if you don't monitor it and no one does the auto deductions, you start to get nasty notices. Dan and I freaked out for a moment and then I rationally wrote four checks for the four missed payments and mailed them in with a note explaining it had been on auto-pay. We resolved to just pay it directly going forward to avoid any future nasty. 

I was worried about a few other issues as well. Dan had shipped to MCC on a writ from Lompoc, and now that writ was expired. Unless he got designated to a place nearby, there was the chance that he could disappear and be shipped back to Lompoc without warning. There was also a chance he could end up anywhere else, but he would have to be re-designated for that and somehow we couldn't get anyone to make that happen. I wasn't certain what the next few months would bring. All I knew at this point was that I had survived a freezing cold January in New York and that my tenants, while paying rent, were finding new ways to make me dislike them every few days. Dan told me to be grateful we had them at all. I was, truly I was, I just really resented my new role as building manager/mouse catcher. Dan was good at finding cartoons in the newspaper to make me laugh about whatever was going on:

Chapter 25

At this point in my own personal BOP journey, I was starting to lose it. I know this because out of the blue, for absolutely no reason at all, I cut off all my hair. Gentlemen, if you are reading this, this is always a sign. Always. If you know a female who suddenly hacks off her very long hair, she is going through something. I don't know what possessed me to do it. I just parked at the salon on my way back from the city, walked in and said "George, I need you to do me a favor". And he did.
I loved it for about two days.

And then I cried. For the majority of my lifetime, my hair had always been long. It shouldn't matter that it was (extremely) short now, but it did. It was a momentary madness that had gripped me and I made a rash decision, and now I had short hair, very poor hair styling skills and a husband in prison who was going to wonder what exactly had happened to cause me to do it.

Dan came into visiting and didn't even say anything, he just gave me a hug. He told me Tank had seen my haircut from the window and warned Dan in advance. They both agreed it didn't look bad, just different. No kidding.

I had never had my hair this short, it itched my neck. I took to wearing scarves so it wouldn't bother me all the time. At night I wore beanies to keep it off of me. I regretted this haircut immensely. I think part of the reason I did it was because I had just gone through a minor medical scare and needed a rough reboot to jar myself out of it. There had been talk of benign and non-cancerous and a biopsy to check, then fear because there were abnormal cells. It was decided I was fine but they performed a minor surgery to excise additional tissue and it involved stitches. I have a one inch scar on my ribs from the ordeal, When questioned, I advise people I was stabbed by a pirate. That usually ends any further questions. The whole thing freaked me out and I believe the impromptu haircut was a way to cope. In a letter I wrote to Dan after he saw it, I explained that at least he only saw me once a week, so the awful would grow out and soon I'd be back to pretty again. If I was going to have a short horrible haircut, at least it was while he was away. Silver linings people!

Much like children, inmates can turn almost anything into a form of amusement. Dan's bunkie on 7 North was nicknamed Kentucky Jim. Not a very original nickname- his name was Jim and he was from Kentucky. Another inmate, also from Kentucky, nicknamed Kentucky Robert, thought it would be funny to play a joke on Kentucky Jim. He flushed two oranges down the toilet in their cell. One came back up (oranges float). One stayed lodged in the pipes. Kentucky Jim did not find it amusing in the least, neither did the CO who had to keep calling the inmate plumber with the plunger. The toilet sort of drained but it took a long time. Dan was glad he had a few friends in the unit so he could use their toilets in their cells until his got repaired. No one would have dared play such a stupid prank if Tank had been a bunkie in that cell.

Dan was really unhappy on 7 North, and it appeared that whatever made the BOP decide to move him had changed, because he wrote that he was moved back to 5 North again! The timing was such that I got to visit him two days in a row that week, since 7 North had visiting on Wednesdays and 5 North was on Thursday. Dan was working with his lawyers to get re-designated. He wanted to go to a Low with RDAP so he could get out early. It was all he focused on. He was pretty certain he would be moving very soon, but we didn't know where to. We were also having the unfortunate problem of mail interference. All of my letters would get opened before they got to Dan, that was expected. But a few of his letters didn't seem to make it from the mail room to me. Dan tried to address the issue in a very original way:
Friday, November 27, 2009
My Dearest Darling Chani,

AND- Whoever else is reading my mail!

First of all, whoever is reading my mail, be it Lt. Walker or one of his employees, or maybe Ms. Jones, please have the courtesy of actually sending it on to my wife. She is the intended recipient (not y'all downstairs!) Unfortunately, you sent her a blank envelope, as well as a sealed, reopened, and stapled shut envelope too. So, two of my letters were "messed with" and one of them wasn't even delivered! What the heck! At least have the decency of sending it on to her after you read it!

So, darling, my Saturday, Nov 21st letter came to you empty. Moreover my package of letters that Ms Hill took never made it to you. So, 4 months of your letters to me are now lost. Please call and complain to get them. It has been more than two weeks since Ms. Hill said she sent it out from Unit 7 North.

Do we need to hire a lawyer and sue for our mail back? Should we complain to the regional office in Philadelphia or the national office in Washington D.C.? Should we get a lawyer to complain to these offices?

I'm upset that you didn't receive the mail I sent to you. It is painfully obvious that something is amiss.

I miss you,

I should have known something was not right. Dan wouldn't usually write a letter that could be interpreted as inflammatory. We knew all mail incoming and outgoing was read. None of it made sense- I just didn't understand he was trying to warn me. When I went to visit him, he was beyond weird. He was watching everyone with nervous looks and seemed twitchy and wound up. He told me he wasn't safe, that something very bad was going on and that he needed to get out of MCC now, his life was in danger. Someone had ordered a hit on him and he had found out about it. I didn't truly  believe him at first. He didn't want to tell me what was going on but then he whispered it to me and I was suddenly certain he was correct.

Actually, in an ironic twist, the inmate who was supposed to do him in approached Dan instead and told him about being hired to attack him. He said he wasn't going to go through with it because Dan had been good to him. Remember I mentioned that a typewriter saved Dan's life? Always pay it forward- Dan had been typing letters for this guy because he wasn't good at writing. Because Dan helped him write to his lawyers and family, he warned Dan instead of hurting him. I didn't know what to do. I left the visit and called his lawyer. I cried to him and said Dan was certain his life was at risk. I called a few Rabbi's and asked them to help get Dan transferred somewhere else immediately. Dan had been working with his attorney on something to get him released early, and somehow the officers at MCC had ruined it and put Dan's life on the line. And now an inmate wanted Dan dead.

I hadn't felt this level of panic yet the whole time Dan was in prison. Apparently, everyone I spoke to could hear it in my voice too, because things moved very quickly. Dan was whisked away by US Marshall's the next morning, but I didn't know where they were taking him. All I knew was that his lawyer said he was going to be safe and that he would keep me posted. I found out later that after visiting, a few guys had confronted Dan and it was ONLY because Tank stood there with him, that nothing happened. Tank stayed by Dan that whole day, and at night he made sure Dan was in the cell and alright. Tank most definitely saved Dan's life. We don't forget things like that, not ever. I didn't know any of that until later, all I knew was Dan was in grave danger and hopefully on his way to safety, somewhere. I hoped.

So I waited. Two days later, my phone rang. Dan was alive and in a place called GEO. It was the Queens ICE facility near JFK, he said. I had never heard of it, I didn't even know there was a prison near JFK! Apparently, few people know about it. Anyone who lives in the Five Towns or Far Rockaway passes it EVERY time they pass the airport! It was mainly an immigration holding prison, privately run, where high risk BOP inmates sometimes got parked for safety. I was blown away. If you are ever driving on the Nassau Expressway which turns into the 878, as you pass JFK on your right, there is an infamous 24 Hour Peep Show store on the left... two blocks behind that is GEO Queens. Even more amazing...GEO is located 4.1 miles from my parents house. I checked on my navigation. Now pick up your jaw from the floor, let's continue.

Dan wrote me one of the most hilarious letters regarding his GEO intake...I could try to describe it but his words are so well written that I am going to post most of it here for you now.
December 4th, 2009

My Dearest Darling Chani,

By the time you get this letter everything I am about to write will be stuff you already have found out. So, I will try to make light of my plight and bring levity to your time that you spend reading this missive.

I'm in the damn SHU. What the hell went wrong? Well, the CO, (Mr. Rice)who was cordial and nice to give me a phone call to you didn't mention that the reason I wouldn't be likely to see you tomorrow is that he absolutely knew that I would be in SHU until Monday. What the hell?

Let me explain:
We arrived at "the GEO Group Queens Private Detention (GGQPD) Facility" after 7:30pm. Mr. Rice is the "intake" officer extraordinaire. He slowly did the following:
1) gave us unbelievably bad food for dinner (I'll tell you more about this later)
2) processed the three new inmates from one holding cell to the next

At this point in the story I have to explain why this was such a hysterical process... 
 In a normal R+D intake there are many officers involved to move the process along. Here at GGQPD the powers to be have economized to the absolute maximum. This economization is evident in everything I've experienced so far. For example...the food obviously fell off the back of a truck, it was then run over by traffic, then and only then was it scraped off the roadway, turned down by a local farmer as food unfit for consumption by his livestock, and sold to some laughing requisition person at this facility to serve as dinner to yours truly.

But just in case this example of economization doesn't drive home the point, let me get back to my "Intake" evening. Let's call tonight "A Night in Intake."

Moving back to 7:30pm apres the indisputably bad concoctions that they called dinner. So, I was in R+D in Room 1 with 2 other new inmates. He called us out one by one to go to Room 2 to meet the "clothing + linen distribution officer." Well, lo and behold, the very same Mr. Rice popped up behind that counter to "welcome" us to GGQPD Clothing + Linen Distribution.
Chani, try to imagine this scene. Mr. Rice was at the R+D counter and told us to go to Room 1. He then went to another counter and called us in to Room 2 where he magically transformed into the clothing and linen distribution counter person. After distributing us all clothing + linens he shut the clothing + linen counter down and left us in Room 2 to wait for the Photo + Paperwork counter to open up. (Try to remember that in Room 1, Rice was the "Food Counter Person".) So, as Counter #3 opened, once again by Mr. Rice (who was now wearing a ball cap that says "Geo") we were called out of Room 2 to meet the Photo + Paperwork officer (once again Mr. Rice) who then photographed and documented our existences.

After that was completed, the Photo + Paperwork Counter was closed up and we were all told to wait in Room #3.

Guess who came to Room #3 then asked us all to go to Counter #4? You got it...Mr. Rice.
 At Counter #4 we were each given a phone call and told to "read" a sign that explains visiting and directions to GGQPD. So, Chani, at this point we (you and I) spoke to each other. I was blissfully enjoying my evening thinking I'd get to see you soon until Mr. Rice tricked us all.

Mr. Rice said to "grab your stuff" and go down the hall to get our bed assignments. It was 8:45pm and he was going home at 9pm. We all went down the hall, exhausted from a long day, and summarily THROWN into SHU. Why?

Well, there was a Step #5 in R+D (Receiving and Discharge). 
Huh, wait a second? What is Step #5?
Step #5 was seeing the Nurse to get medically cleared to go into general population. But, Mr. Rice, did not want to wait for Step #5 to be completed (as he got off work at 9pm) so he dumped us in SHU instead of giving us our "bed assignments." On his way out of SHU he said "I'll be back Monday to give you bed assignments. Until then R+D is closed." What the Hell?
 Just as a point of interest, the nurse did come around a few minutes later and gave us each a brief questionnaire...
Have you ever had a sex change? (I said no)
Have you ever lost consciousness? (Hmm...if you lost consciousness would you even "remember" it?)
Do you have any communicable diseases? (I said no)
Is everything all right at GGQPD so far? (Is she a tour guide, a hotel concierge, or a freaking nurse? What the hell questions are these that she is asking us?) ...I held my tongue and didn't say "Hell no, I'm in the damn SHU!"

Back to my brief medical interview... She said "Stick out your arm." So, I did.
A moment later she deftly pricked me with a needle and said "TB test." Wait a second? I did this last year! She said "Well, now that you have been injected you'll have to wait 48 hours in SHU to see if it comes back positive."
 So, in the end, I wouldn't have cleared medical anyway until Sunday and so I'd be in SHU no matter what... even if Rice had stuck around. I think Rice knew that we'd all be given TB tests, thus he knew we'd all be going to SHU until Sunday, thus he knew to take off and dump us in SHU anyway. Sheesh. This was information I could have used before I called my lovely wife!

Anyways, you will still be coming here tomorrow and you will be mentally destroyed by me being in SHU. I think this sucks as I never want you to be stressed.

At least you won't have to travel far to see this place (again!)
Hopefully you already put some money in my account so I can call you. This won't happen until Monday, but hopefully I have money on Monday!

So, while I'm in SHU, I did get 4 things already.
1) At medical I took every scrap of paper so I could write you this letter! How do you like the "materials" on the backs of these pages? Reminiscent of Taft? TI? etc...
2) I got a pen (Yea!)
3) I got a newspaper and book to read and
4) the SHU CO is a lot like a valet... he serves "juice" 24 hours a day... more about this tomorrow.

For now, I'm going to sign off for the night. I love you darling. Stay strong. By Monday we should be 1) visiting 2) calling a lot!

While Dan was rotting away in a cement box less than five miles from where I slept, I was back in Manhattan dealing with some washer/dryer issues that had magically arisen. On my way back from the city, I stopped in at GEO and tried to visit Dan but was told he was not medically cleared. I had not yet received his letter... I did deposit money into his account so that when he WAS cleared he could call me. I got some details about how visiting worked (it was four times a week!) and was advised to call on Monday to find out if I could start visiting then. My sister tried to distract me and we went to see 'New Moon' in the theater. It was hilarious- the roof at the Sunset Plaza movie theater leaked the whole time and it was so loud, it was hard to hear the movie properly!

I got the prettiest present in the mail. Weeks earlier Dan had told me to look out for it, but it never appeared, so now it was a very welcome surprise. Dan had made tissue roses for me, and framed them in a box he created from cardboard. They were dyed with marker ink, that he had watered down so they looked delicate and pinkish red. They were beautiful. 

Here's the thing about prisons. Each one has its own set of pros and cons. That was a double double entendre. But seriously, you never quite knew what would suck the most at each place, and what unexpected perks you might encounter. I was glad Dan was so close physically to me that visiting would hopefully be a breeze. I was thinking that maybe NOW my family could really start to visit him too. In the back of my mind I wondered though, what would the negatives be. Cue ominous music...dun dun dun!

Chapter 24

Ok so maybe God and I weren't on the best of terms. I sort of gave up on Him after a girl I went to school with passed away in 10th grade. That was a defining point for me, with regard to religion. It was a tragic story. She had been walking to the bus stop with a group of girls- a bus stop I also walked to. I had skipped school that day, in a fit of teen angst and probably would have been walking with that group at that time. She crossed at a crosswalk, and another student driving by didn't see her. Someone called me and told me what had happened, and I raced down to the school to join the prayer group that was ongoing. I hadn't prayed properly in a while, but I remember standing there and making promises. I promised God if he would just save her, I would try to find my peace with Him. I promised I wouldn't hurt my parents any more. I swore I would stop wearing patterned knee socks and stop passive aggressively attending classes, actually participate. I cried and I begged and I read the words on the page from the little white siddur (prayer book) I had gotten as a gift for my Bat Mitzvah. It was the first time that I really read every word of the Psalms and meant them. I hadn't prayed with that sort of intention ever, as far as I could remember. She passed away shortly after. And I parted ways with God internally, He wasn't listening, not to me.

So now I had to face Him again. Because Dan was in a place of faith himself and he needed me to support that. It was awkward for me, like bumping into someone you really wanted to avoid at a party. You have to smile and be sociable but really you are wondering why the hell you have to maintain a facade when you want to scream and yell at them. The ultimate irony was that Dan was now leading the Friday night services for the Jews in 5 North. On Sukkot he was able to stand in the makeshift prison pop up Sukkah on the roof of MCC and listen to the prayers. Dan got to shake a lulav and esrog. He wasn't quite sure exactly what to do but sort of played it by ear. The guys had matzah and shared a juice box of grape juice. Dan brought Nutella to round it all out. He wrote to thank the organization Reaching Out, since they had been credited with providing the pop up Sukkah- and Dan was extremely proud when his letter made it into their newsletter, which he received every month.
Dear Rabbi Spritzer,
...Sukkot has actually been wonderful. Four inmates stood in the "pop-up" Sukkah every day at noon! I understand that this was your doing. I think it is important for us that you know what this meant for us. Here at MCC, inmates are generally restricted to their units 24/7. Most inmates are pre-trial. To be able to go anywhere and do anything is liberating. The roof of our building is a recreational area. Units of 100 inmates are allowed 3-4 hours a week of "roof recreation" in one-hour increments every other day.

This Sukkot the Jewish community felt Jewish. We were taken to the Sukkah, able to make the blessing on the Lulov and Esrog and eat. You helped us to have a little home in the midst of everything around us. Thank you.

There is some honor to be told about the Sukkah too. The roof at MCC has a small storage area, it is no bigger than a walk in closet and it is stuffed with, well all kinds of stuff. A five foot by five foot area was made for us to keep the "pop up" Sukkah. Can I tell you something? Yesterday the sun came down, beaming through the gates on the roof as we huddled inside the Sukkah and felt sunlight! This feeling of "sun light" had to be one of the best things a prisoner locked all day into a building feels. In the simplest felt cool!

Reaching Out made it happen. I am in awe of your accomplishment.

The same day as the Sukkah, Dan called me and told me he had accepted a low ball offer from a tenant I had previously vetoed because I felt they were a risk and they wanted a long term lease. I was ready to murder someone. Not really, since I was not willing to do time for it and I've decided I'm too delicate for prison. But I was furious. The tenant had appeared difficult and I knew if there were ever a problem it would be an absolute hassle to resolve it. A problem I would have to handle because Dan was away in prison and wouldn't be able to deal with it directly. Dan had added our broker to his phone list and called her and accepted the offer without talking to me first. When he called afterwords and told me, I had to scramble to beg a lawyer to go see Dan with a lease so he could mark it up for us to submit to the tenant. I couldn't even verbalize my frustration to Dan when he told me, I just cried and we hung up so as not to waste minutes. I knew he was accepting the offer because he was trying to make it easier on me. Getting some rent was better than it sitting vacant. I was afraid we had just agreed to something that would cause us further grief down the line.

I spent a few days running around like a lunatic, between the broker and lawyers and the house. I had a lawyer go see Dan while I waited outside the prison, so he could revise the lease and sign it just in case, then I would take it to the broker and she would submit it to the tenant... it was a logistics nightmare for me. But then, after a crazy few days, it was done. The checks were cashed, the lease signed... and suddenly this 100 lb gorilla that had haunted me for months was gone. The house was rented and I had nothing left to do every day except write to Dan or visit Dan. After everything that had happened over the past week, I was very much looking forward to our next visit.

But even that was taken away from me. I sat in the bus stop waiting for visiting to begin for hours with the other visitors. Dan and I were so low on minutes this month, between calling his lawyers and brokers he couldn't also call me. We restricted ourselves to the hang up "I love you" calls. We 'spoke' through letters instead. Waiting in that bus stop, I had so many things I needed to talk about with Dan. And then, without warning, visiting was cancelled. The officer came out and told us all to go home. No explanation. I sat there and cried. I cried for a long time and then when they said I had to leave the bus stop, I stood by the hydrant and cried some more. I didn't know if Dan could see me (he could) but I wanted him to know I had come, waited, that the visit hadn't been cancelled because of me. He wrote me that he had seen me waiting, and crying, and that visiting had been cancelled because the elevator was broken. Because of an ELEVATOR I was denied seeing my husband. I cried all the way home. Those loud burning cries, the kind that leave your throat raw and your eyes itching. I was shattered from it all, just completely gutted.

I was angry. Furious that Dan had been kicked out of Taft and I was stuck in New York. Miserable and frustrated and unable to find a way to cope properly. So I turned to music. I listened to everything that brought me peace. Lyrics that spoke to me. I made play lists and handpicked every song. I wrote to Dan and told him to find the song "Fireflies" by Owl City on the radio. It was a new-ish song that was just starting to gain airplay and I was obsessed with it. The chorus was beautiful and delicate, the lyrics optimistic and sweet. I asked him to listen for it on the major radio stations, and told him to imagine I had dedicated it to him when he finally heard it..

On to Fireflies by Owl City. I'm listening to 95.5 and 100.3 quite a lot trying to find it being played. Is it a slow song, a fast song? Tank has seen me holding the lyrics and he offered to help try and find the song being played. I'm determined to know this song.

IT IS PLAYING. It is #6 on the countdown! 100.3!
Very cool. Techno a bit. Yea!

Keeping fireflies in a jar?

Hey! It is a happy song. I like everything from you to me.

Tank says that the song is about me going home, it is saying "Please take me out of here." (He says P.S. it is nice you dedicate it to me.)

Well, it is nice to finally hear the song after trying for the past 24 hours!

We move through this world together as one.

What was even cooler was that a few weeks later Dan sent me a newspaper clipping. I have a talent for predicting what songs will be hits. It doesn't mean it is good music necessarily, I just can tell what will be really popular. Fireflies hit #1.

When I finally got to see Dan the next week at visiting, I sang him the song quietly. I also sent him the lyrics to another song on the album called "Vanilla Twilight". There was a lyrics that goes "Empty spaces between my fingers where yours are supposed to be". I found that hauntingly real.

She probably won't remember me, but as I was waiting to get into the visit, a beautiful blonde woman came in and sat down to wait. She seemed very fragile and delicate, not the typical sort of visitor. I decided to keep an eye on her- I knew how hard it could be to not fit in here. We exchanged smiles and talked a little bit, I told her to let me know if she needed help with anything, and she said it was very kind of me to offer. When we got upstairs she sat down and visited with a young guy. Dan explained that the guy was Cameron Douglas, and he was awaiting trial. The blonde woman was his mother, Diandra Douglas. Dan and Cameron didn't interact much, but he was ok. Because of who his family was, he had a rougher time with the other inmates and staff. It was not fair, but it was reality. Dan had worked on some charities with his grandfather, Kirk Douglas, years before.

It was always the same. Every time I thought things were leveling out, something new happened. Dan was moved back to 7 North. He was not happy that Tank was not his bunkie or in his unit anymore. I was not happy either. It meant visiting changed back to Wednesdays (again) and that Dan didn't have a body guard any more. The phones on 7 North were more difficult for Dan because the lines were longer so we couldn't talk as easily. This was extremely frustrating because the tenants were supposed to be moving in shortly and they were texting me constantly with questions, complaints and demands. I had to respond nicely and quickly and hope I was saying the right things. There was a mural I had painted on one of the doors and the tenant had their painter paint over it. It broke my heart to know that it was gone. But I had to be grateful they were paying rent so we wouldn't lose our house.

Dan had use of a typewriter on 7 North. He stated typing all of his letters to me, and it made writing to friends and family a lot easier for him. Dan somehow became the guy in the unit who typed letters for other inmates who couldn't write. It took him thirty minutes per letter, but he did it because he felt it would gain him favor with inmates who might otherwise cause problems for him.
Prison lesson: Create a commodity or utilize a skill where there is opportunity.

November was always a good month in prison- the holidays brought extra perks. In December, the BOP also gave 100 extra phone minutes to the inmates, which we definitely needed! I realized Dan had now been in MCC for six months- which was as long as he had been in TI, Taft and Lompoc combined. Since I was basically sitting around my parent's house most days, I started babysitting my nephew while my sister worked. It was a decent gig- he was so little and easy to be around and I got naps. We would play all morning, feed him a bottle, take a nap together at 2pm and then play again until snack time, another bottle.

There was a lot of downtime so I started to focus on new projects to keep myself occupied. Dan had asked me to try to get a modification on one of our mortgages. It was a long shot, something he wasn't sure he could do if he were out and now it was something I was going to try to do on my own. If it worked, it would resolve a lot of the money issues we were having. If it didn't, Dan thought he could always try again when he was home.

I went ahead and bought the domains for a book idea I had started to write... you might be familiar with it. (insert winky face emoji here). I wasn't quite sure if I was going to write my actual story, or a fiction story based on my real life story, but I felt like there was a definite lack of a female point of view in all these white collar stories I was reading in the news. I knew firsthand from visiting, I was usually the only white collar wife waiting to get in. Most of the women I encountered were moms or wives visiting their sons or husbands for drug related crimes. I wrote a few versions and mailed them to Dan. He loved them. He liked the real version best, but since he was IN prison, we agreed not to do anything with the story until he was out. Just in case.