Chapter 16

Dan was on the “Passover Food” list so for every meal he would go to the cafeteria where he was handed a brown bagged “Kosher for Passover” meal that he was allowed to take back to his bunk. Usually, food from the cafeteria was not allowed out, but due to someone misunderstanding how Passover works when they wrote the policy, the Jewish inmates were allowed to leave with their food and eat it wherever they so desired. There was a group of about ten Jews in Lompoc who gathered together for Pesach dinner. One of these guys was a huge Hispanic inmate named Robert. His father had been Jewish, his mother had not, and he had taught himself to read Hebrew in prison. He was studying to convert but no one would help him. He had reached out to the chaplain and different Rabbi’s with no luck. It probably didn’t help that he was covered in tattoos, but he wouldn’t give up and told Dan his dream was to study in a yeshiva one day. Robert felt it was the only way he would be able to get to Heaven to see his deceased father. Dan was immensely inspired by Robert and did what he could to help him with all of his Jewish related questions (which meant he wrote to me and asked me stuff, that I in turn asked my dad if I didn’t know the answer myself, and wrote back).

Our house in New York terrified me completely. It was something I had pretended I was handling, but really done very little about aside from calling the broker to ask why it was still vacant. The broker had been neglecting it and another agent had called to tell me the basement had flooded. They had discovered this during a failed showing, where the prospective tenant had looked in disgust at the damp basement. I called a friend of ours that lived in the city and he went to the house and confirmed what I already knew- we needed to do some major repairs and upgrade things like the carpet. I randomly saw an article in the news that same day. Madonna had bought a townhouse down the street from ours, one block away. That motivated me a bit further- hopefully the new celebrity appeal of our block could help us rent out the house! Meanwhile, I was nervous, I had never overseen the repairs on my own before!

We weren’t supposed to know, but someone within the BOP had told us that Dan was about to be transferred back to New York. My belief on anything I heard regarding anything BOP related was always “I’ll believe it when it happens” so I didn’t think it was that likely. Now that Dan was in a secure location, not in SHU, and I had seen him with my own eyes, I knew it was okay for me to fly to New York and try to fix our house. I made sure everything was as ready as possible, and then I drove up to Lompoc with my bags packed for my two days of visiting up there and then a week in New York. I had a wonderful weekend visiting with Dan, walking outside in the yard holding hands the entire time. I didn’t believe he was really transferring but, just in case, at the end of the visit I hugged Dan and told him to be safe if he actually did transfer back before I saw him again. We had spent the entire visit walking the yard in the windy sunshine and discussing the What If’s of the future and my plans for the repairs. He was pretty sure he was going in the next week and I was pretty sure I wasn’t so sure, but I played along because why not. It was really scary to have arranged so much by remote- I had contacted a repair guy we had used when we built the house and he had quoted what needed to be fixed over the phone to me. I scheduled carpet installers to meet me at the house and because they had installed there before all I had to do was pick the carpet, they already knew the measurements. After the visit ended I literally raced back down to my apartment in LA to park my car and jumped into a taxi and went to LAX.

As amazing as it was to see my family I knew I had to face the house. Once I saw it, I was completely overwhelmed by the scope of the repairs necessary. The previous tenant had caused normal wear and tear, but there was that water damage in the basement that had been left untreated and was now moldy and the carpet did need to be replaced entirely throughout the entire house. There was a room we had built to eventually put a pool in, but never finished so it was a giant concrete empty space- that leaked and dripped and needed to be painted and sealed. I was on top of it, it didn’t matter that I had travelled well over 3400 miles over the course of the previous three days with little to no sleep. I rented a Kia and was off, running around to Home Depot and Lowe’s, getting supplies for the repairs and then out of nowhere SLAM

As I exited the parking lot at Lowe’s in Brooklyn and drove down the street, I stopped at what I assumed was a stop sign. I couldn’t really see the actual stop sign, because there were garbage trucks parked on both sides of the street blocking the view. I drove forward and was t-boned by a car that had not stopped at his stop sign. A car that didn’t know I would be there, because I had driven down a one way street the wrong way. The garbage trucks had blocked the signs warning me of this. My rental car tin can Kia was completely and totally trashed on the right side, all the airbags on the right had gone off (but none on my side) and the car had spun around full circle and was now across the intersection, facing the opposite direction. People ran up to the car to see if I was okay, I’m sure I tried to tell them I was fine (as in, all of my bones were still in my body and there appeared to be no blood) but I remember hyperventilating and just sobbing loudly, inconsolably. The police didn’t know what to do with me, I was incoherent. The paramedics strapped me to a backboard because I had hit my head on the window and had a bump and the ambulance took me to the ER in Park Slope. I don’t really remember much but I know I called my parents and they came to Brooklyn pick me up. I was fine, physically, just very shocked and shaken. I was scared to tell Dan I had let him down, that I had gotten into ANOTHER car accident and that I wouldn’t be able to oversee the repairs properly. Oh my god, what about the carpet installers!

Dan was completely freaked out by my accident. So was I of course, but he really got scared. We had already been through this in October when I got rear ended on the freeway in California, so it was unnerving to have another accident so soon after. He wanted me to stay in New York and be near my family. It worried him that I was alone in California. He wrote that he wondered if the judge would release him early so he could chauffeur his wife around so she would stop getting hit by cars. But I couldn’t stay in New York- I had an apartment and a husband back in California. And I despised the East Coast, with it’s cold weather and ridiculously high strung inhabitants. It didn’t matter though, two days later I was still in New York and Dan had disappeared. No calls, not a peep from him. I knew with a sinking feeling that I was about to go back to California and pack up my apartment and move back to New York for the next little while.

Dan was in transit again and I stuck to the plan we had agreed on. I flew back to California, gave a week’s notice on my apartment, hired a moving company and moved all of my stuff into storage at Dan’s father’s house in Northern California. I drove behind the moving truck and then had my car picked up from there to be shipped to New York. Then I flew to New York and showed up at my parent’s house. Thus began the time I refer to as my “Ghost in the Attic” era. I resided in the attic and barely left my space up there unless I was going to visit a prison. I will tell all of it in due time of course, but I applaud my parents now for not saying what they must surely have been thinking. “We married you off already, no returns!” I’m joking of course, my family welcomed me back in with open arms. I didn’t know how long I would be there for, neither did they, no one did.

I spent many days and nights in our big empty house in the city, doing many of the repairs myself. I had a frantic need to get it rented out before Dan got to New York. The big empty leaky dripping pool room made me cry every time I saw it. I bought supplies and spackled walls, painted scuffs, vacuumed everything and set about putting things right. I hated being in the city without Dan. New York was always his city, I just hung out with him there. I sat in places we used to go to eat and stared at the menus. I knew what he liked to order but I didn’t have preferences when it was just me. Everyone in the neighborhood said hi when they saw me in the street, but they always asked where Dan was and sent their regards. I kept writing to Dan but I didn’t mail anything because I didn’t know where he was going to end up. The stack of letters grew and grew.

I end this chapter with a quote Dan mailed me when he learned he was transferring again.
I don’t know why it applies but it felt profound.

Chapter 15

On April 3, 2009, after sitting in SHU for a little over two months, Dan was moved from Taft to Lompoc FCI.  Lompoc was a five hour drive north of Los Angeles, up the coast past Santa Barbara.  I know this because once he arrived, was processed in and put into general population on April 10, 2009, and had his phones working again, he told me.  

Meanwhile my sister had a baby boy and two days before that Dan’s brother became a new dad for the second time. So many new lives and Dan couldn't be a part of it. I was so excited to have phone calls back, Dan called me every morning and every night for a few minutes and it was the most precious time in my day. Our families had resumed writing to Dan and he would respond and mail me their letters and his replies so I could mail them (that way he didn't have to use his money to buy postage).

One of my brothers wrote to him about a science project he was doing and asked for help building a smoke detector. Dan wrote about it to me, laughing because he said he asked so many inmates for help and they all laughed and said the same thing. In prison they learn how to DISABLE smoke detectors, not fix them! They even showed Dan how easy it is to make a flame out of anything… one method was to use a battery and peel back the wrapper, then put the metallic wrapper from a Hershey’s Kiss against it and poof fire. The second method was even cooler- Salt, two paperclips and water, plus the wrapper. Here is an excerpt from that letter (which he typed because the library had a typewriter):
Somehow, although we had a six month ban on visitation at Taft, we were able to resume visits almost right away.  Because the punishment had been issued from a privately run prison and the counselor who interviewed Dan saw how much having a visit would mean to him, she overruled the ban and allowed us to resume visiting right away.  I went for my first visit on April 18, 2009. My mother warned me to “dress dowdy” so no one noticed me and so we didn't attract any unwanted attention. She was still pretty shaken from events of the last visit (weren't we all!).

The drive up to Lompoc was more brutal than the other drives to other prisons had been, mostly due to the distance.  I also had to make a decision about staying over in Lompoc, alone in a city I knew nothing about.  The way visiting worked there, I would drive up extremely early Friday morning, go to the visit, stay in a motel overnight, visit on Saturday and stay in the motel another night, visit again on Sunday then drive back to Los Angeles completely exhausted.  Lompoc is probably a very nice city if you live there, but as a female driving up there alone, all I saw was seedy looking motels and scary rundown neighborhoods.  With regard to the motel, from everything I read online they all sucked, so I opted for the one that was the cheapest with the most stars on yelp for cleanliness.  I decided to ignore the fact that my neighbors on either side were of the Hells Angels variety complete with tattoos and motorcycles. Luckily for me, I only had to drive up to Lompoc three weekends in a row, but I will explain that in due time.

Lompoc is a farming prison.  A what, you ask.  Well, it is a prison located on acres of farmland where the inmates are tasked with caring for the crops and animals.  The population there was pretty rough and comprised of a lot of inmates serving very lengthy sentences.  I didn't talk to any of the other visitors if I could avoid it and even kept chatter to the minimum with the guards.  Lompoc was one of the worst places for me because most of the Hispanic or Black visitors despised me.  I am not sure why it was so bad here specifically, but I was always aware of how white and Jewish I was when I was at the prison.

Dan looked skinny and tired. His hair was too long and he seemed transparent, like vapor. I was so happy to see him, I didn’t care that we were standing in a windy freezing cold yard for most of the visit. I could hold his hand and walk around outside with him. That is what we did the entire visit, all three days, with short breaks for coffee or chocolate bars. We were not big fans of this facility. Dan immediately went to work with his lawyer trying to get shipped back to the Southern District in New York so he could fight for a sentence reduction.  Thankfully his stay at Lompoc was fairly brief but in the small amount of time he was there I collected a lot of funny anecdotes that need to be shared so here goes.

The Running of the Children
Every year in Pamplona, Spain there is an event called The Running of the Bulls.  It is exactly what it sounds like- the citizens release these bulls to run through the streets of the town and people come from all over the world to run with them.  There are nasty injuries, where the bulls gore participants and it is a bloody, violent event.  How does this relate to a prison in the United States?   I am glad you asked.   At Lompoc, when you pulled up to the prison parking lot (which you were not allowed to enter until 8:00am- the guard literally stood there and waved you away, which resulted in multiple cars driving back and forth up and down along the side of the road, all trying to be the first one in at 8:00am to get the best parking spot).   Why should a parking spot matter so tremendously?   Wow, you are on point with your questions! The reason is what I affectionately refer to as The Running of the Children.   A lesser known but no less violent event whereby the moment the clock struck 8:30am every soul in that parking lot jumped to attention, waited for the signal… oh wait- I forgot some details.

Once you entered the parking lot at 8:00am, and you’ve played musical parking spots, you must then sit in your car and wait- with the doors closed.   Wait for what, well it depends on the guard who is guarding the front doors of the prison that day.   Sometimes they will motion with their hands, sometimes blast an air horn, sometimes have the second officer waiting in his SUV flash his lights and ring his siren.   It doesn’t really matter what the signal is, the point is the moment- the exact instant- that signal happens a virtual tidal wave of children starts pouring out of the cars in the parking lot and running for the spot marked on the concrete in front of the building where the line starts.   It is unlike anything you have ever seen in your life, unless of course you have experienced the Lompoc visiting adventure yourself, in which case I offer you my sympathies.   These tiny bodies sprinting as though their very lives depend on it, running for that treasured spot.

The first time I went and saw this, I was already in trouble with the officer on duty because I had pulled up before 8:00am, been told to leave, come back and had to drive to the far end of the parking lot, then got out of my car, walked all the way across the lot to the front door, only to be yelled at again by the officer and told to get back into my car immediately.  Looking around I realized the entire lot was full of cars- with people waiting in them, so I went back to my car and lit a cigarette, with the door open and one leg on the ground.   Suddenly a shadow blocks my light and the officer is back telling me to get in my car this is the final time I will be told, and no smoking on the premises.

By the time the signal went off, which I totally missed, and I looked up- not only was every child already in line, but the adults were starting to lumber out of their cars, locking the doors and waddling to their join respective offspring.   See, the adults realized that if they just made the kids run, they were pretty much guaranteed a good spot in line, and here is where it gets even more interesting.   Once you procured your cherished spot- you sold it.   Yes, sold.   For dollars.  

I got lucky that first visit, it was a slow day so I made it into visiting before the lunch cut off (if you don’t make the cut off, you don’t get in until the afternoon so you missed half a day of visiting).   The second time I came prepared, ready at attention in my car, saw the signal, sprinted across the parking lot- and realized I was either going to have to physically push these tiny humans out of my path or slow down and admit defeat.  I’m too nice of a person to trample innocent children who potentially would be spending their latter years at this very facility, so I once again, found myself close to the back of the line.

That, my dears, is the Running of the Children.

Chapter 14

Before Dan went to prison, we had a friend and lawyer who used to come over on occasion. He was also one of the only people who has ever seen me throw up. That’s a weird memory to have, but it’s true. Once when we were living in a tiny sublet down the street from our house while it was under construction, he came over to meet with Dan. I had eaten a spinach, chicken and mandarin orange salad from a random bodega on my way home. I know- you never eat the salad at a random bodega. Well, anyway, I know that NOW. This lawyer had a very bad drinking problem and would come over completely drunk and talk endlessly with Dan. I got to the apartment, said hello, and ran into the bathroom spewing spinach, chicken and mandarin oranges into the bathtub. It was not cute. Both he and Dan agreed- most definitely the least attractive moment they had seen me in. I still avoid mandarin oranges to this day, which is a shame because they had been a crowd favorite. 

The reason I mention this lawyer in the first place is because he gave me a “Dan is going to prison” gift. It was a tiny plastic toy saw with a note that read: Stand by your man, bake this into a cake. He passed away before Dan went to prison. We attended the funeral and I remember crying, thinking that Dan had invited two friends to be at our wedding and now only one was left alive. I won’t name him here because that is unnecessary, but I thank him for always making me laugh and trying to push Dan into good decisions, even if they were vodka infused. I still have the saw and the note, and I still smile when I look at them. Rest in peace.

Dan existed for me through his letters, that was our only contact. I kind of felt like I was in some bizarro version of the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock movie called “The Lake House”. It’s a love story where they exist in different times and write letters to each other, falling in love, but because they exist in different eras they never meet (I think they do in the end but I can’t recall). It just felt like I was writing these letters, pouring my heart and soul out on paper… to a ghost. A man who I knew rationally existed, but who I hadn’t seen in over thirty days and who I could only reach via the US Postal Service. Strange times.

I have refrained from naming the staff at the various prisons because everything right and wrong that they did is in the past. But in a letter from Dan, he wrote of an officer named Stuntebeck. It turns out, Stuntebeck was one of the officers who took Dan away at visiting that day when he was thrown in SHU- maybe even the creepy one with the mirrored sunglasses who freaked me out afterwards in the parking lot. I know this because he told Dan this was the case when he was patrolling SHU. Dan went on to inform me that Stuntebeck had been at the front desk that morning of that visit when Dan brought the box of books he had gotten permission to leave for me. The officers at the front were annoyed that he had left the box there for me, and later this officer bragged to Dan that it was part of the reason why he got a shot in the first place- because they were annoyed with him and that he ‘Shouldn’t have come back to visiting when he knew they were annoyed with him”. Because Stuntebeck had DS duty, he would frequently taunt Dan with the idiotic phrase “Don’t Jew me” whenever Dan made any requests. Mysteriously on the days he was on the floor, items would be missing from Dan’s breakfast and his mail wouldn’t arrive. It was maddening and terrifying at the same time.

There was another officer who would wake Dan up every morning with a bang on the door with his keys and boots. Those were usually the days his bread was missing from his food. If Dan asked for bread, the officer would tell him to ask nicely. Dan asked nicely and the officer made him ask a few more times. Finally when he saw Dan was close to tears, he would throw the bread in through the slot onto the floor and watch while Dan picked it up. I hated that man for making him grovel and beg. I know being a correctional officer is a job, like any other, but I firmly believe it takes a certain twisted personality to become one. There is something wrong with a person who wants to work in an industry where they can belittle people and be more powerful. There were a few decent guards we met along the way, but those were few and far between- for the most part the ones I encountered were miserable, mean and petty. On the plus side and totally unrelated, Dan was given a list of everything in his property that was being held for him until he was released from solitary. Thankfully for me, the list included a photo album containing 48 photos of yours truly. Sigh of relief.

Dan was definitely feeling the effects of solitary- he wrote that he had seen a ghost in his cell and been so startled he had yelled at it to go away. He was then very sad that it did go away and he was alone again. I worried about him. I also knew he might not be totally off the wall- I saw a ghost once. I spent time in Israel after high school and while that is an entirely separate story that maybe one day I can tell, this one event applies here and now. I had been expelled from the first school I was in approximately two weeks after arriving in Israel. It was also twenty four hours before Rosh Hashanah. A friend told me to call this rabbi in Gush Etzion and that he would not only accept me and my also expelled roommate into the school, but that we could probably go there for Rosh Hashanah (therefore not be homeless for the holiday). Cool beans,
I called the rabbi and he said we could most definitely come- so we loaded our luggage into a sheirut (taxi) and headed to our new digs. That night I was lying in my new bed, on the bottom bunk of the bunk bed I now called home. I fell asleep and for no reason I woke up and saw a sepia toned old woman standing in the room in front of me. She didn’t say anything, she just pointed at the window and suddenly I heard noises. There was shooting going on in the distance and I could see the lights from flares reflecting in the dark sky. I screamed and woke up my roommate and she didn’t even question me, just  made us get onto the floor and she started saying tehillim. I was half asleep and very uncomfortable on the floor. Eventually she fell asleep but I just sort of dozed. It was a weirdly spiritual night for me. So while I was concerned that the most rational and logical person I knew had seen a ghost, I wasn’t totally worried, since I had my own spooky story.

The DS had emptied out and it had been only Dan and another guy down the hall, but he woke up on day 40 of being in SHU and heard many voices. They had brought in a new group of inmates. Dan wrote that he was very upset by an episode he witnessed where a guard refused to give two guys across the hall their dinner, claiming it had run out. After the guard left Dan slid bread and saran wrapped vegetables from his own meals across the floor to them, even though he would be hungry later. One of the guys wrote him a note thanking him. It had a profound effect on Dan. As much as he was hurting and suffering, he knew he was loved and he had me waiting for him. He felt fortunate that he had enough food to be able to share with those less fortunate. He sent me the thank you note.
I was in the shower singing random songs and I randomly segued into the song “Somewhere Out There”. I know it from the movie An American Tail, and there’s a cassette tape in my living room that has me and my friends slaughtering it in karaoke in high school. I knew the words, but I had never really thought about the words. Singing it now, I started crying. The lyrics hit me right in my chest- they were so accurate and fitting. I printed the lyrics to mail to Dan in my next letter.
Forty days after he had arrived in solitary and forty seven days since that fateful visiting day, Dan was moved out of DS and back into regular SHU cell. Just like that. He got all of his property back (radio, books, food, watch, pictures) and had a new bunkie named Eddie. Eddie used a sheet rigged up as a shower curtain in the shower...he had been taught that by a previous bunkie who had learned it from another guy who had shared a cell with Mark who had been Dan’s first SHU bunkie. Dan showed him some newer modifications he had come up with. Shower Sheet 2.0 if you will. The fun lasted exactly one night- the next morning Dan was moved to another SHU cell and told his status was now “low” and he was no longer “minimum”. That meant he was not allowed to be in a camp. Common sense indicated to us that he would be transferring very soon, since they wouldn’t let him return to Taft camp and he was not a medium (thankfully!). So Taft was not willing to keep him any longer. Realistically it seemed he would end up in Lompoc Low. Lompoc is located near Santa Barbara and it would be a tough commute for me. The drive would be approximately five hours compared to the two hours it took me to get to Taft. But really we had no answers, as usual, just many many questions.

I went to see a movie with two of my friends. It was the new Fast & Furious movie. I have always loved cars and I loved the movie- it was great...up until the end. When I saw Vin Diesel on the screen in an orange jumpsuit and he is going to prison. To Lompoc prison. I couldn’t stop the tears. I cried silently all through the credits. Everyone else in the theater was so amped from the movie and I felt like I had been slapped in the face. No one said anything until we left the theater and then one of my friends put their arm around my shoulder and said he didn’t realize I was so sensitive about movies. He didn’t know that Dan was in prison and I couldn’t explain that having Lompoc be part of the story line when Dan might be going to that exact prison had freaked me out.

Some of the officers were cool to Dan and even though BOP policy is that you never tell an inmate when they are transferring, one of the officers let Dan know that he would be moving soon and to be prepared. He didn’t tell him when or where, but the heads up was nice. Dan wrote to me that he would let me know as soon as he could and not to panic when he disappeared. He also got conflicting reports from two other officers. One said there was only one transfer run happening that week and it was to the airport (so maybe Dan was transferring back to New York?). But the other officer said a special run had been scheduled to Lompoc (so maybe that was Dan’s new destination). Either way- we knew he was moving and it was going to be happening within the week.

And so it was on Erev Pesach, that Dan was instructed to pack up his belongings. Whatever he was not allowed to take with him was packed into a separate box and sent home to me, on the BOP’s dime. When all of his stuff was packed up he was back in his cell to wait. Dan had just the library book that he had been reading, nothing else. He knew they would come and get him at 4:30am. An orderly came by his cell and told him he thought Dan was a great guy for doing so many nice things for other guys in SHU that Dan had never even met. He asked if there was anything he could do for Dan in return. Dan asked him if it was possible to get a stamp, so he could mail me one last letter from Taft. The orderly returned a short time later with a bunch of stamps, although Dan only took one. 54 days in SHU and now on the holiday that celebrates freedom through a journey, Dan was about to go on a new journey himself, freed from solitary at last.

Chapter 13

On Purim, I found out the amazing news. Dan would be staying in Taft after all. It was a Purim miracle. He still had 47 days of Disciplinary SHU to survive, but how hard could that be? I breathed a sigh of relief reading the letter he had written and opened the next envelope from him. Even though he wrote me every day, the letters didn’t get sent out daily so I would go a few days with zero mail and then receive two or three envelopes. As I started to read, my heart dropped. The letter was dated two days earlier and in it Dan outlined how he had been asleep in his cell when without warning two officers burst in, dragged him out into the hallway and cuffed him. They tossed his entire cell searching for contraband, yelling and screaming at him to “give it up”. Then they took away all of his books including his siddur, they threw his medications and all of the plastic spoons and cups he had been saving in the trash and tossed all of his letters and papers onto the floor. The tiny cell was a shambles and they finally uncuffed him and pushed him back in, slamming the door shut, yelling at him that he was getting a shot.

He sat there on his messed up bed and cried. There was no safety. No common decency. He was in prison and had no control over anything. They could just enter his space and do whatever they pleased. There was a Sergeant who came down a few hours later to write Dan up for a new shot- apparently he was in violation for having contraband because he had used the end pieces from the sticky address labels he had brought with him from TI to seal his mail shut. When he had been admitted into Taft they had allowed him to keep the labels and it was a pretty smart way to close envelopes. When Dan explained how he had been allowed to keep the labels in his possession, the sergeant pulled out an envelope addressed to me that had been flagged in the mail room and Dan proceeded to open it in front of him and read it out loud. It was a love letter to me. Realizing that the officers had wasted everyone's time and that Dan was not violating anything, the sergeant tore up the shot he had been writing. Had he given it to Dan, Dan would have had additional time in DS added to his punishment. Dan was so shaken up from the day, the whole ordeal had gone on from 9:30 am until well after 4:00 pm. I cried reading the letter. I couldn’t comfort him, I couldn’t even react in real time This had all occurred a few days prior and due to our inability to communicate beyond writing and mailing letters I was only now finding out about it after the fact. I was grateful that at least the sergeant had his head on straight and didn’t abuse his position of authority and made things right. He came back later that evening with replacement medications for Dan and even found two books for him to read. Small miracles.

Although we were not observant before Dan went to prison, he had found comfort in maintaining certain traditions. It didn’t hurt that the kosher meals were of a much higher quality than regular fare. I still didn’t keep anything on my own, but Dan said some prayers in the morning, and did Friday night kiddush and read Aishet Chayil aloud in my honor. That night without his siddur, he made kiddush on some apple juice from lunch and said as much of Aishet Chayil as he could remember by heart.

Ayshet Chayil
Who can find a wife of excellence? Her value far exceeds that of gems. The heart of her husband trusts in her, he lacks no gain. She treats him with goodness, never with evil, all the days of her life… Give her praise for her accomplishments and let her deeds land at the gates.
I mailed Dan a copy of the prayer that I found online. I also sent him kiddush and morning prayers. I knew it meant a lot to him to have these little connections to me and to our families. 

One of Dan’s friends who had maintained a close connection with us both throughout the case reached out and invited me to attend his meetings. He had been in AA for over twenty years and thought I could use some support. I had only recently told him about Dan being away and he had been writing to him, which I really appreciated. In my heart I knew Dan had asked him to check in on me and try to get me involved with anything that could make my days easier. I had been to a meeting years earlier with a friend when they were attempting sobriety, but I had been so socially anxious I didn’t speak up. This time when I went, I just introduced myself and listened to everyone else who was there. After the meeting a few of us went out to eat and one of the guys who sort of knew a little bit about Dan started giving me a hard time. He kept going on about how I needed to use this time to focus myself and make myself strong for when Dan came home. I know he meant it from a helpful place but it felt like an ambush and he was abrupt and confrontational with me about how I was choosing to spend my time while Dan was in prison.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, to listen to an outsider judge my actions without knowing what each day was like. Yes, I should get a job and function daily and live my life for myself. Of course I wanted that too, I just didn’t know how to start doing it with everything else that was going on. Knowing that Dan could be moved to another place and I might have to move too, and visiting could start again and change. I had our vacant house in New York and the mortgage on it to worry about and health bills from my car accident and lawyer’s fees. Starting a new job and adding to my plate terrified me so completely I couldn’t even entertain the notion. I cried that night, wondering if anyone would ever understand what this was like.

After a lot of planning and many letters back and forth, we retained an additional lawyer to help Dan get back to New York to try to shorten his sentence. It meant that given the choice, Dan would be moving back to a facility on the East Coast. I knew it would be hell but he felt very strongly that getting the opportunity to argue his sentence gave him a good shot at coming home earlier. Transit out west the first time had been such a nightmare, I didn’t know how he could voluntarily opt to do it again, but I wanted him home too, so I promised to do whatever I could to make it happen. I tried to put the fears and uncertainty away so that I could focus on pushing the right people to make this transfer happen quickly and easily.

In DS there was no one to talk to if you didn't have a bunkie, and Dan didn't. He would save his margarine packets and when he wanted to get in touch with the guy in the cell across the hall he would lob a packet through the tiny slot in his door aiming for the door across from his. Once they made contact, they would slide books across to each other and try to swap food as well. Kosher fare was mostly salad ingredients so he would slide saran wrapped veggies across the hall to this guy instead of throwing them away when he wasn’t hungry. In exchange once, Dan got a snickers bar. He was so excited, he hadn’t seen chocolate in over two weeks and wrote me that he was turning into a rabbit from all the greens. Getting that chocolate bar was such a big deal to Dan- he couldn’t decide if he should eat it right away or save it… he gave in and ate half of it that afternoon. As a result, we vowed to always have chocolate in the house when he got home. Such a small thing, such a comfort. It reminds me of the way my mother describes her mother, a Holocaust survivor, eating chocolate. She would eat each piece so slowly, savoring the flavor, the taste. Even though today she can go to a store and buy as much chocolate as she wants, she still eats it the same way.

Chapter 12

At Dan’s insistence I went to see a therapist. He had been urging me to go for a few months and I kept putting it off. I didn’t really feel like paying someone to tell me I was stressed out, I already knew that. But I went and to my surprise I really enjoyed the first session. At the second session the therapist tried a relaxation technique with me. She told me to shut my eyes and imagine I was in a happy place. I inhaled, exhaled, and started crying when I realized my happy place was visiting Dan in prison when we got to sit on the benches outside. It was more than that, it suddenly clicked how messed up this whole thing was. I never went back after, not because she was not good, but because I was certain that my life would be perfect after this was all over… right? 

I got a letter in the mail from Dan’s old bunkie. He let me know that he had my album with my photos in it and that if I wanted him to he would mail it to me. I was flummoxed. What was this “IF” business??? I had been under the direct impression that the deal was he was most definitely mailing me the photos. But I didn’t want to write back until I cleared it with Dan because BOP rules prevent inmates from interacting and if anyone thought it was their way of trying to communicate with each other through me outside the prison it could cause more problems for Dan.

Dan wrote me a troubling letter about the status of his DHO hearing. Basically the officer who was overseeing it had yelled at him for discussing it with his attorney, and threatened to end all legal calls if he continued. The same officer was also unmotivated to talk to any of the inmates who had been in visiting that day to corroborate Dan’s story. I wasn’t sure what to do to help- we had written letters, had lawyers call, done everything in our power to make this right. But then I got the letter I knew was coming- Dan had lost his DHO hearing. His punishment was 30 days in Disciplinary Segregation (DS), 27 days of lost Good Time Credit and six months of no visits.

The page swam before my eyes as I read his letter. Disciplinary Seg is very different than plain old SHU. There’s levels to this stuff. No commissary, no radio, no pictures, no books, no newspapers. Dan would still get mail if I wrote letters, but it could only be letters- no sending anything else. He wouldn’t be able to buy stamps to mail me his responses, but he had a few stamps still, so he said he would ration them. The loss of time off his sentence sucked but it was 27 days, not a lifetime. The thing that punched me in the gut was the visiting ban. Six whole months. It was hard to breathe. We also didn’t know what would happen after- would he be allowed back into the camp? Lots of questions with absolutely no answers.

He was moved to the DS wing into a new cell. No roommate but once again it had a shower in the cell. Creative genius. Necessity. Dan became a master MacGyver during his time with the BOP. His creativity really shone during this time in DS. He described the shower in his cell, and wrote that it was missing the shower head. The water came out either hot or cold, there was no in between. So he could opt to scald himself with a jet of water or freeze his matzah balls off. Instead, he fashioned a corkscrew out of the handle of a plastic spoon and jury rigged a spigot shower head. In case I couldn’t understand the description he depicted, he drew pictures outlining it as well.

Dan also had to create a shower curtain, since his brand new corkscrew shower head spat water all over the place and his shower did not come with one.

After all of that effort, Dan finally got to take a shower. In all of the prisons, there was one brand of toiletries provided. These were manufactured by Bob Barker, same as the Price is Right Bob Barker. The BoBo shoes (canvas slip on shoes) were manufactured by and named after him as well. Dan used his Bob Barker shampoo and his Bob Barker soap. His toothbrush didn’t say Bob Barker on it (it said “Made in China”) but his toothpaste did. For added humor, the Bob Barker shampoo is called “Maximum Security. I wonder if somewhere out there Bob Barker deposits his earnings and giggles.

This Disciplinary wing of SHU was made up entirely of immigrants with the exception of Dan. There was a group of Hispanics who had been brought in and they would sing moaning wailing songs in Spanish. One would start singing and then another would join in and another… Dan was not a fan of the “dying cat mariachi music” as he described it. The songs seemed to be mostly about the lost love that had been left behind. Since most everyone in the wing was waiting to be deported, he wondered why they were singing sad songs- they were about to be sent back to their countries and could be reunited with the love they were singing about!

There were two men down the hall in DS who shared a cell. One was named Mohamad, the other Ricardo. Mohamad was waiting in SHU before he got deported to Syria. Ricardo was in SHU for stealing a stick of butter from the kitchen. He had received a 200 level shot (same as Dan) and lost 27 days of good time credit- all for $1 worth of butter. The reason Dan knew all of this, even though he had never met either of them, was that Mohamad’s second language was English. So was Ricardo’s. So every day Dan would sit in his cell down the hall and listen to the two of them ATTEMPT to communicate with each other.

In reading through our letters now, I feel so silly. A lot of what I wrote was so repetitive- Dan and I  always covered the same few topics. How much we missed each other, how much easier this would be if I could just see him, how much time was left/how much had already gone by and how we were going to explore the world when he got home. Once, when we were all hanging out at my parents house in the months before he went to prison, there was a family discussion among my siblings about being there for one another, as a family. It was unrelated to prison just as a general thought, since they had no idea what was about to happen to us. Dan looked right at me and promised he would always protect me- and suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a neon yellowish blur come zooming across the room at my head. Dan’s hand shot up in the air in front of my face as I shrieked… and then he slowly opened his hand. He had caught my nephew’s kamikaze bird (named Fudgie the Budgie) who had been dive bombing right at me from across the room. No birds were harmed in the making of this story or the events leading up to it, that I am aware of. Fudgie was fine, albeit back in his cage for the remainder of the day. I remember sitting there laughing hysterical tears because it was hilarious and terrifying at the same time- I knew inside my heart that soon Dan would not be there to catch any rogue budgies that flew at my head.