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.

Chapter 23

You never quite know what each day will bring, and prison is no different. One morning, there was a unit wide raid. Welcome back to general population Dan!


My Dearest Darling Chani,

Today is a nice day!
It started off real strange though. This morning we were awakened by dozens of CO's acting as storm troopers.
"Get up...get out of the hallway...against the wall...Now...Now...Now"

So, we all lazily awoke, strolled out of our cells, and acted  genuinely slow and stupid. This is the prisoner modus operandi when told to move fast.

We then we were all, yes, all 96 of us, shuttled into 1 visiting room. We were all, yes, all 96 of us, strip searched on the way in and crammed into just one side. All of 5 South was stripped and crammed into the other side. An hour later 30 of us (I was one of the lucky 30) were released into the gym area to watch TV. Two hours later...

Well, during those 3 hours, the storm troopers raided each and every cell in the unit. They were looking for contraband.

Tank and I lost a single bowl to the raid. Why, I don't know. Everything we own was tossed around. We didn't care.

Raids like these happened fairly often, although rarely an entire unit at once. Thankfully, this time, the only casualty was a lone bowl. And we move on.

I finally got to see Dan since he had gone to SHU. For the first time in a New York prison, he got to see family too. His family had visited a few times in California, but no one from my family had been approved for visiting in New York until this point. My sister, her husband and their two kids came to visiting. I was very nervous. It was one thing to drag consenting adults through security and expose them to the vulgarity of a prison visit. I had never done this with kids before and I was worried someone would scare them, or they would be treated badly... the worries were endless. In the end, it was a smooth process and we all had a good visit.

 It was their youngest son's first birthday, and Dan had never met him before! He had been born a month after Dan went in. It was a pretty cool thing to witness, Dan meeting this toddler for the first time. They sort of sized each other up, looked each other up and down, and then Dan held out his arms and my nephew gave him a high five. A fair compromise. My other nephew was happy to see Dan, they had been buddies before he went away and it was cool to see them reconnecting. Vending machine potato chips and cookies can solve a lot of problems. I knew what this meant to Dan- to see these babies who loved him and were so happy to see him. Even in prison, even in this crowded, loud, uncomfortable setting. It was a cool day for us all.

A few days later my sister came to my parent's house with the kids and the older one looked up at me, smiled and said "I saw Dan" in that braggy sing-song way children have. He was only two but he knew it had been a special day. My sister told me they felt so good seeing Dan, knowing that he was still "the same Dan as before". We tentatively agreed they could come visit every other week. She also shared a letter about me that Dan wrote to her after the visit, where he wrote to "take care of her, she tries to smile even though things are tough".

The next week I visited Dan alone. It was wonderful for him to get to see other people with me at a visit, but then we would both feel like we hadn't seen each other after. I was a mess for that visit. I just kept crying and couldn't talk. Dan pointed out that I did this after every SHU episode. I would hold it together long enough to get him out, then fall apart when he was back in general population. It made me even sadder to think that we had gone through the SHU wringer enough times that he could see a pattern. He was right though. Somehow I could stay really strong and motivated and push for him to get out, and then when he was ok, I would let myself stop pretending I was ok. There must be a medical term for this. I'll call it "Stoic Wife Syndrome" for now. I was just glad to be back to regular visits- we had tax returns, property taxes, legal issues and renting our house out to discuss...I did not have time for this SHU disruption!

Dan had been trying to achieve the Book Club certificate at MCC since he had arrived at the prison. He had read everything on the list, but after he went to SHU, the librarian lost his paperwork, so he had to start over. He sent me this page, showing the entire reading list, and asked me to send him a synopsis of each book. I was stunned to realize he was reading some really classic literature. Of the 25 books on the list, I have only read eight of them myself. Dan read a few of them again and finally did get his certificate, which he mailed to me. Certificates are good for inmates- whenever they ask for favors, the facility will take into account if an inmate has certificates because it means they are actively trying to better themselves and participating in programs. Dan did every single program he was eligible to do. I have a stack of certificates to prove it.

Along that line, Dan was taking a 40 hour Drug Education class. He signed up for it thinking it was the NRDAP class- the one you take before RDAP. He didn't realize it wasn't the right class until Day #5 of 8. He learned a lot about drugs. Which is hilarious, since Dan had never done a drug. He would write me notes about each class- I learned a lot too. For instance, on Heroin Day, he wrote that the term "cold turkey" comes from the look of the skin, like a turkey, when quitting heroin use. "Kicking the Habit" comes from the kicking twitches when quitting heroin use. You learn something new every day!

On September 11, 2009, Dan wrote that although it had been eight years since 9/11, he still felt very affected by it. 9/11 is an odd subject for me, it feels very distant. I was in Israel when it happened- I missed it completely. The world was not as connected then as it is now, and I didn't find out about it right away. When I did hear about it, I couldn't reach anyone in New York to make sure my family was ok. The phone towers were down or overloaded for a long time. I wasn't even sure about the details. A girl had run into my dorm room and yelled out "They blew up New York!" then run off. I was supposed to fly home a week later for my brother's bar mitzvah- the first bar mitzvah in my family, and I missed it. All flights into New York were cancelled and international travel was suspended. That was my 9/11.

Dan had a totally different 9/11 experience. He had been commuting between Los Angeles and New York around that time. His company had offices in both locations and he would frequently hop on a last minute flight to attend meetings. It was well known by his entire staff that he would often change his plans last minute though, so you never quite knew which office he would show up at. The night before 9/11 he decided not to fly to New York and opted to stay in Los Angeles on a whim. Which saved his life. He had been booked to fly on one of the planes that crashed.

Of course, since we didn't meet until a year later, I didn't know how close I came to losing him. I once saw an old dvd that had footage of Dan on MSNBC or one of the finance stations, where he was interviewed about the effects 9/11 would have on the markets. It was probably 6am or 7am in Los Angeles when he got the call to hustle into the station and do the interview, just after the first plane hit. He was still in shock, knowing he had been meant to be on that plane. Dan lost many friends and colleagues that day, and he carries that loss with him. Knowing that he was in prison for another 9/11, in the city where it had happened, was tough. I couldn't comfort or console him. I couldn't even relate properly. Add it to the list of pain we had already accrued. You feel it. Sometimes you cry or react to it. And most days it is just there, a dull ache you don't acknowledge, like a bad bruise.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) happened and somehow Dan ended up leading the services for the six Jewish inmates who showed up. He had saved apples for a few days so they could uphold the tradition to eat apples and dipped them in jelly, which was as close to honey as they could get given the circumstances. It was a tough holiday for me, being in my parents house and seeing all of the couples with their significant  others. I was acutely aware of just how alone I was. It was easier to hibernate in my bed in the attic for days at a time, watching endless hours of nonsense on Hulu. I worried that I was very mentally ill because deep down I knew it was not normal for a person to function in the dysfunctional way I was existing. My family tried to help, but all I really wanted was Dan.

When Yom Kippur rolled around, the Chaplain summarily cancelled all Jewish services going forward. He said it was because "Jews aren't supposed to have services unless there are ten men". There were six. But that is a distortion of Jewish law. Jewish men pray in groups of ten if possible, but even when there are less, they still pray. I felt badly for Dan and the other guys in MCC who couldn't pray together on Yom Kippur and wanted to. I could go to services and all I wanted to do was stay in my bed!

Dan had started decorating his envelopes to me with cartoons and superheros. I displayed many of them around my room so I could look at them and feel close to him. It took him a long time to make each one and I loved them. He also drew some funny cartoons and mailed them to me:
In case the cartoon isn't clear...a rougher inmate is upset that the tiny guy changed the channel on the TV and beat him up. The small guy says after "I had no idea...he was watching home video of his family" and you see the show was "Animal Planet".
I'm willing to bet that although it was a cartoon, that scenario was not as far fetched as it sounds.

I wrote a letter to Dan about a weird recurring dream I kept having. In the dream, I wrote a book called "My Truce with God". The book was about how I grew up in a Jewish Orthodox home, but stopped being observant completely. My husband , who grew up traditional and was more non-observant that me, went to prison and survived by finding God himself, thereby forcing me to make a 'truce' with God. Meaning, I needed God to help my husband survive prison, even if God and I weren't exactly on speaking terms.
Reading that letter now so many years later, I am in shock. I forgot about that dream. I forgot how ridiculous I felt about myself, knowing that Dan found comfort in praying and carrying out Jewish traditions to the best of his ability because he was in prison. I was glad he found comfort and strength from it but really, it was comical. In that "Ha ha your husband is in prison" kind of way. Not really very funny at all.

Chapter 22

And so it was, that on Sunday, August 23rd, 2009, Dan caught another mouse. He wrote about it to me in great detail. I probably cried. That seemed to be my reaction to everything. I probably also cried because there was always some asshole guard who could have just done his job or not done his job, but either way left Dan alone, yet who chose to make his life harder.

"4pm Sunday
I got a stamp finally. I traded my Wall Street Journal from Wednesday for it. So, I'll get to mail some of this letter. I just realized that I have seven sheets of paper already in this letter and a single stamp takes only six sheets. So I'll either get another stamp or I'll mail this sheet on another day. 

A mouse just ran across the floor in my room. First, I thought it was a large cockroach, then I jumped at it and realized it is a mouse! Ok, so I'm not the only unlucky soul in this prison cell. He is fast!

Today I was asked if I was Muslim by a CO. I said, "No." He responded with "It says here on this list that you are Muslim and you are fasting." I said "I'm Jewish." He said, "Well, we'll have to see if you get food tonight because the list says you are Muslim."


I CAUGHT THE MOUSE! Stupid little mouse is now in a milk carton."

In my mind, I have this image of Dan scrambling around his tiny SHU cell, maybe enacting a bit of parkour acrobatic type shenanigans. Little mouse zipping to and fro and Dan in hot pursuit. Truthfully I was grateful that there was a little mouse who provided some distraction and gave Dan something to do and write about.

I left a note on my door that says "CO, I caught a mouse. I don't feel like I should have to share my cell with him. He is in the milk carton by the door. Please dispose of him properly. Dan
p.s. Can I please have my property now?"

Since the note is covering my window they should see it soon. Now I'm the damned exterminator in SHU. Sick!

Well, the CO brought me dinner. No entree. Just a piece of fruit, a little lettuce, spinach, one tomato, one green pepper and four slices of bread. Sad. I'll starve on salad!

He was in total disbelief that I caught a mouse. He took it away repeating "I want to know how you caught a mouse!"
(10 minutes later)
He brought me a real tray of food because I caught the mouse! Pasta and chicken- same as the other prisoners. It is a full tray too! So I have lots to eat! Yea!

6pm Sunday
Ok, eating that "tray of real food" didn't go so well. My stomach revolted. Damned revolutionary!

I cleaned up and took a bird bath with soap, a hand towel and lots of pushes of the water dispenser in my sink. I smell decent now (at least I think so) and there is no mouse any more... I should have kept him so I would have had a friend to talk to.

Even though I was miserable about Dan being in SHU, although not as miserable as he was to be there, I found his letters hilariously entertaining. I would read parts of them aloud to my family and we would all reminisce and giggle as it reminded us of other Dan related stories.

He could listen on his radio to the TV's from the floors above and below him, so one night he wrote about the Miss Universe pageant. He gave me a play by play on each contestant, how they sounded and if they answered questions well enough. He was only listening to it on his radio, so he couldn't see them but I had watched the show myself and his predictions had me laughing for a long time.

Dan also continued his quest to read every book ever written, with the goal of getting a Book Club certificate of achievement. After devouring the expected literature available, he wrote he was happy because he had just gotten a copy of Twilight. He remembered that I had read the series and was looking forward to reading them so we could share thoughts on the story.

The 1st 20 pages of Twilight are about an unhappy high school girl. This is not what I expected!

Page 43- Still about a high school girl and some bizarre interaction/crush on a beautiful boy. Bella and Edward.

Page 65 Edward saves Bella's life but Bella now suspects Edward has magical powers.

10:30pm Monday
The orderly dropped off two batteries for me... actually the CO gave them to me from him. So, I am not worried about my radio going dead. I have the two batteries I'm using and two new ones now. I should get my property tomorrow and commissary some day this week. I wonder what day is commissary. I vaguely recall it being ordered Wednesday for Thursday arrival.

The writing in Twilight is easy to read. I'm enjoying it so far. Since the book is 500 pages it should take me many hours to finish. Probably 10! Yea! I see from the cover that there are 3 more books in the series.

11:20pm Monday
page 130-150 So the Cullins are vampires and the Indians have a pact with them. Interesting. Sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Beaver Cleaver in Mayberry. Innocent, yet dark and brooding, in a 50's sort of comic way.

Did you ever see the movie?

1am Tuesday
I'm getting tired, I'm on page 242. So it is a story about high school romance with a vampire twist. I'm not sure whether to be mortified that a high school girl is falling for a permanently 17 year old vampire or if I'm shocked that such a simple story line can be such a big hit. Maybe a little of both."

Ok, so maybe Twilight wasn't exactly literature, but as evidenced by the pages he wrote about it, it definitely kept Dan entertained. The next day he was given some of his property. A lot of items were missing and Dan was pretty distraught about it. Most importantly, his tallis and tefillin were gone. We had worked really hard to get a pair for Dan in prison and now they were just gone. He also caught a cockroach in his cell and once again asked the CO to dispose of it. Dan wondered if the cockroach came out because the mouse was gone. I wondered why he cared.

The next day Dan was informed that the duty officer had "found" the missing tallis and put it away for when Dan got out of SHU. Still no sign of the tefillin though. It didn't really matter anyway, SHU sucked regardless. There was talk that Dan would be released the next day, but no one could confirm it and until it actually happened there was no sense in believing it. Dan drew out a chessboard on a piece of paper and played hours of chess with Kareem, another SHU inhabitant across the hall. They would call out their moves to each other and mark it down on paper. At least it kept them occupied and distracted.

Dan traced a picture I sent him and mailed it to me. It was one of me holding my tiny preemie nephew on the boardwalk in Manhattan Beach, NY. My whole family had gone to Brooklyn for a housewarming party for my sister and her husband. There were a lot of wonderful pictures taken that day, but I loved this one most of all and sent Dan a copy of it.

I hadn't heard from Dan and I didn't know if he actually was out yet or not, so just in case I went to visiting that Monday. I was turned away. It always hurt to be turned away, even when I knew there was a chance I wouldn't be admitted to begin with. The week dragged on and I harassed every contact I had to get Dan out of SHU. The real story was slowly coming out (as Dan described it in his letters). Essentially, he had been asked by an officer to try to purchase a cell phone that was rumored to be for sale in the unit. When he went to the officer a few days later and asked if he was supposed to talk to SIS (they are like the secret Gestapo of prison officers), he was whisked away to SHU without explanation. Now it was up to me to figure out a way to get the Free Dan train back on track. Him being in SHU was interfering with everything- his designation, his meetings with his attorney and the judge and most importantly OUR VISITS. 

I wasn't expecting a call from Dan, but I was waiting on many different other calls so when my phone rang and it was him...I was unprepared. He kept telling me he was ok, that he was getting out of SHU today. It was hard to process. Why was he calling me to tell me he was getting out of SHU, when he was still in SHU? Just call me when you're out of SHU? I mean, I was glad for the call, of course, but the whole thing felt odd. I was absolutely flummoxed and unsure what to expect. What the hell was going on???? 
Friday, Aug 28, 2009 10pm (Not In SHU)
My Dearest Darling Chani,

What can I say about today?

I awoke in a different cell than I did yesterday.
I was told to "get dressed" and cuffed and brought to the SHU Lieutenant's office. Awaiting me there was the 'Acting Captain' who made a point of repeatedly telling me that the Warden had told him to tell me to "Call your wife, she can't sleep, tell her you are getting out of SHU today." He handed me a phone and said "Now what are you going to tell her?" I said "that I love her." He said in response "and that you are fine, you are ok, remember to tell her that you are "out of SHU today"."

I've never experienced this.
Moreover, he let slip that "your transfer is being worked on and you'll be out of here in a week or two to the place you want to go." I asked "Otisville?" He said, "I don't know." What an experience! This was at about 9am too. What a way to be awakened!

So, I called you and then was put back in my SHU cell by CO's that were acting extraordinarily nice to me. Something obviously happened in the past two days. The attitudes of all of the Co's changed towards me to "hands off, respectful, treat with care."
At 1pm I was taken to 5 North where I currently sit.
Not much has changed in 5 North. I have a different bunkie now though. Can you guess who it might be?

It was Tank. 370 pound Tank who ended up being, hands down, no question, the best bunkie Dan ever had throughout everything. He was also a legitimately nice guy and looked out for us both. Tank even told Dan he had seen me come for the Monday visit and get turned away. He could see where the visitors waited from his (and now Dan's) cell window. Tank gave Dan some clean clothes to wear until he got his property back, and some shower shoes so Dan could take a proper shower.

I don't know what specifically made those officer's change towards Dan. I know I called in every favor I could. I reached out to all the people I thought might have influence or pull to get him out of SHU. Many times, if an inmate goes into SHU, for any reason, they get stuck in there because no one cares enough to get them out. Whatever magical combination of buttons I pushed, it worked. Dan was back in general population, in a good unit, with a great bunkie. It was a decent end to a pretty stressful summer. Somehow August was over, and I was still in New York. Wake me up when September ends.

Chapter 21

I should have gotten a puppy. That whole summer I spent my time visiting Dan at MCC and the rest of the time I tried to find positive things to do with myself. Sometimes after a visit, I would stop at the pet store near Costco on Rockaway Turnpike and play with the puppies. It really cheered me up and helped me smile. There were two puppies that I loved- a fluffy tiny Yorkie and a mini pinscher. I named the Yorkie Nyla. The min pin in particular touched my heart- I went to visit him a lot. I named him Cody and took many pictures of him and sent them to Dan. I should have gotten him. Dan totally supported it, and said it would be a great idea, if I wanted him that I should do it. But I put off making the decision and rationalized that I didn't know where I would be, how long I would be living at my parents house or where I would end up in the near future. So I delayed and delayed and then one day he was gone. I was crushed and relieved- now I didn't have to decide, it was out of my hands. I hope Cody has great owners and the most wonderful life.
 Dan was getting increasingly frustrated with the inmates in his unit. There was a race war going on between two groups (Hispanics vs. Blacks) and inmates would attack each other and then there would be violent retaliations. Every time there was a disturbance, the whole unit would get locked down. In this unit, lock down meant being locked into your cells, so no phones or showers or recreation until it was deemed safe. It was really disruptive and drove us both crazy. Dan, of course, had the extra pressure of staying out of the fray and not getting dragged into anything, since he belonged to neither side. So he spent all of his time in the library as a volunteer, tutoring inmates for their GED's. If he wasn't allowed out he stayed in his cell reading or writing.

A few times when I was waiting in the visiting room for a visit to start, the unit would get locked down and I would be stuck sitting there. Visiting at MCC was slightly claustrophobic for me. I previously mentioned that I had to take an elevator to get up to the the room. When you cleared security, all visitors sat in a waiting room until there was a big enough group, then we would line up for the elevators. Basically you exited the elevator and waited in a windowless hallway while the guard unlocked the main door. There was a locked door on the left that led to a staircase and a locked door in front of us that led to the visiting room, which is the one we entered.

The visiting room was really two small rooms connected by a third tiny room, all separated with bars and cell doors. The two vending machines were in the tiny middle room which is also where two guards sat the whole time. There was a bathroom connected to one visiting room. I tried to avoid sitting near it, otherwise your entire visit was punctuated by the opening and closing of the door since in order to use the bathroom you had to ask the guard to unlock it. In the other visiting room was a locked door that led back to the actual unit. Dan would get called to visiting and come through that door. There were chairs arranged around the room in a circle, against the walls. Inmates couldn't sit next to each other so it was visitor, inmate, visitor, inmate. The room would get insufferably hot and LOUD. There was an ancient wall fan that they would turn on, but it was so loud, it made talking and hearing each other more difficult.

Dan had requested to change units, the fighting was too risky to be around. The unit was still on lock down and he hadn't called all day. When I got a letter the next day from him, he wrote that he had been told he would transfer to the new unit (5 North) in a few days. This meant visiting was changing again, to Thursdays. When he transferred, he carried his possessions with him but couldn't take his feather pillow that he had bought from commissary because he could only take what he could carry. It was supposed to be brought down to him later, but the pillow never made it to 5 North. Fortunately, Dan did. I told him to splurge and buy another pillow when his commissary limit reset.

The new unit was much better. Because the 5th floor was the cadre floor, most of the inmates there were nicer and easier to get along with. They valued their jobs in cadre and the fact that they were allowed to be in a better unit. There was no fighting for food and the phone and shower lines were easier. Dan somehow joined the Italian Food Club. It consisted of him and three Italians who pooled their food together and created gourmet meals. Dan met so many high profile people, sometimes he would tell me about them and not even know who they were. Jackie the Nose was in his unit, he had been John Gotti's partner. I met his family waiting for visiting and they were extremely sweet towards me.

Dan became friendly with a guy in the unit nicknamed Tank. He was called this because he looked like one- just a giant solid rectangle of a man. Tank made a mean banana pie with nutella and he would give some to Dan. He also knew how to draw and would decorate the envelopes for Dan to mail me letters. Dan's bunkie had a theory about the wives of inmates. He said they were experiencing "false death syndrome". Since their husbands are away and there is so little contact, it is like they are dead to them, except during visits. I didn't like the concept and felt there were a few flaws with it. Even though Dan was away and we had such limited contact, there were so many issues and things I had to deal with BECAUSE of Dan that wouldn't exist if he had actually passed away. If anything it is more like having a loved one in a vegetative state- they are constantly present but you don't know when or if they will return to you the way they were. It was a bizarre conversation to have.

And then, just like that, it was August 11th, 2009. Dan had been in prison for a year. I had a weird thought that I didn't want to have to repeat a date on a letter. Somehow I had imagined that by the time that happened, he would magically be home. Impossibly, the year had dragged by so slowly and yet sped past us almost too quickly to fathom. How could it already be a year? And had it been ONLY a year? I found and mailed Dan a cute card that had a picture of a monkey on it, holding a phone, looking sad and dejected. The caption read "Keep Hoping It's You". I couldn't have said it better myself.
On Thursday, August 20th, 2009, I went into the city for my weekly visit with Dan. I had gotten my sister and her husband on the approved visitor list and she was going to meet me there for her first visit. She was also bringing her two sons, one of whom Dan had never met since he had been born after he went into prison. Earlier in the day a lawyer of ours had gone to visit Dan for the first time too, and he had emailed me that it went well. So, when I handed in my visiting form a few hours later to go through security for my visit (my sister would be joining us later) it was an absolute shock when they handed it back to me. The CO told me that I could not visit today, Dan was in SHU.

He what now? I could barely hold back the tears. Again??? Why. Why now, what happened. I once again had a million questions and zero answers. I called my sister and told her not to come, thankfully she hadn't left Brooklyn yet. Then I called every lawyer and rabbi and asked them to find out what and why and go visit Dan. I got on the subway and went to the house and dragged a wet/dry vac to the back deck and started vacuuming dead leaves out of the gutter. The fury and anger built up in me and physical labor was the only thing I could do. I knew if I talked to anyone I would blow up. 

A few hours later one of the lawyers called me, he had managed to run to MCC and see Dan. No one knew why Dan was in SHU, and they weren't sure how long it would last for. The good news was SHU at MCC still had visiting, so if he was still there by Monday, I could go see him at 5pm. And lawyers could visit seven days a week. Two days later I got a letter from Dan basically explaining the same thing- that he had visited with one lawyer that morning and after the visit been brought to SHU without explanation. He felt awful that he knew I would be showing up for a visit and not know in advance that I would be turned away. He wrote how grateful he was that I had called the second lawyer and asked him to see Dan right away. They had sat in a legal visiting room and the lawyer bought Dan cookies and ice tea from the vending machines.

Later, back in his SHU cell, Dan was able to get a funny little rubber pencil and paper to write to me. There was a Lieutenant who was fairly decent and he went to Dan's property and brought him his radio, extra batteries, his watch and more paper. Dan was in much better spirits at that point, until 11pm rolled around and he realized he was in a cell that had a permanent light. Always on. It also had a camera monitoring him. And no desk or shower- just a little sink/toilet combo unit. Birth baths for everyone! A bird bath is the prison version of splashing yourself with water from the sink in an effort to not smell.The next day he was given a mini pen. He found both his writing utensils hilarious and eventually mailed them to me. I still have them:
The lawyer went back the next day as well and sat with Dan for a while. He bought Dan a lot of snacks and let him know that we were all working on getting him out of SHU. Food was always a problem in SHU and if not for these lawyer visits Dan would have been very hungry all day. He also confirmed that I knew about visiting and was planning on coming for the Monday visit if Dan was still in SHU. Later on the Lieutenant came back and asked Dan to sign a form that he was in SHU for his own safety. He didn't feel he was in danger in the unit, but the Lieutenant told him he would get out of SHU much more quickly if he signed it. No one would tell him why he was there though.

I got a letter from Tank. Throughout all the different prisons, all the different bunkies, Tank was the one guy that actually helped Dan the most. He was a good guy, just had a rough life, and he wrote to tell me Dan was in SHU. He didn't have to do that- he used precious paper, an envelope and a stamp for me. 
He wrote: Hey, I'm just letting you know that your man is in the box. I'm not sure why he went to the box, but if its possible write me back and let me know what's going on. His visit day is on Monday just so you know. Let him know I send my love. Take care of yourself, but don't forget to let me know what's going on. Take Care.
p.s. He told me to write this cause you had a friend but since he is in the box I'm sending it directly to you for one of your friends. Thanks"

Tank had been asking Dan if I could set him up with one of my friends as a pen-pal. After I read his letter I asked a few of my friends if they would write to him. He included a letter of introduction for me to give to my friends. I will always be thankful to Tank for being good to us. He looked out for Dan so many times- there are so many more Dan and Tank stories coming your way. He had his back and that's not something that would typically happen between a white Jewish inmate and a Puerto Rican. I will always and forever be grateful and thankful for Tank. I should have bought the puppy.