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!

9-2-09
Wednesday
7:15pm

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 bed...in 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.