BIGGER THAN ME by Richard Roy

Prison is an incredibly negative environment that perpetuates hatred, segregation and all manner of evil.  It is a personal goal of mine to engage this mindset in combat at every opportunity.  Only time and others can judge my success.

I gave this speech for my benefit in completing another goal as a Toastmaster while using it to recruit others to my case.  I hope it inspires you as well.

Bigger than me

By Richard Roy


A grandfather and grandchild were walking the beach at low tide.  Stranded starfish lay along the shore, dying in the morning sun as far as the eye could see.  The little girl ran from one to another, stopping just long enough to stoop, pick it up and fling the starfish into the surf.  The grandfather asked, “Child, what are you doing?”  “I’m saving the pretty starfish gramps.”  “You can’t possibly save them all,” he pointed out.  Stooping to pick up another, she pitched it to the sea before replying, “No, but I made a difference to that one.”

Today is the day for an uprising, a revolt, the day to buck the system, today we change the very fabric of the culture of FCI Oakdale.  From this day forward, those who wish to espouse a doctrine of hate are no longer acceptable.  Today we make a difference.

Man is not inherently good.

This statement is contrary to what we want to believe.  We are told by media, ministers, motivational speakers and mama that deep inside each of us we want to the right thing.  This concept is so ingrained into our society that we assume it is common knowledge.  So why are our prisons full and growing daily?  If humans are inherently good, why we are so surprised, inspired even, by such a basic idea as Oprah Winfrey’s “random acts of kindness?”

I submit as evidence of man’s base instinct – the man sitting next to you.  That man, when left to his own devices, took the low road.  When he was unsupervised his mind wandered.  When darkness fell, he used it to his advantage.  When technology advanced, he perverted it.  When others craved to feed an addiction, he filled it.

But, you may say, these are learned behaviors.  Really?  Who taught the toddler to say, “I dunno,” when mom asks, “who broke the vase?”  How does the youngest of our offspring know to assign blame to anyone other than himself when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary?  Why is bullying rampant in our schools?

Think Bigger Than Yourself

With all this self-centeredness built into our nature, we must work at thinking bigger than ourselves.  Most parents are able to encompass their children in their circle of caring without too much effort.  Beyond that, though, requires work.

Deep thinkers have recognized the need for “looking out” for thousands of years.  But the concept often makes us uncomfortable.  Take, for instance, the “Golden Rule:” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  In the seventies we saw the bumper sticker:  Do unto others, then split.  Another cynical aspect is:  He who has the Gold, Rules.

The following, philosophies embrace the golden rule.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul the apostle wrote, “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Sacrifice?  Doing good is so hard for humans that the most prolific writer in the New Testament calls it a sacrifice?  And don’t forget?  We have to tie a string around our finger just to remember to do something good for someone else?

In Buddhism, the Law of Karma states, “If you do good, good will return to you.”

The prophet Mohammad taught, “What I want for myself is what I want for my brother.”

The Roman statesman Seneca said, “This is the law of benefits between men; the one ought to forget at once what he has given, and the other ought never to forget what he has received.

These great thinkers believe it a basic necessity of life to think bigger than ourselves.  To do any less, mankind threatens to hate itself out of existence.

The second law of thermodynamics states that order slides into disorder.  The human equivalent is a teenager’s bedroom.  The parent picks things up, washes clothes, organizes the closet and makes the bed.  Within moments of the teen entering this ordered space, chaos descends.  It is only with the application of energy – parent, teen, maid – that order is reestablished.

In our personal lives, the application of energy is required to restore harmony between people.

Accept responsibility for your own life

In the book Good to Great the author interviews the owner of a highly successful manufacturing company.  The author wants to know what sets this operation apart from the competition.  The owner points to the wall overlooking the manufacturing floor.

“See that glass in the wall?  When things are good:  Profits up, expenses down, quality exceptional, that glass is a window.  The credit belongs to the people doing the work.  I never forget they are the reason for our success.”

“But when a glitch occurs, that glass becomes a mirror.  The problems belong to me.  But guess where the solution lies – out there.  The solution to the problem is in the hands of those who know the process best.  It becomes my responsibility to draw the answer out; encourage input and provide resources to effect change.”

You are the CEO of your life.  You own the outcome of your actions.  Give credit for your successes to those who deserve it.  You know how to read?  Thank a teacher.  You’ve written a stellar business plan?  Thank Mr. Edwards.  But when life happens and you find yourself in prison – look in the mirror, then give yourself the resources to change.  Your best resource is your attitude.

I don’t have the courage

We all fear rejection.  Humans are social animals.  As such, we desire the company and approval of fellow humans.  Many of my decisions in life were rooted in the desire to please others:  Spouse, children, bosses, co-workers, subordinates and even total strangers.

The perception of peer pressure is a powerful force.  Humans will fall in line, often against our will, because we perceive compliance is what our peers demand.  But what if those around you are simply waiting for you to take the first step.

The reality of our situation is we are in a physical prison.  Our bodies are incarcerated in an extremely negative environment.  Many around us feel the need to enforce compliance to their negative world view.  I’m going to let you in on a secret:  They’re scared.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hatred is often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of fear.  The more he fears, the more he will hate.  And hatred is also a great anodyne for shame.”

Now is the time to start a revolution!  A revolution against hate and fear.  A revolution of courage against peer pressure.

I started attending Miracle Place Church after I was arrested.  Like many of you, I sought answers to why I made the decisions I did.  At one week night service I arrived early to pray.  Alone, in my corner at the back, I silently pleaded for a sign that my prayers were heard.

“God you know I don’t take hints very well.  So please don’t ‘suggest’ my family and I will be okay; Let me know for certain that you have heard my prayers.”

A frail 84 year old woman named Ms. Dorothy knelt at my feet as I sat in my chair at the end of the service.  She put her hands on either side of my head, pulling me forward until our foreheads were touching.  In a firm voice she said, “I don’t know what this means but God says he heard you the first time.

Courage to break the norm.  Courage to take the first step.  Courage to approach a stranger to deliver a message of encouragement.  Do you have the courage of an 80 year old woman?  Need more encouragement?  Let’s look at the health benefits of social contact.

The Donner party is a group of men, women and children, some married, some single, some family, some strangers just along for the ride.  In the early 1840’s they became stuck in the Mountains due to early snow storms and bad advice.  By the time members of the party managed to reach help, more than half the party had died.  The survivors had resorted to cannibalism.

Critical analysis of this tragedy reveals the following from the book “The Indifferent Stars Above.”

“Male or female, those who traveled with a large family group had a better chance of survival than those who were on their own.  This is in keeping with other studies correlating survival with the size of social networks.  Scientists are not sure why this effect takes place.  Theories point to better sharing of critical information and scarce resources, better mutual aid in emergencies, better emotional support, and the possibility that the immune system is physically stimulated by close proximity to loved ones.”

Imagine that, being surrounded by people who like you increases your own chance of surviving hardships.  If you are too timid to reach out to another person for their benefit then do it for yourself.  Build your base of friends, your social network, to improve the quality of your own life and advance your own longevity.

Want more health benefits?

Doctor Caroline Leaf states in her book “The gift in you:”

“There is a massive ‘unlearning’ of negative toxic thoughts when we operate in love.  The brain releases a chemical called oxytocin, which literally melts away the negative toxic thought clusters.  So that rewiring of new non-toxic circuits can happen.  This chemical also flows when we trust and bond and reach out to others.  Love literally wipes out fear.”

“Dopamine works with oxytocin.  It flows as we expect and anticipate something.  It gives us a thrilling surge of energy and excitement and confidence and motivation to carry on.  Then when we experience what we anticipate, endorphins and serotonin are released that make us feel great.”

Dare to be different

Whom do you admire?  Michael Jordan of sports?  Jack Welch of business?  Steve Jobs of technology?  Warren Buffet of investors?  Dr. King of civil rights?  Gandhi of social change?  Why?  Because they dare to be different.

Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you are trying to create.”  You must dare to be different.

It is not enough for us to talk about the ignorance of prison mentality.  To change prison thinking we must live the change.  Each of the leaders I mentioned weren’t elected to their role.  They dared to be different in their respective fields.  They saw a better way and made the change.  They led the way out of the trap of “group think.”

I once had a battalion commander shut the door to my office and plop down in front of my desk. “Roy,” he started, “when you look at 2nd Battalion, they are always at the top; physical fitness, marksmanship, unit readiness reports, always number one.  Others are always shooting at them, trying to tear them down off the pedestal.  On the other hand, if you are always at the bottom then people look down at you and wonder why you’re so messed up.  I think it’s important that we aim for the middle.  Not the top, not the bottom, but in the middle where we don’t draw any attention.  Understand?  I’m glad we could have this talk.”

He walked out of my office leaving me to meditate on the mysteries of mediocrity.  I got his message.  I had pushed my soldiers hard to be the best.  I wasn’t satisfied with sloppy seconds.  I wanted to be first.  His philosophy was to aim for mediocrity.  Once you fight your way to the top its hard work to stay there.  He did not have the will to be different.

There is a fable of a weary traveler that wandered into a village one evening.  There in the center of the village was a pit filled with warm sewage.  Thirty or forty people were in the pit with the filth up to their chins.

Unable to believe his eyes, the traveler got too close to the edge and fell in.  Immediately he clawed at the sides of the pit doing everything he could to get out.  The nearest villager shouted, “Calm down, you’re making waves.”

Is that where you are today?  Happy in your warm pit of filth as long as nobody makes waves.  Or do you have the large pair of solid brass orbs necessary to be different.

Don’t wait for the wizard

In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” each member of the traveling party had something they desired:  The cowardly lion – courage, the Tin man – a heart, the Scarecrow – a brain.  Dorothy just wanted to go home.

In the end, each member of the Oz party discovered they already possessed the desires of their heart.  All they needed to do was exercise it.  The Lion didn’t need the wizard for his courage.  It was in him the whole time.  Likewise, each of you possesses the ability to influence the life of another person on this compound.  Don’t wait for the Wizard; make a difference today.

Like Dorothy, we all desire to go home.  The men in this room have already taken positive steps to make that transition a success.  When I leave these meetings I feel good about our futures.  I know I’ll take a lot of lessons learned with me, as will you.

However, what we take with us is not nearly as important as what we leave behind.  Will this compound be a better place for you having been here?  Or will you have made no difference at all.  Like a canoe slipping across a still pond in the early grey fog before sunrise:  minutes after you’re gone there is no memory of your presence.

So set goals to make a difference.  Like the little girl and the starfish, maybe you can’t make a difference in everyone’s life, you can make a difference to one.

When you walk into a restaurant you don’t say, “bring me some food.”  Instead, you are very specific – you pick exactly what you want from the menu.

Right now I want you to set a goal to do one act of kindness before you get back to the unit.  Introduce yourself to someone and make a concerted effort to remember their name.  Then call them by name when you see them around the compound.  Hold the door open for someone and let them go ahead of you. Give a legitimate complement to someone you don’t ordinarily speak to.  Now set a goal for everyday this week.  Every day, make the effort to be a difference maker in someone’s life.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California – Riverside recently completed a study called “Kindness counts.”  One of the things the study showed was that participants experienced significantly increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction after one month of documenting three acts of kindness per week.

But when compared to a control group, who documented three pleasant places they visited per week, those who performed and documented their acts of kindness were liked and accepted to a greater degree by their peers.  On average, they gained 1.5 friends during the four week period.

Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Need Help?  Try one of these

–          Write a friend to say that a song or movie reminded you of them.

–          Shut up and listen

–          Help carry the trash out

–          Give someone a book that had meaning to you

–          Tell someone about the qualities you admire in them

–          Introduce someone to another of your friends

–          Hold the door open

–          Write a letter to someone you admire telling them how they touched your life

–          Let someone go ahead of you in line

–          Clean out your locker, give unused stuff to someone else

–          Smile, make conversation


I noticed a relatively new guy to our unit had not quite integrated after a couple weeks.  He sat by himself, rarely conversing with those around him.  I was even witness to a tense exchange of words between him and the medical staff.

I used the incident as an opportunity to start a conversation with him.  We walked to dinner together, ate together, and walked back together.  At my cell we parted ways.  I observed him make it about halfway through the unit, turnaround and walk back to where I was standing.

He stuck out a hand the size of a Virginia ham.  As I attempted to shake it he said, “Thank you for having dinner with me.”

I looked into his eyes well over a foot above my head and could see a difference had been made in the life of one starfish.

Make today the turning point; the riot of 2013.  The day the BOP will come to recognize inmates instituted positive as the norm, rejecting negativity as acceptable.

I finish with a quote from Dr. Seuss:

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own and know what you know

And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.



By Steve Marshall

One clear and present function of any law is to punish the wrong-doer.  But a secondary characteristic of equal importance is for the law to serve as a deterrent to others; a warning against breaking that societal covenant.

I am one such wrong-doer, currently serving a seven and a half year sentence for breaking a law. I foolishly engaged in the downloading and trading of online child pornography. It stands as the single most careless and stupid act of my lifetime.

Let me state upfront that I blame no one else for the shameful actions that led to my downfall. I knew I was breaking the law and I did so anyway. We live in a world where we are held responsible for our actions and I accept full culpability for mine.

But while I was aware of the illegality of my activities, I had no concept of the extent of the consequences; of the price that I would have to pay; both legally and personally, for breaking the Law.

Since the advent of the internet, the number of arrests for possession of child pornography has skyrocketed. The offenders cut across all strata of society. The stereotype for this charge is the predator or pedophile and without a doubt there are many arrestees who fit this profile. But among those presently serving time for this offense are those who simply had too much time on their hands, those who were merely curious or those who like myself, took a perverse delight in violating society’s taboos.

Speaking for myself, there was no thought given to the continued exploitation of innocent children through the circulation of these heinous photographs. I stupidly regarded this as a victimless crime.

After all, these children had no way of knowing that their images were being viewed, right? Wrong! Each time an arrest is made and a photo identified in the FBI database, the government sends a letter to the subjects in the picture notifying them that they have been viewed. Some of these unfortunate people, many of whom are now well into their adulthood, have received hundreds of these letters.

Here is another common misapprehension: We are all anonymous on the Internet. Wrong again! Each computer has an IP address that is easily traceable. Finding you is no problem at all for police and the FBI.

I cannot help wondering how might I have behaved differently had I been exposed to some of the harsh realities of I what I had become involved in; the full nature of the dangerous game I was playing and the consequences that awaited me should I be caught.

For these reasons, it seems to me that the effectiveness of child pornography laws as a deterrent would be heightened greatly by an aggressive campaign by the Justice Department to educate the public on the realities of child pornography through newspaper ads and public service announcements on radio and television. Toward that end, I have written such a PSA which I offer gratis to the Justice Department:

A man is seated in darkness, his face illuminated only by the ambient light of the computer screen before him. As the announcer speaks, the CAMERA pushes slowly into him.


A set of bars slides from right of frame to left.


The camera settles on a close-up of the man’s face through the bars, a single tear rolling down his cheek.


ANNOUNCER: Child pornography is against the law. Yet, since the innovation of the Internet, arrests for this crime have risen 2400 percent. You are not anonymous on the Internet. If you are engaged in this activity, we will find you. We will arrest you.  And you will be sent to prison for anywhere from five to twenty years. SOUND EFFECT: A jail door slamming shut.


ANNOUNCER: A message from the United States Department of Justice.


I can state with absolute authority that had I seen such an announcement, I would have been scared straight.  If there is genuine interest in stemming the rising tide of Internet child pornography, I recommend a vigorous, intensive and narrowly focused program of public education. It will prevent the further exploitation of children and former children who have seen their lives tainted by sexual abuse and the recording of it on film; and it will prevent others from following in my misguided footsteps down a road that brings only shame and ruin.


Resetting My Life Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Prison

by Steve Marshall

      First, let me stress that the title is a joke. I couldn’t resist the temptation to parody the 1964 classic film, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” In truth, I love prison about as much as I love the bomb.

      Actually, this is about how I arrived at the unexpected realization that I accept being a prisoner and embrace the fact that I am where I need to be. This is the story of how I arrived at this surprising crossroads.

      When I was arrested on April 15, 2009, it was a sudden and immediate wake-up call; a punch in the gut that informed me that my life had gone seriously off the rails. Like many people in a similar situation, I became painfully aware ‘that I had lost sight of my moral compass ‘ and that my spiritual cup was bone dry. I tried to address the problem by joining a traditional Christian church. But with each’ passing Sunday, I realized that, for me, this was not a comfortable fit.

      You see I am, by definition, an atheist. Most Judeo-Christian theology strikes me as magical thinking. My life is informed by science, logic, provable fact and natural law. Having said that, I must add that I have the greatest respect for the beliefs of others. Whatever gets us through the circuitous maze that we call life and provides us with strength, wisdom, comfort and a sense of direction is ‘aces in my book. Let’s face it – no one has the facts. All we have is what we believe to be true. In that sense, each of us has his or her own personal truth.

      So where does an atheist go for spiritual enlightenment? In my case, the answer lay with the Unitarian-Universalist Church.  You see, the U-Us have no dogma of their own. In fact, they offer classes in the world’s religions, urging us to seek what makes sense to us. Take something from Christianity, ‘something else from Buddhism, add a pinch of Judaism or a dash of Hinduism and let simmer. It is, in effect, “Build Your Own Theology.” The principle goal and purpose of Unitarian-Universalism is to lead us in the direction of becoming better people. I knew after attending my first service that I had finally found a spiritual home.

      But when t came to be locked up in a’ remote Southern prison, I discovered that they offered no Unitarian-Universalist services. In fact, they had never heard of either faith (the Unitarians and the Universalists merged in the 1960s), even though both have existed for hundreds of years. So what was I to do? How was I to continue this spiritual journey?

      Happily, I found more than one person in my circle of remaining friends who were Unitarian-Universalists and were willing to download the sermons of U-U ministers from a number of different churches and mail them to me. I keep them in their own envelope and withdraw one each Sunday to read and digest. I have come to think of myself as “A Congregation of One.” Someone very close to me (a U-U, of course) has even started a blog with that as a title, posting excerpts from the letters that I write after reading each sermon.

      Most of the sermons provide interesting and engaging food for thought. But occasionally I’ll come upon one that is a real life changer. Such was the case on Sunday, January 12, 2013 when I read a sermon titled “Want What You Have.” My first reaction upon seeing that title was that I was probably not going to connect with this sermon’s message. After all, what I have is three and a half more years of living in a federal prison. Who could possibly want that? Well, never judge a book by its cover nor a sermon by its title.

      This particular sermon was based on the works of Rev. Forrest Church, the former minister of All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church in New York and a religious scholar of some renown.

      As I began to read, I was informed that “Rev. Church had written an essay which bore the title “Want What You Have” when he was in the end stages of his life, suffering from terminal cancer. I was taken aback with this news as I stopped reading to consider how anyone could advance such an idea – want what you have – when what he had was a virulent disease that was killing him. I read on and soon realized that I was myopic in my grasp of Rev. Church’s message. His thesis challenged me to look at the bigger picture and see that what I had was more than just a life in prison. What I had, in fact, was an unparallel opportunity to learn and grow.

      When my life deteriorated to the point of leading me to become a convicted felon for the first and only time at the advanced age of 65; the one thing that became blindingly clear was that I was in serious need of a mid-course correction. My problem was so serious that it would require much more than a simple fix. I needed to have my entire life reset.

      In order to achieve a reset, I needed to go back to square one; to lose my home, my family, all of my possessions; my freedom itself.

      I must confess to the fact that I had become a master of the dubious art of distracting myself from any meaningful contemplation that might result in my becoming a better human being. I had my giant screen television, an endless stream of movies and my beloved iPhone, which ensured that I would never again have to endure another nanosecond of boredom. I had the Internet to take me anywhere I wanted to go, including the most degrading and debasing places possible. All of these things conspired to sap away my basic humanity. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was all gone.

      The biggest loss, of course, was my marriage and the love and esteem of people who meant everything to me. Some of those relationships survived; others did not. Some of the people whom I loved to the depths of my soul are lost to me forever. But a reset can’t always be pretty. It can come with a very high price tag. It doesn’t happen in a day, a week” a month or even a year. It takes time, patience, attention and a fierce desire to be a better person than I have ever been. I finally have the time and motivation to focus laser-like on that goal. The seeds ‘for this reset were sown the moment I first stepped into the U-U church while I was still under house arrest. The work has continued at a steady pace ever since.

      I have almost reached the midpoint in the six and a half years that I must spend in federal custody. I know to a certainty that I am already a better man than I was on the morning of April 15, 2009. But I still have some distance to travel before I will be who I want to be – the man I always thought I was. That’s who I want to become.

      I am a work in progress.

      I am grateful for the time, energy and motive to become that man. That is the immutable gift that has been given to me.

      So.   Do I want what I have?



By Anonymous

“Good night, Sweet Prince.
May a chorus of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
William Shakespeare

Tony Casson has written eloquently in this space about the American mania for incarceration and the many ways that it affects both those who are locked up and those who love them and have been left behind to fend for themselves. So I thought it might be fitting that I write about my own experience being cut off from my family.

I am originally from Southern California and moved with my wife and son to Little Rock, Arkansas in 2007 to be closer to our grandchildren. My daughter and her family remained in California as did my brother, sister and nephews.

After I was arrested in 2009 and sentenced early in 2010, I was sent here to Oakdale, Louisiana, even though there are prisons closer to both Arkansas and California. The Bureau of Prisons claims that they recognize and support the importance of family in the rehabilitation of inmates and for that reason, they maintain a policy of locating prisoners within 500 miles of their families. Since Little Rock falls within that radius, the BOP is technically adhering to policy.

However, not long after my arrest, my wife announced that she would be divorcing me. (That divorce was finalized on September 25, 2012). She has never visited me since I was locked up. My son has moved back to California, so effectively I have no family left in Little Rock. Since coming to Oakdale, I was visited by my daughter once in September 2010. My sister visited in February 2011 and my first wife, the mother of my daughter, came from Colorado to see me earlier this year. Those are the only visits I have had in the nearly three years that I have been a prison inmate.

When I first arrived here, I inquired as to how I might obtain a transfer to FCI Terminal Island in Southern California where I might be closer to my daughter, my brother, my sister and nephews. I was told that I had to remain here for 18 months before any transfer request would be considered.

As soon as that year and a half was up, in November of 2011, I filed for the transfer. Owing to a series of bureaucratic foul-ups and a change in staffing, my request languished in a desk drawer for two months. Finally, in January of this year, my application went to the BOP and was denied on the basis of overcrowding. I had heard that many such requests were being turned down for that reason, so I had enlisted the aid of a friend on the outside to monitor the census at Terminal Island on the BOP website. Six months prior to my application, there were 1,128 inmates housed there. During the week in which my application was denied due to “overcrowding,” the count stood at 1,054. I was told I would have to wait for another year before I could reapply. I was disappointed, of course. But it wasn’t the end of the world.

Seven months ago, my brother informed me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He began a series of aggressive chemotherapy treatments, though the doctors had pronounced his situation “dire”.

I know if I had still been a free man, I would have been on the first available flight to California to be there for him; to help him through this excruciating experience in any way I could for as long as necessary. So my first reaction was anger; anger at myself for having put myself in a situation where I could not act on my instinct to go to my brother; anger at the Bureau of Prisons for refusing my request for spurious reasons. Thanks to them, I would never see my brother again.

I write these words at 9:19 pm on Friday, September 28, 2012. Less than ninety minutes ago, I was informed that my brother had died at 4:45 this morning. My nephew had called the chaplain’s office at 10 am, only to be told that the chaplain was “in a meeting.” He called again at noon and was told that the chaplain was still unavailable. My nephew asked that he be permitted to leave a message for me. I got the message eight hours later.

I am raw. I am distraught. I am profoundly angry. But I have no place to put that anger except on these pages.

When I knew the end was near, I wrote some words for my nephew to read at his father’s service because the federal prison system does not allow us to attend the funerals of our loved ones. I called my brother six days ago and read my words to him. Since they were written to him, I thought it fitting that I share them with him while he was still able to hear them and so I did. He thanked me and we shared an emotion-filled moment together. It turned out to be the last time I would get to spend with him. I don’t think he would mind if I shared those words with you here:


It seems impossible that you are no longer there. You’ve always been there. From the first second I slipped into this world, you were there – my big brother. When I travelled a winding and often dark road as a child, you were right there with me, sharing both the laughter and the sorrow; the smiles and the tears; the triumphs and the pain.

Even when time and distance separated us, you were still my brother and the bonds that were forged early in our lives held us fast.

What I will carry with me always is that you were a good and decent man. In my estimation, there is no better thing in this world that anyone can be.

No one in this life makes all the right choices, but you always aimed for that lofty goal. When, as a single dad, you found yourself unable to provide your sons with the level of care and structure you wanted for them, you made certain that they were cared for by someone who loved them every bit as much as you did. The fact that it was the right decision is borne out of the reality that they grew to manhood with the same qualities of gentle kindness and innate decency that you carried throughout your life.

It is one of the great regrets of my life that I cannot be there today with the rest of those who have loved you, sharing in the celebration of your life and the grief over your passing. And so I send these words in the hope that you are present in the spirit and bearing witness to the outpouring of love for you that is well earned and deserved.

I believe that the life energy that inhabits us all and that leaves us at life’s end is recyclable. If I’m right, you’ll be back – and so will I and so will everyone here today. It will be a whole new party and we’re all invited. Until that time, rest well, my dear brother. I love you – now and always.

“Talk To Me”

“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.” – Proverbs 27:9 NLT

“Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.” – John Milton

I have never addressed the subject of the comments of my readers. Or the lack thereof, which is more of the impetus for this little blurb than those I do receive.

First, I want to make sure that you all understand that I do not actually post any of these articles myself. My beloved son, Anthony, my beloved brother-in-law, Larry, and my beloved friend, Diane are responsible for that. I cannot go online and see anything, but your comments are passed along to me and I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write them. Even those few, (thank goodness) that have not been favorable, I do read, so please write them.

They will all be posted by one of my “editors” unless they are suspected of being “phishing” or presenting a danger to others’ computers. While comments critical of my point of view will get posted, any that are simply hateful invective most assuredly will not. And most definitely any that tell about how an article may have helped or affected someone are welcome.

I am generally a very upbeat, positive, forward-moving individual who doesn’t need to be verbally stroked. Okay, I’m a liar. Stroke me, please. Rub my literary tummy and scratch behind my metaphorical ears. Say anything, but say something, for when people are silent, situations such as those facing this country today are allowed to grow and alter the course of tens of thousands of lives, dangerously and permanently.

To those who have taken the time to offer support, encouragement and even disagreement – I thank you.

And for those who may be wondering, Diane is not my wife, sister, mother, aunt, cousin or other relative. She is just a lovely person who makes her opinions known. I do not pay her. (I should, for all she does. However, I am but a poor ward of the government). And if any of you are feeling guilty for not speaking up, you can make it up to me by sending me a birthday card. I will be 59 on October 25th and 59 cards would be nice.

So let’s see – if all my readers and all of my family and all of my friends send cards, that would be… ummm… plus six, carry the one… okay! I’ve got it! I would be short only by about 42 cards. But what the heck!

Only gold is golden. Silence is simply silence.

God bless you all.

“To the Children in the Photos: An Offender’s Apology” by Steve Marshall

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”   Alexander Pope

I see your faces still. The rest of the images, I have successfully blocked from memory. But I still see your faces; your eyes – blank, confused, uncomprehending, betrayed, bereft – your mouths unsmiling. I will carry the unyielding memory of those faces to my grave.

For the entirety of my adult existence, I have loved, nurtured and protected the children in my life. Even now, when I see photos of starving children with distended bellies or little ones born with horrendous defects to their bodies, I get a knot in my stomach and feel pushed to the edge of tears.

So I cast my thoughts and memories back to that strange and barren time in my life and shake my head in wonder that I could have looked upon your suffering and felt nothing, as if a switch had been placed upon my empathy and turned to the ‘off’ position.

Somehow, without realizing it, I became disconnected from my moral center, like a boat that slipped its moorings and drifted, silent and rudderless, out onto a vast, open and uncharted sea with no one at the helm. I can only describe it as an altered state. The person who allowed himself to download those photos and share them with others was not the same one writing these words today. That person did not regard you as a human and suffering, but rather viewed you as a simple assemblage of pixels on a computer screen. That person failed to accord you the basic decency and respect to which every human being is entitled. That person dredged up the pain of your violated childhood, continuing and perpetuating the abuse and exploitation that you experienced at the calloused hands of adults, often the very ones who were charged with loving and protecting you. I search my heart and wonder how I could ever have been that soulless and uncaring.

How, then, do I ask for forgiveness? I often enter the cathedral of my mind and offer up a prayer to whatever great power turns the universe, asking that I may be allowed to forgive myself for what I have done. But I still find myself incapable of self-pardon, so how can I expect any quarter from you?

I committed my offense against you via the internet, so it is only fitting that I use that same venue to reach out to you now in the earnest hope that even one of you will stumble across these words and come to know of the deep, indelible sorrow that I feel over having been a participant, belated or not, in your violation.

In just under four years, I will have discharged my legal obligation for what I have done to you. But an enormous karmic debt remains and it is my full intention to devote the remainder of my years working to pay that debt down.

I am certain that, for many if not all of you, your journey to adulthood was forever soiled by the criminal and unmitigated theft of your innocence. It is my sincere hope that you will have somehow found peace; that you do not repeat the sins committed against you and continue the tragic cycle of abuse into yet another generation. I hope that there are days and nights when those nightmares do not revisit you.

You are, each of you, very real to me now. You are in my thoughts, my hopes and dreams. Should you choose to forgive me, your blessing will be received with deep gratitude and humility. Please know that there is someone on this earth who knows the value of your spirit, the depth of your suffering and the enduring scars that you bear.

I am, and will always remain, deeply and profoundly sorry.

AFTERWORD     by Tony Casson

Mr. Marshall may not speak for all who have stepped over the line of moral decency and adult responsibility, but he does speak for many, myself included. And he speaks eloquently, powerfully, and with great sincerity. I trust his sincerity…I looked up into his eyes after I finished reading what he had written and saw that he was as close to tears as I was.

What you have just read will create varying degrees of comment and consideration. I would ask that any of you who have your own blogs, websites, or know of others would post a link to this article and share it with as many people as possible.

Some will find men like Mr. Marshall and myself to be beyond forgiveness, but I will point them to a recent series here in which a survivor of childhood sexual abuse expressed her ability – indeed, her need – to forgive. Many of us are sorry in ways that the cynical will never understand.

I will remind them that God insists that we forgive each other, and I will point out a very salient fact about those who share prison with men like us and who are very vocal in their condemnation of us and our acts: Not one of them has ever said he was sorry of anything other than getting caught.

Steve, I cannot thank you enough for your sincerity, humility, and courage.

Mr. Marshall is one of several very special, intelligent, and amazing individuals I have met here.

How tragic that we had to meet here, but better here than not at all.

Apparently, I am my Brother’s Keeper and Other Prison Oddities

 By Steve Marshall

      When one first sets foot inside the stark confines of a prison or jail, the first lesson to be learned is that this is an entirely different world. Everything one has learned up to that point about to live life is placed on ho and a whole new set of instructions comes into play.

      For example, here at Oakdale, we take our meals in a dining hall comprised of about 50 four-man tables. When you finish your meal and prepare to leave, you knock on the table. The others seated with you respond by each providing an answering knock.

      During my first week here, I asked someone the meaning behind this odd custom. I learned that it was a throwback to a time when inmates were not allowed to speak during meals. (This situation still endures at some higher level facilities.) When someone prepares to get up from the table, his knock is meant to convey the following message: “Excuse me. I am getting up now. This only means that I am leaving. I have no intention to attack you.” The answering knock implies: “We understand. Thank you for not attacking us. We appreciate it. Good bye.” This custom is one that I have not adopted. Instead, as I rise, I usually say “Have a good day” (or evening.) This seems to work just as well in conveying the message that I do not intend to beat up anyone.

      Another timeless custom is the “cool” prison nickname. This is often employed s a defensive measure. For example, if one is named Marvin or Ronald, this does not serve to keep others at bay nearly as effectively as “Killer” or “Bruiser.” However, in practice, I have noted that some of the nicknames tend to defeat their purpose by turning out to be . . . well I’ll just say it, kinda silly.

      In my unit alone, we have a “Boo-Boo”, (shades of Yogi Bear) a “Ya-Ya” and silliest of all in my opinion, a “Hot Sauce.” I have thus far resisted the temptation to address him as “Mr. Sauce.”  You see, “Hot Sauce” sports the tear-drop tattoo. A single teardrop under one eye is meant to convey that the wearer has killed someone. “Hot Sauce” has a whole splash of them so I have opted to avoid him altogether and remain off his radar.

      These customs and many others like them are generated among the inmates themselves. But occasionally, I come across one that has originated with the prison staff.

      Last year, our unit counselor came upon an entire trash bag full of hooch. (“Hooch” is a prohibition-era term for illegal alcohol.) One inmate in my unit had created the forbidden elixir from pilfered oranges and the yeast from bread. You should know that most people in the prison population turn into McGiver complete with the ability to turn a paperclip into a Gatlin gun.

      While I have never imbibed, I am told this “hooch” ferments for only a week or so in a trash bag, so I am surmising that it does not have the woodsy tang  of Jack Daniel’s that has steeped for twelve years in a specially treated oaken barrel. But I’m guessing that it gets the job done nevertheless.

      Anyway, the unit manager assembled us all and announced that our beloved microwave ovens were being removed until further notice. I looked around to see who was going to raise his hand and object to the idea of punishing over two hundred men for the actions of a single individual but no one did. The microwaves were not returned for another six months.

      About a month ago, another bag of “hooch” was found, another meeting hastily assembled and once again, the microwaves were gone. This time, I raised my hand to ask the obvious question and the unit manager replied, “You are all responsible for policing your own unit.” This was news to me. Foolishly, I had assumed that my job was to follow the rules but now I was being told that I was expected to enforce them as well. The inmates refer to the Corrections Officers t here as “the police”, so it was a fairly natural assumption that they would be the ones doing the policing.

      I have not been successful in obtaining any information as regards what specific steps I need to be taking should I encounter anyone manufacturing “hooch.” Do I beat him senseless? Do I merely threaten to do so? In either case, I would be in violation of the rules and sent to the SHU (Special Housing Unit or as it is lovingly referred to by one and all here, THE HOLE.) Do I snitch on him? Well, if I do that, then I am the one who will be beaten senseless. Do I shake my finger at him and say, “Bad inmate”?

      Yeah, that’ll work.

      So I am left to ponder the imponderable. The only answer that I am left with is that the staff is saying with a wink and a nod: “Take care of this dude however you want. Just don’t let us know about it.” From my point of view, the easier course is to just do without the frickin microwaves.

      I cannot, in the course of a single article, begin to cover all the ways in which prison life differs from that of the free world. That would take an entire book and a very fat one at that.

      Perhaps one day I’ll write it.

      But for now, I am content to observe at a distance as prisoners bump fists rather than shake hands, hold extended conversations at the top of their lungs with others on the opposite side of the compound, or smuggle ten-pound rump roasts out of the kitchen concealed in their underwear.

      What do I know? It’s their world. I just live in it.

A Gray-Beard Behind Gray Bars

Written by Steve Marshall

      Before I came in, I lived in faded Levis, a myriad of rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts, (souvenirs of countless rock concerts in days past) and an ever-present baseball cap.

      I am young.

      I take my stairs two at a time and I am seldom under the weather. I have never had a serious illness and can count the days I have been hospitalized on the fingers of one hand.

      I am young.

      So it always takes me by surprise when someone addresses me as “Pops” or calls me “Old School.”

      “Hey, Old School.” That’s the name reserved in here for anyone over the age of fifty. Makes me want to respond, “Yeah, Pre-School?”

      I am young because I think young. I am not in denial of the fact that I am sixty-eight years old. I know my hair, what remains of it, is snow white and I have a beard to match. But thinking young is my best defense against the encroaching years.

      When I first came in, I saw an elderly figure sitting in front of his cell. He leaned on his cane, had no teeth in his head and very thick glasses. He walked as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. I pegged him for early to mid-eighties. I wondered what someone that old was doing in prison. Finally, I asked someone how old the gentleman was and was told that he was sixty-seven . . . one year older than I was at  the time. To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

      I was assigned a cell with a man who was two years my senior. This is a man who hated rock ‘n’ roll (“Those Beatles were nothin’ but loud noise!”) walked around humming “The Camp Town Races” and listened faithfully to “The Prairie Home Companion.” To me he seemed to be much more of my grandfather’s generation than my own.

      I am young.

      Oh, the hell with it. Facts are facts. Before I came in, I collected social security and was on Medicare. I had been eligible to join AARP for over fifteen years. So okay, for the purposes of this article, I will grudgingly admit that I’m getting up there. So what’s it like being a senior citizen (blech) in prison?

      To most of the inmate population, I am invisible. As I move about the compound, others tend to look through me. If they do see me at all, I am totally inconsequential to them.

      There are certain advantages to this.

      First and foremost, I am safer than most of the other men who populate this world. Seldom is someone of my age ever targeted for violence because there is no cache in beating up an old man. In fact, the inmate’s code holds that anyone who would beat up an old man would receive retribution of the severest order. Just last week, a man about my age was found standing “too close” to the television. The viewing area was empty except for him but he is a sex offender and therefore required to view television from the back row. Someone approached him and ordered him to move. He refused, saying he wasn’t hurting anyone or anything. With that, the offended party hauled off and slapped the older man hard enough to knock him down. Within fifteen minutes, two other inmates sought out the violence-prone individual and exacted their revenge, prison style. All of them are now locked down in the Special Housing disciplinary unit, including the old man who was slapped.

      But incidents such as this are rare. If an older man minds his own business and doesn’t smart off to anyone, he will normally go about his business unmolested.

      Still, many of the prejudices and judgments made against older people in the free world are here, often even amplified.

      When I first arrived at Oakdale, I was assigned to work on the serving line of the dining hall. It’s a fast-paced, pressure filled environment. One of the others working on the line has a pre-set bias against older men, automatically assuming them to be slow and suffering from some measure of diminished capacity.

      In the year and a half that I have worked on the line, he has never spoken a kind word to me.

      I work hard and my energy reserves are the equal of any man there. I have never once been responsible for the line having to slow down. While my position is somewhat menial, I take pride in doing a good job at it. But back in July, the corrections officer normally administers the dining hall was rotated to another department for the quarter. The prejudiced individual went to the new man running things to complain that I was slow, confused and couldn’t get along with anyone else on the serving line, none of which was remotely true. I was then demoted to “Spoon Roller,” a job usually reserved for older inmates, which consists of sitting at a table rolling up sporks with salt packets in a paper towel, to be passed out at mealtime. My pay was cut from $36.00 a month to $5.25. I did the work without complaining and two months later, when the original man in charge returned, I was immediately reinstated to my former job. The man who had me demoted swore he would quit if I returned to the serving line but that proved to be bluster.

      What has been hardest to accept for me as an older inmate in a federal prison is that these are supposed to be my “golden years.” While I am presently in good health, a seven and a half year stretch for someone of my age could easily become a life sentence. My greatest wish is that I do not die in a place like this. I remain focused on that goal.

      I have a granddaughter who was born five months after I went into house arrest. I have met her once, when my daughter and her husband visited and brought her to see me shortly after she turned one. When I get out, she will be nearly seven years old. I mourn the passing of each day that I cannot be a part of her life. But she is regularly shown pictures of me and I talk to her each week on the phone. She is two now and still can’t quite figure out where that voice is coming from or how a person could be small enough to fit into that tiny device. But I struggle to make an impression nonetheless; to let her know who her “Popi” is and just how very much I adore her. I hope it takes.

      Now if you will excuse me, I’ll revert to the state I was in.

      I am young.



Inmates – In Their Own Words; The Faces of Felons – Steve’s Story

HOLIDAY ‘ON ICE’ – by Steve Marshall

       My apologies to the venerable Ice Capades for filching the name of their evergreen winter extravaganza for the title of this article. It seemed appropriate.

       I’ve been dreading the approach of these last two months of the year because the holidays so thoroughly kicked my posterior last year. After the passing of Halloween, 2010, a mantle of depression settled over me that clung tenaciously until the dawn of the new year. It seemed so strange to lose touch with all happiness in a time of year that I have always embraced with such unbridled joy. Christmas for me was the aroma of a roasting twenty-five pound turkey permeating the house; the annual custom of spending the two days immediately after Thanksgiving decorating every room in the house, including three Christmas trees; the discarded detritus of colorful bows and ripped wrapping paper littering the living room floor; the joyous faces of grandchildren eager to share with me all the news of what Santa had brought them. Nothing else in the world was as capable of making me so happy.

       Now these occasions serve only to remind me of the enormity of what I have lost, squandered really, in the mindless pursuit of satisfying a horrific, out-of-control addiction.

       I’ve lost my freedom, of course, and that is important. I now live in a place where I have no authority or independence; where strangers have the right to run their hands over my body and do so every day, checking to see what I might have stolen or what contraband I might be secreting on my person; a place where I cannot perform the simple act of walking through a door without waiting for someone to come and open it. Here, my very existence is defined by the long list of things that I can no longer do for myself.

       But I’ve also lost something even more precious . . . my family. My arrest and the subsequent revelation of my wrongdoing blasted my family into two camps . . . those who still love and support me and those who cannot. Days after my arrest, my wife Patty informed me that our marriage was at an end. For her, the trust that I had so recklessly violated could not be salvaged. She remains my friend, sending me weekly letters with news of home and pictures of the growing grandkids. But one of those recent letters contained the news that she has found another love and is moving on.

       My son, who was seventeen at the time of my arrest, was so shattered and disillusioned that he could barely speak to me in the days, months and years that followed. This is a boy who, in the third grade, was assigned a three-paragraph essay on the person he admired most in the world. I was certain he would pick Arnold Schwarzenegger. . . but he wrote about me. The enormity of what I took from him is incalculable. Just two weeks ago, though, my son and I had a fifteen-minute phone conversation that was relaxed and good-natured in which he said he was looking forward to hearing from me again. So a little light is shining into that heretofore dark corner of my life.

       My granddaughter was ten when the blast came. She had thought the sun rose and set upon me. I had helped raise her and she was like a daughter to me. We haven’t spoken in two and a half years.

       My real daughter was pregnant with her first child when she was sucker-punched with the news of her dad’s arrest. But she came back swinging and has been my rock ever since. Her daughter was born without her Popi present as I was under house arrest at the time. It wasn’t until more than a year later that I was able to hold her in my arms for the very first time. It was in the visiting room here at Oakdale. Last week I applied for a transfer to California, where I might have the opportunity to see and hold her on a regular basis.

       In retrospect, I am astonished that during the entire time I was so obsessed with indulging my sorry addiction on the Internet, I never once gave any thought to what it would do to my family should these dark secrets be hauled into the harsh light of day. It’s a telling sign how all-consuming this sickness can be. But I honestly believe that if I had considered the possible consequences, it would have been enough to stop me.

       Perhaps a power greater than I will see to it that someone in a similar circumstance reads these words and finds a reason to rethink his behavior. I know such people are out there by the thousands. That would be a Christmas gift that I could really wrap my head around . . . saving someone from going down the same road I did.

       So I’m just a few weeks away from having made it past another holiday season. I have four more of those to make it through until my projected release date of July 19, 2016. By an odd coincidence, that will be my seventy-third birthday. It will begin a new chapter in my life. With my legal debt to society having been met, I can begin paying on the huge karmic debt that hangs over me. I plan to do so by living my life in such a way that I have nothing to hide from anyone and will take advantage of whatever opportunities I have to be of service to others. In so doing, I hope it will enable me to regain the sense of joy and beauty that Christmas has always held for me.