Winter came early this year, covering much of the map with snow and downright frigid temperatures well before Thanksgiving.

Last night, I grabbed my thermal shirt and sweat clothes to layer up before heading out to the track, and wondered how will I survive my first Christmas inside a place as cold sounding as prison? Insulated clothing may keep my physical body warm, but how do I keep my spiritual body, my soul, warm? Place a liter bottle of soda in the freezer long enough and the expanding pressure of the cold will eventually explode the bottle. How do I keep my soul from getting so frozen that it breaks under the pressure?

The holidays are about family and tradition. We are bombarded with media images of hearth and home – a warming fire, warming food, warming friends and family. And as a child, though no one I knew had a fireplace in their 1970s ranch home, my family celebrated the holiday with warming traditions.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, wrapped mysteries would trickle in to find a tempting place under our tree. These presents were riddles. Fed up with our constant nagging of what Santa might bring, my Mom would put out one present for each of us in the family; a present that could withstand our “gorilla with Samsonite luggage” examinations. Guesses of the contents were based on exhaustive attempts to decipher Mom’s cunning disguises.

Large, lightweight boxes were as deceptive to decode as were weight-laden small boxes: to a child “large” should be heavy; “small” – light. Violently shaken, a silent box was as annoying as those resounding of gravel or nuts and bolts. What items from the Sears Wish Book catalog made those kind of noises? These gifts were like human pet toys, entertaining us kids with Holmes-like suppositions for hours upon days.

On Christmas Eve, we would pile into the station wagon and head for church. It was the one time of the year my Mom had no trouble getting the whole family to go to church; mostly because Santa came to our house while we were at the evening service.

I would sit in the pew imagining what Santa was doing moment by moment. Was he enjoying the milk and cookies we’d left? We’d gone to such lengths to leave him our favorites. Would he appreciate how good we had been by not eating all of our favorites in advance – overcoming our daily pre-Christmas temptations for his sake? Were the other reindeer jealous of Rudolph because we only left one carrot especially for him, or did he share by letting a different reindeer eat the carrot at each new house? Rudolph was the most popular with all of my neighborhood friends, so I knew no one ever thought of Blitzen or Prancer by leaving more than one carrot. Did Rudolph remember the pain of being left out of the reindeer games, which is why he gave his carrot away as an act of forgiveness?

One year my Mother forgot to buy carrots, so out of fear I panicked. I ran over to the neighbor’s snowman and stole the carrot from it. As I sat in church that Christmas Eve, I realized I had done wrong. I knew Rudolph wouldn’t eat, let alone share, that shriveled, weeks old frost bitten nose, plus I feared Santa would find out I had stolen it. Surely he spoke to all the snowmen in the neighborhood – after all, they had magic in their silk hats. Robbing Frosty to pay Vixen is always naughty. As a child in the pew, sometimes the secular and the sacred would become interwoven.

My favorite part of the service, the part where I forgot about Santa, Rudolph, the olfactory-deprived Frosty, and all the rest, was when Minister Peters asked us all to kneel as he read the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20 (RSV).

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…,” and as he read, the organist began to quietly play an interlude into the hymn Silent Night. The lights over the congregation were dimmed down and out so only the altar was swathed in bright light.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth…,” and the congregation softly joined the organ and sang as underscoring to the minister’s narration.

When the lyrics started, an acolyte took the center candle of the Advent wreath and lit the handheld candles of the first person seated in the front row on both sides of the center aisle. As Minister Peters continued and we sang, those first people used their candles to light the candle of the person next to them. Slowly the darkened congregation began to glow in candlelight as each successive person passed the flame from their candle to their neighbor’s.

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…”

“…all is calm, all is bright…”

I tipped my unlit candle into my Mom’s flame and then turned to offer my light to my sister. And so it moved down the pew through my other siblings to my Dad, and then to my grandparents in the pew behind, and on to my uncles and aunts, my cousins, continuing row by row to the very back door of the sanctuary where eventually even the “standing room only” glowed in flickering light.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men…”

“Christ the Savior is born… 

Christ the Savior is born.”

In that candlelight, with tears of joy streaming down my face and my soul wide open, I understood the mystery of God and the truth of Christmas. On a silent and often cold winter’s night, light and love moved from the altar, spreading across a sea of humanity, to fill that room with the hope that it would continue to burn in our hearts, and before our eyes, lighting our way long after the candles were out and we went forth into the cold, dark world.

For years after the service, my grandparents would ride back home in the car with us. Without fail, my Grandma would point out a red blinking light in the sky and declare it was Rudolph leaving our house. She did this long after my sister and I grew old enough to insist the light was just a plane circling O’Hare airport.

My Grandma kept the fantasy alive for my youngest brother and sister by rebuking that “planes never fly on Christmas Eve so Santa doesn’t have to worry about the reindeer getting hit by Pan Am.” (Later in life my Grandma came to despise the song Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, mostly because she felt betrayed by Rudolph for all those years she gave him credit in denying the existence of an aircraft holding pattern.)

I’m not sure how I’ll recapture those feelings of Christmas while I’m here at Oakdale FCI. Without family, longtime friends, and all the traditions that go with celebrating Christmas, it could become a bleak midwinter’s night. How can the light shine here?

Bundled up on the track, I stood contemplating that and the Christmases of my past, while trying to imagine this Christmas to come. I looked up into the chilly night sky and thought of Grandma. No blinking red noses in sight. But there was a star. A bright star. I know I’m no wise man in finding my way here, though I did come from east of Oakdale. That star, and all the stars that filled the night sky, reminded me that I am free, even though I am imprisoned. Funny how reminders of comfort and love are often right in front of our eyes, if we only open our souls to see.

There will be no traveling for me this year, and I definitely don’t have any gifts to bear. I don’t even have a drum on which to play a song; however, my heart does beat the rhythm of life. A life that can once again kneel, see the light, feel the light, and pass that light on to others. With that knowledge in my soul, I am more free inside this prison than many who sit in their homes before a warming fire, or even some who sit in the packed pews on Christmas Eve.

I’ve realized it doesn’t really matter where I spend my Christmas – as long as my heart is in the right place. That is the flame of truth I’ll burn bright with, warming my soul from the inside out.

May you know peace and joy this holiday season, celebrating love with those who surround you, and sharing that light with others who are still out in the bleak, cold dark night.

WELCOME 101 by George

Daily mail call brings letters from friends and family filled with support and encouragement, sorrow and disappointment over the circumstances that brought me to Oakdale FCI; and buried between the lines is a macabre interest in knowing what happens inside the concertina razor wire. Hence, their ultimate question, “What is prison really like?”

Maybe you or a loved one, are coming to Oakdale, and have found your way to Oakdale Chronicles seeking an answer to the same question?

Oakdale FCI is a low security prison, so you can erase those images of the cable show OZ where Chris Meloni often bared his backside to insure viewership. You can also erase Scared Straight, Locked Up, Shawshank Redemption, Escape from Alcatraz, or any other media driven portrayal of violent prison life. This is a “low”, and not the “pen” where lifers rule with a “we’ve got nothing to lose” mentality. One inmate calls this place “Camp Fluffy” – he began his time at a maximum security penitentiary before working his way down through security levels to arrive to Oakdale.

Now, this place isn’t a cakewalk either. You do have to keep your wits about you. Fights do happen and people do get hurt. Even if fluffy, this is still a prison. Plus, if you’ve been convicted and labeled a “sex offender,” there are a few extra things to keep in mind.

Naturally each experience is different because our individual personalities are different. But in as much as we are individuals, there is a sameness to the prison experience. And it is how you, the individual, deal with that sameness which will dictate your journey here.

I assume the same is true for those going into the military, and in a way, federal prison is run like the military – with one glaring exception. The military breaks the individual down to rebuild him as a team member; a cohesive mindset working toward a common goal. Prison is about keeping the individual down, under control, with the non-team mantra “You do you; I’ll do me.” This translates into “You do your time your way and I’ll do mine my way, and as long as your way doesn’t get in the way of my way, we’ll have no problems.”

With that in mind, here are my philosophical musings and practical tips one might want to wrap one’s brain around before arriving, since coping with prison is about a state of mind. Officials may lock up the body, but they can’t lock up the mind – one still has sole control over that.

1.    Inmates are always wrong; staff are always right. This may be the hardest thing to get used to, especially as a sex offender. Generally speaking, most sex offenders are college educated, have either run their own businesses or had upper management positions, and contrary to popular belief, have been law-abiding citizens with no previous criminal history. In the “free world” they were responsible, contributing members of society. Because of this, there may be a continued expectation of cause and effect logic: If I’m not breaking the rules, then I’m not doing anything wrong. That expectation is no longer valid.

In prison you are a convicted felon, which translates into GUILTY. Always GUILTY. It is the new prison through which you are viewed: You are only after one thing, the manipulation of every situation to suit your twisted “criminal” intents. This is how the staff views you. They’re trained to think this way.

Generally speaking, staff are not college educated, some only have to be working toward a GED instead of already possessing one, and they are hired from the local pool of available labor.

Please understand that I am not trying to demean or degrade the staff. However, it will help to comprehend that your new world is governed by people who will look upon you and treat you as something less than a civilized being – regardless how civilized your behavior. That is their mindset. Also sex offenders, or “SOs” (the more modern nickname versus “cho-mo,” or child molester, which is slowly becoming more antiquated), are still at the bottom of humanity’s pecking order.

Logic and fairness are not everyday commodities. Ignorant inmates and staff still use “cho-mo” even though the vast majority of SOs had no actual contact, of any kind, with a minor. Remember, you are guilty in the eyes of the law, therefore fairness is something you lost by crossing inside the razor wire.

Be prepared to have your daily expectations of what you’d like to accomplish either be fulfilled or stymied by the moody whims of others. Prison is a moment by moment exercise in the adaptability. Fail to adapt and you’ll only find yourself frustrated, angered, depressed, or in trouble. Those are hard ways to do one’s time. Negativity is not your friend. Seek positive energy and choices when faced with hindrances.

2.    Respect. You will never hear more about the word “respect” than while in prison, nor will you hear more about its opposite, “disrespect.”

When staff uses “respect,” they usually follow it with condemnations of “be a man,” “a man acts like…,” or “real men don’t….” The favorite saying is “You treat us with respect and we’ll treat you with respect.” You’ll soon be able to gauge for yourself what respect means when coming from the staff.

As for inmates, respect and disrespect are everything. Respect translates into common courtesy. “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” and “I’m sorry,” are just good manners. Remember you are living with a large number of men – some of whom were raised with manners and some who were not. You will encounter plenty of guys who are selfish – blindingly so – but that shouldn’t prevent you from taking the higher road. Choose patience, generosity of spirit, and selflessness over selfishness.

Men are very much driven by public image. Cut in line and you are being disrespectful, because your action says that you are more important than everyone behind you. No one wants to be publicly shown as unimportant or weak. Respect is a pack mentality. And though not everyone can be an alpha dog, and on some level there shouldn’t be one, no one wants to be disrespected into being a bitch – and that is the simple prison truth of it.

Tony Casson once told me something very important about respect: “If respecting you means allowing you to disrespect me, then you won’t get my respect. Respect is a two-way street.” A lesson that some inmates and staff could learn from. Be honorable.

3.    Trust. When you arrive in prison, trust no one in the beginning. That applies to staff and to other inmates. People will tell you all kinds of things in prison – talk is cheap. Let their actions speak louder than their words. Take your time in developing friendships. Be cautious about revealing too much about your private life or personal circumstances.

There are genuinely nice, decent people (staff and inmates) in prison, but there are also people who will try to manipulate, steal from, and abuse you through intimidation, extortion, or through becoming your new best friend in the blink of an eye. Be wary of people who ask too many questions, or who act like they are doing you lots of favors – sometimes they’ll use that to get you to do something for them as payback. Keep in mind, you came to prison alone and you’ll leave along. You need to rely on your own better judgment of situations and people.

Prisons are full of characters: decent and indecent, mentally stable and unstable, calm and violent, trustworthy and backstabbing, guilty and innocent. You are now one of those characters too. Plus if you are a SO, your actions reflect on the group as a whole. Act beyond reproach and with integrity, and you’ll demonstrate that the negative assumptions about SOs are wrong. Act the fool, and you’ll only fuel the fire of stereotypes. Again, it is about respect – don’t disrespect your fellow SOs by feeding stereotypes.

Over time you’ll develop friendships, and even then, you only need to share whatever you want to share. You’ll meet a myriad of diverse personalities from conniving millionaires to saintly crack addicts. Personally I would lay low and survey the landscape at first. Don’t brag about money, family, or your job, and don’t lie to bolster yourself up. There may be no honor amongst thieves, but no one wants to associate with a liar. It’s about integrity and respect.

Being too chatty or chummy with staff will cause other inmates to label you a “rat” or a “snitch.” And like in junior high – no one likes rats or snitches. Staff may glean information from you that could get other inmates in trouble. Gossip is big here and it is jokingly referred to as “Inmate.com.”

Staff are never your friend. That is a simple truth. Even the nicest and kindest should be kept at a professional distance. Whether actually true or only perceived as true – no one likes a tattletale. No one.

4.    You don’t have to tell anyone your exact charge, AND don’t ask anyone what their charge is. The first question you’ll be asked when you arrive at your housing unit is, “What are you here for?” No one is asking about the details of your case. They simply want to know which group you belong to. If you are white, the question is asked so people will know whether to hand you off to the white drug felons (a.k.a. “Dirty White Boys” or “Haters”) or off to the SOs. If you are another race you’ll automatically be passed on to your applicable race before being asked why you’re here. Other races seem to accept their SOs, whereas white SOs are cast off by their race to the land of the educated.

As a SO your answer should be “Internet” or “pornography.” Those are the simplest answers to get you directed to the other SOs in the unit. From there you’ll be asked what kind of supplies you need – personal hygiene products, shower shoes, basic rec clothing; the things to tide you over until you are able to go shopping at the commissary. Groups’ kind of look out for their own.

As for staff, they may ask what your charge is too. Again, the simplest answers are “Internet” or “pornography.” Keep in mind, every comment people make to you in response about your charge does not demand or deserve a comment by you in return. Better to avoid confrontation, especially with staff, because again, inmates are always guilty. Seek ways to rise above the circumstance. Sometimes silence is best.

5.    Where are you from?” This question is really asking whether you’ve arrived from another institution via a transfer, or from a county facility, or if you’ve self-reported directly to Oakdale. The answer indicates how much prison knowledge you have. A transfer means you know the ropes; self-reporting means you know nothing.

From here you’ll probably be asked what state or city you’re from. People like to know who their “homies” are. It is a way of beginning to make connections. Know that you do not need to give any more personal info than that.

6.    How much time do you have?” This is usually the last major question you’ll be asked by inmates and staff. If you have five years or less (under sixty months), “That’s nothing” is the likely response. Even though your life may have seemed destroyed when you were given your sentence, compared to most inmates that amount of time really is nothing. So on some level, consider yourself lucky. I bet you didn’t think there was something lucky about your sentence, did you? It does give one perspective.

The majority of SOs seem to be serving between five and ten years. Of course there are people who have been sentenced from fifteen to twenty-five years. Try to be considerate to those by not saying, “Wow! That’s a long time,” or something else as demeaning. They’ll feel bad enough knowing you’ll be going home before them. Again, you are now in a brotherhood of sorts. Respect is paramount.

7.    You will survive Oakdale FCI. Whether you can imagine it or not, you will survive your sentence at Oakdale. People with longer sentences than you do. You’re not the first to make this journey, and sadly, you won’t be the last.

There are many ways to survive something; some negative, some positive. You’ll meet plenty of people who are on one of those paths, and others who are completely oblivious that there is a path at all. Recognizing their state of mind may be a way to gauge which path you’re on. Some people remain bitter and angry, a victim of their own circumstance. Some live in a state of denial by avoiding the real cause for the actions that landed them here, a victim of believing their only fault was in getting caught. And some accept the time here as an opportunity for transition – a transition into transformation.

But transformation takes hard work, honest exploration, and a committed attitude to rise above your old self. And the biggest obstacle you will face is yourself. No one here – and I mean, no one – has all of the answers or all of the resources to mend you unless you want to repair, reform, and evolve. That evolution begins and ends with your commitment to yourself in the face of what at times may seem to be insurmountable odds.

Now I believe that God is the rock to build your new commitment on. I also believe that there are no quick fixes; God works in His time, not ours. It is true that people may change for the better even if they don’t know God. Whether they realize it or not, the positive and difficult steps they take forward are the same steps that Jesus calls us to take as Christians. Jesus is reaching out, revealing Himself to them. How much more helpful and hopeful is that journey with God Almighty at your side instead of attempting it alone? Trust and seek His hand.

I can only successfully survive this journey of prison through God’s love. That is my strength and confidence – my trust. If you can attempt it without that, then the more power to you. However, deep in my heart, I know that if you watch and listen, God will reveal Himself to you during this experience. It is in those moments of revelation where you’ll have the opportunity to learn, grown, and flourish.

I hope you seize that opportunity; that you’ll plant, nurture, and harvest great things from that seed of new life. Know that you’ll survive Oakdale FCI – and that your transformation is my wish and prayer for you, and God’s invitation to us all.

  • If you are self-reporting directly to Oakdale FCI, contact them by phone at (318) 355-4070 to find out what you are allowed to bring with you into prison: such as a simple wristwatch, wedding ring, religious symbol on a chain around your neck, cash money to be deposited onto your commissary account (for sundries and phone calls), prescription eyeglasses and case (2 pairs), prescription medications, a Bible, a contact list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of family, friends, lawyers, etc.
  • Policy changes all the time, so CALL to double check the above list in advance of self-reporting.


Breaking News: A fifteen year old has been charged in the shooting death of his neighbor. The District Attorney says the adolescent will be tried as an adult.

Tragic news like this has become common place in the twenty-first century. Murder, such a strong emotion, such a violent judgment, such a finite act, must only be committed by someone of an adult mindset. A child would be too innocent in nature to commit such a brutal crime. How easy is it for us to accept those notions? By the law and how we prosecute it, a 15 year old is seemingly adult enough to commit murder. Many juries have handed down that verdict – even to juveniles aged down to twelve years old.

With this in mind, I would like to build upon last month’s post But Names May Always Hurt Me – to build upon the notions of assumption, judgment, and labels as they apply to innocence, perceived or realized.

Breaking News: States are now enacting new “sexting” laws crafted to more appropriately handle the avalanche of cases dealing with teenagers (twelve to eighteen years old) charged as sex offenders. The new laws will help protect under the age of consent teens from having their lives ruined by the permanent stigma of the “sex offender” label, and all it entails.

Recently on MSNBC, Chris Hayes was reporting how rampant and commonplace it is for teens to use their smart phones, tablets, and built-in camera ready computers to take obscene photos and videos of themselves to send to friends. It is so pervasive that many people think “Well, so what? Who hasn’t done that?” Parents are now advocating for less severe punishments as prescribed by the law when it comes to prosecuting their children for “sexting” – which by legal definition is production, possession, and distribution of child pornography. Pornography the teens created of their own volition.


“I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.” Psalms 32:5 (RSV)


Armed with a gun, a 15 year old is an adult, a vicious killer. Armed with technology, a 15 year old is an innocent caught up in the everyday actions of her porn-generating classmates. The societal, mob mentality excuse of “everyone is doing it, so it’s okay” suggests they shouldn’t be responsible for their actions.

I’m not so eager to agree with that blanket excuse. However, it does beg the question, “If an adolescent can be an adult, the aggressor, when it comes to murder, why can’t an adolescent be an adult, the aggressor, when it comes to sex?” Why are we so willing to accept the myths of sexual innocence, while rejecting innocence when it applies to extreme violence?

Some experts believe that a person under the age of eighteen (a child, a minor, an adolescent, a teenager) is able to be rehabilitated when it comes to a sexual offense. They can be successfully taught that their behavior was wrong, and they will have a low rate of re-offence. Those same experts also contend that once the age of 18 is attained (adulthood), there is little hope of rehabilitation; plus, a high rate of recidivism. In other words: under 18, you are fixable; over 18, you might as well be that 15 year old with a gun and sentenced as a murderer, or in this case, sentenced as a sex offender and labeled for life. [The myth about the high recidivism rate of sex offenders, plus additional S.O. myths are debunked by data in sources such as “Unprecedented: How Sex Offender Laws Are Impacting Our Nation” by J.B. Haralson and J.R. Cordeiro. PCG Legacy, 2012.]

New “sexting” laws try to lessen the severity of punishment for child porn exchanged between adolescents. But what happens when a teen sexts not to another teen, but to an adult instead?

Many teachers and coaches these days are at risk of being the target of an innocent’s vengeance. With technology in hand, a minor who has just been reprimanded or punished has retaliation options that have never existed before. Every cell phone carrying student has the ability to have any teacher or coach removed, prosecuted, and imprisoned. In no more than ten minutes, a student could go into a restroom, or other secluded space, take a few obscene pictures, and e-mail or text them to the unknowing victim that is an adult. But let’s not go down the road of vindictiveness, let’s stay within the boundaries of innocence and affection.

A handsome, early thirty-something high school coach is the giggling object of infatuation by many of the girls at school. As the girls navigate their own developing feelings of sexuality and the socially accepted boundaries, some cross the line.

One girl places a yellow “Sweetheart’s Day” rose under the windshield wiper of the coach’s truck. Another one pulls the juvenile prank of asking him in class, surrounded by a group of her girlfriends, if he’d “like a screw?” When he turns around, she opens her hand to reveal a drywall screw resting in her puerile, but sweaty palm.

“Oh, those are harmless schoolgirl crushes and pranks,” you say.

But one of the girls, a 15 year old, sends the coach, the object of her budding affections, a topless photo of herself as an anonymous text – a sext. All of her girlfriends brag about sexting their boyfriends, and this girl has even seen some of the photos the boyfriends have sexted in reply – now considered trophies by her friends. (Remember, all of those photos are child porn.) She wants to fit in and be as daring.

The coach opens the text and sees a naked, headless photo of a female’s chest. He has no idea who it is or who sent it – the sender’s number was blocked as “unknown.” He deletes the photo, considering it a wrong number; a missent text.

That night, the girl’s mother decides to check her daughter’s phone after seeing a sexual predator expose on Nancy Grace. Horrified, the mother discovers her daughter’s sext.

Panicked and furious, the mother berates her daughter into eventually telling that the image went to the coach. The incident is immediately reported to the authorities. The mother tells the FBI agents, “Obviously, the coach did something to encourage and entice my innocent, straight-A child into sending him that photo.”

Later that evening, with guns drawn, the FBI arrests the coach for receiving and possessing child pornography – that lone image in his phone’s trash bin. The girl, not wanting or able to admit her desire for the coach, thereby shaming her family, never admits that the coach is innocent of any wrongdoing. This aberration of her otherwise good character is never revealed.

The coach fervently denies the allegations, to no one’s belief. Her deviance is now his depravity.

The $30,000 lawyer instructs the coach to accept the Federal prosecutor’s plea deal of five years, instead of taking the unwinnable risk of going to trial and being sentenced to 15 years or more – something the Feds have promised to seek should the coach not take the plea of guilty deal. [When the FBI arrested the coach, they also seized his Internet-accessible technology. Like some men, the coach had pornographic images on his home computer. Of the images the Feds found, all were legal to possess; however, there were two images that the Feds could not prove the age of the models, but that was of no concern to them. More importantly, the coach and his lawyer couldn’t prove the models were of age. He had to prove his innocence; the Feds only had to insinuate his guilt to use the questionable photos as proof of child porn against him. Gone is the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.”]

Some of the newly proposed sexting laws would not protect him because he is an adult. Remember, he’s over 18, therefore not able to be rehabilitated. Although he wasn’t guilty to begin with, that is of no consequence. Once he signs the plea deal, he is forever “guilty.” Period.

What would your assumptions be had you heard a news report of the coach’s arrest. Would you automatically assume his guilt, or would you ever consider a female student could be the predator?

We naturally assume no one would ever sign a guilty plea if they were innocent. But, with your back to the wall, would you sign to save yourself 10 to 15 additional years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit? [Of the S.O.s I know at Oakdale, those who went to trial, took the risk, to defend their innocence have longer sentences, sometimes two to three times longer, than those who accepted a plea deal, whether truly innocent or guilty. Oddly enough, the further away one gets from actual physical contact with a minor, the longer the prison sentence tends to be. The lesser involved crime of technology with no physical contact holds the stiffest penalty.]

Is the teen girl any less of a murderer because she used a smart phone than the 15 year old with the gun? The coach may still be alive, but to what end?

He’ll never coach or teach again. He’ll only be allowed to see his underage children in the company of court supervision. His wife divorced him. His friends and family now shun him. He had to declare bankruptcy, ruining his excellent credit rating, because of his inability to earn enough money while working in the prison’s laundry department for 15 cents an hour to pay child support and his outstanding debts. Yes, he’s alive, but what kind of life does he have?

How would you survive? Could you?

With our advancements in technology, coupled with our societal idea that childhood should extend farther into maturity than ever before in history, is it any wonder that prosecuting adult men for child porn is the new slam-dunk win for our politicians, judicial system, and the Federal government?

Not so long ago it was the societal norm for people to get married right after high-school graduation. Most unmarried girls by the age of 21 bore the stigma of “old maid.” Some current research shows the brain doesn’t finish developing until the age of 21. Therefore, is a 20 year old a child?

Gone are the days of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” under the bleachers. Now that game happens alone, secluded in a bedroom while being transmitted across the ether – and perhaps perpetually re-transmitted. As a society we have such a knee-jerk reaction to the topic of sex. We find it hard to believe there are over-sexual 15 year olds and under-sexual 45 year olds. Who is the innocent and who is the corrupt? Who is deserving of forgiveness?

All are deserving!


“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.’” Romans 15:1-3 (RSV)


Covering our eyes to the realities of sex and technology does no one justice. Yes, there are adult predators, and they should be reasonably punished for the crimes they commit. But, there are also teen predators who end up having their victims unreasonably punished for the teens’ crimes of “innocence.” Where is that justice? Who is brave enough to say that the devil also tempts those under 18? Where is the protection, the Nancy Grace-style advocacy, for innocent adults?

The current societal stigma of the “sex offender” label is severe. We need to understand that yes, all child molesters are sex offenders, but not all sex offenders are child molesters.

Would you interview, hire, or work next to a convicted sex offender? What if he was that coach? Would you want that girl or the murderous boy babysitting your child or working next to you?

Ironically, you’ll never publicly know about the teens’ actions, because they won’t have to publicly register their deeds on job applications, notify their neighborhood of their residency, or be listed on the Internet like the Sex Offender coach. Could you survive the glaring eye of public judgment for your assumed sins – for the rest of your life?


“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2 (RSV)


Here are some difficult issues to ponder:

–       How do we affect change to our views of sexual innocence and advancing technology?

–       How do we overcome the “child molester” stereotype that clouds our consciousness when we hear the all-encompassing label of “sex offender?”

–       How do we change the current laws to more accurately classify “sex offender” from the one-size-fits-all stigma of punishment imposed by a lifetime requirement of public registry?

-THE LETTER- by Tony Casson

Like most people, I receive more email than ‘snail’ mail, so I was rather surprised the other day to hear my name during mail call. Most of the time, that occurs only to announce the arrival of a package, a book, or a magazine, and on this particular day I was not expecting any of those items. Upon being handed the letter, I looked at the return address, only to see that it belonged to a church of which I was not familiar. Nor was the writing which addressed the letter to me in a hand I recognized.

The letter was from a woman named Judy, and she was writing out of concern for a close friend. His name is George, and he is the godfather of one of her children. George is awaiting the day he is to self-surrender here at Oakdale, FCI, much as I did a little over 4 years ago. In searching for information on the institution itself, she came upon these Chronicles. Judy indicated George’s crime is the same as mine and she is concerned for him. I got the distinct impression that prison is a new experience for him, as it is for so many who are guilty of this, and other, internet computer crimes. Like all who are unfamiliar with the whole concept of incarceration from the perspective of experiencing it firsthand, George wonders what awaits him.

Judy’s concern for the welfare of this man is touching. She acknowledged reading that I am leaving soon, but she requested that I extend a hand of friendship to George and help him to find his way around if I should still be here when he arrives. This place can be quite surreal to those walking in off the street and who are accustomed to more civilized surroundings. There are adjustments to be made by those incarcerated, as well as by those on the outside who care about them, and I will do my best to offer advice to both.

My response to the letter is in two parts. The first is in an open letter to Judy; the second, an open letter to George. In presenting the letters this way, perhaps the information may be useful to others as well.


Dear Judy,

I thank you for your kind letter. I was deeply moved by your obvious compassion, kindness, and concern for George’s well-being. In your letter you indicated that you had read an article I wrote where I encouraged people to get involved with some of the organizations dedicated to working for positive change in the way our government ‘leaders’ deal with this very serious and destructive problem sweeping our nation like a California wildfire fanned by Santa Ana winds. I reiterate that encouragement here. Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL) national and state organizations are an excellent place to start.

George is fortunate to have a friend like you, Judy. For your part, and for others who know someone facing what George is facing, or who is already in a place such as the one from which I write, I would like to offer some tips that might make the experience less frightening or foreboding than it is for all concerned.

  • Communication is important, and hearing our names at mail call is something we can never tire of. We want to know what is happening in the lives of those we care about and we like to see pictures of life being lived on the outside. There may be concern that pictures will make us sad, and that is true on one level, but reassurance that those whose lives our behavior has impacted are still capable of carrying on, laughing, smiling, growing, and enjoying life outweighs whatever negative thoughts or feelings may be experienced.
  • I will say it again, “Communication is important”. Hearing the voices of those we love is something we need. Please take the time and visit “Google Voice” to obtain a ‘free’ local phone number for your inmate to call. The difference between having this number for someone living out of state is this: 15 minutes with a Google Voice number is $.90, whereas that same 15 minute call without it is $3.15. That’s like getting three calls for the price of one, plus a couple of soups from the commissary. It is very important that you take the time to do a little research. The correct area code is 318, but do not accept, or select just ANY prefix in the 318 area code. It MUST be a prefix that is specific to Oakdale ONLY, and there are only 2, I believe.
  • Books are always welcome. You can mail up to 5 paperbacks at a time, but do NOT mail them in a box. Mail them in an envelope-type mailer and do not mail more than 5 paperback (NO HARDBACK BOOKS MAY BE SENT FROM HOME) books or magazines at a time. More than 5 will result in ALL being returned. Official rules call for the package to be marked “Approved Per Policy”. If you purchase magazine subscriptions, provide them with something educational like Smithsonian or National Geographic. I received both while here and they were always in demand by others.
  • We do not have Google in here. We do like to ask people to look things up for us, and it is surprising to me how many people have difficulty getting that done. We know people on the outside are busy, but help where you can. I never felt unloved by family or other relatives, but the defining relationship of my stay here was the one developed with the friend of my sister’s I have written about many times in these pages: Diane Woodall. People do not have to be family to care about others or to reach out to help. The many, many, MANY pages of research Diane provided me with assisted me greatly in producing this body of work. It may not be what many people expected: A prison tell-all, full of the bad things that happen in prison and the tough conditions and circumstances. It IS prison, there is no denying that, but as Anthony (my Son) subtitled this blog, it is MY story, and I chose to use that story to chronicle my thoughts, but also to chronicle the changes my constantly growing relationship with God have wrought. I did what you need to encourage your friend George to do – focus on building that relationship with God and let the relationship lead him to the process of building a plan for the future. This place can defeat a person. This much is true. But each individual makes the decision to ALLOW that to happen. More on this in my letter to George. Diane’s diligent efforts on my behalf have contributed greatly to my ability to believe in the plan God has for my future. You have exhibited “Diane-like” qualities. I think George is very lucky. Not as lucky as me, of course! 😉
  • Inmates are allowed to bring in a Bible if they self-surrender, but I do not know the rules regarding hardback editions. Leather and paperback editions may be brought in or mailed from home. All hardback books of any kind must come from the publisher. If a Bible is not brought in, arrange to have one mailed in as soon as possible after arrival. I suggest a “One Year” Bible in the translation of your choice, and an accompanying “Life Application” Study Bible in the same translation.
  • Pick up a couple of devotional books to have ready to send in to your family member or friend as soon as they have arrived at their destination. “MY Utmost For His Highest”, Streams In The Dessert” are two wonderful sources of guidance, inspiration, and food for thought that have proven valuable to many people for decades. My own recently published collection of daily thoughts meditations, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HKKL1RE. (Please do not think this is a shamelessly self-serving promotion. I am confident the messages God helped me to write will add something to each day for George and anyone else who purchases it.) Also, do not think that all three would be too many, as that is not the case. I read 6 different daily devotionals (including my own), and each one provides me with something useful to help me make the most of each day.
  • In all that you do, try to remember that nothing is forever. It is very difficult for many individuals to see their way through to the light that shines at the end of the tunnel (no matter HOW long the tunnel may be there is always light there). We may have a tendency to be full of self-pity at times. Be patient with us, but do not allow us to wallow in it.
  • Most important of all, support, encourage, and help your ‘inmate’ to make God the focus of their life. Many may have Him as a PART of their life, but that is not good enough. He must BE their life. Everything else must flow from that relationship; everything else is a part of our lives, but NOT God. There are many here who would disagree with me, but all I can do is try to impress upon people the amazing things He has done for me, and continues to do. The relationship He has built with me sustains me, and provides me with the Hope I need to have confidence in the future. I am not unique, or special. What He does for me, He will do for all who ask. This is not as difficult as we make it. It is unfortunate we allow it to appear that way.

May God bless you, Judy for reaching out on George’s behalf. I hope this information, and what follows for George, is helpful.

And now for George himself:


Dear George,

Your friend, Judy, wrote to me and asked me to help you. This letter represents that attempt. I pray it helps a little.

When you pull up in the parking lot on the day you are to surrender here at Oakdale, you will be filled with a variety of emotions. The razor-wire topped fence surrounding the compound can be quite intimidating to those not accustomed to seeing it. You will park in the visitor’s section and will reluctantly walk to the entrance. Walk confidently through the front door with your Bible in your hand, and God in your heart. The person sitting at the front desk will take it from there. Have the person dropping you off stay there until you are taken into the prison itself and have changed out of your street clothes. They will give you a bag to put your clothes in and they will give it to that individual. Leave your wallet with that person. Try to get your driver’s license renewed before you come in and leave it with someone out there. If it is valid when you leave that is one less thing to concern yourself.

This word will be easier for me to type than for you to put into practice as you find yourself totally under the control of strangers: RELAX. Everything you will experience from this point forward will be new to you, but you will come to no harm. You will be ‘processed in’ through R&D, receive your PPD (TB Test), and escorted to the S.H.U., which is the Special Housing Unit. It is also where they segregate self-surrenders until their PPD is read. Personally, I think it goes beyond that and is intended to let you know where you will go if you misbehave. It is not comfortable, but it IS temporary. 5 days for me, but I have known others who were in there longer. I didn’t like it, and have never visited again.

Again, just relax. Pray, read your bible, ask for books (You may or may not be successful getting them. It depends on who is working. I believe being polite and respectful helps. I read 3 in 5 days, but they were not anything I would have selected in the library. Still, I didn’t know I could bring in a Bible, so I did not have one to read. I would have read a milk carton.)

I spent 25 years in the restaurant business, and many of them were spent training new managers. One of the first lessons I tried to instill in them was this: From the moment we walk in the building, every action we take is geared towards leaving. This simply meant that we worked throughout the day and didn’t save things until the last moment. Going home was our goal. We tried to enjoy our job but leaving was the ultimate objective. Unlocking the door was simply the first step taken towards locking it at the end of the day.

Prison is no different. Focus on leaving and work toward that goal from the moment you enter. Enter with a positive attitude and you will stand a better chance of maintaining it once you are here. I chose God as the source of my strength, courage, and desire to improve myself. There are other choices one can make. I offer Him as the best one and no person on the face of the earth can tell me otherwise.

In the S.H.U. you will eat, read, and sleep. That’s pretty much it. You and your ‘cellie’ will take turns using the facilities. Privacy is, for the most part, gone, at least in the S.H.U., and to a lesser degree in the housing units. The degree of relative privacy you have depends on whether you are designated to a unit with 6 man cells, or 2 man cells. I am in Allen 1 and I have been grateful to God every day for my 2 man cell.

When you are released from the S.H.U. you will no doubt experience a second round of angst as you make your way through the compound to your housing unit. Being released from the ‘hole’, you will likely get out during a time when other inmates are moving around as well, instead of just after 4 PM count, which is the norm. The ones you pass and the ones you see in the housing unit will all look at you. It’s not you, personally. New people are interesting. People recognize individuals from other places, from home….it is just plain odd. Just ignore them and head for whatever room/bed is designated for you. If you happen to be designated to Allen 1, seek out Phillip in 132, or Brandon in 127. Given you have a few weeks to surrender, plus the time you will be in the S.H.U., I doubt I will still be here, but you can stop in 208 and say hello to my ‘cellie’, Pete. If you are assigned to any other unit, find out when you can go to the chapel, go there when you can and ask for Phillip, who is one of the orderlies there. From a spiritual standpoint, he can guide you to the programs and offerings that are here. He will also give you a pretty accurate overview of how things work and where things are.

You will adjust, and I can say this because we all do. The individuals who don’t are rare.

I cannot state unequivocally what your prison experience will be like, because it is different for everyone. I do believe that those who are miserable here each day make themselves so. I am thoroughly convinced that each day is a gift from God and we must make a conscious choice to use it to serve Him. In doing that, He will reward us with Hope and will fill us with optimism. Our past is there for us to learn from, but it does not have to deny us our future, although it surely will if we allow it to. I could write on and on about this place, but your attitude and your faith will determine how YOU see it. Perhaps Judy can share some of the other articles I wrote for my blog, such as “With Eyes Wide Open”. Perhaps she will share them all. I hope she shares this letter at least, and that you find it somewhat helpful

I have never found anything extremely negative to write about this place. It is prison, and people have jobs to do. As in any situation in life, not all people are friendly, and some can be particularly difficult, but for the most part, the staff here is made up of everyday people with families to take care of who are doing a job, making a living and getting on with their lives. I have not encountered any who are really hateful. Irritating, yes. Admittedly there are a few of those. My own personal experience has been that if you are respectful, upbeat, clean, personable, and demonstrate a sincere willingness to improve yourself, your interaction with the staff will be minimal, and positive when it does occur. They have plenty of problems to deal with and they really don’t want you to be one of them. Immaturity and irresponsibility are the order of the day for many inmates. Don’t be one of those. I made it a point to not create problems for others, and I have lived a productive four years in a place I would rather not be, but where I allowed God free reign to do His work. He has done a great job, I think. Let Him work on you.

The institution itself is pretty clean and in relatively good repair. The food is better than millions of people eat each day and thanks should be given for it. You will be safe and there are ways to report those who would cause you to think otherwise. Look to inmates who look to the future and are not defeated by this experience. Get involved with those who are working to change themselves, and maybe you will be able to help change others.

My words may be woefully inadequate, but I think I have done about all I can for you here. I wish you the best of luck and will pray for you. There are plenty of decent people in here, not the least of which are the ones I mentioned. I am going to miss many of them when I leave. Perhaps Judy can email me at TodayIsAGift52014@gmail.com and let me know how you are doing.

God’s peace to you, George.

Best wishes,

Tony Casson


I received something from an organization the other day which reminded me that many times family members wish to help their incarcerated loved ones, but are at a loss as to what, if anything, they may do. Particularly those whose loved ones are incarcerated as ‘sex offenders’, or “SO’s”. I thought I would pass along some information and resources to those who have recently started reading these pages and anyone else who might be unaware of the existence of these fine groups. Contacting them directly and inquiring as to how you may help your loved one is something that may be found to help you deal with the absence of your husband, father, brother, uncle, or other family member, friend, or loved one.

The something I received was a template for a letter to be addressed to each recipient’s U.S. Senator regarding a proposed bill for ‘earned time’ credits with which federal inmates can reduce their time of incarceration. The bill, as proposed, EXCLUDES many inmates for a variety of different reasons, those convicted of crimes of violence, career criminals, and terrorists among them. Also included in that group are those convicted of “all sex offenses.” The letter, which was very well written, addresses the fact that this is unfair to “SO’s” for a variety of reasons; chief among them the fact that sex offender recidivism rates are the lowest of ANY CLASS OF CRIME IN THE COUNTRY. Sex offenders are currently excluded from many, many programs which can reduce the time they spend in prison, and this should be the case for those convicted of sexual assault and sexual crimes of violence, but there are many, many people in prison who deserve the same opportunities at redemption and reduction of sentences as those who are ‘merely non-violent drug dealers’. Don’t even get me started on the death and destruction this ‘overly prosecuted’ group reigns down on this country and its citizens.

The first group I will mention, which is the one from which I received the letter is CAUTIONclick.com. They are located near Buffalo, NY, and they sent me the template for a very well written letter. I encourage you all to obtain it, print it, and send it. Share the information as well. Their email address is info@cautionclick.com and you can request being added to their mailing list. Contact them and ask for a copy of their letter re: Earned time credits.

The second group, and one which I have seen remarkable growth in over the last 4 years is Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL). Their link is: http://reformsexoffenderlaws.org/ and it is possible for you to go there and sign up for a digital copy of their newsletter, as well as sign your incarcerated loved one up for their print version as well. It is full of useful news, links to publications and articles of interest, and actions being taken to combat some of the ridiculously restrictive and unfair laws targeting SO’s and their families. They have lists of individual state chapters and how to contact them to help in your own state. Some of the state chapters are extremely effective and well-run and can be sources of information on how to obtain change in your own state. The Texas chapter, “TEXAS VOICES” is one very good example, as is the Arkansas “TIME AFTER TIME” chapter. (To the rest, I intend no slight at your efforts. You are ALL fantastic!)

There is also “Women Against The Registry” (W.A.R.) and “SOSEN” (Which I am not all that familiar with, and I apologize).

Contact all of these groups and spread the word to others you know who may be interested. The problems facing those who are required to register as sex offenders after release continue to grow, but these groups are working to stem the tide and reverse the flow and have been meeting with some tremendous successes as of late. My heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of you.

You may not be able to do much, but you can all do something. Please do what you can!

May God bless you and your families.

And to the Mother of a relatively new inhabitant of my unit by the name of Brandon: Thanks for the bookmark! I like your son and I am sorry he is in here. Like many I meet and pray for daily, Brandon could have been dealt with differently. There MUST be a better way than this to solve the problem this country faces. Supporting these hardworking people in RSOL and the rest can help to find it.

Tony Casson
91153-004 A-1
Box 5000
Federal Correctional Center
Oakdale, LA  71463

TODAY IS… A Gift From God ~ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HKKL1RE