Lauren Gazzola’s last writing from prison

Lauren Gazzola of the SHAC 7 will be released tomorrow, Wednesday March 17th 2010.  Her last writing from prison, below, expresses gratitude to her supporters and describes her experiences living in the prison system .

lauren-gazzola“Final Blog”

03/01/09

I have planned to draft this blog, to be published upon my release, for a long while. But it was only at this moment, when I picked up the pen to write, that I realized its significance: my final words from prison. I am writing this March 1st, 2009, in anticipation of a possible early, unexpected release by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (I am, if nothing else, invariably prepared), and, whether I am released within the next few months, or a year from now, this is the end. I am now, either way, looking back on my prison time, no longer forward at it. How does the view differ?

I think that I am still too close to this experience to answer this question in any manner close to full, and I expect that it will remain largely unanswered for quite some time. Most likely, there are many answers, and most will require some distance. But there are some things that can be said now.

First, I must again express my thanks to all those who have supported us over these few years. I am always concerned that my “thank-yous” become more diluted each time I express them, as with anything that loses impact with familiarity, and so it is important that I express the depth of my gratitude.

There has been, of course, the steady reminder that we are not forgotten, which comes with my name on the mail list literally daily, and the satisfaction of knowing that our voices have not been silenced, but amplified, of which I am reminded with each new invitation to write for a newsletter, to speak to conference attendees, to respond to an interview, contribute to an anthology, or be the subject of a film. But further, my gratitude has a more acute dimension.

For me, prison has corresponded with a specific undertaking that I insisted would constitute my time here: I have been in graduate school. From the onset, I was determined to make something out of this experience, and, whether I am released tomorrow or next year, today I know that I have done so. Graduate school from prison has been an unimaginably difficult endeavor, the success of which would have been impossible without the large and small efforts of many people, to whom I wish to express my deepest thanks: you have allowed me to retain these years of my life, to keep from surrendering them to prison, to HLS, to Charlie McKenna, to the “victims” of SHAC protests, or to a system of misplaced values. Before I came to prison, I was a law school hopeful with a knack for legal argument. When I walk out of prison, or shortly thereafter, I will be a law school applicant with a master’s degree in the First Amendment and free expression. I plan to leave wearing a cap and gown.

Secondly, while recognizing that a full account will take much time and distance, I’d like to sum up this experience as best I can at present.

The range of emotions I’ve felt here could never be harmonized. This place is a theater of extremes. I have felt the quiet peace of simple pleasures (soymilk in my tea, the socks they let me keep from home, the smell of campfires on the shore of the lake across the street) and, sometimes moments later, the most deep-seated feelings of contempt and rage, the intensity of which makes me know that I had never felt hatred or anger before I came here.

Many threads have run through my time here – the dominant one, thankfully, being my confidence that in the long run, this experience will be, personally at least, a net plus. This is the sentiment I’ve shared most by way of blogs and other writings. But there are others that are important to share as well.

Something should be said about the character of the place, and of the people who inhabit it. Several questions that have graced my thoughts repeatedly as I’ve interacted with staff here are illuminating: “You’re making this up as you go along, aren’t you?” “You don’t actually follow/know/understand the policy, do you?” “How can so many people share in the same delusion(s)?” A whole host of unique mysteries abound when it comes to the inmates.

In seeking to share a bit of the character of the place, there are obviously many gems to choose from. I’ve decided that it is most important to share the following anecdote. Whatever small kindnesses I’ve witnessed, despite the few employees uncorrupted by this place, it is, at bottom, a place where something like the following is far from extraordinary.

I’d like to tell the story of a friend I made here. She is from Trinidad, but she was living in New Jersey for a time. One day, she received the news that her younger son, who was still in Trinidad, had been in a car accident. Though her family assured her that he was alright, she felt a mother’s compulsion to be with him.

There was, however, some problem with her passport, the details of which escape me. Undeterred, she borrowed a friend’s and forged a passport in order to return to her son. Her “crime” was innocuous, but that isn’t really important.

Her son was indeed fine and, upon her return to the states, my friend was promptly arrested and eventually sentenced to 2 years in prison.

Inmates here receive 300 phone minutes per month, 400 in both November and December, and are eligible to receive more in extraordinary circumstances.

While my friend was here, her older son committed suicide. Just take that in for a moment. Sit with it. Because its the most horrible thing that I can (barely) imagine. It makes my chest ache to write it.

The chaplain was with her in the visiting room when her family broke the news. My friend fainted 3 times. The lieutenant on duty threatened to end her visit if she did so again, as well as if she didn’t stop hysterically crying. The chaplain said he’d stay around so that she could call home after her visit, without being cut off after 15 minutes. But he left. I and another friend went around to lieutenants and counselors that afternoon, begging for someone to let her make a call. No one would. She spent the night…disintegrating.

Needless to say, she used up her 300 phone minutes within days, and approached our unit manager asking for more. If these weren’t extraordinary circumstances, I don’t know what would be.

In the coldest act I have ever personally known someone to do, our unit manager denied her request. My friend was forced to go to the warden to ask for more minutes, which were granted: 30 minutes. Two 15-minute phone calls for the remainder of the month. Every year, 14,000 inmates receive 200 extra phone minutes for the holidays. When your child dies, you get 30. And you have to beg for them.

Really, there’s nothing more to say.

I’d like to close by describing the indescribable. My most accurate description of this experience for a long while was, “I can’t put it into words; you just have to experience it.” But I read Catch-22 for the first time last summer, and it turns out this experience can be described in words. I think the most appropriate sign off is for my final words from prison to be Joseph Heller’s:

“The trouble with you is that you think you’re too good for the conventions of society. You probably think you’re too good for me too, just because I arrived at puberty late. Well, do you know what you are? You’re a frustrated, unhappy, disillusioned, maladjusted young man!” Major Sanderson’s disposition seemed to mellow as he reeled off the uncomplimentary adjectives.

“Yes, sir,” Yossarian agreed carefully. ” I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right! You’re immature. You’ve been unable to adjust to the idea of war.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you’re at war and might get your head blown off any second.”

“I more than resent it, sir. I’m absolutely incensed.”

“You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don’t like bigots, bullies, snobs or hypocrites. Subconsciously, there are many people you hate.”

“Consciously, sir, consciously,” Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. “I hate them consciously”.

“You’re antagonistic the the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depressed you. Violence depresses you. Slums depress you. Greed depresses you. Crime depresses you. Corruption depresses you. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’re a manic-depressive!”

“Yes, sir. Perhaps I am.”

“Don’t try to deny it.”

“I’m not denying it, sir,” said Yossarian, pleased with the miraculous rapport that finally existed between them. “I agree with all you’ve said.”

“Then you admit you’re crazy, do you?”

“Crazy?” Yossarian was shocked. “What are you talking about? Why am I crazy? You’re the one who’s crazy!”

Major Sanderson turned red with indignation and crashed both fists down on his thighs. “Calling me crazy,” he shouted in a sputtering rage, “is a typically sadistic and vindictive paranoiac reaction! You really are crazy!”

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