Out of Egypt I Call My Son
Patrick O’Neill’s Prison Reflections (Transcribed and edited by J. Mark Davidson)
July 30, 2021
My Time in Elkton is Drawing to a Close
July 15: It is 9:00 a.m, and I’m waiting for Rec. As I get closer to leaving Elkton, I am also getting more anxious. In a few days or a week or so (they don’t tell you when), I will be moved to a quarantine cellblock for the final month or so of my stay here. It’s in the same building, but down on the first floor. I will still have email and receive mail but no leaving the building until the day of my release. Indoor walking or jogging in place only and all meals and meds delivered to the cellblock. Even though I am vaccinated, they do this … far beyond medical necessity.
July 21: I am now in quarantine for the final 5 weeks of my time here at Elkton. I am in the EA (Echo Alpha) block in the same building I have been in, but on the first floor in a separate wing, so I have a different view from the window. Tuesday I was moved to the quarantine cellblock, which is just a small group of guys with lots of room and a bottom bunk! I was negative on my Covid test, which is good. I will be here until the morning of Aug. 24, if all goes as planned.
Guys Unready to Face a Harsh World
I miss the guys I spent 6 months with in Fox Bravo. I have collected a lot of names (at least 60) to make a Christmas card list for December. I plan to host a Christmas card-writing party, and you are all invited! I will need cards with “white envelopes” or the BOP may return the cards! I also plan to write to each of the men at least once in the months after I get out. I may have more opportunities for pen-pals if anyone is interested. I will spend the next month sending out final letters to folks as I transition out of here.
Many of the guys in this “to be released unit” with me have been in prison for 3-10 years, and many seem unready for the “real” world. Some guys have no family support and really have nowhere to go and no resources; it is a sin to imprison people for many years and leave them high and dry with nothing — no resources — when you finally let them out. I am certain many will end up homeless and/or back in jail/prison (especially since the feds basically keep everybody on a leash with supervised probation, of which I have 3 years. They spend the money to keep folks on probation, but provide no resources to help them carry out viable plans to live in this “great” country of ours). Then there are the guys with mental illness; a few walk around with blank stares on their faces and don’t talk very much. A few have their entire heads (and face) tattooed, which I imagine limits your job prospects. (In fact, there must be tens of thousands of dollars spent on the tattoos by the men at Elkton!!). There are just a lot of guys who I can’t imagine doing well in this harsh world we live in. I have made a couple of acquaintances in here, but it’s not a close unit; people seem focused on themselves and what’s ahead. Many might be scared of the unknowns.
The BOP budget is $8 billion-plus a year for 122 prisons, and taxpayers get nothing in return for that investment. The prison system is a complete and total failure that only makes matters worse. As I’ve noted few guys get mail, and VERY FEW get visits. Guys who have been here for years say they used to hear from folks when they first came to prison, but have since lost touch, even with parents and siblings in many cases. Also, when a family member dies, we are not permitted to go to funerals so that’s a big disconnect for the person in prison. The story just gets sadder and sadder. I am grateful for your ongoing support!
A Birthday Blessing, a Need for Prayers, our Anniversary, and Special Thanks
Thirty-three years ago, our dear tiny 6-pounder daughter Bernadette came into to the World at the Siler City birthing center in Chatham County, NC after 18 hours of labor (not me, Mary!!!). I immediately carried her outside into the warm summer air to see the stars and feel the air for the first time. Bernadette has been a great big sister and a great little sister!! May she be blessed on this Special Day of Celebration as she also awaits the birth of her second child (and our 3rd grandchild!!). Peace be with You, Bernadette. Love and Blessings, Dad.
Mary is having a rough time of late with many of our children needing her love and support through various problems. She also had THREE flat tires on two vehicles in 5 days last week and had to call roadside assistance twice!!! Keep her in your prayers. And of course, Mary is my best supporter and co-conspirator.
July 7 was Mary and my 31st wedding anniversary. The best two words I have ever spoken and heard were “I do” 31 years ago. I’m a blessed man.
I want to offer a special thanks to Marcia Timmel, a long-time friend to Mary and me and part of our extended Catholic Worker community in Garner, N.C. Marcia volunteered to supervise Mary Evelyn’s online classroom at the Exploris School so Mary could keep her part-time job as a home-health social worker, and also to give Mary a little time to herself. Marcia was the key supporter of my first Plowshares action on Easter Sunday 1984 in Orlando, FL, the Pershing Plowshares. She has been a loving and caring friend for many years. She and Mary share a beer together as often as they can!! She lives about a half mile from us. So Thank You Marcia. Thanks too, to Steve Dear, Mark Davidson and Erik Johnson (two of the best Presbyterian minister friends a convict can have!!) The trio of devoted supporters made my 7-plus month stay at Elkton more bearable, and allowed for far better communications with all of you.
No More Cloudy Days
I saw a P.A. at the prison recently (July 7) for an eye check-up. When she told me to cover my right eye and read the chart, I discovered that I am basically blind in my left eye. I was having vision problems, but I never realized I had no vision (with or without my glasses) in my left eye. I have some peripheral vision in that eye, but not much. This vision problem has been going on for a while I guess, but it just never occurred to me to close one eye and see how the other one was; strange. I guess I just kept closing the left eye because I was unable to see out of it at all!
My eye is getting a bit worse (cloudy). I wish I had a patch. My first order of business when I go to the halfway house is to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist and get my vision back in my left eye (and it’s not very good in the right eye either!)
I ended up seeing the prison doctor on July 9, and he examined my eyes with a flashlight-type tool. He looked at both eyes, straight on and from angles. He asked me if I ever had cataracts. I said no. Thankfully, he thinks that’s what I have. I am thankful for the prayers that sustain me. I was reading today that Cesar Chavez’s mother was a big believer in Saint-Intercessory prayers. She specifically liked St. Euvigis.
I was able to run at 7:00 a.m. one day before I entered quarantine and got in just more than 5 miles which was the fifth day in a row I have run at least 5 miles. It’s still only an hour out each day, but better than it was. I am still amazed that I have been living with just one working eye, and I did not realize it … Now I do! That morning there was a skunk on the compound as I was at Rec, and often at rec, including this day, there was a dove cooing so beautifully on the prison fence just below the barbed wire. It was in the morning, but it was not a “morning” dove so to speak. It led to a conversation with my fellow inmates about doves; is it a “Mourning Dove” as per its coo of lamentation or a “Morning Dove,” because it’s most often seen (by me) in the morning? Many guesses among us until a guy with a bird guide and another with a very good dictionary settled the matter. I had guessed correctly. The dove was on the fence for about 10 of my 18 laps, and I looked forward to the coos each circuit.
Happy, Calm Luddite
Without phones or an internet search engine, we rely heavily on almanacs and dictionaries in order to get answers. It’s a circa 1980s environment (except we do have email). I also have not heard the radio or listened to music since my arrival almost 6 months ago. I see the 5 TV screens in the multi-purpose room, but can hear nothing because I don’t have a radio that tunes in for the audio. What is strange is when I am reading and all of a sudden, several men (or many men) all laugh or scream at once, startling me and I have no idea why. Of course, it’s in response to the TV! Sometimes the noise is unbearable and I have to leave the room for a while. I am happy to say I have done fine with my half year as a Luddite … I have also spent the last 6 months in a very calm state of mind unlike any other time in my life. I go most days being relatively quiet; almost never raising my voice for any reason (maybe not at all). It’s a new experience for me.
A Poem for Our Times
A Poem by Alex Charns
Pass me the Body of Christ.
Pass me the Blood of Christ.
The Last Supper came first. Crucifixion later.
Without His death and resurrection, we have no Mass. No Paschal meal.
Today, the empire nailed Jesus to an ICBM. Plowshares try to free Him
with their hammers and their blood. Dents in the metal. Jesus cries out.
Deus Vult; peace not war.
Missiles into grain silos. Jesus into grain.
This has been the longest period in my adult life I have not been to Mass or received the Eucharist. Paz de Cristo.
On August 24, my anticipated release date, the prison is only giving Mary and me 10 hours total to get to the halfway house in Raleigh (550 miles away), which allows almost no time to stop to use the bathroom or get gas. It’s like everything with the Bureau of Prisons, anxiety unnecessarily added to the lives of the captives; even your journey home is rife with suffering and worry. I asked for an extra 2 hours and my case manager and the unit secretary both said it comes down “from above.” Everyone passes the buck. No surprise. The road from Purgatory to Garner will be a quick drive!!! I plan to stop in Lisbon (nearby) to get ice cream for the trip!!! John and Julie, I hope to see you for a quick hug and a picture!!! Thanks for all the Love and Support from all of you.
Peace and Blessings and Love,