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Sunday, 16 March 2014

Reality TV? Move along please, nothing to see here

From time to time, on some forums that I belong to that are concerned with inmates and their families, there are request from media production companies and journalists. These requests are usually looking for people who have "fallen for a felon" or "are in love with their inmate penpal". We even had one recently that was offering $500 to cover the "first date".

So-called reality TV is all the rage, though I really don't understand why. Could it be because the people watching have less interesting lives themselves? Or possibly that the people watching can feel smug in the assumption that their lives are in some way better? I think it's probably a bit of both, depending on the subject content.

But why would anyone want to watch a programme about a woman in love with an inmate? Be under no illusions, there really is no way to accurately depict this lifestyle in a sensitive way, and really that's not what the media companies want anyway. I can only think that any such programme would turn out like the "My Big Fat Gypsy" series. On one hand, it shows Irish traveller life in modern Britain, but on the other it holds those people up for ridicule with their fake tans, their gaudy bling and their attitudes to women. How would a programme on inmates and their partners on the outside be any different?

I recon anyone watching my life through a lens would be thinking either "sad cow" or yawning into their popcorn. My husband did a bad thing that got him to prison, but he's not a typical bad boy now he is in there. He is not in fights, is not in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation in Texas, and often called the SHU or thr Hole in other states, effectively a prison within a prison), and is not fighting to proclaim his innocence. He is also not a muscle man or covered in tattoos. I'm not on benefits, don't make my 27 kids go without just so I can visit him, and we don't spend hours on the phone every day using money I should be spending on utility bills. Regular readers of this blog will know that we don't get phone calls at all.

I also don't sit around wallowing in self-pity that my "one true love" is locked away on the other side of the ocean for at least another 10 years. It could not be said that I am "wasting my life" or putting it "on hold". When I'm not at work, I do a lot of crafts, socialise and travel. Sometimes I do these things by myself, and sometimes I do them with friends or family.

In fact, I dare say I am very much like thousands of other women in the UK and the rest of the world, who live by themselves and are getting on with life. I just happen to also be married to a man who is in prison in America.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


The dictionary defines xernophobia as follows:

"Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries:"

By chance this week I have learned of the changes that TDCJ have made to the procedures for visitation across all units effective from 1 March 2014. The full document can be found here TDCJ Visitation Changes (the jump from the TDCJ Hompage is currently not active).

While I appreciate that some of these things will make visitation easier for a lot of people, particularly the inclusion of nephews and nieces in the "close relative" catagory for contact visits, there are other things that make it much more difficult for those travelling a long way for visitation - not just from overseas, but anywhere more than 300 miles away.

The item that affects me the most is the new requirement for the visitor ID to have an address that matches the TDCJ records for that person. For the past 8 years, my passport has been adequate ID but that does not contain my address details. I do not drive, so I do not have a European driving licence. I would offer a utility bill, as that is usually accepted here in the UK as proof of address, but as TDCJ do not permit those overseas to register for the inmate phone service it would seem unlikely that a bill would be accepted for anything else. One would think that my flight details might also be proof that I do indeed still live all the way over here and will be returning after the visit, but I don't hold out much hope of that either - considering most TDCJ staff I have known over the years admit to having never been out of the state let alone out of the country and look at my passport as something wierd and unknown, expecting them to understand what a flight print out is is probably pushing things too far.

The only way over this particular hurdle appears to be for me to get a provisional driving licence, at the £50 fee (pushing the cost overall of this visit over the £1000 mark). The DirectGov website says the licence is issued within one week - I hope so because I fly out in 4 weeks time and TDCJ gave no warning that the rules would be changing like this. 

I know TDCJ are not there for my convenience. But there does appear to be a consistent level of general ignorance about anything that happens outside of Texas when it comes to making any rules at all. It is also starting to appear as xenophobia when you look at the following:

  • International postage stamps are not available through commisarry at many units, meaning inmates must use 3 inland stamps and pay more than is required for the service
  • Inmates are not permitted to call friends and family overseas, and those people living overseas (meaning, outside of the USA, excluding Alaska and Hawaii) are not permitted to registered their phone for the Inmate Telephone Service
  • Visitors must obtain photo ID with a current address included - something that is not required in many other countries including Britain.
Even the TDCJ Visitor Survey which aparently the recent changes have been based on, gives little acknowledgement to those visiting from anywhere other than Texas. It asks how ofter you visit and the options are:
  • Every weekend
  • More than twice per month
  • Once per month
  • When I am able to but not on a consistent basis
The assumption there is, if you don't go at least once a month, you are inconsistent. I consistently visit every 9-11 months, and have done for 8 years.

There is a question about what items would make visiting with children easier, but the way it is worded you can only respond to that if you actually have children. As anyone who visits TDCJ units knows, when children are in the visit room it affects everyone else there, so why should I not also be able to say that providing colouring pencils and paper would be a good idea?

Question 10 says: Do you communicate with the offender by letter, email (JPay) or phone before a visit?
 The answer options are:
  • Always
  • Sometimes
  • Never
Again, this assumes that it is possible to do those things, and "communicate" implies it is a two-way process. TDCJ inmates cannot respond to Jpay emails via a Jpay kiosk like inmates in other states can. So sure, I can email my husband and say I'm on my way, but he cannot then reply and tell me there is sickness at the unit and visitation might be affected for example. If you answer "Never", which I would have to do if it referred only to the phone calls, that would also have implications that are not correct - assuming that I always turn up unannounced and unexpected which is never the case as these things take a good 3 months planning at least and considerably longer to save up for. Ticking the "Always" option implies that all 3 means of contact are available to us, which they are not.

Finally, the last field on the survey asks for suggestions on how the unit can make visitation more enjoyable. I started typing my response, but the character limit is only around 200 - not nearly enough to mention the things I would like to, such as maybe sometimes using the outside seating at my husband's unit which has never been used in the 8 years he has been there. The staff at the unit are usually polite and efficient, even when their equipment doesn't work properly, and I have no issue with them at all. It's the TDCJ Administration that appear to be bunkered down in Austin and Huntsville like a bunch or Preppers, desperate to keep everyone out and everyone in, both at the same time.

And to top it all, when I hit the "submit" button, I get an error message. I have emailed the webservice team about all of this, but you know, I'm not Texan, so I'm not holding out for a response any time soon.

Monday, 10 February 2014

New horizons

While this blog is principally about my husband and myself, we do also have kids (not together) and their antics naturally impact on our lives too.

This month, my daughter and her boyfriend have made some big changes. After both being made redundant last December, both managed to find new jobs within a few weeks - something my husband and I are extremely proud of them for achieving as the economic climate is not helpful to youngsters at the moment and so many of their friends have struggled to find even part-time work.

My daughter got a job in specialist animal care, something she has always wanted to do and a big change from retail. But the job is in another city, and while it is only about 40 miles as the crow flies, our crows generally don't use public transport! As her job was the one with better prospects, the kids have moved to that city and are now no longer within about 5 miles of me here.

She and I haven't always lived together, or near to each other, but the past 4 years or so that she has been up here have been good. I'm going to miss seeing her as frequently, but it is an excellent opportunity for them both and the little house they are renting is lovely and suits them very well. Trying not to spend a lot of money on them helping them to move and settle in has been a bit difficult for me - I want to spend what I have on them, but I also have to cover my next trip to see my husband in a couple of months time.

I have plenty to keep myself occupied though. I have almost finished spinning some soy silk and silk noil yarn called Dragonfly that I hope to put up for sale this week. The colours are strong and the yarn is very soft but also very strong too. And I have taken delivery of about a kilo of Gotland fleece which I am very excited about. It too is very soft now that it has been scoured, and I can't wait for it to dry out completely so that I can start carding and spinning it.

Two young girls I know are pregnant and expecting their babies this summer, so I have lots of knitting to be getting on with, and there is still that handspun, hand dyed project for myself that I am knitting with a hope of wearing when I see hubby next. I'd better get on with it all!

Monday, 27 January 2014

New year, same strangeness

Just when you think you've heard it all before, TDCJ come up with a new one.

Recently there was a power cut at hubby's unit, which in itself is not unusual. They normally have secondary generators, as you would expect for a prison, that kick in if the main supply is interrupted. Apparently the power cut, or possibly the cause of the cut, damaged the water treatment equipment. Hubby says that there were notices put up around the unit warning the inmates not to drink unboiled water until further notice.

A sensible precaution you would think. Except TDCJ inmates are prohibited from having any equipment that actually boils liquid (also a sensible precaution, before anyone thinks I am against it).

Now, I'm all for encouraging self-responsibility. I understand that this is an unusual and unplanned incident and that inmates have the choice whether to drink water provided in their cells or not. And it is not the middle of summer, thank goodness. But surely it would have been even more sensible to draft in supplies of bottled water until the treatment equipment had been fixed, just to reduce the risk of contamination-related illness? If TDCJ can stump up $4000 for each new recruit who makes it through training and works on a short-staffed unit, surely there is a bit of cash there for a few gallons of water that is safe to drink.

And stranger yet, the letter in which hubby was informing me of all this appeared to spend 7 days in the mailroom before making it out of the gate to be franked.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


A few days ago, Hubby and I celebrated 7 years of marriage. We celebrated separately of course; we've only spent one anniversary together in all of those years.

We have two anniversaries each year. Our wedding anniversary in December and also our "first contact" anniversary in June. That marks the day that we first knew each other, the day we first talked. Hubby always places more importance on that one than I do, possibly because he has been married before and I haven't.

When I read others' posts about their anniversaries with their husbands, fiances and boyfriends, I always think they get a bit gushing and luvvie. I'm sure that to them, their men are wonderful and everything they ever wanted in a man - except for not actually being there of course. I don't want to go down that same route with this post. Instead, I want to put down what it means to me to be a wife.

So many women go into marriage thinking about what they will gain from it. Whether it be financial or emotional or practical support, there is often a benefit to being married rather than staying single (or even staying with the guy but not being married). When you marry an inmate, it really doesn't work like that at all, especially if the inmate is in TDCJ.

If you are looking for financial help, you really should look elsewhere. TDCJ inmates are not paid for the work that they generally have to do, so you'd better make sure you can support yourself, and him (and any kids or other family you might have or acquire through marriage). I have a good full-time job which is enough to cover our expenses; he hates it that I send him money each month, but if I didn't he wouldn't be able to write to me or the rest of our family or friends.

Practical support is also, obviously, not there. I take out my own rubbish, do my own dishes, put up my own shelves and do my own laundry. Ours is a self-contained relationship in that we each take care of ourselves and not physically each other. This wouldn't work for everyone, you have to be very comfortable with your own company and resourceful, not minding if you break a nail here and there.

So what's in it for me, I hear you wondering.

At the risk of slipping into slushiness, it's the emotional support. I'm a pretty together woman, and can draw on my own reserves when I need to, but what I get out of this arrangement is someone who cares what's happening to me. Someone to discuss stuff with, and make decisions with, someone to tell about my day who is genuinely interested. Someone to share new discoveries with, someone to encourage and who encourages me in return. It's a bonus that I happen to think he is damned good looking.

I take my vows very seriously. Not the common "love, honour and obey" that you get in religious ceremonies, because we didn't have one of those. We were married by a Judge and the words she used were much more relevant to us, about being two individuals making the choice to face whatever life throws at them together. To be each other's shelter and stability. That was my promise to Hubby, that I would continue to be as I had been up to then, that I could give him consistency and stability.

The past 7 years have been..... unorthodox. Naturally there are things I would change if I could, but he isn't one of them.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Adventures with fibre: a weekend to dye for

After selling a few skeins of yarn over at Hares Moon Yarns, I decided to try some experiments with different and unusual fibres. Not only do I want to see how they knit up, I also wanted to have a go at dying them.

Having bought 400g of white shetland as the base, I chose 100g bamboo and 100g of banana fibre to play with from D&T Craft & Design in Sale, Cheshire. Having drawn a blank in finding any acid dyes locally, I bought some small pots online from Rainbow Silks in Buckinghamshire.

The shetland dyes really well, though it can be a bit patchy if you don't loosen it after squeezing out the excess water before putting it in the dye bath.

I've dyed soy silk before and that also takes the dye really well, so I hoped that these other plant fibres would act in a similar fashion. Not so.

Both have come out interesting but pastel shades of the colours I was hoping for. The banana I divided in 2 and now have some pale yellow and some pale peach (which should have been the same as the shetland above as it is was in the same pot!). The bamboo I was hoping to turn a deep sea green, but I have mint instead. Nice, but not really what I wanted.

By contrast, the soy silk I dyed a couple of weeks ago is a good strong colour:

I think I'll stick with the soy silk for now, although I'd like to try some cotton at some point.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut

TDCJ has outdone itself yet again when imposing new rules on inmate correspondence.

Two things have found their way to me this week relating to the new inmate correspondence rules for TDCJ that come into effect next March.

The first is that apparently, from then on, the only place that friends and family can purchase stationary for inmates will be eComm Direct, the "new" online vendor for TDCJ. I predicted this would happen a few months ago, and now it has. I feel bad for the small businesses around Texas that had previously been approved by TDCJ to supply stationary like the Texas Prison Bookstore and Rosie's Graphics.

The other item is about things you cannot send to an inmate:

11. Contains an altered photo.

"Altered Photo” is an image with content in violation of this policy that has been edited, including, but not limited to, by removing or changing the contents of the image with a computer software program or other means
I don't think they realise how badly worded that statement is - or if they do, then it is a Draconian measure that could lead to the mailrooms denying all photos because they could not be sure if they had been "altered" or not. Altered must surely include cropping a photo, as well as adding text as I often to do the copies of our visit photos that my husband and I get, just to put the date and our names on the front so he can send them on to family and friends.

If they don't want people to send naked photos with stars or other shapes blocking out the naughty bits, then fine, say so. But this will affect a lot of people who innocently just want to tidy up a photo, and perhaps obscure someone's face (like a child) and then send it to the inmate. Equally, the "or other means" at the end would potentially also include cutting a photo with scissors or even writing the inmate's name and number on the back of it. Whoever came up with this new rule obviously has far too much time on their hands!

 image from: Google
It could however, be more insidious than that. It could be that someone in TDCJ thinks that women should not pose naked for photographs - even if the crucial bits are obscured - even if they are sending them to their husbands. It could be that TDCJ are trying to change the behaviour of people who are otherwise outside its control. Or it could just be that someone has put a CO's wife's head on the body of someone else in a compromising position and caused a major fight somewhere.

But the most useful piece of information they could have included is not there at all - what exactly constitutes a "package" as far as TDCJ is concerned?