My Joseph Journey – The Prison Routine

The Prison Routine
This entry is part [part not set] of 10 in the series My Joseph Journey

These past couple weeks, I’ve been reflecting my prison experience, focusing primarily on the people, from the COs and prison staff]( to my fellow inmates and the brothers in Christ I found among them. And though the prison experience just isn’t the same without the people you meet, there are so many other factors that people get curious about. So, let’s delve into some of these.

Among the inmates I met, I only knew one who wanted to be there. He was a war vet with a PTSD diagnosis and no family or loved ones on the outside who didn’t scorn him. He couldn’t hold down a job in the real world, and he lived mostly off government assistance. To him, prison was just as good. Preferable, really, since it required less of him.

Apart from that guy, every inmate I knew was anxious to get out, anxious for their sentence to go by as quickly as possible.

The Key to Success

When you first get into prison, there’s a common set of questions you’ll get asked. The cliche “what are you in for” is a lot less common than you might think. Your paperwork speaks that for you, and no one takes your word for it anyway (otherwise child molesters will claim to be part of the massive crowd of drug criminals, and no one will know which inmates told on their partners in crime to reduce their own sentence). But the other stereotypical question of sentence duration invariably comes up, as well as, “How long have you been down?” – which is to say, “How far are you into your sentence?”

If your answer indicates that you’re new, usually any inmate will offer you some sage advice. “Don’t worry, the time will go by quickly once you get into a routine.” After you hear this in a few different formats from a dozen different sources, you quickly see that everyone sees your prison routine as the key to success.

Remember the movie Groundhog Day? In it, Bill Murray’s character repeats the same day over and over until he gets it right. Apart from some early variability, Murray’s repeated days become a systematic production of a precise routine that gets the desired results. Now, take away his goal of breaking out of the time loop. Rather, imagine Murray wanted to stay in the time loop. That’s basically the goal of every inmate.

From the perspective of a seasoned inmate, the more today looks like yesterday, the sooner tomorrow comes.

The Power of a Prison Routine

And it works. When you know that every Tuesday morning you have a certain class, every Thursday afternoon you have a certain workout, every Saturday evening you watch a certain television show, the routine makes the days, the weeks, and the months go by quickly.

My first few months took forever go to by. I buried myself into book after book, which helped, but after a few weeks, that became exhausting. The breakneck pace of three books per week just wasn’t sustainable. I needed to do more. Taking up the counsel of my fellows, I began establishing a routine. And the time went by.

One of the books I read was Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr (I love re-reading that series), and in it I found a scene that described prison routine well.

The long days and longer nights slipped by with both excruciating slowness and surprising speed, for every hour was identical to the last, which made Eragon feel not only as if their ordeal would never end but also as if large portions of it had never taken place.

The monotony of routine is powerful. It doesn’t make any one day seem shorter; you’re still apart from your loved ones and the concerns of the outside world. However, in retrospect, the time always seemed shorter after adopting a routine. In essence, today is still long, but yesterday is long gone and tomorrow won’t be long getting here.

As a result, a good prison routine becomes an inmate’s best friend. In many prisons, the primary catalyst for violence isn’t theft or hate or anything like that. It’s over what seems, to outsiders at least, petty. It’s over the television channels or the food served in the kitchen, the seemingly innocuous issues that the outside world simply takes for granted. To an inmate, these represent an interruption from the routine. This means a separation from the best friend and companion to most inmates. When your routine assumes that you watch American Idol on television five in TV room B on Wednesday nights, and someone changes the channel, your sentence has been extended in a way.

Out of necessity, inmates tolerate a lot. They often draw the line at interruptions to their routine.

The Danger of Routine

From the perspective of a seasoned inmate, the more today looks like yesterday, the sooner tomorrow comes.

For a biblical Christian, there’s a danger in this routine dynamic. Ultimately, Christianity is about loving God first and people second. Jailhouse religion places an intense focus on the former but rarely (if ever) invests in the latter.

Early in my Joseph Journey, I found myself wallowing in my pain, self-absorbed by my situation. My routine broke me of that mentally, but it took God’s love awakening in my heart to realize that in my routine, I had failed to make allowances for people. Relationships take investments of time and energy.

There’s no shortcut, no avoidance of interruptions, and no room for seeking one’s own primarily. Of course, you must keep things in balance; Jesus allowed interruptions but didn’t let them deter Him from His mission. But discipleship, at any real level, isn’t fully compatible with Groundhog Day prison life.

Beyond the Prison Cell

This is an important lesson for us in the free world, too. So many of us have repeated ourselves so long that our routine is as well-established as a twenty-year inmate. We wake up, we got to work, we watch television, and we sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll do the same. Saturday, we’ll take the kids to their early morning game like zombies, and Sunday we’ll dress up for church. Next week, we repeat it all over again, just like an inmate.

And like that twenty-year inmate we make some time for God and maybe, if we’re determined, we’ll even throw in a spare moment or two for someone else, but that’s it.

There’s a lost and dying world out there. There are Christian brothers and sisters who need love and help. Even within our immediate circles of influence, people need Jesus – either an introduction or an increase in intimacy. And God may want to use us to do His work, just like He used Joseph.

What’s disturbing is that where an inmate seeks and clings to routine for sanity, we in the free world seek and cling for convenience. For familiarity.

That longing for familiarity is a bland parody of a deeper longing for intimacy built within every human, but it’s all that so many of us know. Why? Because we rarely, if ever, break our routine to take the time to find the real thing. The kind that’s found in God and in people.

Routine or no, I pray that I never forget the top to priorities for a Christian. Specifically, I want to always make time for God and for my fellow man. Healthy relationships isn’t exactly a lesson you’d expect from prison, but God taught me a lot during my Joseph Journey.

Originally posted 2017-01-30 08:00:39.

Series NavigationMy Joseph Journey – The Inmates >>
About Phil (245 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.

Leave a Reply