I’m deaf. Nearly 70. Most days are the same: Wake up, take care of hygiene, check JPay, get hot water for a cup of tea. Make my bed, if I haven’t already, wait for medicines. I am in a unique position: I am a mentor in the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) program. Because of COVID, DBT “Volunteers” moved to the RTP (Residential Treatment Program) unit. RTP is a step up from Acute, a locked down mental health unit. RTP is also a controlled unit—very little movement on the grounds. DBT was supposed to be housed here for a “limited time.” Now we’re trapped here and cannot return to our unit (EMMET-B), or our DBT program. Myself and another mentor work with DBT participants. We’re not allowed to mentor RTP participants because RTP needs to depend on therapists and staff, not mentors any longer. 

The atmosphere here is very chaotic. Overworked staff scream and yell at medicated mental health prisoners, turning up everyone’s anxiety. DBT teaches coping skills and helps overcome bad habits. It is mentally and physically draining, living here. Staff says RTP is “adult foster care.” Most of the mental and physical abuse has lightened up since DBT moved here, but it still happens. I do check-ins with DBT participants and note behaviors. I read, write and do afghans and quilts when I can afford to. I usually have to save for several months because prisoners don’t even make minimum wage. I write poetry and books, word searches and crosswords, usually about skills and behavior. I wanted to fill out paperwork for resentencing / early release, but can’t get it and don’t have the filing fee. I’ve been incarcerated for over 21 years. If not for T.I.S., I would be released in April of 2029. Because of T.I.S., I have a death sentence. Because I maintain employment, don’t get tickets, don’t cause trouble, I’m called “Prison Chick” by the parole board. I’ve only seen the parole board once in the time I’ve been down. They don’t accommodate the deaf. They skip deaf people. 

Listen to the world around you, see it, enjoy it. It’s a gift we don’t appreciate until it’s gone.

Watching TV, reading magazines and books (I can’t afford my own) and writing keeps me grounded. The video visits for the deaf are screwed up, so people I know can’t download the app. I feel lonely 24/7. COVID masks have limited my reading lips, which isolates me even more. 

I do things for people without them knowing. I don’t need to blow my own horn. Very little kindness is shown to me here. I am invisible because I can’t keep up with conversations behind masks. I stay to myself mostly. JPay keeps me in touch with two good friends, who didn’t give up on me just because I’m deaf and in prison. God bless them. The hardest thing I’ve had to face here is the world and time moving on without me, missing memories with family and friends. 

The worst thing about being here is knowing that I took a life that cannot be replaced. I am reminded of that choice daily. Prison has never scared me; mostly I can deal with things as they come. Some people have made me nervous because of my age and health problems—staff and prisoners. 

Well, Secret of Skinwalker Ranch is on. My Tuesdays have been devoted to that show and Curse of Oak Island. I’m an “Acorn.”

Don’t know if this will mean anything or help anyone. Hope so, even if it doesn’t help me.

Be kind to one another. Time passes and chances are missed. Live each day like it’s your last. Listen to the world around you, see it, enjoy it. It’s a gift we don’t appreciate until it’s gone.