#15 You Can Only Laugh - Part V
In the late 1990's, when I was fresh to the prison setting, I saw a film which touched me deeply. A true story of a teenage girl dying of leukemia, because no matching donor could be found for a bone marrow transplant. The actress playing the role looked very sick, and I surmised that she was simply a method actor, starving herself to attain the proper look for the role. It was only at the end of the film that I discovered she was no actress at all. She was the actual girl from the story, dying as it was filmed, and dead before it ever aired. She knew it would never help her in time, but spent the last days of her life in hopes of raising awareness for the need of marrow donors, to help others. What a brave and selfless person she must have been!
Apparently, it is very difficult to find someone with genes similar enough for such a transplantation, and not nearly enough people are registered as possible donors. So the next day, I contacted the Leukemia Society, and inquired as to whether or not prisoners could register to be donors. I was told that the expense was too great for a single person to be worth their time. But if I could get a small group willing to register, of at least 8 people, they would be willing to contact the prison, and see what could be worked out.
I sat down that afternoon with a number of other prisoners and pitched the idea to them. To my surprise, EVERYONE agreed, with no hesitation. Not only were they willing, but each said they knew others who would be interested as well. By evening, word had been spread. Individuals began to approach me, to ask if they could participate. The heads of several gangs came to me, to volunteer all their members. There were so many, I had to set up a sign-in sheet, in order to keep track. In very short order, I had over 600 volunteers. It is my firm belief that, given a few more days, I would have signed up every single person whose health did not preclude them as a donor.
When I re-contacted the Leukemia Foundation with this information, the woman I spoke to was ecstatic. We would be the largest single group of donors to register in the Foundation’s history. After some discussion on how to precede, I agreed to present it to the warden, and would provide him with the appropriate contact information, to work out the details.
In a general population setting, where I was at that time, the Liar's Club (also known as administrative staff) congregates each week in the cafeteria, known as the chow hall among prisoners. I approached the warden there, with my idea, giving him a typed proposal, as I explained the donor process, and how the Leukemia Foundation would pay for the registry. I tried to impress upon him how many children would potentially be saved by our actions. I explained that I was not interested in any sort of credit; I only wanted it accomplished, so he could take over the project for his own, if he wished.
I was very sure this would produce a lot of positive outside interest, and further his career. So I thought that would make it irresistible to him, and he would want to be in charge, which bothered me not at all. What I never conceived of was any scenario where he might not want it to happen at all. It was just too important, and had too much potential to do good, to allow refusal. I was already envisioning how this could spread to other prisons, imagining the number of donors swelling to the thousands, to the hundreds of thousand, and all the kids it would help.
The warden listened attentively to all I had to say, nodding and smiling along the way. Once the presentation was complete, and I was waiting expectantly, he pointed at me, and said "Lock him up." I was taken straight to the hole. The phone number to the Foundation was blocked from my approved calling list. My letters were confiscated, and all my mail subjected to extra scrutiny, to ensure I did not ask someone else to contact the group on my behalf.
After several months, I was released from the hole. I had never been charged with any actual rule violation, and never formally been under investigation for anything. But I was told in no uncertain terms that if I ever tried to organize anything like that again, I would go back to the hole, and never get out.
When I finally was able to establish contact with the Foundation, I discovered the warden has indeed spoken to them. Although he had confiscated my sign-up sheet, so surely knew I was telling the truth, he claimed there had never been any volunteers at all, and I was simply a scam artist, seeking to take advantage of them in some way. So all my contact had to say was that I was a scumbag, and they would never speak to me again. I am sure that my being discredited in their eyes completely killed any chance for them to be willing to ever allow prisoners to register as bone marrow donors.
In the years since, I have come to realize there is one unspoken truth about prison - that any action which places prisoners in a positive light to the public will not be tolerated. No equivocation, no exceptions, and all prison administrators form a united front to support this. It may seem as if this is only part of some bizarre conspiracy theory I have dreamed up, and I certainly wish it were only my imagination. But it is a stone hard fact. Prisoners as cold, unfeeling killers, threatening the public, equals bigger budgets, greater autonomy for administrators, and less criticism. Prisoners who unite to help children do nothing to benefit those in charge. So that, and anything like it, is simply not allowed, and will always be blocked at every turn.
What can you do but laugh?
Picture: MemoryMan / Shutterstock.com