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Prisoners are famous for using jail time for working out. FSL Jesup had a huge area with weights and exercise machines. Actually I was surprised to discover how hard it is to work out in the majority of the jails I passed through. It wasn’t always easy at Jesup either. Just because there was space and equipment for it doesn’t mean we were allowed near those facilities any time we wanted to go. Sometimes the facilities were closed to all prisoners for days on end. The Russians’ Potemkin Village had nothing on US jails for misrepresentation. The inspectors see a wonderful facility; the prisoners see the inside of their cell more often than they see anything else.
I never doubted that I could be arrested by the fascists that run civilization. I was raised as a Christian: if the Romans could torture and kill God, then any human could certainly torture and kill any other human. Still, even after I wrote the savage black humor satires that finally got me arrested and censored off the internet, I did not expect to be arrested quite so precipitously, and even I never dreamed quite how closed the hysterical American law system would be to explanations. I say more about all that supremely important stuff later; right now I’m here to tell mere trivia.
When I was young I was skinny if I ate little, and I was still skinny if I embarrassed my friends at how much I ate: and drank! An awful lot of beer and an awful lot of martinis went into my skin before I had any kind of a thickened waistline to speak of. But: nature tricks us. Once the belly roll arrives, it’s damn hard to get rid of. Lifelong fatties have a hard time, but so do youth-long skinnies. Still, pk knew he could stop smoking. Therefore he could, and did, stop drinking: therefore, he OUGHT to be able to control his eating.
Hmm. Easier said than done. I could stop smoking because I could resist lighting the first cigarette of the day. So long as I did not light the first cigarette of the day then I also did not light the second cigarette of the day. Nor light a third. If I never took the first drink of the day, the bottle would still be full at the end of the day. I gave things up cold turkey, I was not one to taper off. Notice: one can live well, indeed, live better, with zero nicotine, zero alcohol. But one will cease to live at all with zero food. Diet has to be moderated.
Moderation is exactly what I’ve never been good at. I don’t moderate my talent, my wit, my enthusiasm … But dammit I had to finally moderate my food intake: or seeing myself in the mirror would make me shiver with embarrassment. It wasn’t that I was ever fatter than most people. No, I was always still skinnier than most people. But the fact that I had a pot belly at all, even in my upper sixties, was intolerable to me. I mean, I had tolerated it, or it wouldn’t have grown. But I tried to resist tolerating it. And early in September of 2006 I started to act. I reduced my portions, drank cilium husk to fill the cavity with bulk of no calories, totally ceased intake of ice cream or candy … AND began doing daily calisthenics: alternate toe touches, jumping jacks, crunch sit ups, squat jumps … Just ten of each the first day, fifteen the second … By October 13 when I was arrested I was doing at least ten but no more than thirty of each exercise.
First Weekend in Jail
Then suddenly I was in the St. Lucies County Jail. Food is shoved through a slot in the door three times a day. I ate half, and returned the rest as refuse. I did a few sit ups, a few jumping jacks, but it was no fun in the dinky cell. Stripped nearly naked and half-refrigerated, I spent most minutes not asleep shivering in the pathetic single blanket I’d been issued. Monday, the 16th I was awakened by guards to be stripped again, issued a ridiculously thin jump suit and held for pickup by federal marshalls to take me to court in Ft Pierce. The holding cell in the court was colder than the county jail. I was too busy shivering to do the exercises that would have warmed me.
The night I spent buried in the snow on the back side of Vermont’s Stratton Mountain while a fresh blizzard dumped several feet of new snow on the mountain, we’d planned to ski up and down a little corridor we’d dug our hole next to to keep from freezing. We didn’t; we just froze: frozen numb, unable to move before dawn found us still alive, my friend only just barely so. It took me a long time to rouse him. In jail I just shivered, did only a few exercises.
The court sent me to the Palm Beach jail on Gun Club Road. There, in the sorting dorm, the guards yelled if they saw you doing a jumping jack. I did a few situps where they failed to notice me. Then, assigned to the old man’s dorm in S8C, exercise was still punished by the guards. My bunk mate did his yoga every morning out of the sight of the guards. I used the same space after he was done. But I wasn’t doing the thirty repetitions of each I’d built up to by the 13th. S8C had recreation periods, but many of them passed before I ever knew they were being announced, the guards’ voices never reaching my half-deaf ears. Finally I learned to notice when guys were gathering by the door to be let across the hall to the exercise “yard”: an area of hard hard concrete big enough to hold a basketball half-court with odd corners to the sides.
The first time I joined that bunch was sheer heaven. It was late October and cool for Florida at that latitude. Nevertheless, it could have been snowing and still have been warmer than the sheriff kept S8C. I was reminded of an interview I’d heard with “polar bears,” guys who swam the Cony Island beaches all winter. They explained that the ocean was much warmer than the air in winter. You weren’t going into cold water; you were going into water that was much warmer. Even at night, an 8 PM migration to the exercise yard was a trip to the beach. Warm up, then go back to refreeze.
Once I got into S8C’s exercise routine I built back up to my thirty of everything and also walked the periphery, ran a bit, and added a sort of tortured pull up by hanging by my fingers from the grid that served as bars to the open air outside. The grid cut my fingers, but I’d still manage a couple of half pull ups.
S8C’s food was far from good. It wasn’t too hard for me to eat just half, or less than half. I was never near a scale, but I knew my belly was shrinking while my muscles were getting both elasticized and built back up a bit.
In early December I was transferred to FDC Miami. I’d been told it would be very much better, very much less uncomfortable, mush warmer (or at least less frigid), that we’d have better, warmer clothing, and that the food would actually be good. It was. All that was true.
I missed meals during the transfer, that’s standard, but I also missed breakfast the next morning, because no one cared to tell me when breakfast was served. The guards had come for my new cell mate early, jail style early, way before dawn, to take him to court. No one told me anything. They left my door unlocked (though I didn’t know it). I could have gone out anytime, only to be threatened with the SHU if I didn’t instantly get back inside. But I also could have freely gone to breakfast at breakfast time, had I known when breakfast time was: or when it was that time.
Had I been wearing a watch when I was arrested, they would have taken it from me. Watches were never issued. There was no clock. Had they a crier to announce the time on the hour, I would have heard none of it. I’m hard of hearing, and my cell was as far away from the center where guards announced things as it was possible to be. Mail doesn’t reach the North or South Pole: jail announcements don’t always reach deaf old prisoners detained in the Siberia of the unit.
By the time I arrived in Miami I had lost a lot of my middle aged belly. I was down to one-sixty-something, whereas I had been way over one-eighty: for the first and only time of my life.
Compared to S8C, Miami was a heaven for exercise, but it was also, relatively, a heaven for food. I started eating and relishing more than half the portions I was served. I also started eating a daily Snickers bar. The belly started going in the wrong direction and I put a stop to that nonsense. (New prisoners can’t get goodies from the Commisary: it takes time and outside assistance, friends, family, to open an account: then you have to follow their schedule to place an order, then wait for their delivery time.)
Miami was a relative heaven for exercise: there was a “yard”: again with a half-court for basketball, a wall for handball, an actual installed-for-the-purpose chin-up/pull-up bar … and a Soft! floor! There was also an exercise machine room. Most of the machines were broken, but the digital bike worked, keeping digital track of your “miles,” estimating your calories burned … There was another bike machines whose pedals turned but there was no seat. You could ride it standing up. Other machines could be used to invent exercises with even where they did not perform their advertised function. A treadmill whose tread was off the rails could be used to anchor your feet for sit ups. Weight lifters used it as a weight.
Most times there were guys on line to use the bike, but if you learned the rhythms of the place it was sometimes possible to be the first to arrive. The unwritten rule was that once in possession of the bike you could use it as long as you wanted. Turns were not timed. It was far from “fair,” but the regular bikers would pedal for forty to sixty minutes. I would typically yield the machine when the read-out said twelve miles had been achieved. That would take a bit longer than thirty minutes at the resistance-settings I used. Younger, bigger, stronger guys could arrive at “twelve miles” more quickly, but that was the pacing I found right for me.
By the time I went to Jesup GA I was back down around 162 pounds. Not good, but not too too bad. I’d long figured that about 142 was right for me: not “fighting” weight, but good healthy weight: so long as I was conditioned as well.
Unfortunately for my belly my transfer included a couple of weeks in the FDC in Tallahassee, and there the food was too scrumptious to resist. I had bacon for the first time since I was arrested. And they were generous with the melted margarine. Unfortunately further, the food was even better at Jesup. At least it seemed so temporarily. Once we were used to it it didn’t seem very good at all. But my first breakfast there with bacon and ham and eggs and cereal and french toast and ladles of melted margarine and more ladles of “maple” flavored syrup set me back in my discipline. I indulged my belly for a few weeks, even had candy bars again, then I tightened the reins. Soon I was back to half-portions: but best of all, we could exercise out of doors: see real grass and trees. We even had a view of a meadow with three wild turkeys: two males and a female. They mated and by summer a half dozen youngsters came pecking out in to the open.
When I was arrested it had been my habit to fish every day. I also walked, rode the bike. I live on a road that’s rural in appearance if not in fact: lots of snow birds and retirees are packed in among a few cows and pine trees. Once in jail, not even natural light reached us. In St Lucies I didn’t see so much as the shadow of a tree. In Gun Club, once in the exercise yard, I could hoist myself up to where my eyes could just see out the grate. I’d feel a ray of direct sun; or the rain would mist my face. Heaven. If I stood on the basketball, I had a glimpse of a Donald Trump Palm Beach golf course. But we saw nothing more of trees or grass except while the marshalls were transferring us to court and back.
Recreation calls were welcome, but the “yards” were indoors, with ceilings … In Gun Club the yard was on the tenth floor! In Miami our yard was on the seventh floor. We were lucky to get so much as a breath of real weather: a spray of winter rain, a whiff of spring breeze. Imagine my delight when we were called to rec in Tallahassee and I found the gang of us stepping out of a door and into a real yard: with dirt, and grass, walkways and a pavilion. We were pale as mushrooms. Forty-five minutes of sun was almost lethal. But I was very careful: and drank in sunshine for 45 minutes a day for two weeks.
En route to Miami FDC for my first time the marshalls had taken a detour to pick someone up at a prison at the south end of Lake Okeechobee. I saw hundreds a guys standing around in a rec yard. Wow! Imagine! Standing on grass!
jail yard pic, evaporated
Well, at Jesup we had plenty of grass to walk on. We couldn’t get to the rec yard any time it pleased us, and there were whole days when we couldn’t go at all. But there were more days that we could than there were days that we couldn’t, and over all I had plenty of time in the yard. There was a baseball field, a soccer field, a volley ball court, a bocci court, a horseshoe area, a couple of basketball courts, a few handball courts … There was a track to walk or run on. The track, paved, damn it, was more than half a mile. If my feet hurt, which they often did, not having any access to decent shoes, I’d walk, jog, run around the soccer pitch.
I ran a mile for my sixtieth birthday, but hadn’t run since. It was at Jesup that, gradually, I started running again. I started with a careful jog. I’d walk a mile or two, then jog 200 yards, then resume walking. Then I tried running.
I’ll never forget my first actual sprint, first in decades. Cheers went up. “Go, Old Man!” People came up to tell me they had seen me running for days afterward.
Just a hair more description will bring me into the narrative position I’ve been aiming at. The yard bordered on the rec-end of the pavilion that included the class rooms, the TV sets, the library, the rec tables — where we played chess, played the guitar … — next to the yard was the weights area, the stationary bikes, the ping-pong table, the half dozen pool tables …
OK. I would go to the yard. I would do twenty alternate toe touches, twenty jumping jacks, twenty stomach crunches, then walk. I’d walk a mile, then jog one lap. I’d then walk a cool-off lap. Then I’d do twenty alternate toe touches, twenty jumping jacks, twenty stomach crunches, then walk.
Rarely did I do any pushups. I don’t know why. I’ve always been big on my legs, not on my arms: big on my stomach, neglectful of my chest … You look at my legs, I’m a real athlete; you look at my upper body, I’m a whimp.
Mid-summer 2007 I decided to change that, all at once, like a fool.
I started doing the above routine, but adding five pushups. Start modestly. Or, I’d pass a park bench and do ten inclined pushups against the back rest. Lots of guys did only inclined pushups at Gun Club, putting their hands against anything but the floor, the floor being a notorious place to contact some staphylococcus.
So: I’d done some calisthenics including some pushups on the grass, then I’d walk, run, walk some more … Then I’d pause at the weights area and do three types of exercise with the fifteen LB dumbbells: ten curls for each arm, both arms alternately or at once, ten presses over the head, both arms together, and ten lifts to the shoulder, knuckles facing forward, elbows out to the side.
Parenthetically, my neighbor one cell over, Bruce, whom I liked, was telling us how he’d dome something or other to his arm to he had only a fraction of his strength in that arm. He said that the doctors had told him it would never get any stronger. Poor guy.
Now: I’m doing my calisthenics, I’m walking, running, walking some more, going to the weight room … and cycling through the whole again … and again. I’d done so many cycles of those routines that I was counting one set of pushups as “forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven …” That is, I’d done set of five or ten inclined push ups on the backs of the park benches scattered around the track in addition to the work with the dumbbells. Close to fifty inclined pushups for the day I felt something strain. But I was so close to fifty! I don’t think I’d ever done fifty in my life! Fool. I kept going.
And one year later I still have less than half my normal strength in my right arm. [2019 04 09 But now I do: my arm came back all on its own.]
The Jesup PA put me on 600 mg of ibuprofen three times a day: to reduce the inflammation. These days, I catch a big fish, it hurts. I cast for over an hour, it hurts.
[2019 04 09 But now I do: my arm came back all on its own.]
I resumed jogging one month ago: 2019 03 10. I jogged a half a mile this morning. I also ride the bike: 5 miles on average.
Jan weighed me the other evening: 168! Hey, not bad! not at 79 1/2 years.
I haven’t done a single calisthenic currently; but could resume them any time.
2019 04 09 For one month now I’ve jogged every day: and walked, and biked. Two days formed an exception: yesterday I walked but didn’t jog. And a day got skipped last week. 28, 29 jogs: pretty good.
The prose can’t help but be a bit bumpy, written over decades: with dozens of inserts and parentheses.
What I have done that’s much better is since 1969 I’ve been dancing: ballroom and line dancing There was a time five or so years ago where I might dance ev ery single dance for the three hours the dance lasts.
Jan’s been a wonderful partner, except that her knees are failing, and her back. She doesn’t line dance at all; but my darling friend Carole does both. Carole keekps me working. And I’m glad to say that Jan and Carole are almost as good friends as Paul and Carole.
Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.
Out of Sight
Gun Club, S8C, Old Man’s Dorm, bunk-mate Bob Heartsong (accused of wife-murder)
The guards can go where they want, see what they want, make you bend over and look up your ass if they want. But they don’t. They sit at their big elevated throne and don’t move if they don’t have to. If Bob or I did a pushup in or by our double-deck bunk, or on the floor next to it, the guard could see us: see and and yell. But Bob showed me the second he saw me get on the floor that just a couple of bunks further away the floor was not visible to the lazy guards. Thus we did all the exercises we wanted to, out of sight, out of mind: provided we did them during those periods when we weren’t being compelled to have lunch, change sheets …
2014 02 12 I redated the draft for this post yesterday, now I don’t know when I scrawled it: anytime since 2007. Lost in the shuffle, thousands of files, thousands more coming. I stick it up finally, will edit it when. Where shall I categorize it? I put it under Stupid but could have put it under the Jail stories in my Hierarchy vs. Conviviality section.
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