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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Elderly, cold, hungry and alone

There is an elderly chap, we'll call him Joe, who spends most of his days in a small room. Like many others of his generation, Joe has outlived his parents, siblings and even some younger members of his extended family. Friends drifted away many years ago.

Joe tries to make ends meet by being creative. He has a little enterprise where he makes twine from scraps that other people discard, and the twine is useful to occasional interested parties. But making the twine is getting harder as Joe's fingers are developing arthritis, and his eye sight isn't what it used to be. Joe doesn't complain; no one would listen if he did and he prefers to keep himself to himself these days.

Getting up at 3am every day for breakfast is getting harder, especially in the winter. The thermal underwear he was given a few years ago by someone passing through is full of holes but it is still one of his prized possessions. But Joe dare not stay in bed and miss a meal - he doesn't have the means of making a snack to keep him going until the next meal time rolls around, whenever that might be. After breakfast, Joe sits by the window looking out at the sleet falling from a grey sky not too dissimilar from the walls surrounding him. He wonders how many more winters he will see, and whether any will be from the other side of the glass and grey walls. What will happen if his sight goes completely? Will they move him away from his familiar surroundings that he can navigate now if he needed to, to somewhere "more suitable" but completely unfamiliar?

You out there reading this, are you thinking "there are charities who can help Joe"? Unfortunately, Joe is just one of thousands of inmates in America's prisons serving a long sentence with little to no chance of parole. Joe's crime was committed decades ago, when he by his own admissions was "young and stupid". No one got killed, but criminals had to be made examples of. Even if Joe was able to apply for parole, he would not meet the requirements of having a stable address and prospects of employment to parole out to. He is in a catch 22 situation that is only partly of his own making.

This is not a European stereotypical call for all inmates to be released. Some of us over here are more sensible than that, and clearly there are some inmates who continue to pose a threat to themselves or others regardless of their mental or physical age. But they are not the majority.

TDCJ is one of the few corrections agencies that have an official age designation for "geriatric inmates". You may find it hard to believe that it is the age of 55. Prison can preserve a body or accelerate its demise. TDCJ recommend around 450 inmates for early medical parole every year, and yet fewer than 1/8 of those inmates are approved by the Board or Pardons and Paroles (BPP). The BPP believe that it is better to keep these individuals inside a prison and have the tax payer fund their increasing medical bills, rather than release them into a community where the remaining friends, family and social support networks are often willing and able to help.

My husband knows a number of Joes in his prison. We help where we can, but the system discourages inmates from sharing, selling or giving away physical items. My husband officially became a geriatric inmate himself recently and we have another 10 years to hang on before we get to ride the parole roller coaster. In a country that prides itself on opportunity, there is a large pool of unproductive but willing labour at the country's disposal. Imagine, instead of 2 million inmates sucking the life out of the country's finances, what if there were even 1 million less of them and 1 million more contributing to the economy even in a small way and paying some of their own medical bills. Maybe not the land of the free, but more the land of the hard working repentants?  

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

30 Q&As for last year and this

I know I said no looking back, but I saw this meme on a few other blogs over the past week so decided to join in.

  1.  What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
    Published my first knitting pattern, and got some orthopaedic inserts for my shoes.

    2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    I don't normally make new year resolutions, but I did want to get better at spinning and I've achieved that. 

    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

    Two of my friends had babies this year, both little boys.

    4. Did anyone close to you die?
    Not particularly close to me, but one of my husband's relatives died in November.

    5. What countries did you visit?
    Wales, America and Denmark. I think people forget that Wales is a different country to England sometimes.

    6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

    A pair of Viking combs.

    7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

    Definitely our time in Denmark in September. Four nights and 3 whole days exploring Copenhagen and Roskilde with my daughter was exciting and chilled at the same time. 

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Apart from not quitting my day job in a blaze of glory (or just a blaze); publishing and selling my knitting patterns.

    9. What was your biggest failure?
    I haven't failed at anything specifically this year, but I haven't finished everything I had hoped to. 

    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Quite the contrary, my blood pressure is now well under control, my feet are responding well to the inserts (though my back is still protesting) and I've lost a few pounds in weight. Mentally I've had a few wobbly days, but nothing that got out of hand.

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    A washing machine for my daughter and her chap, for their new house.

    12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
    Stephen Sutton. Without doubt a very special young man who devoted his final months of life to raising funds to assist other teenagers with cancer. If you would like to donate, you still can here Stephen's Just Giving Page

      13. Where did most of your money go?
    Flights. Which makes it sound like I jet set around the globe regularly, but I don't. The cost of a return flight from London to Houston is now around £800, which is more than twice what it was the first time I flew there in 2006. It is also more than I spent in total for 4 nights in a hotel, flight and spends in Denmark.

    14. What songs will always remind you of 2014?

    Nickelback – Edge of a Revolution
    Ed Sherring – Sing
    Royal Blood – Little Monster

    15. What do you wish you'd done more of?

    16. What do you wish you'd done less of?

    Banging my head against metaphorical brick walls.

    17. How did you spend Christmas?
    I don't celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the winter solstice instead, doing much the same thing as everyone else does a few days later. On Christmas day this year I cleaned my front room carpet and did loads of laundry.

    18. Did you fall in love in 2014?
    Yes, with a bakery in Copenhagen.

    19. What was your favourite TV program?
    I really don't watch a lot of telly, I tend to have it on in the background just to help me keep track of time. I did enjoy the BBC's Musketeers, Crimes of Passion (the Swedish murder mystery series on BBC4) and my guilty pleasure, Strictly Come Dancing.

    20. What was the best book you read?
    Jo Nesbo “Phantom” - I adore his writing and can't wait to read the next in the series “Police”

    21. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Royal Blood – gutted that their tour sold out before I could get a ticket.

    22. What did you want and get?


    23. What did you want and not get?

    Less stress at work, less micromanagement, less deception.

    24. What was your favourite film of this year?
    I didn't see many films this year, certainly fewer than in 2013, but I really enjoyed Dallas Buyers Club, Out of the Furnace, and the 3
    rd Hobbit.

    25. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    Apparently I was 44. Not the exact day of my birthday, but we did go to Southampton to see Killswitch Engage and Trivium.

    26. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Not having to explain and accept the inconsistencies and bloody-mindedness of TDCJ. There is no sensible reason why TDCJ inmates are not permitted to make pre-paid overseas calls. But maybe we'll get video visits instead before he comes home.

    27. What kept you sane?
    Knitting, my daughter, loud music, the robin on my window feeder, frozen yoghurt.

    28. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Christian Bale. Nuff said.

    29. Who did you miss?

    My parents. My husband. My dearest friend.

    30. What does 2015 hold for you?
    A new job (secondment), more European-style eating, and possibly (hopefully) a trip to Norway.

Sunday, 4 January 2015


At this time of year, many people look back over the past 12 months and dissect their trials and tribulations. I find that a little depressing, even for the happy times, because they have gone and you can't get them back. So I prefer to look forwards, do a bit of planning (in the face of the Gods, just to see if they are taking any notice) and work out where I'd like to be in 12 months or so from now.

The recent VAT debacle has made me revise my original plans for developing the knitting patterns I've been working on. This has been a good thing, though I'd rather it hadn't been dropped on me at a moment's notice. But, carpe diem and all that jazz. I may not be as prolific as some designers out there, but I think I can contribute something to the global pattern library, so I will be working on those this year.

I'll still be spinning of course, and I have some more grey Gotland fleece on order. It's all part of the bigger picture really; I want to spin so I have yarn to create designs with, for myself and my family. I do also have a large stash of assorted yarns that I need to work with before buying any more... but any knitter out there will know how likely that is! 2015 is the Chinese year of the Sheep (goat/ram/etc) so I'm hoping to pick up some of the fleecy vibes.

I'll be seeing my husband again this spring, which is usually the main event in my year. I'm contemplating requesting a weekday visit at the moment, as it would fit our plans better. They are at the Warden's discretion of course, but if you don't ask, you're unlikely to get.

Blogging more often is also on my To Do list. I'm not one to blog for the sake of it, you are unlikely to see "this is my breakfast" or "my cat just did this" posts, but I do want to aim for at least once a month this year.

I've been offered a new opportunity at my day job, a secondment for up to 2 years, so things will be changing there and hopefully for the better. I'm not allowing myself to get excited about it until I have more details, but it has come at the right time for me. I've been doing my current job for just over 9 years now and things have changed a lot in that time.

There will be a bit of travel around the UK for my family history investigations. We have a castle in Durham ... well, we did, a few centuries ago, and it's now a mossy ruin, but I'd still like to go up and have a wander if I can. Plus there are still some bits of Berkshire that I need to get to and document properly.

So really 2015 will be more of the same, but hopefully bigger and better, and a little more lucrative!