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Joel’s Blog: Dealing with Conflict


June 18, 2014

Before I begin this post, I want to mention that although it’s wonderful
getting letters in here, it’s not so wonderful for some people who see me
getting them. Most of my fellow prisoners get no mail at all. When they
observe me receiving so much mail, it reminds them of how alone they are in
here. Some folks supporting me have sporadically offered to be pen-pals to
some of my fellow prisoners so I want to use this blog post to formally ask
you all who are reading this to write a friend of mine in here.

His name is Michael. He’s a 40 year old Jamaican guy who has a wonderfully
positive personality. He could pass for a Buddhist, so impressive is his
ability to make light of a terrible situation. Please send him a short
letter just to let him know that he’s not alone. It will make his day. He
told me he’s really interested in getting a letter from a woman. Like all
heterosexual males locked up, he definitely craves female attention. His
address is:

Michael Grant
1501 Fuller Ave
Penetanguishene, ON L9M 2H4, Canada

Back to the topic at hand. Conflict in life is inevitable when you have
various competing interests. Conflict in jail is a scientific certainty
because all the people with competing interests are trapped together. Walking
away isn’t an option because there is nowhere to go. If someone calls you
a “bitch” on the street, you can literally turn and walk in the opposite
direction. That privilege doesn’t exist here. There’s no walking away. Every
conflict needs to be resolved and this is usually a torturous and stressful

Because of who I am – someone who is geeky-looking, educated, and generally
different – I have become the target of certain individuals. I attract
unwanted attention. So, in response, I am changing. I talk to people as
minimally as possible and avoid letting them see the real me. I keep them

One verifiable truth about jail: people generally confuse kindness for
weakness. One of my theories is that some people have never been shown
kindness so they immediately assume that there must be something wrong with
a kind person. People here will abuse your kindness. If you give them
something – an item like a newspaper – they will begin to expect and even
demand more of the same in the future. Then, if you decide to cut them
off, they will immediately resent you and a conflict is born.

So, I’ve decided to learn how to fight. It’s imperative that I have some
idea of how to defend myself against the chaotic and hard to predict
violence of jail. Better to be prepared than not. Through some clever
jail engineering, I’ve managed to hang a rolled-up mattress off the top
bunk in my cell. Every other day I set it up, wrap my wrists and hands,
and go at it. I never punched with my left hand before – I’m developing a
quick jab. It’s great exercise and after 20 minutes, I’m shirtless in my
cell sweating profusely.

For anyone about to go to jail: take MMA, boxing, or some type of martial
arts training. Don’t sit around for months stewing in self-pity like I did.
Knowing that you can defend yourself will prove invaluable. It will give
you confidence and allow you to assert yourself. People will be less
likely to take advantage of you.

When I first came here, I met a young man who got half his ear bitten off
in a fight. He said to me, “People mistake kindness for weakness.” At the
time I shrugged him off but he was speaking truth and he learned it the
hard way. I came to jail with the idea that criminals are better than
everyone else: an enlightened segment of society. The truth is that
criminals are just people – some are good, some are bad, some are very very
bad, and they are the reason for my training.

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