LETTER FROM MARK INCH

WITH A RESPONSE FROM LOWELL C. I.

“Amid this COVID-19 pandemic, what do you need from me? If I could give you anything within my authority as Secretary, what would you ask for? Careful, there is a reason for this question. Your request will me a lot about you. Will your request be of an immediate concern and involve your personal safety from the virus? No need to ask, we are working hard on that! Will your request be more about getting stuff? Will your request result in pleasure or entertainment? Will your request create for you status or give you power over others? If you ask your true desire, I will know what motivates you.

Last month I visited Union C.I. While there, an inmate asked me to allow in a banned book. The book is Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams. I had our Literature Review Committee reevaluate the book and they removed it from our prohibited publications list. But I was intrigued with the request. I don’t personally know why the man, when given the unplanned chance to talk with the Secretary, chose to ask for a book. But I think there is something right about pursuing knowledge and meaning in ones own and also anothers cultural history. So, I ordered the book for myself and have added it to my pile of reading material.

When you order a book or go to the library, what are you looking for? My father was a professor and author of over 60 books. His books address deep theological and social issues and are filled with amazing insights and wisdom. But titles such as Psychology in the Psalms, Scripture as Story and Saga of the Spirit never hit the best seller list. On the other hand, there is one book by another author who also wrote 40 books of great insight and wisdom. Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl sold over 12 million copies.  Imagine that, 12 million people bought a book because of a title that described their emptiness. Similarly, a book by Rick Warren, with a title of The Purpose Driven Life, sold over 34 million copies! Wow, that many people were searching for their life to have purpose.

Do you now see the reason behind my first question? Most requests we receive are about gaining power or pleasure. But shouldn’t you want me to give you a chance to find meaning and purpose? That is something to discuss! Where do you want to see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years? How do you want to be able to positively affect your family, community, and a greater cause? Think and act on that and you will find meaning! Even in the midst of a crisis, you can make a choice TODAY to search for meaning, instead of pursuing power or pleasure. I cannot make that choice for you, but you can see examples of those who have made that choice all around you for example, the nurse that just took your temperature. You must figure out what cause is greater than yourself, that takes ahold of your focus and effort. It is that simple, that hard, and that important.

I have a specific message for men and women with longer sentences, to include Life. If in your search for meaning, you want to better the lives of others around you, we will figure out a way for you to have that opportunity. This programming research and redesign will take some time, creativity, and probably the agonizing bureaucratic process of changing rules. But I am committed to looking for ways for you to be able to act on behalf of others, for you to find and feel meaning.

On the last Wednesday of the Legislative Session, I sat in the State Capitol House Gallery to watch a historic vote. Following a Senate vote two days priora unanimous vote, I might addour two bills to reestablish the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund made it to the House floor. After 17 years, and with another unanimous vote, the House voted to send the Senate Bill to the Governor for his signature. Let me say that again in another way, on your behalf and to provide you tools for your search for meaning, every one of your Senators and Representatives voted for you!

Yesterday, Deputy Secretary Dixon and I visited the Tomoka Correctional Institution and spent about thirty minutes with a group of the men that have tested positive. Last week, we also gowned-up at Sumter C.I. and visited Zephyrhills. I heard the anxiety in the voices of those I spoke to and understand how hard it is to balance what we hear in the news, what we hear from our family members, and what you are being told by your facility leadership and health care providers. We have successfully blocked the introduction of the COVID-19 virus into the vast majority of our facilities and will continue that fight with all our energy and effort! But in those few facilities it has entered, I ask you to follow the advice and directions of your facility leadership and health care providers to minimize the spread, for your safety and those around you. We truly are in this together.

As our pace of activity slows during this crisis, perhaps use some of your time to talk to each other about meaning, following social distancing guidelines, of course. To start that discussion, allow me to provide you a quote from Viktor Frankl, Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance, to choose ones own way. I didnt mention it before, but Dr. Frankl was Jewish and survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, before writing his book Mans Search for Meaning. That man had the life experiences to speak and promote his insights and encouragements to us all.”
Secretary Inch

Response from a VOICE at Lowell CI
“I’m not sure where to start on Mark Inch’s comments…of course I would love to respond to the question he posed… but when I click on respond, Jpay informs me that I am not allowed to respond to this email. How frustrating when I have so much to say to him! I would really like to ask him for a job writing his messages and asking to be an inmate advisor to him. But no, that would not be my heart’s desire. I would ask to go home…as we all would…not for pleasure or power but yes, it would benefit me. Once I was free from here, I could go on to a purposeful life. I have tried as hard as I can to find purpose in here… and I have… teaching GED classes to youthful offenders, serving the staff at their snack bar always with the thought of trying to get the staff to see me as a human and working in the law library trying to help others on their legal battles. But though I have purpose here I would never be able to be so selfless as to say I would ask for anything like a book…I would always ask to be released.

Let’s talk about books, since Mark Inch places value in them…the general library here has been closed for over 30 days! Now when all programs and classes have been cancelled, when even the chapel is closed, books are vital to the mental health of inmates. Though other inmates complain to their families about having to wear masks or not getting to go to the store, my complaint would be to at least provide books to the inmates, especially those in quarantine and solitary confinement. I have asked the head of education and the Colonel to allow me to bring a box of books to each dorm. I am told this is a wonderful idea but still after 30 days it has not happened. In my own way, I check out a book as often as possible to bring back to my dorm…books I don’t read, bringing them just to share. It is my understanding that the decision to close the library is statewide not on the institutional level…perhaps Mark Inch doesn’t know this…perhaps a few emails could get him to open the library.

There is another recent decision… which I know is coming from higher than the institutional level….no notary services are to be provided except those that are court ordered. I think the rule is written like that because there is never a requirement to notarize a court document. Even an affidavit, which is a sworn statement can be submitted to a court without a notary…because false documents sent to the court results in perjury… no notary is needed. But most civil documents to be presented to state agencies, etc. do require a notary, such as a power of attorney to allow someone to take your kids to the doctor or to designate who gets your body if you die in here. Seems like this might be a good time to allow such documents, including Wills to be notarized. For the past year, I have been producing an average of five POAs (including those awarding temporary guardianship) each week.

Moving on from Mark Inch’s statement… this morning at 3 am, they gathered up 17 inmates to ship out to other institutions, including to work release camps. This seems odd on so many levels…we are not even allowed to come in contact with other dorms, yet now they are moving people between compounds. It is my understanding that thousands of Floridians are now unemployed… so how do you expect an inmate to get a job! Most inmates at work release are employed at restaurants and as maids in hotels… isn’t that the industries suffering the most right now? Seems like they set these inmates up for failure… if you don’t find a job within 30 days, you are sent back to prison and lose the opportunity to succeed at work release. People with perfect work records, no marks against them, are unemployed… standing in food bank lines, depending on unemployment and stimulus checks… so why dump inmates into the job pool too.

Moving on from Mark Inch’s statement… this morning at 3 am, they gathered up 17 inmates to ship out to other institutions, including to work release camps. This seems odd on so many levels…we are not even allowed to come in contact with other dorms, yet now they are moving people between compounds. It is my understanding that thousands of Floridians are now unemployed… so how do you expect an inmate to get a job! Most inmates at work release are employed at restaurants and as maids in hotels… isn’t that the industries suffering the most right now? Seems like they set these inmates up for failure… if you don’t find a job within 30 days, you are sent back to prison and lose the opportunity to succeed at work release. People with perfect work records, no marks against them, are unemployed… standing in food bank lines, depending on unemployment and stimulus checks… so why dump inmates into the job pool too.

Yesterday we cleaned out broken furniture, boxed up old files… today I plan to inventory books. But since breakfast is already three hours late, I’m sure my workday will start late. I also have a medical appointment… not sure why…it is an awful meal day…meat fried rice for lunch, a fake meat patty for supper. Since I don’t eat the fake meat, I’ll have plain white rice for lunch and probably eat the last of my canteen food tonight. I have a pack of eggs, a pack of tuna, a pickle and tortilla wraps… enough to share with XXX. One of XXX’s doctors told her the fake meat caused her cancer (rectal). Not sure how but now she won’t eat any of the meat products. She has not yet gained the weight back she lost from her chemo and radiation.

I’ll close with my favorite quote from Ann Frank…a match for Mark Inch’s …In a place where no one is acting like a person, we must strive to be a human.
xxxooo,