This post is a continuation of a Q&A through the mail I’ve been having with Jacob Ind, who is currently serving Life Without Parole in the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), also known as Supermax. This news broadcast about Jacob Ind’s case aired on April 29, 2008. To read more about Jacob Ind and how this dialogue started, please see From Inside Supermax: Part 1 of 8. In all there are 18 posts From Inside Supermax. Simply select the tag, “Jacob Ind” to sort through the older posts and find them.
Lisa: Are you ever afraid in there anymore? What kinds of things were you afraid of at first, that you no longer are afraid of now? What kinds of things can still scare you? Do many people seem to be afraid?
Jacob: Fear…Yeah, I still get afraid in here, but for different reasons than I used to be. When I first got locked up I was scared when it came to conflicts. I didn’t like to fight or get into confrontations. After a few fights and confidence which comes from growing up I stopped being scared of fights and even grew to enjoy the adrenaline rush. It is actually fun to fight. Now fighting carries different fears. My biggest fears these days revolve around getting in trouble. I really hate getting in trouble and having my life up-ended. I like to get settled in and get my life set on a routine. Going to the hole usually means that I’ll end up in a different unit afterward, with different people, possibly losing my job, losing extra property, not to mention having to explain to my family and friends that I’m a screw up. It sucks all the way around. The hole time itself is nothing. I can do weeks on end standing on my head. It’s the disruption I fear. In Limon a write up would mean that I couldn’t lift weights for 90 days and would lose my hobby stuff for a year (pencils, drawing paper, erasers, etc.). I center my life around certain activities and work my life around a certain amount of contact with others (typically a minimum amount). It takes time to condition others to that (I love my bros but typically they want to hang out too much and don’t understand at first when I get a bit short with them so I can get more me time). Whenever I might get into trouble I get major anxiety attacks and all I can think of is how it is going to screw up my routine and life. It sucks so I do what I can to avoid situations which might get me in trouble.
There are plenty of guys in here who are scared, typically newer guys who haven’t yet gotten a handle on doing time. They tend to be on the outer fringes of inmate society because we don’t yet know if they are so scared as to snitch on somebody or if it is a phase they’ll grow out of. Some try to compensate with false bravado and those are the ones who get into trouble. Someone who will stand up for himself but doesn’t portray himself as a tough guy or super convict won’t be expected to do much. But a guy who portrays himself as a bad-ass will be expected to “put in work” – beat guys up who are disfavored or even to stab a snitch. If his fear shows and he backs out of it then his “friends” will turn on him. It’s really sad when a scared kid puts up that front and gets in that position but puts in the work when he really doesn’t want to out of peer pressure. They end up throwing their lives away for nothing and later on in life the regret overwhelms them and they become pill fiends or give up on the convict life later on and end up being hated anyway by those they wanted to impress in the first place.
Lisa: Are there things that you think about that you are grateful for? Small things that maybe I wouldn’t ever think of?
Jacob: Gratitude is something I have in abundance. I’ve had guards ask how I could be so upbeat all the time and it really boils down to gratitude. Every person in this life has an abundance of shit in their world – whether they are free or in prison. Sure, in prison we tend to have less positives and perks but the amount of crap in a person’s life does not dictate whether they’re miserable or not, it is what they choose to dwell on. That is why some people who “have it all” still have miserable dispositions and a screwed up life.
It really is cliché’d but I stay focused on the positive and it manifests a positive spirit. Gratitude and accentuating the positive go hand in hand. It doesn’t do any good to focus on the positives if you take them for granted or don’t fully appreciate them.
Some things which I am grateful for are the big obvious ones. How could I not be grateful for loving friends and family who stand by me and support me despite the despicable things I’ve done? Even here, how could I not be absolutely blown away by those who give a damn enough about me to want to see me get out? I’ve done nothing for them to earn their care and I’ve done nothing in life to merit a total stranger to look and say “I think this is a worthwhile person who deserves a second chance.” I haven’t cured cancer or written the great American novel so their care is mind blowing.
Some things I’m grateful for sound quite conceited. I try to be humble and it does seem in my nature to be humble but I know I’m smart and it is something I am grateful for. I really enjoy being able to learn easily and to be able to order what I know well in my head and on paper. Sometimes when I write I get euphoric and the words just flow out of my pen with little effort and even with little forethought. I really can understand how the Greeks thought it was a muse causing it. But instead of using those times to stand in “glory” of my own “greatness”, I feel overwhelming gratefulness that I was given that talent.
But even with all those major things which instill gratitude in me, it really is the countless little things in life which keep me going. Often just a good song on the radio will make much of my day, getting a good letter to write back to, a part of a meal I really like…those things just make my day and I’m grateful for them.
There are a lot of people in here who are without gratitude and they really are miserable pukes to be around. It irks me to no end when I hear a guy badmouth someone who writes him because the person hasn’t followed through on something or acts as if his family owes him something. The ingratitude of it just strikes a nerve in me. Somebody should be happy just to have someone who cares enough to take time out of their life to write him. It is really draining to be around people like that, their negativity just brings everybody around them down and tends to induce others to chime in with their own gripes and complaints. Negativity begets negativity and gratitude is the cure.
Lisa: What about compassion? I know that feelings of compassion are probably counterintuitive to the culture there, but are there moments when you’ve seen another person in there who is clearly suffering and you’ve felt compassion and empathy?
Jacob: Compassion is definitely a disadvantage in here. It opens you up to a lot of pain. Prison is run by the law of the jungle and it is run by extremely childish standards. I feel bad for guys who commit faux pas in ignorance and are labeled as “prey” from then on or some weak, scared person who goes to the guards for protection when someone is tormenting him and then his world is made worse by far because he told on his tormentor. I really don’t have sympathy for a bully who picks on someone who is weak and then gets told on. Really, did he expect anything less? It strikes me as especially childish to then torment the guy because a bully pushed him into snitching. Informants tent to be a seedy sort. They screw over anybody to get ahead or to avoid responsibility and often lie and make things worse for those whose lives already suck. Even police on the streets and guards dislike snitches, but when it comes to some guy being tormented and who can’t or won’t stand up for himself, it seems like a different situation to me. I see it and I feel compassion for them but there’s not a damned thing I can do for them and that hurts.
Twice in the Limon Correctional Facility I was put in that situation and had to toss compassion out the window. Both involved small young kids new to the system which brought out the big brother instinct in me in a major way. In the first case, I had just gotten out of the hole and this young kid got let out of the hole His cellmate and he were put in the hole under investigation for fighting. The guards walked by at night as they were wrestling (in their boxer shorts). The cellie said they were just horsing around and the kid didn’t dispute it so we just figured that the guards overreacted because the kid was so small, though it was strange that they let the kid out of the hole right away, while his cellie was still under investigation.
I took the kid under my wing and started explaining how to do time in a way to get through with minimum hassle. We also clowned around – it was nice to let down my guard and act like a kid a bit. Well, he got too comfortable and told us at a table that they let him out of the hole because he told the guards the cellie was trying to rape him (to be fair, the guards didn’t take it too seriously and I have my doubts as to whether it was true or not). Right then and there we had to sever all ties immediately and without hesitation. It hurt because I liked the kid, but the rules of the jungle don’t allow for any compassion in that circumstance. I really felt sorry for the kid then because he crossed a line without knowing the consequences and was in for a world of shit.
After we all cut him loose, the black “sharks” moved in and took him under their predatorial wings. It was not long before he was paying them canteen and performing sexual favors on them. The saddest part was that they always pose as a kid’s friend before it turns ugly, so I can just imagine the emotional turmoil he went through thinking that everything just may turn out OK after all and then it turning into pure hell. Every time I’d see him in the chow hall it would just reiterate the pain of letting someone I liked get thrown to the sharks.
The exact same thing resulted from the second kid. This time I was fortunate enough to not have gotten emotionally attached to him. He also was a small, scared young kid. He was new to the system and didn’t know how racial politics play out in here. In another unit, some of the white guys “schooled” him a bit but a black shark was also being friendly to him. The white guys told him that the black guy was out to turn him gay, but the kid figured that it was just gossip and that his judgment that the black guy being a nice guy was more accurate. He started hanging around with the black guy a lot, even in his cell in the mornings, so the white guys were offended, figuring the kid turned gay or was snubbing their good intentions; they made him tell the guards he had to be moved for his own safety.
The kid moved into my unit and we asked him if he did turn gay and if he was ran out of his last unit. This poor kid swore up and down that he did not do anything with the guy and that it was all a misunderstanding, that he just didn’t know our rules. I tried my best to advocate for the kid, especially since he was begging for a second chance and for me to just show him the ropes. It was painfully obvious that this kid was a fish out of water and had his head still in the mentality of the free world – and not the “criminal” free world, the middle class average American free world. For God’s sake, the kid used the term, “African American”. You don’t have to be racist in prison, but using words like that is liable to ostracize you from the community which keeps you safe. The white guys will stand up and protect non-racist whites — not all of them are — but not if the non-racist white guy commits such faux pas. That’s just the rules of the jungle and this poor kid didn’t even know that.
I had a lot of compassion for the kid. He was scared out of his wits and just begging to be shown some mercy. Nothing I could say could persuade the other guys. Jungle rules are law, and they threw him to the wolves like with the other kid. Just like with the other kid, when I’d see him he’d be in the company of black sharks and you could see the hollowness in his eyes. It sucked.
I should probably explain the “black shark” comments. In some prison systems, all races will prey on the weak, homosexually, but in Colorado it is rare for whites and Latinos to do it. It is just one of the few unique positives in this state. Typically, if a white or Latino becomes a shark, he will be attacked and run off the yard. Whites and Latinos in Colorado are extremely homophobic and so when someone is thrown to the wolves it is nearly always a black homosexual who will pick him up. It’s not a slur against them. It is just the way it is in Colorado.
Lisa: What are you most proud of about yourself? What accomplishments can you look back on and feel good about?
Jacob: It seems odd to talk about the man I’ve become and what accomplishments I take the most amount of pride in. It just isn’t in me to boast and brag. Talking about such things always conflicts me because I know the bad to temper the good and in the whole scheme of things my accomplishments don’t strike me as particularly special because they’re things which should be done anyway. It’s like with those who volunteer at retirement home or hospice to comfort those there in the last days and years of their lives. It is a fantastic thing to do, but shouldn’t everybody do things like that? Why is doing what is right, special? I guess as long as thoughts like that nag at me, I’ll never have to worry about growing arrogant!
It would be false piety to not recognize the truth of who we are and dishonest to deny it in the name of modesty. Probably the greatest gift of the time I’ve done in Supermax is that my life is so simple and unencumbered that I’ve been able to get to know who I truly am, explore my soul, and weed out what I don’t like. Many people in society are so caught up in just trying to get by and so distracted by the “bread and circus” that they are not self-actualized. I am proud of the fact that I finally did wake up, that I took the time to know myself and root out what I don’t like. When I first got locked up I was on the path of conforming to the jungle and making it a part of who I am. I am so incredibly thankful that I’ve risen above that.
I guess that begs the question of what kind of person I am, or at least how I see myself. I would like to think that I am a moral man, a thoughtful man, that I live honorably, care for others more than myself, and am fundamentally against benefiting from the misery of others. I see myself as a nice guy and happy-go-lucky in nature. I know guys who really enjoy seeing others suffer. They spread hurtful remarks and damaging true stories to hurt people every chance they get and enjoy seeing the drama unfold as someone commits a faux pas and ends up in a wreck. I don’t enjoy that stuff and I’m repulsed by jackals who get off on it. I also don’t take advantage of people when they’re in desperate circumstances. Loan sharking is common in prison and I have no part in it.
I really enjoy teaching and I really feel good about what I’ve done in that regard. I’ve found that I have a knack for reaching people on their level, of putting things in terms that not only can they understand, but also accept. I worked for over two years tutoring low level inmates to get their G.E.D. and I was good at it. I had guys tell me that I put things in ways they could grasp like nobody else ever did for them before. I try to use those same techniques to try to reach those who have potential to become worthwhile people, to leave crime, drugs, and degeneracy behind them. It isn’t always easy to take someone who has only cared about himself and maybe a few others, and get him to see why he should give a damn about people in general and incorporate that kind of community thinking within himself. When I do accomplish that, it really makes me feel good.
Lisa: If you could go to a dinner party with six people, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
Jacob: Being the total dork that I am, if I could pick six people to have dinner with, I would pick almost all historical figures to debate each other. For politics, I would pick Thomas Jefferson as an ardent advocate of democracy and individual liberties and pit him against Adolf Hitler as the foremost advocate of fascism and socialism. Then, I’d pick Moses and the Apostle Paul. Hearing them talk about religion would be an event of the ages. Then, I’d have to invite Socrates so he could go around and ask people questions, driving them nuts until they poisoned his drink. And the Sci Fi geek in me would have to invite Amanda Tapping. Aside from being a huge Stargate SG-1 fan, I have a major crush on her. She’s gorgeous and while I’m sure it is just her character on the show, there has to be some of that personality which is hers and coming through. I would be thoroughly delighted watching the arguments, debates and discussions. I can just see Jefferson and Hitler – as opposite as one can get – about to burst blood vessels. Paul and Moses enthralled in some esoteric minor point, and Socrates going around stirring up the hornets’ nest every time things started settling down. Of course I’d probably be too busy trying to impress the actress to give a hoot about the show, but I’m sure the fireworks would be spectacular.
On the other hand, I’d also like to sit with six of my ancestors – each 500 years apart down the line – just to see what they think about how their seed turned out. I think my 3,000 year old however many great-grandpa would be completely blown away with what came about because of him. It would be enlightening to see the impact just one person had over the millennia. I’m sure he thought his life was insignificant and didn’t amount to much, and yet it contributed to so much. I would love their input on the state of affairs today and if they feel the good outweighs the bad. Not only that, but I’d want to know if the man I’ve become makes them proud and if they could look at me and say that it makes all their struggles worth it. In fact, that validation would mean far more to me than watching heated debates and eating with the hottest Sci Fi character of all time. I think my distant ancestors would be the ones I’d rather dine with.
Lisa: Does anyone inspire you? Are there people you look up to who you feel set a good example for others?
Jacob: Actually, I can’t really think of anybody who inspires me; no one famous, at least. I don’t really pay attention to too many people. I don’t watch human interest stories on the news (I actually loathe them as a waste of time when there is real news to report). Even with history, I don’t pay much attention to the people as individuals. I’m more interested in the events. For instance, I know Charles “The Hammer” Martel saved Western Europe from Islamic domination, but I never looked into what kind of person he was and if he is inspiring.
The closest thing to a person who inspires me is really cheesy – my Dad. Hell, who doesn’t look up to their Pop? He embodies much of who I want to be and the life I want. My Dad is a true American – hard working, solidly working class, down to earth, and he is kind. What I really like about him is that he leads a quiet, simple life very dedicated to family. He and my step-Mom take good care of his mother, living as neighbors in a duplex.
He’s also a very sincere Christian, but not pious or confrontational with it. I really like how he’s salt of the earth without being a goody two-shoes. He puts his faith into action. For instance, he had neighbors who were elderly and could not keep up their yard. He took over the duty and always made sure they were OK. When the husband died, he helped the widow even more. My folks moved, but my Dad would still help the lady (her name was Grace), mowing her lawn and doing maintenance on the house. Every year they’d celebrate their birthday together and everybody knew that this year would be Grace’s last. He gave her a blast of a time and when Grace died, he was there for her until the end. He wasn’t paid to do any of that, he didn’t get anything out of it, he just did the right thing. My Dad lives “love thy neighbor” in a very real and tangible way.
I only hope I can one day be half the man he is. All I want in life is to lead a quiet life, take care of my family, and do what’s right like my Pop does. Seeing what a great man he is makes me feel guilty for allowing my Mom to poison me against him. She hated him and his wife so I was expected to also. Just to earn her love I demonized everything about my Dad and tried to hate him. It is so unfortunate because if I would have had the balls to stand up to my Mom and give my Dad a chance, I would have lived in a healthy, happy home and not be here in prison today.
Lisa: If you could go back in time to any era and any place, where would you go and why would you find it interesting to go there?
Jacob: If I could go back in time to any era I think I would go back to the First Crusade and the immediate years afterward. I love history, especially medieval Europe, so I’ve read quite a bit about the Crusades, chivalry, and the military orders (Templars, Hospitalers, Tutonic Knights, etc.) and it intrigues me to no end. I love the idea of the brotherhood and code of knighthood. The formality and dignity, and the unyielding devotion of the times. They put their beliefs into action, they risked life, limb, and fortune in misguided piety trying to earn their way to heaven, but their dedication was pure and unwaivering.
I also love the archeological sites in the Holy Land. They got to walk the Temple Mount without obstruction and had free reign to see the sites. What monk would deny a Crusader the ability to enter the Holy Sepulchre? Nazareth, Hebron, Bethlehem…all those places were open in a more pristine state than today.
I’d get the best of both worlds. I’d be able to witness some of the most important events in Western history, meet the people I’ve idealized and get to visit different sites I’d give my left foot to see, even today. Not only that, but I could visit Constantinople in its prime, superior to Rome in its heyday. I’d love to debate the clerics of the time on theological issues and get their take on the interpretations we give different verses today, especially ones used by the “end of the world” evangelicals trying to use America to “fulfill prophesy” by attacking everybody in the Middle East.
Lisa: Knowing everything you know now, if you had it to do over again and you could go to college (or not), what kind of a career would you pursue?
Jacob: I’m not sure I would go to college or not if I could go back in time and undo my mistakes. I’m still fascinated by science, especially physics, but when I weigh out the cost/benefit factors, I don’t know if it would be right for the life I would want instead of this. It would take a tremendous amount of time and money to get a PhD in physics and if I wasn’t in this situation, I’d prefer a life which would have given me a lot of time with family, a wife and kids. That would be nigh impossible when starting out so deep in debt and not being totally absorbed in my work until, at least my late 20’s. Physics rock. I love science with a passion, but I don’t know if I can place it as the most consuming part of my life.
Since I do not have a knack for business, in fact, I have a dislike for it, I would probably have devoted my work life to blue collar work. I gain a great deal of satisfaction out of a vigorous hard day’s work and being able to take physical stock of what I’ve accomplished, tangible fruits. I’d probably devote myself to technical skilled labor if I could go back in time. It is a kind of rebellion against my Mom to place such high value on physical labor. One of the derisive snipes she always took at my Dad was, “You don’t want to be a ditch digger like your father”. The hostility toward blue collar work in my house was odd, in retrospect, considering my Mom and step-Dad were ardent Marxists, but like a sponge, I absorbed and mimicked it. I know it is spiteful and childish, but I would have gotten some satisfaction from snubbing my Mom’s elitism and dedicating myself to hard labor.
If I got out tomorrow, I wouldn’t even waste a second thinking of a white collar job. It’s not that I have a problem with it, it’s just that when I think of a white collar job I would enjoy, it would end up being a job which would encroach on my personal life. I’d be driven to “take my work home” and I don’t want that. I don’t mind 10-12 hour days, but more than anything I enjoy my free time and spending it on things which are truly important in this life – like friends and family. I am extremely limited in what I can do in here in that regard. I can only write letters and make a few phone calls, but if I were out, the time I spend writing now would be spent having the same conversations with loved ones. I wouldn’t want to trade that for anything in the world. I like work I can bust my ass doing and then leave alone “at the office” to focus on things dear to my heart.