While I have had paroles in the past, I did little to honor the privilege of maintaining them. I came into the prison system at the age of nineteen. I am now seventy three. I have only managed to stay out of prison for just three years since June of 1967. To date, I have been locked up for thirty five years come January. I was given two 40 to 60 year sentences for two robberies. Because I would not take a plea deal of 20 years, the judge doubled my sentences, and then added even more time.
Because I viewed his arbitrary and capricious judgment as personal, excessive, cruel, and unusual, I opted to escape with four other prisoners from under the walls of Jackson prison just over a year after being sentenced. It was January 26, 1990, and one of the coldest days I have ever experienced. I came out of a storm drain that had approximately three inches of water flowing in it. Without going into this failed escape, we were all given 25 to 50 year sentences to run consecutively with our other sentences. This now puts me at 75 to 125 years respectively.
Coming in as a teenager at nineteen, and now at seventy three, I have literally grown up and grown old inside prison. When I wasn’t robbing someone to feed the heroin habit I developed on my first parole, I worked like a regular Joe. I had money in the bank, paid taxes, owned a car, had a house, and kept a steady woman in my life. But there are “no excuses” for a lifestyle I chose to live.
Looking back over the last 6 decades as a prisoner, I’m committed to making known what prison does to one’s soul. I have written additional papers on change in the prison system, and change in the court system. I took it upon myself to become self-educated, I was an avid reader. I enrolled in a college program and made the dean’s list twice in two semesters. I also became a paralegal, spiritual mentor, and the editor of a christian newsletter I founded back in 2004. The newsletter was entitled: “THE WATCHMAN,” and was distributed to prisoners around the country and society at large. It was sent out for 4 years, unabated. I believe my views and acumen in the areas of human nature of these many years provide me with some degree of means and measures for discerning the pulse (a finger on the perceptible emotions or sentiments) of prison theatre.
Who I am now, and who I was then has created a great gulf that exists between the “then and now.” As an under-achiever with an inferior, or Napoleon complex due to my diminutive stature, I was always looking for some place among the in-crowd. This I think was intrinsically linked to what I might describe as my dysfunctional development period. I had very low self-esteem back then. My needing to be accepted among my peers wrought many wrong-thinking decisions in my life. Being a crook was not my strong suit! At some point in time I became my worst enemy, and having painted myself into the proverbial corner, I therein had to face myself.
In the summer of 1970, at the age of twenty two, I began my spiritual journey to discover who I was. I learned that life was a journey in itself, and it was essentially one big learning curve. This was a long process. But I have learned and grown.
Now, I want to share a message with the outside world of what it is like to be in the M.D.O.C. No matter where you live here, it is their house, their rules, and they hold the key. You can still make your choices but they will have consequences. I was placed in administrative segregation for trying to escape. After fourteen years, I knew I needed to get out, so I took the Attorney general to court. It took eight years, and we made it all the way to the supreme court, but we lost there. A year later, I was released back to the general population, as part of a pilot program with three other inmates. I was the laundry man for a year, and was released back to gen pop permanently. There, another inmate told me that I had broken records while in Administrative Segregation: the longest time in the same cell, and the longest time in administrative segregation overall.
While I was in Administrative Segregation, I studied the word of God from a bible sent to me from my oldest friend. I started by reading the old and new testament books at random. At some point, I decided to read the bible in its entirety. After reading it from cover to cover, I felt transformed somehow. Now, after 25 years of studying the good book, I have been given revelation knowledge and spiritual wisdom. This, I attribute to God blessing me with his favors for seeking him diligently.
Anyone looking for a higher power than themselves would do well, to put it mildly, to call upon the name of the Lord. Before I was saved, I was a thug. I committed robberies, assaulted and scammed people, sold drugs, and became a pimp. I wanted a lot of money, and I was willing to do illegal things to get it.
I am here today because I learned on my own understanding, and I pray that others learn to take a different path then I did. When I was in Administrative segregation, I gave counsel to any of the young gang members that asked it of me. The weight of having a long sentence or a life sentence is hard to bear, so I want to help others going through it. All of my problems were solved through the lord, and I was able to ease my guilt and anger through him.
Other prisoners simply distract themselves from their anguish with complaining, TV, and tablet games. But it is not enough when they go to bed alone at night, without loving arms wrapped around them. I understand the anguish and feel it with the mail from my family. It always takes a long time for it to come,and we can never receive the original letters.
Because of all this anguish, I always tell the prisoners who are about to leave, that they need to make sure they do not come back, and that they keep that desire at the forefront of their brain.
They should not forget the conditions of the prison that they come from. It is not a pleasant place to be. There are always arguments over little things that can turn violent. A man told me he was going to kill his bunkmate multiple times over an issue with light in the cell. I thought he was joking, but it turned out he wasn’t. It can get horribly hot in the summer, and now prisoners have to buy their own fans, rather than them being given out. In the winter, you must buy a hairdryer if you can to keep yourself from freezing. In prison, if it is not life threatening, then they could not be bothered with helping us. There are too many issues about the healthcare system to even get into. The food is always undercooked or overcooked. They are always running out of hot meals, which are often not hot, and the prisoners are just given peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There are not enough toilets, sinks, showers or phones. We make slave wages and are forced to work. In winter, we must stand in sleet and freezing rain to get just a clean towel or shirt. All this to say, that you should try your hardest to follow the law, lest you want to live under these conditions. You need to appreciate what you have before it’s gone.
This writer hopes and prays that anyone who reads this paper will find some measure of meaning for their lives. To bring about the ending mass incarceration in Michigan’s prison is to urge others to step forward and to do something within their means. You can vote, join ad hoc groups, and encourage others.
Be good to others and do for them, for by doing so you’re doing good to yourself.
Michael H. McGaughy
June 6, 2021