By Wayne Dowdy
Originally posted on SheerPleasurez in November 2013
The Internet is as foreign to me as Australia and Japan: Not by choice, per se. The federal prison system prohibits our use of most available technology. I’ve never surfed the deep-blue waves of streaming data bombarding the shores of one’s mind; nor have I been carried away by memory chips and marketing scams generated by computer programs designed to figure out behavior patterns. Nor have I used a search engine and possibly never will, since search engines may be replaced by an App market. WIFI connections may be the primary link to the world of electronic data by the time I am released on April 24, 2019. Maybe before then federal prisoners will be allowed to surf the web on a modified system. We can at least now send and receive emails on such a modified program.
It was 2011 before I communicated by email, other than having my sister to send one for me. The email system I now use to send this blog is through Corrlinks (www.corrlinks.com). I pay five-cents per minute to access the public messaging system, which I gladly do with me being a writer who likes to write things for people to read. 🙂 Though modified and watered-down, I can put messages on the wire; however, instantaneous messaging is not permitted. Due to security controls, it takes at least two-hours (an hour going to the sender and an hour to get a response). Using the system may also be a hassle to those on the outside unless they purchase the Premium package that eliminates some of the typical hassles one encounters. For instance, it takes several steps to get to the actual messaging center so they can send the email, and unless they check in the right spot (in the “Account Management” section to receive an “E-mail Notification”), which often fails to work, they have to periodically go to www.corrlinks.com to check for emails. With the Premium package or mobile app the system notifies them. Anyway, for me, at least it brings me closer to the technology I hope to one day embrace: talking cars, GPS telling me how to get where I am going, and a computer that thinks for me.
In 2004 I took a computer course for Microsoft Office Applications, through the Louisiana Community and Technical College (I think that’s the correct name), and I made A’s in Word 2000, Excel, and Access, so I am computer savvy. I also use the Microsoft program at work in a Textile plant where I am an internal auditor and document control clerk, but the system I have to use for security concerns is very restrictive. It’s part of the Intranet for the federal prison industries; a very limited part of it, where I’m not allowed to do things like send an email, use Wizards, or any type of macro functions. In 1990, while at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, long before the day when Congress removed PELL grant options from prisoners and ended most in-house college programs, I had also taken Computer Science classes through Saint Mary’s College. Back then, voice activated computers were in the trial stage and experiencing technical difficulties. Now, phones respond to verbal commands and have become personal computers people tote in their pockets; their owners online at all times. I’ve never used a cellphone either, and have only seen one up close, which was a BlackBerry belonging to the warden who was kind enough to show it to me during a Re-entry program graduation, where both of us were guest speakers.. I had seen a mobile phone a friend of mine had in his car in 1988 before I was arrested, but never one you could put in your pocket or use to search into the depths of the constant chatter and volumes of data on every topic.
In 1990, about a year and a half after I began serving this sentence at Leavenworth, I sat before a committee reviewing my case (commonly known as the Unit Team). Because of my high custody and security point scoring, the spokesperson said, “You need to stay out of trouble and not get any disciplinary write ups.” I snapped. “I don’t care about the hole or anything you can do to me. All I care about is my visits and I won’t be getting any out here in Cowboy Country. By the time I have served thirty years, I won’t care about doing five more. Besides that, I won’t know how to fly a spaceship in 2020.” It left them speechless.
Now, twenty-five years into the sentence I never thought I’d live to see the end of, the end is in sight and may be coming sooner than I thought. I could learn to fly a virtual spaceship if released. If I could go online, I could go anywhere in the world at the speed on the next computer chip. No wires needed: Only a memory chip to navigate the way.