Thursday, December 29, 2005

Time To Get Serious!

For all of my partying friends this New Year's Eve Weekend.
December 2005

Did you know that if you choose to drink and drive and get involved in an accident in which someone is killed that you can be sentenced to serve 15 years in a Florida Correctional Institution? Or if two people die in the accident you can spend 30 years locked away? Thirty years, think about that really hard. I didn’t. I never thought it could happen to me. I thought the worst that could happen is that I could get pulled over and get a DUI. If that had ever happened, I’m sure I would have thought about it a little harder, but until then, no worries. I knew people who got DUI’s in high school. It really didn’t seem like that big a deal. They paid their fine, lost their license for six months and caught rides with friends until they got their hardship license for school. An accident where someone gets killed, well, that was just not going to happen. Not in a million years did I ever think it could happen to me, or that I could end up where I am today.
My name is Eric Smallridge, or I should say, it was. My new identity is Inmate P22679. I am currently serving a 22-year sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections for my role in an accident that claimed the lives of two beautiful, twenty-year-old girls, Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson. I had been drinking. I have been incarcerated for a little over two years in which I have had plenty of time to think about the consequences of drinking and driving. Everyday I wish that I had taken DUI more seriously and heeded the advice not to drink and drive. I had a great life full of opportunity and promise, a wonderful family, lots of friends, a beautiful girlfriend and I had just received my bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems. In a split second, everything changed. It may be too late for me, but I really hope that telling you about the miserable realities of my life in a Florida prison will help you make better choices than I did.
You may have seen the television show “Oz”. If not, it is (or was) a show about a maximum- security prison that is extremely violent. I think it’s a bit exaggerated. Prison is more like the movie “Groundhog’s Day”, which is about a guy (Bill Murray) who keeps repeating the same day over and over again. Prison is very repetitive. My daily routine hasn’t changed at all since I arrived: Wake up at 4:45 a.m., breakfast at 5:00 a.m., count time 6:30 a.m., report to work at 7:00 a.m., work until 10:00 a.m., return to the dorm for 10:30 a.m. count, lunch begins at 11:00 a.m. and then back to work until returning to the dorm for 3:30 p.m. count, dinner begins at 4:00 p.m. then back to the dorm, 5:30 p.m. count, 9:00 p.m. count, and finally, lights out at 10:00 p.m. Sleep is a blessed relief because at least then my mind can be in another place and time. Now, don’t get me wrong, prison can be a very violent place. After all, many people here are incarcerated for horrible, violent crimes. There are murderers, rapists, child predators, drug pushers, aggravated batterers and more. Since I’ve been here, people have been stabbed, others severely beaten, and on one occasion, a guy had his finger bitten off. The institution where I am is supposed to be one of the least violent. I’ll leave it to you to imagine what goes on at other Florida institutions. While violence is ever-present, it isn’t what makes prison life so hard to endure.
One of the hardest things is thinking about all that I had taken for granted in my life, and how horribly I have messed up not only my life, but also the lives of so many others.If I were to talk about all the things I took for granted as a free man, I’d be writing for a very long time. But the list of really important things begins with my freedom itself. When I was a free man I never even thought about what freedom meant to me. Now I think about it all the time. I have no freedom of choice. I am told what to wear, what to eat, when to eat and how fast to eat. The menu is repeated week after week and you eat what they give you or you don’t eat. I cannot choose to use the bathroom by myself or take a shower by myself. I live in a dorm with 69 other “roommates” that I didn’t choose and most of whom I wouldn’t ever have wanted to associate with. Our bunk beds are barely 24” apart and there is no way to isolate myself from them or their constant noise. If I have a headache or am not feeling well, the best I can do is pull my bed covers over my head. There is no privacy in prison; the guards must be able to see me at all times no matter where I go.
At this institution, as well as many others in Florida, all inmate movement is controlled. There are actually red lines painted on the sidewalks and we must walk inside the red lines at all times. Another thing I took for granted while free was the ability to pick up a phone and call my family and friends whenever I felt like it. Phone access is very limited in prison. It literally takes months to get a phone number approved so I can call it, and I am only allowed to have 10 approved numbers on my calling list. There are only two telephones for all 70 men crammed in each dorm to use, and they are only turned on a few hours each evening. When I do get to make a phone call, the calls are limited to 15 minutes and I have to call collect knowing that the person I am calling will be charged anywhere from $8 to $20 (depending on their service provider). No one can ever call me, not even in times of family emergencies, such as when my grandmother passed away very unexpectedly this summer.
Visiting with family and friends had always been a huge part of my life that I had taken for granted. It is especially difficult during the holidays and other special occasions like marriages and reunions. I never realized how very precious all those moments were and how much they meant to me, or how much it meant to my family and friends that I be there with them. Now that isn’t an option for any of us.In prison, no one can just “come for a visit.” The only way I can visit with anyone is if they go through a long and frustrating application process. Only 15 people can be on my approved visitation list at one time, and only five of them can come to see me on a given day. Those that are approved to visit have to drive about 100 miles each way and if five people are already there, they get turned away. Visitation conditions are far from ideal and privacy is nonexistent. We are allowed one hug as they enter and one when they leave. On a busy weekend, there may be upwards of 180 people visiting and everyone sits across from each other at these long common tables where sometimes everyone is trying to talk over each other just to be heard. The worst part is that I never imagined that my friends and family would have to be thoroughly frisked and I would have to be strip searched before and after every visit.If you’ve seen movies where inmates have televisions or computers, forget it. There is one small television that gets 3 or 4 local channels for 70 inmates. It is placed in a small area with the only two tables we have for writing or playing cards. Life in a dorm is loud and crowded.Hopefully I’ve already convinced you that prison is a miserable place that you never want to experience for yourself. So far, I have told you about the frustration and the boredom, the violence that erupts occasionally, the constant noise of so many inconsiderate inmates and the unnerving startle when the guards suddenly shout at someone for good reason or just because they can. I’ve told you about some of the things I used to take for granted when I had my freedom, but I still haven’t told you about the very worst part of being in prison: Just being here. Every fence topped in circles of razor wire, every closed door, every wrinkled blue uniform, every barred window is a constant reminder of the wasted years ahead of me and the many innocent people’s lives that have been adversely affected because of the accident I so ignorantly thought could never happen. The two people I think about the most are the two that died in the accident I didn’t think could ever happen. Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson were only twenty years old. They had their whole lives ahead of them. I think about them all the time and it hurts. Everyday I ask God why I wasn’t the one to die instead of them. If only I could trade places with them so they could realize the great lives they should have had, but I can’t and they can’t and I will live with that reality every single day of the rest of my life. I think about Meagan and Lisa’s families and friends a lot, too. I agonize over what I could possibly do to ease their grief and return their loved ones to them. But I cannot do that either and it is more painful than any amount of physical torture that could be inflicted upon me.Writing this has not been easy for me. It is really hard to talk about my existence as Inmate P22679, the feelings of worthlessness, the fear that I will no longer be capable of contributing to society when I am finally released from prison in 2022, the feeling that I have failed myself and my family, and the sorrow I feel for the loss of two beautiful human beings – Meagan and Lisa.
I’m writing this for them, their families and mine. It never seemed possible that my life could turn out this way. I bet you don’t think yours could either. I am living proof that it CAN happen to you.If you have a drink, driving simply is not an option. Don’t risk it, not even once, because it only takes a split second to go from a great future to Inmate P22679. Please don’t ever hesitate to designate a driver or to call a cab. Otherwise you may be riding in a police car or, God forbid, a hearse.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Man It's true what they say about Karma. So today I go to exchange something at the mall. There is no one in the department to help me at the register. The ONLY employee I see is Mr. "I'm Too Old To Run A Register" (see earlier post) and he is busy helping customers on the floor. I surely didn't want to bother HIM. So I looked for the closest open register which in the department next door. I stood in line for about 2 customers and finally it's my turn. The nice older lady tells me that she couldn't help me there. I explained to her that no one was at the register but I would go back. She said "Oh let me page him for you!" I said no but she did it anyway. Boy, when I walked back to that department he was PO'd. "Did you have me paged?" "No", I said. "Well you walked right past me," he snapped back. He was totally rude from that point on. And of course it took him forever, I mean Forever to ring me up. He had to call a manager and everything. I wanted to vent my frustrations to the MOD but I refrained from doing so. He must have read my blog.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry CHRISTmas!!

We'll that was delightfully exhausting! Christmas Eve was spent with Brett's Family. All of the cousins played and played. Everyone had so much fun.
Trent was really into Christmas this year. We set out the reindeer feed for Rudolph and gang and cookies and coke for Santa. Trent said it must be coke and not milk because he saw that on TV. (Great commerical for Coke) He even wrote him a letter by himself. It said "Dear Santa, Thank You, I like your elfs and reindeer, Love Trent! Too Cute!! He was so excited to get his Power Rangers SPD Swat Truck and Men. Alyssa kind of new what was going on. She played and played with her Dora house. By the end of the morning she knew exactly how to rip open the presents. After our own family Christmas we made our way to my parents house, Nanny and PaPa. My sisters and their kids were waiting for us . We all had fun. And now we have the Christmas Blues.
Alyssa wither her crib, high chair and Dora House
Cousins Trey and Emily with Trent

Friday, December 23, 2005

Night of Lights

Last night we took the kids to Stone Mountain. We all have a season pass so it was all free. We saw the 4-D movie and walked around Santa's Village. I wanted to ride the Tram to the top of the mountain. That would have been so cool, but Brett was too frightened to. Trent and I were all ready for it. But maybe next time. They had put a Christmas tree at the very top. It was way too cold to ride the train. We toured the park of lights. It was a fun time.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Day At Delta

So Today Brett took Trent to work with him. Since Brett has to be at work so early (6:30am) Trent was so tired when they got home. He had so much fun. I was worried that Brett's Delta Crew would corrupted him but they did ok. I guess I will really know in the next couple of days if Trent picked up on some "words" he shouldn't repeat. He got to tour an airplane and even sit in the cockpit. Last week he came to work with me one day. I guess Delta is more fun than Lassiter. Brett had him busy all day. And since several of Brett's cousins work out there too he got to visit family.

I just love this time of year. I especially love sending and receiving Christmas cards. I was a little later than usual sending them out than previous years. Sorry~ about that! I just couldn't get the picture that I wanted. Since the beginning of December I have been so excited to get the mail. Brett knows that I enjoy getting the mail everyday so he dares to touch the mailbox. All of the picture Christmas cards are great! It's probably the only time of year I get pictures of my friend's children. It's nice to see how much they have grown. I typically send out 100 Christmas Cards a year. That includes doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Is that normal? I don't want to exclude anyone. I hope everyone enjoys receiving my cards as much as I enjoy getting theirs. I will try to post over the weekend. I don't have to be back to work until Tuesday. Yeapee.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Texas Holdem'

On Tuesday night a bunch of my poker girlfriends got together for a little game of Dirty Santa aka. White Elephant game. We had fun. But they better watch out next month when we play. Brett's family has been getting together and playing some. I'm getting good.

It's so nice to get together with everyone every month. I look forward to just getting out and catching up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

To the Woman Who Thinks It's Ok To Breastfeed In A Resturant While I'm Trying to Eat.............

Monday, December 12, 2005

Here Comes Santa Claus.

We finally took the kids to see Santa on Friday night. It was a perfect time to visit him. There was not a sole in line. (Maybe because we went to Stonecrest and the "Traditional Santa" was there.) But Anyway, he was extremely nice. He took such time with the two of them. I was afraid that Alyssa would be scared but she wasn't. She went right up to him with no problems.

Afterwards we rode the train.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bless Your Heart!

So yesterday I get home from work and Trent was already in his bed under the covers. So immediately I think that he is sick or something. So I said "Trent are you OK." "Do you not feel good?" He said, "Mom I'm sad." "What's wrong?" I asked.
He explained to me that yesterday at school his class made gingerbread houses. And when he got off the bus, Jake, our dog got a hold of it and ate it. Can you believe that? Poor thing. He was so sad. He wanted me to see it. I wrote the teacher a note asking her for directions on how to make it so we could make another one. Man, sometimes life just isn't fair.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Merry CHRISTmas!!!!

Last night we finally decorated our CHRISTMAS tree. That's right! Our CHRISTMAS tree. Not our holiday tree. Not seasonal tree. Not festive tree. Our CHRISTMAS tree. Each year we let the kids pick out a new ornament for our CHRISTMAS tree. Alyssa picked a Carebear and Trent of course got Darth Vader.

I just read an article in my local paper. I wanted to share.

Happy holidays? Retailers debate what to call season.

It looks like Christmas, smells like Christmas and feels like Christmas, but major retailers are shying away from the word and substituting "holiday," leaving shoppers confused, angry or pleased.

And the whole push-pull over marketing "Christmas" versus "holidays" has retailers scratching their heads about what to do next season.

* Lowe's home improvement chain removed banners reading "holiday trees" and replaced them with new ones reading "Christmas trees."
*Target stores are still being criticized for refusing to change their current "Gather round" theme. Last year, the chain banned Salvation Army bell-ringers, a decision that still stands.

* Even Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, made "Home for the Holidays" its seasonal theme. The chain also told employees in general to greet customers with "happy holidays," giving them permission to use the word "Christmas" — when they think it's appropriate.
"Our people are urged to be smart," said Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogelman. "If they see Christmas goods in a basket, they can say 'Merry Christmas.' If they see a menorah, they can say 'Happy Hanukkah.' Same for Kwanzaa."
Wal-Mart was the target of a short boycott a few weeks ago because visitors to its Web site could not search for Christmas items but could find Hanukkah and Kwanzaa gifts. The company quickly fixed the site to allow "Christmas" searches.
* Macy's flagship Atlanta store at Lenox Square sports a 70-foot, 14,500-pound white pine laden with 4,000 red and green lights but it's called Macy's Great Tree, not a Christmas tree, said spokeswoman Ellen Fructman.
"You will see the word Christmas and Merry Christmas in holiday items at every register," she said. "Nobody has complained about the name of the tree."
Locally and nationwide, governments, too, have struggled with the issue:
* In Atlanta, Gov. Sonny Perdue's office did a quick-step reversal last Friday, sending out a release saying he would light Georgia's "holiday tree" at the Governor's Mansion. But that "news" was quickly changed to say he would actually light a Christmas tree.
* At City Hall, Atlanta has a 15-foot tall "Christmas" tree, decorated with thousands of traditional lights and ornaments.
* In Boston, the parks department was excoriated for advertising the lighting of a "holiday tree." So many complaints flooded in that Mayor Thomas Menino said he considered it a Christmas tree.
* What was billed as the "Capitol Holiday Tree" in Washington was renamed last week the "Capitol Christmas Tree" at the order of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)

There should not be a debate about anything. I have always heard Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmas. It will always be Merry Christmas, a Christmas Tree and Jesus' Birthday to me and my family. Everyone needs to stop trying to be so politically correct. What da hell is Kwanzaa anyway? I had never heard of it until I worked in retail about ten years ago. Did someone just one day make it up?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

So last night Brett, the kids and I went to see my nephew, Bryce, in his Christmas play at his school. He is enrolled in K-4 at a private church. It was too cute. He was Shephard #3 and even had a speaking part. Of course there were two or three little kids who cried the entire time they were on stage. But not Bryce. You could here him singing over everyone. Alyssa was doing her own singing. We had been there for awhile and her time was up. She no longer was interested in the program, so I took her out. I was so surprised to find in the lobby "the crying room." How funny is that? It was a room in the lobby that had a "you can see out but no one can see in mirror" overlooking the congregation and a speaker to hear the service. The room was sound proof. There were toys, a changing table and even a rocking chair. What a great idea!!

Monday, December 05, 2005

I finally decorated the house for Christmas. Although the tree was cut it's still under the carport. We will decorate it sometime this week. ****Warning for those who are pregnant. ****Last night was rough. Alyssa only slept for about an hour last night. Seriously. I'm not exaggerating. I don't know what was wrong with her. She tossed and turned and cried out. It was horrible. I was up all night. So needless to say that I'm working on about an hour of sleep. She decided to fall asleep about 4:45 am. I had to wake her up at 6:15 am. She slept while I dressed her and slept all the way to school. Poor thing. She is going to be so tired. I know I am. She doesn't appear sick, doesn't have a fever etc. So hopefully tonight she will sleep. ~~I just remember that there are no BAD times in parenthood just challenging ones.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Weekly Recap

Man! These weeks seem to fly by. I can't believe it's less than a month till Christmas. Is everyone done with their shopping? I guess the Barfield's will spend time this weekend decorating for the holidays. We actually go and cut one down ourselves. Brett's grandparents own a tree farm and it just happens to be across the street. So we put our hiking boots on and walk across the street and cut one. They no longer sell trees to the public so our supply is getting scarce. It won't be long until we will actually have to buy one. Brett being a traditionalist I doubt we won't ever resort to an artificial.
Nothing much happened this week . I'm still in shock that I will have to wait until MARCH 2006 for another new episode of Prison Break. That really stinks. December is when all of the shows are winding down for Christmas. So nothing but specials and reruns until January. At least American Idol starts in then. Maybe I will take this opportunity to do art crafts and make goodies during the week.