The Journey From the Hole to the Honor Block, by Michael Arce, Jr.

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The journey from the hole to the honor block was a roller coaster ride, to say the least.  To those who are not familiar with the lingo, “the hole” is another name for solitary confinement.  It’s the disciplinary unit within the prison.  It’s where one goes when you become a nuisance to the institution and its daily operations.

When in the hole,  you are locked in twenty-three hours of the day.  You get one hour of recreation, if you choose to.  That one hour consists of going from an 8’ x 10’ cell to a 10’ x 10’ cage.  No food aside from the three institutional meals is allowed.   In most cases,  meals that go to the hole  aren’t very appetizing.  We cannot watch television.  We may only have certain reading materials.  The experience is not a pleasant one at all. Basically it’s a jail within a jail.  Things that can get you sent to the hole are: stabbings, stealing, assault on fellow inmates or staff, disrespect towards staff, and lots of other things that breach the institutional guidelines and are considered infractions.  I have been to the hole multiple times for all of the above-mentioned infractions and many more.  Each time I came out of the hole, I came out worse than the last time.  I became more bitter, more angry, more resentful, and more violent.

You may ask yourself, why does one regress instead of moving forward after enduring all one must endure in the hole?  The answer is: one becomes careless, cold-hearted, and numb.  You become careless due to what you feel are the injustices of the legal system, the injustices of the institution, and your lack of being able to do anything about it.  And without any moral support, anything or anyone to look forward to, you become cold-hearted.  Anything or anyone can set you off, and your moral compass becomes obsolete.  You become careless and cold-hearted due to feelings of hopelessness.  When one feels like you have nothing more to lose–because you have lost it all and your voice isn’t being heard–you do not care about the consequences of your actions.   Therefore, we do the things we do that lead us to the hole…again.

As humans, we adapt to our surroundings and circumstances.  So once you’ve been to the hole one time, you become familiar with it, you’re no longer afraid of it, and therefore, you just become numb to its temporary inconvenience.  You view it as just another part of the jail you’re already in.  To be honest with you, no one in their right mind wants to spend time the hole.  It’s a huge inconvenience to your everyday routine.  And once the dust settles, and you’re in the cell in the hole alone, with nothing but stagnant time to contemplate, one becomes more angry and frustrated.  But because of one’s mental state and clouded judgement, you don’t care… and you try, somehow, to justify your actions–as a way to help cope with the inconvenience of the hole.   It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s not until you get a sense of direction and self-worth through moral support and the right guidance  that the cycle is broken.   Fortunately for me I have people like my sisters Ruby, Vanessa, my now very good friends Mr. and Mrs. DiLaurenzo, and Dave Godshall, who, right in the nick of time, saved me from myself.  They provided me, and continue to provide me with guidance, direction, moral support, and a sense of self-value.  Without people like them in our lives and their support system, we tend to just spiral downward and out of control.  However, whereas before I was careless and reckless in my actions due to feeling helpless, hopeless, and not having anyone to talk to or seek sound advice from, I now have what I so longed for.   I have people who sincerely care for my well-being and successful rehabilitation, and people who made me realize that my life didn’t end just because I’m incarcerated.   I no longer have to dwell on my prior wrongdoings, knowing that they cannot be changed, but instead, I can focus on my rehabilitation and future.  Although still far away, I will be released one day.  They taught me and continue to teach me alternate measures I can adopt to dealing with certain difficult or stressful situations and scenarios.   Those alternate measures no longer lead me to the hole, being that I now have people who I don’t want to disappoint.

These people have led me to where I now reside, which is what is considered an “Honor Block.”  The honor block is a unit where one is allowed to reside as a reward for good behavior.  A housing unit that has amenities such as an ice machine, a hot water machine, a ping-pong table, a weightlifting set, an exercise bike, and where we have more recreational time periods that the regular housing units allow.  We are much less restricted than the other blocks.  This allows the time we are doing to be much smoother and it seems to go by much faster than before.

When doing a lengthy sentence, these privileges are the difference between feeling like a caged animal versus feeling human again.  We learn to appreciate the smaller things in life and to strive to work hard to maintain them.  Because once here, no one wants to go back to feeling like a caged animal.

But none of this would be possible without a strong support system and guidance from our friends, family, and loved ones.  I can personally attest to that.   I would like to take this moment and thank those people in my life (they know who they are) for changing the course of my life from seeming hopeless and to possibly an unhappy ending, to a now positive and hopeful one.  I’d like to thank them for their patience, love, support, encouragement, understanding and guidance.  You are personally responsible for changing my pessimism into optimism, and for showing me that there is light at the end my tunnel.   It couldn’t have been done without you.  I know there is much more for me to learn and be taught, but with your continued support, the sky’s the limit.  I’ll continue to do my part in keeping an open mind and be receptive to your advice, guidance, and constructive criticism.

In conclusion, to those of you who have loved ones away in prison, or to those of you who are contemplating embarking on the prison mentoring journey, please know that just a little moral support goes very far in changing an inmate’s bad behavior.  Your kindness and encouragement may prevent them from going down a bad path.  Simple words such as “how are you?”, “I’m here for you”, “I hear you”, or perhaps positive reinforcements such as “I’m proud of you”, or “I know you can do it” can have a positive impact on an inmate’s life… especially if he is  feeling down and out.  It can change the course of a journey that started from “the hole”… and ended on the “honors block.”

By Michael Arce Jr.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  My wife and I, and ministry partner, Dave Godshall, visit with Mike and write letters back and forth.  He is an intelligent and articulate young man, on a journey of growth and discovering his positive side.  He likes to write and would greatly welcome your letter or card.  You can write him by addressing a plain white envelope with the following:  Michael Arce Jr. KR 9642, State Correctional Institute Coal Twp, 1 Kelly Drive, Coal Township, PA 17866.

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