I fought the law, and the...
June 27, 2006 10:05 AM   Subscribe

How do I kill ninety-days in the hole?

I find myself in the awkward position of spending ninety-days incarcerated. This is not a prison or felony type thing but rather a civil matter involving the charming legal term "contempt of court".

I'll be doing the time in a very rural and friendly county jail and my personal safety is not a concern. However, because the jail is so small there are absolutely no programs, outdoor exercise or other activities to keep me amused. Considering that the maximum capacity of this jail is six people (Hamilton County, NY) social interaction is bound to be limited.

Aside from endless rounds of pushups, reading and writing, what on Earth am I going to do to keep from going out of mind with boredom?
posted by cedar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (64 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
solitary fitness
posted by the cuban at 10:09 AM on June 27, 2006

Chess is traditional.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 AM on June 27, 2006

90 days is long enough to write and revise a novel or a screenplay
posted by unSane at 10:11 AM on June 27, 2006

I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but: will you be serving the full 90, or just some usual fraction thereof?

Are there limits on what you can bring in with you? Is there AC?
posted by onshi at 10:15 AM on June 27, 2006

Correspondence course.
posted by acoutu at 10:19 AM on June 27, 2006

Learn another lanuage?
Can you have an audio device (radio, cd player, etc)?
Play solitare.
Write letters to politicians about current political topics.
Pen-and-Paper RPGs?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2006

Learn a new language?
posted by tastybrains at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2006

You're likely going to have a television in your range, as well as playing cards and books like Readers Digest and the Bible. You'll also have three squares a day, and likely a nighttime snack and meds if you need them. You won't be quite as bored as you think, especially if you set a goal to read the Bible and have a daily workout routine.

On top of that, you can always volunteer for kitchen duty (which may occupy hours) and you'll have an hour in the yard.

You'll be fine.
posted by rinkjustice at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2006

onshi: You can bet he can bring absolutely nothing of his own personal belongings in with him.
posted by rinkjustice at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2006

Puzzles, maybe? You can get books of NY Times crossword puzzles, which ought to last a while. And if you like math puzzles at all, I highly recommend this book.
posted by equalpants at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2006

This is about American POWs-- obviously very different from what you'll be doing. But there's a link there to a video interview with a person who says, "It's important to exercise your mind while you're in prison." Maybe he'll have some suggestions in there (sorry, I can't watch right now). Reading up on what some POWs did, maybe McCain, Stockdale, might give you some ideas for things to occupy and exercise your mind-- and hopefully to set you at ease, as your experience will not be like theirs.

Maybe start in on some yoga before you head in, so that you can have the basics of it down (with the benefit of books, internet, etc.) then work on it more once you're there?
posted by ibmcginty at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2006

Oh, meditation, too, is supposed to be a worthwhile use of time.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2006

This prison doesn't sound too far from a meditation retreat or monastery. Can you seed your mind ahead of time with some self-growth books (or bring some in) and then spend the time meditating and practicing buddhist acceptance of everything, or forgiving your parents and accepting yourself, or creatively envisioning the life you really want to have, or doing whatever personal work you want to do? Ie, since there's not a lot of external stimulus, can you use the opportunity to "go inward" and become more the person you want to be...?

Bring a sketchbook and learn to draw? Discover the life stories of the other six people?
posted by salvia at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Think about that which will have mattered most when you are near death and look back on your life.

In a way, you are very fortunate to have this opportunity.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:44 AM on June 27, 2006

That's a lot of time for contempt, and I'd love to hear how it happened. Also your homepage fultonchain.net is very very NSFW now. :(

If it were me, I would probably lose my mind or get in really good shape or both. Good luck.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:45 AM on June 27, 2006

Learn to play guitar.
posted by cortex at 10:45 AM on June 27, 2006

Reflect on the worth of blatantly fighting the man.
posted by JJ86 at 10:45 AM on June 27, 2006

Make a list of the books you've always wanted to read, and have someone send them to you. Become a chess master. Learn a language. Lose weight.
posted by kdern at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2006

The Burpee is a traditional prison exercise. The Five Tibetans would work well, too. Likewise Pilates or Yoga (though there are lots of things that you wouldn't want to do on a hard floor.)

Ditto the meditation recommendation.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: onshi: No good time for contempt. I have no idea what I can bring with me, I'll find out when I get there (I have a good support system that will bring me what I ask for). No AC, we open the windows and look through the bars. It's a really small and friendly jail.

rinkjustice: No kitchen duty is available -- the sheriffs wife cooks for us. No yard either, the jail is so small that they cannot provide security for outdoor activity. I'm not convinced that this is even legal but the state just inspected and signed off on the facilities.

salvia: I think this is the ticket. Thank-you.
posted by cedar at 10:51 AM on June 27, 2006

Creative writing is what would both prevent me going insane, and give me something fulfilling to do that I never normally have the chance to do much of. Since you won't have outdoor activity, you could design a programme of fitness exercises that can be done in a contained space - this may also help with the boredom or frustration.

And wow, that website is not what I'd bargained for. :-)

posted by greycap at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2006

When spending my days in ISS (In School Suspension) in high school, I would doodle buildings - stadiums, sky scrapers, etc.

Man, I killed days doing that. I had some really nice ones too. :)
posted by unixrat at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2006

Ninety days for contempt of court? That's crazy. Appeal!
posted by frogan at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2006

Work out and do daily self portraits. Then make a flip book.
posted by beerbajay at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2006

Take the time to read the classics. You could probably get through the St. John's freshman program in 90 days.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:01 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Are you allowed access to the web? If you don't have a flickr account, set one up, and take a camera with you. Taking photos and uploading them and sharing them is rewarding and is great solitary entertainment. If you do have web access you can also maintain an Amazon wishlist for book gifts.

If you don't have web, get an Amazon wishlist together before you go.
posted by iconomy at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2006

Yeah, pick some books to get sent. set up an amazon wish list, to make it easier for your friends to send books - Many jails require books sent from the publisher, so new and in-print might be a requirement.

But mostly, use this time to get some information.

Google your jail regulations for the state and/or talk to someone who's spent extended time in your particular jail. Make sure you know the rules AND how they are implemented (or not) at your jail.

In many ways it's like a small office. You want to find out about the police that will be watching you, and if possible your likely fellow-prisoners. Mitigate and plan as much as possible but be prepared for it to be Totally Different.

Not being able to go outside for ninety days will likely be very difficult. And it's almost certainly illegal. Even (some) Guantanamo prisoners get outdoor exercise. I have no idea how to prepare for it but it's likely you will want to research that. That would be my number one problem. Tell your attorney about that. IANAL but not being able to go outside sounds actionable in civil and criminal court. If it were me I'd spend my time researching and preparing for this.

You might like to be an investigative journalist. If you spot any abuse or experience any, and it's safe to do so, document it.

I hope you have mostly inmates that aren't crazy and would like to communicate - it may take a while to determine this - but if so, there are plenty of opportunities to learn from each other.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2006

to clarify - I mean, use the time before you go to jail to prepare.

Oh, and lots of interesting publications send free to prisoners. Arrange subscriptions to the ones you'd like to read and share.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:15 AM on June 27, 2006

Start snail-mail correspondance with a stranger. Email me for my address.
posted by dobbs at 11:18 AM on June 27, 2006

I suppose knitting is right out...
posted by bshort at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2006

You can call your local sheriffs, and ask what you can bring. You'll probably be surprised by how little they allow.
posted by QIbHom at 11:36 AM on June 27, 2006

Get a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and learn to draw.
posted by plinth at 12:18 PM on June 27, 2006

Does Geometry appeal? Join a long prison tradition and work your way through Euclid's Elements^. You can do this because you really need nothing, no equipment or resources, to go on a journey of real discovery. Quite how that is possible is a profound mystery.
posted by grahamwell at 12:23 PM on June 27, 2006

90 days is just about the same length of time as Marine Corps boot camp. You can get very fit in that length of time - devote several hours to it every day. The fitness effects will last for several years even if you don't put much effort into it afterwards.

As a bonus, being hungry will make the food taste good, and being tired will make it easy to sleep.

It does sound like you're receiving a rather serious punishment. Unless you did something like punch out the judge, please do consider appealing.
posted by jellicle at 12:43 PM on June 27, 2006


Drawing is a good idea, but dependent on your abilities. I'm not a terribly good artist myself, but in the past I've drawn layouts of homes to kill time. Making sure everything is to scale takes some effort (and make sure the second floor toilet is above the first floor...no need to run two drains).

I second the write to your legislators advice. Hopefully you'll have access to newspapers to keep your griping up to date. Mail the letters to friends and have them mail to the recipient for you. I'd guess prisoner mail ranks low on a senator's priority list.

And I mean this seriously; find a way to escape. I don't suggest you do it, but looking for a way out is a cool way to keep your mind occupied. Maybe let the guards know of any chinks in their armor you discover upon being let out.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2006

Bring a notebook and "blog" your 90 days. Update your online blog when you're released.
posted by deborah at 1:17 PM on June 27, 2006

Yes, if you are able to bring a laptop computer and your cell has an outlet, you're pretty much set. Don't need any Internet connection, either.

If you can't get a computer in, you will be able to get access to books. Read all the classics you ever wanted to read, one or more a day. Avoid the Bible; rinkjustice's solution to everything is the Bible, and he's always wrong.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2006

Taking photos and uploading them and sharing them is rewarding and is great solitary entertainment.

Yes, if you are able to bring a laptop computer and your cell has an outlet, you're pretty much set.

Did I read the question wrong? The guy's going to jail. Don't mean to be snarky, but digital cameras and laptops? I hope our penal system hasn't become so lax.

To keep this from being pure snide, learn to juggle or do that pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy thing.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:51 PM on June 27, 2006

Some jails will not allow you to receive anything directly from visitors including books, magazines, etc. but they will allow you to receive them via the mail from some sources. You might subscribe to a few magazines addressed to you at the jail if this is the case with your host. They might even allow you to receive books from Amazon if they won't let you carry them in when you initially check in.
posted by Carbolic at 1:55 PM on June 27, 2006

Frogan, unfortunately, there really is no appeal for contempt. It is a directly imposed penalty, not a "crime" for which you are arrested and tried. I think it is crazy too.

I would say that it all depends on what your interests are. Possibly you could even do some work for someone.
posted by slavlin at 2:24 PM on June 27, 2006

Should we send a MeFi care package?!

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office
Lake Pleasant, NY 12108

Or perhaps ask why they don't provide outdoor activities or exercise? (518) 548-3113
posted by shoepal at 2:26 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ponder the error of your ways, well. Sorry, couldn't resist. I've heard that some prisons allow up to four electronic devices per cell. Not that I approve, but they say it helps with behavior. If they have any policy like this then you might get away with a laptop, but never in my wildest dreams would I expect any internet access. But there's lots you can do with a computer if you could load it up thoughtfully before you go inside. You can program, of course, write, play games, watch porn, uh, I mean NOT watch porn. Good luck. Keep your nose clean. Don't drop the soap. all that stuff. Unless, you know.
posted by JamesMessick at 2:30 PM on June 27, 2006

"Jail" and "prison" are different things.
posted by cortex at 2:40 PM on June 27, 2006

Keep a diary, make it into a blog upon release. Quirky bestselling book about your 90 days in backwater prison and copious $$$ should then follow.
posted by fire&wings at 2:44 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

unfortunately, there really is no appeal for contempt.

Difficult, yes, but certainly not impossible. Depending on the jurisdiction, there could be several avenues of appeal, including appeals to federal courts. Merely Googling "appeal contempt of court" returns news items for several instances where contempt charges are appealed (still difficult to get, though).
posted by frogan at 3:15 PM on June 27, 2006

If you get a laptop, download Wikipedia onto it, and you'll be good for at least 90 days.

I'd set up a separate blog while I was in jail. Write out the blog entries in a notebook, and give them to somebody every few days to post. Take questions from your readers, delivered by the same person. Get one of the big blogs to link to you. Maybe somebody will start selling "Free Cedar!" t-shirts.

None of my business, but I would love to know what you did to get 90 days for contempt of court.

Best of luck. Fuck the man!
posted by Hildago at 3:19 PM on June 27, 2006

Start snail-mail correspondance with lots of strangers. Email me for my address.
posted by rollbiz at 3:49 PM on June 27, 2006

I would do an exhaustive reading of Kant's three Critiques, or all of Coppleston's history of philosophy. And David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Joyce's Ulysses, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and all of Shakespeare. When you get out, you'll be a force to be reckoned with.
posted by ontic at 5:49 PM on June 27, 2006

ontic, he's going to be in there 90 days, not 90 years. :)
posted by bingo at 6:11 PM on June 27, 2006

Just so you know, everyone in this thread is dying to know what you said to get 90 days in the hole. Myself included. Only they have the self-restraint not to ask, but I can't contain my curiosity.

As for suggestions:

1. Exercise.
2. Lots and lots of masturbation.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:00 PM on June 27, 2006

read Papillon.
posted by quonsar at 7:08 PM on June 27, 2006

Study tantra and have yourself a 90 day orgasm. Hey-ohhh!

No seriously, I think a fun way to keep occupied would be to start up lots of absurd correspondence along the lines of Letters from a Nut or the Henry Root letters. I'm thinking maybe insane reasons why the person should help you get out of jail. Appeals to the ambassadors of obscure nations (Comoros anyone?). Impassioned tirades against grocery store managers in other states that you've never been to (but you've heard their produce displays are offensive to Spanish Jews and you're fighting mad about it). The key here will be to so bewilder and stupify people that they get drawn in and either feel compelled to defend themselves or work hard to assure you they're not who you think they are. Indirectly make them think they've missed some important piece of information to draw them in. And you write back and forth. It was always so fun and special to get mail at summer camp; I bet it'll be fun to get mail in jail. And just like mom always said, you have to write letters to get letters. So write two a day. Do like Andy DuFresne in Shawshank Redemption and write a letter a day to the same person day after day until they finally crack and write back. It's best if they're totally random.

This would be absolutely fantastic. You'll just crack yourself up in your cell every day. The other people will think you're nuts, but they're fucking prisoners so who cares.

Also, write away for lots of free stuff. Tragic jail story, lots of beatings, but all will be well if you can just get a free case of Marshmallow Peeps. "For the love of God, please send me some Peeps! AAAAAAGHH!" Plus you're going to need a replacement for your missing prosthetic leg aren't you? Those bastards from the next cell block stole it so they could play baseball and the guards don't care. You must have a prosthetic leg delivered to your jail in order to maintain your dignity. Have mercy, o prosthesis company. Get the phone book out and write to hundreds of people telling them you're collecting old spoons to make a sculpture in memory of Julia Child, or hey, in honor of childhood baldness.

This could be fantastic. You have nothing to lose and could even get a book deal out of it. The pen is your friend. Write with passion, confidence, and a touch of insanity and then sit back and wait for the confused responses to start rolling in. It'll be great. Your porridge will fly by like it's nothing. Then you'll be out and have such wonderful stories. Guess there's no risk of beatings or anal rape, eh? Oh well, maybe you can at least get some harsh language and a bit of passive aggression. Scary!

I always wanted to go to jail. Bastard.
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:23 PM on June 27, 2006

I'm just saying, make this a fun thing. Show your contempt for contempt and have yourself a ball. It's been decided, there's no sense resisting it, so make it the funnest jail stint ever! No need to be glum or bored. In a sense, it's actually freedom, because you're freed of all your responsibilities. Don't have to cook or clean, don't have to work, don't have to take care of anybody. Kookoobirdz sez that = F.U.N.!
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:25 PM on June 27, 2006

Keep a daily journal. Read everything you can. Draw pictures. Meditate. Write a novel/short stories/ a screenplay--prison stories never go out of style.

You don't have to answer this, but just out of curiosity, what were you originally charged with and what did you do to earn a contempt charge? 90 days seems pretty steep.

/just being nosy
posted by zardoz at 7:36 PM on June 27, 2006

2nd on Ulysses, but bring a guidebook or two and a map of Dublin.
posted by mimi at 7:50 PM on June 27, 2006

Screw this man, I'm not even going to be in stir and I'm already inspired by this thread.

Write, right? Right! Read and write, a lot. Keep a journal and then when you get out, blog it by date. Scan and upload any drawings to flickr. Post yr predicament to craigslist and ask for crazy and fun mail, pictures, things to hang in your cell (specify "rating," (G/PG/R/etc). Hell, I'll even donate. The magazine idea is inspired. Record conversations with other inmates, guards, whatever. Make it an honest version of James Frey. And most of all, rage.
posted by nevercalm at 3:39 PM on June 28, 2006

Some of you are incredibly naive. Hate to break it to you Cedar, but you're not going to be allowed any of this. Books can be sent to you, same with pads and stuff. But laptop? Flickr accounts? Are you kidding me? I know it sucks, but you're going to jail. And even if it's a nice jail, it's still jail. You will be under the complete command of others. You won't be able to do anything without permission. The sooner you realize this the better off you'll be. The time there will be a lot of worse if you come in with unrealistic expectations. Keep them low. You're going to learn more about yourself in the next 90 days than you thought possible, and I'm willing to bet that you will come out a stronger person.

My sophomore year of college I did work at a maximum security prison. I think it should be mandatory for everyone to see what life is like behind bars. It'll change the way a lot of people see our "free" and "democratic" society.

And yes, I know that prison is different from jail, but trust me, at a certain level - the time alone, the tightly controlled living - it's all the same.
posted by Cochise at 12:56 AM on June 29, 2006

Select a long poem or a piece of prose that's really important to you, learn it by heart and perfect your recitation of it.
posted by Hogshead at 6:47 AM on June 29, 2006

If your into this sort of thing, learn some memory tricks and memorize something interesting. I think there was a thread a while back about what to memorize. Poems, the periodic table, capitals, bible verses (handy for those missionaries who come to the door).

The book "Mind Performance Hacks" by Ron Hale-Evans has all sorts of tricks for memorization and mental computation. He teaches you how to turn your fingers into an abacus which I think would be fun to know. Some of the other stuff wouldn't apply if you were without a computer, but I'd love to spend a month (or three) getting good at some of these things.
posted by mulkey at 3:11 PM on June 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Read the Bible... it's something that even most us Christians haven't done.

14 Chapters a day and you'll be done with five days to reflect.
posted by bamassippi at 10:41 PM on June 29, 2006

I would want variety. A good single-volume encyclopedia, crossword and logic puzzle books, Teach Yourself Chinese or whatever, a mix of familiar and new fiction (allow for some depressed days). An acceptable craft -- probably not one that involves knives, scissors or chisels! -- calligraphy would appeal to me, with brushes if they don't like pointy pens.

If you are allowed a PDA, then a few multi-gigabyte cards will hold a huge choice of ebooks (Gutenberg or bought), language learning aids, and games along with Wikipedia in ebook format. (Backup to another card.)

And certainly make one of those books a good one about exercises that can be done without equipment. (Maybe a couple of good large reference books to act as weights?)
posted by Idcoytco at 6:46 AM on June 30, 2006

(Usual IANAL Header) I know this isn't answering the original question, but it certainly couldn't hurt to write a polite, professional apology letter to the judge. The biggest jerks are usually also the most susceptible to flattery. Give the judge a way to mitigate his verdict and still save face by offering up X unique ways that you can directly serve the community with community service. Suggest that this would be a way to allow you to pay off your debt to the community by creating resources instead of taking up a prison bed. Get influential friends (College professors, local high school teachers, local entrepreneurs, anyone with a title or who can be positively recognized in the community) to write similar letters also detailing your normally good character. Write a second letter after your first week in prison, just so he doesn't forget about you. Since it sounds like a podunk town, you might consider letters to the editor, too.

Think about the wage you would normally make in 90 days and use that money to get a new lawyer. I've been stuck with a super nice, but ultimately inept public defender before and the best intentions in the world don't make up for competence.

Don't get caught up in the romanticizations of the county jail. After a couple weeks, I'm pretty sure the novelty will be well worn off. There might not be any worthwhile routes for appeal, but there certainly are some and it's your lawyer's duty to pursue them.

It doesn't sound like the case, but if this is the result of civil disobedience, then you should be using this opportunity to drum up a media response.

Lamely answering the original question to prevent derail: You could study for the GED, SAT or GRE (and ways to fund returning to school), depending on where you are in your education. Or study up on one of many job certifications.
posted by Skwirl at 10:12 AM on June 30, 2006

Learn to count cards. Card counting is extremely useful in casino blackjack (here in tahoe there is still one casino which plays single deck blackjack). Start off with a single up/down count per high/low card and work your way onto more complex strategies. All you need is a book and a deck of cards. Get a book on card tricks while you are at it.

Even the meanest of jails will probably let you have some cards. Books can be sent, provided they are directly from the seller. You cannot have friends send books, they must be wrapped from a store, at least as far as my experience goes with a friend who went to prison (jail may be more lax).
posted by sophist at 2:56 AM on July 2, 2006

How was it?
posted by dcjd at 4:12 PM on January 31, 2007

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