Ask Tod Anything: Part IV

Welcome to the Roost once again, where my rantings find a place to rest. I am very pleased to say that I just last night received several pages of questions from you all, sent to me by Anna, that you– the readers of my humble blog– have done me the honor of asking. So that is what this post (and perhaps the next post or two, depending on how much I go on with my answers… don’t want to send Anna a novelette to type out) will be about.

And in the interest of keeping this as short as I can, I will jump right in. I have no name or any idea who these questions came from, just the questions in numerical order.

1.) What is the significance of the name of your blog? Who came up with it, you or Anna?

The name was solely my idea and only I can be blamed for it. I have an interest in mythology. I like mythology of all kinds, but am probably best versed in Scandinavian/Germanic mythology and folklore. And that is where Muninn comes from. (It can be spelled Munin as well.)

In Scandinavian teachings, there is a god named Odinn (otherwise known as Woden, Wodan, Wotan, or Woten) and this god, who is the primary godhead, is the original god of consciousness from whom all other gods (and all other conscious beings) is derived, directly or indirectly. In short, he is the god who rules over all others. In folklore, Odinn has two ravens on whom he relies to fly over this world and report back to him to keep him informed of what is going on here. These ravens are Huginn and Muninn. (They are really metaphorical aspects of Odinn’s consciousness.) Scandinavian and Germanic words have more than one meaning depending on how, where, and when they are used, and these two words are no different. In this context, Huginn means thought or he who thinks, and Muninn means memory or he who remembers.

There is a book in Scandinavian folklore called the Elder Edda, or Poetic Edda. (Some consider this to be a holy book.) In this book there is a story: Grimnismál (the lay of Grimnir) in which Odinn is captured by an evil and greedy king. (Germanic gods are often portrayed with human aspects and vulnerabilities… they can age, they can be captured, sometimes on purpose as with this story, and they can even die). Odinn is shown a kindness by the king’s ten-year-old son, whom he rewards (in part) with knowledge, some of which is knowledge of the gods. (Neither the king nor the boy know it is Odinn whom they have captured.) And during that exchange, Odinn tells the boy the following:

Huginn and Muninn fly every day
over the expansive earth;
I am anxious about Huginn, that he will not come back,
Though I fear even more for Muninn.

In this strophe, I believe the importance of memory to the Germanic peoples is being exemplified.

Now, all that said, Muninn’s Roost is where I can put my memories– and yes, thoughts too, but I think memory to be very important, as that is really all I have left in this cage. And although (or, perhaps, because) my consciousness is stifled by the horrific environment that surrounds me, I cling desperately to these thoughts from my past.

I actually put a lot of thought into the name for the blog– and– I was hopeful that someone might ask after the name’s origin so I could show off my Germanic folklore chops…just kidding… maybe…

2.) Beer or wine? Coke or Pepsi? McDonald’s or Burger King?

In my youth I put away my fair share of beer (Budweiser for the most part) but as I got into my mid-twenties I developed a fondness for a Guinness Stout (not technically a beer) but I also kept a couple of bottles of decent wine around as well.

It has been some amount of time (a very long time) but I liked Pepsi as a kid.

I lived in a pretty rural area of Colorado (drove over fifty miles to buy groceries) and in that town there was no Burger King or McDonald’s that I recall…but there was a place called Don’s Drive-In that had a teriyaki mushroom burger on a homemade bun that was like six inches across, and that was unbelievably good! So I guess my answer to that last part is, Don’s Drive-In!

3.) How would you describe your political leanings?

Wow! I could write a novelette on what I think about what is going on in the U.S. government. But in the interest of keeping this as simple and short as I can… both of the parties have some, and I emphasize some good ideas. (I am all for freedom… of all types. I don’t much care for repression of any kind.) However, both parties also have some of what I see as horrifically bad ideas. I was not there of course, but from what I can gather about what is going on in Washington D.C. right now, I don’t think (in my opinion of course) that it is what the founders of this democratic experiment called the United States of America really had in mind. So I guess I could say my “political leanings” are at best disappointment, at worst, disgust. (And these feelings are Pre-Trump if you are interested… but now? I just sit here open-mouthed in total bewilderment.)

4.) Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars?

I grew up on Star Trek (the original series– yes, I am old) and the swashbuckling Captain Kirk. Cavorting with green slave girls and saving whole planets was every kid’s dream! (I was too young to pick up on the political messages being sneaked in by the studio heads and censors at the time; that came later.) But Star Wars is a much more involved story full of deeply fleshed-out characters people can invest in… so both are good in their own ways. However, that silly Star Trek always had a place in me as part of my childhood– a simple and safe place I can always visit in my mind.

5.) Are you a cat person or a dog person? Do you have a favorite breed?

Do I have to choose? I am a great lover of animals of all sorts. I’ve had both– at the same time, even– and loved them equally. As far as breeds go… I don’t even know what breed she was, but I had a huge white cat I was very fond of. Anna has three cats, and she often sends me pictures and updates, which I enjoy.

Dogs? I had a boxer that was my very best friend as a child. As an adult, I had a black lab/Malamute mix (she looked like a large Labrador) that was one of the smartest dogs I have ever seen, and was a good friend.

I have also had snakes as pets, and a grey tree/house squirrel that seemed to think he was a dog (an exercise in patience I do not recommend… squirrels make horrible pets!) and… are you ready for this? A raven! Who was… truly beyond friendship… more like a sibling, really. And, yes, the other reason for the name of the blog… his name was Muninn. A relationship (he was not a “pet”– when he was grown, he could come and go as he pleased but almost always slept in my room, often standing on the part of my pillow I wasn’t using) that I would also not recommend for most. It’s like having a very precocious two-year-old child that never grows up! A really good alarm clock, though…when Muninn got up, I got up.

6.) If you’ve ever read Harry Potter, what house do you think you’d be in?

If memory serves (and sometimes it doesn’t) the Sorting Hat chooses, does it not? But rather like Harry, I would be hopeful for Gryffindor. They seemed to have the most fun. (Granted, the books mostly centered around characters that belonged to that house.)

7.) How often do you see a doctor, a dentist, a psychiatrist/psychologist, etc.? How does that work? Do you have to be handcuffed while being examined? Do you leave the prison grounds to get medical checkups or do they come to you? What about if there is an emergency? Would you be chained up in the ambulance?

Good questions! You see someone at medical (rarely if ever “a doctor”– usually someone claiming to be a nurse) after you put in a special form to do so (it’s called a Health Needs Request or H.N.R.) after you submit such a form– it has in the past taken months to see someone, and there have been numerous lawsuits– you now go to medical within a couple of weeks to see someone who asks you what is wrong, takes notes, then puts you on a list to see someone, who puts you on a list to see someone… you get the picture… and this can take months. (But, hey, they can claim they saw you within a certain number of weeks, which satisfies the court ruling.)

Yes, we are always handcuffed, chained, something. The medical unit is on prison grounds so unless it is something really major we do not leave the prison. In case of emergency they can (IE, they deem it needful… I have been sewn up and given an antibiotic course right here.) They will take you to an actual hospital (about an hour away) during which you are chained up in the ambulance and chained up in in the ambulance and chained to a hospital in the ambulance and chained to a hospital gurney when you get there. (Or so I understand anyway– I have never left the prison grounds.)

In short, medical issues often go untreated here. If they do receive some sort of treatment, it is usually inadequate. Mental issues are even worse. They just throw pills at someone who has often been misdiagnosed so usually poorly medicated (thorazine used to be big here… I don’t know if that has changed or not.)

The “medical staff” we get here usually are at the “end of the line” for a medical career and are considered unemployable anywhere else, so we get what the state pays for.

8.) To what extent are issues such as vegetarianism and veganism, gluten sensitivity, kosher/halal religious diets, and allergies accommodated on death row?

I do not know anyone on it because it is…well… I hear it’s just about inedible. But the prison has one diet that covers pretty much all of what you mentioned. It has beans, a lot of rice, and some carrot sticks and celery that cannot be sold in a store so the prison gets it for next to nothing. “Special” diets are discouraged here.

9.) What commissary items are most highly sought after, besides stamps and envelopes?

I don’t really know. It has been a long time (five months? maybe six?) since I have personally purchased anything other than stamps, envelopes, paper, soap, or shampoo. (And I am likely going to shave my head so I can eliminate shampoo.) I suppose it’s an individual thing– a matter of personal likes and dislikes. There are a great deal of unhealthy people that gravitate toward the candy bars and potato chips. If I were able I suppose I would likely supplement the poor nutrition of the high carbohydrate and fat diet they give us with things like the fish and other protein items that are available on the commissary list. I would also suppose coffee would be high on the popular lost. But like I said it is pretty individual for likes and dislikes, I suppose.

10. I saw in a documentary once that, when an inmate is taken away to be executed in Oklahoma, all the other inmates on death row refuse their meal on the night of his death as a show of respect and solidarity for their friend. Do the men in Arizona have any rituals or traditions on the day of an execution, or afterwards, to honor someone who has passed or is about to?

This s a question that will take some “creative” answering. On some death rows in the country, a mindset of “all for one and one for all” is prevalent.

This is so because the death row population is separate from the “normal” (a term I use loosely here!) prison population– which is where things like rapists and child molesters and child killers are not tolerated. Out “on a yard” (another term for a prison unit) these individuals would end up in “ad-seg” (administrative segregation– otherwise known as protective custody.)

In Arizona, our death row functions more like a regular prison unit, in which you have a GP (general population) section and a PC (protective custody) section. As GP, we do not associate with protective custody in any way. This of course results in a schism in the Arizona death row population.

(My mindset is simple: I have children, grandchildren, and female friends on the outside and it would be dishonorable– and, to my mind, insulting to them– if I were to associate with the type of low-life that obviously has no respect for them, or even a semblance of an ethical compass of any kind.) So I personally have issues with rapists and people who commit crimes against children, sexual or otherwise.

But to get back to the question: this separation means that there are no organized tributes of any sort. If we know the person we each observe our own way of showing respect for them, and we do so individually.

For me? I have one that I think of every year on his birthday. (I think of him often of course, but his birthday is spent with him in mind all day.) As long as his memory survives, he survives.

(It should be noted that the “close custody experiment” I mentioned in a previous blog post throws this whole separation thing to the wind. No matter how I mentally address it, I can only imagine bad results coming from it.)

11.) What are the guidelines for what you can theoretically order for your last meal? Is there anything specific you are not allowed to request? Would they give you a beer, a cigarette, or a doobie if you asked for it? And if you had, say, a life-threatening peanut allergy, would you be forbidden from ordering a PB&J? Along similar lines, do you know (or know of) anyone who has made a bizarre or interesting last meal request or plans to do so?

The rules have changed for last meals since I got here. It used to be you could request anything as long as it could be obtained locally and could be cooked at the prison. Then it was, you could request anything as long as it could be obtained locally but you had to pay for it yourself. Now my understanding is that it has to be something the prison already makes….but that could be wrong. (It may still be that you have to buy it if you don’t choose something the prison already makes.)

No, no beer, cigarettes, or doobies. (A joint and a glass of single malt scotch would be my request if either of those things were allowed.) And if the prison is aware of any allergies, then nope, they won’t let you have it.

As far as bizarre requests go… Anna has gone online and cannot seem to find a record of this… but there was a guy who told me he was going to ask for five pounds of fried okra, and a guard said that was what he got.

As I have 32 questions here, I will let Anna take a break and give her typing fingers a rest. If your question has not been answered, worry not; I will get to it. But for now I will stop. I will get to answering the rest of this batch of questions very soon, though, so stay tuned, and please don’t forget to thank Anna, without whom you would not be reading this.

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