Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Visitation (2)

Note from Bill's wife: see the previous blog labeled Visitation which I wrote from a family member's point of view. This is Bill's perspective.

Friends and family can visit inmates on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays. Friday visitation is from 5-8:30p. Saturday and Sunday it is from 8:30a-3p. Immediate family members (parents, spouse, children and siblings) are automatically approved. All others must fill out a special visitor information form in advance and mail it in for approval. Detailed visiting guidelines are on the BOP website.

FPC Pensacola is located on Saufley Field, part of the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The only two buildings that the inmate's visitors are allowed access to are the visitor's room (VR) and the chapel.

Arriving visitors enter the VR through a canopied entrance and give the CO, who is in a small windowed room, the visitor's form. This form must be filled out each day you visit. It identifies the visitor and the inmate you are visiting. The inmate is then paged over the camp intercom system.

Inmates usually know when to expect visitors so they are listening for their name. You must wear your greens - sweats and t-shirts are not allowed. I usually wait in the law library which is actually an annex of the VR building. This not only has a good intercom but provides a view of the parking lot. Physical contact outside the VR is strictly forbidden, but there are no gates or locks, only your own self-control, and the security cameras that monitor the parking lot.

Inmates enter the VR through a security room to the left of the main entrance. After removing any metal (e.g. belt and steel top shoes), you walk through a metal detector and hand the CO your ID. He then inventories your possessions (wedding ring, glasses, etc). You are not allowed to bring anything else with you (although the website says a comb and a handkerchief are allowed). On one occasion, I brought a blank visitor information form that I wanted to give to my parents so they could copy it and give it to non-immediate family. The CO said that technically it was not allowed. I asked, "What about non-technically?" He said, "If you put it in your pocket, I don't give a sh**." It all depends on the CO on duty.

The VR is a large room reminiscent of a large church fellowship hall. There are tables, chairs, 5 TVs, change machines and vending machines in the back. There are 3 bathrooms - men, women and inmates; I guess we are a different gender - it feels like it sometimes! The official capacity is 162.

There is a door that opens to a large outdoor courtyard, perhaps 1 1/2 acres in size. It is surrounded by a 6' wooden fence and fronted by the back of the chapel. There is a sidewalk circling the courtyard with concrete tables and benches sprinkled around the grass.

Inmates transferred from other prisons report that this is the best visitation arrangement they have seen, especially for kids. The COs are generally lenient on the rules here. More physical affection is allowed. Visitors can bring card and board games. But all items must be in clear bags. I didn't know you could purchase the variety of clear purses and bags I have seen in the VR.

I have been here 4 weekends as I write this (not counting the weekend I arrived). My wife and parents visited the 1st and 3rd weekends and my parents visited the other two. Except for Easter weekend, I would guess that less than 10% of the inmates get visitors on any given weekend; for most it is simply too expensive for their family to visit.

The first weekend I was struck by how friendly and considerate everyone was. Not just the typical Southern courtesies, but the kindness that is shared among those who have suffered - like what you might find among parents in a pediatric cancer ward. There is an unspoken, non-judgmental understanding. I tried to imagine as I looked across the room how much heartache was represented in that room. Note from Bill's wife: Me too. The first weekend I couldn't think of anything else ...

On a lighter note, it is a little funny to see how inmates you only know in the context of their prison life act completely differently on the weekends. I work 4 1/2 days a week and then see my wife or parents for 2 1/2. I now see my parents far more than I normally would and I still see my wife more than many businessmen who travel. And, there is not much to do but talk. I bet for some inmates this time talking to their spouses is much more quality time than they usually had back in the real world.

If the visitors stay till the end, then the inmates clean up the room and leave out the back gate with trash bags while the CO returns each inmate's ID.

If your visitor leaves early, then the inmate leaves also but through the same security room he entered. The CO returns the ID but after that the procedure has varied wildly. In one case, I simply left. In another I was strip-searched. In most cases, I am patted down and walk through the metal detector. As usual, it just depends on the CO.

Week 4 Summary

I have now marked off 4 weeks in prison and have settled into a routine that I hope will make the next two months fly by.

Last night, after 30 minutes on the exercise bike, about an hour before curfew, I walked out to the area of the camp near the abandoned runways at Saufley Field.

Across the cracked, weed-infested, asphalt runway are thousands of FEMA Hurricane Relief Trailers left over from Hurricane Ivan a couple of years ago. The deep blue, dark sky is clear. The stars are vibrant, especially Venus in the west (actually Venus is not really a star, but you get the point), and the moon is three quarters waxing. I sit down on a bench, no one else around me, and contemplate the surreal circumstances I am in.

My life is not physically uncomfortable. All of my basic needs are taken care of. The hardest part, I think most inmates would agree, is missing family and friends, especially family.

This is like a dream I know I will wake up from in 9 more weeks. Soon after that it will be a distant memory. That does not mean that it will not have left an indelible impression. After just 4 weeks, I am surprised at what I am feeling ... and not feeling.

First, I have not suffered from boredom or technology withdrawal. I literally do not have enough time to do everything I want to do - read, write, work out! and watch a few favorite shows (24, American Idol). I gave up trying to play softball for lack of time.

I do not miss mindless TV (i.e. watching TV just because it's on), cell phones, or even the internet all that much, although there are times I have questions that I could answer quickly if I only had a computer in front of me.

Second, the real changes are surprisingly darker. All of us at times I suspect suffer from crises of faith - experiences that shatter our assumptions about the way the world works, or should work. We rely on these assumptions - presuppositions really - to interpret and make sense of life. They provide comfort and stability.

When a traumatic experience contradicts our understanding of the world, denial sets in. But eventually that denial cannot sustain itself forever - it gives way to disillusionment. AW Tozer refers to this as dis-illusionment - a healthy stripping away of false, even childish views of the world.

While there were aspects to my case that I thought were bizarre and unfair, I had come to terms with that and accepted my situation for what it was. I am not into self-pity.

What I did not expect was to hear story after horrific story from the inmates.

It is an undisputed article of faith in prison that the federal government doesn't play fair. There is not really any rule of law. Prosecutors prosecute. Juries convict. Judges sentence. Arguments be damned. It seems that judges and juries just roll over and rubberstamp whatever the prosecutor says.

The stories I have heard are so disturbing I have not been sleeping well. I have absolutely no confidence that, when I get out, if I live a law-abiding life to the best of my ability that I still won't end up back in prison.


I expressed concern early on about how well I would sleep away from home. On the whole, it has been OK.

In the beginning, the room was extremely cold and I slept in several layers of clothing. Lately, the temperature has warmed and I can sleep comfortably in shorts. The beds have 9" twin spring mattresses which are reasonably comfortable, especially compared to the pads and metal tables inmates report sleeping on in other prisons.

The biggest issue I have now is an upper bunkmate who appears to have sleep apnea. He doesn't just snore; he explodes in fits and gasps. It is the loudest snoring I have ever heard. He will go silent for 30 seconds and then start gasping for breath. I don't know how he sleeps. I and another guy in the room have tried to tell him he needs to get it checked. It could explain why he is tired all the time.

I have had to resort to sleeping with my radio headphones on with the volume loud enough to drown out those sounds above me.

Personal Hygiene/Grooming

In one of the last posts before I reported, I indicated that I didn't know what to do about my goatee. I was quite sure I would not have access to a beard trimmer so I figured I would either end up growing a full beard for 3 months or shaving my whole face for the first time in 15 years.

Turns out I was wrong. On Monday night at the commissary, one of the items you can buy is a Norelco Beard Trimmer. Problem solved. In fact there is a full assortment of hair care products that can be purchased.

There are two inmates that function as barbers, one for ethnic hair and one for "white" hair. They operate out of one of the small recreation buildings on the camp. Officially barbers cannot charge for haircuts but it is customary to give two cans of mackerel (mackerel functions as currency in federal prisons now since cigarettes were banished in 2004). A can of mackerel costs $1.20 from the commissary. Cheapest haircut you'll ever get.

I hear they are both pretty good but I haven't met them since I had not planned on getting my hair cut while I was here. I did get my hair cut very short the day before I reported (which turns out to have been a good decision) but I am letting it grow back out while here! No one in my family seems to like it short. Note from Bill's wife: Not since he has about 4 oppositely swirling cowlicks that can't be seen when his hair is longish!!

As for other personal hygiene matters, on my floor, there are about 250 inmates. There are 3 different bathrooms containing a total of 22 sinks, 14 toilet stalls, 4 urinals and 10 shower stalls. All sinks, toilets, and urinals are porcelain. Mirrors are glass, not metal. Floors and walls are tiled.

I rarely have to wait to use anything, believe it or not., although that may have to do with my timing then anything.

Daily showers are not only allowed, they are virtually required. The inmates here will not put up with other smelly or dirty inmates. They are freakish about hygiene.

I generally shower in the morning about 30 minutes before reporting for my work detail at 7a. Most inmates shower the night before which probably explains why I usually have no wait.

In summary, I think most people would be surprised at how clean and well-groomed we inmates are.

Nonetheless, one inmate who is in prison a second time on a parole violation after serving 10 years the first time said the thing he most wanted to do when he got out of prison had nothing to do with food, drink or sex. He wanted to take a bath without having to wear rubber shower shoes!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Crack House

There is a small building (#826) around the corner from Building 2240 (administrative office, dorms B & C) towards the commissary. If you watch it carefully, you will see people go in and out. After 15 minutes or so, you will see the pattern repeat itself every evening.

Welcome to the phone house, also known as the "crack house."

I happen to have a photograph of the building (see below, the commissary hangar is in the background) which is on the far western edge of the camp. You can also reference the maps at the bottom of each page. This is the only building across Barin street that is not "out of bounds." In most prisons, the phones are a source of many fights, second perhaps only to the TV room. That is because there are too few phones and too many inmates. Fortunately that is not the case here.

(click to enlarge)

The phone house has 20 phones. Phone calls are limited to 15 minutes at a time. If the phones are all occupied and there is a line, then, if you do the math, one phone should become available every 45 seconds (and that assumes everyone talks for 15 minutes). Therefore the line moves fast.

The BOP has developed a pretty cool system called the Inmate Telephone System (ITS). It records all calls, as well as regulates the time and frequency of the calls and allows you to manage your own account balance.

Inmates are allowed 300 min/month which works out to about one 15 minute call per weekday or one 10 minute call every day. Calls are limited to 15 minutes and you must wait 15 minutes between calls (which is why you see inmates walk outside and wait on the benches under the covered porch before reentering).

Initially you manage your account by pressing 118. You must then enter your 9-digit Phone Access Code (PAC). You can then transfer money from your commissary account to your phone account.

The cost of calls is as follows:

$0.06 Local
$0.23 Long Distance
$0.35 Canada
$0.55 Mexico
$0.99 International

If you use all 300 minutes on long distance calls, the most you can spend is $69 a month. (By the way, this does not count against your $290 monthly commissary budget... it is in addition to it.) Once you have money in your account, you can always check your minutes and balance using 118.

To place a call, you simply enter your number and then enter your 9-digit PAC. The number you dialed is matched against your list of approved phone numbers which must be submitted to your counselor in advance.

When the call is answered, the recipient hears a message like the following:

"You have a prepaid call.
You will not be charged for this call.
This call is from [inmate's recorded name], an inmate at a federal prison.
Hang up to decline this call or, to accept, dial 5 now.
If you wish to block future calls of this nature, dial 7 now."

Then you can talk.

Every 5 minutes or so you are interrupted by a message that says, "This call is from a Federal Prison." I'm sure there is a security reason for this, I just don't know what it is. Finally, you will hear a 2 minute and a 1 minute warning beep before being disconnected.

Today, the warning beeps occurred early. I knew I was getting close to my 300 minute limit and told my wife we might get disconnected and that we wouldn't be able to talk for 6 more days, until the first of the month. Sure enough, we got a busy signal a minute later which I am guessing tells me we are done talking for the month.

[UPDATE: Near the end of June, just before my release, they updated the commissary and phone accounting systems - TRUFACS and TRUFONE. The functionality was unchanged but everything worked noticeably faster. I think they hired a New York City "voice" to talk faster so you don't have to wait so long to hear the opening message. The previous voice must have been from Mississippi. She talked way to slow.]

[UPDATE: I found the following old (1999), but interesting documents illustrating effectively the single-minded myopia of the DOJ when it comes to stopping crime. They made recommendations, accusations actually, that the BOP did not effectively prevent inmates from committing crimes using BOP phones, including murders and drug deals. Phone nazis.

The second document from the November Coalition challenges their recommendations. ]

Eglin Lunch Suggestions

Yesterday at dinner, there was an addition to the dinnerline, an Eglin Lunch Suggestion Box. "Well this is interesting," I thought. "The prison is actually soliciting suggestions from the inmates."

The Eglin AFB work detail is notorious for the terrible box lunches, which is why most inmates dread the assignment (along with the 5:30a bus ride). There must have been a mini-revolt, or maybe the rumour that they staged a boycott was true after all.

The more cynical inmates guessed that the only reason the suggestion box was there was to impress the visitors from the regional office. I don't know. The warden has a meeting scheduled tonight with the Eglin detail. I am guessing it is about lunch!

Callouts and Changes

Every afternoon at about 5:30p, a printout containing "callouts and changes" is posted in each dorm lobby.

A callout is a scheduled meeting with a staff person that usually interrupts your normal work assignment. If your work assignment involves a bus ride, then you don't take the bus and instead work on the prison grounds when you are not at your appointment. Callouts are usually for medical, dental, counselor, unit case manager, or chaplain visits or other things. For example, all Muslim inmates report to chapel instead of work every Friday, since Friday is a holy day for them.

A change is an alteration in your work assignment. That is how I noticed that my work detail had changed.

It is the inmate's responsibility to check the callout sheets every evening so you know where to go the next morning.

New Job

Well, my first job did not last long - 3 days. Friday evening I noticed my work assignment had been changed to Saufley Field, where the prison camp is located. In other words, no bus ride. I can just walk to the contractor's office.

I guess I wasn't good enough or experienced enough for them. I read my book for 3 days.

So what have I done for 3 days at Saufley? Rake leaves and pick up trash, the same thing I did while on A&O except now I am on the base grounds rather than the prison grounds. I also get to drive around in a little John Deere "gator" - an ATV-like vehicle used for groundskeeping.

We report to two contractor supervisors, one of whom is so large that it is quite funny watching him drive around on our little "gators."

Finally ... a Job

Today I finally got my work assignment ... sort of.

FPC Pensacola is a federal prison camp; that is, a work camp. FPCs are minimum security prisons - there is not a wall or fence separating the prison from the outside world. FPC Pensacola is located on a military base at Saufley Field. FPC Maxwell, near Montgomery, is the only other FPC located on a military base. I am told both will be shut down in the next couple of years. The BOP is instead going to "satellite" camps that are part of a larger medium and low security complex.

As best as I can tell a prison camp serves 2, maybe 3, purposes that a regular prison does not.

First, for those inmates who are serving long sentences that began behind a wall or fence at a higher security prison (inmates must be within 10 years of their release date with no history of violence to be eligible for assignment to a prison camp), an FPC allows some limited contact with the outside world to hopefully facilitate their integration back into society. Usually the work is simple groundskeeping.

Second, it provides a source of cheap labor for the military bases. FPC Pensacola serves the Pensacola Naval Air Station (PNAS) and Eglin Air Force Base (EAFB). The PNAS is nearby and the EAFB is about an 80 minute bus ride, I am told.

Third, I would assume it is a source of revenue for the BOP since the PNAS and EAFB pay for the groundskeeping services. At PNAS, a company contracts for our services. Inmates report to this company's supervisors. Of course, there are probably a lot of contractual details I don't know.

At 5:30a every weekday morning large touring buses leave the prison for EAFB and at 6:30a, other buses leave for PNAS. I was assigned to a very large PNAS field, which is home to the famous Blue Angels (you can see and hear them do flyovers).

The buses I ride look like yellow school buses, but nicer. They are air-conditioned with stereo music. The windows are darkly tinted although I don't know if that is for the benefit of the inmates or passers-by!

After a short ride, we are dropped off at a warehouse, which I think is the main office for the contractors. It is a simple building and largely empty.

Inmates with previously assigned work details know where to get their equipment in this large industrial compound and begin their work.

In my case, I have no work detail; I just sit in the warehouse and read my book. They briefly interviewed each of the 6 new guys. It was immediately apparent that I was the least qualified for the work they need done!

By the way, now that I have a job I will get paid 12 cents an hour or 84 cents a day. This is for 7 hours work. That may not seem like much, but it is tax free!

We return about 2:30p and get back to the prison before 3p, in time for the short line for dinner and then the 4p standing count. Boy, I'm so exhausted from my work I might not make dinner! :)

The Accidental Tourist

At the beginning of this week, I decided to take a couple days respite from writing to relax and read a little. After scouring the leisure library (totally different atmosphere from the law library) for a book, I settled on "The Accidental Tourist," a 1989 NY Times bestseller translated into a 1988 movie starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Geena Davis.

I am currently only about 100 pages into the book, which is developing a little too slowly for my taste. It occurred to me, however, that the title of the book was perfect for the title of a blog.

In an earlier post you may recall that I was told that I am really a tourist, not a citizen, of this prison; I'm just on vacation, so to speak. Likewise my visit is truly an accident. I had no idea that the conduct that I was prosecuted for was illegal, let alone a federal felony involving potential prison time. I'm still not totally convinced it should be illegal and I am quite sure if you were to poll 100 people, you would be hardpressed to find 5 of them who would agree that it should be a federal felony deserving of prison time. Other than the prosecutor, I have yet to find one person who agrees. Or, I must concede, one person who will admit to my face to agreeing.

That is not to say that my conduct was not wrong or illegal or that my sentence was unjust given what the judge had to work with, only that I think the statute was poorly written and applied overbroadly to the facts of my case - this is my opinion.

Now I can only hope that the book is half as interesting as my experience.

PS I finished the book. Mason is an idiot.

King "Kon"

The week following my move to the new room, the prison bus brought in new transfers. These new additions to my room brings the total to 10. Only 2 of us are original - me and a hispanic guy who has been in prison awhile and more or less keeps to himself. The other 8 guys are new to this prison, even though some of them have been locked up over 9 years.

That means that other than my old roommate, after all of two weeks, I am the senior inmate in my room and they look to me for answers to questions. I am the King "Kon".

I can't tell you how funny I find this development. It only confirms that "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

It is a completely new dynamic compared to my old room. The new inmates are very chatty. There is a funny jockeying for influence. One inmate talks a lot and tries to tell everyone how the place operates but 90% of what he says is total nonsense, which the other guys are figuring out pretty quickly.

There are 3 white guys, two hispanic guys, and 5 black guys. The black guys are all transfers with experience at other prisons. The three white guys - me, a 70 yr old big Italian guy from Brooklyn who is in for 3 months (okay, so I'm not sooo special :) ), and a 36 yr old lawyer in for a year for healthcare fraud - all just got here recently and have never been anywhere else.

We all get along pretty good, even if we're a little too noisy for my first roommate's taste. As usual, my earlier concerns about the new room don't seem to have materialized.

I'm sure there is a lesson about worry in there somewhere!

Safety Base

For the last two days I have been practicing softball in preparation for the season (teams are picked on Saturday). Players take turns hitting while the others cover the field. I was asked to play first base to allow the shortstop to practice making throws to first after he fielded grounders.

When I reached the base, I realized there were actually two first bases. One was in the normal position on the first base line. The other was positioned against it on the second base line; that is, it jutted out further into the field.

I asked the inmate pitching why there were two first bases.

"It's a safety base."

"I've never seen one before."

"That's because you're in prison now."

Yes. I guess I am.

The safety base is designed to prevent the runner -- intentionally or unintentially -- from stepping off the front of the first-base and injuring his ankle. The first baseman puts his foot on the second first-base to force the runner out while the runner touches the first first-base.

Makes sense to me but I'd never seen it before. What about y'all?

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Finally, I was able to attend the orientation class. I arrived at FPC Pensacola the day after the last orientation, which is generally held on every other Thursday.

The class convened in the TV room of the A dorm and was attended by about 25 inmates. It lasted from 7:30a-1:30p with a couple of short breaks and one hour for lunch.

The officer of each department in the prison spoke for a short while to explain policies and services.

Notable pieces of information gleaned from the orientation:
  1. HIV, TB and DNA tests are required of all inmates.
  2. Zero tolerance for cigarettes and cell phones. You will automatically be shipped to a higher security prison.
  3. Not much on HIV in prison as it got fast forwarded by an inmate when the CO left the room!
  4. Food budget is $2/inmate/day and the menu runs on a 5 week cycle.
  5. The chapel was built by inmates in 1997. The Roman Catholic chaplain has been here since 1994. The chapel schedule includes various services:
  • Native American sweat ceremony
  • Protestant worship service
  • Catholic mass
  • Jehovah's Witness study
  • Muslim prayer, Sunni prayer, and Nation of Islam prayer
  • Eastern meditation group
  • Wiccan study
  • Jewish Shabbot and Havdaleh services

6. When FPC Eglin (AFB) closed in late 1995, the Drug Abuse (Rehabilitation) Program (DAP) was moved here. 100 more inmates, 20 more staff, and 15 new DAP staff were added to FPC Pensacola. This explaiins why it seems like 85-90% of the inmates are drug offenders.

Finally, the warden usually speaks at orientation. I was looking forward to this because I had heard a lot about him but wanted to form my own opinion, having quickly learned that you can't hardly believe most of what you hear from inmates. I have seen him around the cafeteria but never met him or heard him speak.

Unfortunately, he has been out all week and didn't appear.

Having now been officially "oriented," I am now awaiting my official work detail assignment.

Download Admission and Orientation Manual (14MB)

Download Education Services Document (7MB)

Miscalculated Sentence Revisited

In my earlier post, I described how the BOP had miscalculated my sentence, partly due to an awkwardly worded Judgment & Commitment (J&C) from the judge's office.

Fortunately, my lawyer was able to fax over the first and second amended J&C documents that describe my sentence more clearly.

Hopefully, within 2 weeks (according to my lawyer), maybe longer (according to the local Records Officer), I will have my release date corrected to June 28, one day earlier than my original calculation of June 29.

The one day disparity between my original calculation and the (apparent) correct calculation is due to the fact that I received one day 's credit for the day of my arraignment (ironically, June 29 of last year), even though I didn't spend any time "locked up." Apparently the FBI & US Marshal booking process constitutes custody and any partial day of custody counts as a full day.

You'll get no arguments from me.

The Rule of Clerical Error

I discovered that the BOP has me scheduled for release on Sept 28 rather than June 28 -- a difference of 3 months! This is simply the culmination of a frustrating sequence of clerical errors since I received my sentence on Feb 13.

To summarize, I was sentenced to 3 months incarceration in the custody of BOP followed by 3 years of supervised release with a special condition of 3 months home confinement. This occurred because my US Sentencing Guidelines sentence range was 10-16 months (12 points). A point total of 12 or less is eligible for a "split" sentence; this is, half of the sentence can be served as home confinement.

The judge gave me a 6-month split sentence (below the guideline's recommendation) - 3 months incarceration and 3 months home confinement. However, when he issued the Judgment and Commitment letter (J&C), which is the document that goes to the BOP and the Dept of Probation explaning the sentence, the prison sentence was listed as "6 months" followed by the explanation that 3 months was incarceration and 3 months was home confinement.

This is an awkward way to describe the sentence. The 3 months home confinement is actually under the supervision of the probation department, not the BOP. It was correctly listed as a special condition of supervised release on a separate page, but the BOP didn't read that; all they saw was a 6 month sentence.

My lawyer immediately identified the confusing language back in February and persuaded the judge's deputy to modify the J&C and an amended J&C was issued that changed the prison sentence section to simply read "3 months," as it should have been. (There were actually several other additional significant mistakes made on the original J&C, but I won't bother you with those embarrassing details.)

Unfortunately the BOP appears to have only received the original J&C and, as we feared, they were confused by the awkward language and indeed recorded a wrongful 6 month sentence. How they planned on handling my 3 months of home confinement is a mystery! The Records manager here at the prison that I spoke with today admits that the sentence is wrong and that, despite the confusing language, the BOP still should have calculated the sentence correctly. She has raised the issue via email with the national center that computes sentences. My lawyer has indicated that it may take 2 weeks to correct this error.

I could go on and on about the comedy of errors in my case of which this is one not insignificant example but it is probably not in my best interest to do so.

We were all raised to believe in the Rule of Law, which sounds nice in theory. In practice, it is fallible people who must execute this theory and errors are made. Some of these errors may be due to incompetence, mere indifference, carelessness, as in this case, or, in some cases, even corruption.

To be forced to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to prevent a sloppy clerical error from doubling my incarceration (as well as other sentencing errors I won't describe) is further proof that I have indeed entered The Rabbit Hole.

Health and Fitness: the Prison Diet

There is no excuse for an inmate at FPC Pensacola to leave in poor shape. It is very easy to exercise and eat a healthy diet here. You certainly can't claim you don't have the time.

My goal over my 3 months is to lose 10-15 lbs (mostly in the waistline) without losing lean muscle mass. I am hoping that by spreading my food intake evenly throughout the day that my metabolism will stay up which, combined with the reduced calorie intake, should allow me to lose weight. If I work out consistently, I should be able to maintain or increase lean muscle. Incorporating a cardio routine should also burn fat.

In the mail I just received a full-body workout routine from my trainer which I need to implement 3 days per week. It involves 3 circuits of 4 machines each (2 upper, 2 lower) plus abs. I need to do 2 sets of 5-10 reps for each exercise in a circuit before moving to the next one. Certainly all the equipment is here. And I have the time. All I need now is the discipline.

Note from Bill's wife: I have my own "prison diet" going on and have lost 13 pounds so far and today found out I have lost 6 inches total, best of all 4 inches in my waist! Not having to cook dinner or not going out to eat with Bill has been a good routine for me. I am an avid tennis player and play almost every day, and also work out 2-3 times a week with the same trainer as Bill, but adding an hour of power walking through the neighborhood trails nearby seems to have helped. The challenge will be when Bill returns -- can we maintain our good habits and goals together?


(Remarks enclosed in [..] are additional remarks added after I got out.)

Ahhh ... food. Everyone wants to know about the food in prison.

I hate to disappoint you, but here it's not too bad. I hear it used to be even better, considerably so, but it still is among the best in the BOP according to the inmates who have been elsewhere.

The cafeteria is centrally located [see maps at bottom of page] and after waiting outside in line, you finally reach the tray stack. The trays are dark green and slotted with 7 various shapes for the food and drink. The food is placed directly on the tray -- there are no separate dishes or bowls. Thus, everyone inspects their tray very carefully.

Eating utensils are heavy-duty plastic; they are washed, not discarded, and reused like metal silverware.

The lunch and dinner food line will have the main entree, a vegetable, bread and possibly a dessert. The breakfast shift (which I never utilize) serves cold cereal every day and rotates various hot entrees (such as pancakes, grits, biscuits and "gravy," etc).

Upon leaving the food line, you pick up a single large paper napkin [near the end of my stay, they actually assigned an inmate the "job" of handing one napkin to each person as they exited the line, which was kind of comical] and a plastic cup for your drink. Drink options are water, lemonade, fruit punch, apple juice and maybe a couple other flavored sugar drinks. No carbonated drinks in the cafeteria but you can buy them from the vending machines in the visiting room. Breakfast offers milk.

There are also two food bars in the dining area. One contains 4 hot side dishes, usually including rice, beans or potatoes; the other contains cold salads, usually cole slaw, carrot salad and a pre-mixed salad. Breakfast offers oatmeal, which tastes like cardboard. (Along with the lima beans, it is the only food I've encountered that is truly inedible.)

The dining area is populated with four-seater metal tables with chairs (which have backs) attached to the tables.

Upon leaving, you dump any unused food in a trash can, hand the tray to a dishwasher, slide the utensils through a chute, and set your glass in the dishwashing tray.

Many inmates never use the cafeteria. They purchase all their food prepackaged from the commissary or visiting room vending machines. Then they prepare their own meals. For some, it could just be a habit learned at other prisons, where the food may have beeen intolerable to them.

I have a routine in which I only use the cafeteria for lunch between 11-12p and "short line" dinner between 3-3:45p. I eat a granola bar for breakfast and mid-morning snack. Later in the afternoon and eveniing I will snack on trail mix and maybe get a small microwaveable dinner or microwave a simple rice and beans meal. I may splurge for a Klondike Bar from the visiting room vending machines. I drink only either water (sometimes mixed with Gatorade) or diet Sprite (sugar- and caffeine-free).

Overall the food experience is easier and better then I thought it would be. No breakfast mush, lunch mush or dinner mush around here!

[UPDATE: During my brief stay, there was a noticeable deterioration in the food options. I was not the only one who noticed it. I don't know what it was, but it just didn't seem that the number options was the same.

The biggest problem inmates complain about is the lack of protein options. The food budget is $2/day per inmate which means the food administrator loads up on starch and carbohydrates... lots of rice, potatoes, and beans. The menu is on a 5-week rotation. Whatever meat entrees are available are not usually high quality. Of course, you probably wouldn't expect anything else... after all, this is supposed to be prison. In fact, the food quality is still probably better than most other federal prisons and certainly better than almost any county or state facility. There were occasionally days that were surprisingly good but it was unpredictable.

The primary option for protein is buying canned fish and chicken from the commissary. You can buy mackeral, smoked kipper snacks, white tuna, chunk light tuna, pink salmon, chunk chicken or chicken breasts. (See the commissary order sheet on the Commissary page for all options.)

I knew one guy would drink 4 8oz cartons of milk in the morning and eat 3-4 cans of mackeral per day to load up on protein to he would get the results he wants from working out.

As for schedule, as I stated above, I generally tried to eat the "short line" for dinner before the 4p count and then snack on something later in the evening. I hate lines. (I will write a separate article on the different situations in which you will encounter lines in prison and how to avoid them.) The idea of waiting in line 30 minutes to eat for 15 is very unappealing. If Dorm C had priority for the dinner line after the 4p count (priority is based on which dorm had the highest inspection cleanliness rating for its rooms), then I would wait until after 4p count because my room was the closest to the stairwell, which means when they release us after the count, I could usualy be first in line. If Dorm C was not first, then I would try to eat before the count and hope to time it when the line was short.

If you worked off-site at Eglin or NAS, then you ate lunch there. Eglin inmates ate a box lunch that did not usually get good reviews. The big attraction for working at NAS is that you get to eat the same lunch meals as the naval personnel. I worked at Saufley Field, adjacent to the prison, so I ate in the prison cafeteria for lunch. Except for a brief 3 day stint at NAS in late April, I ate every meal in the prison cafeteria.]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

(Re)Discovering Your Religious Heritage

Everyone knows there are "no atheists in foxholes." Prison has a way of helping one discover (or rediscover) God ... especially when faith is accompanied by a handful of extra holidays and privileges!

Last week was Passover. It was impressive how many previously non-observant Jews discovered the benefits of "observing." There are at least 3 official religious holidays associated with Passover. In addition, if you insist on special religious meals during the week, then you can get out of your work detail for the entire week because they can't accommodate special diet requests at the off-camp work details.

You would think that BOP would question the sincerity of this newly discovered faith, but they can't - that would be religious harrassment! I could declare tomorrow that I am Jewish and receive these benefits. I might have to attend Jewish classes or meet with a rabbi periodically before announcing my "conversion." But after that, you're set.

It gets even better if you convert to Islam, which is a more palatable option for black inmates. Friday is the "Sabbath" for Muslims, which means they get every Friday off. (Of course, Saturday is the Sabbath for Jews but that is already part of the weekend so there is no additional benefit.)

I have seen my share of con games already, but Ihave to admit that this cynical use of religion wins the prize.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


FPC Pensacola has more activities than perhaps any other prison. At least, that's what I hear.

  • Weight Pile. The weight pile is an outdoor pavilion with any kind of weight machine (plus free weights) you could want. There are also two bocce ball courts next to the weight pile.
  • Cardio Room. In the cardio room there are 14 cardio machines (treadmill, elliptical, bicycle, etc) and 5 abdominal machines.
  • Library. The library has a decent collection of paper and hardback books. There is no check out procedure; you just take what you want. No one knows how many books there are since there are no records. The law library has an impressive collection of legal volumes, which are mostly used by the white collar guys. This is also where the daily papers arrive at about 1:30p each day.
  • Game Room. There is a large game room above the library for cards, dominoes and ping pong. There are also a lot of magazines, newspapers and a couple more TVs.
  • Music Building. Instruments for use by inmates, including acoustic and bass guitars, keyboards, brass instruments, drums and other percussion instruments.
  • Art Building. Art supplies.
  • Leather and Woodcrafts Shop. An impressive collection of wood and leathercraft tools and machines. (Note from Bill's wife - there is an inmate here who is making the most beautiful large salad bowls - very impressive! Everyone is trying to get on his Christmas list!)
  • Basketball Court. 2 outdoor basketball courts plus occasional access to the base gym.
  • Ballfields. Well-kept softball field with bleachers and storage room, in blue and white. There is a sign posted, "FPC Softball." If you didn't know better you might think it stood for First Presbyterian Church Softball, or First Pentecostal Softball! There is also a soccer/football field.
  • Chapel Video Room. The chapel has a large library of religious-themed videos and a special TV room to watch them in.

I'm sure if I were here longer, I'd find time to participate in a lot of these things. But for now, writing, working out and receiving visitors is taking up most of my free time!

American Idol - The Prison Vote

I had perhaps the most unique seat in the country watching American Idol tonight -- me and perhaps 60-80 federal inmates in the Visitor's Room of FPC Pensacola. The VR is a popular TV room for most of the white inmates. (It seems the black inmates use the smaller TV rooms in the dorms to watch basketball and BET, so you could say it's not really segregated by race, but by what people want to watch.)

Several observations:
  1. Poor Sanjaya has become such an object of ridicule that he can't get a fair chance each week. People are laughing at him before he opens his mouth. His reputation colors people's impression of his performance. It is the "Emperor's New Clothes" phenomenon -- it would take a lot of courage for someone other than a tween girl to acknowledge a good performance, although the judges, to their credit, gave him his due this week.
  2. Too bad for Haley that prisoners don't have access to cell phones. She is probably losing 1,000,000 votes per week from male inmates who love her legs, even if she can't sing as well as the other 3 girls.
  3. LaKisha dancing was met with snickers.
  4. Melinda is right - she's not sexy. But she may be the nicest and most talented. It's time to get over the "deer-in-the-headlights" look every time she finishes a song, as if she can't believe everyone loves her. She needs to act like she deserves it. LaKisha has more confidence and maturity.
  5. Jordin and Blake were the best tonight and the most popular with the inmates. Some of the Latin guys liked Blake's performance in particular.
  6. According to an informal poll, here at FPC Pensacola, Phil and Haley will be the next two to go, followed by Sanjaya and Chris. The top 4 are pretty clear: Melinda, LaKisha, Jordin and Blake. I think any of them could win. I wish they could just cut to the Final Four and let them play it off for a few weeks.

PS I think prison is bringing out my inner "Simon Cowell."

Current Schedule

My current status is A&O (Admission and Orientation). This will continue until I go through the full day orientation class and am assigned a work detail. My orientation will probably be tomorrow, but that has not been confirmed yet.

In the meantime this is my typical daily routine:


I stay in bed until most of the other inmates leave for their work detail. Shower and get dressed. Make my bed (military style). Brush my teeth. Take my vitamins and eat a granola bar. Straighten up my locker. Put an extra granola bar in my pocket for my mid-morning snack. Walk to the bus staging area (BSA) to meet other A&O inmates for my morning assignment. If I have extra time, I will hang out in the law library until 8a.


The CO drives over to the BSA in a golf cart and takes roll. Then he gives us meaningless work details for the morning (since we don't yet have a "real" job). Usually he has us rake leaves or pick up trash. This morning the CO didn't arrive; at 8:15 the CO in the control center called us over to the main desk and simply said, "Keeping it real guys, I just need you to get lost for the day." In fact, that is the real purpose of these work assignments - to keep us occupied and away from the dorms during the day; the actual work is somehow beside the point.

So Monday I walked 8 laps around the 1/2 mile dirt track while picking up nonexistent trash. Yesterday, I got in 6 laps in the early morning and 4 more in the late morning after my medical "call-out."

A "call-out" is an excused absence from your normal duties. So far, I have had one each for the dentist, psychologist, and physician. Each of these is standard for a new inmate to establish an initial file. Like virtually every other staff person (and many inmates), the PA started laughing when she saw I only had 3 months. "What a waste." Hmm. That word sure comes up a lot.

So today I got "lost" in the law library, my sanctuary of choice. Today I can use my radio headphones, which normally are not allowed in the library after hours, so it's not a bad deal.


I return to BSA so the CO can take roll and confirm no one has gone AWOL.


Lunch. I will post later on the food and the lines.


Return to BSA. The CO takes roll again and gives us our assignment until 2:00p, at which time we return, and he will take roll again and release us for the day.


I am free until the 4p standing count, when I have to be back in my room. Dinner is served in two shifts: the "short" line from about 3:00-3:45p and the regular line from 4:30-5:30p. This is much earlier than I am used to. I usually choose the short line and try to eat light.

Before the early dinner, I will either go to the law library and write or go to the phone house and call my wife or my parents.


The standing count is when all the inmates that are not still out of the camp on a work detail must return to their room and stand by their bed to be counted. This usually takes about 15 minutes, at which point we can leave our room, but not exit the floor. Men crowd the exit waiting to be released so that they can go to dinner or the commissary. The units are released according to their floor inspection rating each week. Last week, my unit was last. This week we are first.


This is free time pretty much every day. Since I eat dinner in the short line, I don't have to worry about the long lines for the after-count dinner. I only have to deal with the commissary.

On Monday, if I need stamps, copy card, photo card, clothing or money transferred to my i.d. card, then I go to the commissary after the count.

On Tuesdays, if I need to buy food, I go to the commissary after the count.

All other days, I am basically free to do whatever I want on the camp. My next post will discuss the options.

Of course, Friday evenings and Saturdays and Sundays are for visitation.

I have to be in my room by 10p for the next count. I usually go to bed then, which gives me 8-9 hours of sleep each night. You do not have to go to bed. Some guys go to the TV room; some do laundry in the dorm laundry room that is on each floor.

There are additional counts at 12a, 2a and 4:30a, but they just walk in the room and count sleeping (or otherwise engaged) heads.

That's it. That's my typical day.

TV Lesson Applied

In a previous post, I commented on how TV room disputes were not going to bother me. Well I got another opportunity on Saturday to apply my new lesson.

Except during visiting hours, inmates use the Visiting Room (VR) as a large TV room and dining hall. It has 5 TVs, many tables and chairs, bathrooms, vending machines and microwaves.

On Saturday evenings after the 4p count, the VR is particularly popular. Inmates bring food ingredients purchased from the commissary and prepare elaborate meals. It is a type of prison tailgate party with different groups pushing together tables and having a communal feast.

At 6p on Saturday and Sunday, they reshow the movie that was shown at the base theatre the night before.

Saturday afternoon I was watching the 3rd round of the Masters golf tournament. I had picked a table and chair near the front and had probably been watching for a good hour when a guy walked up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "That's my chair."

Huh? These tables and chairs get moved around repeatedly during the course of the week and especially during Saturday visitation. There is no fixed configuration. How could this guy possibly know that I was in his chair?

Nonetheless, having learned my lesson, I got up, brushed off his chair, gave him a shoulder and foot massage, shined his shoes, and thanked him for the privilege of getting to warm his seat for him!

... Actually I just relinquished the chair, but I thought about doing the rest :).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Other than the few items of clothing, linens, and towels that you are issued when admitted, all other items must be purchased by the inmate from the commissary.

Each inmate has a commissary account which can receive funds via Western Union or money order (or cash when you arrive, which I did). While I don't believe there is a maximum amount you can have in your account, your monthly spending limit is $290 plus phone calls. Phone calls are limited to 300 minutes per month at $.23 per minute, which is a maximum of $69 per month. (I will write more about phone privileges later.)

Your phone balance resets on the first of every month. Your commissary account resets on a day determined by the last digit in the 5 digit part of your register number, according to the following formula: digit x3+1. In my case my number is 60733, the last digit being 3. Therefore, 3x3 +1 = 10. The 10th day of the month is when my commissary account is reset.

The commissary is in the same old airplane hangar that houses the laundry. Each inmate is assigned one day of the week - Tue, Wed, or Thu - from 4-7p, according to the last two digits of the 5 digit part of your register number as follows: 00-33 Tue, 34-66 Wed, 67-99 Thu.

You can buy items in the following categories (complete order sheet is attached at the bottom of this post):

  • beverages
  • soups and dinners
  • snacks and condiments
  • meat and fish items
  • vitamins
  • health care
  • grooming
  • hygiene
  • hair care, lotion and oils
  • soap and detergent
  • chips, nuts and dried fruit
  • candy
  • spices
  • batteries
  • miscellaneous items

There is also a separate shopping day on Mondays from 4-7p when you can buy stamps, copy machine cards, photo cards or transfer money to your id card, which also functions as a debit card to use in the vending machines in the visiting room (which is a popular TV room for inmates during non-visitation hours).

Also on Mondays from 7-8p you can purchase clothing items such as sweats, t-shirts, shorts and underwear, as well as shavers, beard trimmers, watches, tennis shoes or softball cleats and radio headsets (to listen to the TVs). (see order sheet below)

To order items from the commissary, you fill out a commissary order sheet (again, see below) and insert it into a slot at the commissary after 4p on your assigned day. Then you stand around with everyone else outside and wait for your name to be called. This usually takes 1-2 hours!

When your name is called, you give them your ID and they begin ringing up items on the other side of the window and sliding them through the hole faster than you can retrieve them. There is no "plastic or paper." You place your items in one of your mesh laundry bags, which you better remember to bring with you. You then return to your dorm room and then figure out a way to store them in your limited locker space.

It is difficult to know exactly what the items on the order sheet actually represent, especially for someone who never does any grocery shopping! I thought I was ordering 5 granola bars and received 5 milk cartons of granola! I told them I wanted granola bars, so they substituted 5 boxes of granola bars containing 10 Quaker chewy granola bars each. I guess I have all the granola bars I will need for a while.

It is also common to not get everything you order. And since they don't give you back your order sheet, there is no easy way to confirm it quickly; this is especially a problem with a large order, such as on my first one. There is, however, an ATM-like machine on the side of the building that gives you a transaction history and shows your account balance.

Last night I was finally able to purchase some additional clothing - sweatshirt, t-shirt, and shorts - which I missed last week due to the final episode of Prison Break, which played during the same 1-hour time slot.

I thought the commissary list was pretty comprehensive but I was told that compared to other prisons, it is pretty average - most notably a lack of fresh vegetables. Since I don't cook, though, I won't miss them.

Apparently, though, it included enough ingredients for some of the Hispanic inmates to put together a tortilla fiesta one evening!

(click to enlarge images below)


This post is from Bill's wife, an outsider's perspective ...

When you arrive at Saufley Field (where FPC Pensacola is), you will go through the naval air station gate/checkpoint like anyone would do that wanted to go on the base, they will ask for your i.d. You will see the prison camp on the right, but there are no gates, no fences, no guards or sentry posts or even inmates visible, although there might be some inmates in green shirts and pants waiting at the inmate door for visitation 2 feet away from the visitor's door. This building is also a TV room in the evenings for the inmates, and it houses the cardio room, the library and the law library. Sometimes Bill has been at the law library window watching for us.

There is the main visitor's building and lots of softball fields and a basketball court and you can see the old flightline in the distance. Down the road is a bunch of buildings, but you don't know which are regular base buildings and which are the prison camp offices and dormitories.

You fill out a form while you are waiting in line: name, address, inmate reg# and your license plate number. You go inside and talk to a very friendly guard - they all are very quiet, keep their heads down, and are very unassuming - you give him your form and he will call over the loudspeaker for the inmate to report to the visiting center.

The inmates go through a metal detector and get patted down, but Bill says this is sometimes a very casual routine and sometimes more seriously carried out. The visitor can't see this, though. The inmate comes out of the door where you are waiting and you can hug and kiss and sit down at the tables available (it's like a church fellowship hall) or go outside where there is a large yard with a fence around it, a door to the chapel attached, 25 or so picnic tables with umbrellas scattered about, lots of big trees, flower beds, benches, chairs, a playground, sandbox and a covered porch area.

You can bring some games in and money in a clear backpack or purse and play games, play soccer, football etc, walk around the yard, watch TV, eat from the vending machines - hamburgers, rice bowl microwave dinners, ice cream, drinks, coffee - or talk to the other families. Especially for those with kids or those who have become friends inside, their families seem to share tables. Everyone is very relaxed, none of the inmates feel danger from the others and treat each other with respect and politeness. This carries over into the visitation time. There are no guards in the visitation area, so you don't feel like you are being watched.

Saturday and Sunday visitation starts at 8:30a, but if you don't get there until 9:30, you won't get to see each other until 10:30 or so. There is a standing count at 10:00 which takes about an hour if the inmate is still in his dorm. If the inmate is in the visiting center at 10:00, they will ask the visitors to go out in the yard while they do the count which then only lasts a few minutes. On Sundays, because Bill goes to chapel from 8:30-9:30, and count is from 9:30 - 10:30, I don't show up until 10:30 ... (there is no count for the Friday visitation 5:30-8:00p). Don't forget federal holidays are free days for inmates (no work that day) and an extra visiting day.

Since Bill's family lives close to Pensacola, I have been able to visit Bill every other weekend. His parents go with me some and also on the off weekends; his sister and brother-in-law visited two weekends ago and his brother this past weekend. This coming weekend his eldest daughter will be there the whole weekend and then I will be there for Memorial Day - with an extra visiting day on Monday!

I know this may sound like overkill for some of the inmates that only get to see their families a few times a year, but we are all very close and this is how we demonstrate that we love Bill, no matter where he is.

Sherman's Sermon

Friday afternoon, after the 4p count, I was waiting in my room for a visit from my family, but Sherman paid me a visit first.

Sherman is the 51 year old inmate I mentioned in an earlier post who just arrived but has been in prison 19 years, with two years left to go. He is a distinguished-looking, medium-built black man with a shaved head and trimmed white beard.

It was immediately obvious that what he had to say was serious so I braced myself as we looked each other in the eye.

He asked me, "How many TVs do you have in your house?"

I knew this was not going to end well as he was preparing to make a statement about the small, but foolish, scene I had made the previous day about the inmate who had changed the channel.

I mentally went through the rooms in my house and said, "Five."

"How many TVs are in the TV room?"


He then delivered the following message "in love":
This is not your house. In 3 months you are going back to your house and these guys will still be here. This is their home. You don't have anything to do with this place; you are just passing through. Don't be asking questions trying to get to know anybody. They don't have nothing to do with you and you don't have nothing to do with them. Just stay away from the TV room and mind to yourself for 3 months and then go back to your life.

There was more to the "sermon," and we had a little exchange, but that was the essence.

The other inmates, including himself, are citizens of this place; I am just a tourist. This is their house; it is my hotel. And residents don't like visitors acting like residents their first week, especially when they only plan on staying a short while.

Message received.

I feel at times more like an embedded reporter than a fellow inmate. In a sense, my 3 month sentence is less a punishment to me than an irritant to the other inmates. If it was up to them, they'd just as soon I serve my sentence at home. Too bad I couldn't have had them talk to the judge at my sentencing.

Anyway. Thanks Sherman. You're a good man.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I heard a rumor Friday afternoon during my work detail that I was being moved to a new room. I actually had been told the day before that I might move, but I assumed it was to an existing room. Turns out I hit the prison equivalent of the real estate jackpot.

There are two TV rooms in the middle of our floor. One was emptied and 6 new twin bunks were brought in. I was assigned to a lower bunk against the wall. Normally, you might have to be here a year or more to gain enough "seniority" to ever make it to a lower wall bunk. It took me only a week. On top of that, there are currently only 3 of us in the room. But I have been told that by Wednesday, it will be full.

While I was pleased, I was also uneasy. Many people already know I am only here for 3 months, which is the equivalent of a vacation to these guys. In addition, my family is visiting me this weekend after only 1 week, when many of these guys only see their families once every few months. Now I get a lower wall bunk after only 1 week? (Still don't know why.)

Can anyone say "privileged white boy?"

The last thing I want is to get under the skin of some of the guys who have been here way longer. Yes, I hit the jackpot, so to speak, but it has a big "Beware!" sign attached to it.

Which brings me to Sherman's Sermon (my next post).

To Box or Not to Box

I got up Friday morning like I normally do and prepared everything I needed for my trip to the showers. I was standing by the bed in my plain white boxers and t-shirt when a roommate sitting at the small desk where he is always reading and writing letters starts a conversation something like this:

"Man, you need to put some shorts on. You can't keep standing around in your boxers."

Not quite understanding the big deal (after all this is a men's dorm and I am in my room), I say, "I don't have any shorts yet. I can't buy my sweats (pants, shorts, shirts) until Monday night at the commissary."

"Man, you in prison now. This ain't the outside. There be some guys here that likes mens."

"But this is all I have. This is what I walk down the hall to the shower in (along with my shower shoes, towel, soap and shampoo)."

"You walk down to the shower like that?! What are you going to do when one of those cute boys comes up and grabs you by the a**?"

A little stunned at the possibility, not having encountered any issues so far, I ask, "What am I supposed to wear? All I have are my greens (the standard issue forest green cotton shirts and long pants that are given to inmates with a white identification tag ironed on)."

"Then you need to wear your long pants. You in prison now. This is not a college dormitory. When you get to prison you need to get everything you need as fast as possible. You should have gotten your sweats last Monday night (you can only buy clothes on Monday nights from 7-8p) instead of going to that movie."

As I noted in a previous post, I chose to see the last episode of the season for Prison Break which is shown at the exact same time as the clothes are sold in the commissary. I chose to wait a week to buy the sweats. In any case that was the gist of the conversation.

I mentioned it later to a couple of other inmates and got mixed opinions. Some agreed. Some thought I should wear what I wanted. I have chosen to wear the pants for the next couple of days until I get the sweats (which is in fact what most guys wear to the shower). I will also keep an eye out for the cute boys.

This brings up the related issue 0f modesty. Modesty is a big deal. I am living on a dorm floor with 240 guys and 2 shower rooms (and one other bathroom), a total of 10 shower stalls with plastic curtains. I have yet to see a naked person. And I don't expect to see one.

And it is not because the inmates don't take showers. You are expected to take at least one shower every day.

Nonetheless, this is not like a men's locker room at the YMCA or in college. There is no macho horseplay. I can assure you that Richard Hatch, the "naked, fat guy" from Survivor, is not strutting his stuff at FPC Morgantown, WV where he is serving time for failing to report his $1 million "Survivor" earnings. I can't overemphasize how taboo nudity is here.

And why my roommate was even offended at something as seemingly innocent as walking around in my boxers.

Survived My First Week

From Bill's wife: so sorry for the posting delays, please bear with me!

Today marks my first full week in prison. It was quite eventful.

First, I was told to quit walking around the dorm room or bathroom in my boxers.

Second, I got a new room.

Third, Sherman gave me a dose of "truth in love."

Fourth, I had my first visit from my family.

Yep, quite a day. I will detail each in separate posts in a moment, but first the mundane details of the day.

A&O work detail involved cleaning some BOP cars in the morning and picking up trash in the afternoon. Of course, as I have stated previously, there is no trash, so we just walk circles around the 1/2 mile dirt track, holding trash bags.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention. I had my obligatory psychologist appointment. Nice lady. We had a good chat about our mutual observations of the prison. It was more adult-adult than doctor-client.

The previous day I had my initial visit to the dentist. Routine 10 minute check, just to establish records. The funny thing about the dentist is he looks like my cousin, who is a pastor. My paternal relatives are from Pensacola. Earlier in the week, I saw this guy in the cafeteria dressed entirely in a black uniform. Not knowing it was actually the dentist at the time, I thought perhaps my cousin had a side job ministering in the hospital. However, none of my paternal relatives know I'm in prison yet, which left me with the dilemma of whether to walk over to him at the salad bar and say, "Fancy meeting you here." It would have been quite fun had it been him, but by the next day I finally determined that it wasn't.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Trick Box

Today, I almost got in a fight. Well, not really, but for me it was close to a fight - I actually thought about punching the guy. For me, having never been in a fight, that is close to a fight.

They guy changed the TV channel on me.

Yep, that's right. He changed the channel. Do you feel the rage building inside of you also? Hmm. Didn't think so. Pretty stupid, huh? That's why it's called the "trick box".

I had read that more fights occur in prison over TV disputes than anything else. Now I see why.

Today was the first day of the Masters Golf Tournament (some of you already know where this is going). Coverage was from 3-6p. There are 3 TVs in our dorm TV room. One is for sports and it was tuned to the golf tournament; maybe 10 of us were watching it.

Then the CO standing count occurred which requires us to return to our room down the hall, so the CO can verify that all inmates are accounted for. The count finished at 4:15p. My room is at the end of the hall and I made it to the TV room about 10 seconds behind someone else, who was changing the channel to some sports talk show.

A "conversation" ensued in which he basically admitted that it was his calculated strategy to get to the room after the count before anyone else, which, since the room is "empty," gives him the right to change the channel, even though he knew we were watching golf.

It was such a brazenly calculated and rude act, I was stunned. I was also steamed.

Nonetheless, I walked away.

After a 20 minute delay, I walked down to the visitor's room and watched it there. No big deal. Except I was still steamed.

That's why it is called the trick box. It "tricks" you into doing something you will regret and pay for in spades. Several inmates since laughed at my story and said, "Stay away from the TV room."

In any case, I have only 3 months and then I'm outtahere. If someone wants to be rude to me again, I am ready now. I'm just gonna walk away. I am not going to be suckered in by the trick box.

Cold Front

A cold front surprised me this morning. The temperature at 8:00a was in the low 50s. I didn't ask for a coat at the laundry when I was admitted because I am here in Florida for April, May and June. Why would I need a coat? Fortunately, I was able to walk over to the laundry and they quickly ironed my nametag onto an olive drab jacket and gave it to me. Inmates run the laundry so they are always helpful and accommodating.

I am currently classified as A&O (Admission & Orientation) until I go through orientation and am assigned a work detail. I thought orientation was going to be today. Nope. Maybe next week. Who knows? I'd really like a regular job.

In the meantime, A&O inmates are required to do "busy" work around the camp. We show up at the bus staging area at 8:00a. The bus staging area is like an open air picnic shelter, with tables, chairs and TVs.

The CO shows up, calls roll and assigns us a task until 11:00a. We return. He takes roll again and we are dismissed for lunch until noon, at which time we repeat the morning ritual until 2:00p, at which point our work for the day is done.

Monday I folded shirts in the laundry. Tue, Wed and Thu, I raked leaves and picked up trash. At least that's the official version. The first day raking leaves, some of us were a little too "eager" perhaps, because the CO drove by in his golf cart and told us to slow down. We got the hint.

The fact is the CO's job is to keep us busy from 8-11 and 12-2. That's it. He knows there is not enough work to fill all that time so we work slow, look busy (sort of) and talk a lot. When we pick up trash, we're lucky to find 10 pieces of paper over several acres. The grounds are already immaculate; there is no trash to be found.

It's not any one person's fault. BOP, like many government agencies, simply has to do a lot with few resources and not a lot of options.

So we play along.

And I get an "education" talking to the other inmates.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Don't Start Believin'

If Journey had been a prison band, they would have renamed their 80s hit song, "Don't Start Believin'."

I have quickly begun to realize that you can't believe much of anything that you hear from anyone, especially inmates, in prison. You know that maybe 20% of what you hear is straight; you just don't know which 20%.

More so then on the outside, guys on the inside seem to have more to "prove" when it comes to what they know. It's not that an inmate intentionally lies, although I'm sure that must happen, it's just that they don't seem to know that they don't always know what they are talking about.

One inmate told me that he was 100% sure that all inmates could earn 15% "good time" off their sentence, including me. I know this to be untrue, or at least I thought I knew. Only sentences greater than a year can earn time off. I checked later with the staff and sure enough I was right.

Another inmate commented that this is the only prison in the BOP that makes a profit. A correctional officer (c.o.) told me NO prison makes a profit. Then another inmate tells me he knows that Lompoc Prison Camp (CA) makes 3-4 million dollars a year. Now how any of these people could possibly know this, I have no idea.

I could go on and on, but the point is, you should not believe everything you hear in prison, you should not even "start believin.'"

Pregnant Feet

The dorm floors are kept very clean; they are mopped and buffed every day. The bathrooms are similarly maintained.

However, one of my first nights I stepped into the hallway in bare feet and my roommates immediately stopped me and warned me never to walk barefooted in the dorm; I risked getting an infection and my foot would blow up to twice its size.

I found this hard to believe but I put on the "shower" shoes (basically rubber sandals) they give you when you check in, anyway.

One roommate then further warned me to absolutely never take off my shower shoes in the shower.

He saw me pause, puzzled, and before I could tell him I didn't want to know why, he simply said, "Pregnant feet."

I really didn't need to hear that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Cold Night's Sleep

I expressed in an earlier post my concerns about sleeping well away from home. Fortunately that is another fear that was not realized, except for the first few days.

First of all the twin bunkbeds are about 6 1/2 feet long, enough for my 6' frame. Secondly, they have 9" spring mattresses! I was expecting thin foam camp pads (which is what the inmates say you get elsewhere).

The first night I almost froze. There is an AC vent above the door that blows right across the room to my top bunk. They issue two twin sheets and two cotton blankets which are large enough, but not nearly thick enough.

The recommended bed-making approach is to "fit" the first sheet and blanket and then cover yourself with the second sheet and blanket. I slept in a T-shirt and boxers and froze. The only other clothes I had until Monday were one pair of pants and a shirt - my day clothes.

I later discovered that they keep the room cold to keep the germs down. Does that work? If one guy gets sick, all get sick.

The next night, one roommate lent me an old sweatshirt he no longer uses and I slept in my pants. That did the trick. The following Monday, I worked in the camp laundry and they gave me some long cotton underwear, rather worn and not the best fitting, but warm.

Now I sleep quite well in boxers, long underwear (top and bottom) and a sweatshirt. Sometimes I also pull the covers over my head to keep the air off my face.

Fortunately, there is no spooning here.


[7/14/07 - This post was significantly truncated when my wife posted it originally. She was concerned that I was giving out too much detail. Since I am out now, I can post the unabridged version which is probably 3 times as long and gives much more detail including images of floorplans.]

Soon after I was checked in (I write about the intake process here), I was told to report to a unit (dormitory) for my room assignment. There are two buildings where inmates live. The main building houses units B and C on floors 2 and 3 respectively; an adjancent L-shaped building houses unit A, although sometimes it is designated as Unit A and D (one wing is A, the other wing is D). Unit D is for the inmates in the DAP (Drug and Alcohol Program). Units B & C house approximately 250 inmates each; Units A & D house approximately 100 inmates each. The camp population is just under 700.

You can locate each building on the satellite maps at the bottom of the page. The main building (2440) is the narrow white-roofed object in the middle of the first map. (This building is also pictured on the BOP website and displayed in the left column of this blog under the title "My Home Away From Home.") Unit A & D is building 2477T and appears as the gray pitched-roof building immediately to the right of the main building. Both buildings, consistent with all the buildings, are concrete block construction with brick exterior. The main building is much older.

I was assigned to Unit C, located on the 3rd (top) floor of the main building. Its floor plan is shown below. The floor plan for Unit B on the second floor is very similar. (The first floor contains the administrative offices.)

(click to enlarge -- sorry for the distortion, the copy machine messed up -- the building is not really that messed up)

The floor has a central 4' wide hall running the length of the building (left to right) with rooms along each side and only 7' drop-down panel ceilings, which adds a slight claustrophobic effect.

You enter the building by way of an exterior stairwell fronting the middle of the building facing Raby Ave. You enter a common area containing an ice machine, trash can, bulletin board, etc. and there are two TV rooms (one with 3 TVs, the other with 2, although this one was converted to another room -- my new room -- later) immediately ahead with a hallway branching to the left and right. Each hallway houses 5 rooms on each side for a total of 20 rooms.

There are also 3 bathrooms, a laundry room, offices for the unit counselor, secretary and program manager.

If this is starting to sound like a college dormitory, you have the picture perfectly, with one exception - it's a lot more crowded. Each room is about 21' wide, 14' deep (I counted the 12" square linoleum tiles on the floor) with 8 foot drop-down panel ceilings, and cream colored concrete block walls. There are 6 twin-sized bunkbeds in each room - 12 men - with metal lockers against the walls between the beds. Surprisingly, we had 9" thick spring mattresses, not the mattress pads I was expecting. Each room does have 2 windows with blinds to help add some feeling of space.

My room for the first week was the last room on the right down the left hallway. I was assigned a top bunk on a bed in the middle of the room (i.e. my bunk is not against a wall). I have a nice view of the staff parking lot!

The most desirable beds are the lower bunks, preferably against the wall. Assignment is based on seniority ... how long you have been at FPC.

There are two sizes of metal lockers. One is 6' tall, 2' deep, and 18" wide, with one door... quite large actually. The others are 42" high, 2' deep, and 2' wide with two doors... a bit smaller. The small ones are usually stacked in pairs. Of course, I was assigned a small, lower locker.

Since the wooden doors do not have knobs, just a handle, they swing open and can't be locked. I found out the hard way that if you enter another room, you better knock! I also learned that you do not step on another inmate's mattress to reach your upper bunk; use the ladder. Inmates do have an informal unwritten etiquette and it is far more civilized than a freshman dorm. Cleanliness, neatness and common courtesies are not optional.

When you have 240 men on a single floor, it is a necessity.

The Unit A & D floorplan is much different and more typical of most prison camps. Each wing is one large room with a vaulted ceiling. Each "room" is really a cubicle housing 6 bunks, but the lockers are much nicer and are placed between each bunk to create the illusion of two-man cubes. The walls surrounding each cube are 5' high concrete block. This allows you to actually see across the entire room from one side to the other. The floorplan is shown below.

The floorplan creates the illusion that there are rooms but these really are just "spaces" separated only by 5' high concrete walls. The ceiling vaults to perhaps 18-20' high in the middle. I did not spend much time in this building... only to occasionally, and briefly, visit another inmate. The main TV room in the center of the building was also converted to a dorm room. Inmates called it the "fishbowl" because it was surrounded by 3 hallways with large windows peering in! No privacy at all.

The entrance is on the lower left; the exit straight through in a NE direction onto a sheltered patio containing I believe 6 TVs mounted on the exterior walls.

Overall, the accommodations, though crowded, were more comfortable than I expected.

Note: I realize some of this description is rather dry but it is the sort of details I was looking for when I knew where I was reporting and couldn't find anywhere. Perhaps someone else is hoping to find the same information.