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).

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jim Black and Diesel Therapy

As I discussed earlier, Jim Black had requested a delay in his sentencing to give BOP time to designate a facility. He had requested Butner, north of Raleigh, and about 3 hours from his home town of Matthews, near Charlotte. As it turns out, BOP was able to designate a facility in time (last Thursday to be precise) -- he was assigned to a camp in Lewisburg, PA, 500 miles away. While they stated that it is common to move "celebrity" inmates further away so they will be treated more anonymously (this is supposedly for their own good), I suspect that the limited amount of time the judge gave them factored into their decision. They simply may not have been able to find space at Butner given the time constraints.

However, a bigger problem was that Black was scheduled to be in a state sentencing hearing today, the day after he was scheduled to report to federal prison! He asked for a 1 week delay, but the judge never replied.

So.... yesterday (Monday), he turned himself into the US Marshal Service in Raleigh and served one night in the county jail before attending his state sentencing hearing today. At least they let him put on a suit, rather than show up in his orange jumpsuit. At that hearing, he was fined $1,000,000 due by December. If he doesn't pay by then, he could face more prison time in NC -- 19-23 months, although it would likely run concurrently with his federal time, which makes it rather moot. Interestingly the state judge said he "agreed with the federal judge's sentence on related charges, though he felt it was severe." He implied he felt this was really a state not federal matter since the citizens of NC were the real victims. I couldn't agree more.

Now what. Well, he is probably spending tonight back in the county jail and sometime in the next couple weeks (!), he will get in a prison van and start the long ride to Lewisburg, PA, which is totally absurd for a 72 year old man. There is absolutely no reason for the federal judge to have not given him a one week delay to self-surrender in Pennsylvania other than the pure sadistic pleasure of torturing the guy. Absolutely none!

You think I exaggerate when I call it "torture?" There is a reason they call prison transportation "diesel therapy:"
Imagine being handcuffed with a chain around your waist securing the handcuffs to your stomach area. You can't move your arms up and down or side to side. Your feet are shackled, limiting you to baby steps. Now get on a bus. And then be stuck on the bus with similarly shackled convicts forever. (It starts at three or four in the morning, and 12-­16 hour days are the norm.) You can try and guess where you're going, but you never will.

Given how far he has to go and the fact that he will probably be the only inmate in the van that is going there, I doubt they will be in a hurry to get him there. It could literally take weeks, with stops at various county jails and federal holdover facilities along the way. If he is really unlucky, it will include a few nights in the Atlanta Penitentiary holdover where he might find himself sleeping on the floor under a toilet in a room with 4 other men, but designed for 2.

If you don't believe me, read the following account on Michael Santos' website (he was sentenced to 45 years for distributing cocaine... a first offense at age 22 -- nice, huh -- he would have gotten a lighter sentence had he murdered his customers rather than sold them coke), which includes references to both Lewisburg and Atlanta in the same transfer.

Prison transportation is not segregated by security level so all inmates are treated as maximum security (thus, the handcuffs and chains). Jim Black could find himself seated next to a mass murderer.

Have we lost our minds? Is this really what we do to public officials who take $29K in illegal contributions? Why don't we just pull out some of these old punishments. I'm not making excuses for what he did... it was clearly wrong... but, my God, a little perspective is in order.

On a slightly different note, the Charlotte Observer today published a list of items Jim Black can bring to "camp" according to camp director Scott Finley. By the way, what the heck is a camp director? I knew of the warden and captain and lieutenant and COs, but "director?" In any case the items are:

Eyeglasses (no gemstones in them)
Plain wedding band
Watch (value at less than $100; can't be capable of photos or Internet).
Softbound religious book (such as the Bible or Quran).
Small address/phone book.
Up to $150 to put into an account.
Receipt showing paid court-ordered fine.
Tennis shoes (white, black or combination; valued at less than $100).
Medicine has to be approved by medical staff.

This was basically the same as FPC Pensacola, except for the watch and tennis shoes. I was not allowed to bring those; I had to buy them in the commissary at a cost of $28 and $54, respectively, and which counted toward my $290 monthly limit. Also, there was no stated limit on the amount of cash I could bring. I brought $1060 to deposit, which they readily accepted.

[UPDATE: According to this Charlotte Observer Editorial, the state judge may have been more supportive of his federal sentence than I first realized, calling it "severe, but appropriate." He felt that the federal government had taken away Black's power and freedom, so it was his job to take away his money. Whatever. Seems like everyone is trying to outdo the other in showing how much they can torture the guy. While there is no doubt he did some really stupid things that certainly created a conflict of interest, there is not one scintilla of evidence that I have seen that anything of substance was done to harm the people of North Carolina. No one has identified a single piece of legislation that was altered or a single person that was harmed. He should have been impeached and perhaps fined but to send the guy to prison for 5+ years, and possibly another 23 months if he doesn't come up with $1 million dollars by December 10 is just luncacy.]

Monday, July 30, 2007

Justice 101

As I alluded to in an earlier post, it didn't take me long to discover a darker side to our system of justice that I never knew existed. I am a pretty intelligent and educated person. I follow the news closely as well as legal issues. My lawyer wondered why I didn't become a lawyer myself because of my knowledge and interest in constitutional issues and the Supreme Court. How many non-lawyers do you know that can name all the Supreme Court justices and their positions on various issues?

Despite all this, I quickly found out I knew nothing about the way the process really works. And that's not just based on my own case but on the stories I heard in prison. I came away convinced that the average citizen is totally clueless about the way the law actually works.

To that end, I have decided I am going to write a series of articles on some of the practices that totally shocked me and that I think will shock the average person. I will still continue to tell my stories of prison; indeed, these articles are based on stories I heard in prison that I further researched when I got out.

Potential topics:

1. Plea Bargaining - Why the right to jury trial has become virtually obsolete.
2. Double Jeopardy - Did you know that if you are charged by the state with a crime and are acquitted, the federal government can turn around and charge you again for the same set of facts?
3. Conspiracy Laws, Drug Sentencing, and Informants - Most drug offenders are in prison, not because the government had any tangible evidence against them, but because other guilty people pointed a finger at them in exchange for a lesser sentence. You can be convicted of a crime based solely on the testimony of two or more guilty informants who are being rewarded for their testimony.
4. New Charges - Even if you win your case, oftentimes the government will indict you on something else based on what they discovered in their investigation of the original charge that you were acquitted on. Usually it will be tax "fraud."
5. Presentence Investigative Report (PSI or PSR) - Perhaps the most corrupt part of the process is that the probation department writes the PSI from the perspective of the government.
6. Computer Searches - this is an issue dear to my heart because it directly affected my case. The 4th amendment is effectively dead when it comes to searching your computer.
7. Sentencing Guidelines - The USSG was intended to create parity in sentencing across the country by limiting discretion on the part of judges. In reality, it has simply handed that discretion to prosecutors. It is the prosecutor, not the judge that decides your sentence.
8. Perjury Enhancement - If you choose to exercise your constitutional right to testify in your own defense but are convicted, your sentence can be enhanced for "perjury" without the government actually having to charge your with perjury and prove it to a jury.
9. Willful Blindness Laws - Even if you didn't know, you should have known.
10. Your Bank is Spying on You - Did you know that your bank is required under threat of civil and criminal punishment to report on your finanical activities to the government if they are deemed "suspicious." And they are forbidden from telling you whenever they do this.

There is no way I can treat each of these topics in detail -- I do have a life I am trying to live -- but I will provide links to documents with more information so you can read further.

In the meantime, if you want to get a head-start, check out this link at the November Coalition on federal judges who are speaking out on many of these very same issues.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mail Call

[This was written sometime near the end of May while in prison.]

I was surprised not only by the number of inmates who write letters, but the sheer volume of those letters. Guys spend hours writing.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Phone calls are expensive and limited to 300 minutes per month if you can afford the $69 ($.23/min). Visits are oftentimes prohibitively expensive, both in time and dollars, for family members.

Thus, there is mail, now $.41 for a 1 oz letter.

All letters except legal mail must be sent through "Inmate Mail" which is a mailbox on the back of the main building near the control center entrance. It is my understanding that it is processed every morning. All outgoing mail is subject to search although I don't think BOP has the resources to read every letter that 700 inmates write. In fact, my wife reports that she sees no evidence that any of my letters have been tampered with (although I am told they are very good at resealing). This was particularly surprising once they knew I was writing a blog.

Stamps can be purchased at the commissary every Monday afternoon from 4-7p and there is a postage meter in the library. I was able to determine that I can send 6 normal-sized pages for one stamp.

Incoming mail is sorted by dorm and delivered to the mail room for each dorm which is on the same hallway as the rooms. The mail room has mailbox slots on the wall for the CO to separate the mail alphabetically, one slot for each letter of the alphabet. Several times throughout the evening between about 5-9:30p, you will hear an announcement over the compound intercom: "Mail Call, Dorm C (or Dorm B or Dorm A), gentleman come and get your mail." Some COs are formal, some are lighthearted and cute, about the announcement. You simply line up down the hall, give him your last name (although if it is the regular mail CO, he already knows), and he hands you your mail.

All received mail, other than from magazine, book, or newspaper publishers, has been opened. The top edge of the envelope has been cut open and then stapled shut. I seriously doubt that they read the contents. I suspect they quickly scan the contents of the envelope for contraband (e.g. inappropriate pics, newspaper clippings, etc.) and then close it up. My sister-in-law sent me one of those musical cards for my birthday and they ripped out the music chip! I also received a letter from a friend who had enclosed newspaper clippings from the Wachovia Championships golf tournament in Charlotte but the clippings were confiscated and sent back. Instead I received an official DOJ form letter letting me know that the clippings were returned. Is that not absurd?

There may be inmates on a "hot list" that may require more in-depth monitoring but I have no direct knowledge of that.

As for how long it takes to send and receive mail, I had a friend send a letter from Charlotte on a Saturday (it was postmarked on Saturday) and I received it on Monday! I have also received letters from my wife that took 5 days. Go figure.

In my first 50 days, I have received 17 letters from my wife, 2 from my in-laws, one from my friend Steve at church, one each from my friends Colleen and Ryan and, finally, a card from the Nykamps in Ethiopia!

PS While officially all outgoing mail must be sent through the prison mailbox, FPC Pensacola is a work camp in which a majority of the inmates work off-site. While inmates are subject to search both leaving and returning, this access to the outside world is not only the primary source for contraband (e.g. cigarettes and cell phones), it also makes it relatively easy to send mail via an outside mailbox if you have a message you absolutely don't want read by BOP. Even in my case, where I do not work off of the base that the prison is located on, and thus do not have easy access to another mailbox, if I really needed to bypass the inmate mail system, I could easily find an inmate to do it for me.


[This was written near the end of May while in prison.]

I usually go to the law library right after work around 2:30p. Three copies of the USA Today, Pensacola News Journal, and the Wall Street Journal are usually delivered by 1:30p, weekdays only. Since I don't get to see the news on TV anymore (although I sometimes pick up a little CNN/MSNBC/FoxNews in the Bus Staging Area before work and during lunch break) and I don't have internet access, newspapers are the only real news source I have left. Sometimes, they have a way of sneaking out and not returning but I am usually one of the first ones in the library after they arrive.

Some inmates have subscriptions to other papers, such as NY Times or Miami Herald, but those arrive a few days late, which makes them more useful for analysis rather than current news. Subscription is the only way to receive papers. They cannot be sent by friends or family via mail; they must come directly from the publisher. You pick them up during mail call.


[This was written near the end of May while in prison.]

Cameras are not allowed in prison. However, there are a few inmates who are authorized by the prison to take inmate photos under carefully regulated conditions.

1. The cameras are locked by the prison and checked out by the designated inmates at the appropriate times.

2. Inmates must purchase photo "tickets" ($1/picture) at the commissary on Monday afternoons.

3. Official photo times are during visitation on Saturday and Sunday in the courtyard until about 2p and then at 2p for the rest of the inmates outside the visiting area. There are two photo areas in the visiting courtyard that have been prepared by the inmates to create an attractive backdrop. Outside the courtyard is a small decorative arched bridge over a grassy ditch in front of the greenhouse that is used for the backdrop.

4. The camera is film, not digital. Pictures can be picked up 2 weeks later.

This last weekend, my oldest daughter wanted a picture taken with me during visitation. I also had a picture taken alone in my greens at the bridge. Both pictures are posted below.

Topsy Turvy

[This was written on May 22 while in prison]

If I needed any further evidence that the world I currently reside in is upside down, this surely cinches it:

Today a black guy called me a "nigger."

Later, an old fat white guy called me a "moron."

So how was your day?

Yesterday, my birthday, was a good day. I finally met the first inmate who read my blog on the oustide and then reported to FPC Pensacola (I will write about this separately). His comments were very encouraging. I can't tell you how many times I have considered terminating this "project." Just the day before a guy I respect told me I was "dangerous" because of my commitment to tell the candid (mostly) truth about my experience in prison. [That was in reference to my decision to write about being assaulted.] The main point I want to make now is how quickly your emotional state can switch in here.

One moment you feel like you're finally getting your groove and the next you feel like you haven't got a clue. Ther are 700 guys here, each with his own issues, stresses, backgrounds, personalities, etc. It is impossible to expect consistent, predictable behavior from such a social organization.

Most inmates seem to deal with this by withdrawing to a very small network and they limit their significant interactions to that group. In other settings, they might as well be zombies. They literally disconnect from their surroundings to avoid potential conflict. They are trying to do their time as invisibly as possible.

For example, at work, once the tasks for the day are assigned, most guys just go do their job (or, not, depending on the person!) and speak as little as possible. It can really be quite a moribund environment. Someone like me, who has only 3 months, and treats this experience as something akin to a once-in-a-lifetime exotic safari, and therefore approaches each day somewhat cheerfully, can be an irritant.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to see other guys snickering at me while I work because I, well, actually work. I don't really care; I am not trying to "adapt." (However, I don't deny that if I had more time, I might take a different approach.)

Today I asked one of the black "street" guys I worked with if he enjoyed laughing at me while I worked. (He didn't know that I had noticed this, but this is an example of where I ask a provocative question that may lead me to a place I really don't want to go!) He smiled and said I had a "funny personality." I replied that "my personality works OK (I think!) on the outside. I guess I just haven't come up with my 'prison' personality yet." I think he took it as an insult.

One of the facts I am discovering is that, beneath the civil and friendly veneer that seems so apparent when you first arrive, there is a lot of anger and depression in here -- an "edginess" that can erupt unpredictably at the slightest and most innocent of provocations. Disputes that would be relatively trivial on the outside risk escalation into something more serious in here.

I have developed a pretty thick skin to insulting and aggressive remarks directed at me at what seems like increasing frequency. You really need to have a strong sense of self and remain grounded otherwise you feel like you are riding in a bumper car at a carnival, being knocked all over the place from every direction. I can see why some guys can begin to lose their mind... it can be disorienting, a kind of mental motion sickness.

As for the black guy that called me a "nigger" (a remark that was provoked by what I thought was a relatively mild comment of mine), I asked another black guy I respect what it means when black guy calls a white guy a "nigger?" He smiled and paused and then said it means nothing... it's just an insult. Ok... whatever.... still a first for me.

As for the old fat white guy that called me a "moron," that was in the context of him listening in on a group discussion several of us were having in the room about providing advice to people entering prison. He interjected that he wouldn't pay two cents for what I had to say (!), that I was a "moron" and that I might have a lot of "book" smarts but I have zero "street" smarts. Well, I am glad he had a chance to get that off his chest. Venting seems to be a popular sport around here. [By the way, there were several incidents like this later where he would, seemingly out of nowhere, verbally attack me. It was quite odd.]

In any case, it was just another routine topsy-turvy day in The Rabbit Hole.

Happy Birthday to Me

[This was written while in prison on May 21.]

Today is my 47th birthday.

I asked if the COs will hand deliver a birthday cake to my room and sing a cute birthday jingle while wearing party favors.

Or maybe "Barbie" will jump out of a cake in the visiting room. "Barbie" is the inmate assigned moniker for what is generally considered to be the most attractive, and nicest, female CO. (Although, in a prison with 700 males inmates, even Rosanne Barr would be in the running for the nickname.)

No such luck.

However, if everyone who reads this will send me a birthday card, maybe we could swamp the mail room. :)

[UPDATE: Well, I wondered how come I never received any of those cards.... it was because my wife never posted this while I was in prison!! It doesn't really matter now but since I wrote it, I figured I would post it anyway.]

Home Boys, Hos, Niggas and Motherfuckers

[I wrestled hard with whether to write -- let alone publish -- this or to tone down the language but I finally decided to tell my story as I experienced it, raw as it may seem to some. I wrote this while in prison in early May, I believe. Comments in brackets are live additions to the original text.]

Admittedly, I have not spent a lot of time on the "street" or the "hood" hanging out with drug dealers. Nonetheless, people are people and I figured this might be my only chance. I am not afraid to strike up a conversation with almost anyone and ask almost any question, especially "delicate" ones.

My first room (which only lasted one week... I was later told they didn't like me... sigh!) had 10 black inmates (out of 12). My current room (which I have been in for 5 weeks) has 5 out of 12. The barriers are significant: race, economics, class, and even language. In short, it is really a different sub-culture that I just don't get.

I don't get the gold teeth and graphic tattoos. I don't get the rap music and BET Network. I don't ket the 6 kids with 3 different "baby's mommas." [Actually, the most I ran across was 9 kids... 8 women!] I don't get the "smack" talk; indeed I don't even know what they are saying half the time. I am constantly asking these street-talkers to break their 50-syllable sentences into separate words; otherwise, they all seem to run together.

And then there is the vocabulary.

As best as I can tell, their world is divided into four groups of people: home boys, hos, niggas, and motherfuckers. The following might be a typical sentence: "Me and my home boys were in a club and some motherfucking niggas showed up with their motherfucking hos and started disrespecting us so we started fighting like motherfuckers."

Whew! Let me take a quick shower before I finish this article.

I thought a "home boy" was a home town friend or someone you grew up with (although I had never heard the term before [much to my daughters' amusement]) but today I was told it was anyone from your hometown, even if you just met them. Hmmmmm... [According to Urban Dictionary, home boy means "a friend from the neighborhood or a gang member."]

One of my black roomates was telling me very matter-of-factly, as if this was something any self-respecting man would naturally agree with, that he handled all his domestic needs and the only thing he ever needed a woman for was to spread her legs. He wasn't intentionally (i.e. self-consciously) being vulgar, it was just the way it was. I don't think I know a woman would "date" a guy who thought that way but apparently they exist. They are called "hos."

"Nigga" is a term I have been afraid to ask the definition of and I wouldn't dare try to use it myself. It seems to be a versatile term that refers to a "brother" that is not your friend but the context determines whether the person is good or bad. (I'm not sure if a "home boy" can also be a "nigga.") [Now that I am out, I looked this up in the Urban Dictionary and it gives 7 different definitions. I will let you look them up.]

Finally, ahem, "motherfucker" (or "muthafucka"). Or, "motherfuckin" when used as an adjective. This seems to be nothing more than a rhetorical placeholder (which is oftentimes the case for obscenities). It has no apparent meaning [although Urban Dictionary provides some] but still seems to find its way several times into almost every sentence.

I thought maybe it is used as a form of mouth exercise since the word contains so many basic sounds. There is the "m" which requires you to hold your lips together. Then the "th" which requires the tongue to push forward against the teeth. Then the "er" requires the tounge to be centered while puckering the lips (although, admittedly, some get lazy and skip this part... thus, "muthafucka"). Finally, a nice strong "k" (my favorite syllable) pushes the tongue against the palate, followed possibly by another "er." You have to admit, you toss that word around a few times in every sentence, you get quite a mouthal workout. ["Mouthal" is another street word.]

I do not use profanity, except perhaps under my breath, or when quoting someone else [or, as in the case of this article, to make a purely academic point]. My parents do not use profanity and I was always raised to believe that profanity is a demonstration of ignorance. (Indeed my dad was appalled when I first told him the title of this article [when he visited me in prison].) Thus, the level of profanity in prison conversation is jarring for someone like me. I jokingly requested a vote to remove profanity from our room and was looked at like I was nuts.... which I was.

My speaking style is eloquent I suppose but in a technically precise, not poetic, way... probably a lot like my writing style. I choose words carefully. Street language is vulgar and intense, yet rhythmic and flowing. As best as I can tell (!) the meaning of a conversation is not derived from the specific definition of the individual words in each sentence as much as it is assimilated from the emotional intensity and context of the expression. I am sure it must be more effective spoken than written. After all, half of the words don't mean anything, they are just expletives!

Needless to say, it is awkward at times communicating. "They" can't talk like me and I can't (and really don't want) to talk like them. Additionally, this is compounded by the inherent suspicion guys from the street have towards white guys asking "nosy" questions. Distrust is a learned survival skill. Every question has a hidden agenda. Every stranger is a potential rat.

Humor is also a minefield. Street humor can be dark and sarcastic and not particularly subtle. But there is a line. It is not a fixed line -- it is constantly shifting. Ribaldry can turn into disrespect in an instant. And disrespect will not usually go unchallenged. I try not to be funny!

Unfortunately, I have concluded that common civility is about all I can expect to achieve with them. Attempts at more meaningful interaction are fraught with too many risks.

[UPDATE: It has been almost 3 months since I originally wrote this. I have to admit that it would be difficult to spend a long time in prison and not have one's language affected. Prison, even a prison camp, is essentially populated by "street" people and after a while you just get numb to the unending verbal sewage.

Now I don't want to be overly critical. I am sure there are some academics out there who will defend "ebonics" (if that is what this is) and I actually liked most of the guys who talked like this. But in the same way that gold teeth and tattoos all over the body set them apart from "mainstream" society, language is also part of the subculture identity. Unfortunately, drugs, gangs, dog fighting, etc seem to be a part of that subculture also.

The following links document the grim future facing young black men:

Reports offer grim forecast for young black men

Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn

Study Finds Black Men 'Disconnected' From Society

I didn't see a whole lot in prison that gave me much reason for optimism.]

Sex in Prison

A couple days after I was released, I visited my favorite little pizza bar where I eat lunch almost every day and saw a friend.... a single woman. I teasingly asked her if she had found herself a man during my absence and she replied, "Heck no! I haven't even been laid in 3 months."

After she quickly acknowledged that that was a little more information than my question required and I needed to know, I replied, "Well, if it makes you feel any better, I haven't been laid in 3 months either, but in my case, that's a good thing!"

That pretty much sums up sex in prison... if there is any, it's usually not a good thing.

Fortunately for me, I am a 47 year old man who has been married 12 years. Going 3 months without sex is nothing new :)

Just kidding, dear.

A little bit more seriously, prison is not exactly an environment that stimulates the libido, since sex is as much mental as physical, even for men. Therefore, it is possible to go into sexual hibernation, even for extended periods of time.

Nonetheless, you can imagine being a 22 year old man sentenced to 10 years in prison not being particularly enthralled with the prospect of no sex (at least not with a woman) for the forseeable future. I had a roommate that liked to regale us with his sexual adventures on the outside who I am sure wasn't enjoying being sentenced to 1 year of celibacy. The celibacy was worse than the confinement.

In case you didn't know, conjugal visits are not allowed in federal prison, not that the prospect of such a encounter seems all that dignified.

Prior to the arrival of the current warden at FPC Pensacola a year ago, I have heard it was relatively common for inmates to leave the prison or their work detail for a short period of time for just such a "visit." Not only would that be a major violation of BOP regulations, but I assume it could also result in a separate federal charge for the conjugal partner.

I have heard that gay sex exists although I did not witness or hear of any particular incident. I was usually in bed by 10p and I assume that these kinds of encounters would occur in the bathrooms in the middle of the night. Alfred Porro tells just such a story about his experience in the Allenwood, PA prison camp in Chapter 12 (Sex in the Shower) of an article in The American: Enter a Hellish Place.

Obviously the most common solution is masturbation, which is a topic of many jokes, none of which I am comfortable repeating here. Of course, I alluded to the subject in my earlier article Pregnant Feet.

A slightly more academic treatment of this subject can be found here.

Martha Stewart Stops Talking

I remember when Martha Stewart was in prison she released a Christmas Message in 2004 on her now defunct website (although you can read an archived copy of the site here), which included the following :

I beseech you all to think about these women -- to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life "out there" where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living.

As Steve Baldwin notes on his blog, whatever happened to Martha Stewart and prison reform?

I was wondering the same thing (which is how I found his website).

Now I don't want to be too harsh on Martha, but she was in a rather unique position to make a difference. Then again, maybe her probation officer told her that she would be jeopardizing her terms of supervised release if her reform efforts involved any contact with former inmates. By the way, her two years of supervised release should have ended in March, 2007 (if it was not terminated before then).

I understand how easy it is to be motivated upon leaving prison and then get caught up in other things and lose that initial fervor, but I was hoping she would stick it out.

Sentence Doesn't End with Release

In my last post, I commented on how the pre-sentence process oftentimes feels like the punishment more than the actual prison time. In this post, I focus on the post-incarceration period.

Most people think that the only aspect of a defendant's sentence is the time they spend in prison, as if it is just a "lost" moment in his life and the pre- and post-incarceration time is just like normal. I hope I was able to make it clear in the last post that even before a person begins their prison sentence, they have already been "through the ringer," so to speak. Well, once an inmate's incarceration is over, he oftentimes finds out that life outside of prison is no piece of cake either.

USA Today ran a story last week: Ex-cons' sentences don't always end with release.

It discussed the myriad ways in which a former inmate is thwarted by various laws in his efforts to reintegrate into society, in effect creating a new underclass of ex-cons, and whether this really is in the best interest not only of the ex-con but of society. If you continue to make it difficult, if not impossible, for someone to re-assimilate, then they will be tempted to take the same kind of shortcuts that got them into trouble to start with.

One of the problems that I have alluded to earlier is that the conditions of supervised release make it impossible for former inmates to help their friends in prison because they are forbidden from associating with them. There is an assumption here that former inmates are corrupting influences and only non-felons can help former inmates re-integrate, as if a single mistake somehow disqualifies an individual from assisting others in the "rehabilitation" process. This is particularly true with white collar crimes in which most defendants have lived generally law abiding, tax-paying, productive lives before making one bad choice that they are unlikely to repeat.

In fact, some of the staff of (see here and here) were forbidden from even working on inmate rights and rehabilitation issues because they were ex-cons and many of the people they were trying to help were current prisoners. These efforts violated the probation condition prohibiting "associations" with other felons. They were forced to resign from the organization until their probationary status was completed. How absurd is that?

Many ex-cons run into barriers that effectively make them second-class citizens. For example,

- I have two children from a previous marriage. My current wife has been unable to have children. At one point we explored adoption. Now, in North Carolina, it would be impossible.... felons are forbidden from adopting. In Alabama, a misdemeanor drug conviction means a ban on adoption.

- In 12 states, felons are ineligible to receive food stamps

- In 2 states (now that Florida has changed their law), felons cannot vote.... ever. (Virginia, Kentucky)

- Felons cannot travel to Canada, England, or Australia (unless exception is granted by those countries' consulates)

- Punishments triggered by a marijuana sentence include restrictions on professional licenses, ineligibility for many jobs, loss of financial aid for education, housing and food, driver's license suspension, bars on adoption and bans on voting and jury service. In some states, the sanctions last for life.

There are more but you get the point. These limitations apply to non-violent first-time offenders for whom crime is not a way of life but an isolated mistake.

[UPDATE: Today (7/30/07) I found a website called The Four C's: The Collateral Consequences of Criminal Charges that addresses some of these issues.]

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dead Man Walking

Most people think of a defendant's sentence only in terms of the amount of time he is incarcerated, when in fact the collateral aspects, both before and after prison, are oftentimes worse. I will comment on the pre-sentence experience first and then follow up with a separate post on the post-sentence experience.

I was fortunate. The FBI raided my home on July 21, 2005 (which I will eventually write about later). I was indicted in June, 2006, entered a plea in October, 2006, was sentenced in February 2007, and completed my sentence on June 28, 2007. While I still have supervised release to serve, for all practical purposes, my legal experience was less than 2 years. I can't emphasize enough how short that is compared to most federal defendants.

I met several guys in prison whose cases started in 2000-2001 and they did not begin their sentences until 2005 or later. That is, for these men, their cases dragged on for 4-5 years before they even began their incarceration. Trust me, their punishment started long before prison. Their suffering began the moment the feds started investigating them. (Criminal investigations are very intrusive.)

The average person has no idea how much the investigation, indictment, plea or trial, and sentencing process utterly drains a defendant and his family -- certainly emotionally and usually financially. (Johnnie Cochran used to "joke" that defendants are innocent until proven broke!) Their lives are literally in a state of suspended animation. I remember telling my pre-trial services (PTS) officer -- the pre-sentence equivalent of a probation officer -- that the process, not the sentence, is the punishment.

Even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted at trial, the experience is scarring. The government does not reimburse the legal fees of an acquitted defendant (yet the defendant, in the form of a fine and special assessment, is expected to partially reimburse the government for its expenses if convicted). Furthermore, the defendant's reputation is damaged. (Recall Raymond Donovan's, former Secretary of Labor under Reagan, famous quote after being acquitted of fraud charges: "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?" There is none.)

One reader of this blog is awaiting sentencing and said: "Personally I find this time [pre-sentence] the worst - I have done everything I can do to minimize the sentence - but it's now out of my control - and its literally taking the life out of me - I am a 'dead man walking.'"

He asked how I dealt with my pre-sentencing time.

I decided to enter a plea at the end of September, 2006 -- 14 months after the government's raid of my home -- and was sentenced in February, 2007 so I had a 5 month period to get ready. On the whole, I handled it fine emotionally I think. The interview with probation in November for the pre-sentence investigative report (PSR or PSI) required a lot of my attention; otherwise, I left most of the work to my attorney (although, and this will come as no surprise, I am a high-maintenance client).

In January, the month before my hearing, I did talk to my personal lawyers about estate planning issues, including updating my will, setting up a family trust and preparing a power of attorney, and purchasing more life insurance (although I discovered, to my surprise, that for large policies, they will not insure a person facing prison time and probation until the sentence is completed).

Once I found out my sentence in February and was assigned a reporting date, I put in place plans for someone to operate my business while I was gone, which fortunately worked out well.

As for family and friends, most of them knew about the upcoming sentencing because they were asked to write letters to the judge to be included as part of our sentencing memorandum. After my sentencing, I followed up with them to let them know what happened and my response to the process and that I was planning to start a blog to document my experiences.

I believe that for the most part, family and friends took their cues from me. I know my wife and mother probably worried more than I realized but if your family believes you are holding up fine, then that gives them some reassurance that life will be ok.

I was assigned a self-surrender date of March 30, 6 weeks after my sentencing hearing. I scheduled a vacation in South Beach, Miami for the middle of March for 1 week with my wife and two daughters, which was very satisfying. I met with the leaders of my church who prayed for me. I started to get "antsy" about 2 weeks before reporting, as I recall. I was ready to get the show on the road, so to speak. I started this blog about a week before I reported, detailing my activities and emotions leading up to my self-surrender.

That pretty much summarizes my presentence "busy-ness." As for how I mentally and spiritually approached my sentence, I would refer you first to my early post on Attitude and Gratitude.

I am reluctant to advise other people facing prison how to deal with their pre-sentence time because my sentence was so short. I had the luxury of treating this as a sabbatical... at least, that was how I chose to view it. If I was facing several years, I would have had to definitely approach this differently. It is perhaps the difference in mindset between a sprinter and marathon runner. While I am sure I would have made the necessary adjustments, I am glad I didn't have to.

One of my roommates read Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, in which he chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. While FPC Pensacola would not compare to a German concentration camp, the book still has more meaning for an inmate than civilian and I would highly recommend it to anyone facing prison or in prison.

There is no doubt that the entire prison experience (including pre- and post-incarceration) is a form of suffering. I firmly believe that suffering is uniquely personal and incommenserable; that is, each person ultimately must walk the road alone (notwithstanding the comfort of friends and family) and should not attempt to compare his or her experience with that of another. It's not that one person's suffering, objectively speaking, is not greater than another's (each of us could probably come up with a similar ranking of the worst possible experiences that a human being could endure), but that attempting to compare one's suffering with another's makes it more difficult to deal with suffering productively; that is, meaningfully.

Each of us has a tendency to think that we have suffered more than someone else. This attitude is fraught with danger even if it is true in a particular case. It leads to self-pity, a sort of self righteouness in which we find our identity -- our "goodness" -- in our misery, as if other people -- the whole world for that matter! -- owe us because of how much we have suffered. While each of is probably willing to extend an empathetic hand to a person in a moment of crisis, we all know people for whom the self-pity act gets very old. The demand of self-pity is unreasonable because no one can ever give back what another has lost in their suffering. It is in the past. Suffering is not an entitlement to privilege but instead must become a motivation for service and it is in service that suffering finds its meaning.

"If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering." - Frankl in PBS interview

The reason this is true of course is because Life is Suffering - Buddha's First Noble Truth. But this is not unique to Buddhism. Jesus said, "In this world you have tribulation." (While Christianity and Buddhism agree on this basic observation, they depart dramatically on the causes and solutions to suffering but that is a topic for another day.)

It does not matter in a sense whether the suffering is self-imposed (i.e. a result of bad choices) or other-imposed (i.e. forces beyond your control -- injustice or accident). Ultimately, you are the one who has to deal with it, indeed, to embrace it. To quote Henri Nouwen (from my Attitude and Gratitude article):
To reclaim our history in its totality means that we no longer relate to our past as years in which only good times can be remembered, and bad times need to be forgotten, but as opportunities for an ongoing conversion of the heart. If we are to be truly ready to ask for a new task in the service of God, truly free to be sent into a new mission, our entire past, gathered into the spaciousness of the converted heart, must become the energy that moves us toward the future.

Ultimately, the way you deal with suffering is, at the risk of sounding glib, by faith. You must believe that this experience, however unpleasant, is your experience and is an opportunity. It is now part of who you are. It is your life, you don't get another and you don't get to live your life for another or through another. (It also help to believe that there will one day be a world without suffering.)

Quit worrying about others and what they think (in prison, they call this "doing your own time") and whether it is fair or not and start figuring out how to embrace it. I think you will find that the world will eventually embrace you back. Hey, if Tammy Faye, who died last week, can be remembered fondly by the Charlotte Observer (recall that the whole PTL scandal occurred in Charlotte's back yard... literally), that should give hope to anyone!

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Rabbit Punch

[This was written during the 2nd week of May. I wrestled heavily with whether to post it immediately or wait until I got out. Obviously, I chose the latter. The reason will be apparent by the end of the story. As always, comments in brackets are not part of the original text; they are current remarks.]

Recently, my work detail involved clearing the outfall area west of the base. The outfall area is a large concrete ditch, perhaps 20 feet across, with a 30' grass buffer on each side, that carries storm water runoff from the base out to Perdido Bay, west of Pensacola. [Perdido Bay is also the state boundary with Alabama.] The entire outfall is about 1 mile long, but the concrete portion is just over half of that. [If you go to this Google Map of the base, and click on "Satellite" view in the upper right hand corner, you will see narrow clearing on the left edge of the map jutting down to the left. That is the "outfall."]

First, we cleared the grass on the slopes directly along the ditch with weedeaters, a hot and dirty job made worse by the horse flies that seemed to literally chase after you. Another inmate used a large tractor-pulled mower to cut the remainder of the grass. This job took a couple days.

The following day (Wed), we cleared back some of the limbs and brush along the outer edges of the greenways bordering each side of the ditch. This required pole saws, pole hedge trimmers, and a wood chipper (pulled by a tractor) large enough to handle 6-8" diameter limbs.

Since we are outside the base fence and there were probably 10-12 guys on the detail, Joe, our very large RSSI supervisor (see picture below from RSSI website.... I'll let you guess which one is Joe), maintains a presence at virtually all times, making sure we are supplied with water while chain-smoking cigarettes on his John Deere Gator.

(click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, except for one inmate who has experience in the lumber industry, the rest of us are rank amateurs at this -- a recipe for disaster which is exactly what happened next.

While other inmates cut the overhanging branches and cleared brush along the ground, I fed the limbs and branches into the chipper. We were gradually making our way along the outfall. In the process of pulling down some large branches that had been cut, I was perhaps a little too "energetic" and some of the branches brushed one of the guy's head. It addition, the inmate with the pole hedge trimmer was perhaps swinging a little too freely around the same guy.

He exploded.

This was surprising because he had always been a friendly, mild-mannered guy that I had a good relationship with. Nonetheless he began yelling at me. The chipper and trimmers are very loud and I wore yellow foam ear plugs (along with a dust mask, safety glasses, and work gloves) so I could only tell he was angry but not what he was actually saying, but I knew why he was mad and tried, along with another inmate, to calm him down. Then it happened.


I was rabbit-punched in The Rabbit Hole.

With his open right hand, he hit me on the left side of the head across my ear. Fortunately, he had on work gloves so it didn't hurt that much; I was more startled than anything. He then walked away as I turned away.

A moment later, I looked back and the guy with the pole hedge trimmer was flat on the ground and not moving. He didn't get up for about a minute.

For whatever reason, Joe was not in the vicinity. A couple of other inmates about 50 yards away witnessed the assaults (and found them quite entertaining it seemed) but were more concerned about getting the guy up before Joe got back than about seeing if he was OK. I really didn't know what to do.

While I have not heard it directly from a staff person [this type of issue was not discussed at orientation], every inmate has told me that, in the event of a fight, all parties will be shipped to another prison -- no attempt will be made to determine culpability. All are guilty. [I still don't know if this is true or not, but I didn't know how to find out.]

As a result, most fights, especially those involving no injuries, are never reported to the staff; they are resolved (i.e. covered up) among the inmates. Some inmates advised me not to even write about it, advice I am obviously not following. [Actually, I mailed this letter to my wife to publish the first week of June, but later told her to hold it until I got out.]

[The following paragraph was part of the original post written on the assumption that this would be published while I was still in prison and that BOP would read it while I was still in prison (which obviously is not the case). Don't think that did not make me a little nervous.]

If BOP is small-minded enough to ship me to another prison based on this account, then I will write about that also! I am writing this blog to share my life in prison with those who don't get the "opportunity" to experience it themselves. I can't not share this incident. In fact, about 5 minutes after it happened, I couldn't wait to get back and write about my first "assault."

I know how bizarre it probably sounds, but I didn't take this personally. I'm not the one who lost his cool -- he was. I know he's embarrassed and mad at himself but he seems incapable of apologizing. He simply makes excuses and gives explanations. He has been in prison for some time and admits that it is making him "crazy" and he is constantly dealing with anger [both at himself for screwing up and the system that put him here]. I actually started to feel sorry for the guy; he must be miserable.

Also, as I stated in the sidebar in the left column of this blog, I have coped with this legal experience by almost viewing myself as a character in my own drama. This whole experience has been "Alice-in-Wonderland"-like and getting hit today felt like one inmate-actor hitting another inmate-actor. It's just part of this whole prison script. It's not real. It's no more personal than if my cat had scratched me or I got stung by a bee. In 6 weeks I return to reality and these "characters" will be left behind. I am not going to let myself get too caught up in this.

Ok, so what happened afterward? I know you're wondering.

Well, 5 minutes after the assault, we were back working as if nothing had happened. It was kind of strange. Two people had just been assaulted and nothing was happening. We returned shortly for our lunch break and I mentioned the incident to a friend at the toolshed and another in the cafeteria. They were both shocked, but agreed that I handled it correctly [that is, by not retaliating].

At the toolshed, one of the inmates who witnessed the incident (calling it "just a little ventilating") was concerned that one of my friends would not "mind his own business," but I assured him it would go no further. As wrong as the conduct was, I was not hurt and I had no intent in pressing the issue further.

A bigger problem, however, was the other guy who was hit. He did not realize that I had also been hit before him (his back was to us and it was noisy) until I told him later. He was still sore and, in fact, he could not eat lunch. He did not rejoin the work detail in the afternoon. I told him I really did not want to escalate this further and he understood. [UPDATE: His jaw continued to hurt for some time afterward. Eventually, an impacted wisdom tooth was removed by the prison dentist. He was near the end of his sentence and has since been released, I believe.]

The afternoon detail went fine as if nothing had happened earlier in the morning. I don't know what tomorrow will hold but I don't expect a repeat performance.

I can forgive and forget an isolated incident but if someone interprets my response as a sign of weakness to be exploited, then I may have a bigger problem on my hands to deal with. We'll see.

[UPDATE: I was never assaulted again. My relationship with this inmate continued as if nothing had happened. I would occasionally walk up to him and hit one of my fists into another and smile at him, silenting teasing, and reminding, him about the incident. I have no idea if he respected my choice or not. There were definitely other inmates who indicated that they would have "still been fighting" had it happened to them. I am sure some viewed me as "weak;" others viewed it as "strong." I have always viewed restraint and de-escalation of conflicts as positive qualities. I don't think they are highly valued traits in prison.

Fortunately, being in a prison camp is the greatest protection against violence because no one wants to get shipped. I have no doubt that had I been in a medium, or even a low, I would have had a problem on my hands.]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jim Black and the RDAP Program

A big story in North Carolina this year has been the downfall of Jim Black, former four-term House Speaker. Black, 72, is from Matthews, a suburb of Charlotte, so he doesn't live far from me and the story has, of course, been large here.

In Feb, he pled guilty to one count of accepting something of value (i.e. $25K-$30K from chiropractors while pushing legislation that would benefit them). Ironically, his plea was entered on Feb 14, one day after I was sentenced.

On Jul 11, he was senteced to 63 months in prison. Originally, the media indicated his guideline sentence was 33-41 months -- "An initial recommended sentence was between 33 and 41 months. Boyle agreed with the bribery punishment [recommended by probation] and boosted the punishment range to 63 to 78 months based on Black’s role in other schemes. He limited Black’s accountability to the $29,000 he received from chiropractors and took the lower end of the range." -- but the judge took away his acceptance of responsibility points (the prosecution claimed he did not fully cooperate as his plea agreement required) and further enhanced his sentence, claiming his conduct should count as bribery. In other words, he was sentenced for accepting a bribe despite the fact that he pled guilty to a lesser charge. It seems to me that he gained almost nothing from the plea, except of course the time and expense of a trial. The sentence is devastatingly harsh.

You can read about the entire matter here. I don't expect a lot of people to be sympathetic to a powerful politician that apparently engaged in corrupt conduct, but I just get a little tired of everyone kicking someone to death when they're down, as if this mistake defines everything about Jim Black and somehow undoes every good thing he may have done in his life. The German's have a wonderful word for this - schadenfreude (click on the link for definition). While I don't think my media treatment was all that bad (at least, it didn't bother me much), I met enough guys in prison whose treatment was so over-the-top one-dimensional that you would have thought they were Hitler's long lost relatives. In any case, enough of my aside... back to the story.

He was scheduled to report to prison on July 30, but has requested a delay, fearing that BOP will not have his assignment in time. He has good reason to be concerned. Some judges assign a reporting date, others leave it up to BOP. I was assigned to report approximately 6 weeks after I was sentenced (Feb 13-Mar 30). It took BOP about 4 weeks to give me a location so I was able to self-surrender on the appointed date. Black's judge has only given him 3 weeks to report. Yikes.

What happens if BOP has not given you a prison by the time your surrender date has arrived? Can anyone say diesel therapy, one of the most dreaded aspects of the prison experience? Generally, you must report to the local county jail on your surrender date. Then, once BOP figures out where they want you to go, you hop on the ole prison bus and hope you are the first stop. Good luck. To quote from the link above:

Imagine being handcuffed with a chain around your waist securing the handcuffs to your stomach area. You can't move your arms up and down or side to side. Your feet are shackled, limiting you to baby steps. Now get on a bus. And then be stuck on the bus with similarly shackled convicts forever. (It starts at three or four in the morning, and 12-­16 hour days are the norm.) You can try and guess where you're going, but you never will.
The reason for the high security is inmates in transit are not segregated by security level so Jim Black could find himself seated next to a mass murderer.

Fortunately, I never had to experience this. Jim Black, at 72, certainly does not want to.

However, the issue I primarily want to discuss is his recent "admission" of alcholism and request to be assigned to Butner prison near Raleigh (3 hours from Charlotte and where his case was). Butner is best known for its federal medical center which houses inmates with significant health issues. (Inmates with chronic health concerns should not be assigned to a work camp such as Pensacola, although there were several guys there who could barely walk up the stairs, let alone carry a weedeater.)

What is really going on here, and it is smart of his lawyer to raise the issue, is an attempt to shorten his prison sentence. Everyone familiar with the system (including the judge and prosecutors) knows that is what is going on; it is a common game within BOP. I hesitate to call it a "game" because the program apparently seems to yield benefits but there is no denying the attraction of getting a year knocked off your sentence. If you hang a carrot like that in from of a bunch of cons, well, don't be surprised if they figure out a way to "con" their way into the program.

By statute (18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)), eligible inmates can earn up to 1 year off of their sentence by completing a 9 month (500 hour) Residential Drug and Alcohol Program (RDAP). The following are good references describing the technical aspects of this program that many defendants are unaware of.

Black's lawyer has asked the judge to recommend his admission to the program. Ultimately, as with the designation of the actual prison facility, this is a BOP decision, but any recommendation by the judge certainly can't hurt.

BOP is in the unenviable position of determining whether an inmate legitimately has an "issue" or whether he is making it up to get into the program for the sole purpose of shortening his sentence -- up to 1 year, although by my calculations, it could be a year and half if you are talking about actual time in prison rather than half-way house also.

The program lasts for 9 months and involves 3-4 hours of group and individual therapy 5 days a week. They have flexible on-site work details for the other hours. In Pensacola, a new class of 13 guys would start about every 6 weeks. There are 8 classes running at once (4 morning shifts and 4 afternoon shifts) for a maximum of 104 guys in the program at once. All DAP inmates live in the same quarters, which is Dorm D (see picture below), which has eight 12-bed cubicles. (Since some guys always drop out of the program, the 96 beds are enough to house all the DAP inmates.)

(click to enlarge)

By most accounts, the counselors really do try to make a difference. They want the guys to get out and not come back. Some complain that the program is repetitive and could be completed in 1/3 of the time but, then again, in my opinion, good pedagogy requires repetition and, when you are talking about therapy, it's not just about the knowledge but the application, which can take time.

Does it work? According to Ellis' document above, recidivism was reduced 25% among men and a stunning 70% among women.

You are eligible to be considered for RDAP once you are within 36 months of release but you are not allowed to begin the program until the 27 month mark. In practice, most do not enter the program till about 22-24 months, so on average you will get closer to 8-9 months off your sentence, which may not seem like much but, trust me, that is HUGE. In theory, if you get in at 27 months, you will get out in 9 months, which is an 18 month sentence reduction. Yes, you still have to spend 6 months in a halfway house, but most guys don't think of that as "prison." (I think this is why they call it a 1 year reduction whereas it seems to me to be longer.)

At Pensacola, there was much jockeying to get into the program. Indeed, at one point, there were about a dozen inmates who transferred to Edgefield (SC), because they thought they would get into the RDAP program in Edgefield earlier. (Edgefield sent 12 of their guys, who didn't need the program, to Pensacola.)

A particular point of frustration for some of the drug offenders was when white collar inmates, with no obvious drug or alcohol issues, would get into the program ahead of them. For example, in my pre-sentence report (PSR), I listed "casual" when asked about alcohlol use. If my sentence had been several years, I could have attempted to use that to get into the RDAP program. (Even if I had listed "none," I could later claim I was in "denial" -- a symptom of alcoholism!) That, in itself, probably would not have been enough, but if I could have convinced BOP that my problem was more serious, I could have gotten in. After all, a lot of defendants increase their alcohol (or prescription drug) consumption in response to the stress of their prosecution leading up to prison. While they may not have had a obvious drug or alcohol problem prior to their legal problems, is it really so hard to imagine someone developing one after? At least, that's their story (perhaps it is Jim Black's story, or at least the one his lawyer is pushing) and they are sticking to it!

Once you complete your 9 months in the program, you are released to 6 months in a halfway house about 2 weeks later (after they have a nice little graduation ceremony). The halfway house involves continued treatment. In many cases, you can leave the halfway house earlier and spend the remainder of the 6 months in home confinement. During supervised release, you typically have stricter conditions, including no alcohol use whatsoever (normally only "excessive" use is prohibited). And, God help you if you get a DUI on probation. My point is that, if you don't really have a drug or alcohol problem but sneak yourself in for the benefit of the early release, you may find the additional treatment requirements and probation restrictions once you get out to be cumbersome.

Let me illustrate how this works as I understand it, using one of my former roommates as an example. Louis was sentenced to 27 months for embezzlement but his PSR identifies some issues with drugs. When he entered prison in April, he was unaware of both the 15% good-time credit and the RDAP program. He was mentally prepared to spend the full 27 months, but he was able to get into the drug program almost right away, beginning in June, just before I was released. He will end up serving only 11 months in prison and then 6 months in a halfway house near his home. Originally, he would have served about 22 months in prison and 2 months in a halfway house. So he will spend 11 months less in prison and 7 months less in prison and halfway house (maybe more if they let him leave the halfway house early). I knew another man who had a 24 month sentence, got into the drug program within a month and, therefore, will only spend 10 months time in prison. I can assure you he is one happy guy.

What about Jim Black? He has a 63 months sentence. By my calculations, he will serve 56-57 months (it might be a little closer to 55, but the 15% good-time is much more complicated to calculate than you might imagine... separate article). Since 10% can be in a halfway house, he will actually spend about 50-52 months in prison. If he can get the full credit for the RDAP program, that could be reduced to 40-42 months, about 3½ years, plus 6 months in a halfway house. That's a pretty big incentive to develop an alcohol problem :) It's not surprising that a few skeptics have popped up.

By the way, I posted a couple comments on this Charlotte Observer blog article recently about Black's sentence. You can probably figure out which comments are mine, even though I am not identified.

To finish this too long article on a lighter note, if you look at the 2nd satellite map at the bottom of the page, which labels the various building at FPC Pensacola, you will notice a building at the bottom identified as the new DAP building under renovation. It is across the street from the main control center. This is where future DAP inmates will be housed. However, what makes it funny is the building to its right about 50 yards.... the Touch N Go Club, a Naval Bar!!! BOP is housing inmates with drug and alcohol problems right next to a bar. The name Touch N Go invites so many jokes that I don't know where to begin.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Has it really been 3 weeks?

I was released 3 weeks ago today.

Tonight we had a lot of family over. They were out further in the back yard than I was allowed to go (due to the limitations of my electronic monitoring). I was sitting on the back deck looking at the sky, the same sky I often looked at while at FPC Pensacola when I wanted to be alone. It's funny how looking at the night sky makes your world seem small because it looks basically the same no matter where you are. For a brief moment, you could imagine yourself being somewhere else.

It is really strange. Near the end of my time in prison, my mind was already home, but my body was in prison. Now that my body is out, I find my mind drifting back to prison. I think often of some of the guys who still have months and years left, guys who became my friends under very unique circumstances.

I am very frustrated that the terms of my supervised release forbid me from communicating with them. This is so wrong. I am only one person, but there are so many things I can do to help a few guys re-integrate into society but the system won't allow that to happen. It is cruel how they stack the deck against these guys.

I was talking with my youngest daughter (18) and her boyfriend tonight about some of the guys who I became friends with and how the "rules" are designed to prevent inmates from helping each other both in prison and out. It was very emotional for me.

The other thing I think about is how much faster time passes on the outside than on the inside. Prison seems like a surreal dream, yet it was only 3 weeks ago that I finished 3 months of my life there. Friends who didn't realize where I was are shocked that I had been gone 3 months. It felt to me like I was gone forever; to them, it was an instant.

I thought that my motivation to continue this blog would diminish once I was out. If anything, it has become stronger. Prison is not my past; it is my present and future.


[This was written sometime in May while I was in prison.]

In 2004, the Bureau of Prisons banned smoking by inmates in all federal prisons (the prison staff can still smoke in outside designated areas). I believe the stated reason was to cut down on health care expenses. At FPC Pensacola, under the new warden, smoking is automatic grounds for a transfer to a "low" security prison (i.e. behind a fence). You will literally be shipped within hours. Smoking is not actually a major infraction in the list of BOP rules and is not normally considered a "shipping offense." However, each warden has almost unlimited discretion in these matters and this warden has determined this to be a zero tolerance activity.

Despite the threat of transfer, smoking is still prevalent. I witnessed it several times a week and smelled the odor of second-hand smoke virtually every night. I have been told that 200 inmates smoke daily here (out of almost 700). I found that hard to believe but other inmates told me that number doesn't surprise them. I think most of it occurs outside the camp during the work details when inmates are not closely supervised.

I am quite sure that the COs know far better than I the actual incidence of smoking. I am not giving away inmate secrets that will get anyone in trouble; the common smoking locations are well known -- the stairwell outside in front of the B and C dorms and the bus staging area. (I'm sure there are others but those are the two primary ones I know of.) There was even a January memo posted near the commissary warning inmates that if there is further evidence of smoking in the bus staging area (where there are two TVs that inmates watch each night), it will be made off-limits in the evening. Nonetheless, every night a handful of guys can be found smoking there and the evidence is apparent the next morning when we line up for work.

Also, each night after the 10pm count and the COs return to the control center, inmates will stand out in the stairwell to smoke. Because my room is centrally located off of the main foyer, perhaps 20 feet from the door to the stairwell (see map segment of my dorm below), the odor is clearly apparent.

(click to enlarge)

The brazenness of the smoking is rather startling given the consequences, which only shows how strong the addiction is. However, unless a CO actually catches an inmate with a cigarette in his possession, he can't bust him.

I have a funny story. Well, at least the memory is still funny.

One of my roommates, who does not smoke, was standing on the intermediate landing between the dorm B (Floor 2) and C (Floor 3, mine) stairwell at about 10:30pm, hanging out with a friend and perhaps 30 other people, most of whom were smoking. (By the way, you are free to roam anywhere inside the dorm late at night, you just can't leave the dorm.) I was reading in bed and could smell the second hand smoke as usual. Indeed, the smoke was so bad, it could apparently be smelled in the control center on the first floor! Suddenly, I heard a stampede of people running into the Dorm C foyer and down each hall with a voice yelling from behind.

My roommate and a friend of his busted through our door into the room with a CO right on their heels. The CO was "Peanut" (affectionately labelled for the shape of his head), who is second only to Arnold in his zeal for enforcing the rules, no matter how minor. (While Arnold is more like the stern Javert in Les Miserables, I always imagined "Peanut" as a black Barney Fife.) He hauled both of them down to the control center and did everything he could to get them to admit they had been smoking. Unfortunately for him, he probably caught the only two guys who had not been smoking... they just happend to be hanging out with guys who were and were the last ones in line when the stampede started after everyone heard him charging out the doors of the control center and up the stairs. (Again, imagine Barney Fife and you get the picture.)

Fortunately for my roommate, he was a pretty smart guy... a (former) lawyer good with words. He basically had an answer for every accusation thrown at him. He was prepared to take any breath test to prove he had not been smoking (which was true). Since the CO had no direct evidence, he had to let them go, but I'm sure he was frustrated because it was so obvious that a lot of people had been smoking but, despite chasing an entire crowd of inmates up the stairwell, he couldn't bust anyone.

I don't smoke and never have. I don't like second hand smoke. However, I would personally rather the inmates get their nicotine fix every day than have to worry about running into a guy going through withdrawl and have him take it out on me!

One guy I worked with was so desperate for cigarettes each day that he would pick through the butts in the sand filled urns located in the smoking shelters located around Saufley Field (for the Naval contractors who work there) hoping to find one that was only half smoked. I still don't know how he lit them.

Now that is desperation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Books I'm Reading

[I also wrote this sometime in May while in prison]

Funny how context changes everything.

Every book I've chosen to read means something different in prison than it would have on the outside.

First, as I recounted earlier, I read The Accidental Tourist, which was also an apt title for my "vacation" in prison.

Second, I read The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, which was a classic case of prosecutorial overreaching. I have seen quite a few examples of that in here. (No comment on my case.) But for sheer political theatre, it was quite fun reading.

Finally, I have decided to read the entire Harry Potter series. My youngest daughter has read them all and the final book is due out in July [indeed, in two days from now]. I'm half way through Book 2 now (Chamber of Secrets). I figured this is probably my best chance to read them all... I would never find (or make) the time on the outside. I have collected my favorite quotes from each book and will probably post an article on them, interpreting them from an inmate's perspective.

Besides, as I have told other inmates, while in "The Rabbit Hole," Harry Potter may be the closest thing to reality I experience! Certainly, there is nothing about the rest of my life here that seems real.

[UPDATE: Obviously, as I believe I recounted in my weekly summaries that my wife posted earlier (although those were actual written after this article), I finished all the Harry Potter books. I also read Shawshank Redemption, a Stephen King short novel, during my last week, as well as my first Stuart Woods book, The Short Forever. Reading is probably the most common "recreational" activity in prison. There were many evenings where I just buried my head in a book in bed and tuned out my surroundings, especially as I was finishing Harry Potter. The percentage of time I spent reading probably increased over time.

The "leisure" library had a pretty decent selection of books, most of which I think were contributed by the inmates after they received them from the outside (paper backs can be sent by family or friends; hard backs have to come direct from the publisher). There is no check out procedure... but you are not supposed to have more than 4 books out at a time. In theory, if they search lockers, they could seize your books if you have too many but I was not aware that that ever happened... not exactly a high priority for the staff. I bet there were probably 1000s of books sitting in lockers around the prison. Stuart Woods books, which I suspect they had a complete collection of, were particularly hard to find in the library.]

Blessed... and Miserable

[I wrote this in prison sometime in May. I am glad to get back to posting my direct experience rather than commenting on other events. While I will occasionally editorialize on relevant news stories, I think that what makes my blog unique is the first-person "real-time" perspective.]

Being in prison reminds me of a quote by Pascal, the 16thC french mathematician and philosopher. I don't have access to the internet or other reference to verify the exact quote so this is the paraphrase:
"Man is the most blessed of creatures because he can contemplate his existence; he is the most miserable of creatures because he can contemplate a better existence than he has."

[Note: Even with access to the internet, I have been unable to verify this quote from Pascal... or anyone else for that matter. Hmmmm, that's strange. I can't believe I just made it up.]

Prison, at least FPC Pensacola, is not uncomfortable. It is an inconvenience. If I was a dog, life would be great (except for the absence of female dogs!) My physical needs are basically taken care of; there is no real outward stress on my life.

But I am not a materialist -- there is more to life than physical matter and physical needs. I simply don't have enough faith to believe that human personality, self-consciousness, and the "soul" could have evolved from impersonal matter (it is hard to see how, if entropy is one of the laws of the universe, that personality can derive from impersonality); it had to come from pre-existent ultimate Personality... God.

Pascal's [or someone's!] point is an indirect argument for the existence of God and of a "world" that man is ultimately intended to be a part of. The nagging awareness that there must be more to life is, in a sense, an argument that there must be more. Otherwise, where would the hunger for "meaning" come from. (I believe that CS Lewis tried to make a similar argument. [But don't quote me on that one either!!]) I am not a trained philosopher so I haven't studied the argument in detail but is is intriguing to me.

Prison really intensifies this "blessed-miserable" tension. Your basic physical needs are supplied for you, allowing for plenty of time to contemplate a "better" existence. (Oftentimes I think in the "real" world we are so busy meeting our physical needs, that we never slow down enough to recognize our spiritual needs, let alone address them.) Failure to resolve this tension can result in a depressing sense of ennui (I love that word); you can see this in the eyes of men who have become institutionalized.

At orientation, the chaplain, a Catholic priest, made the observation that inmates who sought strength from a "Higher Power" handled their prison experience much better than those who didn't. In other words, they had resolved this tension. It is easy to spot these inmates also. They do not view their prison experience as lost time; they recognize they are on God's time.

In some cases, they view their sentence, even if grossly harsh (as is the case with most federal sentences), as a blessing -- remembering the famous quote of Joseph in Genesis (after being unjustly sold into slavery yet rising to become assistant to the Pharaoh): "What man meant for evil, God intended for good." (Gen 50:20) The parallel is not perfect because of course Joseph was completely innocent, but this perspective allows an inmate to let go of any grievance they might have about the injustice of their harsh sentence (while still acknowledging his basic guilt and responsibility) and believe that God can turn it into good.

The hope for a better existence, whether in this life or the next, is what provides the motivation to take steps that will promote that end and to endure present suffering. This principle applies to anyone, regardless of their current life situation.

The purely secular man, believing that this life is all there is, acts to maximize pleasure in this world (which is kind of hard in prison!); the Christian acts to maximize pleasure in the next world, while not denying an appropriate role for pleasure in this one. (The Apostle Peter stated that "God gives us all things to richly enjoy.")

Certainly a corollary to this is to hold all "things" loosely. Not only can you not take them with you when you die, but you might have them take from you before you die, as many guys here can testify!

Hopefully, I will use my time here to reassess my priorities and take an inventory of what I own and what owns me. [Endorsement]

[This was posted as a comment to a previous article. I decided to make it a regular post, even though it is really an endorsement, because I think it is relevant to the subject matter of this blog.]

The CURE: America's Ailing Federal Criminal Justice System

FedCURE is the world's leading advocate for America's, ever growing, federal inmate population which is approaching 200,000 people. We are working with members of Congress to reinstate parole; increase good time allowances; provide for compassionate releases; restore PELL grants; and opportunities for successful reentry into the community, for all federal offenders; and promote a system that incarcerates fewer people and provides humane conditions for those who are incarcerated or under post-incarceration supervision via parole or supervised release. Over 45,000 people were released from federal prison last year.

FedCURE's lifetime member and PBS film producer and Soros Justice Media Fellowship candidate, Allan Mason and (Broadcast News Network), are documenting FedCURE's activities for inclusion in the production of a one-hour special news documentary film titled, The CURE: America's Ailing Federal Criminal Justice System (suitable for Frontline, NOW, or an independent special report for the Public Broadcasting System and their affiliates).

The film would examine the ailing federal criminal justice system in the United States and the impact of two pieces of proposed federal legislation that would reduce federal prisons sentences and provide for tax payer relief by enacting smart legislation that would revive the system of parole for federal prisoners; and reduce run-a-way recidivism rates by enacting smart legislation such as "The Second Chance Act," reauthorizing the grant program of the Department of Justice for re-entry of offenders into the community, to establish a task force on Federal programs and activities relating to the re-entry of offenders into the community, and for other purposes. See links below, H.R. 3072, H.R. 1593 and S. 1060, respectively. We are seeking partners and funding for this film and to produce short VNR's for our upcoming legislative campaigns to promote FedCURE's legislative initiatives.

FedCURE co-authored the last two federal parole bills in the 108th and 109th Congress with Rep. Danny Davis (D-ILL). This year FedCURE drafted a new federal parole bill for Rep. Davis and to float around to other members of Congress who may want introduce the bill in this Congress. The bill is titled as The Criminal Justice Tax Relief Act of 2007 (CJTRA). The bill is estimated to save the taxpayers 4 to 7 billion dollars annually and 80 to 140 billion dollars over a twenty-year period.

The CJTRA, would, inter alia:
  • Reinstate the old parole statutes and make amendments thereto.
  • Make all offenders eligible for parole.
  • Increase good time allowances.
  • Give jurisdiction to the United States Parole Commission to set release dates in accordance with applicable parole guidelines or the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, whichever is lowest.
  • Provide for reduction in term of imprisonment of elderly offenders.
  • Clarify parole procedures.
  • Provide post incarceration supervision.
  • Apply prospectively and retroactively.
  • Extend the life of the United States Parole Commission for twenty years.
The Second Chance Act of 2007 was introduced in the 110th Congress, also by Rep. Davis, on 20 March 2007 as H.R. 1593. Just a week after the re-introduction of the bill, 28 March 2007, members of the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 1593 out of committee. The bill will now be sent to the House floor for consideration, which sponsors say will take place before the summer session ends. During the mark-up of the bill, members voted down several amendments that would have jeopardized the bipartisan support for the bill. Sen. Bidden introduced S. 1060, an identical bill, in the Senate on 29 March 2007. Gene Guerrero, Director of The Open Society Institute/Open Society Policy Center (SOROS) is the lead lobbying effort behind this legislation.

The Second Chance Act of 2007 authorizes $192 million annually and would:

Reauthorizes and makes improvements to existing State and local government offender reentry program. The bill authorizes $50 million annually for the Department of Justice, State and local grant program, increasing authorization levels, incorporating best practices from the reentry field, and requiring the measuring and reporting of performance outcomes.

Authorizes new competitive grants for innovative programs to reduce recidivism. The bill authorizes $130 million each year in grants for State and local governments and public and private entities to develop and implement comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs, academic and vocational education programs, and housing and job counseling programs, and mentoring for offenders who are approaching release and who have been released. The bill requires grantees to establish performance goals and benchmarks and report performance outcomes to Congress.

Strengthens the Bureau of Prisons ability to provide reentry services to federal prisoners. The bill authorizes funds to improve federal offender reentry services and to establish an elderly non-violent offender pilot program.

Authorizes grants for research and best practices. The bill authorizes additional funds for research on innovative drug treatment methods, causes of recidivism, and methods to improve education and vocational training during incarceration and for the development of best practices.

If you are an interested party, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Mark A. Varca, J.D., CIO
P.O. Box 15667
Plantation, Florida 33318-5667
Web Site:
E-fax: (408) 549-8935

Links to Bills:

H.R. 3072:
H.R. 1593:
S. 1060:

"Using Technology to Bring About Federal Criminal Justice Reform" ™

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WWW.FEDCURE.ORG All rights reserved (2007)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Contraband provided to federal inmates at Pensacola FPC

I was doing a search earlier today and found a news story I was surprised I hadn't heard about while I was in prison. This is going to be a really long commentary but I hope you find it entertaining, if not enlightening.

DOJ Press Release:

Four individuals charged with providing contraband to federal inmates at Pensacola Federal Prison Camp

This occurred last October, 6 months before I reported to prison.

As the title of the US Attorney Press Release suggests, four individuals provided contraband to federal inmates. The charges, as always, sound serious:

1. "conspiracy to accept a bribe, bribery and providing contraband" -> "thirty years imprisonment and fines of over $500,000"

2. "conspiracy to accept an unlawful gratuity, accepting an unlawful gratuity, making a false statement to an special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and providing contraband to an federal inmate" -> "twelve years imprisonment and fines of over $750,000"

3. "providing contraband to a federal inmate" -> "six months imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000"

Allow me to assist in reading between the lines and provide some context.

As I have described previously in my blog, Pensacola FPC is a workcamp. Most inmates work offsite among civilians. Indeed, they are supervised by civilians.

The BOP has a relationship with the Dept of Defense to use inmate labor to provide groundskeeping services for the local military installations. Regal Select Services has the contract to supervise Pensacola PFC inmates for the the Pensacola Naval Air Station which includes several locations (including Saufley field, where I worked). The primary location is NAS near the beach (see map below which shows the distance between Saufley Field and NAS and how large NAS really is). The majority of inmates ride a bus each morning 20-25 minutes to NAS. There are almost 30 separate work details -- some ridiculously easy, others quite demanding. The supervisor-to-inmate ratio is 12:1 (or so I was told by one of my supervisors). You can see pictures of the supervisors at the RSSI website link above, wearing their standard issue tan/khaki t-shirts and shorts.

With rare exception, inmates have no problem with the supervisors. Most RSSI civilian contract supervisors are regular guys -- this is their job and they have no interest in making it any harder than it has to be. Generally speaking there is a certain amount of work that has to be done each day and once it's done, they don't care if you take it easy. There is a fine balance that most of them learn... after all, there is only so much you can get out of a guy who is being paid $0.12/hr who you don't have the authority to fire. If you push too hard, inmates will push back and do less. If you don't push at all, no one will do anything. (If an inmate absolutely refuses to work, you can report it to the prison and they will deal with it.)

I suspect that most supervisors realize that inmates in a prison camp are also regular guys -- there are no violent sociopaths here. It is very easy to imagine that the line between civilian and inmate gets blurred so it seems like an ordinary employment relationship. An inmate, after working for some time with a supervisor, may ask the supervisor for a favor... and sweeten the request with a little incentive. They both know its against the rules, but it seems relatively harmless. I never personally witnessed any of this but I know it happens and can easily imagine it happening. This is not like bribing a guard to smuggle a skiv or chisel into a jail cell, although these people were treated as if that is what they did.

Certain items are prohibited for inmates to possess -- "contraband." Many contraband items are not in and of themselves dangerous or illegal; they are just against BOP regulations. Typical examples in a prison camp would be money, cell phones, cigarettes, computers, and food supplements. While it is merely against BOP rules for inmates to possess contraband, it is a federal offense for someone on the outside to provide an inmate with contraband. These supervisors would have known that, I have no doubt.

The only contraband that I ever actually witnessed that would get someone in trouble was cigarettes, which were prevalent. There are minor contraband items that will merely get seized if discovered. For example, one friend, knowing I liked golf, brought me back a brand new ProV1 golf ball from his work detail with "Perdido Bay Golf Club" stamped on the side. Technically, this is contraband. Had a CO found it in my locker, he probably would have taken it from me. That would have been it. Fortunately, I still have it. (How I got it out is another funny story.)

To add a little more context, the current warden arrived about a year ago. Prior to that, I have heard that the prison was, well, pretty wide open. Cigarettes, cell phones, portable DVD players, computers, alcohol, and drugs. Even unofficial "furloughs" with the wife or girlfriend were common. The warden at the time was basically AWOL (I was told no one ever saw him there) and the staff didn't enforce the rules. That changed with the new warden. He cleaned house and cracked down. (Some may argue that the new warden has gone too far in the other direction -- shipping inmates for relatively minor offenses.) My point is that it seems that a "culture of contraband" existed prior to mid-2006, in which prison staff had a very relaxed attitude about enforcing contraband rules. This probably lulled some of the civilian supervisors into a false sense of safety about providing favors to certain inmates. After all, "everyone does it."

I don't think it is a coincidence that these four individuals were charged several months after the new warden arrived for conduct that occurred prior to that. I am sure he probably initiated an investigation into the source of all of the contraband that he discovered upon arriving. I also suspect that this was just the tip of the iceberg and that these poor individuals were simply made an example of. This kind of activity was probably very common. Again, I don't have any direct knowledge (after all, this was before I was there) but if as much contraband existed back then as I heard about, the most likely source was the off site work details. That doesn't mean that most supervisors assisted in importing contraband but it is hard to believe it was just these four.

OK, enough background. What exactly did these four individuals do? (By the way, it is not my intention to embarrass them. I wish I didn't have to identify them but the information I am providing is public record and I hope that I am actually providing a more sympathetic, not critical, view of their conduct.) You can click on the appropriate link to read each person's indictment and sentence.


England (read indictment)

There are 8 overt acts identified, but it basically appears that he received money and nutritional supplements from an inmate's family member and arranged for them to be transferred to the inmate. It is not at all clear that England even profited from this. Indeed, it specifically lists several transactions ($250, $500) in which England received the same amount he delivered. He also is accused of allowing inmates to leave their work assignment and make unmonitored cell phone calls.

In federal legalese, this "favor" translates into "conspiracy to accept a bribe, bribery and providing contraband to a federal inmate."

England is now a federal felon serving a 13 month sentence (along with $3000 fine, $300 special assessment, and 3 years probation). Ouch! Don't forget to tip the bailiff, thank you very much. England will be released in Jan, 2008.


Patterson (read indictment)

Five overt acts are listed. Actually, they can be combined into two.

1. He received unnamed contraband through the mail from an inmate's friend and delivered it to the inmate for an unspecified amount of money.
2. He received a laptop at his home via express mail for delivery to an inmate in exchange for $100. I assume a friend paid for the laptop and had it shipped to the supervisor.

He also is accused of allowing inmates to leave their work assignment and make unmonitored cell phone calls. Yawn.

In federal legalese, this translates into "conspiracy to accept a bribe and bribery."

Patterson is now a federal felon serving a 15 month sentence (along with $100 fine, $200 special assessment, and 2 years probation). Ouch #2! He will be released May, 2008, although he has an appeal pending (good luck!). Why did Patterson get a longer prison sentence than England for arguably lesser conduct? Just a guess, but 1) he is black (England is white) and 2) he had a public defender (England retained private counsel). They were sentenced by the same judge one month apart (England first) so difference in judges doesn't account for it. I don't want to imply racial motives or impugn public defenders, but it does make you wonder.


Nightengale (read indictment)

There are apparently 5 basic acts:

1. Delivered cash and a cell phone to an inmate from a family member in exchange for an item of jewelry as a gratuity.
2. Used an inmate to translate Spanish-English for another inmate concerning the introduction of contraband for the Spanish speaking inmate. Huh??
3. It appears she was set up by an undercover FBI agent posing as an inmate's relative to transfer a digital player (DVD, I would guess) in exchange for an item of jewelry.
4. Lied to a federal agent about providing contraband to inmates. Oops, I hate when that happens. (This is what sent Martha Stewart to prison. Lying to a federal agent, even if you are not under oath, is a crime. Don't do it. If fact, never talk to a federal agent without consulting your lawyer first.)
5. Allowed unmonitored cell phone usage.

She is now a federal felon sentenced for "conspiracy to accept a gratuity" and "making a false statement" to 4 months prison followed by 4 months home confinement (as well as 2 years probation, $500 fine, $200 special assessment). She must have been at 11 poinst which is 8-14 points with split sentence allowed. She will be released September, 2007.


Mayer (read information)

She provided protein powder and clothing to "E.J.," an inmate in March, 2004. Are you kidding me?

She was convicted of a misdemeanor and received a sentence of 1 year probation, 25 hours community service, $350 fine and $10 special assessment. At least they cut her a little slack.


When I first read this press release and, later, the indictments, I got flashbacks. Not that I was accused of doing the same thing, but I could relate to the way DOJ press releases and indictments have a way of making the conduct sound so much worse than it really is. You just get steamrolled by the system. And the media just prints what the government sends them.

It is hard to overstate how really minor these offenses are in the scheme of things. Yes, what they did was wrong. Yes, they should have been fired. But, unless the contraband they provided was truly dangerous or otherwise illegal (e.g. cocaine), it really is not that big of a deal. Will someone please tell me who was hurt by this? To turn 3 of them into federal felons and send them to prison for 13, 15, and 4 months, respectively is just sick. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. (It also makes me that much more grateful that I somehow got a 3 month sentence. That seems like a miracle now.) Can you imagine being in prison and telling your fellow inmates that you are there for providing them with contraband?!

One of my frustrations with the federal judicial process is its seeming inability to make proper distinctions and use discretion. Where has wisdom gone? Can't we have just a little perspective?

I am sure the judge and prosecutor took the nature of the contraband into consideration at sentencing but the judge is practically constrained by the statutes and the plea deal (yes, I know the guidelines are officially only advisory but they are practically mandatory), which the defendants had no choice but to accept once the prosecutors chose to charge them, otherwise they really would have been punished by the judge. (Roughly speaking, their sentence would have at least been doubled had they gone to trial. In many cases, defendants risk sentences 4-5 times greater if they exercise their right to a jury trial. I will provide an example in a future story.)

What happened to the inmates? It doesn't appear the inmates did anything illegal. That is, they did not face additional criminal charges. Of coure, they violated BOP rules and I am sure were disciplined. Given that this corresponded with the advent of the new warden, I am sure their punishment involved transfers to other prisons (as he did to probably 200 other inmates for various contraband violations... mostly cigarettes).

What about the family members that were the actual source of the contraband? It doesn't appear that anything happened to them either. They may have been banned from future contact or correspondence with the inmate for a period of time but they don't appear to have faced criminal charges.

No doubt this strong action against these supervisors probably had the desired effect on the other supervisors, many of whom were probably just as guilty but didn't get caught. This is what judges call "general deterrance;" that is, one of the purposes of sentencing is to deter others from committing the same crime, especially when the crimes are difficult to catch. You "slam" the few you catch in order to scare the others straight.

Well, that is, as Paul Harvey might say, "the rest of the story." Actually, there is a whole lot more "reading between the lines" and speculation than I normally allow myself (which means a good bit of it might be fiction) but I was hoping I might be able to provide a little more insight into the dynamics of how something like this might happen as well as how unyielding federal law can be when seemingly minor offenses in which no one was really hurt can yield life-altering consequences for the perpetrators.

(click to enlarge)