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).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Intake Process

I have had several requests to describe the intake process, which I have known for some time to be an obvious "hole" in my blog. I actually wrote about it at the beginning but it became so long and unwieldy, I never published it. This is all based on my memory of something that happened over 3 months ago and unfortunately will not be posted in the natural sequence of events as with my other posts. You may also want to read my post about my first day, which includes all my observations except about the intake process itself.

I have added a satellite map of the where the prison complex sits (outlined in red) within the context of Saufley Field at the bottom of this page along with a drawing with the buildings labelled that was part of our orientation manual. You can also click on the link below the satellite map to go directly to Google Maps to zoom in or out.

I arrived at the prison around noon on a Friday by cab from the airport along Saufley Field Road from the east. You must pass through a military gate (with guard) to enter the base. I found the following picture on the internet showing a truck approaching the gate. The guardhouse is to the left of the approaching truck.

(click to enlarge)

The cab then pulls immediately into the visitor parking lot to the right (it is immediately to the left of the softball field on the satellite map). Some inmates have told me that they were driven right to the control center behind the main building (the long narrow white object in the middle of the map also the brick buildling pictured in the left column of this blog) and certainly if you are arriving by prison transfer bus, that is where you will be dropped off. In my case I was dropped off in the visitor parking lot, a couple hundred yards to the east of the control center.

The naval guard then simply told me how to walk to the control center! Unescorted. I thought, "You've got to be kidding. You want me to walk across the prison alone to "check in." I think I reported this as like registering for classes in college.

I walked where I was told and entered the control center (the first floor of a 3 story building through the canopied entrance where a CO was behind a glass window like a receptionist in a doctor's office. I later learned that he was was Officer Collette, not so affectionately referred to by the inmates as "Chucky"... from the character in the horror film series. He made an announcement that a "new commit" had arrived and a woman retrieved me and escorted me down the hall to the eastern (right, on the map) end of the building, where I was handed off to a male officer (Rice, I believe) in a simple room with a counter he stood behind. All rooms in the prison seem to have cream painted concrete block walls with white 12" square linoleum tiles on the floor and white drop-down ceiling panels.

The exact sequence of what happened next is a little blurry but I believe it took about an hour, maybe a little more, to be processed. The following steps did occur however.

1. I gave him all my possessions that I brought with me: wedding ring, reading glasses, cash ($1060), drivers license. I believe that was it other than the clothes on my back. The CO filled out an Inmate Personal Property Record form and gave me a copy (attached below). He kept the license, deposited the cash in my commissary account, and I kept the ring and glasses.

2. He handed me an orange jumpsuit, white t-shirt, boxers, and blue slip-on canvas shoes and sent me into a smaller intake room (I think there were about 6 of them lining the hallway I arrived from) that I measured -- I counted the floor tiles :) - to be about 7'x13' with a toilet, sink, and brick wrap-around bench at the far end. I was told to strip and wait for him. Eventually he arrived and stood near the entrance about 5 feet away and examined me for any tattoos, scars, or other identifying features. He asked me to turn around, then face him, lift my testicles (!), and then turn around, bend over, and spread my ass cheeks, both of which I assume is to look for contraband. This all happened very quickly, it was all very clinical, and the officer was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. (And you thought your job required you to deal with assholes all day long!) Was it humiliating and degrading? I don't know, I suppose so. Is it really any more intrusive than a doctor's exam or the military? There was no body cavity search (I have read that that can happen but I never had an inmate tell me it happened to him). I was then told to put on the clothes (orange jumpsuit) he gave me and return to the main room. I told him he could throw away the clothes I wore in (old shirt, pants, shoes, and underwear).

3. I was fingerprinted with a scanning device (as opposed to ink) very similar to what I went through when I was arraigned by the US Marshalls after my indictment. I was actually surprised that they didn't already have the information. Height and weight was measured and my ID photo was taken. The ID also functions as a debit card for the vending machines in the visiting room. You can transfer $30/week from your commissary account on Mondays (not to ever exceed a balance of $40). This was my ID:

(click to enlarge)

4. I remember filling out another form in which a small space was provided to list my offense. I asked him what to put because my offense description was very long. He looked at the computer and said, laughingly, "Ohh... you're one of those hackers. Just put down 'hacker'." He was actually very pleasant and funny at times. It was the first example of how this is just an office job for these people. And, like most of us, they want it to go as smoothly as possible with as little effort as possible. They are not there to make your life miserable, although sometimes the "little effort as possible" part means they generally aren't going to go out of their way to be nice. They will be pleasant or professional when performing the necessary functions of their job, but they are not there to be your friend, although occasionally they will stop to have a casual conversation.

5. I had a brief visit with one of the two physician assistants on staff, an older stocky man who was very pleasant. He asked a few simply questions about my health. When he saw how short my sentence was, he laughed and just said, "What a waste." He tried to encourage me that the time would fly by and that I should take advantage of all the recreational activities available and my only health risk was spraining an ankle playing softball or something.

6. I found out I had been assigned to Unit (Dorm) C, which is on the 3rd floor of the main building. There are 3 (really 4) housing units, A, B, C, D. Units B and C are on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the main building, respectively. Units A and D are in the L-shaped building immediately to the right of the main building (one wing is A and the other wing, for inmates in Drug and Alcohol Program, is D). Each Unit has its own Case Manager, Secretary, and Counselor. Ms. Johnson was my counselor and she came down to give me an Admission and Orientation Manual, about 30 pages front and back. (I hope to scan this in and publish it on the blog as a PDF file.) I later found out that Ms. Johnson is one of the few staff people who is literally beloved by the inmates. Without exception, inmates described her as the best counselor they have ever had at any prison. She is responsive to the inmate's needs and requests; has been at this prison for 18 years and I believe with BOP for 30 but is retiring this month.

7. The intake process was officially over at this point but I still needed to get my real clothes and find my room. This is where it seemed weird. He directed my out of the back of the main building across the staff parking lot, across Sprague street to the back side of the old navy airplane hangar, which is where the laundry is. Again, without an escort. I have had inmates, who have been in much more controlled prison environments for a long time before being transferred here, tell me that they almost refused; they thought they were being setup for trouble. That is how strange it feels to walk unescorted across the prison grounds, grounds that have no fence. I, having never been in prison, thought it was odd. Nevertheless, I walked in my orange jumpsuit to the laundry on the far side of the hangar (it is labelled as the CMS and laundry on the drawing at the bottom of the page). I found a picture of this hanger on a website (you can't really see any of the prison other than the back of the education building; the other buildings are part of Sufley Field, not the prison):

(click to enlarge)

I tried on a couple of green pants to get the waist size right. An old inmate named Pat then measured my inseem and hemmed a pair for me on the spot. Then they gave me a green shirt to match. Finally, they gave me 4 sets of t-shirts, boxers, socks, small towels and wash cloths, 2 laundry mesh bags, 2 sheets and blankets, a pillow and pillow case, black steel-toed work boots, and told me that the other 4 sets of "greens" would be ready on Monday. "Greens" are the official uniform. Below is a picture I had taken in prison to illustrate. A name tag is ironed on to each green shirt and pair of pants. I made a copy of the name tag before I left and it is also shown below. It inludes my name, id number, and laundry bin number. Each inmate has a bin in the laundry where your clothes are placed after they are washed (if you choose to use the prison laundry rather than wash them yourself). When you pick them up, they can see your bin number on your id tag to retrieve them. I changed into my greens and boots in the laundry and left the jumpsuit there.

(click to enlarge)

8. I was then directed, with all of these clothes and linens in my hand, to the front of the main building (on the south side, along Raby Ave) where there is a stairwell in the middle of the building to Dorms B and C. Once I reached Dorm C, I was greeted by "Tallahassee," an inmate who is the orderly for Dorm C. (Inmates are often nicknamed after the city or state they are from although some inmates just called me "short-timer".) He gave me some basic toiletries to last the weekend and until I could get to commissary and showed me my room. As I have described previously, the rooms are 14'x21' approximately and contain 6 bunk beds (12 inmates). I was directed to a top bunk in the middle of the room and that was it; I was on my own.

That is about as much detail as I can give about my first 2 hours in prison. I hope you find it useful. I understand the anxiety about the process because you don't know what to expect but my experience was not bad. Except for the strip search, everything was routine, though unusual.

Inmate Personal Property Record Form

(click to enlarge)


Anonymous said...

Bill, this is a super account of the intake process, what a relief this can be for a new commit going in...not knowing this process.

Anonymous said...

thanks so much Bill, once again you've shown the "reality" is much less scary than "perception"

Anonymous said...

Bill, I have read your blog countless times in preparation for my sentencing that has now been delayed until April 19, 2010! I live in northwest Florida and am hoping to be assigned to FPC Pensacola. Thanks for all of your efforts!