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).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Modesty and Privacy

I received a question on my Dormitories post about privacy and modesty in the bathrooms. I did comment on this briefly in my post To Box or Not to Box but it probably deserves its own post.

At FPC Pensacola, there is significant privacy in the bathrooms. Modesty is not only allowed, it is expected. You do not want to be walking around naked in the bathroom... or anywhere for that matter. I never saw it happen but I suspect someone will let you know very quickly that public nudity is not acceptable. Guys just don't want to see it. This is not like the junior high or fitness club locker room. Except for fleeting glances when guys were not careful with the shower curtain, I never saw another naked person in prison.

I believe this is the norm for all prison camps. In higher security prisons (Low, Medium, High) or in county jails, it is common for you to be in a two man room with toilet in the room, but showers shared by the unit. I have heard of guys who spend a short time in Atlanta Penitentiary while in transit to another prison describing 5 guys in a small cell with a single sink a toilet. It was so crowded, one guy had to sleep under the toilet! Without exception, Atlanta is the worst place to be.

Below is a layout of the bathrooms on my floor (sorry for the distortion on the copy but I think you can figure it out), which is very similar to Dorm B. (Dorm A is slightly different, actually nicer, but the privacy issue is the same.) This is a segment from the floorplan I posted in the Dormitories but I have labeled the location of the bathroom fixtures in this drawing.

All bathrooms have tiled floors and walls. All toilets and sinks are porcelain. Mirrors are glass, not shiny metal. Remember, this is a minimum security prison; all inmates have no history of violence in their record; there is not even a fence around the place (except for the fence surrounding Saufley Field); you can walk away whenever you want.

The showers are small stalls with curtains. There is a porcelain soap dish on the wall (I dropped my soap one time and, after picking it up, broke off the soap dish with my head when I raised up.... totally shattered it and left a bump on my head). I would guess the stalls are maybe 3' square... not very large. In addition, while there are 4" walls dividing the stalls, the walls stop at about 7 feet (you normally put your shower supplies on top of the divider wall) and there is a 2' square opening at the bottom. The drains are outside of the shower stalls. What this means is that the water in the adjacent stall will splash your feet and all water drains toward the outside of the stalls and sometimes through your stall on the way to the drain.

Some guys are super-freaks when it comes to hygiene. I have heard of some guys completely washing down the inside of the shower stall before they begin their shower. Of course, you always wear your rubber shower shoes for reasons described in Pregnant Feet.

There are hooks outide each shower to hang your clothes and towel. When you have finished your shower, you simply reach out and grab your towel and dry off in the stall. Then you reach out and grab your clothes and dress in the stall... at least put on your underwear before stepping out and putting the rest of your clothes on.

Don't forget your shower supplies. Inevitably, the first couple weeks, you will forget your soap (you can buy a plastic soap dish in the commissary) and shampoo that you set on top of the divider shelf. Trust me, it will not be there when you get back. I had one roommate who lost his soap 6 times in his first 6 weeks. It is an almost universal experience. After all, at home, you just leave everything in the shower.

With respect to toilets, they are standard stalls, with the sliding latch to lock the door. No problems here.

Grooming issues are a little odd. Remember this is a very diverse group and there were a wide range of grooming habits. There was one guy who, I swear, brushed his teeth for 10 minutes every morning. The only reason I knew that was because I would leave the bathroom and then return a few minutes later and he would still be there. Someone later told me that he thought it would make his teeth whiter. Also, there is a sign on the wall that says not to blow your nose in the sink. Huh? Who would blow their nose in the sink? Well, apparently, in the prison Hispanic community, this was very common habit. They would press one nostril closed and blow out one and then repeat with the other. I get the willies just thinking about it.

Most inmates are fanatical about hygiene because, with 250 on a floor, they don't want to get sick. Many do their own laundry because the idea of throwing their clothes in the prison laundry to mix with all the others just grosses them out. They are also very territorial about their bed. Unless they give you permission, do not touch someone else's mattress. Don't sit on it to put your shoes on; don't step on it to get to the top bunk; don't set anything on it.

Also, the doors to all rooms swing open to the inside and do not have locks. It is bad etiquette to enter a room that is not yours without knocking first. It's all about respect and little things matter in prison.

I think that is it. It is very much like a college dormitory except a little more crowded. Higher security prisons and holdover facilities are not nearly as private I have been told, but you should be quite happy with the privacy in a camp.


Anonymous said...

Bill, this is a very descriptive narration of the facilities. How did you pick FPC Pensacola? and this particular Camp? I mean your case/charges were in PA and NC? So how did you manage to get this location and was it your choice?

Anonymous said...

Good clean explanation, it is very true that ATL is the worst, especially if you are on con-air and make a stop over for a few days.

Anonymous said...

Bill: How did you manage a FPC and not a Low security prison? FCI? Did you pick and choose or BOP assigns?

Bill Bailey said...

I live in Charlotte but "caught my case" (another inmate expression) in Philadelphia.

My father is from Pensacola and his entire family still lives there. I have visited Pensacola at Thanksgiving virtually every year since I was a kid. My parents now live a little over an hour east of Pensacola.

At the sentencing hearing, we requested Pensacola and the judge agreed to recommend it on the pretext that it would allow my "elderly" parents to visit easily.

I had researched the options in advance (including the following article in Forbes).

I knew I wanted and qualified for a minimum security prison (i.e. a camp). Pensacola and Maxwell (Montgomery, AL) I believe -- don't hold me to this -- are the only two that allow you to work off-site on the surrounding military base. Most camps are satellite camps -- part of a larger prison complex with a medium and a low. Pensacola is a throwback and may not last much longer I've heard. They are trying to standardize.

At the end of the day, however, it is up to BOP where you go. They have virtually unlimited discretion. The warden could have shipped me to another prison in a hearbeat if he didn't like me or my blog. In fact, incorrigible inmates are often given "diesel therapy", in which prison transportation takes its sweet time getting you to your final new prison destination. My lawyer once told me it took a client 6 weeks to travel by bus from eastern TN to western NC (100 miles), by way of Montana! The bus is constantly dropping off and picking up new inmates and the journey sometimes is circuitous. Since the bus cannot travel at night, you get to spend each night in a new county jail. Sometimes they will put you in a holdover facility. My friend Kent Hovine, our most famous inmate whose story I will tell eventually, took about 3-4 weeks to get from Pensacola to Edgefield, SC by way of Marianna (medium), Tallahassee (holdover), Atlanta (hell).

I did find out that BOP initially assigned me to Morgantown, WV (which made sense if my home was Philadelphia) but then changed it to Pensacola. For about 4 days in March, I thought I was going to Morgantown. The facility there would have been fine I think but impossible for my parents to visit. As it was, except for my initial weekend, my parents visited all 12 weekends and my wife visited 5.

Would I recommend it? Sure. The vast majority of inmates said it was the best place they had been. There were drawbacks (too much work) but the pluses outweighed the minuses. I can't tell you how many inmates saw grass and trees for the first in years when they arrived. The relative freedom freaked them out; they just couldn't get used to the idea of just walking around the camp... seeing real cars and real civilians driving down the road 10 feet from you while you are walking down the sidewalk... seeing animals, dogs, cats, whatever.

The COs called it Camp Snoopy or Camp Cupcake. I don't think it measures up to the Club Fed reputation of years ago but it really doesn't feel like you expect prison to be like, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Bill, your blog is one of a kind (compliment), you are lucky you did not take the scenic route to camp, and you self reported to your destination location.

Anonymous said...

So Bill - think there are going to be a lot of requests for designations to FPC Pensacola as a result of your blog?

Bill Bailey said...

Hmmm... never thought about it. If you know you are going to prison, you need to research the possibilities and persuade the judge to include a recommendation. (My lawyer followed up with a letter to BOP attaching the judge's recommendation, which I'm sure didn't hurt.)

There are also prison consultants that assist in getting the assignment you want.

Ultimately, it is up to BOP, not the judge.

Pensacola is probably about as good as it gets I am told. Not every inmate will agree with that but the consensus opinion from inmates I talked to who had been at other places was the Pensacola, all things considered, was the best place they had been. Not as good as it used to be (Club Fed is dead), as I will talk about later, but still far better than I dreaded.

The only good reason to choose another place is distance from family if you want visits. For example, a lot of guys from Miami would have preferred a "low" in Miami to be near family than a camp in Pensacola, 9-10 hours away.

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