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

"William Bailey, Report to the Control Center ASAP"

[This was written while in prison, contemporaneous with the events recounted.]

Sunday morning, April 22 around 8:30a, I heard my name called over the prison intercom (which is audible in the dormitories):

"William Bailey, report to the control center ASAP."

I was in my room having just dressed in my greens, so I proceeded immediately downstairs to the Control Center in the middle of the first floor. I was then directed to the Lieutenant's office. I originally thought this might have something to do with my revised release date, but it didn't take long to change that thought -- Lieutenant Vasquez, a slim 40ish Mexican-American woman, was holding a printout of the home page of my blog. Gulp.

The conversation went something like this:

Lt: How did this picture get on your website, The Rabbit Hole? [She was pointing to my mugshot photo in the left column.]

Me: I scanned it from my PreSentence Report.

Lt: Scanned it with what?

Me: My scanner at home. This is my FBI mugshot from my arraignment last year.

Lt: And how did you get this information on your blog?

Me: I write it down and mail it to my wife and she posts it. I read all the rules in advance and I couldn't find anything that prohibited this.

Lt: It may not be against the rules but it doesn't seem right. I will talk to the Captain and get back to you.

There was more to the conversation than that, but that was the gist. I also recall interrupting her at one point to say something and she responded firmly: "Don't be talking over me like I'm your wife." She was clearly perturbed at the situation.

I then went to visitation to see my wife but also told other inmates about the exchange. Getting called into the Lieutenant's office is rarely a good thing, so it is natural for other inmates, who also heard my name over the intercom, to ask what's up. I had never met Lt. Vasquez before and the first meeting was a little traumatic but I was told that she actually is very reasonable and pleasant. Hmmm.....

I told my wife about the exchange and to hold off posting anything else until this sorted itself out. She was clearly anxious, as inmate's wives are prone to be.

After my visit, I was called again back into the Lieutenant's office at 3p. She had reviewed some of my phone calls (all of which are recorded and monitored) and claimed that I was giving out too much information over the phone concerning the location of prison buildings and that this compromised the security of the prison.

She clearly affirmed that I can continue to blog as long as I don't compromise the security of the prison by identifying directions to or the location of prison buildings. I specifically asked her if I should shut down my blog and she said, "No, I am not saying that."

She also said that I could publish whatever I wanted once I was released. The only conclusion I could draw is that it wasn't her problem once I was no longer in BOP custody. She pointedly reminded me that while I was at FPC Pensacola, I was the "property" of George Bush, Alberto Gonzales, and and the BOP. [Actually, this I believe was wrong of her to say. I am not the property of anyone, anymore than a child is the property of his parents. I am, instead, in the "custody" of the BOP, which is an important difference. "Property" has no rights; "custody" implies rights and responsibilites.]

Finally, she indicated that she would be meeting with the warden and prison lawyer the next day (Monday) to see if anything else needs to be done, including the possibility of transferring me to another prison (!). Of course, that would be an extreme response. But.....

I appreciate that the Lieutenant has a job to do. While she was firm and assertive (although a little on edge it seemed), she was still reasonably professional, the two snippy remarks notwithstanding. I certainly had no intent to compromise prison security and will adjust my posts accordingly [and, in fact, I believe my wife significantly edited some of my earlier posts which I need to go back and fix].

The concept of prison camp security is something of an oxymoron, at least with respect to inmates escaping. There is no fence or wall around the camp (although there is a chainlink fence around the surrounding Saufley Field, limiting access to the naval base and, I suppose, therefore the prison). Most work details are offsite and among civilian contractors. If an inmate wants to walk away, they certainly don't need my assistance.

To qualify for a prison camp, an inmate must have less than 10 years remaining on his sentence (which reduces his incentive to escape, since a minimum of 18 months will be added to his sentence and he will not return to a camp) and no violence in his history (so that if he does escape, he is not considered a threat to the community). It is very rare for an inmate to "escape" although it did happen about a month before I arrived.

Michael Derenak was on a work detail near the beach and apparently simply walked away. Read this press release for more details. It says he was serving the remainder of a 235 month sentence on Cocaine Conspiracy (which likely means they had no evidence on him except the testimony of other codefendants) and had been at the camp for over 2 years. What they don't say is that he had already been "down" 12 years and still had about 5 years left on his sentence. The word I heard is that he was a lawyer and pilot with money and overseas contacts. No one thinks he will be caught and most inmates hope he isn't caught; I bet most of the prison staff agree. They think the government already took enough of his life. In all likelihood, little effort will be made to capture him; they will simply wait for a tip or for him to make a mistake (e.g. speeding ticket, passport control, contact family or friend, etc.). The problem with escaping is that you pretty much have to "write off" your life as you know it and start over. It also requires money and, probably, assistance.

Perhaps a more pressing concern than escapes is contraband. There is a zero-tolerance policy for smoking, drugs, alcohol, or cell phones. Violations will get you shipped to a higher security prison. There were probably 20 guys shipped for smoking while I was there. You see them escorted in handcuffs to a Crown Vic. In theory, someone on the outside knowing the location or layout of buildings could facilitate the import of contraband. At a camp, however, almost all contraband originates from work details off of the camp. It is impossible for the prison staff to effectively monitor contraband given the number of inmates who travel off-site everyday.

Of course, neither assisting an escape nor importing contraband was (nor is) my intention and I think she understands that, especially once she realized I only had a 3 month sentence. Now that I understand her concerns, I will certainly refrain from providing that information while I am in here.

[UPDATE #1: That Sunday night I called my wife to alert her that there was a possibility that I might be shipped to another prison in the next day or so. I didn't want to worry her but, if I was shipped, I probably would not be able to contact her for a week or so and then she really would be worried. So I had no choice but to let her know what might happen, unlikely though it may be.

So what happened? Well, nothing. I didn't hear from Vasquez again until bumping into her behind the cafeteria after lunch the following Wednesday. She initiated the conversation by asking how work was going (she knew I had been picking up trash that day... what am I supposed to say?). She then said she had taken more time to read my blog and actually enjoyed it. Because she has been doing prison work for 20 years and is in charge of prison security issues, she is trained to look at prisoners with a jaundiced eye. Once she looked at it from my perspective, she could understand what I was trying to do. At least that is what she said. As an inmate, I had quickly become trained to view staff with a jaundiced eye and "read between the lines." Perhaps she was just letting me know she knew where I was working and was reading what I was writing. That is, "You are being watched; be careful what you do or say." Who knows?

Nonetheless, nothing ever came of it. I continued to write, albeit perhaps more carefully. Vasquez was always nice to me in the future, even helpful beyond what she had to be. The inmates were right after all. I think she was just spooked by the initial shock of my website.]

[UPDATE #2: The following weekend, a Canadian friend was going to be in Pensacola and hoped to visit me on that Sunday. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the Visitor Information Form filled out in time. He visited me when I got out a couple weeks ago and told me the following too-funny story.

On that following Monday, he drove to the prison, through the main gate and into the staff parking lot (see the satellite maps at the bottom of the page) and walked right into the canopied entrance to the control center with a package that he wanted to deliver to me! The Asst Warden (Barbara something) happened to be in the lobby and asked if she could help him. He said he had a package for a friend! (Is he crazy?)

She asked for my name.

He said "Bill Bailey."

She replied, apparently light-heartedly, "Tsk, Tsk, bad bad Bill Bailey."

"What do you mean?"

"He has been talking about things he shouldn't be talking about." (Apparently, she had been talking to Vasquez, which means that my little project had made it up the food chain all the way to Asst Warden... I don't know if the warden ever heard about it... I never met him.)

My friend was then told that he couldn't deliver packages to inmates (although I appreciate the effort) so he had to leave. He later mailed the "package," which was really just some magazines and a letter.

The story is amazing, especially in its timing and how easily he just waltzed right into the control center. I have no idea what he told the Navy guard at the main gate to gain entrance. But it does illustrate how unsecured the camp really is. If you get past the front gate, which apparently isn't hard (!), there is nothing to stop you from getting dropped off in front of the main dorm, walk up the stairwell into the dorms, and talk to whomever you want. Of course, if you happen to get caught, you could be charged with a federal trespassing offense and I'm sure they could come up with a couple others.]

[UPDATE #3: How did Lt. Vasquez find my blog? I didn't know then and I still don't know but I assume someone contacted BOP after reading my blog. I didn't want to ask her because she might say, "Why? Was I not supposed to know about it?" I preferred to act like I didn't care. The reality is that I knew eventually BOP was going to find out about it, but I was neither going to hide it or announce it. Don't ask, don't tell. In a sense, my blog is a passive-aggressive form of defiance. As I stated in my post before reporting to prison, my biggest fear was that of feeling invisible. The system atomizes and isolates inmates, who are virtually powerless to assert themselves constructively. The options seem to be two: passive-passive (institutionalization, surrender) or aggressive-aggressive (resulting in even greater punishment). I chose passive-aggressive... I refused to be invisible. I insisted on telling my story... simple words. I will not attack (or blame) the system head on... I will simply write about my experience. I will be the eyes for the outside world. It is very empowering. In a democracy, I believe if citizens are going to elect representatives who are going to pass laws and impose punishments, then those citizens have a right to know the "reality" of those punishments. Instead, there is a virtual "black hole" of ignorance about prison.]

1 comment:

Paul Eilers said...

"there is a virtual "black hole" of ignorance about prison"


Most of what the outside knows about prison comes from books, television and movies. These sources do not always paint an accurate picture.


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