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, August 24, 2007

Jim Black Release Date Announced (Revised)

Jim Black's release date has been calculated by BOP - Feb 24, 2012. [Note: as reader notes below, the date was originally Feb 28, 2012 and revised downward the next day. I am sure Black's lawyers will doublecheck everything to make sure it's right and let them know... unless BOP wrongly calculated in Black's favor of course, in which case they will keep their mouths shut :) ]. Using this time and date calculator, he will serve about 1671 days or about 55 months (4 years, 6 months and 26 days) of his original 63 month (1916 days, calculated as 365 x 5 + 91) sentence. Note that this is not 85% but 87.2%. (1671/1916=87.2%), which is why I explained earlier that federal inmates do not really get 15% off their sentence for good time but closer to 12.8%. In effect, BOP is cheating him out of about 1.5 months based on their calculations. He is getting 245 days good time when it should be more like 287 days (1916 x 15%) so he is losing 42 days based on BOP strange calculation method.

Of this 55 months, he will be allowed to serve the final 10%, or 5.5 months, in a halfway house, presumably in Charlotte. That means he will actually spend about 49.5 months (4 years and 1.5 months) in "real" prison before release to the halfway house. In reality, most inmates do not spend all of their time in the halfway house, but are released after a much shorter period, depending on how overcrowded it is. He may spend 6-8 weeks in the halfway house I would guess.

It turns out I won my own contest to guess the release date. I guessed March 9, 2012 so I was off by 13 days.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Clothing / Laundry

[This was written while in prison.]

When you are admitted to FPC Pensacola, you are assigned the following clothing:

5 green shirts (long-sleeve if you want)
5 green pants
1 green jacket
4 white t-shirts
4 white boxers/briefs
4 pair of white socks

You also get 2 twin sheets, 2 blankets, a pillow and pillow case, 2 laundry mesh bags, and one pair of black Rhino steel-top work boots.

Additionally, you can buy sweats (shirt, shorts, pants) and additional boxers, t-shirts, and socks at the commissary on monday nights.

Only prison camps have green uniforms All other federal prisoners where khaki uniforms. Or so I am told... I have nothing to document that.

The green shirts and pants have your name tag ironed on. The name tag includes your name, id number, and laundry bin number. You laundry bin number is also attached to your laundry mesh bags.

(click to enlarge)

There are two ways to clean your clothes -- use the prison laundry or use the dormitory laundry.

Each dormitory floor has a laundry room for use by inmates. My room is next to the laundry room, which has 3 commercial washers and 3 commercial dryers. Oftentimes, I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom (which requires me to walk past the laundry room) and I will see someone doing their laundry (or someone else's -- it is common to pay poor inmates to do your laundry). You can buy laundry soap in the commissary.

This will come as no surprise... I do not do my own laundry. I use the prison laundry.

The prison laundry is located on the backside of the old airplane hangar behind the dorm. I can see it out my window across the staff parking lot. [See second picture at the bottom of the page.]

This is how the procedure works.

Put all your whites and sweats in your mesh laundry bag and use the pull string to tighten the opening (you should also tie a knot to prevent the pullstring from loosening otherwise the contents will empty into the wash).

Walk to the laundry and drop your bag through the chute in the door along with your separate greens. This should be done before 7a. Since your greens have an id number on them, as does your mesh bag, the laundry staff can keep your stuff together.

The mesh bags are loaded into 160lb commercial washers. Of coarse, the greens are washed in separate loads. After washing, they are dried in big tumble dryers. After drying, the green shirts and pants are folded by the inmates who have laundry duty that day. I did this 2 or 3 times during my stay.

The mesh bads and folded greens are then stacked in cubbyhole bins according to each inmate's laundry number (I'm 702 as you can see on my id tag above).

Laundry can be picked up after 2p. In other words, you drop your laundry up before work in the morning and you pick it up when you return in the afternoon. Pretty simple. I usually do it on Monday.

As for linens, you take your 2 sheets, 2 blankets, and pillowcase and exchange them for clean ones; you don't keep washing the same ones over and over.

Inmates run the laundry although they are supervised by a staff person.

I am going to try to keep one set of greens and my work boots when I leave as "souvenirs" but I don't know yet if it is allowed. I thought it would make an original (and authentic!) Halloween costume.

In the meantime, I will get a picture taken of me in greens so you can see that the uniforms are not bad. Except for the name tag, no one would know that you are an inmate. It's not like walking around in an orange jumpsuit.

[UPDATE: I was not allowed to take any clothing with me :( I did get a picture taken which is displayed above. ]

Commissary Changes

[This was written in late May while in prison. While the topic is not so timely anymore, it does illustrate some of the small practical issues that the prison staff have to respond to.]

Effective May 21, 2007, the commissary schedule changes. The waiting times have become prohibitively long while waiting for your "order" to be processed. (See previous post for details on how the commissary works.)

The new schedule has added one hour from 11a-12p Monday-Thursday. This corresponds to the lunch hour for inmates who work on the camp or at Saufley Field (the base the prison is located on), such as myself. Approximately 70% of the camp works offsite so this does not affect them directly, however, if the other 30% utilize this new one hour window, it should relieve the congestion during the 4p-7p shopping time the 70% must use after they return from their work detail.

Thus, while the change does create a decision (do I shop or eat lunch??), I think this is a good change. In addition to relieving the congestion for the later time slots, it gives you an opportunity to "quick shop" for items you may have run out of without having to wait for your designated shopping day to arrive (Tue, Wed, or Thu).

Also, if you reach your $290 spending limit before the end of your "reset" day (the 10th of the month for me), it allows you to buy stuff immediately on the first weekday after your account resets, which is nice also.

As welcome as these changes are, I am not sure they were done for our benefit. I don't want to give into the cynicism that pervades prison life (a cynicism that assumes that no decision is made by the BOP with the inmate's welfare in mind), but there was an accompanying memo that reinforces the specific boundaries of the commissary waiting area.

The commissary is operated out of an old naval airplane hangar located on the corner of the prison camp adjacent to other Saufley Field buildings where civilians work. [See second map at bottom of the page -- click link to enlarge. The commissary is in the upper left hand corner --northwest -- of the camp.] Inmates are supposed to remain outside of the commissary door under a small (12'x24') sheltered patio on a small area near the dumpsters (!) next to the patio.

Given the increased population of the camp and the limited time to shop, it is is impossible to keep the inmates congregated in such a small waiting area. As a result, they often overflow into the side street (Sprague Ave), occasionally obstructing cars who are leaving work at the end of the day (remember, shopping is after the 4p count -- usually around 4:30p -- till 7p). I suspect this makes some of the drivers, especially the women, uneasy and the camp received complaints.

Furthermore, having such a large number of inmates (100-125) congregated on the edge of the camp boundaries, separated only from the large base by a line on the ground, creates an opening for the import of contraband.

Whether the schedule changes are designed to make life easier on the inmates or address security concerns, I don't know. Nonetheless, the changes are welcome.

[UPDATE: As it turns out, the added lunch hour shopping time was not quite as beneficial as I had hoped. I had assumed that we could shop on any, or all, of the days that the commissary was open at lunch. Indeed it seemed that way for a while as "Tank" and I would stop by after eating lunch and buy a pint of Blue Bell ice cream for $1.50 and sit in the shade before returning for work. Ok, maybe it is not quite as poignant as that scene in Shawshank Redemption where "Red" and the other inmates drank beer on the rooftop they were tarring, courtesy of Andy Dufresne's tax knowledge but its the best I could do!

Unfortunately, however, it turns out the prison was still "officially" enforcing the rule that you can only shop once per week and you were still restricted to your designated shopping day. In other words, if my shopping day was Tuesday, then I can shop at lunch on Tue or later that afternoon but not both shifts or on another day. In practice, it actually depends on which of the 3 COs are running the commissary that week. Running the commissary is a miserable and tedious job -- no one like it. Some are stickler for the rules; others just want to get the orders placed as quickly as possible and don't want to waste time trying to figure out whether you already shopped that day or whether this is your shopping day or not (your shopping day is determined by the last two digits of your inmate id number so it is easy to tell but not so easy to remember if you already ordered at lunch and are back again).

The bigger risk (as I recounted in my 11th Week Summary) is that you could submit your order at lunch and it might not get filled before you have to return to lunch, in which case you have wasted your order for the week. If you aren't there when your order is filled, you are done for the week. Not cool. Trust me, they don't care; it's not their problem. Those were the exact words -- "not my problem" -- I heard when I attempted to shop again that afternoon after I had to leave my order at lunch to return to work. This was to be my last shopping day in prison because the following week the commissary was closed for inventory and the week after I was leaving. This was the only time I ever submitted a "cop-out" to complain about a policy. ]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reader Comments

These are comments I have received to my gmail account ( from readers who chose not to post comments online. I have of course slightly edited where necessary to not compromise their privacy.

Comments received while in prison:

I've been enjoying Bill's blog throughout the last few days. As a convicted white-collar felon on my way to Jesup FCI (most likely the camp, from what the forum bloggers are saying), Bill's thoughtful commentary has already helped me tremendously as to what to expect when I arrive. -- Gregory

I'm sure I will have more to say very soon but I just found out 2 days ago that instead of the 12 months probation my attorney said i would get for taking the plea of information withholding (missprisonment of a felony) I will be doing 18months at FPC Pensacola. I report June 4, 2007. Reading your Blog has eased my mind a little and I appreciate that. I still don't know how to handle being away from my 5 year old son and 1 year old daugther, I cry like a little girl everytime I think about it. LOL! Just telling the truth, I'm amazed how supportive and strong my wife is.....I look at her now in a whole new way. I'm sure in time I will learn to cope with missing the children but honestly I just don't see how, other than God, because they spent most of their time with me since I worked for myself. But anyway, I just wanted You to know I appreciate you sharing your experience and I will be Praying for you and your family -- Jonathan [Actually, Jonathan ended up assigned to Edgefield, SC so I didn't get to meet him. I didn't know until prison that there was such a crime as Missprisonment of a Felony, which is a failure to report a felony that you have direct knowledge of... a very odd crime indeed.]

Hey I just wanted to send a note to thank you guys for blogging, I have just stumbled onto this blog in march and have been checking it religiously since then. -- Benjamin

Thank you very much for your compelling blog... I can't thank you for your compelling story and all the information has been so helpful... I have read your blog a hundred times. I printed the entire website and Jerry has it in prison. He reads it daily. I can't thank you enough for all your words of advice and wisdom. It has helped me tons to get prepared for what happened last week. -- Eileen

Comments received since my release:

Thank you so much for creating your blog site and sharing your experiences in the Federal Prison System. Reading your posts has provided a lot of practical insight on what I can expect.
It has also help reduce my fears of being in a prison facility. I will continue checking your blog site every day - please keep the posts coming. -- Jeff

I have been scouring for information on what to expect and trying to prepare myself and my family for what is to come. I have been reading allot on, which is where I found your blog. I wanted to thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone and dealing with this the way you have. I plan on showing my wife your blog so she set her expectations as well. -- Joe

First, let me say welcome home! You survived our backwards system! I am happy for you and your wife. I found your website through Prison Talk Online (PTO). I have been a regular visitor there for a few years.I am about to begin serving a 27 month sentence for Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and failure to file a tax return. Those are my supposed sins, but I will tell you that I am 100% innocent and have never broken a law in my life! -- Tracy

I really appreciate you writing about your experience with the federal government criminal justice system. I am having my own experience unfold presently. -- Michael

Just wanted you to know that I stumbled upon your blog last night (via a link from and couldn't stop reading until I'd read every word. As someone with a relative currently at Pensacola FPC, I'm tremendously grateful for your descriptions, as well as insight and explanations. Thanks for what you're doing -- please keep it up! -- Lisa

I just want to say I really enjoy reading your blog, especially the recent updates since your release. You have a wonderful way with words that can paint a picture for someone who is not in that situation. In one of your posts you talk about 'crossing the threshhold' - how life is different for you now. I can tell you that as I go through this process I can relate. Life really does change. I would say for me it crystallized when all this came to a head. Right now, in pre-sentencing, time does two things. It speeds by and I wonder where the days go, and September 4th (my sentencing date) is getting here quicker than i can believe. In the opposite vein, time seems to slowly creep by slower than I have ever experienced before. -- Jim

First off thanks for your info you don't know just how much you have helped me!!!!!! Is there any way I could talk to you, I hate email. I just have some concerns i would like to know about. My # is 000-000-0000 or i will call you on my dime just e mail me your number. Please please let me talk with you. It would help me and my wife so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -- Phil

Thanks so much for your informative blog. I have been searching the net for a few years, and I must say, your blog is the most informative about life inside. It really is helpful to know what I'm about to face. It takes a lot of the stress and fear away. Please keep this up, as you will help many others in the future. -- Vincent

I read with interest (and laughter), your site today which I ran across as I was looking for information on the Federal "Good Time Credit" bill. For now, your explanation of the calculation provides one of the most clear I've seen. While I still didn't find the information my son called me to look for, the brief reading I did brought a smile to my face. I was having another one of those days where I slip in to depression. I just wanted to let you know that. -- Vivian

New Rabbit Hole Inductees

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

On May 17, a new inmate arrived. Not just any inmate, but a very special inmate -- the first inmate who has reported to FPC Pensacola after first reading this blog on the outside!

My wife notified me that he was arriving and gave me his name (which I won't repeat). It turns out he was assigned to my dorm 2 rooms away. I have stopped by a couple of times but he hasn't been there.

Eventually, I'm sure I will meet him. I'm curious to get his feedback on my blog.

Stay tuned. I am told there are 2 or 3 more on the way.

[UPDATE: I did finally meet John in the cafeteria. He said he had looked for me. He also said his roommates had a lot of questions about me because, apparently, they knew I was writing this blog, which I guess made them nervous. John reassured them that they had nothing to be nervous about. He said that this blog had been a huge source of comfort for his family, that it was the only thing they could find that talked about life in FPC Pensacola. He was responsible for posting my blog address on, which garnered me some extra traffic. John is a former CEO who is serving 1 year and a day. He has the right mindset and will do fine.

In mid-June, another inmate introduced himself as having read my blog and wanted to thank me. He made the same comment as John; that is, the blog was a source of comfort for his family.

It is odd, because that was not a conscious intent of mine. It didn't occur to me that simply describing my life in prison would bring comfort to future inmate families but I guess I can see why. Our biggest fears are of the unknown. I know I couldn't find any information on the internet about this place so simply making the reality known, even if it is unpleasant, is better than not knowing.

I will post some of the other comments I have received to my gmail account in the next post.

Me and Ike

[Sorry for the long delay in posting new articles about my prison experiences. I still have 10 or so more to go. This was written in late April, 3 weeks after I entered prison so read it in that context. I have delayed repeatedly posting it because it is more personal than other posts but it illustrates the types of personality issues that arise in prison and how I tried, or didn't try (!), to deal with them. As always, comments in brackets are current edits, everything else is as I wrote it at the time.]

This morning, Wed April 18, Ike and I almost had a fight. It wouldn't have been much of a fight. Ike is a 5'10" 235lb 38 yr old black guy with about 12 years in prison and a life on the streets. Me? I'm about... well, it doesn't matter what I am, I would have been killed. [This occurred several weeks before I actually was assaulted.]

Ike is one of my new roommates that arrived on the transfer bus last Wednesday. There are 10 guys in my room now (5 black, 2 hispanic, and 5 white). In an ironic twist, I actually have "seniority" in the room based on most time at this prison. [They opened a new room after my first week and moved me and 2 other guys into the room, filling the room with transfers over the next couple weeks.] That doesn't mean much, except I like to occasionally joke about it, given that all the black guys have been in other prisons for quite a while. For the most part, they laugh along and make jokes at my expense about my prison naivete.

Ike is loud, opinionated, funny and profane. He finds me something of a curiosity and is constantly mocking me about almost everything. I usually enjoy the repartee as do the other black guys in the room although at times it wears on me.

I have always tried to view prison as an opportunity to meet and try to understand people I usually don't get to spend much time with. Black drug dealers from the "street" fall into that category so Ike and I have had some pretty "real" conversations and I thought some degree of mutual respect had been established. Unfortunately it was a fragile respect.

Each room is responsible for maintaining its cleanliness. [Each room on each unit is inspected weekly and the highest rated unit gets preference for chow and commissary lines.] This includes daily sweeping, mopping, and dusting the lockers and window sills. There is a variety of ways to manage this but most rooms simply rotate the job to a different person each week. I volunteered the first week, knowing by the time it came back around to me, I would already be out.

For reasons I don't entirely understand, Ike insists on helping me to the point of taking over the whole job and then accusing me of not knowing what I am doing (which is partly true) and generally just being lazy (which is not true). This morning, I had to be a the bus staging area for work at 6:30a. Ike, still concerned that I might not do my job, asked me when I was going to do it. I said I would get up at 5:30a and do it right before I leave for work.

I awoke at 5:30a only to see Ike already sweeping with the mop bucket ready nearby. All the shoes under the beds (which is where we keep them) had been placed on a spare bed. I was confused and annoyed at his insistent efforts to belittle and embarrass me in front of the other guys in the room.

Exasperated, I finally said, "Ike, the only other person in my life who insists on doing my work for me is my momma!"


What I thought was merely a cute joke to make my point was instead perceived (apparently) as a full frontal nuclear attack on this man's masculinity. Ike had been dissing me for days and with one little remark, I had ignited a firestorm. It was clear that it took every ounce of self-control for him to keep from decking me. After telling me to quit talking "slick" and "disrespecting" him, he left to cool off, but it was clear this man was steamed and I wanted nothing to do with him anymore.

I finished cleaning the room and left for me new work detail. I saw my friend Sherman on the way out and he already knew about it [seems like Sherman always knew what was going on... he would always tell me he worried about me based on the "word on the street"]. He and Ike go way back and Ike was shocked to find out the previous day that Sherman and I were friends, though a very unlikely pair. (The other new guys in the room were surprised at how many people I already knew. They joke that I will know everyone before I leave in 3 months. My friends back home are nodding knowingly! They would not be surprised.)

Sherman confirmed that my "joke" had enraged Ike (he claims that I had essentially called him a "bitch" which I guess is a fighting word in prison) and he reaffirmed his earlier advice (that he now believes I will continue to ignore) to leave guys like Ike alone and don't get caught up in the little details of "this place." If I was anywhere other than a prison camp, I would already have problems. He also confirmed what I alread suspected - that I was transferred out of the other room because the other guys didn't like me. It's not that I'm not "nice." It's that my conversational inquisitiveness doesn't translate well to prison, at least with a lot of guys who have learned on the street to be suspicious of inquisitive strangers. I also don't act like I'm in prison which I am sure is a point of irritation for some.

Unfortunately, out of fear for my safety and sanity I really have to reevaluate my natural manner of socializing while in prison. When I returned to my room later that day for the 4p count, Ike and I ignored each other. He was his typical boisterous self whereas I kept silent in my bunk, biting my tongue when tempted to interject something into the group conversation. I left poor Ken, who is a Russian Jew, to fend for himself as they "discussed" such topics as "Which was worse, slavery or the holocaust?" (Uh, see ya. I don't want any piece of that discussion!)

This development is actually quite sad for me. I knew I was going to be around many types of people I do not naturally nor normally associate with. I have always found other people's stories interesting, especially if they are from a different culture. I am the furthest thing from a xenophobe. I am usually pretty effective at establishing some level of rapport with almost anyone. Unfortunately in this case, it seemed to have blown up in my face.

PS May 9 update. Ike and another inmate moved out of my room today and two new transfers moved in. Ike and I have barely talked in the last 3 weeks. I have done a lot better at keeping to myself. (Sherman says he hasn't heard my name come up lately, which I guess is a good thing!)

He didn't move because of me but, according to his comments last night, because his "bunkie" insists on keeping the light in the room on until 11:30p when "lights out" is soon after the 10p count. I'm already asleep by then and the lights don't bother me anyway so I wasn't aware of this but it further illustrates the kind of issues that can arise in a room with 12 guys.

I have also since learned details that may have explained partially some of our earlier misunderstanding. It is not uncommon for some inmates to "work" for money (see post on Mackerel) because they have no one on the outside to put money in their commissary account and we only get about $17/mo for our prison work.

Thus some inmates will provide services for other inmates in exchange for a few cans of mackerel, which they can barter for other needed items. [In other prisons, since cigarettes are now banned from federal prisons, stamps usually function as the new currency. At FPC Pensacola, it was cans of mackerel. Go figure.] These services can include housekeeping duties such as sweeping, mopping, dusting, bed making, and laundry. Technically, these arrangements are against BOP rules (primarily, I assume, to protect vulnerable inmates from being coerced into providing payments to other inmates). It is however extremely common and, in any case, Ike has been doing the cleaning ever since my "shift" ended so maybe that is what is going on.

In other words, Ike may very well have been insisting on doing the cleaning and on showing me and everyone else that he can do a better job than me so we would all agree to just pay him to do it instead of simply rotating the job among each inmate. Ike is a proud man and it may have been difficult for him to say that so he did it the only way he knew and I just didn't get the hint and ended up insulting him. He wasn't showing me up so much as he was trying to "get the job".... a good example of two guys from two different backgrounds, insecure about two different things (he is poor and I'm new to prison), completely misunderstood each other.

[UPDATE: Over the remaining 7 weeks of my stay, Ike and I continued to ignore each other which was a little easier since we were not roommates but he continued for several weeks to continue cleaning the room which required me to actively ignore him when he was cleaning around my bed. When we were otherwise near each other, we simply averted our eyes, which actually is the normal way to mind your own business in prison... just focus on the ground 10 feet in front of you and don't pay attention to anything else... not even a nod or a smile unless it is a friend.... actually, I think it works this way in New York City also :)

During my last couple weeks, however, we ran into each other in the library a couple times and the ice began to melt a little. We would have simple conversations but neither of us treaded on any ground that could turn sensitive.

Finally, with only a few days remaining, the subject of our "incident" came up. He actually broached it by acknowledging that we had had a little falling out but that was in the past. I acknowledged that I have noticed a tendency to irritate a few people while in prison. He asked why I thought that was. I didn't know. He said it was because I was sarcastic, which I thought was odd. Given the "aggressive" language that I had to put up with everyday, anything I say had to be relatively benign. My guess is that while my language is not "rough," I am still more verbally sophisticated than most of the guys in prison so I can "defend" myself with fewer, incisive words. Of course, in a different prison, I would just get beat up so my words would not have done me a whole lot of good!

Another guy, actually a friend, told me soon before I left that I was a "smart ass who didn't care what anyone else thought," an observation I thought totally untrue yet, strangely, I think he meant it as a compliment. I was determined, in my brief stay, to be true to myself, to not allow myself to be overwhelmed by the culture of prison. With a 3 month sentence, I had that luxury. I was definitely a misfit in so many ways that were repeatedly pointed out to me by guys who didn't appreciate my "misfitting." Yet, I stood my ground I think for the most part and sometimes that involved some verbal sparring that some could construe as being a "smart ass." Usually, some friend would later tell me that I really shouldn't be getting in these kinds of "conversations."

On the day I left, Ike made a point to wish me good luck and I am pleased to say I think he was sincere. I will never forget his stories. I so wish I could have had a microphone to record his monologues about life on the street... girls, clubs, drugs, the "PO-lease"... some of the funniest stuff I have ever heard. He always "kept it real." ]

Wife who killed preacher could go free today

In March 2006, Mary Winkler shot her preacher husband in the back with a shotgun. She was tried and convicted of voluntary manslaughter.

In June, while I was in prison, she was sentenced to 3 years in prison. I was amazed. I recall telling my parents when they visited that it was a good thing she killed her husband; had she sold him crack instead, she would be facing serious federal time.

Here I was surrounded by men whose only crime was selling drugs (or, in many cases, simply involved in some way in the "conspiracy" to sell drugs -- one guy was doing 12 years because, as a favor to his cousins for no compensation, he translated from Spanish to English to facilitate a drug deal!) who were doing far more time for a non-violent offense while Ms. Winkler gets 3 years for shooting her husband in the back.

But wait, it gets better. The judge only required her to serve 210 days of the sentence in prison, with the remainder to be served on probation. Since she had already spent 5 months in jail awaiting trial, she is now being released after serving the final 60 days. In other words, I am doing 6 months (180 days) -- half in prison, half home confinement -- for making a copy of a physician list; she gets 30 days more for shooting her husband in the back. I understand there were difficult circumstances involved but the fact remains she killed another human being voluntarily and she will only spend 7 months in jail.

Part of the difference is state vs federal sentencing (hers was a state case) but surely that cannot possibly fully explain the twisted sentencing priorities in our system(s) of justice.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

CEO Survival Guide (Hint: Don't Get Sick)

Just ran across an article in Conde Nast Portfolio - C.E.O. Survival Guide: Pre-Prison Prep -

I pretty much agree with all 10 points.

In particular, one I haven't talked about is #4: Don't Get Sick. They are being kind when they say: "Prison medical staffs may not be up to the standard you have come to expect."

Medical care is actually rather scary, especially if you have a chronic condition you are used to treating on the outside. For example, if you are diabetic you can no longer give yourself insulin shots. I knew a couple guys that would go in first thing in the morning and once in the afternoon to get their shots. They were constantly battling the doctor as to the appropriate dosage. I saw one guy go into diabetic shock in the dining hall. I don't mean to be rude but he looked like a cockroach on its back in the throes of death. It was quite scary. Fortunately, the staff attended to him pretty quickly and he recovered ok, but everyone pretty much lost their appetite for what remained of their lunch.

One of my roommates had so many chronic medical problems (he really had no business in a workcamp), he was sent 3 times (!) during my brief stay to the local emergency room due to seizure-like symptoms. He was always returned within a few days because the prison doctor, not the hospital doctor, has final say about his fitness to return and it is expensive for BOP to pay for his medical care in the hospital. The third time they dropped him down half a flight of stairs (we were on the 3rd floor) and, when he returned, he could barely get out of bed due to soreness in neck and back. Were it not so serious, it would have been comical.

I had a routine initial dental appointment and physical exam. That was fortunately the extent of my personal experience with medical care in prison. The dentist and physician's assistant that I saw were fine although I was not being treated for any specific medical condition. I am not qualified to evaluate the competence of any of the medical staff but I do know that the medical director and chief physician had very low reputations among the inmates. (Having a low reputation among inmates is not necessarily a bad thing, but....)

Finally, if I haven't depressed you enough, one inmate died last fall. He was in his 50s, playing soccer, and had a heart attack. One of the other inmates was a physician himself and was present to treat him. However, the CO prevented him from doing so. As a matter of rule, the CO was apparently right..... BOP regulations prohibit inmates from providing medical care to other inmates. However, the medical office was probably half a mile away and the inmate died on the soccer field. I was not there (it was before my time) but the story was well known in the camp.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Guess Jim Black's Release Date - Win $20

To illustrate how complicated sentence computation can be, I am having a contest to calculate Jim Black's release date.

Winner gets $20.

Once BOP completes the official computation it will be published on their website here. It could take them a few weeks. Contest closes once the date is published.

Jim Black was sentenced to 63 months. He surrendered last Monday, July 30. He should also get one day credit for his arraignment although he entered a guilty plea before being indicted so maybe he was never arraigned. His BOP sentence includes halfway house so you don't have to worry about that.

Using this document or any other you can find, calculate his release date and post it as a comment. Hmmm.... but if everyone posts a comment as "anonymous," how will I know who the winner is?

My guess: March 9, 2012 [I recalculated. Originally, I said April 12, 2012.]

You can use this date calculator to assist you.

PS He could end up knocking another year off his sentence if he gets in the DAP program but that is not a consideration at this point.

[UPDATE: I was minding my own business yesterday (Sat, 8/12), reading the Charlotte Observer at my favorite lunch place (I am allowed out between 10a-2p on Saturdays). Lo and behold I run across a story about my blog... actually, this particular article! If you have never had your name in the paper, it is always a startling experience, especially when you had no idea it was coming.

See (scroll down)

The background is that I had emailed David Ingram, the reporter who has been covering the Jim Black affair, to see if he had any inside information on how Jim Black was able to get to Lewisburg so quickly (see previous post). In the email, I referred to my blog. Apparently it read part of it and decided to announce my little contest here.

Of course, I could have done without his little comment at the end that he would enter, but he doesn't "gamble." The last thing I need is for my PO to violate me because I broke some gambling law! :) This is not gambling, David, it's just a contest. ]

Good Time Credit is NOT 15%

It is commonly thought that federal inmates can earn 15% off of their sentence for each year served. This is the so-called "good-time credit."

The Sentencing Commission in 1987 created baseline sentences by surveying what actual sentences were for a broad array of crimes. It then divided by 0.85 to make the sentence about 15% longer so that the good-time credit would bring the sentence back down to the standard amount. In other words, the base guideline sentences actually contain a built-in 15% "bad-time" penalty which "good-time" simply erases.

However, instead of simply multiplying the guideline sentence by 85% to get back to the base level sentence, the BOP came up with a different, more-convoluted interpretation of the statute. Courts appear to have acknowledged some ambiguity in the language of the statute and that BOP's interpretation is one viable interpretation. Since it is up to BOP to calculate setences, their interpretation is deferred to as long as it is deemed "reasonable."

The result of the BOP's interpretation is that an inmate only gets 12.8% good-time credit rather than 15% -- 47 days per year instead of 54 days.

Why is this?

The short explanation -- read the NACDL link below for full explanation -- is that BOP only gives you credit based on "term of incarceration" not "term of sentence." According to BOP, good-time credit must be 15% of actual prison time, not sentenced time. What this means is that if BOP were to give an inmate 15% of 365 days (that is, 54 days -- actually 54.75 but I guess they round down), then the inmate would only serve 311 days. Since 311 is the actual "term of imprisonment" then BOP claims that the inmate is actually getting a 17.3% credit (54/311). In other words, BOP calculates the good-time percentage using adjusted time as the denominator, not the sentenced time. Therefore, they determined that 47, not 54, days credit would actually result in 15% because term of imprisonment would then be 318 days (365-47) and 47/318 = 14.78%, which I guess is as close as they could get to 15% (although if they gave 48 days credit, 48/317=15.14%, which is actually closer to 15% -- whatever). The bottom line is that BOP claims they are giving 15% credit but to most people it appears as 12.8% because 47/365=12.8%.

Only sentences greater than 1 year are eligible for good-time (and halfway house for that matter). That is why you see so many sentences at one year and a day. If the judge gave a sentence of exactly one year (365 days), the inmate would not qualify for the 47 days (or the halfway house). However, with a sentence of one year and a day (366 days), the inmates will actually serve 319 days... about 10½ months. The final 32 days (10% of 319) would be spent in a halfway house.

Thus, a one year sentence turns into 287 days in prison (9½ months) and 32 days in a halfway house.

As I understand it, the good-time credit is given at the end of each year served. Where I am not clear is what this means if, say, your sentence is 23 months. At the end of the first year, you get 47 days credit. But you never complete the second year since it is only partial. Does this mean that you only get the 47 days for the first year but no credit for the significant part of the second year. Most people would simply multiply 15% by 23 months (let's call it 690 days) and come up with 103 days believing that is their good time credit. But it is possible that you may only get 47 for completing the first year and none for the rest. [UPDATE: I found the answer. The statute specifically says "credit for the last year or portion of a year of the term of imprisonment shall be prorated and credited within the last six weeks of the sentence." I guess you do get credit for the last partial year, which of course makes sense.]

Furthermore, if your sentence is, like Jim Black's, 63 months, then with his good time credit for the early years of the sentence, he will end up serving less than 60 months (credit = 47 days x 4 anniversaries = 188 days) and will not get credit for the 5th year of his sentence (let alone the extra 3 months after 5 years) because he never actually got to the end of the 5th year. [UPDATE: As I indicated above, Jim Black should get credit for the portion of the 5th year that he will actually serve.]

What is the difference? Well, by my calculations:

Original sentence: 1916 days (5 years x 365 days plus 91 days for the 3 months)
15% Good Time Calculation: 287 days
Actual Good Time Calculation for First 4 years: 4 years x 47 days/year = 188 days
Actual Good Time Calculation for Partial 5th year: 268 days/365 days x 47 days/year = 34 days
Actual Total Good Time : 212 days
Difference: 75 days (2½ months)

As I stated at the beginning this is unfortunately more complicated than it should be.

For more details, I refer you to the following links:$File/pg12.pdf

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Wow, Do I Feel Silly

Believe it or not... and I still can't believe it... Jim Black is in Lewisburg. He left Friday (yesterday) morning and according to the BOP website, he is now in Lewisburg. 450 miles in one day. In a prison van. How did they do it?

Maybe BOP was reading my website and just wanted to prove me wrong so they drove him straight there (it's STILL a long way to go in a prison van) before transporting anyone else anywhere.

I still think everything I said was true because I know of other case stories but I was hoping that I could use Jim Black as an object lesson (not that I really wished the experience on him). I guess BOP wouldn't let me do that.


Coincidentally, my PO stopped by this morning (on a Saturday) and I was telling him about Jim Black getting to Lewisburg so fast. He said it is possible that he flew. I had forgotten about that possibility because normally the Justice Prisoner & Alien Transportation System (JPATS) -- also known as Con-Air -- flies through their central hub in Oklahoma City. Just like Fed-Ex flies all packages into Memphis and then redistributes them back out, so BOP send all prisoners to Oklahoma City where they have a special airport that is the holdover facility. In other words, the airport is itself a prison but exists solely to handle inmates temporarily who are in transit from one facility to another. I have heard that it is actually not that bad of a place. The flights on the other hand I have heard are not so pleasant.

For a first-hand account of the Con-Air experience click here.

You can also read Michael Santos' description on his website (scroll down to Prison Transit section).

Trivia: Immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all civilian air service, Con-Air was the only non-military air service allowed to continue flying in U.S. airspace.

I don't think Jim Black flew Con-Air but since, technically, he never was in custody of BOP (just the US Marshals), he possibly could have flown commercial at his own expense with an accompanying marshal -- I vaguely recall an inmate tell me that a private flight is an option he tried to utilize once when he needed to travel from Pensacola to New York City for a resentencing hearing. It costs some ridiculous amount like $10K, which he was prepared to pay, but he was turned down. Instead, his roundtrip diesel therapy experience lasted 3 months, including scenic stops in Atlanta and Oklahoma City.

As for Jim Black, this solution actually would make a lot of sense for all involved and explain how he could have gotten to Lewisburg so fast and still been processed that afternoon and have it already listed on the BOP website. Even under the best case scenario, I don't think all this could have been accomplished by van.

I'm surprised I didn't think of this earlier. They reported that he entered a van but the van could have taken him to the airport. Hopefully I can verify some of this in the next couple days.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Jim Black on Way to PA to Serve Prison Sentence

For those who follow this matter, a "Rabbit Hole" reader forwarded me this story:

It appears that Jim Black is on his way to Lewisburg, PA prison camp as of this morning. He surrendered to the US Marshals on Monday, had his state sentencing hearing on Tuesday and spent Tue, Wed, and Thu night in the Wake County jail (total of 4 nights). Let the clock begin. I am really curious how long it takes the prison van to make it to Lewsburg. Maybe I am proven wrong, but I think it will take a couple weeks. The BOP website still says he is "In Transit."

Remember, the federal judge could have delayed his surrender date by a few days and let him report, at his own expense, directly to Lewisburg after his sentencing hearing. Instead, he intentially forced him to report exactly one day before his state sentencing hearing in Raleigh, knowing that he would have to ride the prison bus (at taxpayer expense) from Raleigh to Lewsiburg -- 462 miles away.