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).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Anonymous Letter From Prison

I received an anonymous letter the other day from an inmate in FPC Pensacola who apparently remembers me. Quite interesting and unexpected. Let me share a few excerpts:

I just thought I'd let you know that I am aware of your web site and support it. There are a lot of people here who do. Three that don't particularly like it are the warden, the A.W. [Assistant Warden], and the C.M.C. [Case Management Coordinator I think].

First, there were some guys there who knew I was writing a blog and, from what I could tell, it made them nervous. They didn't trust me and thought I was just going to get guys in trouble. I even had one inmate tell me I was dangerous. Typical inmate paranoia.

However, several guys have since reported to Pensacola after reading my blog so maybe they passed the word that my blog was ok.

Second, as for the warden, assistant warden and CMC not liking it, I don't know why. Maybe just typical BOP paranoia! They just don't like having the light shined (?) on their prison. They are used to being in control and hate losing it. Welcome to the club!!

I think I have been very fair to BOP and the staff at FPC Pensacola. I have not used my blog to take cheap shots at anyone. Sure, I occasionally tweak or make fun of a few of the staff (Arnold and "Peanut" in particular) but nothing mean-spirited. Most of them are just doing a job.

I never met the warden, although I heard a lot of negative rumors which I have NOT repeated here because I could not confirm them, and I only met the assistant warden a couple times briefly and she seemed like a nice enough lady. I don't know who the CMC is. If anyone thinks I am doing something wrong here, I haven't been told about it. My PO knows about my blog and doesn't have a problem with it.

I have reserved most of my criticisms for the justice system that put many of these guys in prison. These are criticisms that many COs and prison staff will agree with. In fact, a case worker told me in a conversation just before I left: "We have the greatest country in the world but the worst justice system." People who work within the system (judges, probation officers, defense lawyers, BOP staff) all know that what I am saying is true. It is only people on the outside who have no clue and I think it is very important that they understand the reality of the situation.

The letter included a complaint which I will repeat here because it was a common complaint I heard:

There are some things going on that I thought might interest you. I've filed a BP 8.5 against the admin here. As you know (or you may not have known) the rooms in Dorms B and C are way overcrowded by law. The BOPs Program Statement says we are to be allowed 45 sq ft per inmate in rooms in a camp. Here at Saufley we have about 23 sq ft. They are right at double occupancy.

The windows are blocked by beds and lockers which is a fire escape. I've also considered writing the navy fire chief and asking why he is allowing this. There is nowhere else in teh BOP with this problem. Even A and D dorms are not overcrowded.
A little background is in order.

BOP has an Administrative Remedy Program (Program Statement 1330.13) which "provides every inmate the opportunity to seek formal review of a grievance concerning virtually any aspect of his or her confinement, should informal procedures not achieve resolution." The formal forms are BP-9, BP-10, and BP-11, each one representating an escalation to the next level within BOP, with BP-9 being the warden of the prison I believe.

A BP-8.5 is a semi-official form called a "copout." I can't find official reference to the number "8.5" anywhere so, while I heard the term a lot in prison, I think it is an unofficial term referring to the raising of an issue with the appropriate staff person (usually your case manager) in the hopes of resolving the issue before initiating a formal grievance which BOP staffers HATE. The next step would be filing BP-9 with the warden.

The issue of overcrowding in Dorms B and C existed when I was there. 6 bunk beds (12 men) lived in rooms approximately 12'x20' as I recall, which comes out to 20 sq ft per inmate. I was told that these rooms used to only have 4 bunk beds (8 men) which would come out to 30 sq ft per inmate.

I have done a little research. According to BOP Program Statement 1060.11, the "rated capacity [of of a dorm room in a minimum security prison] is computed by dividing the total space of each sleeping area or unit by 45 square feet." (See Paragraph 7.c.(4)(b)) If this is true, then a 12'x20' room is 240 sq ft. Divided by 45 gives 5.33. Rounding up gives 6. Therefore it appears the rooms are only rated for 6 inmates and in fact there are 12 assigned to each room.

It appears my anonymous friend is correct, based on my reading of the Program Statement.

As for the windows being blocked, the two bunk beds in the middle of the room DO partially block one or both of the two windows in each room. In addition, a short locker is usually located below the window. While not blocking the window, it would restrict access to the window if you needed to escape, although I am not sure a window is considered a legitimate fire escape. You would have to jump from a second or third floor window. In some cases you would be able to jump onto the roof or canopy of an adjacent one-story annex below. The official fire escapes are the two doors at each end of the dorm (the primary doors and stairs a located in the front middle of the dorm -- see map at bottom of the page).

The reason he mentioned the Navy Fire Chief is because Pensacola FPC is located at Saufley Field, part of the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The buildings are subject to Navy regulations as well as BOP regulations. (That is why HIV-positive inmates are not allowed... it is a Naval, not BOP, restriction.)

As for the remedy, I don't know the answer. In other words, what if this guy wins his complaint? What happens next?

It's not like the warden can do a whole lot about it. I'm sure ALL the staff know they are overcrowded but what do you do when BOP sends them to you.

If you are an inmate in an overcrowded camp, would you prefer to go to a higher security prison that isn't overcrowded??? I don't think so (and I suspect, my "friend" would not be happy if BOP's solution was to put him in a "real" prison -- be careful what you ask for, you might get it!). I would take an overcrowded "camp" over an undercrowded "medium" or "low" any time.

In county and state jails, inmates are oftentimes released due to overcrowding but, as a statutory matter, I don't think early release is a possibility for federal inmates, although perhaps release to home confinement or halfway house might be an option (although I've heard halfway houses are overcrowded also).

If I find out any more about how this gets resolved, I'll let you know.

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