Federal Prison Solitary Confinement - Going to the Hole!
Solitary confinement can be the hardest part of the prison experience but it can be done
When I entered the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp on October 17, 2004, I had little or no idea what to expect. I had been on line seeking information and found nothing. I had looked for books, articles, anything that might give me some insight and each time, sadly, I came back empty handed. That said, it stands to reason that my first day there I was very uncomfortable, even more so when I learned that I might spend my first days of incarceration in isolation or the hole as it is referred to by inmates and guards alike. As wrong as this may sound, and trust me it is, a large percentage of men who enter the Federal Prison System often spend their first few days in solitary confinement due to a lack of bed space.
Solitary is a form of punishment that is routinely administered by prison officials as a means of punishment for any number of indiscretions that could range from being caught smoking to stealing food from the kitchen. The length time that one might spend in the hole would vary from offense to offense but as a form of punishment, it is very rarely ever less than a minimum of one week. While I always thought it to be a cruel form of punishment, as my time wore on, I also began to see it as a way of life in prison and vowed to "keep my nose clean" at all cost to avoid the slightest possibility of spending any time there.
I could accept the fact that if an inmate, having been fully apprised of the situation chose to involve himself in any activity that would put him at risk of solitary and got caught then he new what he was doing and would have to suffer the consequences. Many did. I was always amazed at those who repeatedly broke the rules wanted to act so put upon when they were carted off to pull their stint.
What I never could make myself understand is why, due only to their lack of adequate bed space, the BOP ( Bureau of Prisons) would deem it acceptable to subject an inmate, at that point certainly guilty of no prison misconduct, to such a cruel form of punishment. As I quickly learned they weren't really interested in my thoughts on the subject or any other for that matter and If knew what was good for me, I would keep my mouth shut, do as I was told and avoid pulling some time there myself. Fortunately for me I was not only able to avoid solitary at my time of entry but during my entire time in Atlanta as well. In fact, I can't recall a single circumstance in which I ever came to fear going as even a possibility. There was a different fate to await me however when I was transferred to Edgefield, South Carolina.
The transfer process works a little differently at the camp level than it does in the higher security institutions and inmates are actually given money and furloughed to catch a bus and get themselves to their next institution. That is exactly what they did with me.
On the day I was scheduled to leave, I was called to the Camp Administrators office, Given $70 cash in an envelope and told to wait out front for a ride to take me to the bus station. Momentarily, a van arrived and as I climbed end I noticed the young man who would become my cell mate for the next 11 months and who would also accompany me to solitary.
We were taken to the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Atlanta, which smelled of diesel fuel, greasy food, hair products and cheap perfume. All but for the lack of chickens hanging from the ceiling, a snake charmer and sitar music playing in the background it would have given the strange similarity to a Turkish market. Teeming with people going and company getting off and boarding buses, talking loudly, blaring loudspeaker rattling off announcements, it wasn't exactly the place to make a furloughed inmate, already concerned about making it to where he was supposed to be, feel what I would call comfortable.
We located our tickets, found and boarded our bus and shortly pulled away from the station. This gave me a little better feeling overall. The ride was uneventful, with one bus change in Aiken, South Carolina and a drop at the Edgefield station where we caught a cab to the prison. We arrived on time and reported to the officer in charge. After the completion of some brief paperwork, we were instructed to wait outside for our ride.
Shortly a van appeared and we were carted away to the medium security facility. Where we were informed that we would be housed in SHU ( Special Housing Unit) a little nicer sounding than "the hole" but the same place nonetheless. We were given white jumpsuits, instructed to change and after completion of more paperwork and a photo, we were ushered to the place that we would spend the next 72 hours.
The room was 5 feet wide by 12 feet long, there were 2 steel bunk beds hanging from the wall on the right, each equipped with a 2 inch foam rubber mattress covered in a heavy blue plastic, In the rear left corner there was a shower, with no curtain and in the front right corner a steel toilet with no enclosure but a small sink and faucet mounted just above it. That was it, no bed linens, no blanket, nothing else. I suffer from a claustrophobia and for a little while really thought I was going to lose it, there was no window, and a solid steel door, nowhere and I do mean nowhere to even look that didn't leave you feeling totally closed off.
I knew that I had to do this so I lay down on the bunk, closed my eyes and took deep breaths until I began to feel better. I would employ this method each time I felt that way over the next few days and somehow, I am not really sure how, we made it through without incident.
They did eventually bring us some bed sheets that we used to fashion a make shift shower curtain and toilet surround so we could each maintain just a little dignity. Our food was served to us through a 4 x 12 inch slot in the steel door, otherwise it was never opened during our stay. I was later told that even in solitary you are entitled to 30 minutes per day outside but we didn't know that and we certainly didn't get it.
Those were the longest 72 hours of my life but eventually they did come to an end and we were released and taken up to the camp where we were assigned a bed and resumed normal, such as it is, camp life. There are things that you want to remember and things that you don't. I think that as a defense mechanism, I have made myself forget much of what I experienced while I was away and honestly, it is painful to summon up those memories now.
Someone once said, "you can't really know where you are going, until you know where you have been". I see the truth in that and now when I am having a bad day or things just aren't going as well as I want them to. I think of those 7 hours and somehow, things just don't seem so bad anymore.
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