Federal Prison - What to expect when facing time
It is best to be as prepared as possible
When I was sentenced to Federal Prison in July 2004 and started my 44 month sentence in October of that year, my family and I had no idea what to expect. Primarily because even though I was technically a criminal as was proven by the fact that I was going to prison, i had never been in trouble before nor had anyone that I was close to or even knew.
Naturally we were curious, no, let me rephrase that, my family was curious, I was horrified. I had watched "Oz" and you can only imagine the things that went through my mind prior to the day that I actually turned myself in to the Atlanta Camp.
In an effort to minimize the stress associated with that day, we set out to learn as much as we could about how the experience would be. We searched the internet to little avail, finding only a few things, mostly from some loonies out there that had obviously been and were trying to capitalize on the experience promoting a book that was little more than fluff and really shared nothing of consequence. I bought a copy of one and it was merely a series of ramblings that were basically incoherent, at one point sharing a prison recipe for some kind of stew. Information I needed, recipes I didn't
I did eventually learn that cooking does take place there and sometimes it can be remarkably good but that is a story for another time. Right now I would like to share a little bit of what to expect if you or a loved on is facing the experience.
First of all the big thing that was of concern to me was violence and while I do believe that violence is rampant in the prison system in general at the camp level it is virtually nonexistent, during my entire stay at two different facilities, ( I ended up serving 29 months), I only saw two violent acts and they were both quelled very quickly.
There are however things that one should know that will make the transition from citizen to inmate a little less painful. For example, inmates are not allowed to carry cash. In fact it is a real no no that will land you in solitary confinement no questions asked. If you are found with cash, you will be punished so don't do it, bring any with you, try to sneak cash in during visitation or take any if it is offered to you by another inmate.
All inmates are issued a prison ID which is also used very similarly to a credit or debit card and your family can send funds to your account each month for your personal use. You are allowed to carry a maximum balance of $300 but remember that $300 must last all month and includes the cost of your telephone calls which are expensive and limited to 15 minutes by the way, as well as trips to the commissary for food, toiletries and additional clothing items such as a sweat suit or tennis shoes that are not standard prison issue.You do want these things however as you are only given standard issue prison uniforms and shoes both of which are very uncomfortable but must be worn until after 4PM each day they you are allowed to wear more comfortable sweats and tennis shoes if you are fortunate enough to have those.
I was fortunate on the day I reported there was a bed available but prisons are overcrowded and often times they are not. In many, if not most cases, inmates are assigned to solitary confinement or the hole, as inmates like to call it. I realize that to many this may seem an unfair practice and it is as the hole is usually reserved for inmates who break the rules or have conduct issues, but it is a practice born out of necessity as there simply is not enough room or beds to go around. Take heart however the practice is closely monitored and the stays are usually limited to only a few days.
Inmates are issued 3 uniforms, a belt, underwear, tee shirts, and black work shoes. They are expected to keep their uniform clean and shoes shined though this wasn't strictly enforced at either facility In which I was located.
Unless disabled, every inmate is required to work but is also paid to do so although it is a paltry sum of money, starting at as low as $3.00 per month. In a short time in Atlanta, I had the best job on the compound. I was the payroll clerk for the power house and handled all the office duties there. At the height my pay grade was $50 per month and I was the highest paid man in the camp.
Visitation is Saturday, Sunday and legal Federal holidays from 8am to 3 pm. There are no time limits on visits but visitors are limited to 4 at a time. I have a large family so on some days depending on the number they would have to visit in shifts.
Visitors are required to pass through a metal detector and woman must carry a clear plastic purse with only their car keys and drivers license. They are allowed to bring change for the vending machines. Be sure to have your visitors do that, quarters primarily, as some of the machines are old and will not take bills, but eating pizza or a sandwich from the machines can be the highlight of a prisoners week.
No excessive touching is allowed and kisses are limited to two per visit once on arrival and once at departure.
Smoking is not allowed and punishable by solitary confinement if caught. I was a smoker for years and was unaware that the rule was to take effect shortly after I arrived forcing me to have to quit cold turkey. If you smoke, quit, get help before you arrive if necessary but make that transition easy on yourself.
Recreation is available in the form softball, basketball, track and in some cases free weights although they were slowly being phased out. In an effort to quell the club fed imagine and limit violent behavior by limiting the production of testosterone. There are also exercise machines such as treadmills and stationary bikes but there are few in comparison to the number of inmates. I found the easiest and most convenient form of exercise to be walking.
If you take prescription medications be sure to bring them as well as the prescriptions in written form if possible. You will be seen by a Dr. shortly after arrival and prescribed medications comparable to what you are taking in generic form if available, if not he will write a script for something similar as was the case with my blood pressure medication. You will receive no narcotic medication in a monthly supply to be self administered but all other drugs will be given at a daily pill call for obvious reasons.
The food at both institutions at which I was held was not great but edible and sufficient to supply one's dietary needs. Water, and soft drinks were available when I first arrived, the soft drinks were discontinued shortly thereafter. On holidays there were special meals. Breakfast was at 6AM, lunch at 11:45AM and supper at 4:30PM.
There was a library at both facilities consisting of books that were donated by charities and inmates. They were small and not well managed. You can send reading material, but it cannot be obscene or otherwise offensive.
Letters are permitted but all are checked for contraband. All inmates love and look forward to letters from home as they are a lifeline of sorts to the outside world.
In both camps, I slept in a 8 by 10 concrete block cube, consisting of two metal beds, two metal lockers and in one case a small metal desk attached to the wall, and two metal chairs. The cubes were housed in a barracks of sorts with a TV room at one end and bathroom facilities at the other.
The bathroom areas lacked privacy except for the stalls which housed the toilets. The showers, divided by curtains were directly across from them and a series of sinks lined the front wall.
The TV rooms held two wall mounted TV's, a microwave oven, and a small sink. Tables and chairs were permanent in one facility but not in the other. The TV's had no speakers and could only be accessed via a headset radio that could be purchased in the commissary. In my opinion this was a necessity as watching TV definitely helped to pass the time, especially in the evening hours.
Movies were available on certain weekend nights but they were old and usually nothing that I was interested in seeing. Ballgames and other special were available as they were provided by the major networks. No cable channels, ESPN, etc.
Each housing unit held around 125 men, so noise was constant factor, making sleeping and often even regular conversation difficult. Ear plugs were available in the commissary and I recommend them as a necessary item.
Protestant church services take place on Sunday and Catholic Mass was held biweekly.
Suffice it to say that adjustment to the lifestyle can be difficult but much of what the experience turns out to be is what you make of it. Clearly , it is not a place that any of us would choose to be but when it becomes a matter of fate, one would do well to make the most of it. I used the time as much as possible to better myself. I read and studied issues of interested, exercised, at right as much as possible and lost well over 100lbs. during my 29 month stay.
It is not something I would choose to do again or that I would wish upon my worst enemy, but I made it through the experience and came out on the other side a better man in my opinion. You can too as long as you approach it with the right attitude.
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