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Federal Prison and the Corrupt Partnership Between Inmates and Prison Guards.
The partnership between enterprising inmates and corrupt guards is thriving.
I have written often about the time in spent in Federal Prison. It is not a time in my life of which I am proud but it did in fact happen and as such is a part of my life and thus who I am. I believe as human beings we are consistently shaped and molded by our experiences, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, but influenced none the less.
As an inmate, watching the things that I write of here unfold, I was of the opinion that they were of little importance and even at times amusing. My reasons for that were probably influenced in part by the fact that I was, after all, an inmate, consumed with doing what was best for me and helped the most to get me through without incident. That certainly would have been much harder to do if I had gained the reputation of a "whistle blower" or "snitch" to use the prison term. People who talk in prison don't usually fair very well. I witnessed a fellow inmate nearly beaten to death with mop handles as he was attacked by a group of six on the suspicion that he was informing regarding illegal activities.
Frankly, I very quickly learned that the extent of the corruption was so convoluted that it wasn't ever really clear who to trust, inmate or guard. So I made the informed decision to simply keep what I saw to myself, mind my own business and just get through it, an approach that I think is taken most often by inmates.
Since my release, I have experienced a significant change in attitude and I no longer see those situations in quite the same light. In fact, I see them now quite differently, as a serious travesty of justice and a tremendous abuse of power for personal gain, even in many ways an exploitation of the inmate, though not totally without fault, certainly a captive audience. As such, I feel compelled to speak of the things I saw now, something I would not have done a few years ago, even after my release, for fear of some form of retribution.
From the moment I walked through the gates at the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp, it became apparent to me that most, if not all inmates were extremely resourceful when it came to getting around, in fact breaking the rules. Given the number of rules that exist in the environment, some of them utterly senseless, and the fact that your average prisoner isn't exactly a "choir boy" anyway, it is no wonder then that every reasonable attempt that could be made, was and inmates, as a regular practice, became proficient at breaking as many of them as possible.
The old adage "rules are made to be broken" certainly became an unspoken mantra of sorts for the average prisoner and the lengths to which they would go to do so at every available turn was at times simply astounding. Violation of the never ending ocean of rules took place on a daily basis and any opportunity to involve the guards and staff was seized upon with a vigor never ending.
The average aforementioned guard was apparently very willing to accommodate as long as it served to line his or her pockets, employing at every turn, the "what's in it for me?" attitude. They willingly assisted the aspiring, rule breaking inmate on an almost daily basis.
Smoking became a prohibited activity within a few weeks of my arrival. I had been a smoker on the outside and planned to continue once I entered the system. Feeling as if, of course, that any pleasurable activity once enjoyed outside the walls of prison that could be, in fact, brought with me, might serve, in a small way at least to make my stay more tolerable.
Shortly after my sentence began however, upon learning that it was no longer allowed, I quit. It was hard but after a few days became bearable and eventually I was glad that I had. I dare say though had I been in the system for longer when the rule was in-acted, I might have taken a different route.
Frankly, the rule prohibiting smoking did little more than discontinue the sale of tobacco through the commissary and it most certainly presented a tremendous opportunity for crooked guards and enterprising inmates to capitalize on a booming black market trade. Smoking continued, virtually unchecked, not in the open of course but in every nook and cranny in the camp. Tobacco was smuggled in through means that, at times, bordered on brilliant such as cartons being hidden inside the canisters of vacuum cleaners, in the bottom of mop buckets and underneath the liners of trash cans.
They were also almost certainly brought in by guards, who of course had regular contact with the outside world. Early on I noticed that many guards arrived daily carrying a book bag or backpack. I thought the practice a little strange until I learned that these items pass through no sort of check point whatsoever making the reason for their possession obvious. They were used to smuggle in contraband!
The consumption of alcohol was really no different. One would think that drinking would definitely be forbidden in prison and that extra steps would be taken to see to that for obvious reasons. Not so, anyone who wanted a drink, and had the means to pay for it could have one, or two or three on any given night, It was as simple as knowing the right people and asking the right questions. In our dorm, we literally had an enterprising inmate who ran a bar of sorts and came around from cube to cube between head counts taking orders and delivering. His payment plan, so many dollars in commissary goods from your weekly visit, as payment per drink, he ran a tab and on commissary day would present a list of wanted items totaling an amount equal to the ta. The indebted inmate would buy those items and upon presenting them to the bar keep, his weekly tab would be paid.
Prohibited items seemed to regularly make their way into the camp. Undoubtedly they did not arrive by themselves. No, they did so through the efforts of enterprising inmates with the assistance of corrupt guards.
I am of the opinion that there were few guards in the entire camp who weren't corrupt and those who were each had respective deals with inmates on the inside who marketed their goods. Cigarettes, alcohol, prepaid cell phones, outside food, even women, were imported on a regular basis and these things simply could not have been done without a guard in authority either involving himself in the actual acquisition and import of the item or most certainly turning a blind eye to it as it was carried out by an inmate with outside help, a favor for which he or she would have most certainly have been paid and well.
I am certain that the level of corruption ascended the ranks of hierarchy, the only determining factor being how someone on the inside might approach a guard in higher authority be it through another guard of lower rank or by developing a relationship with a "higher up" directly if possible. It would of course. stand to reason, that the higher the level of corruption the sweeter the deal could be.
For example, while it was not particularly shocking that there was no limit to the amount of food that could be and was regularly stolen from the kitchen by cooks, dishwashers, etc., all of which were inmates. The items then resold for a profit to a standing list of other hungry inmate customers, all of which took place under the knowing and watchful eye of the guards in charge of the kitchen. It was extremely interesting each time I personally witnessed the common practice of watching those same inmates load the trunk of the same guard's car with items that were intended for the inmates. It was almost like a scene from a Mob movie. The food trucks would arrive and be unloaded in to the stockroom at the rear of the kitchen, the truck would leave, and moments later those same items would be loaded into the earlier referenced car. God only knows where those items ended up but I am sure it was not in the place for which they were intended.
There were also regular, shall we say "unauthorized furloughs" as they were jokingly referred to, during which certain inmates would leave the camp for as much as an 8 hour period to connect with a wife or girlfriend at a local motel only to return unnoticed, unscathed and certainly uncaught.
There were countless other things that might not have been illegal but surely fell into a questionable category when inmates provided services such as car washes, auto repair, furniture repair in the woodshop, etc. for guards. These services were not their appointed job within the system and certainly begs the question, In what way were these inmates compensated for those services?
In the end one thing is certain, the rules were broken regularly and with the assistance of Federally paid employees. Is it fair to blame the inmate? After all he was there due to a sentence and not by his own choosing. The guards however were sworn to uphold the law, paid by your tax dollar, and in my opinion most certainly should have known better. The real irony of course is that when a partnership between an inmate presumably being punished and a prison guard assigned to supervise that punishment without question regularly and willingly breaks the law, then who should be being punished?
There is no question that given this circumstance, there is a burning need for prison reform. The question that remains unanswered however is will it ever take place? My opinion is that it will not until someone in a position of authority sits up, takes notice and admits that there is a problem. Then and only then things might get better. Until then however, my guess is that it will be business as usual!