Inmate Life Part #1

Blog #10

Please forgive me for taking a few weeks to get this new entry up. I appreciate everyone’s support and please spread the word about my blog on www.enduringadversity.com. My prayer is that my writing will reach people and open their eyes to our correctional system to spur reform and change.

One of my friends I have made here sat down and told me being in prison is like living in a dangerous high school. Don’t misconstrue his comment that I am in danger or unsafe because that is not the case. It is just a way to give perspective to the life prisoners have in here and a reminder to myself to never let my guard down or get too comfortable. If I do not let that happen I likely won’t have any problems but I have to be always be on alert and attentative to my surroundings. I will be the first to admit not letting your guard down and not getting too comfortable is difficult. As humans we tend to get in a routine as time passes and become comfortable with people and our surroundings. When that happens we tend to say something without thinking, say a wise-crack, or interject in conversations to offer help or solutions in an effort to be liked. All of those things are normal in “the world” but not in the world of prison. Those are things that can get someone in trouble in prison. In this blog I will explore a typical day for me in federal prison as well as examples of things to avoid. I am very green when it comes to prison and most of these items are things I have learned the hard way and luckily I am in a low security prison because they did not cause me anything more than drama but could have caused me more problems if I was in a higher security facility.

Typical Day
A typical day for me in prison looks like this so far. Our unit, the Houston Unit, contains about 300 people and is on the second floor of a three story building. Inmates are allowed to move freely around the unit throughout the day, watching television, getting on the computer, playing cards or other games such as chess or dominos, visiting with other inmates, reading books or newspapers. For those of you have been to college and resided in an on campus dormitory it strongly resembles that.

Race is the biggest segregating factor in prison and if anyone from the outside experienced it, they would think race relations were set back 50-100 years. That is not to say that people of different races can’t or don’t interact with one another because they do. They occassionally play games and participate in other activities with whomever and people of other races get along as long as they treat each other with respect. Respect is a very big thing and a hot button word in prison and I will touch on that in this post. In prison the races are separated into cliques which is referred to in prison lingo as “cars.” There is the white car, two mexican cars (Pisces and Tongo), black car, and the sex offender car (yes I know that is not a race). You can also elect to not join a “car” and ride “solo.” I am riding solo and I interact with pretty much everybody but I would say the majority of my friends are black. The whites and Pisces have their own tv rooms and the blacks have two tv rooms. Those are the four rooms off the main two day rooms I discussed in my previous blog entry.

Lately I have been sleeping in because I do not have a job yet and am on the waitlist for a variety of programs. Breakfast is at 630am, Lunch around 1030am-1100am, dinner around 430pm-5pm. The “BOP” has a set national menu and the menu is posted on the bulletin board so you know what is being served. I actually have not been to breakfast since I have been here, I have been sleeping in and when I wake up I make a coffee, read the newspaper, and then I eat breakfast in my room which normally consists of rolled oats (oatmeal) which I really like and have bought bags of off of commissary. After I go through my morning routine it typically is time for lunch which I typically go to. The food by and large here is much better then the last spot I was at “FCI Seagoville”. After lunch I typically read and check emails. In the evening I watch sports, read, play cards or games, typically go to dinner or sometimes I will cook something or I will pay someone to cook something for me. There are really good cooks in prison and we cook with hot water (190 degree water). There are no microwaves at this facility and from what I understand most of the BOP facilities. We are able to keep food cold if needed with the large industrial ice machines so we can store things on ice. We have to be in our rooms for what is called “count time” at 4pm and 930pm Monday through Friday. That is where the officers go through and count all the inmates and make sure their count matches the total number of people they have in the unit. On the weekends the there is an additional count time at 1030am in addition to the 4pm and 930pm counts. Everyone has to go back to their rooms typically about 10 minutes before count time and wait there until everyone is counted and they announce that count is cleared on the speakers. The whole process takes around 30 minutes on average. There is one correctional officer on duty at all times for our housing unit.

Movement around the compound is largely free but it resembles a high school bell system. Basically at the top of every hour you can go wherever you want when they announce a “10 minute move” on the loud speaker. Once that is announced you can go wherever you want on the compound but you have to get there within the 10 minutes and once you are there you are stuck there for the entire hour. From what I understand, once I move to a Minimum Security Camp, movement is not restricted like this but I am trying to verify that with my lovely wife Amy who is currently serving her sentence at the Camp in Bryan, TX. She surrendered on April 26, 2022 and her current release date is December 30, 2024. With programming and the First Step Act, we hope that gets reduced significantly. I am eligible to transfer to a Camp in March of 2023.

Interaction with Fellow Inmates
Interaction with inmates centers around respect. As long as you don’t make another inmate feel “disrespected” you typically won’t have any problems. In “the world” we make friends with someone and become comfortable. As we become comfortable typically sometimes we will crack a sarcastic joke maybe picking or razzing your friend. That can be done in prison as well but one has to be more alert and cognicent of the person they are doing it to. Also being aware of who else is in the presence of a conversation is a big thing. A lot of times a joke can be made to a friend in prison private and then the same joke will or could be made in front of other inmates and the individual on the receipt of the joke may react completely differently. A lot of arguments in prison center around one of the inmates feeling as though they were disrespected and that is the exact word they will use to describe it.

I have to remind myself constantly about the education level of the inmates I am surrounded by. That may sound insulting but it is not meant to be, rather it is just the reality. One of the busiests components of the education departments at federal prisons in general and this federal prison is preparing and tutoring inmates for the GED and administering the test. A lot of inmates have not completed high school and as of the ones who have only a small minority have an advanced degree. As someone with an advanced degree I have had a great deal of training dealing with conflict and do not resort to violence. That is not to say I handle conflict well, because I don’t and it definitely is a work in progress in my life and something I continue to strive to improve on. That said a lot of inmates default reaction to conflict is violence or threatening violence and it takes a lot less to provoke them then people with a more educated background.

Finally one of the biggest thing I have learned is critical to succeed in prison is minding your own business. Although our housing unit resembles a college dormitory, the rooms do not have doors. As you walk the halls it is tempting to let your eyes wander out of curiousity but it is best not to do that. It is also easy and really unavoidable to eaves drop on conversations. Everyone does it in prison because as I said it is unavoidable, that said while in “the world” while eaves dropping sometimes you might chime in because you are being helpful or have something that can aid the individuals you overheard. Do not ever do that in prison! Don’t try to be helpful, as a general rule! This goes for peoples new favorite hobby in today’s 21st centurty, people watching. I would strongly advise anyone in prison to stay away from doing that.

Lessons Learned: Be aware of your surroundings and your audiences. Mind your business. Don’t try to be helpful or go out of your way to be helpful.

Brad

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