Prisonology interviews Michael, a former inmate, about the general living conditions in federal prison.
The best way to think of living conditions inside of a federal prison is to think of a large open dormitory separated into small cubicles. For minimum and low security prisons, there are no locked cells and plenty of places to walk around. In this section we lay out those living conditions and little what you will encounter living in federal prison.
Develop a daily routine that includes something productive (exercise, read, meditation, spiritual awakening or develop a talent).
Do not think that any job is “below” you. Most all jobs are labor intensive and require little education.
If you are injured performing work at the prison, be sure to report it to prison staff so that it can be properly documented.
Avoid the prison subculture of alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Every prison, particularly camps, have people who smuggle in contraband. Stay away from it at all times.
Consider getting a job as an orderly in your Unit. While the job is not the best, sweeping, cleaning bathrooms, etc., it does put you in contact with staff who can have a positive affect on your prison stay.
Use every means possible to stay engaged with people on the outside. Email, telephone calls, visitation and written letters will all make a positive difference when you are released.
Start thinking about your release and what you want to do when you get out.
Read books that will inspire and motivate you.
If you are able, share your education, talents and skills with other inmates. There are plenty of men and women in prison who need assistance reading and writing. You can make a difference in their life.
If anything happens in the Unit, such as a fight, immediately turn and walk away so you have nothing to witness. Fights, while extremely rare, are usually quick and you can see them coming. Just walk away.
Know that every prison has informants, so assume that the staff either knows everything or will soon find out.
Writing a blog from prison is a BAD idea. Inmates who have a friend posting on Facebook or other social media on their behalf can lead to disciplinary actions by the BOP. The BOP monitors the Internet and looks for inmate postings. Keep your communications private.
L.S. (Inmate) Living Conditions (Being Away From Home)
Two weeks ago I received terrible news. A close family member was in the hospital with a serious infection. Last week my family went through a big, very difficult adjustment - a huge move from one country, one continent, to another. This week - so far so good, all quiet on the prison front. But next week - who knows? Life is full of little surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant.
And where was I throughout all of this? You already know the answer to that rhetorical question: sitting here, twiddling my thumbs and pulling my hair, wishing I could help. When trouble strikes on the outside this can be a very difficult place to be.
I'm not the only one. I have a friend here on the inside who just broke up with his significant other on the outside. Another friend is estranged from his ex-wife and hasn't seen his children in 3 years. Yet another recently suffered the death of a sibling. A neighbor of mine in the barracks was telling me yesterday of a mother with cancer. Walk around the barracks at 3 a.m. and you will find many sleepless faces: most of them are up nights worrying about something or someone on the outside that they're powerless to fix or help.
I suppose it's no surprise. Life goes on, whether we inmates are a direct part of that life or not. Gather up 300 guys together and you're bound to find the full gamut of human experiences - traumas, joys, heartbreak, heartache - in their relationships on the outside. Many of these experiences would be hard whether or not we were "here" and our loved ones were "there". But something about the "here" of it all makes them so much harder.
One reason, I think, is that we men like to solve problems - at least that's what I learned from reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In any event, I certainly do. But from here I feel stymied, cut off. Calling, organizing, rallying, comforting: all these "ings" are much, much harder from behind bars. Case in point: my wife asked me to arrange for a family member to babysit our kids. A simple request, right? But it turns out the family member wasn't approved for my prison e-mail or telephone. Writing a letter would take weeks of back and forth. So I was forced to go a slow circuitous route through other family members.
But that's really a minor example. The true difficulty comes when loved ones are sick or sad or lonely. Telephone and e-mail are great but they sure don't beat a hug or a kiss or a kind word whispered in the ear. With children the difference is particularly great, the urge to reach out and comfort and caress instead of mumbling exhortations into the phone is overwhelming. When your child is sad or hurt or crying you want to kiss his knee and brush his tears away. It's as simple as that.
A big problem is that, as prisoners, we already feel to a large extent as if we're derelict in our duties: not just because of our own mistakes but our inability to raise our children, support our families. When trouble strikes, those anxieties, those feelings of guilt, of failure, are compounded. We want - no, need - to be there to help, to fix, to console. So that leaves us prisoners pacing, frustrated, unable to be there for those we love in the way we wish we could.
D.B. (Female Inmate) Living Conditions (Money In Prison)
With Western Union this process is now very simple but the burden is totally on the families of inmates. I do hate asking for money from friends and family but there is little choice. Here, there are very few jobs and those jobs only pay $5.25 a month (A month!!!) The highest paying jobs are in the commissary and they make around $50 a month but there are only 5 positions available. You need a lot more money than that, at least $200, because you have to buy everything from soap, to toilet paper, to toothpaste, to snacks (the food in the cafeteria is bad). The phone calls and emails also add to the cost, which can be $50-$100 each month.
Our commissary list is small because we are a new camp. It has gotten better since opening but items that are available at all other camps are not available to us. The officer in charge does a poor job of getting things we request so it makes life a bit more difficult and they do a poor job of keeping things that we want in inventory. We do have some of the basic necessities, though at a much higher price than items of the same quality on the outside.