Prisonology interviews Michael, a former inmate, who recounts his preparation and the experience of reporting to federal prison.
If a defendant is able to self-surrender to prison, they will have to make their own arrangements to get to the prison on a specific day. The prison they are to report to and the date are provided in a letter by the U.S. Marshals Service. In this section we provide some practical advice on preparing for the day and what to expect when you show up.
Surrender on a date that falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. There is more intake screening staff available during these times, which increases your chance of being processed faster.
Arrive early. Most surrender times are stated to be 2pm local time. However, it is best to arrive at 9:00 am and get through the mandatory processing that is a part of every self-surrender.
You do not need to bring any identification as to who you are (no Passport, no drivers license, etc.)
You will not be allowed to bring in any clothing or sneakers that you wear to surrender. Keep the wardrobe to a minimum (gray sweats, white socks and underwear). Your clothes can either be sent back home or donated.
Make sure you check the BOP website about self surrender processes at the institution to where you are reporting. Each location will have its own unique procedures.
Be patient. Processing can take time even though it involves only a small number of steps. The BOP is a bureaucracy and most staff will take their time in processing you into the prison.
Say your ‘Goodbyes’ at home and have one member of your family or a friend drive you to prison. The last memory of seeing you before prison should not be with a prison in the backdrop. Also, you would want your family to avoid the emotional ride back home.
If you have trouble urinating in front of someone, a common problem, you should mention this during your Medical and Psych screening and use the term, “Shy Bladder” to describe the malady. This may help you later when you are drug tested during your prison stay and have difficulty providing a urine sample in front of staff. It will not get you out of providing a sample, but it will buy you some time until you can. In a corrections officer’s mind, a delay could be misconstrued as a refusal to cooperate.
Do not panic if you are put into a holding cell in between intake evaluations or if you are handcuffed to move between sessions. If held, you will only be confined with people of similar security levels.
If there are other priorities that lead to a delay in processing you into prison, be prepared, in a worst case, to spend a day or two in a higher security setting. Such cases are unusual but if it happens you will be placed with similar security level inmates.
It’s okay to be anxious and nervous, but try to keep your emotions in check. Some level of anxiety is to be expected.
G.B. (Inmate) Reporting To Federal Prison
"My brother dropped me off at [prison camp located on a military base] on Tuesday and a van came to the outskirts of the prison campus to pick me up and drove about 10 minutes inside to get me to the prison. There were no walls or fences anywhere except at the outskirts. The only fence I see here is the one that divides the athletic fields (softball, paddle ball, volleyball, tennis, soccer, basketball courts) from the golf course. The golf course, unfortunately, is just for military personnel. The volleyball court used to be a swimming pool, but it's now filled in with sand. In the evening there are softball games and people in the stands and sitting on the grass. The players wear softball uniforms and you really can't tell that you are at a prison.
My first day was much harder than I expected. I felt all alone and had very little clothing. I didn't know anyone and was afraid it was going to be similar to County jail. I met a few people that night and started feeling a little better. I felt much better by the second day as I met a few guys in my dorm and I bought some clothes. Everyone wants to talk to me. I think it's because I'm the new guy. I'm told to be a little wary of some of them. Some never stop talking and keep wanting to introduce me to other people like I'm a new puppy. Some guys are genuine and some have ulterior motives. Practically everyone warns me of certain people that I have to stay away from (just because they are little nuts, not because they are dangerous). The people that are nuts tell me to stay away from the sane people. I guess I will learn in time. I'm told to "just say no" when someone wants to monopolize my time by talking my ear off."
L.S. (Inmate) Reporting To Federal Prison
"Days 1 and 2 in prison camp were just too tumultuous and disorienting. I also lacked money for the commissary, so spent my time scrounging for scraps of paper and pencil nubs to scribble down my thoughts. What I ended up with were a few unintelligible pages of random thoughts:
- This place sucks!
- How am I going to survive 2 years here?
- I'm going to run away!
Stuff like that. You get the idea. I've basically been a walking zombie (for that I can possibly also blame the one-two punch of caffeine and nicotine withdrawal).
To recap from memory and the snippets of jumbled scribbles: my mother drove me here, to this place affectionately called Camp Cupcake, two days ago to self-surrender. When we saw the place, she broke down and I had my first real second thoughts. It's not that the place appeared from the road to be sinister or evil, but if you saw it you would most definitely not want to go there. The road to the complex fronts a barren field of dried grass edged by barbed wire. Squat gray buildings hover in the distance alongside a guard tower. My mother had to catch a plane so I sat on the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree across the street, staring at this place that would be my home for the foreseeable future. I couldn't imagine it.
There are actually three separate prisons here: Camp XXXX, the minimum security prison which I now call home, a low security prison and a medium security prison. The latter two are what you think of when you think of prisons. Depressing places with marching guards, barred windows, yelling in the hallways, the clang of steel doors. I know this because I checked in at the medium prison.
OMG, what can I say? It was scary! It took all the effort I could muster to stand up off the stump and walk down the long road to the prison. Finally, I entered the gate and told the frowning guard I was here to self surrender. "ID please," he grunted.
"What? ID? Sorry. I didn't bring any." I thought I was supposed to arrive with nothing but my body.
"Sorry, can't surrender without ID," he said.
"But, but..." I explained my situation - no ID, mom already left with my wallet, no way to get it back. He pointed to a metal bench. I sat there for about an hour before another guard arrived. Apparently they decided to let me in. Lucky me! [Note, you do not need identification upon surrender].
The man glared down at me. "Flip flops?" he asked. "What were you thinking? Don't you even know how to check into prison? What is this world coming to."
I didn't know that flip-flops were not allowed. I followed him silently to a concrete barrier and a gate. "Fire in the hole" the guard screamed. I jumped as a concrete and steel door slid open. To my right as I entered I saw a thick plate-glass window of a holding cell. Leering faces pressed against the glass stared out at me.
"Oh no," I thought. "Please don't put me in there with them."
Thankfully, the guard led me to another cell, a tiny space with bars on one side, an open toilet on the other and nowhere to sit. He then handed me a tiny pen and a number of forms. "Can you read?" he asked.
"Fill out what you can," he said.
I leaned against the concrete blocks and began to write. The first question? "Who to contact in the event of death." In my first act of minor subservience, I left it blank. I'm not planning to die around here.
My hands shook. A few minutes later another prisoner was led to the cell. We stared warily at each other. He didn't look too intimidating - a gray-haired man of about 60. A few minutes later another arrived: a barrel chested, huge-muscled young man. We focused on our forms and didn't speak, each of us nervous and wary of the others.
The three of us stand silently in our small cell fronted by bars and backed by a metal toilet without a seat or lid. I have to pee but don't want to do it in front of the others. I decide to hold it. I finish my forms in about 20 minutes (skipping, as I mentioned, the question regarding death) and stand staring through the bars, avoiding eye contact as if we are scared of each other (which we are). After about an hour passes, I notice that the gray-haired gent is struggling with his forms. "Can I help?" I ask. I decide that my inner nature, my natural impulse to be friendly and helpful has to win out over wariness and caution. If it doesn't, I'll have lost something of who I am.
"Thanks," he says, surprised. For all I know, he thought I was a crazy mass murderer.
I helped him with his forms.
"What are you in for?" I ask, in the first of many times I'll ask the inmate's favorite question over the next few days.
"Tax evasion," he says.
I sigh: another white-collar felon. "Are you going to the camp?" I ask.
"What's that?" he says. "What are you talking about?"
I think of all the research I did, all the worrying about where I was going, all the talks with with former inmates about what awaits and what to expect. This man clearly came unprepared.
After a while, we were each taken separately for a screening by a corrections officer where they asked me about my health, how I was feeling and, yes, the infamous strip search."
D.B. (Female Inmate) Reporting To Federal Prison
"I was no way prepared or ready for what was in store for me. Pretty much everything was taken from me. I wore an old sun dress and cheap dollar flip flops and that was all taken from me. I told them I didn't want them because I didn't want them sent back home and all the drama that might cause. I was able to bring in my prescription glasses but not the case. I also handed over my medications, and I was on quite a few. I was able to get everything I needed once I was on the inside but I was not allowed to bring any medications in with me. Once I got to my bunk I started crying, I just hated being here."
B.R. (Male Inmate)
Reporting to Federal Prison
"As far as my first day at La Tuna (Texas - Low Security) it went basically like this..
My buddy and I parked out front..We both walked in..Said I was here to Self Surrender..They did ask for my ID..I said I was told not to bring anything but some paperwork I might need..he said step outside and wait..So Mark and I went outside and about 10 minutes later a Corrections Officer came out and starting asking me questions about my case to verify who I was.. i also told him I had $750 to put on my books,.. he tried telling me "Oh you need to send that into the lockbox otherwise it could take weeks to get on your account?" I said "What??" I said I was told I should bring the money in with me ...at the end of the day he was being lazy... he took my money, gave me a receipt and 3 days later the money was in my account. Guess he was just giving me a hard time.
They took me in and strip searched me..threw away my cloths and issued me the new stuff..Made me sign some papers..Took my pic and issued me an ID card..Then to the nurse for a physical..I then told her about my meds..she said she would pass them along to the med team to find out what they would do for me.. I didnt get both meds...Only the 1 anxiety med..It took 2 days to get me in the system and then they said I will have to go to pill line each night at 8pm to get my meds..I can't administer them myself..what a joke."