Archive for the ‘Prisons and Jails’ Category
Inmate J.L. Bird had never heard of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS), let alone be a part of their mobile inventory. And after experiencing it first-hand, well, he didn’t care if he never heard of it again…not ever.
He’d been traveling with JPATS for three days and already he was sick of it. He was also pretty darn sick of the U.S. Marshals who watched his every move, including during bathroom breaks. He was weary of flying a zig-zagged pattern across the U.S., landing to either drop off or pick up inmates at what seemed like every remote airfield in the country.
Then came the never-ending end of the day van rides to county jails, the holdover facilities located in hick towns that were surely too small and too backward to be considered for the filming of Deliverance. In fact, Bird was quite sure that most of their holdover locations were in towns with names recognized only by loyal viewers of Hee Haw—places like Bumpass and Doodlum, Va., and Talking Rock, Ga., the little honey hole in Pickens County nestled between Ellijay and Jasper. Yeah, those fine metropolises.
Bird did learn that in exchange for housing federal prisoners the U.S. government pays county sheriffs $70, or so, per day per federal inmate held. That’s a pretty sweet deal for merely furnishing a blanket on a concrete floor, a couple of boiled eggs, and maybe a dry sandwich made from stale bread and greenish-tan bologna.
He also learned that deputy sheriff’s didn’t give a rat’s patootie about federal prisoners, and that they pretty-much ignored him and the others. In fact, many of the star-wearing deputies mistreated the federal prisoners, forcing them to sleep on the floor in dirty, unused cells. Bird and his crew were the last to be fed, receiving leftovers, and they were the last to see soap and water. Therefore, they often went several days without bathing, deodorant, or brushing their teeth. And that really made for a sweet-smelling ride in the back of hot vans, and airplanes that recycle cabin air.
But, after several unpleasant layovers in county jails, the JPATS jet finally touched down at Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City. A real airport with real people scurrying about, tending to whatever duties are assigned to airport workers. Bird was ecstatic. He was overjoyed at the thought of seeing honest-to-God people other than the unwashed pack he’d been traveling with for the past several days.
FTC Oklahoma. The jetway is pictured at the top of the image.
The JPATS jet taxied to the far west corner of the airport, though, bypassing the regular terminals, and pulled alongside a private jetway leading to a brick building that stood alone on the airport property. This was the Federal Transport Center.
The FTC Oklahoma City is the hub for JPATS air transport. It’s the facility where many federal inmates are housed until they’re assigned to a permanent prison. It’s also where prisoners are housed while in transit to new prisons, court, etc. Bird finally learned he was on his way to a hearing at the federal court in Richmond, Va.
“Absolutely no talking!” shouted the marshal who’d stepped inside from the jetway. He rubbed his stubby fingers across his buzz-cut. “Not a sound unless one of us asks you a question. You’ll stand perfectly still until a marshal or other officer gives you a command. Do not, and I repeat, do not let your ankle chains mar the floors in the hallway. Okay, let’s go. Single file. In the jetway, now!”
Unfortunately, for Bird, he’d see not a single civilian. The jetway led directly into the prison facility. However, he was pleasantly surprised at how clean and fresh it was inside. The floors were highly polished and there wasn’t a single blemish on the stark white walls. Overheard fluorescent fixtures lit the long hallway like a night game in Fenway Park.
Bird and his fellow travelers made their way along the wall (following a red line painted on the floor) until they reached three BOP officers who were busy removing handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons. Bird was elated when the hardware was removed from his ankles. Wearing the steel cuffs daily for a week had rubbed the thin skin there until it was raw and extremely sore.
To him, it was all overkill, especially since his arrest and conviction was for possessing a small amount of cocaine—$100 worth. A first offense. No violence. No weapons. And no resisting arrest. He’d even confessed and claimed ownership of the drug and admitted his guilt. He was certain, as was his attorney, that he’d receive no more than probation and fines. However, the federal judge saw fit to sentence Bird to just over three years in federal prison…for a first offense of possessing an amount of cocaine that would barely overfill a tablespoon.
After the chain removal came a brief orientation, a chat with a psychologist, a quick consult with a counselor, and then to their assigned housing units. Bird met his unit officer who assigned him to a cell. Again, Bird was pleased. His cell was a spotlessly clean room complete with a soft mattress, soft pillow, a large window, and a real door. No bars!
Bird was also ecstatic when he heard he could shower whenever he liked and as many times as he liked. The facility even provided the inmates with soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and more. And, within minutes of his arrival, kitchen workers delivered a hot meal to the unit for those who’d been traveling all day. The food was absolutely delicious. Real bone-in chicken. The fare was quite unlike the unidentifiable ground goopy glop he’d been used to eating back at the prison. Not to mention the maggot-gagging cuisine served at some of the county jails he’d visited along the trip.
The unit was quiet. The inmates seemed pleasant (he’d discovered that he’d been assigned to a low security unit). And the guard was a guy who addressed the inmates either by their last names or by calling them “sir.” As in, “Thank you, Sir.” “Sir, when you get a minute would you please stop by my desk.” The prisoners did the same in return. There was no shortage of respect.
It was late in the day when the JPATS jet touched down in Oklahoma, so it wasn’t long before the sun set. Bird noticed that as soon as it was dark outside, all the cells/rooms on his side of the unit also went dark. Not a single light on in either of them. The cells across the day-room, opposite his, were all brightly lit. He also noticed that most of the inmates had suddenly disappeared into the darkened cells, and it was not yet time for lockdown. Curious, he asked one of the few remaining prisoners, a slack-jawed, flamboyantly gay guy who’d somehow managed to paint his fingernails fire engine red, about the strange occurrence.
“”It’s showtime,” he said. “Not my cup of tea, though…if you know what I mean.” He winked at Bird, but Bird didn’t have a clue what he meant, and his confused expression prompted the prison sweetie to say, “Go have a look. You’ll see.”
So Bird opened the door to his cell and found a gaggle of prisoners gathered at the narrow window, looking across to an adjacent wing. Bird quickly saw the attraction. The next unit over, with windows perfectly aligned with those in Bird’s unit, was the unit that housed female prisoners. Bird also noticed that while the lights were off on his side of the unit, the rooms across the way were brightly lit. Bird’s fellow inmates pushed and shoved and practically fought for the best view possible, because…
…standing, sitting, dancing, jiggling, wiggling, and/or gyrating (among other things) in each window, was a totally nude female prisoner who was hard at work entertaining the male population of the transfer center.
It was indeed showtime in Oklahoma, a long-standing tradition, and each cell had its own private, live peep show that lasted until lights out at 10 p.m.
Bird slept better that night than he had in a long, long time. And he went to sleep feeling a little dirty, even though he’d showered three times in as many hours.
*Inmate J.L. Bird is an imaginary prisoner, however, his journey is one of thousands that take place each and every work day of every week. JPATS is indeed a very busy operation. Oh, the Oklahoma City peep shows are also very real…
Inmate J.L. Bird, #12345-678, had always enjoyed living in California. The scenery was absolutely to die for, and the Mexican cuisine was, without a doubt, the best in the country. Somehow, though, the view didn’t quite seem the same when seeing it through windows covered in heavy metal mesh.
The Marshal had been driving about two hours when Bird reached into his paper sack and pulled out one of the boiled eggs. He gave it a couple of gentle whacks against the aluminum seat back in front of him and then began the tedious process of picking away the shell one small fleck at a time. After a quick inspection to be certain he’d removed all traces of the outer covering, he devoured the egg in two bites. The second one, though, he decided to savor, nibbling at it and letting his tongue enjoy the creamy texture of the yolk. Besides, who knew when the next meal would come.
The inmate seated next to him on his left, a man whose exposed flesh was mostly covered in jailhouse tats, slept soundly. His shaved head lolled from shoulder to shoulder depending on the direction of curves and varying depths of potholes. A bluish-black cobra adorned the back of his head, and the words “You Die” were inked across his forehead in large block letters.
The man directly in front of him wore his hair in long dreadlocks that he’d gathered into ponytail by using a series of bright pink rubber bands. Next to him sat the fattest man Bird had ever seen in prison khaki. His breathing was loud and wheezy and each exhale produced a faint whistle. His nerdish-cut greasy hair was the perfect compliment to the three-day growth of deep black whiskers covering his cheeks and upper neck.
Bird passed the time by thinking about how wonderful it would be to stand outside in the midst of the almond orchard they’d just passed. Or to feel the sunshine on his arms and face while tending to the dairy cows at the massive farm he’d seen back near Barstow.
After traveling through a very long stretch of nothingness followed by desert as far as the eye could see, the driver finally slowed and turned left into what appeared to be an abandoned airport. She pulled over next to a dilapidated tin shed and asked if any of the prisoners needed to use the restroom.
Bird waited his turn as the Marshals let them out two at a time to expel their water right there on the asphalt. The female marshal was nice enough to look the other way while her male partner stood watch over the tinklers.
Twelve men later, and a nice-sized S-shaped river that disappeared beneath the van, the side door was closed and padlocked, and the driver headed straight for a cracked runway with tall, dry weeds sprouting through the jagged openings. She hooked a left after passing a series of rundown metal buildings of varying sizes. And that’s when Bird first saw the menagerie of sheriff’s vans and buses, prison vehicles, and an array of heavily-armed officers from various agencies. A couple of snipers stood on roof of an old hanger, and several sunglass-wearing BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons) officers stood on the asphalt pavement. They each held a long gun of some sort—pump shotgun or military-style rifle. Those guys were not there to play games. No sir.
“Where are we?” Bird asked the female Marshal.
“My guess would be an airport,” she said, and looked to her partner who politely chuckled at her weak attempt at humor.
“How about this, then,” Bird said. “Where are we going?”
“You know we can’t tell you that, Bird,” said the male Marshal. “Obviously, you’re going to take a little trip. So just sit there and be quiet. You’ll find out where you’re going when you get there.”
Bird leaned back in his seat. Fat Guy was fidgeting in his seat and sweating profusely, and his breathing whistles had grown louder and higher-pitched, almost to the point of “only dogs can hear.” He toyed with the black box mounted between his cuffs. Bird wondered what he’d done to warrant the added security.
Movement on the runway caught Bird’s eye. The officers outside began to assemble into a somewhat orderly formation. They were also watching the sky. Something was about to happen…and it did. A dot appeared above the horizon and, within a matter of seconds, it grew into a large passenger jet.
The plane made its approach and touched down smoothly, stirring up clouds of dust and sending a half-dozen tumbleweeds rolling off into the desert. The massive unmarked jet came to a stop in front of the officers. The roar from its engines was uncomfortably loud.
A rear stairway lowered to the ground and a handful of jump-boot-wearing marshals filed out. They spoke with the group of ground transport Marshals, deputies, and other officers, and then motioned to the driver in control of Bird’s van, who eased the vehicle forward until it was within a few yards of the plane. She and her partner opened the side door to the van and told the prisoners to step outside and line up, single file. A second door on the jet opened. This one was on the side, and a set of stairs lowered until it, too, touched the pavement.
As the buses and vans unloaded their human cargo, a steady stream of t-shirt and khaki-wearing prisoners made their way down the jet’s side stairs. As soon as their blue-shoed feet hit the pavement they were whisked away by the officers who were there to take them to their new home for the next 5-10 years, or longer. Some, like Bird, were on their way to court where they’d testify against co-defendants or to listen as their court-appointed attorneys pleaded for sentence reductions or new trials, or for whatever legal business warranted a flight on the Marshals’ mass transit system.
After comparing papers and photo ID’s, Bird’s group was loaded into the jet via the rear stairway, where Marshals guided them into seats that had seen their better days many years ago.
The interior of the plane was hot and the little moveable air nozzles either didn’t work or were missing. The seat trays had been removed and the carpeting was stained and sticky. Many years of accumulated artificial fruit juice, piss, and vomit, Bird surmised. The aroma of pine cleaner did nothing to hide the stench. He wondered how the Marshals stood being cooped up inside the funky-smelling jet day in and day out.
Within a few minutes they were taxiing down the runway, headed for who knew where. As soon as they reached their cruising altitude the pilot made a brief announcement. “You must remain in your seats at all times. You may not stand for any reason. You may not use the restroom during the flight. The air marshals on board are not flight attendants. They are here to insure my safety and yours. You will follow their instructions at all times. If you have any questions, please hold them until we land. Until then, thank you for flying Con Air. Enjoy your flight.” Only the Marshals laughed at the pilot’s attempt at comedy.
Bird closed his eyes, hoping to sleep the day away. But the nose-whistling fat guy wasn’t about to let that happen. He stood and began screaming some sort of gibberish about being terrified of flying and that he was going to kill the pilot. Well, it took all of four minutes and five air Marshals, a Taser, and a few well-placed blows to the head, shoulders, and lower back to silence that nonsense.
Bird closed his eyes again, hoping the steady hum of the jet engines would help him sleep and send him to freedom, if only for a few hours. Soon he was dreaming of life on the outside. Ah, to be at the coast once again…
Next up…Oklahoma City, good food, and the nightly all-nude girlie shows—for prisoners’ eyes only.