Archive for the ‘Prisons and Jails’ Category
Thursday nights were for doing laundry, letter writing, and shoe-shining. However, the Thursday night of this particular week was a bit different, because the next day was the first of a three-day furlough for inmate I. Dunnit #56789-437.
Dunnit was 13 months into a 24 month sentence in federal prison for providing false information to the IRS. He’d been a model inmate since the first day he set foot in the camp located in the California desert. Working as a tool room clerk, he earned the top bonus pay of $.40 per hour on top of his $.12 per hour base salary. He attended regular Toastmasters meetings, sang in the prison choir that occasionally performed in local churches, including the one attended by the warden and his family, and he played on the tennis team that regularly crushed the local Jaycees whenever they visited the prison to play a friendly match or two on the institution’s top-notch courts.
Getting a furlough approved was a long shot, but not impossible. Still, Dunnit’s counselor, Harry Pitts, a portly man with a set of jowls that hung from the sides of his face like a pair of cheap drapes, thought he could make it happen. Pitts was a kind man who saw a little good in everyone, especially in inmate I. Dunnit, and to secure Dunnit’s three-day furlough he’d reeled in a couple of favors, like not telling the warden’s wife about a certain little blond clerk who spent plenty of time in her boss’s office with the door closed and the Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the outside.
The application process had been short and sweet, with the reason for furlough stated as “to re-establish family and community ties.” The other choices on the form seemed okay—to attend a religious meeting, attend a court proceeding/hearing, receive special medical or dental care not offered in the prison facility, and to participate in special training or a work detail—but Pitts stuck to his “keep it simple” plan, and it worked. The furlough was approved and signed by the warden.
So when Friday morning came, Dunnit showered and put on a pair of new jeans, a blue dress shirt, plaid boxer shorts, new Ralph Polo socks, and his favorite pair of New Balance running shoes, the clothing his wife mailed to Pitts a week in advance of the furlough.
At 9 a.m. sharp, the officer working control in the front office called his name over the intercom. “I. Dunnit, report to the main office.” This was it. His wife had arrived to take him away from the concrete, the tool room, and the 999 other inmates who were also working on ways to get away from the camp. Although, it wasn’t so bad at the camp, since many of the prisoners “go over the hedges” at least once a week.
You see, the prison camp has no walls or fences, and there’s a dirt road that runs beside the place that leads to the main highway running north to San Jose and south to L.A. The first turn to the left is practically a straight shot to Vegas.
Many of the guys leave the prison at night, running through the tumbleweeds and dust, and dodging scorpions and jack rabbits to hop inside a waiting car driven by girlfriends, wives, friends, or family. They drive into town to catch a movie, have a nice dinner at a local restaurant, or simply climb into the backseat for a bit of “desert delight.” And, somewhere just shy of 10 p.m. count time, the fellows slip back onto the prison grounds with bellies full of steak and wine, eyes red of pot smoke, and the look of satisfaction stamped across their flushed faces. They also bring things back into the prison, such as wine, pot, clothing, food (shrimp, steak, etc.), cell phones, radios, and more.
Since the camp is a privately run prison-for-profit there’s very little staff to worry about—three, maybe four guards at the most working night shifts. And they’re usually holed-up in the main office watching television or telling tall tales and back-slapping. Unless, of course, it’s a shift when the new female officer is working. On those nights the male CO’s are too busy trying to win a date or talk her into taking a moonlight stroll with them to the prison flower garden where they could be alone for an hour or so. At night the place is easy street with a capital E.
Still, getting away from prison life to spend three days at home, eating home cooked meals, visiting with family, sleeping in a real bed instead of a steel slab covered with a plastic-coated mattress, walking barefoot in grass, smelling things other than the guy’s feet in the upper bunk, and even holding a dollar bill and driving a car, well, it would be three days in heaven.
Unfortunately, Dunnit’s three-day furlough ended in, well, three short days, and the drive back to the camp was far too quick. But what a weekend! Saturday, the entire family came over for a barbecue around the pool. The oldest daughter brought her kids who stuck to Grandpa Dunnit like glue. Piggyback rides and hugs. Hamburgers and potato salad. Homemade iced tea and ice cream. And dignity. He had his dignity back, even if it was for only three short days. No one telling him every move to make. No strip searches. No bending over. No squatting and coughing while guards look at and inspect his most private areas. Even model prisoners lose their dignity.
Walking back inside the main door to the camp office was tough.
“Welcome back, Dunnit. Have a good time?” said the officer on duty.
“Yeah, it was nice.”
“You see your grand kids?”
“Sure did. They’d grown quite a bit since I last saw them.”
“I know what you mean. Mine grow like little weeds.”
Dunnit handed the officer his bag.
“Well, I guess we may as well get this over with. Step inside the restroom and take off your clothes, and hand me each piece as you take it off. You’re gonna have to pee in a cup for me too.”
Dunnit slipped off his new clothes, and his dignity, neither of which he’d see again until his release date.
* * *
Yes, furloughs are possible for federal inmates. The length of the furlough depends upon the time remaining on their sentence—the less time the longer the furlough. In Dunnit’s case, his was an overnight furlough because he had less than 18 months left on his sentence.
The expense of the furlough must be paid for by the prisoner or his family.
Inmates incarcerated for violent crimes are not eligible to receive furloughs.
While on a furlough the inmate may not consume alcohol or drugs. They also may not consume any food item containing poppy seeds, since the seeds often show up on drug screens as a positive result for opiate use. The same normally applies to those who are on supervised probation.
Some federal inmates are also granted furloughs when transferring from one prison to another.
**Inmate I. Dunnit is a fictional character. Prison furloughs, however, are very real.
I got my start in law enforcement as a corrections officer working in a prison designed to house the inmates that had been deemed as “the worst of the worst.” Other institutions couldn’t or didn’t want to deal them, so they sent those little darlings to us. In other words, they were the system’s problem children. Fortunately for the citizens who lived nearby, our place was like Colonel Klink’s Stalag 13…we’d never had a successful escape. Some had tried, but never succeeded.
Not far away, within sight, actually, was another prison. It, too, housed some pretty tough customers, but it also had a substantial population of medium to lower custody inmates. Unfortunately, their escape record was marred by a few blemishes and this was a concern to the locals. After all, a couple of the prisoners there had once beaten a corrections officer to death. Another had violently raped a female officer. Not to mention the inmates who’d killed or maimed other inmates. So yeah, escapes were always on the minds of everyone, including the inmates who had freedom on their minds.
As officers, escapes meant something entirely different to us. Sure, the safety of our neighbors and fellow staff were a concern, but it was the other stuff that went along with total chaos that followed the discovery of a missing inmate that really bugged us. And it started with…
1. Count time and the number comes up one man short. So you count again, and again and again and again and again, until someone “upstairs” is finally able to comprehend and admit that a prisoner is not where he’s supposed to be. This process could last up to 30-40 minutes, or so.
2. When a count comes up short, inmates, if not already there, are sent to their cells and locked inside. A top-to-bottom search of the buildings and grounds is then ordered. The place is a madhouse with employees turning every stone and inmates shouting and cheering for their missing compadre, even if they’d never seen the guy before in their entire lives.
3. An hour of internal searching goes by without a trace of the missing man, so the brass swallows hard before making THE call to the regional office.
4. The order is given to sound the siren alerting everyone, including neighbors and other nearby prisons that an inmate has indeed escaped. And this is where the real pucker-factor for lower level officers sets in because…
5. Officers are at their assigned posts, guarding the remaining prisoners (watching them play cards and dominoes while yelling and cheering for their new hero) when they see a handful of White-shirts approaching (superior officers are called White-shirts because they wear—wait for it—white shirts). The bosses point at various officers as they pass by. First one then another, like selecting the top canines in a dog show.
6. The pointed-at officers are now part of the search team. These selections are based on absolutely nothing more than an eenie-meenie-miney-mo type system. Time on the job, marksmanship, alertness…they mean nothing. Warm bodies are what’s needed at that time.
7. So off you go to the armory where the “hand-picked” officers are issued a sidearm and sometimes a shotgun, depending upon how many are on hand and how many are in decent working condition.
8. Recently-armed officers are loaded into smelly vans and buses, packed in like the inmates who’d ridden in those very vehicles just hours before. Meanwhile, back at the prison, all time off and other leave is cancelled for all officers. And, no one is allowed to leave their posts until further notice. No one goes home. In fact, more officers are called in to work.
9. The vans and buses head out to the roads surrounding the prison and the wooded areas between. The vehicles stop at regular intervals to drop off an officer who is to stand there until someone comes back to retrieve him/her. This could be hours, or…
10. Night falls and mosquitoes begin to feed on the guard’s exposed flesh.
11. The officer really wishes he’d been issued a flashlight, and something to eat and drink.
12. Midnight approaches, as does something from inside the darkness of the wooded area. It’s a deer.
13. A prison van drives up at 1 a.m.. The passenger, a White-shirt, rolls down his window and asks if the officer has seen anything? He’s holding a bottle of Diet Coke and promises someone will be by soon to relieve him. Doesn’t offer even a swallow of the beverage.
14. An hour later another van pulls up and the driver tells the officer to get in. The officer is told the search area has been expanded and they’re moving him to an area 20 miles away. Still no food or drink.
15. 24 hours later the officer is standing in in front of a house in a residential neighborhood that’s 26 miles from the prison. It’s raining very hard. No rain gear. Thankfully, the homeowner brings hot soup, a ham and cheese sandwich, and cold drinks.
16. 30 hours since the escape siren sounded. A prison van rolls to a stop in front of the exhausted officer and the driver tells him to get inside.
17. The prisoner was located 250 miles away, traveling in a vehicle owned by a prison kitchen employee. She was driving the car at the time it was stopped by state police.
18. The officer, wet, tired, and still hungry, learned that officials suspected the kitchen worker and had alerted police to locate her.
19. The officer also learned that his bosses had stationed him and his co-workers throughout the countryside as merely a precaution in case the other “thing” didn’t pan out.
20. And that, not so much the idea of a dangerous escapee, is why we hated escapes from our facilities.
*Remember, it was a long, long time ago when I worked as a corrections officer. I’m sure times and things have changed a bit since then. However, I’ll still bet money that forced overtime and poor treatment by administration still occurs and is something that’s despised by many of today’s officers.