Thinking back to the days prior to working in law enforcement I recall the intense desire to become a police officer.

I especially wanted to work in a sheriff’s office. However, openings in the local sheriff’s office were as scarce as hen’s teeth. It was a job that deputies loved and there they remained. Sure, I’d applied and I’d spoken to the sheriff to express my eagerness to become a deputy. But his reply was the typical “I’ll keep you in mind if an opening becomes available.”

So, while impatiently waiting, I decided to apply for a job as a corrections officer within Virginia’s state prison system. And, soon after applying I received a call directing me to come in for an interview.

The day for the initial meeting finally arrived and I was escorted inside to a small conference room. To set the stage, a three person interview panel were seated behind a long table. The chair where my escort indicated that I was to sit, was positioned approximately eight feet in front of the trio of white-shirted ranking officers—one captain, a lieutenant, and a sergeant. No one had passed out smiles that morning.

The captain spoke first, introducing himself and the others. He then asked me to tell them a bit about myself and my background and why on earth did I want to work in a place that could be described as hell’s stinky armpit.

Could you, would you?

When I finished my opening spiel, the real questioning began. “Have you ever belonged to a gang?” “Do you personally know anyone who’s in prison?” “Have you ever been struck, punched, or physically injured by anyone?” What are your views on the death penalty?” Could you shoot another person, if necessary?” Could you bring yourself to shoot a coworker if they’d been taken hostage by an inmate and that shooting through the fellow officer was the only means of preventing the escape?” “Could you?” Would you? And why?”

A few weeks later I received another call instructing me to report to the prison for a physical and a drug test. Two weeks after the exam and drug testing I was officially hired and was scheduled to report for orientation and assignment of uniforms and other equipment, including the first badge I’d ever pinned to a uniform shirt.

Then I received my duty assignment, a prison in the middle of nowhere that consisted of four separate sections, with each building surrounded by a tall, razor-wire topped fence. The four individual areas were contained by a double set of larger fencing that encompassed the entire place. Towers were strategically positioned around the perimeter and an asphalt drive circled the prison, just outside the fence.

Armed officers drove around the compound on a never ending loop. I found out during my orientation that this particular prison was where the state housed many of the inmates that other prisons couldn’t handle.

The prisoners were divided into four categories—those with medical and mental problems, bad-to-the bone dangerous, younger inmates, and finally a mixture of “not super rowdy but were there anyway.” Inmates classified as either of the four groups were housed appropriately—medical and mental were assigned to C Unit, younger inmates to D Unit, the mean and nasty to B Unit, and “the rest” to A.

The Guard Shack

An officer’s station, a small building, sat in the middle of the main compound yard. Inmates were allowed inside this area only when moving from place to place and under controlled circumstances—medical department, visiting room, etc. Each individual section had it’s own recreation yard. The inmates were not permitted to mix (No As with Bs, etc.). The only exception would be during visitations and medical visits.

Nurses delivered medication to each unit. It was at this time when prisoners were permitted to address their medical needs. They would then schedule an appointment to see the prison doctor who, by the way, only visited the prison only once or twice per month unless there was an emergency.

Okay, so I’m at work on my first day and they’ve assigned me to the main compound. My job was to check the passes of inmates before manually unlocking the gates to allow them outside of their designated unit yards. Yes, each gate was locked with a large padlock and I carried a huge ring of keys, many of which I never learned their purpose.

When I arrived at the main gate that morning, an officer used a key to open the lock and let me inside. We walked to the “guard shack” where he gave me a quick briefing about the goings-on during his shift (nothing at all) and then handed me the keys. We walked back to the gate where I opened the lock to let him out. On the way we passed by large man wearing jeans, work boots, a green long-sleeved shirt, and a bright yellow hardhat. The officer spoke as did Mr. Hardhat. Then I snapped the lock closed and returned to the guard shack.

Belly of the Beast!

I was in the process of entering a bit of information in the logbook when “Hardhat” poked his head inside the door. He said good morning and offered his name and mentioned he’d be around if I needed anything. Of course, I appreciated his presence since I felt as if I’d been shoved into a caged arena as the star of a Roman execution ad bestias, “to the beasts.”

Assuming Hardhat was a prison maintenance worker I gladly took him up on his offer and he joined me out on the yard to advise me as to where and when inmate movements should take place. He also kindly provided whispered information regarding which prisoners could be trusted and which could not.

An hour or so later Hardhat suddenly made himself scarce when he spied a sergeant on his way to check on me. Everything was in order—inmate movements were flowing smoothly, logbooks were in excellent shape, keys and other equipment were present, etc. He was pleased.

As my supervisor started to walk away he stopped and turned around to say, “By the way, if you see an inmate walking around wearing a hardhat, send him to C Unit. He didn’t show up for an appointment. Not unusual for him, though, so not to worry. He often hangs out in this area. But he’s as wacky as a box of Fruit Loops. Sometimes he thinks he works here.”

Believe me, the call from the sheriff’s office didn’t come soon enough.

Depending upon which source is believed to be correct—Social Security or the census—Johnson Vandyke “Van” Grigsby was born in either February of 1888 or February of 1886, respectively. Grigsby, the son of freed slaves, however, said March of 1885 was the month and year of his birth.

In 1900, Grigsby and his family moved from their home in Shelby County, Kentucky to Kokomo, Indiana, the county seat of Howard County. Seven years later, Grigsby, an African-American, killed a white man named James Brown. The pair had been playing a game of five card stud poker in a saloon in Anderson, IL. when the two men engaged in a fight.

During the altercation, the men, as men often do, cursed at one another. Then racial slurs were uttered. As the fracas became intensely heated, Brown pulled a knife on Van. So Van left the bar to retrieve a knife of his own. When Van returned Brown picked up a chair and threw it at him. In response, Van lunged at Brown, with his knife, and subsequently stabbed Brown to death.

Grigsby, as the story goes, plead guilty to second degree murder in order to escape the electric chair.

Convicted of second degree murder in 1908, Grigsby began a new and extremely long chapter in life when he was delivered in a horse-drawn cart to the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City. The trip lasted several days.

When he arrived at the prison on August 8, 1908, the same year the four-cylinder, twenty-horsepower Model T was first offered and sold for $825, Grigsby left behind his life as a free man and became “prisoner #4045.”

Upon his release in December 1974, inmate Grigsby had served 66 long years in the penitentiary, with 50 or so of those years spent in a ward for the insane. A doctor, though, finally examined him and declared that he was “not crazy.”

In spite of being a model prisoner who passed the time by reading (and re-reading) the Bible, a dictionary, and a complete set of encyclopedias from A_Z, he’d applied for parole 33 times before finally being released.

As a free man once again, Grigsby had to adjust to life on “the outside” as someone who’d been secluded from the world for nearly seven decades. While Grigsby’s former daily life had consisted of staring at concrete and steel and barbed wire, life beyond the prison walls passed him by, and when he finally stepped outside the front gate an entirely new world was there to greet him. The stark differences were surely like the moment in the Wizard of Oz film when things instantly transformed from black and white to vivid color. There were no subtle changes.

*The Wizard of Oz premiered on the big screen in 1939, eventually making its way to television in 1956. Grigsby was behind bars for both. Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the film, was born in 1922 and died in 1969. Her entire life and career took place during Grigsby’s period of incarceration.

In fact, during Grigsby’s time inside, he’d missed such “firsts” as …

  • The first candy apple.
  • The introduction of Skee ball (my favorite beach boardwalk arcade game).
  • The invention of gin rummy.
  • Erector sets.
  • The painting of marker lines on roadways.
  • Electric blankets.
  • The first traffic lights.
  • Fortune cookies.
  • Hamburger buns.
  • Lincoln logs.
  • Supermarkets.
  • Tow trucks.
  • Light switches.
  • Grocery bags.
  • Toasters
  • Eskimo pies.
  • Band-Aids.
  • Water skiing.
  • Bulldozers.
  • Cotton swabs.
  • Cheeseburgers.
  • Gas chamber executions.
  • Masking tape.
  • Tilt-a-Whirl.
  • Corn dogs.
  • Recliners.
  • Bubble gum.
  • Ice cube trays.
  • Reuben sandwiches.
  • Sunglasses.
  • The first frozen food.
  • Car radios.
  • Chocolate chip cookies.
  • Electric guitars.
  • Golf carts.
  • Trampolines.
  • Parking meters.
  • Stock car racing.
  • Shopping carts.
  • Beach balls.
  • Soft-serve ice cream.
  • Yield signs.
  • Twist ties.
  • Deodorant.
  • Slinkies.
  • Tupperware
  • Credit cards.
  • Cat litter
  • Hairspray.
  • Cable television
  • Frisbees.
  • Coolers.
  • Wetsuits.
  • Barcodes.
  • WD-40
  • Ziplock bags.
  • Radar guns
  • The first man on the moon.
  • The FBI was established only one month prior to Grigsby’s incarceration.
  • 13 U.S. presidents had come and gone.
  • National Anthem was adopted.
  • U.S. engagement in Korean and Vietnam Wars began and ended.
  • Alaska and Hawaii became U.S. states.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • President Kennedy was assassinated.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
  • Grigsby’s entire life passed by in dreary stagnation while the world continued to rapidly spin and twirl and advance in gigantic leaps and bounds. Is it any wonder that when his feet did finally hit the pavement outside he’d stepped into a world that was unrecognizable to him. By the way, the first ready-mix load of concrete was delivered in Baltimore, Md. in 1913. The Hoover Dam, made of concrete, was constructed in 1936.

    It must’ve been like finding oneself on a distant planet … a new world filled with magic and awe. He most likely saw a traffic light for the first time in his life. Music and art and speech, and cars, and trains, and stores and, well, everything—all brand new and shiny and spinning and flashing and whirling and whirring.

    He was a 90 year old man who was launched directly from 1908 nearly 70 years into the future, a world where he was instantly expected to adapt. But, as should have been expected, Grigsby found himself unable to cope with such drastic change and voluntarily returned to prison, where he remained for 17 additional months before he was again released. This time, though, at the age of 91, he was out for good. He ended up in the Marion County Health Care Center, though, where he found much comfort at being told when to get up, when to eat, when to bathe, and when to go to bed. This being the only way he knew to live and to survive.

    Grigsby’s situation is all too familiar to many men and women who serve long periods of time behind bars. Time, people, and life pass swiftly by, leaving long-serving ex-prisoners confused and lonely and, upon their release, they find it difficult to obtain employment in a world that’s unlike the one they knew prior to incarceration.

    The stigma of being a convicted felon is already a huge hurdle to overcome when job searching, but add to it the lack of modern day skills and sudden forced adjustment to the unknowns makes the effort almost insurmountable without a hand up from friends and family. Unfortunately, it’s commonplace that friends and family have long since turned their backs on the folks serving extensive prison terms. That, and decent housing and educational opportunities are often unattainable for felons.

    Therefore, the exasperated former inmates often see no way to survive without returning to what they know … criminal activity.

    For these people to survive as productive citizens, somewhere, somehow, sometime, someone has to offer a true second chance. They need the opportunity to hold their heads high and not hang them down in shame for the balance of their time on earth. A means to earn back their rights and to remove the “scarlet letters” from their chests.

    Of course, we all realize that some of these folks will never change and prison is, without a doubt, the best place for them. But others do regret the bad choices they’ve made, and they do indeed want and welcome change.

    But to forever brand former prisoners, and to not provide a support system that keeps them current with the times and technology is, well, it’s not good for them nor is it good for society.


    Johnny Cash told Grigsby’s story in a song called Michigan City Howdy Do..
     

As most of you know by now, Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. She was later sentenced to serve time in federal prison, a penalty also shared by the likes of  dangerous criminals such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Martha Stewart (I’m sure staff kept a close eye on Stewart, thinking that she had plans to bake a cake containing a tasty filling made of files or hacksaw blades).

Huffman will soon face a huge challenge, setting foot in prison where she could become an even more hardcore criminal.

First, she, through her attorneys, has requested that she serve her time at FCI Dublin, a women’s correctional facility in California. Typically, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) allows inmates to serve their sentences at a facility within 500 miles of their home. This is to help maintain close family ties during long stretches behind concrete walls and steel bars.

What many of you may not know is that judges do not have the final say in where a federal prisoner serves their time. That decision is that of the BOP. Judges may recommend, but it is the BOP who has the final authority.

For now, let’s say Huffman gets her wish and the BOP assigns her to FCI Dublin, a “low security” correctional institution. Here’s what she can expect while serving her brutal 14 day sentence.

  • Huffman is assigned an inmate an eight digit inmate register number. She must memorize this number because at any time during her time in “the system” she may be called up to recite it. This number is important because it tells staff vital information about the inmate. The first five numbers are unique to the inmate. It’s their specific ID. The last three digits signify the district wherein the offender was arrested and/or processed into the system.

If the feds use Boston, where she was sentenced, as a basis for the assigning district, the last three digits of her register number would be 038, the code for the District of Massachusetts (D/MA).

If her arrest location is used (I’m not sure of the exact location or district) one of the following would be the identifying numbers—097- Eastern District of California (E/CA), or 098 for the Southern District of California (S/CA)

Therefore, her official register number would be something like 12345-038 (Boston), or 12345-098 (Southern district of California.

  • Huffman has been granted the option of self-surrendering to prison, meaning that her family will deliver her to the entrance of the prison where they’ll say their goodbyes with hugs and kisses all around.
  • Next, Huffman will be escorted to Receiving and Discharge (R&D). It is at R&D where she’ll be processed—fingerprinted, etc.—and she will receive initial clearance by the Medical and Unit Staff. Afterward, she’ll be sent to the Admission and Orientation (A&O) sections of the Housing Unit where she’ll remain until she is classified (determination of her custody status—low, medium, high).

Should the medical staff find that Huffman has medical needs she will be placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), otherwise known as solitary confinement. Inmates with medical needs may not be released into general population until cleared by a physician.

  • Assuming all goes well, a counselor and a case manager will be assigned to Huffman. They will direct and follow her progress during the entirety of her confinement.
  • New inmates such as Huffman will be expected to work within their assigned housing units when asked to do so by the Unit Officer.
  • Huffman will be required to make her bed by 6:30 a.m. The bed-making deadline on weekends and holidays is no later than 10 a.m.
  • As a new arrival, Huffman will be required to attend Unit Orientation within seven days of her arrival at the prison. This session details rules of the housing unit.
  • Within thirty days of an inmate’s arrival to the institution, it’s mandatory that they receive an in-depth institutional orientation from each of the prison’s  Department Heads and Executive Staff. This session lays out ALL prison rules.

Some of the rules Huffman is required to obey during her stay are:

  • Khaki clothing furnished by the BOP will be marked with the inmate’s name and number (F. Huffman 12345-098). She must wear the khaki clothing while at work and during weekday breakfast and lunch meals.
  • Baggy pants and excessively large shirts are not permitted.
  • Khaki shorts may be worn after 2:30 p.m. and on weekends, except to Visiting, Education, and the Chapel. Shorts must be no shorter than above the knee. No sleeveless tops are authorized as outerwear at any time.
  • Huffman may not hold hands with other inmates, and she may not, not ever, engage in sexual activities with other inmates or staff members.
  • Inmates are permitted to watch television in the common area until 8:45 p.m. during the week, or until 11:45 p.m. on the weekends. She will be  allowed to spend up to $320 per months at the commissary. If she has money “on the books” she’ll be required to purchase her own toiletries. Otherwise, those items—basic needs—are furnished by the prison.
  • She may sunbathe on the weekends but she’ll have to wear a shirt and shorts. No topless or nude sunbathing allowed. Sunbathing is permitted only on the sundecks.
  • Huffman, like other inmates in the system, may not possess cash or coins.
  • Felicity must be completely dressed in full khaki attire by 6:30 a.m.
  • She may not take away any food item from the dining room, with the exception of one piece of fruit. However, the fruit must be eaten before it spoils. It goes without saying that the fruit may not be used to make homemade alcoholic beverages.
  • Huffman may not at any time feed birds or other wildlife.
  • Sitting on stairs is prohibited.

Head counts are held at 12:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 4:30 a.m., 4:00 p.m., and 9:00 p.m. An extra count is held at 10:00 a.m.on weekends and holidays. These counts are considered as Official Counts.Unofficial Counts may be held at any time and for any reason.

When staff announces a count, Huffman and her fellow inmates must  be in their own rooms (unless they’re authorized to be elsewhere). Each and every day, at 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., inmates are required to stand for these official counts. An extra standing count takes place at 10:00 a.m. on weekends and all Federal holidays.

Okay, I could go on and on about the dos and don’ts of prison life, but there’s simply not enough time or space here to do so. Believe me, the list of rules, regulations, and procedures is long. Very long.

However, Huffman will only be in “the joint” for a couple of weeks. Not even long enough to make it to the main orientation. Not long enough to visit the commissary for the first time. In fact, I doubt she’ll be able to have her visiting list approved in time to receive a single visit from a family member.

Actually, Huffman will probably be in and out before she has a chance to get a gang or teardrop tattoo, make her first batch of pruno, or to join the prison softball team. Her sheets won’t have had time to wrinkle before she walks out of the front gate to leave prison life behind. Her sentence is so short that she couldn’t binge watch all episodes of Desperate Housewives before she’s released.

So many things to do and such a short time to do them…

 

You have been found guilty

So, you’ve been tried and convicted for a crime and now you’re ready to do your time. Well, it’s not like you had a say in the matter, but the day has arrived, nonetheless. And that day arrived a lot sooner than you’d preferred. Time simply would not slow down, no matter how hard or how often you prayed that it would.

You knew the evidence was stacked heavily against you, but you were still a bit shocked when the jury found you guilty. Your mind was still racing when sheriff’s deputies (that’s who takes you into custody after court) handcuffed you and led you to a section of the courthouse you’d never seen. Who knew there were jail cells back there?

Now you’re sitting in a not-so-clean holding cell with a dozen or so other people of various criminal backgrounds, waiting for someone to transport you to the county jail. Soon, you hear voices and the sound of chains rattling. Deputies call you out one at a time and begin shackling you—handcuffs attached to a chain around your waist, and leg irons that dig into the tender flesh at your ankles. You’re surprised at how quickly the soreness set in.

The transportation officers pack each of you into a very full van and then padlock the door from the outside. The benches in the back of the transport vehicle are crammed with men of all sizes and shapes. All skin colors and a variety of languages. Some were there because they’d been caught with illegal narcotics, while others were guilty of rape or murder, or both. The air is thick, and stale—gas fumes, stinky feet and flesh that hasn’t seen soap or water in many days. Not a good time for your claustrophobia to act up. Your gag reflexes are switched on and you fight to held back their attempts to expel stomach contents.

The fat man wedged in beside you, the guy who smells like a high school locker room times ten, had just been found guilty of using a machete to hack his mother to death. You couldn’t help but notice the foamy white stuff gathered at the corners of his mouth, and the crusty nuggets piled up over his tear ducts and lower eyelids. A blue scorpion tattoo on his neck wiggled a little with each beat of the now convicted killer’s heart. You soon find yourself passing the time by watching and counting the number of times his carotid arteries pushed against the inked arachnid, like counting ceiling tiles in a doctor’s office while waiting to say “ah” and hoping for a prescription that’ll calm your shattered nerves.

The driver made a sharp right-hand turn, slamming the wild-eyed, unshaven rapist against your shoulder and bare left arm. His slimy sweat transferred to your skin, feeling as if it  burned your exposed flesh. But the chains prevented you from wiping away the cause of the fire. You’ve never felt more filthy in your entire life.

You arrive at the jail where you and the others are herded into a large room, much like livestock you’ve seen at county fairs. Then you’re told to remove all your clothing. A long line of naked men standing before both male and female officers. The stench of body odor is overwhelming. The embarrassment is worse.

“Hold up your arms. Spread your fingers. Turn around. Bend over. Spread your buttocks. Squat. Cough. Next.”

A female deputy, a woman who’d somehow managed to squeeze a rather “wide load” set of buttocks into a pair of size-too-small khaki pants, issues you a set of jail clothing—an orange jump suit big enough for two inmates, a dingy gray t-shirt that could’ve been white once upon a time, a pair of threadbare yellowish-gray boxers, and a pair of white socks that wouldn’t stay up no matter how many times you tugged. At the moment, though, while exposed for all the world to see, you gladly put on your brand new, many-times-used outfit.

Deputies yell for your group to hurry. The few who weren’t completely dressed awkwardly attempted to finish the task as they stumbled along trying to keep up.

Everyone is marched down a concrete corridor to another large room where you’ll learn the rules and regulations of the jail. It’s orientation time, and you’d better pay attention. The rules you’re about to hear are important. They’re for your safety. By the way, if you don’t follow the rules you’ll find yourself staying behind bars a little longer than you’d expected.

Now, please sit quietly and watch your orientation video, courtesy of the Chatham County Georgia Sheriff’s Department.

Welcome to jail.

 

It’s certainly no secret that jail and prison food can be absolutely disgusting. Therefore, it is also no surprise when prisoners take it upon themselves to upgrade the quality of their daily cuisine.

They do so by using items purchased from the commissary, a few ingredients stolen from the kitchen (kitchen workers earn extra money by pilfering food to sell to fellow inmates), from prison/jail gardens and, if they’re lucky, someone smuggles something in from the outside that’s really good, such as real meat.

By the way, most of the food items smuggled from the kitchen are concealed inside the pants of the workers. Officers often tend to skip the crotch area when conducting pat-downs, so yes, that delicious piece of leftover cake or chicken breast was once, well … right “there.” Yum …

Prison culinary pros use only the best of cooking tools, such as a sharpened vegetable can lid (one edge folded over for safe gripping), used for slicing, dicing, and chopping. Lids are honed to a fine edge by rubbing across a concrete surface. They’re actually quite sharp, sharp enough to glide through a tomato with ease. They’re also sharp enough to slice human flesh with equal ease.

Plastic garbage bags can be used for steaming and boiling, and in place of microwavable bowls.

Most commissaries sell microwavable bowls but some prisoners cannot afford such luxuries, so they cut 4-6 inches off the bottom of a plastic bucket and it serves nicely as a microwavable cooking bowl.

Five gallon bucket bottoms of various heights and depths make excellent pots for cooking stews, soups, and pasta, as well as being utilized as nice serving containers for large groups—birthday, holiday, or Super Bowl and “release eve” parties.

An 8″-10″ bucket bottom with multiple holes drilled through are fantastic colanders. For an even better product, simply cut a slot on each side to serve as handles to prevent the burning and steaming of fingers.

If the facility does not provide microwaves or, if you’re confined to a cell without access to a microwave, well, you’ll have to be a bit more creative, such as perhaps using a stinger to generate heat.

Stingers are used to heat liquid and/or boil water

Stinger – spoons

A stinger is a device made from electrical wire and two metal objects, such as razor blades, spoons, forks, or even parts from fingernail clippers.

 

 

 

 


So, what sort of dishes are concocted from these piecemeal ingredients and crude cookware? Well, for starters …

Jailhouse Tamales

Ingredients

  • One bag of plain corn chips
  • One bag of spicy hot chips – Cheetos, Doritos, etc.,
  • Hot water – (only the amount needed to transform mixture into a thick mush/paste)
  • Hot sauce

Directions

  1. Place all chips into one chip bag
  2. Mash/crush/pulverize the chips
  3. Add just enough hot water to transform mixture into a thick mush/paste
  4. Knead mixture well
  5. Drain excess water, if any
  6. With mixture/dough still inside chip bag, mold into shape of a tamale
  7. Let “tamale” “cook” (let it stand for 5 minutes or so).
  8. Remove tamale and top with hot sauce
  9. Enjoy

Spicy Tuna Surprise

Ingredients

  • One can of tuna
  • A hunk of stolen kitchen cheese
  • One package of Ramen noodles (flavor is optional)
  • Jalapeños – stolen from kitchen, jail garden, or purchased from commissary

Directions

  1. Break noodles into smaller pieces
  2. Cook noodles per package instructions (add hot water heated with stinger)
  3. Drain tuna and then place it into a bowl
  4. Top tuna with jalapeño slices/wheels
  5. Add cheese crumbles or slices
  6. Mix seasoning packet into steaming hot noodles
  7. Top dish with prepared noodles
  8. When cheese has melted to desired consistency … enjoy

The Spread – Serving large groups—parties, social gatherings, etc. By the way, it’s a sign of respect to invite someone to join in on a spread.

Ingredients

  • Top Ramen Soup (one package per guest)
  • The kitchen sink – whatever you want to add—tuna, corn chips, chicken pieces, summer sausage, popcorn, etc.

Directions

  1. Place noodles and spice mixes inside a plastic garbage bag
  2. Add any and all other ingredients of your choosing (see list above). Be creative
  3. Add enough hot water to “cook” the entire dish into the consistency of a casserole.
  4. Tightly close the garbage bag and allow mixture to “cook”
  5. When done, cover a tabletop with a newspaper or similar item and “spread out the ingredients.”
  6. Everyone uses a spoon to dig in and share this delicious “spread.”

Sweet and Sour Pork

This one is basically disgusting. It’s made by combining pork rinds, the kind sold in bags like chips and Cheetos, with a sauce made from jelly, Kool Aid, and one Top Ramen seasoning packet. Yum.

Dessert – Homemade Convict Cake

Ingredients

Oreos

Peanut butter

M&Ms

Water (as needed)

 

Directions

Start by disassembling the Oreo cookies, then scrape off the white center goo, setting it aside for later use.

Next, crush the chocolate cookies into tiny particles. The smaller the better.

Mix the cookie dust with water until it transforms into a a paste-like consistency

Mold the “dough” into cake layers.

Spread the leftover white gunk across the top of the cake. It is the “icing on the cake.”

Peanut butter may be substituted for the Oreo white stuff. Or, the two may be used together.

Top the cake with M&Ms.

Just like Mom used to make!

 

Romantic meal

 

Last weekend, August 1-4, 2019, coroner Graham Hetrick, the star and host of the TV series, THE CORONER: I SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, served as special guest speaker at MurderCon in Raleigh, N.C.

During his talks, Hetrick detailed low-hanging suicides committed by a victim who ties a rope, cloth, twisted garbage bag, shoestring, belt, or other material, to a doorknob, bed post, etc., and then places the other end—a loop—around the neck. The victim then, with practically unbelievable willpower, simply leans forward to tighten the “noose” around the neck thereby shutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. The end result is, of course, death. All without the body dropping from a platform, chair, ceiling beam, etc.

In this type of suicide by hanging, the person committing the act must overcome the body’s forceful urges to live. They must resist ripping the ligature from their body in order to take another breath—to ignore the begging and pleading of the lungs, demanding that the brain immediately intervene.

These people often have a very strong desire to die, and they do. Maybe not on the first attempt, but kill themselves they do, eventually. Somehow, someway. Others, however, use a suicide attempt to escape intense emotional pain, not necessarily to die.

Was it possible that Hetrick had some sort of premonition? After all, he’s quite the insightful man.

Whatever brought the coroner to discuss this sort of suicide tactic remains to be seen but, ironically, it was a mere few days later when 66-year-old Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in the protective housing unit, 9 South, at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federal prison in Lower Manhattan, And he did so in the precise manner detailed by Hetrick.

Back in the day, during my time as a state corrections officer, when working in the segregation units we were required to make rounds every 30 minutes, 15 if the prisoner was on suicide watch. We took that a step further by stationing an officer outside the suicide watch cells.

During the course of those 30 minute rounds in segregation it was mandatory to sign and timestamp a logbook positioned at each block of cells. The log station was in a location where each cell was clearly visible to the officer. The logbook was attached to a podium and could only be removed by a watch commander.

We were required to make verbal contact with each inmate. In return, they were to respond to the officers questions. We were required to see and make note of signs of life, meaning the inmate must move, sit, stand (speak) or, if asleep, we were to observe the chest rise and fall normally. If not, we were to wake the inmate. They were not permitted to sleep with blankets covering their heads.

Things Could Go South in a Hurry!

One night, while making my rounds in the segregation unit, I found a young inmate hanging by the neck from a bedsheet attached to a steel bedrail that was no more than three or four feet from the concrete floor. He’d simply tied the sheet around the steel rail and leaned forward until his airway became constricted.

I saw him the moment I rounded the corner. His facial skin was beginning to turn a slight grayish hue. His eyes were open and and slightly bulging and his tongue protruded from between his lips just a bit, much like a thirsty dog’s tongue. It had only been 15 minutes or so when I last passed by his cell. We’d even exchanged a few words of small talk on my last round. He’d seemed fine.

I used my radio to call for help and for control to unlock the cell door. I managed to raise the man’s body to the bed and then released the sheet from his neck. Medical staff arrived and took control. The inmate survived the suicide attempt. All of this took place within minutes. Mere minutes.

Suicide attempts in jails and prisons across the U.S. are not uncommon and those who try often succeed.

In one U.S. jail alone, the county lockup in Traverse County, Mi., there were 51 attempted suicides and two suicides during the years between 2011 and 2018. Marilyn Lucille Palmer and Alan Bradley Halloway hanged themselves in the shower sections of their cells. They accomplished the task by attaching nooses to small openings in the steel walls. These two deaths occurred nearly ten years apart, to the day.

Bedsheets are a common instrument used in inmate hangings. So much so that jail officials in Cleveland, Ohio have eliminated bedsheets from all cells housing inmates at risk of suicide. In lieu of sheets they’re issued an extra blanket. The decision to replace sheets with the thicker and tougher-to-tear blankets came after five prisoners committed suicide, including Nicholas Colbert, who hanged himself in the military veteran’s pod section of the jail.

In North Carolina, a record 12 inmates died by suicide, in 2018, while in state custody. This is compared to six inmate suicides in 2017 and seven in 2016. To help tackle the problem of inmate suicides, the state is recruiting prisoners who will watch over other inmates who are considered suicide risks. Each the selected prisoners will receive specialized training and take notes every 15 minutes during their assigned shifts. If trouble should arise they’ll hen call for staff members. The same policy is already in place at the federal level (see below).

Epstein’s Death Was More Than Likely Just As It Seems, a Suicide

As much as folks from all spectrums of the conspiracy theory trail would like to believe, prison suicides occur far more often than the public generally hears about. They’re not reported by the media because they don’t involve high-profile prisoners, like Jeffrey Epstein. Nor do those suicide cases come at a time when the death conveniently saves the day for a lot of high-profile politicians, businesspeople, etc. (Please, I’m begging you to not turn this into a political discussion or debate. I’m merely reporting fact, not opinion).

Unfortunately for Epstein and his family, and for the victims who wanted to face him in a court of law and to see him rot in a prison cell for life, it seems that the corrections facility staff dropped the ball due to staffing shortages, rules that weren’t followed, unreliable and unprofessional officers, and a perfect storm of other issues that could’ve gone unnoticed during a typical day in prison, if the deceased had not been connected to high-profile folks.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center’s website issues an Admission and Orientation manual for pre-trial inmates. Jeffrey Epstein was one of those pre-trial prisoners. The first paragraph of page five of the manual is dedicated to inmate suicide prevention. It reads:

“It is not uncommon for people to experience depression and hopelessness while in jail or prison, particularly if they are newly incarcerated, are serving a long sentence, are experiencing family problems or problems getting along with other inmates, or receive bad news. Sometimes, inmates consider committing suicide due to all of the pressure they are under. Staff are trained to monitor inmates for signs of suicide, and are trained to refer all concerns to the Psychology Department. However, staff do not always see what inmates see. Ifyou are personally experiencing any ofthe problems noted above, or you or another inmate are showing signs of depression (sadness, tearfulness, lack ofenjoyment in usual activities), withdrawal (staying away from others, reducing phone calls and/or visits), or hopelessness (giving away possessions, stating that “there is nothing to live for”), PLEASE alert a staff member right away. Your input can save a life.”

Finally, in case you’d like to learn more about the BOP’s policies on suicide watches …

From the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)

OPI: CPD/PSBNUMBER: P5324.08DATE: 4/5/2007

SUBJECT: Suicide Prevention Program

RULES EFFECTIVE: 3/15/2007

SUICIDE WATCH

  1. Housing. Each institution must have one or more rooms designated specifically for housing an inmate on suicide watch. The designated room must allow staff to maintain adequate control of the inmate without compromising the ability to observe and protect the inmate.
  • The primary concern in designating a room for suicide watch must be the ability to observe, protect, and maintain adequate control of the inmate.
  • The room must permit easy access, privacy, and unobstructed vision of the inmate at all times.
  • The suicide prevention room may not have fixtures or architectural features that would easily allow self-injury.
  • Inmates on watch will be placed in the institution’s designated
  • suicide prevention room, a non-administrative
  • detention/segregation cell ordinarily located in the health
  • services area.  Despite the cell’s location, the inmate will not
  • be admitted as an in-patient unless there are medical indications
  • that would necessitate immediate hospitalization.
  • Placement of a suicide watch room in a different area may be
  • warranted given the unique features of some institutions.

However, designating a room for suicide watch outside of the Health Services area requires written approval of the Regional Director.  Such rooms must meet all of the requirements identified above.

Administrative detention and disciplinary segregation cells will not be designated or approved as suicide watch cells. Under emergency conditions a suicidal inmate may be placed temporarily on suicide watch in a cell other than the institution’s designated watch room. The inmate must be moved to a designated suicide watch room as soon as one becomes available.

  1. Conditions of Confinement. While on suicide watch, the inmate’s conditions of confinement will be the least restrictive available to ensure control and safety. The inmate on watch will ordinarily be seen by the Program Coordinator on at least a daily basis. Unit staff will have frequent contact with the inmate while he/she is on watch. Ordinarily, the Program Coordinator or designee will interview or monitor each inmate on suicide watch at least daily and record clinical notes following each visit.

The Program Coordinator or designee will specify the type of personal property, bedding, clothing, magazines, that may be allowed.

  • If approved by the Warden, restraints may be applied if necessary to obtain greater control, but their use must be clearly documented and supported.
  • Any deviations from prescribed suicide watch conditions may be made only with the Program Coordinator’s concurrence.
  • The Program Coordinator will develop local procedures to ensure timely notification to the inmate’s Unit Manager when a suicide watch is initiated and terminated. Correctional Services staff, in consultation with the Program Coordinator or designee, will be responsible for the inmate’s daily custodial care, cell, and routine activities.
  • Unit Management staff in consultation with the Program Coordinator will continue to be responsive to routine needs while the inmate is on suicide watch.
  1. Observation. For all suicide watches:
    • Any visual observation techniques used to monitor the suicide companion program will focus on the inmate companion and/or the inmate on suicide watch only.
    • The observer and the suicidal inmate will not be in the same room/cell and will have a locked door between them.
    • The person performing the suicide watch must have a means to summon help immediately (e.g., phone, radio) if the inmate displays any suicidal or unusual behavior.
    • The Program Coordinator will establish procedures for documenting observations of the inmate’s behavior in a Suicide Watch log book, which will be maintained as a secure document. Staff and inmate observers will document in separate log books. Post Orders will provide direction to staff on requirements for documentation.
  • Staff Observers. The suicide watch may be conducted using staff observers. Staff assigned to a suicide watch must have received training (Introduction to Correctional Techniques or in AT) and must review and sign the Post Orders before starting the watch. The Program Coordinator will review the Post Orders annually to ensure their accuracy.
  • Inmate Observers. Only the Warden may authorize the use of inmate observers (inmate companion program). The authorization for the use of inmate companions is to be made by the Warden on a case-by-case basis. If the Warden authorizes a companion program, the Program Coordinator will be responsible for the selection, training, assignment, and removal of individual companions. Inmates selected as companions are considered to be on an institution work assignment when they are on their scheduled shift and shall receive performance pay for time spent monitoring a potentially suicidal inmate.
  1. Watch Termination and Post-Watch Report. Based upon clinical findings, the Program Coordinator or designee will:

1) Remove the inmate from suicide watch when the inmate is no longer at imminent risk for suicide, or

2) Arrange for the inmate’s transfer to a medical referral center or contract health care facility.

Once an inmate has been placed on watch, the watch may not be terminated, under any circumstance, without the Program Coordinator or designee performing a face-to-face evaluation. Only the Program Coordinator will have the authority to remove an inmate from suicide watch. Generally, the post-watch report should be completed in PDS prior to terminating the watch, or as soon as possible following watch termination, to ensure appropriate continuity of care. Copies of the report will be forwarded to the central file, medical record, psychology file, and the Warden. There should be a clear description of the resolution of the crisis and guidelines for follow-up care.

At a minimum, the post-watch report will include:

  • risk factors assessed,
  • changes in risk factors since the onset of watch,
  • reasons for removal from watch, and
  • follow-up recommendations.
  1. INMATE OBSERVERS – INMATE COMPANION PROGRAM.
  2. Selection of Inmate Observers. Because of the very sensitive nature of such assignments, the selection of inmate observers requires considerable care. To provide round-the-clock observation of potentially suicidal inmates, a sufficient number of observers should be trained, and alternate candidates should be available.

Observers will be selected based upon their ability to perform the specific task but also for their reputation within the institution. In the Program Coordinator’s judgement, they must be mature, reliable individuals who have credibility with both staff and inmates. They must be able, in the Program Coordinator’s judgement, to protect the suicidal inmate’s privacy from other inmates, while being accepted in the role by staff. Finally, in the Program Coordinator’s judgement, they must be able to perform their duties with minimal need for direct supervision.

In addition, any inmate who is selected as a companion must not:

  • Be in pre-trial status or a contractual boarder;
  • Have been found to have committed a 100-level prohibited act within the last three years; or
  • Be in FRP, GED, or Drug Ed Refuse status.
  1. Inmate Observer Shifts. Observers ordinarily will work a four-hour shift. Except under unusual circumstances, observers will not work longer than one five-hour shift in any 24-hour period. Inmate observers will receive performance pay for time on watch.
  2. Training Inmate Observers. Each observer will receive at least four hours of initial training before being assigned to a suicide watch observer shift. Each observer will also receive at least four hours of training semiannually. Each training session will review policy requirements and instruct the inmates on their duties and responsibilities during a suicide watch, including:
  • the location of suicide watch areas;
  • summoning staff during all shifts;
  • recognizing behavioral signs of stress or agitation; and
  • recording observations in the suicide watch log.
  1. Meetings with Program Coordinator. Observers will meet at least quarterly with the Program Coordinator or designee to review procedures, discuss issues, and supplement training. After inmates have served as observers, the Program Coordinator or designee will debrief them, individually or in groups, to discuss their experiences and make program changes, if necessary.
  2. Records. The Program Coordinator will maintain a file containing:
  • An agreement of understanding and expectations signed by each inmate observer;
  • Documentation of attendance and topics discussed at training meetings;
  • Lists of inmates available to serve as observers, which will be available to Correctional Services personnel during non-regular working hours; and
  • Verification of pay for those who have performed watches.
  1. Supervision of Inmate Observer During a Suicide Watch. Although observers will be selected on the basis of their emotional stability, maturity, and responsibility, they still require some level of staff supervision while performing a suicide watch.
  • This supervision will be provided by staff who are in the immediate area of the suicide watch room or who have continuous video observation of the inmate observer.
  • In all cases, when an inmate observer alerts staff to an emergency situation, staff must immediately respond to the suicide watch room and take necessary action to prevent the inmate on watch from incurring debilitating injury or death. In no case will an inmate observer be assigned to a watch without adequate provisions for staff supervision or without the ability to obtain immediate staff assistance.
  •           THE DECISION TO USE INMATE OBSERVERS MUST BE PREDICATED
  •           ON THE FACT THAT IT TAKES ONLY THREE TO FOUR MINUTES
  •           FOR MANY SUICIDE DEATHS TO OCCUR.

Supervision must consist of at least 60-minute checks conducted in-person. Staff will initial the chronological log upon conducting checks.


Again, please, I’m begging you to not turn this into a political discussion or debate. I’m merely reporting fact, not opinion. Thank you.

Bench with handcuff bars

Mr. X is a former business professional who committed a crime that landed him in federal prison. He’s out now and has agreed to share his story with the readers of The Graveyard Shift.

GYS: You mentioned a couple trips you took while incarcerated. I think the readers would be quite interested in those details. Tell us about the first one, please.

Mr. X: I’m sure you’re referring to my transfer from one prison to another, right?

GYS: Yes. I know you went on other excursions during your time in, but this is one that’s the most interesting, and it’s one our readers won’t expect.

Mr. X: Well, the first trip occurred after I’d been in about a year. My counselor called me to his office and said they’d sort of figured my custody status wrong. Originally, they’d housed me in a minimum security prison—one with double fences and razor wire—but I was actually eligible to serve my time in a camp. He then asked if I’d like to transfer. My response was an immediate yes, if he could find one near my family. Who wouldn’t want to go to a camp, right? I mean, to go from hell on earth to a place with no fences, no razor wire, better food, better jobs, less guards, and better visiting opportunities. That was an easy decision.

The arrangements were made in a matter of days. I was going to a camp near my wife who had been transferred for work since I was incarcerated. The camp was run by a private security company—a private prison.

I was, however, concerned and apprehensive about the transfer. Those trips can be awful. They chain you up and place you in the back of a hot van, or bus, and haul you to a jet that’s parked in some hidden spot. Then you fly you to Oklahoma where you may sit for several months before you finally take off for the new place. You may also get shuttled around from county jail to county jail. During that time, you don’t get visits, commissary, work, mail, etc., because no one knows where you are from one day to the next.

Well, that’s what I was expecting, but one of the guys I hung around with a bit—he fancies himself as sort of a jailhouse lawyer—said he’d read that you could apply for a furlough transfer. He went on to explain that it was possible, with the warden’s permission, to actually walk out the gate, hop on public transportation, and make the trip, unescorted.

I figured I had nothing to lose so the next night I approached the warden outside the dining hall and asked him about it. Well, without blinking an eye he said, “Fill out the application and have your family get your plane ticket.” I was stunned, but that’s what I did.

The day of my trip arrived and I still couldn’t believe they were going to let me walk out the gate. At 9 a.m. sharp I was summoned to the office. It was like a dream. I walked from the office to the front gate where a guard asked me a few questions and then opened the gates. The feeling was bizarre.

I walked outside to hugs from family members. They drove me to the airport where I enjoyed a nice meal and a flight across country. The couple seated beside me were pleasant, and I enjoyed a nice conversation with them—about nothing really, but it was wonderful to talk about things other than appeals and how to sneak an extra dessert from the dining hall. I often wonder how they’d have reacted if they’d known I was a federal prisoner.

We landed at a large airport where I was met by my wife—she was my ride to the camp. We planned the trip so that we’d have a little time together. So we stopped by the house for some much needed “quality” time before making the three hour trip to the prison camp. I’ll skip those details.

Later, I arrived at the camp with my bags in hand, kissed my wife goodbye, and went inside the office (no fences, no guards outside, and no gates!). A guard at the desk checked me in like i was at a motel. She then told me which building I’d be assigned to and pointed in that direction. I made my way across a well-manicured lawn and stepped into a nicely air-conditioned building. No yelling, no loud TVs, and absolutely no guards. Not one. It was like I’d been re-born. I was a new man with a glimmer of hope for my future.

GYS: Your next trip was a bit different, yes?

Mr. X: It sure was. After I’d been in a while I heard about inmates being granted furloughs—weekend trips to their homes to spend time with their family. The purpose of the furlough is supposed to help prisoners gradually become accustomed to outside life with their families. Well, I applied for one and it was approved. I went home for three days during the Christmas holidays and it was wonderful.

My wife picked me up in the prison parking lot and we spent three glorious days together, at home, before I had to return to the camp. I was walking on air when I got back.

I’d also gone on short day trips, like to trim roses in the town parks, or to the warden’s Ruritan Club to spruce up the grounds. And they were nice, to break up your time and to see some real people, but they were nothing like my time with my family, at home.

 

Serving Time

Close your eyes for a moment and then allow your imaginations to take you inside the filthiest public restrooms you’ve ever visited. I’ll give you a minute to set the stage.

Are you there?

Okay. Now take a deep breath and let your senses take over, first conjuring up a stench that lingers in places only roaches and vermin dare trod. Combine those odors with the scents of dirty sweat socks and t-shirts, soiled underwear, cooked popcorn, urine, hot tuna, raw onions, and steaming chicken-flavored Top Ramen noodles.

Then add the scent of unwashed human bodies, the flesh of humans who’re allowed to shower only once or twice each week. And some who simply refuse to bathe even when allowed to do so.

Picture living or working where every breath is similar to what I’ve described above. Never a single lungful of fresh air.

Could you drink water from a sink that was used to wash the feet of a man who just finished working on a roadside work crew for eight hours in ninety-degree heat and 100% southern humidity—a sink positioned two feet above a toilet that’s used several times a day by two or three three people, but is sometimes flushed only twice in an eight hour span due to water restrictions imposed upon prisoners who clog their drains in order to flood a cellblock?

How about sleeping in an enclosed six-by-nine concrete box with two other large men who haven’t showered in several days during the hottest time of the year? There’s no ventilation—no windows to open. And the only way in or out is a heavy steel door that’s locked nearly 24/7.

What about sleeping on a hard floor with nothing between you and the grimy concrete surface but an itchy, wool blanket, with roaches, rats, and mice darting from gaps between rusted plumbing and cracked cinderblocks. Dried blood and vomit are the only splashes of color on drab walls.

HGTV it ain’t.

What I’ve just described is a mild description of the experience of serving time in some jails and prisons.

Keep in mind, though, that no two lockup facilities are identical. Conditions in many are far better than what’s seen in others. Some, in fact, are super clean, actually. Many, however, are just like I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Some are worse. Much worse.

But even the cleanest jails and prisons each have that certain, unmistakable “odor” that clings to the linings of your nostrils and then worms its way into deep lung space. That “funk” often comes to rest inside your mind where it’s never forgotten no matter how hard a person tries.

Serving time is no picnic. Even doing time in the nicer, cleaner prisons, especially federal facilities, is no walk in park. And, no matter how often you hear it, there are no “country club” prisons. Although, in the the less restrictive prisons, the federal camps, prisoners have more freedom and privileges. But it’s still prison.

The photos below were taken in one of the cleanest jails I’ve seen. It’s also a very well-run operation. The staff is well-trained, and for the most part, the prisoners seemed to be in good spirits considering their circumstances.

A brief tour of a county jail:

Deputy sheriffs  monitor and control inmate activities and movement from inside a master control room. All doors are operated electronically by the officer seated at the control desk.

Inmate Movement Control

Female dormitory

Some prison dormitories house over one-hundred prisoners in a single room. Many times, a single officer is assigned to supervise the activities of one or more dorm rooms.

Correctional officers day

Jail Library

Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.

Jail Library

Cell block

In the photograph below, a deputy sheriff makes his rounds inside a cell block. He’s inside a dayroom that’s occupied by several inmates from morning until lockdown at night. The area outside the windows to the left is beyond the locked cell area. The doors to his right are inmate cell doors. Each morning those doors are opened allowing all inmates into the day room where they play cards, watch TV, eat their meals, and socialize. They return to their cells at night.

At no time is a prisoner allowed back into his cell unless medical staff finds that he/she is ill. Bunks must be made neatly each morning. An illness is the only time when a prisoner is allowed on their bunk during the daytime hours.

Looking out

The image below is of the inside of a steel cell door. The tiny rectangle (appr. 6″ x 12″) is a secure plexiglass window at eye level. Its purpose is to allow officers a view into the cell. It’s an inmate’s only view from inside his cell unless he’s fortunate enough to be housed inside a cell with a window. Otherwise, their only scenery is whatever goes on in the hallway outside their cell.

Many dreams and fantasies of life on the outside begin at this very spot. The door across the hall below is that of another inmate’s cell. The checkered grate at the top of the picture is the only source of ventilation in the cell. It’s also a means for the jail staff to communicate with the prisoner. Jail doors are heavily insulated to retard fires and noise.

 Overcrowding is a huge problem in jails and prisons. This jail was forced to hang metal beds from the hallway walls when their cells reached capacity – three men in each two-man cell.

Just as I clicked off this shot, a group of deputies ran past to quell a disturbance in area I’d just left. The problem—an inmate was having an anxiety attack from being in such tight quarters. He’d become quite violent and was tossing things around.  His troubles reminded me of how much I appreciate the little things—trees, flowers, family, home-cooked meals, wine, and flushing my own darn toilet whenever I want.

I looked into the eyes of a serial killer

Visiting Room

Prisoners are brought to these small rooms where they “visit” with family members seated on the opposite side of the window. The family’s room is a mirror image of the inmate’s visiting room.

visiting room

 

 

After “John’s” conviction he was sent to a federal prison in North Carolina. The place was large and daunting, especially for people like John, a first-time offender. Large concrete buildings were surrounded by a double row of what must have been twenty-foot tall fences. Between the two chain link barriers were mounds of looping razor wire. Around the fence was an asphalt path where a truck constantly drove around the perimeter. The only time it stopped moving was at shift change time when a new officer assumed the driving duty.

Strands of “helicopter wire” hung in criscross patterns above the compound. This was to prevent a chopper from landing during an escape attempt. John later learned that had indeed happened in the past.

Inmate “John Johnson” was assigned to one of four large dormitory-style housing units designated as buildings A, B, C, and D. Each building was equipped to hold 800 inmates—400 upstairs and 400 downstairs. Inside were small two-man open cubicles. Each one contained two metal lockers and a steel-frame bunk bed, one metal shelf for writing, and two plastic chairs. The cubicles ran along the outer walls with a back-to-back row down the center of the unit.

However, due to overcrowding, each tiny cubicle housed three inmates. One man slept on a mattress on the floor, leaving a space of approximately two-feet by eight-feet for standing, dressing, and whatever else needed doing.

The three inmates assigned to share John’s cubicle were an odd mix, with John in for a white collar crime, a short, beefy Italian man named Victor who’d been caught running kilos of cocaine up and down an East Coast drug corridor, and a large African American man named Mike who was serving a life sentence as a kingpin for a major drug operation.

Victor was, honestly, as dumb as a rock, so it was plain to see that he’d been used as a drug mule to carry package A from point B to C. Nothing more. Mike on the other hand, was well-educated and spoke as if he could’ve been a college professor at an Ivy league school. John was intimidated to say the least.

Victor hung out with the other Italians, a group of men who obviously stuck together and were led by a mob boss who’d been caught and sentenced to serve his time in the North Carolina prison. He called the shots within the Italian prison group, and it was no secret at all that he still called the shots on the streets.

John was in disbelief when he learned the identity of the short, balding mafia man—Venero Frank “Benny Eggs” Mangano, of the Genovese Crime Family.

John asked a fellow inmate about the liver-spotted aging man and was  quickly told to steer a wide path around him. Nobody, but nobody was allowed to approach him without first asking for permission from one of his bodyguards.

So John conducted a bit of research in the prison library, discovering that Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano served in the U.S, military and had entered World War II. At the time, he was five-foot-four and weighed a mere 145 pounds. He was a high school dropout working as a waiter at the time of his enlistment. While in the military he served as a tail-gunner in bomber aircraft and had even conducted two bombing runs on D-Day. He was a decorated hero who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and three Battle Stars.

Then he became a mafia underboss.

“Benny Eggs” was known for his stringent loyalty to the Mafia’s code of non-cooperation with authorities. Once, he’d been called as a witness in federal court. He refused to testify. Trying a second time and using immunity from prosecution as a carrot on a stick, the Justice Department lost again. Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano refused to testify and the court found him in contempt and imprisoned for nearly two years.

Joseph Coffey of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, still on the heels of Benny Eggs, later testified that Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano was an important figure in the Genovese Crime Family. Something had to be done about him.

Meanwhile, John DiGilio, another higher-up member of the Genovese Crime Family, was convicted of bribing an FBI clerk-typist to obtain copies of FBI files related to his unlawful activities. DiGilio controlled a branch of the Genovese Crime Family in the Bayonne area.

During this period, the FBI began receiving more reliable information on Genovese Family leaders and their activities. One of their sources was civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton is said to have forwarded information to the FBI regarding Genovese mobsters, information obtained from crime family associate Joseph Buonanno.

Sharpton’s information was key to the FBI initiating surveillance ops at two social clubs. They’d also bugged automobiles and wiretapped more than a dozen telephones. The FBI then, based on Sharption’s tips and the new information gained from them, switched their view of Genovese syndicate’s leadership, moving over to target Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano and a couple of other known names.

Later, John DiGilio was convicted of conspiracy to commit loan sharking. DiGiglio’s sentencing was set for a later date. In the meantime, a separate federal court trial began for DiGilio and a few of his extortion conspiracy codefendants. During the trial, prosecutors offered tape recordings of Digilio making humiliating suggestions about Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano.

In an odd twist, DiGiglio was acquitted but his co-conspirators were found guilty of the charges. DiGilio hastily left the courtroom immediately after the proceeding.

Still, Digilio had to return to court at a later date to be sentenced for a different loan-sharking case. He was a no show for the hearing. A few days later a fisherman discovered a body bag floating in a river. Diglio’s body was inside. He’d been shot five times in the head.

In 1989, Al Sharpton’s name once again appeared when a grand jury indicted five people for attempting to launder money through a group called the National Youth Movement The National Youth Movement’s founder was, you guessed it, the Rev. Al Sharpton. So once again, Sharpton cooperated in the investigations of the Genovese crime organization.

This time the ties to a huge organized crime organization caught up many top leaders and, wanting desperately to get the “top” boss, prosecutors decided to put Genovese Crime Family underboss Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano on the witness stand. They wanted him to testify against his boss.

At age 76, Mangano was defiant and refused to testify in spite of being offered total immunity for his part in the crimes.

So that’s how Benny “The Eggs” came to be at the same prison where mild-mannered John was also to spend a few a few years of his life.

Benny Eggs was in command of the Italians in the prison, for sure, and his followers did everything for him, including providing security, cooking and washing and sewing and shining his prison shoes, giving him money, running a store racket on the inside, and they delivered messages to the outside world for him. He wanted for nothing while inside the prison.

John often sat on a wooden picnic table in the center of the rec yard, watching Benny Eggs walk laps around the professional-grade track, surrounded by “his men.” His top lieutenants at his side while the enforcers and other heavy-hitters walked along the outside and to the rear. Others walked well to the sides, to head off any attacks. These walks also served as a means to conduct “business” meetings since the track was the only place where conversations couldn’t be overheard. Corrections officers watched the group’s activity closely, and always glanced to the skies, frequently. Helicopter watch, John supposed.

John was eventually released after serving just over two years. On his way to the gate and to freedom, he was approached by two of Mangano’s “men” who demanded that he hand over his wristwatch and portable radio. If he refused, the men stated that they knew where he lived and where his wife worked.

John handed the men his watch and radio and continued to the main office, anxious to leave behind the bizarre world of the Mafia, drug dealers, embezzlers, murderers, and more.

The stories he could tell …


Obviously, John is not this man’s true name. However, the story he told me is the truth as he recalls it.

John served 22 months in federal prison, where he witnessed everything from  beatings, crooked officers, expert tattooing, an an inmate chiropractor who held “office hours” each afternoon out on the rec yard. A six pack of bottled water earned a neck and back adjustment.

And, there was a federal judge serving time there who helped inmates prepare legal documents. A full appeal cost inmates an even thousand dollars, with the funds sent to his commissary account by people on the outside.

Everything had its price there, including a piece of cake stolen from the dining hall that cost one U.S. postage stamp, the equivalent of fifty cents. Yes, stamps are the currency of the prison world.

Before putting the real meat of this article into our pipes and smoking it, lets first examine the cases of two men who were convicted of identical crimes, Robin Peoples and Tom E. Gun.

Robin Peoples was arrested after pointing a pistol at a young man who’d just retrieved $55, his entire life savings, from a teller working at the First and Third Bank at the intersection of Second and Fourth Streets in Dinglehump, Kansas. A dumb move, but desperation sometimes causes acts of stupidity.

Peoples was basically a decent sort of guy, a straight-as-an-arrow family man who was down on his luck, having been laid off from his job at the pickle slicing factory. His assignment for the past 35 years had been to pluck accidentally misshapen twangy discs from the thousands that zipped by his station beside a fast-moving conveyor belt.

But, as the economy dictated and the need for pickle slice-pickers declined, the company issued Robin a layoff notice. He’d had no luck at finding another job so, to feed his family, a wife, 24 kids of assorted ages, 6 dogs, 3 cats, an alpaca named Sam, and two goldfish (Slap and Tickle), he grew desperate and, well, he robbed the man of his cash smack dab in the middle of the bank lobby. He told police, who’d captured him not five feet front the bank’s front door, that he needed the money to purchase formula for their youngest and, hopefully a few cans of beans to stop the growling and rumblings in the stomachs of the rest of his kids.

Robin Peoples was tried in federal court where he was convicted of bank robbery and subsequently sentenced to 36 months in federal prison. After conducting a pre-sentence investigation, probation officers determined that Peoples was not a substance abuser—no alcohol or drug use. Not a drop nor a puff.

Tom. E. Gun, also a pickle plant pickle-picker, robbed someone in the very same bank lobby exactly one week later than Peoples’ unsuccessful heist. And, ironically, Gun’s take was also $55. He’s a known gambler and police often found him in places where good folks ought not to be. But no formal police record.

Gunn was arrested three blocks from the bank while attempting to buy both weed and meth from a street dealer.

He was later tried by the same judge who tried Peoples’ case and was convicted and sentenced to an identical 36 months in federal prison.

But even though their crimes were identical, with no criminal records, will the two men serve the same number of days behind bars?

First, there’s this to consider:

According to U.S. Code 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b):

… a prisoner who is serving a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year  other than a term of imprisonment for the duration of the prisoner’s life, may receive credit toward the service of the prisoner’s sentence, beyond the time served, of up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner’s term of imprisonment, beginning at the end of the first year of the term …

Therefore, being the decent sort of past pickle plant pickle-pickers that they both were, each man earned the maximum amount of good time, 54 days.

Accordingly, after deducting the earned good time days both Peoples and Gunn will serve just over 30 months before they’re released. Maybe even a bit sooner if they’re sent to a halfway house a bit earlier than their release date. But let’s say they don’t go to the halfway house. Instead, we’ll stick with them both being out after serving a little more than 30 months of a 36-month sentence.

Not so fast, though. One is out after just over 30 months, but the other is out much sooner. And it’s not the one you probably suspect. Here’s why and how.

Remember Guun’s history of substance abuse—a history of using illegal drugs and drinking vodka like a fish sucks in water? Well, his history of smoking crack and liquor-drinking, believe it or not, earned him a “get-out-of-jail-free” card—a pass into the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP).

The RADP program is only available to inmates with a documented history of substance abuse, and the abuse must have occurred with twelve months of sentencing. Gunn fits the profile, so he’s in. He signs up and then waits for an opening. When it becomes available the BOP ships him and his meager belongings to one of the facilities where the RDAP takes place (locations listed below).

RDAP is a nine-month course where eligible prisoners live in a pro-social community that’s separate from general population. They attend program courses for half of each day. During the other half they work at prison jobs. In lieu of work the RDAP inmates may attend school or vocational activities.

Upon successful completion of the program, attending prisoners are then eligible for up to a 12-month reduction of their sentence.

So Gunn, a known and admitted substance abuser, receives 12-months off of his 36-month sentence, in addition to earned good time, which sends his sentence down to approximately 18 months, total.

Peoples, on the other hand, a guy who’d never touched a drop of alcohol nor smoked even one tiny puff of a joint, must serve the entire 30 months of his sentence (after earned good time is applied).

The BOP boasts about the effectiveness of the RADP program, stating:

“Drug treatment studies for in-prison populations find that when programs are well-designed, carefully implemented, and utilize effective practices they:

  • reduce relapse
  • reduce criminality
  • reduce recidivism
  • reduce inmate misconduct
  • increase the level of the offender’s stake in societal norms
  • increase levels of education and employment upon return to the community
  • improve health and mental health symptoms and conditions
  • improve relationships

Collectively, these outcomes represent enormous safety and economic benefits to the public.” *Source ~ BOP.gov

*Note – Sentence computations and earned good time credit deductions from the sentences of Gunn and Peoples above are merely approximations.

There are books and videos available that explain the RADP program so that people know in advance how to Get Out of Federal Prison Early. 

*Robin Peoples and Tom E. Gunn are fictional characters, obviously.


RESIDENTIAL DRUG TREATMENT PROGRAMS AND LOCATIONS

NORTHEAST REGION

FCI Allenwood – L (PA) FCI Allenwood – M (PA) USP Canaan (PA)
FCI Danbury (CT)

FCI Elkton (OH)
FCI Fairton (NJ)
FCI Fort Dix 1 (NJ) FCI Fort Dix 2 (NJ) SCP Lewisburg (PA) SCP McKean (PA) FCI Schuylkill (PA)

MID-ATLANTIC REGION

FPC Alderson 1 (WV)­FPC Alderson 2 (WV)­FCI Beckley (WV)
USP Big Sandy (KY) FCI-I Butner (NC) FCI-II Butner (NC)

FCI Cumberland (MD) SCP Cumberland (MD) SFF Hazelton (WV)­FMC Lexington 1 (KY) FMC Lexington 2 (KY) «FCI Memphis (TN)

FCI Morgantown 1 (WV) FCI Morgantown 2 (WV) FCI Petersburg – M (VA) FCI Petersburg – L (VA)

FCI Marianna (FL)

FCI Miami 1 (FL) Ś
FCI Miami 2 (FL) Ś
SCP Miami (FL)
FPC Montgomery 1 (AL) FPC Montgomery 2 (AL) FPC Pensacola (FL)

SCP Talladega (AL) FCI Tallahassee (FL)­FCI Yazoo City (MS)

NORTH CENTRAL REGION
FPC Duluth (MN)
FCI Englewood (CO) FCI Florence (CO)
SCP Florence (CO)
SCP Greenville (IL)­USP Leavenworth (KS) SCP Leavenworth (KS) USP Marion (IL)

FCI Milan (MI)
FCI Oxford (WI)
FCI Sandstone (MN) MCFP Springfield (MO)«FCI Terre Haute (IN)
FCI Waseca (MN)­FPC Yankton 1 (SD)
FPC Yankton 2 (SD)

SOUTH CENTRAL REGION

FCI Bastrop (TX)
FCI Beaumont – L (TX) FCI Beaumont – M (TX) SCP Beaumont (TX)
USP Beaumont (TX)
FPC Bryan (TX)­
FMC Carswell 1 (TX)«­FMC Carswell 2 (TX)­Ś FCI El Reno (OK)
FCI Forrest City – L (AR) FCI Forrest City – M (AR) FMC Fort Worth (TX) FCI La Tuna (TX)
FCI Seagoville 1 (TX)
FCI Seagoville 2 (TX) SCP Texarkana (TX)

WESTERN REGION

FCI Dublin 1 (CA)­
FCI Dublin 2 (CA)­
FCI Herlong (CA)
FCI Lompoc (CA)
FCI Phoenix (AZ)
SCP Phoenix (AZ)­
FCI Safford (AZ)
FCI Sheridan (OR)
SCP Sheridan 1 (OR)
SCP Sheridan 2 (OR)
FCI Terminal Island 1 (CA) FCI Terminal Island 2 (CA)«

CONTRACT FACILITY

Rivers CI (NC)

KEY

FCI = Federal Correctional Institution FMC = Federal Medical Center
SCP = Satellite Prison Camp
FPC = Federal Prison Camp

FSL = Federal Satellite Low
MCFP = Medical Center for Federal Prisoners
CI = Correctional Institution Female Facility

Co-occurring Disorder Program

Ś Spanish program