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

 

An old tin cup sits on a shelf in my office. People who see it rarely ask about it, with most not giving it so much as a second glance.

The cup, while scratched and slightly dented, still has a bit of shine left on its surface, Those thin etched lines resemble an intricately-drawn roadmap. And, if one knows the history of the cup, well, each line is indeed a well-traveled path, and each line has a story to tell. While I don’t know the details of all of the stories held by my old tin cup, I know a few.

When the cup was first manufactured, World War II had recently ended as had the manufacturing of cordite. Schools in Virginia had not yet been fully integrated and Arthur Ashe’s father was working as a Special Policeman for Richmond, Virginia’s recreation department. Arthur Ashe was the only African American man to ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.

As tin cups made their way from factories to their final destinations, the Virginia State Penitentiary complex, built in 1800 at Belvidere and Spring Street, in Richmond, was in full swing. It was a horrid place that was so bad the ACLU once labeled it the “most shameful prison in America.” But it didn’t start out that way.

The idea to build the Virginia State Penitentiary was brought to the table by Thomas Jefferson.

In 1785, Jefferson served in Paris as ambassador. It was then and there when he noticed a different type of incarceration, one that was an experiment of the effect of labor by inmates in solitary confinement.

Jefferson believed that the object of punishment should be discipline, repentance and reform. Not as vengeance. So, when he returned from Paris he proposed his “labor in confinement” for prisoners. His idea was to have prisoners work on public works projects during the day then spend their non-work hours in small solitary confinement cells so they could reflect on their crimes.

It was 10 years later when Virginia lawmakers moved forward on Jefferson’s plan. Construction began on the Virginia State Penitentiary, soon to be nicknamed “Spring Street,” a moniker used by both inmates and staff. The name Spring Street quickly became associated with darkness and torture and pain … and the electric chair.

Prisoners at Spring Street drank from tin cups, much like the one in my office.

The Virginia State Penitentiary was designed by architect Benjamin Latrobe, who later designed the U.S. Capitol.

The cell doors at the Spring Street prison had no windows, which meant that officers had to physically open them to check on the inmates inside. The prison was unheated, and believe me, it gets cold in Virginia during the winter months.To keep warm, prisoners wrapped themselves with thin German-made wool blankets. Each prisoner was give one blanket, their only protection against the freezing blasts of air that blew in through the barred windows.

The prison was not equipped with a sewage system; therefore, prisoners were forced to collect waste in buckets and then empty them down a trough that flowed into a nearby pond. Summertime in Richmond, Va. can be extremely hot with humidity so thick that flies nearly swim in mid air. It was after 100 years had passed by that officials decided to improve the sewage situation.

Tin cups remained in use throughout, during executions, riots, the incarceration of both notorious and noteworthy inmates, such as former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, and the evil Briley brothers, a duo whose vicious and vile crimes I’ve written and about and detailed here on this blog.

At the close of the the Civil War, the entire population of the Spring Street prison escaped following the Richmond evacuation fire.

The tin cups, though, remained at the prison, waiting for the return of the prisoners.

Hundreds upon hundreds of tin cups where in use just a half-mile away.

Virginia began executions by electric chair at the Spring Street penitentiary in 1908. The last hanging was in 1909. Executions took place barely a half mile from the center of Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus, where in later years (much later) my wife Denene was hard at work earning her PhD in pathology.

A few blocks further down the way was the location of the state lab where I delivered crime scene evidence for examination and testing. The state morgue was also there. It was the place where I observed numerous autopsies performed on murder victims. It was where the autopsy was conducted on the armed bank robber I shot and killed during a shootout.

It was there at the basement morgue when the medical examiner told me, in detail, that four of the five rounds I fired were fatal rounds. The fifth, the first round I fired in response to him shooting at me, was a shot to the side of the head, caused massive damage, but had that been the only round to have struck him, the shooter/robber may have survived.

A Hanging

In the summer of 1900 Brandt O’Grady was hanged along side Walter Cotton. O’Grady was white and Cotton was black. The hangings were in retaliation for the brutal murder of several individuals.

A mob of citizens, both whites and blacks, stormed the jail and pulled Cotton from his shackles and hanged him from the Cherry tree in the corner of the courthouse yard. Minutes later the black townspeople demanded that O’Grady also be hanged so the group forcefully removed Mr. O’Grady from his cell and “strung him up” on the Cherry tree next to Cotton’s  lifeless body.

Inside the old red brick jail in Southside Virginia, the land of cotton, peanuts, and soybeans, were enough tin cups for each prisoner to have one he could call his own, as long as he was serving time there.

When I started working as a sheriff’s deputy, way back during the days of revolvers, patrol cars with those super long whip antennas, and when pepper spray was unheard of, my first assignment was to serve as a jailer. Part of that duty was to oversee the delivery of food trays at mealtimes. Prisoner trustees—short-timers with good jail records— carried the trays from the kitchen to each cell.

The trays we used were the kind you see in school across the country, hard plastic with divided sections that separate each portion of food from another. They were passed to the prisoners through “tray slots” in the cell doors.

At the top right of each tray was a tin cup filled with the beverage du jour. At breakfast time they contained coffee. To accompany lunch and dinner, the beverage was a fruit-flavored drink similar to Kool-Aid.

Prisoners were not allowed to keep the cups inside their cells. To do so was an infraction of jail time which could’ve led to time in “the hole” or a loss of privileges such as visitations, phone use, or their weekly canteen service.

But, inmates will be inmates, and they seemed to find ways to steal a cup or two. The kitchen staff was responsible for the accurate inventory and control of all kitchen items (cups, silverware, trays, etc. Someone was accountable for those items at all times, and it was serious business if something turned up missing. And yes, it’s true. Sometimes those cups were used to bang against the bars. That’s a sound one doesn’t forget too easily.

Tin cups could be fashioned into all sorts of weapons, of course. They were also used for cooking. They’re great for heating coffee, soup, etc., when held over an open fire. Fire, of course, is not permitted at any time. But prisoners find a way. They always seem to find a way to do, well, anything.

My old tired eyes have seen many prisoners over the years, many of whom shared some pretty incredible stories. Some not so true, but others were so fantastic that they manage to flicker cross the front of my mind to this day. I still feel the emotion they exhibited when telling those personal tales.

Those men sipped from their tin cups during holidays, peering out of small, narrow windows, wishing for someone, anyone, to come for a visit. Some drank from the shallow metal cups during their last days on earth, knowing that in just a few hours an executioner would “pull the switch.”

Today, I see my own face in the cup’s reflection, but it’s someone I barely recognize. I’m much older now, but in my mind I’m still the same person who oversaw the delivery of those cups to thirsty prisoners. Many of men were grateful for something as simple as a morning cup of coffee, something we take for granted because we have the opportunity to brew one whenever we like. Not so for the folks who live in captivity.

Yes, the face I see looking back at me is far different than the person who used to peer back at me. Life has moved on and it’s sometimes difficult to let go of the past. But knowing where I’ve been sure goes a long way towards helping me get to where it is I’m going.

Like most things that come and go with the changing of the times, tin cups in jails and prison are likely a thing of the past.

Newcomers to my office barely give my old tin cup a first glance, seeing merely an old and empty, scratched and slightly dented, drinking vessel. Me, I see a tin cup that’s brimming with a lifetime of sorrow, pain, death, misery, happiness, tears, laughter, and more. It’s a cup that runneth over with emotion.

A cup filled with precious memories is what sits in my office. Some good and some not so good. But precious they are. And yes, the cup in my office was once used by murderers, robbers, rapists, and burglars.

Here’s to you.

It’s not often these days that I applaud the actions taken by the federal government. But passing a prison reform bill was a good thing. Hooray.

Well, it’s a start, at least.

Yes, I’m pleased that cry-babies politicians put aside the foot-stompin’, name-callin’, and whining and pouting to actually work toward solving the huge problem of overcrowding in federal prisons, and the reduction of recidivism, by passing The First Step Act.

With about 181,000 imprisoned people incarcerated in federal prisons, in addition to the 2.1 million locked up in jails and state prisons throughout the country, it’s certainly no secret that something’s not working.

The First Step Act

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES—115th Cong., 2d Sess.

S. 3649

“To provide for programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison, and for other purposes.” ~

Let’s address recidivism …

… and why I think it occurs so often. First of all, I have many years of experience working in both corrections and in law enforcement, which means I’ve seen the system in action, from all sides. I’ve also owned a business where I employed a few former inmates, men who’d received prison sentences resulting from my investigations. Ironic, huh? Yes, I honestly believe in second chances and I believe in reducing recidivism.

Believe it or not, some former prisoners would absolutely love to lead normal and productive lives once they’re released. They’d paid their dues and they want to do right. They made a mistake, paid for it, and would like to move on.

The Deck is Stacked Against Them

What do former prisoners face upon their release? (these may vary depending on location)

1. They must, on a regular basis, check in with a probation or parole officer.

2. They must have an established residence.

3. Many drug and sex offenders must register with the local police, advising officials where they’ll be residing and working.

4. They must maintain employment (in some areas this is a discretionary requirement imposed by the court).

5. They’re required to complete a monthly report detailing their earnings, address changes, if any, employers name (probation officer will visit the job site and home), drug offenders must submit to urine testing, all must submit vehicle information, record of purchases (many probationers may not possess credit or debit cards), and they’re encouraged to further their education (This is a bit of a catch-22 for some since drug offenders may not receive grants to attend college. Murderers, yes, but drug offenders, no).

Employment is mandatory but some companies refuse to hire people who’ve been convicted of felonies … any felonies.

A vast number of employers absolutely will not hire felons and, as I stated above, drug offenders are not eligible for student loans. In fact, many felons are legally banned from working in certain professions, such as:

  • airport security screener
  • armored car crew member
  • bank teller
  • child care provider
  • delivery driver
  • health care positions with direct patient contact
  • public safety officer
  • residential installers
  • apartment or condo maintenance
  • jobs that require handling money
  • Realtor
  • Some volunteer programs refuse to accept felons (any felon)—nature programs, animal shelters, libraries, etc.

Even when a felon finds a job he is subject to a list of restrictions, including (this is only a partial list, and it may vary from area to area):

  • Agents /officers must be allowed to visit worksite and/or speak with a supervisor to discuss client’s performance, progress, and accountability
  • Cannot work in a position that serves alcohol
  • Cannot work with minors
  • Cannot work with vulnerable adults
  • Employment must be within or close to a supervision district so that agents may visit the worksite
  • Not allowed to use or have contact with devices that host a computer modem (i.e. any device that can access the Internet)
  • Cannot travel outside area or state (affects delivery drivers)

A few professions do hire convicted felons, but the list is short. And, this is still entirely up to the company. Some do not employ those who’ve been convicted of crimes … any crimes.

Professions sometimes available to convicted felons:

  • Warehouse work
  • Maintenance and janitorial positions
  • Food service (no alcohol)
  • Production and manufacturing
  • Assembly
  • Construction
  • Landscaping

In addition, many convicted felons are banned from living in publicly assisted housing (section 8), so they turn to the streets. Right back to the places where their troubles started.

No job and no housing

So you see, without a job and with the limited occupations to choose from, and without housing and educational opportunities, it’s darn tough for a former prisoner to make it on the outside.

To top it all off, the convicted felons never actually “pay their debts to society.” The stigma of being a “convicted felon” hangs over their head for life. This is especially true for those who were convicted of federal offenses. State prisoners may receive relief (pardon and/or restoration of rights) from the governor’s office.

Federal inmates may ONLY receive restoration of rights, etc. from the President of the United States.

IF, and that’s a BIG IF, one of the tens of thousands of former federal inmates wants to have the president’s pardon attorneys review their application, it’s almost a must that they retain a private attorney to represent them and to submit the forms. A typical fee to assist with a federal pardon application is approximately $5,000 and up. And, chances of the typical Joe or Jane receiving a presidential pardon are about as likely as me beating out George Clooney for a starring role in a movie. The chances of doling out a minimum of five-thousand bucks AND topping George Clooney for the next big role is, well, you get the idea.

To read the process and view the Clemency and Pardon forms, click here.

Some states allow convicted felons to vote in elections (others do not).

Still, felons, even one-time first offenders convicted of minor, non-violent felonies lose their right to own firearms and other weapons, their right to vote, student loans, housing, etc. And these restrictions are for life.

Second Chances!!

Wouldn’t it make sense to give the non-violent offenders a second chance by removing the “convicted felon” status after, say, 10 years of living a productive, crime-free life. At least then they’d have the opportunity to return to school, live in better neighborhoods (away from criminal activity), find a decent job that would help support their families and take better care of their children, who, by the way, also suffer by being forced to live in poor conditions.

Having a second chance and goals to work toward could be part of the solution to the “prison problem” in this country. Now, I’m not talking about hardcore career criminals and repeat offenders. Nor am I including violent offenders. Most of those thugs need to remain behind bars for as long as we can keep them there. And I certainly don’t believe that every inmate would take advantage of the opportunity if presented to them. But there would be many who would work hard to achieve the goal and finally be able to put the mistake behind them for good.

If this helped keep just a small portion of the recidivists out of prison, the results could be huge. Families could remain together, children would grow up with two parents in the home, employers might find top-notch employees, the former inmates could become better educated and productive members of society, and taxpayers would save approximately $30,000 per year per inmate. Not to mention that instead of costing taxpayers, the non-recidivist would become a taxPAYER.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. What do you think? Do you approve of The First Step Act? Is is enough? Too much? Should nonviolent offenders be given a second chance?

looking-out.jpg

Of course, there is the issue of private prisons that have contracts with the government … contracts that promise a minimum number of inmates will be sent their way. We must also remember that the private prisons are a big, money-making industry with stockholders.

And then there’s the food industry that makes a bundle off the prisons. And the construction companies, the jobs for officers, stock brokers medical staff, administration, the vehicle contracts, the weapons contracts, dog food (canines), condiment sales (I once sat next to a woman on a plane who was on her way to a huge nationwide prison food convention. She was in charge of condiment sales to prisons and jails—packets of mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise, along with napkins, and sporks—a multi-million-dollar industry)

Inmate phone calls are EXPENSIVE!

Let’s not forget the prison phone systems, where a collect call can go for fees as high as nearly $300 for just one hour of conversation. Think about it for a second. A call for a kid’s birthday, a mother’s sick, etc. $300 for an hour of family time is a tough expense for most families.

A portion of that whopping phone bill goes back to the prison in exchange for a contract with the provider. Again, it is the family who shoulders this burden since inmates don’t earn anywhere near enough money to cover the expense, yet, officials encourage strong and regular family contact.

Anyway, you get the idea.

A very happy prisoner. I asked why the big smile. Her reply was, “Things could be worse. At least I’m alive and healthy.” Notice the blue phone and its cord at the right side of the photo. Collect calls only.


Life on the inside

Above and below – inside a small county jail where conditions were truly deplorable.

Showers drained into the corridors.

 

Jailer entering corridor.

Jail Pods

132-jail-module-interior.jpg

Above – Inside a shipping container “pod” that was converted into a dormitory-style jail cell. This pod is located inside a parking garage outside an overcrowded county jail.

Below – Space between two modules serves as the recreation yard. Absolutely no sunlight to be found, anywhere. Nothing but concrete, sewer pipes, exhaust fumes, and prisoners.

pod-recreation-area.jpg

Below – In this county jail, 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. The view below is from the inmate’s side of the glass.

visiting-room.jpg

Overcrowding is a big issue within some prisons and jails. As an answer to their growing space problem, this county jail (below) installed steel beds in the hallways, outside the already packed jail cells.

hall-in-shadows.jpg

 

Looking out from inside the trustee cells.

 

Hallways and corridors were narrow, making for dangerous conditions for the jailers. The jail was heated by steam (boilers) and radiators were there, but scarce. There was no heat inside the cells. And, there was no air conditioning whatsoever. The only airflow came from  small widows. Here, you can see one of those windows (top left corner), open and tilted in toward the cells. The electrical cord is connected to a portable TV sitting on the wonky shelf, also at top left next to the window.

Narrow corridors are dangerous!

 

Makeshift antenna controls were fashioned from string or wires. Not allowed, but prisoners will be prisoners …

Wires to rotate rabbit-ear antennas from side to side to help receive a better picture. No cable.

 

Former inmate #12345-678 received a sentence of 37 months to be served in federal prison, followed by a transition period in a federal halfway house, and 3 years supervised probation.

The following is his account of serving time in a federal prison camp. The tale is his and he’s told it with hopes that it will help with your fiction and with your understanding of prison life at the federal camp level. Like others with real-life experiences, he sees mistakes in books that feature scenarios in which he has first-hand knowledge. Mistakes that could be easily avoided by simply conducting a bit of research.

The writing below is a combination of his and mine. I apologize for any errors I may have made during the process of trimming the story to fit. Please do examine the details because even the smallest could breathe life into what could be a boring scene. More importantly, though, this information could help with accuracy.

Off we go, to Anytown, FPC, the federal prison camp in Anytown USA.

My name is ***** ************ and I served a little less than three years of a 37-month prison sentence. The judge who sentenced me was a no-nonsense guy who handed out maximum terms like someone who rubber-stamps envelopes for a living. But I did what I did and into the system I went, leaving behind two children and a stay-at-home-mom wife who had no source of income at the time. I’ll always stand by the notion that my sentence was far lighter than hers. But that’s a different story. I was asked me to talk about my time at “the camp” so that’s what I’ll do, saving the rest for another day. By the way, it’s sort of like therapy talking about this stuff, so thanks for listening and thanks for understanding that I’m not making my name public, for obvious reasons.

If you believe what you see on TV and in the movies—the rock breaking and planning the next escape—you’ll be a little disappointed at life in a federal prison camp, especially the one where I was assigned. It was a privately-run facility out in the middle of nowhere and the staff was, at best, extremely slack.

I will say this about prison life in a higher custody level institution—a minimum security federal prison, one that’s a step above a camp and the kind where I first started serving my time—the person who wrote the TV show Orange is the New Black definitely did their homework because they hit many points spot on. Maybe I’ll be back to talk about the time I did there behind the razor-wire-topped double fences. They also had helicopter wire strung over the outside areas to prevent a chopper from landing during an escape.

In the camp where I served time, there were no fences. No razor wire. No dogs patrolling the perimeter. No towers. And oftentimes, only three or four guards working some shifts, supervising 1,000 inmates. Fortunately for them, there was never any real trouble and that’s because the men serving time there are within ten years of release—short-timers—so they tend to behave so they won’t be returned to prisons with much harsher conditions. It’s a real privilege to be at a place where supervision and custody is more relaxed..

Every inmate is required to have a job, such as painting, carpentry, electricians, landscaping, gardening, auto mechanics, factory work, sewing, and more. Each facility is like a small city nearly all the jobs you’d find there are also needed within prisons. During my first year in I worked in the prison kitchen wiping tables and keeping the little chrome napkin holders full.

I worked the evening shift which also meant I mopped the floor after dinner was complete. The rest of the day I spent taking classes, reading (I read over 500 books during my time in prison), or out on the recreation yard playing Bocce whenever I could get in a game.

The Italian guys monopolized the Bocce courts. Oh, that’s one thing about prison—the place is strongly divided into ethnic groups. Italians hang out together, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, etc. Even the TV rooms are segregated and the wrong person better not wander into the wrong room.

Speaking of bocce and the Italian guys, a mob boss was housed at our camp and when he and his entourage of lieutenants wanted to play everyone else stepped aside. That guy was rarely seen anywhere without “his guys” around. Believe me, he lived like a king, with people doing his laundry, shining his shoes, cooking his meals, and handing over items they’d purchased at the commissary. There’s a limit on how much money you’re allowed to have on the books so people on the outside would send cash to the mobster’s fellow inmates and they, in turn, would spend it as he wished.

The food at our camp was so-so. We served typical prison food—your basic frozen pseudo-meat patties as entrees. We did make a decent spaghetti sauce; however, the meat we used was that pink slime stuff that looked like a slimy paste when thawed. Special meals were prepared on various holidays, such as Mexican food on Cinco De Mayo. Some Fridays were special for everyone because we served real bone-in chicken quarters. That was a thing at the other prison too. Guys lined up early outside the dining hall on chicken day. Rarely did someone skip this particular meal.

Cutting line was something that was taboo. It was an a**-kicking/shank-sticking infraction of unwritten inmate rules. But, members of various ethnic groups allowed other members of those same groups to cut line. Just no “outsiders.”

I didn’t get out of the kitchen until around 7 p.m. so I missed a lot of action on the yard—football, basketball, and soccer games. But I did get a chance to hear some of the music played by the various prison bands. They’d set up the music equipment on the yard and play for the guys. This special treat occurred mostly on holidays. Some of the bands were really quite good. Even the bands were all ethnic based, though, which was to be expected, I suppose. Although, one white guy was super good on the guitar and he played with several groups.

I was a bit of a loner, preferring to spend my yard time alone, walking laps around the track while listening to my radio through earbuds. The only way we were allowed to use our radios, by the way, was to listen through earbuds. Even the TV’s were programmed to send wireless signals that could be picked up on a certain radio frequency. That’s how we listened to TV programs and movies, through those ear things. Otherwise, the combined noises of several TV’s playing at once would be awful. Not to mention adding the sounds of a couple-hundred men, or more, talking, playing cards, laughing, etc.

While walking laps around the track I’d see all the action since the oval circled around the entire recreation yard. The track at the camp was a dirt surface. The one at the low security prison where I started out was a nice rubber-like material that was designed to be better for the back, hips, and knees. That place was super nice as far as prisons go.

There were no fences at the camp, by the way, so there was nothing between us and the city except miles of flat land and a few bushes and trees. At night, seeing the city lights twinkle at the horizon was a lonely feeling, knowing that people were going about their lives without someone dictating their every move.

Out of Bounds signs were planted all along the outside edge of the track, meaning we were not allowed past those points. An infraction would be considered as an escape attempt and we’d be punished accordingly. I think an escape attempt could result in an additional five years added to a sentence. Some inmates, however, saw the open fields as a means of bringing in contraband. They’d have a friend drive up a nearby road and drop off duffle bags filled with food, liquor, drugs, and other niceties from the outside. Then, at night, they’d walk a few laps and then, when the time was right, run over to scoop up the bags and bring them back inside the prison grounds.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. We were each issued a windbreaker-type jacket. On one cool night, I was walking my usual laps around the track and I saw five guys walking along slowly, only one of those guys was a woman! She’d walked over from a nearby road and then her “boyfriends” gave her a prison jacket to wear to help conceal her identity. Every few laps she and one of the men would disappear into the shadows. A couple of laps would pass and she’d return and then disappear with a different inmate. I kept walking, not wanting any parts of that deal. Who knows how much it cost to arrange that liaison.

An alarm sounded at 9:30 p.m. each night, signaling the end of recreation time. Guards cleared the yard to make certain we were back inside our dorms for 10 p.m. count. They were very strict about the count rules. We had to stand perfectly still by our bunks—no talking—while two guards came by to count us. Any violation meant a trip to the hole (the hole is a no frills/no privileges jail hellhole inside the prison). After count was cleared, a loud and extremely annoying buzzer sounded and we were free to watch TV, play cards, do laundry, cook food, visit guys in other cubes, etc. We just couldn’t go back outside. Lights-out was at eleven.

Nighttime was also the time when guys got tattoos, drank alcohol, did drugs, cooked meals using the microwaves, washed and dried and ironed their clothing, polished shoes, etc. It was also the time to steer clear of the showers unless you wanted to participate in the goings-on in there. The showers were place to go to dole out punishment. Groups of prisoners would grab an offender (someone who had disrespected them), drag the guy into a shower stall, and then beat the daylights out of him. And if he told what happened he got it worse the next time.

Of course other things I won’t mention happened in there, too. Needless to say, I showered in the morning and in the early evening, during the safe times. It also didn’t hurt that my bunkie was the size of a small bulldozer. People generally left him alone. I was shown professional courtesy—you didn’t mess with the bunkie of guys who could rip off your head with one hand.

I was usually in bed reading by ten. I had to wear earplugs (the commissary sold them) to sleep because of the noise. Lots of talking at night. And the snoring! Imagine trying to sleep in one large room full of men snoring like roaring lions. It was tough.

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 those 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. They were nice outings to break up your time and to see some real people, but they were nothing like my time with my family, at home. Still, seeing people and cars and trees and flowers and freedom … well, any time outside the camp grounds was like a dream.

Nighttimes, when things grew quiet and still were the worst times for most of us. That’s when we had time to think about where we were, why were there, and about our families and about life on the outside.

I’d shed more than one tear during those times, and I’d seen others do the same, including some of the biggest and baddest men I’d ever encountered.

Prison can bring the strongest of the strongest to their knees.

 

 

I got my start in law enforcement as a corrections officer working in a prison designed to house the inmates who’d been classified 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 tried, but none succeeded.

Not far away, within sight, 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 than the heart-pounding fear experienced by private citizens. 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.

For example:

The Day the Alarm Sounded … ESCAPE!!

1. Count time and the final tally came up one man short. So officers counted again and again and again and again and again until someone “upstairs” was finally able to comprehend and embarrassingly admit that a prisoner was not where he was supposed to be. This process could and did last up to 30-40 minutes, or so.

2. The way it worked was when a count came up short, inmates, if not already there, were sent to their cells and locked inside. Those at work were generally ordered to assemble in a central and secure spot and were to remain there until further instructions were provided, which usually meant an escorted trip back to their assigned cells. A top-to-bottom search of the buildings and grounds was then initiated.

The place was a madhouse, with employees frantically turning every stone, bush, mattress, clothing pile, and garbage can. Inmates shouted and cheered for their missing compadre, even if they’d never seen the guy before in their entire lives. They banged and shook their cell doors, tossed things out into the corridors and dayroom areas. Some flooded their cells to add to the confusion, hopefully to provide enough distraction to aid in the escape attempt.

3. During an actual escape attempt, an hour of internal searching could easily pass before the brass swallowed their pride and made THE call to the regional office.

4. The order is given to sound the siren—a shrill, even more piercing than a fire siren noise that reached for miles—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 at our state prisons 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 were based on absolutely nothing more than an eenie-meenie-miney-mo type system. Time on the job, marksmanship, alertness … they meant nothing. Warm bodies were what’s needed at the time. And they grabbed officers from nearby prisons as well. It’s all hands on deck time. The stuff had hit the fan.

7. So off they go to the armory, those unfortunate “hand-picked” officers, where they’re issued a sidearm and sometimes a shotgun, depending upon how many were on hand and how many were in decent working condition.

8. The recently-armed officers are loaded into smelly vans and buses, packed in like the sardinish inmates who’d ridden in those very vehicles just hours before. Keep in mind, corrections officers do not carry firearms while working inside the prison walls/fences; therefore their shooting skills could be woefully inadequate.

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 assist.

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 returns to retrieve him/her. Might be hours. Could be a day or more. I’ve been posted on street corners in the pouring rain during the wintertime, and I’ve stood in a wooded area all night long, without a flashlight.

10. Speaking of nighttime manhunts … when the sun falls during a southern summer, mosquitoes the size of small buzzards come out to dine on a guard’s exposed flesh.

11. The officer, including me during the night I was posted in that dark wooded spot, really wishes that supervisors would be kind enough to hand out a flashlight or two. This is especially so in the spots where it seemed likely that Count Dracula or some Hulk-like creature who’d spent the past twenty years beefing up on the rec yard, hoping to get a chance to crush a guard’s skull like an overripe melon, would leap from behind a bush at any moment.

Oh, and something to eat and drink at some point would be a nice touch. A portable radio to scream for help, if needed, would also be welcome.

12. Midnight approaches, as does something from dark bowels of the wooded area. Calm down Telltale Heart, it’s only a deer.

13. A prison van finally drives up at 1 a.m. The driver, a White-shirt who’s enjoying an air-conditioned ride, rolls down his window to ask the officer if he’s 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. The scent of some sort of warm food wafts to the officer from the open window. Mr. White-shirt drives away as you watch the van’s headlights fade to black as the vehicle rounds a curve.

14. An hour later another van pulls up and the driver tells the officer to get inside. 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. Twenty-four hours later the officer is standing in front of a house in a residential neighborhood, twenty-six miles from the prison. It’s raining very hard. No rain gear. Thankfully, the homeowner brings hot soup, a ham and cheese sandwich, and a thermos filled with black coffee.

16. Now thirty hours have passed 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 all along 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 is why we hated escapes. Well, that and the fact that psycho-killer was roaming the streets.

And the mosquitos … and the Hulk, and Dracula, and that scary deer.

*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’d be willing to bet a dollar to a cop’s doughnut that forced overtime and poor treatment by administration still occurs and is something that’s despised by many of today’s corrections officers.

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 the story of his arrest with the readers of The Graveyard Shift. You might find this tale a bit interesting.

GYS: Thanks for taking the time to share what must have been a difficult time for you and your family. I’ll dive right in. What were the circumstances that ultimately led to your arrest?

X: It’s embarrassing to have to tell it. I’ll start by saying I was ill at the time. A mental problem, I guess you’d call it. My doctor gave me all sorts of drugs that were supposed to help me, but didn’t. They just screwed up my wiring—my thought processes. Anyway, to this day I still say I would have never done anything wrong had it not been for the assortment of antidepressants and pain pills. Still, I did what I did and I accept the responsibility for it. I wish I could change it, but I can’t.

GYS: What was the crime that ultimately led to your arrest?

X: I bought some cocaine to sell. I didn’t use the stuff, I just needed money. You see, with my mind so scrambled I couldn’t hold down a job and my wife was struggling to make ends meet. The medicine and depression simply wouldn’t let me think properly. Either I’d get fired or I’d quit for some crazy, unjustified reason. All I had on my mind was the feeling those little pills offered, especially the pain pills. At the time, I think I’d have married a bottle of Hydrocodone. I loved and craved it that much. Still do, actually, and I haven’t touched the stuff in many years. But I think about it nearly every day.

GYS: How long did your life of crime last?

X: I didn’t make a very good criminal. My entire crime spree lasted about a week. I bought the cocaine to sell, but chickened out. I couldn’t sell it. But someone who was involved in the transaction was already in trouble with the police and told them about me to help themselves out of their own jam.

GYS: Tell us about the arrest.

X: As it turns out, the person who told on me was an informant for a federal task force so, needless to say, I was surprised when my house was raided by a team of FBI agents along with state and local police. There must have been fifteen or twenty officers involved in the raid of my home. All for a little over $100 worth of cocaine. Although, I’m sure if I’d sold it it would have netted more. The prosecutor leading this investigation was a man named James Comey. You may have heard of him.

GYS: Seriously, that’s all you had?

X: Yes, sir. $120 worth, or so. A heaping tablespoon full, maybe.

GYS: What were your charges?

X: Possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with the intent to distribute, and obstruction of justice. The obstruction charge was later dropped. I think the feds automatically add that one to make you confess.

GYS: Why do you say that about the obstruction charge?

X: They threatened to arrest everyone in my family—my wife, kids, and mother—if I didn’t confess. And if I didn’t admit to the crime they’d let the obstruction charge stand, and that’s a minimum of a ten-year sentence. I had no choice. None whatsoever. Plus, they applied this pressure prior to my talking to an attorney, which I understand is perfectly legal. But let me again stress that I was indeed guilty. I’ve never denied it.

GYS: So what happened next?

X: Gosh, it’s all a blur. Let’s see. I was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police car, driven to a remote jail hours away from my home, fingerprinted, strip searched, de-loused, and placed in a jail cell. The cell was a single cell (only one inmate) with a plastic-covered mattress atop a steel plate hanging from the wall.

A former occupant had smeared feces on the block wall in several places. The toilet didn’t flush, and the door—a solid steel door—had a family of roaches living inside the hinges and other tiny crevices. They came out to explore at various times throughout the day and night. By the way, it was difficult to distinguish between night and day because there was no window and the overhead light remained on 24/7. It was a real shock to me. I’d never even had a traffic ticket.

Oh, my family had no idea where I was, or what had happened. They were away when the raid took place—at work and in school.

This, shortly after my arrest, was when I learned that I was a drug addict. Withdrawal symptoms set in not long after I was in the jail cell. The next several days were pure hell, for many reasons. I begged for someone to help with the sickness, but my pleas went unanswered.

My only contact with humans was through a small slot in the middle of a steel door. As I said, I’d begged for help but that door wasn’t opened again for three days. I did see a couple of hands twice a day when they shoved a food tray through the slot. But the person wasn’t allowed to talk to me.

A federal agent finally came to get me on the third day. He took me to a courthouse for a bond hearing. My family was there but I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. I was denied bond. Why not, I don’t know. This was a first offense, and a $100 dollar offense on top of that. So I was hauled back to the jail cell.

On the ride back to the jail, shackled like Charles Manson—handcuffs, waist and leg chains—I realized just how lovely trees, flowers, and the sky really are, even though I was seeing them through a steel screen. I also realized how important my family was. I’d taken a lot of things for granted in my miserable life.

So I wound up back at the jail, which I learned also doubled as a holding facility for federal prisoners. I was there for two more weeks until my wife scraped together enough money—$25,000 (she borrowed against the house)—to retain an attorney to represent me. Still, he obtained a lien on the house in case his fee went above the $25,000. Federal court is really expensive.

The lawyer managed to get another bond hearing and I was released on my own PR, but I wasn’t allowed to go home with my family. I had to stay with a relative in another city because the prosecutor said I was a threat to my community. For $100 worth of drugs that I never took or sold!

Anyway, I remained there until I went to court where I was found guilty (a pre-arranged plea agreement) and sentenced to serve nearly three years in federal prison.

In the beginning, an FBI agent told me Mr. Comey wanted them to question me to see if knew of public corruption. I couldn’t believe it. Somehow he was under the impression I knew something of importance, but I didn’t. Nothing. When I think back, I think he may have a little embarrassed that he’d initiated this huge raid that involved dozens of law enforcement officials, several prosecutors, and lots and lots of money, all for that tiny amount of cocaine (illegal, I know).

So he pushed hard. I also believe that’s why I was denied bond and was held at that way out of the way jail in another part of the state, and that I wasn’t allowed to return home.

The arrest occurred on a Friday, which meant they were guaranteed that I’d remain locked away at least until Monday when the courts were open. Slick move. All to prevent me from telling the story. Prosecutor Comey kept me in seclusion until they could begin the threats of “forever in prison and locking up my family.” It was no longer about the cocaine. This was to save face.

But this is my educated guess and a story for another day.