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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

 

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.

 

 

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much, or how little, prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime. First, though, attorneys and probation officials must determine where the defendant fits in on the Federal Sentencing Table (below). To do so, they must assign the defendant to a criminal history category (I-VI), and to an Offense Level (1-43).

Federal Sentencing Table

A defendant’s criminal history points are determined by:

  • Assigning 3 points for each prior sentence of 1 year and 1 month
  • Adding 2 points for each previous sentence of 60 days to 13 months
  • Adding 1 point for a prior sentence of less than 60 days
  • Adding 2 points if the defendant committed a crime while already under another sentence (probation, parole, etc.)
  • Adding 2 points if the current offense was committed within two years of completing a previous sentence
  • Etc. (there are several other factors that add or subject points—too many to list here)

For example, using the chart above, a defendant who has a final total of 13 criminal history points will be in category VI.

Offense Levels

Next, officials must then decide the defendant’s offense level. To do so, they refer to Chapter 2 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, where they’ll find a a base number assignment for each crime. For example, First Degree Murder has a Base Offense Level of 43. Therefore, 43 is the starting point for determining the defendant’s final Offense Level.

Let’s say our defendant was convicted of Aggravated Assault, which has a Base Offense Level of 14. Officials must then determine what factors were in play during the commission of the crime, such as use of firearms, etc. For example, the use of a firearm during the assault would increase the offense level by 4 points, making it a level 18. If the assault was premeditated, add 2 points. If the firearm was discharged, well, that’s another 5 points. If the victim received serious injury during the attack…yep, that’s worth 7 points. A minor injury…3 points. Get the idea?

So, What’s the Damage?

Let’s add it up and see where our bad guy falls in the guideline.

  • Aggravated Assault = base level of 14
  • He shot at his victim = 4 points
  • The victim suffered a serious injury = 7 points

Total = 25 points

Therefore, our guy, a repeat offender with a criminal history category VI, and an offense level of 25, will be in Zone D, subject to receive anywhere from 110 to 137 months in the federal penitentiary.

Upward and Downward Departures

Easy enough, right? Well, it doesn’t stop there. Other factors are still waiting to be applied, such as downward or upward departures from the guidelines. For example:

  • Points may be subtracted if the defendant assists the government with ongoing cases (provides substantial information). There are, of course, many other factors that allow for a downward departure. Another example of a reduction of points is when the defendant accepts full responsibility for the crime. If so, the prosecutor may file a motion for a downward departure. This normally occurs when the defendant pleads guilty.
  • Points may be added for things like wearing a bullet resistant vest during the commission of a drug crime, and abuse of a position to further the commission of the crime (a politician who uses his position and power to commit a crime—a governor who uses his position to sell a seat in the senate left vacant by the president of the U.S.). Again, there are far too many to list here.

Guilty Pleas

Back to our crook who wound up with the offense level of 25. Well, let’s say he entered a guilty plea and accepted responsibility for his crime.

The guilty plea/acceptance-of-responsibility earned him a downward departure of up to 3 points. Take 3 points away from the original 25 and that leaves him with an offense level of 22. Back to the chart we go. His sentencing range at level 22 is a much lower 84-105 months…well over a year less. And that’s a nice little reward for owning up to the crime, which, by the way, saves the government a lot of money—no trial.

So, is this as clear as mud, or do you now sort of understand how sentences are handed out in federal court?

One thing’s certain, a 36/VI is going to prison for a long, long time.

Well, there’s that 3 point deduction, and that other 2-pointer … oh yeah, let’s not forget the four 1-point deductions. And our bad guy did help out by telling the government who sold him the machine guns.

I think our crook now has total of 6 points to the good. Hmm … with all those extra points, does that mean he can now commit one free crime?

separate the witnesses


Click the play button below to learn more about federal sentencing guidelines and about the Sentencing Commission