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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.

It’s often been said that the jails and prisons in the U.S. operate on a revolving door system, with many of the same prisoners returning to incarceration time after time after time. Sadly, that’s a mostly true statement.

With nearly 2.5 million people crammed into U.S. prison and jail facilities, or on probation or parole—3,789,800 on probation and 870,500 on parole (2015 stats), well, that equals to approximately 1 out of every 37 people in the U.S. is currently under some sort of supervised correctional status.

Yes, America can proudly boast (note the sarcasm) that we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. That’s a pretty staggering number considering the U.S. accounts for only 5% of the world’s population. Those numbers don’t mean much, you say? Well, let’s approach from another angle … our wallets. Each year the U.S. spends between 74 and 80 billion dollars on incarceration. That’s BILLION dollars.

Sure, most citizens don’t want to be bothered with felons and other law-breakers. You know, out of sight/out of mind. But it’s not quite that simple. You see, Isaac Newton had the right idea when he mused, “What goes up must come down,” because the same applies to prisons, jails, and inmates—what goes in must come out. That’s right, the majority of people sentenced to jail or prison must be released at some point, and those former prisoners are generally released back into their former communities.

What happens to former prisoners when they do finally make it back to their old neighborhoods? That’s a question most people don’t consider because the ex-con’s troubles don’t pertain to “most people.” Unfortunately, though, an inmate’s troubles affects everyone. Remember the 80 billion dollars it costs to incarcerate and supervise those millions of prisoners? Well, U.S. taxpayers are responsible for paying that whopping bill.

Doesn’t it makes sense that we should try to address the problem instead of throwing good money on top of bad? Obviously, incarceration isn’t always the correct answer to every case, because many offenders just keep coming back after they’ve “paid” their debt to society.

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.

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).

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.

Professions often 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), or worse.

So, you see, without a job, or 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 heads for life. This is especially true for those who were convicted of federal offenses. 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.

New York City is set to begin a program that offers guaranteed employment to each of their 8,500 inmates as they leave jail. These jobs are to be short-term, low skill level employment—cooks, restaurant bussers, or construction flaggers, etc.

The $10 million program will apply to inmates no matter what crime they’ve committed, even if they’re on the sex offender registry. Everyone gets a job. Everyone, including murderers, rapists, robbers, and …

I’m not sure the New York City plan is the best idea in the world, but they’re making an effort to address the issue. While not the most well-thought-out plan, it could still give former prisoners a much-needed boost of confidence, self-worth, and desire to do better. It could also go a long ways toward reducing the intense shame many feel after their release.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. What do you think? A second chance for some, or lock ’em up and forget about them? Remember, though, most of those who go in must come out at some point.

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.

Private Prison Profits Big Time!

CoreCivic stock at the time of the original posting of this article (now revised), stood at $34.70 per share. Today (May 21, 2018), shares were at $20.65. Still, the “people business” is certainly booming when others are failing miserably.

To read more about CoreCivic, visit their website by clicking here.

  • CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison companies in the world, is the company formerly known as Corrections Corporations of America.
  • CCA houses approximately 90,000 prisoners in over 65 facilities.
  • CCA has been the center of controversy over the years. Most of their troubles, but definitely not all, were related to cost-saving practices that included inadequate staff, extensive lobbying, and lack of proper cooperation with legal entities. CCA swapped amid the ongoing scrutiny of the private prison industry. Many believe the name change of private prisons is due to their rising unpopularity among the public, and to avoid a connection to past bad and illegal behavior.

Another for-profit “private prison company,” Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC), now a subsidiary of G4S Secure Solutions changed its name to the GEO Group, Inc. It, too, houses thousands of prisoners around the world.

The Geo Group alone reported GEO reported total revenues for the fourth quarter 2017 of $569.0 million. This figure up a bit up from $566.6 million for the fourth quarter 2016. 2017 revenues include $2.8 million in construction costs associated with the development of the  Ravenhall Correctional Centre in Australia.

Yes, private prisons are a big business.

#prisonreform

#secondchances


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

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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.

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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!

 

Below is an image of an isolation cell (“the hole”) where unruly, violent prisoners in this jail are housed. No bed, no sink, no toilet. Merely a drain in the floor to use for, well, you know.