Risk Prison Life APWA 9-27-2018 1pm 9-28, 10pm
(1) Dorm Life
I've been in Fed Med since 2014. I will be released when self-flying cars are all the rage. I have suffered broken dreams, but not loss of hope. When someone is arrested for a federal crime (which means lines of interstate commerce were affected), he or she releases on bond, or sits without bond for around 8 months in a county jail that houses federal custody inmates. Some, however, spend their time in a CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) holding facility. Some folks even stay in jail for a few years while the prosecutors coax a plea deal from them, or while they await trial. After sentencing, inmates are escorted by the same U.S. Marshalls, who looked after them at their federal courthouse appearances, on to the next leg of the tour, the van ride to the airport. In my case, my stays included 10 days in Cedar Rapids County Jail, after turning myself in to HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) headquarters to be arrested. Next, I spent 8 months in West Union County Jail and was driven in a sheriff's cruiser back and forth to Cedar Rapids to plea and be sentenced. 3 weeks after sentencing, I was moved to Waverly Jail, where I spent 3 days. The county jails have either no windows or a single, small 4x4' skylight. There's a dayroom and cells, featuring bunkbed(s), and maybe even a desk. Cells hold 2-4 inmates, or more in a dorm setting. If the jail is over-full, inmates sleep on the floor on mats.
From Waverly, the Marshalls took several of us to Rochester, MN, where we departed on a retired Pope's plane to Oklahoma City's Transfer Center. Oh, sweet irony! considering the ongoing Catholic Church sex scandals. The plane was a big, all-yellow 747 was a square panel on the side which formerly provided access for the Pope's golf cart - the one with clear, bullet-proof covering. After 3 more days, I left OKC on a "federal express" bus, complete with "shotgun shack" and toilet in the back, and spent 5 hours on it heading past Tulsa and Joplin and black Angus steers feeding on harvested wheat fields along the way to Fed Med. We arrived at dawn.
Once in prison, I discovered I would live in a dorm, which is where I continue to reside to this very day. The unit's capacity is 180 inmates. Currently, we have 113 on the unit. 145 is starting to get crowded, but was our most recent grand total before that. In 2014, my dorm unit had only single beds, but they were replaced with bunkbeds shortly before I arrived. Each bed also used to have a desk by it. Since they've been removed, I use a plastic clipboard instead. My unit has 2 floors, 2 sections per floor (45 inmates per section), and 4 bathrooms with showers. The showers are used one at a time, though, they are 10x10' and set up for several inmates. Once PREA (the Prison Rape Elimination Act) passed, the showers have since been "one-at-a-time", which seems to work out fairly well. Privacy is a good thing. Thankfully, this change also happened before my arrival. Each inmate has a tan, green, or red lawn chair placed by his bunk, which are lined up for the shower, and are used in the 2 tv rooms. My down has A/C and I'm "squatting" on the lower bunk, without a pass, and currently I have no celly (bunkmate), other than the 5 others in this cubicle area. Lower bunk passes are for those who are 60 years old and over, 300 lbs., missing limbs, on dialysis, have a cardiac condition, etc. There are 4-foot half walls between bunks. I have roughly 6x10 feet of floor space, most of which is taken by the bunkbed. The last guy who sought administrative remedy for our having less 40 square feet per person was shipped out.
We hang sheets from the top bunks and put towels on the ladders at the front of the beds as shrouds, which technically isn't allowed. Although, towels may be hung temporarily to dry. A sacrificed laundry bag attached like a net under the top bunk provides extra storage. I use the bottom locker only. 2 are stacked. The lockers are 1 1/2 feet deep x 2 feet wide x 3 feet high. The lockers have been drilled for two right shelves, but don't come with them. To add the right shelves, we first cut off the edges of bed sheets to make "X's", which are fed through each right-side screw hole, knotted, draped over the left shelf, fed through a seam in the back, passed through the remaining right screw hole, and knotted again. The shelves consist of 6 sheets of cardboard, harvested from tp/paper towel boxes, and are also technically not allowed. Another common addition is a locker buddy or two, hung from the inside of the door(s). A white bath towel is folded in half and the 3 outer edges are sewn together with floss. Then, slits are cut into the towel with a blade (a shaving razor broken down) and mustache scissors. Once the bottom of each slit is sewn back down, the result is twelve 5x5" pockets. One of the bedsheet "X's" cut in half or shoe strings are fed into top and bottom folds, which have been sewn down. The locker doors have little open slits in the outer edges. The locker buddy is secured to there by the straps with 4 knots, one in each corner. This type of apron storage is rather military-esque, which explains why the officers, some of whom are ex-military, do not care if we have them. Some institutions sell clear-plastic vinyl locker buddies. As of yet, I have not heard of any hard plastic shelves (or otherwise) being provided. However, the welding shop will fabricate 2 metal right shelves for a book of 20 stamps each. Some units have hutch-like caddies that fit above a single locker, but would not work on my unit, with our stacked lockers. Extra shelves and locker buddies keep us better organized and conceivably make searches easier. They also help to keep property from creeping out into plain sight where it doesn't belong. We have unit orderlies who clean up and bring in supplies.
We are counted at 12am, 3am, 5am, 10am (on weekends), 4pm, and 9pm. All counts require returning to the bunks; the latter 3 are standing. The lights go off from 10pm-6am (10pm-10am on weekends). Fog during daylight hours results in hourly counts until it clears. After we are physically counted by 2 staff, one of which is our single unit C.O. (Correctional Officer), inmates head off to the 2 tv rooms (one upstairs, one downstairs). The institutional count (of all the units together) clears after 30-45 minutes. At which time, we may leave the unit during an open move. A 10-minute move is announced on the PA system at the top of the hour. Often times, a closed quarters is announced, accompanied by white or blue flashing lights placed periodically along the hallways, our very own "blue light special". The inmates must then proceed to the next closest stairwell to wait it out. It signifies someone is being moved in cuffs. Outside movements between buildings was not incorporated into the design. Noisy, false smoke alarms are so frequent, they are ignored, as well as is possible.
Fed Med is administrative custody due to high, medium, and low inmates convalescing while they're being patched up with hip replacements and the like. The owners of the prison industry have streamlined their business model by closing camps and halfway houses, and now save a buck by concentrating prison populations into large groups, like the one found at Fed Med. Our hallway tunnel system of getting around resembles the Big Dipper (a loop), with 8-1, 8-2, and 9 Building (the 3 work cadre units) at the end, compromising the ladle. The prison opened in 1933, but has been well-maintained over the years. It only slightly resembles a dungeon. Mostly, it is reminiscent or a mental hospital. The prison's brick buildings feature ornate masonry capstones, and many of the rooftops are metal. Incidentally, only 7 of the BOP's (Bureau of Prisons) 105 prisons lack air conditioning. Additionally, 2019's over-all prison population will reach 30% being 50 years old and over. Inmates of any age continue to work. I am unaware of the stated retirement age, though, for staff it is 55 years old. Fed Med's inmates know each other's businesses, and here "bad" paperwork cases (rats and sex offenders) may walk the yard. They may also use the tv rooms (some units have separate sections), although, it is generally frowned upon.
I live in 9 Building which houses work cadre and dialysis patients. 9 Building is the only unit without an elevator. 8 Building is the only one without A/C, but could hook onto our chiller with added ductwork. It's the luck of the draw regarding where inmates are placed. Building 1-1 is control/visiting. 1-2 is the clinic. Only broken bones visible on x-ray are considered legitimate health concerns. So, stay healthy! 1-3 is a medical housing unit. 1-4 holds those going out to Mercy hospital, typically for work on their dialysis port sites in their chests or arms. 2-1E is the hole. 2-1W is our service dog training program and houses other medical inmates, too. 2-2 is medium and high security. 3-1 is dental. 3-2 is yet another medical housing unit. 4 is the chow hall. 5, 6, 7, and 11 are utilities shops (commissary, distribution, account services, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, steam fitters, construction, general maintenance/mowing crew, carpentry, welding, environmental health and safety, and the West Gate). 10 Building contains mental health inmates. It has several units within, A, B, C, D, and G. Plus, E and F which are locked-up units. John Gotti stayed in 3 Building, and his lawyer's booth was attached to his cell. He died here of cancer. Other points of interest along the hallway tunnel path include the chapel, lieutenant's office, re-entry services, laundry, clothing, the mailroom, the pharmacy, R&D (Receiving & Departures), the counsellors/case managers (8-2, 8-1, 3-2), the yard, and inside rec which features band room, tv area, pool table area, movie stations, law library, exercise area, hobby craft, and leisure library. Free dental cleanings every 6 months, for most, would not justify the loss of their families.
RDAP (Residential Drug Awareness Program) staff reside in 2-1W. Care level 4 RDAP inmates live in a first-floor section of 9 Building, which is out of bounds to others. Soon, the two buildings' residents will flip-flop, and RDAP inmates and staff offices will all be together in 2-1W. At around 36 months from my release date, I will move to another prison to complete RDAP, as I am Care Level 1, or otherwise healthy. The program takes 9 months to complete and yields a year off one's sentence. The federal district court judge applied RDAP at sentencing due to my history of substance abuse, reflected by my lengthy arrest record. This is my first stay in prison.
(3) Chow Hall
At 6am, 11am, and 5pm, we are fed. We are called to the chow hall to eat one unit every few minutes, based on a roster order decided by monthly unit inspections. In Cedar Rapids Jail, there were 3 hot meals. In West Union, only lunch was hot, and supper was a sack offering. Waverly often repeated flaked turkey, which I did not eat due to its resemblance to spoiled cat food. Being a hospital, Fed Med has decent food. The goal is to keep our dialysis population robust. There are 46 dialysis chairs, and 2-3 shifts, 6 days a week. The treatments take 4 hours. The chow hall's capacity is 212 bodies. But, up until recently, some people stood and ate. Oftentimes, they still do. A few more tables have been added, and the units sometimes are called more slowly. The process to feed everyone should take about 90 minutes, but they've shortened it to about 45 minutes. There are 1035 inmates, but not everyone is able bodied, or are too dangerous to interact. These folks receive "meals on wheels" lidded green trays to their rooms. The rest of us eat in the chow hall, which has 2 serving lines in front of 2 sections; 121 seats are available in each section. The tables mostly have 4 swivel chairs like in a McDonalds restaurant. But, some have benches or are open for wheelchairs. The right section is Black seating, which reflects the 50% Black population. However, the very front is non-political, except for 2 Kansas City tables. "Mexicans", a few Whites, rats, etc. may sit here. The left side has Whites (those who identify as "haters", or "motor heads" or those with "good" paperwork) up front, "Mexicans" in the middles, Natives and "Cho-Mo's" (sex offenders) in back. Several sex offenders (who tend to be White) usually get stuck standing while eating by the wall for lack of space. No sandals or casual attire is permitted before 4pm, Monday through Friday. Shirts must be tucked in.
Our menu repeats after 5 weeks. Lunch Tuesday is always a chicken sandwich, Wednesday: burgers, Thursday: baked or fried chicken, and Friday: baked or fried fish. Breakfast is the "chaff" bran cereal on Wed./Sat./Sun. Oatmeal and grits alternate M. T. Th. and F. Weekend breakfast features 2 complimentary packs of government coffee.
The yard is open from daylight until dusk or not at all, some days. It really depends on staff availability, mowing, and inclement weather. There are 2 weeks of 14 degree weather. Otherwise, the temps range from 30-90 degrees, but tend to favor the 60-80 degree range, almost year round. The 900 ft. elevation of the Ozarks plateau represents the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains, which head up through West Virginia. It's a beautiful place, for being landlocked, and considering I'm experiencing it while in prison. We have a koi pond in the yard, which is 2-3 feet deep, 8 feet around, with about 16 six to eight inch fish in it. They are orange, white, blue, yellow, and gray. The pond has waterfalls, lilypads, and is located behind a chain link fence. Behind it is the hole (2-1E). People communicate with their locked-up friends by yelling up to second floor windows, spanning about 20 feet from the fence. The units view parkland; the yard views brick tunnels.
The yard's area is approximately 150 yards square, farming a quad between buildings. Its hallway entrance is right next to the chow hall's 2 staircases and elevator (4 Building), and leads to a concrete ramp, up onto the yard. The smell of piss permeates from 3-2's windows, come late summer. 1 Building's visiting room is the halfway point around the track. Next, is the koi pond in front of 2 Building (the hole). 5 laps around this unmarked, asphalt track equal a mile. The track resembles a patch of side road, created with left-over asphalt during construction. It is cracked from the roots of 15 oaks and maples. A softball diamond takes up one inside corner of the track. There are also courts for basketball, handball/racketball, volleyball, and bocci ball. Also available are horseshoes, bean bag toss, frisbee golf, catch football, and soccer. All around are bleachers, tables, benches, and even a city park-like pavilion with tables, chess, gambling, and smoking remain popular inside the prison and in the yard. Shaving razor blade scraps or a pin touched to a battery provide the light. Lawn care inmates smuggle in cigarettes from bags thrown over the fence. Dried out chew from staff's discarded pop bottles is also smoked. Most inmates do not bother using tobacco since it results in 3 months in the hole. Even still, some inmates have been known to drink hand cleanser from wall dispensers. I'm 42 and my walking partners are 56, 65, and 65 with 15 years, 6 months, and 5 years remaining, respectively. I walk the halls/yard for a mile after breakfast/lunch and for 2 hours (in the yard) after supper.
(5) Inside Rec.
The Rec is hot, crowded and loud. I never go here, unless corralled by a unit shakedown. The main area has tvs, tables, benches, movie stations, pool tables, ping pong, and foosball. The staff mainly check their Facebook in the rec officer's room. The only places without A/C are the main area and exercise area, which has machines but no weights. There's also a hobby craft room, leisure library, law library, and a band room. The hobby room provides leather-working (purses, wallets, bags, and handbags), ceramics (from molds), painting (water colors and oils), and drawing. Some people even knit. I have taken water colors, oils, and drawing over and over again by sort of "crashing", as it were; though, they are not provided all that often. They're taught by an inmate teacher from Kennebunkport with deep pockets for his own, large oil canvasses, and oil-painting supplies. The library is not all Westerns, like the county jail, but I am spoiled enough just to request my lit be sent in from Amazon by my "people". There's also an inter-library loan program to request books from the local library. The law library has the Lexis Nexus interface (for looking up case law), and preying upon people's false hopes by doing law work for them is actually a pretty good hustle. Other hustles include ironing and having a "store" in your locker (providing commissary for stamps). Some of our more "toward" inmates even exchange sexual favors. Board games and guitars may be checked out from the inside rec cage. The guitar may be taken onto the yard, but must be returned during the next hour's move; and can only be checked out after taking a beginning guitar class. The "world of inside rec" would be spectacular in your dream mansion, but for me personally it just seems to add to the "terrible." A bunch of stinky, otherwise homeless bums all crowded together into a room, and on purpose! Mind boggling. We have rap/rock concerts on the yard 4 times a year for Vets, Memorial, President's, and Labor Day. All are hot as hell. I skipped 3 due to heat, but made it to Labor Day's, this year. Covers included Nirvana's "Man Who Sold the World", Bryan Adam's "Cuts Like A Knife", and Helmet's "Unsung". Popcorn and sno-cones were available. The bands sometimes perform in inside rec. For Christmas, we get a swag bag of junk food on the unit. Inmates oftentimes sign up for Angel Tree to provide gifts for their children at home. There are also holiday meals.
I have worked as a steam fitter, replacing radiator on/off handles and water heaters, in the kitchen running a dish machine conveyer belt (kind of like an automatic car wash), and as a unit orderly cleaning the bathroom, sweeping stairs, mapping landings and entryway, and bringing in supplies, including tp, paper towels, shaving cream, razors, soap, etc. Some inmates work in laundry, processing our bedding (exchanged 6:30 am, Thursdays; Wednesdays for dialysis) and laundry bags (turned in twice a week). Clothing may be exchanged for different sizes or if worn out at 6:45 - 7 am, M-F. Our bedding is brown. Our clothes are brown, khaki, and gray. White T shirts show up from OKC's Transfer Center. (And, for me were previously available in Cedar Rapids Jail for $5 on commissary). Other inmates work as attendants helping the disabled. Jobs generally pay around $15 per month. Inmates with a custody level from 0 to 10 points (and no public safety factors) may acquire a gate pass, working in the community, cutting grass beyond the fence, working the warehouse, or monitoring gauges in the power house. Suicide watch in 10 Building pays $3.50 to $5 per 4-hour shift. Notable regalia to female staff given by those under observation include, for example: "Take off your shirt; give us our medicine between your titties."
Stamps are our money, as is commissary as payment for services rendered. Loose, single stamps are only worth 30 cents instead of 50 cents and are used to barter with. I do not involve myself with others and use stamps only to mail letters and books home. Inmates who don't have money put on their "books" (inmate account) by their people are basically indigent. We may spend $90 per week at commissary. The phone accounts allow 300 monthly minutes of pre-paid calling to home. The rate is $3.15 for 15 minutes (or 21 cents/minute).
The orderlies sometimes inexplicably draw drama from others regarding cleanliness, and whose job is what. Consequently, the chain of command never goes across, but goes up to the unit officer or lieutenant to decide any necessary action. "Worrying about the wrong thing" is especially prominent in weak, or easy, spots like Fed Med, which is probably one of the easiest non-camps in the BoP (Bureau of Prisons). There are more serious problems, of course, at "shank school" aka medium FCIs (Federal Correctional Institutions) and high USPs (United States Prisons).
Commissary workers work like slave dogs from 8am-8pm, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, loading supply carts for the units by day, and filling commissary orders by night, either at the window or preparing them for locked units. They earn around $150 per month (the highest paid job here), but must have "good" paperwork and be from Indiana. "Store" (shopping) night for 8 and 9 Buildings is Tuesday, from 5-8pm, Wednesday for 1, 2, 3, and 10 Buildings. We resemble some sort of surreal Black Friday mob as we process on down the line past a service window with drop-thru shoot, somewhat similar to a bank security drop box in reverse. There's even the same plexiglass window between unwashed masses and attendant, in our case, a C.O. (Correctional Officer). Unfortunately, the officer running the cash register and price scanner for our grocery items cannot hear the inmates, unless we squat and yell up the chute. The disused speaker box seems to be only for decoration. Empty Peter Pan peanut butter containers are used to store cocoa and coffee, and even feature labels made from bags converted by scissors and tape. Previously, I wore $12 Starters from Wal-Mart, but here shoes range from $45-65 (or half a year's salary).
(7) Visiting Room.
Our visiting room has had the tables removed and visitors must now sit across vs. beside the inmate. It's better without the tables, since space is at a premium. Inmates are strip searched in and out of visiting. Visits are from 8am-3pm, Saturday and Sunday. Monday has mostly been removed, and is available only if it falls on a holiday. Removal of tables and changed seating has not affected smuggling, since the mowing crew is the weak link, bringing in contraband thrown over the fence. Focusing on visiting minos is pointless when yard crew sail boats sail right on by and blend back into the woodwork.
I was able to see my 4-year-old daughter (who is 7 hours away) three years in a row, hear her on the phone, and view her scribble drawings sent in the mail. That is, up until recently. One August (2018) afternoon, when I called, the new boyfriend answered and told me regarding future calls and visits: "Probably not." All contact from that end has ceased, but I still send my daughter letters in vain. I went away; life goes on. Momma gave it the ole college try, but loneliness and help raising kids are certainly needful concerns. I'm glad she was able to move on, like I requested, despite all her previous protestations. I pray I may again know my daughter, one day. I managed to add myself to the birth certificate from Fed Med, having to authorize a paternity test for child support purposes. Within 3 weeks of meeting my daughter's mother, I got her pregnant. We continued to enjoy the debauchery of life for 5 more months, and then I was arrested on 3-25-2014. I have been gone ever since. Shortly before sentencing, my daughter was born, on 8-10-2014. It was the best day of my life, regardless of my being in county jail. I arrived at Fed Med on 11-20-2014.
My relationship with my twin sister and (older) brother have stalled, but I do call them on Christmas. My parents and older sister remain close with an annual visit and they often send me cards, letters, and books. Only seldom do I call, as I am poor. Their visits require 20-hour drives from AZ and NY.
(8) Social Life.
That's an easy one; I don't have one. I'm mostly "self-social" sociable but caught up in my own mind as my main source of entertainment, whether dreaming, reading, drawing, and writing letters, poems, and philosophy. The only 2 (Black) tv rooms are a little too cozy for my taste. Normally, more tv rooms/sections are provided. 9 Building has 2-3 times the inmates it was designed for, after the swap-out to bunkbeds from singles. West Union Jail and Fed Med have cable. Staff are content to vape and chew behind a closed officer's station door, but will shake down the instant they smell smoke. I disdain my environment and it's with a reluctant, bitter pill that I even write about it. It's more enjoyable rehashing the ugly truth in the guise of poetry, but I am capable of putting my experiences into basic writing, as well. I realize an account which is mostly a detailed synopsis of Fed Med's layout and routines isn't strictly a retelling of my prison experiences, but it does speak to incarceration. Here, nothing eventful or noteworthy ever happens near me, which is good. They say: write what you know, so I figured a brief on the lay of the land would be interesting.
(9) Crime & Punishment.
I was never one to slam (shoot up drugs) or get so high, it arrested my breathing. That is to say, I never got overly wrapped up in opiates, either. Yet, my long rite of passage ruined my family relationships, job prospects, and clarity of judgment. From this wreckage was born my beautiful daughter. We must own up to our mistakes and our evils. We must remove the blinders from the facts. Long-term lock up is big business. Fast 'n Furious guns, Greenwave, and Safe Childhood law initiatives flush out criminals. Core Civic/Corrections Corp (CDX) and Geo Global (GEO) pick up the pieces. They profit from full prisons and lobby Congress and the Sentencing Commission to maintain our peril. Mass incarceration is a blatant contradiction. It labels people violent and high risk, yet conversely stores them in "minimum security" prisons with permanent Public Safety Factors, barring them from camp eligibility. The high-cost, low-pop camps and halfway houses are then forced to close, in the name of progress. Long-term rat traps like Fed Med flourish, all the while.
From the inside, I see that which is in plain view. Entertainment culture no longer has any meaning. I'm content without tv, phone, pc, car, and gps. Without the footprint, there is profound freedom. Always travel lightly with few possessions and you'll never be trapped by bad situations and people (those "who were dropped on their heads" or need to be). Life is a record button, from satellite imagery, to cell tower positioning, to pinged ISP/Internet Service Provider. Humanity's only worthwhile goal is to remove the NSA/National Security Agency's power to inflict future criminal prosecutions. Rise above your shell; leave behind yourself. Fly from glowing screens and status update things. Sacrifice. Walk about. Live simply. Use small markets. Take the bus. Live your world close to home. Override exterior bandwidths with better, internal ones. Feed and clothe the unfed. Remove this lustful rust. Never live this life, half-dead in the Fed. Never let the shoebox warehouse trap you, not for all the virgins in heaven! Enthralled, obedient, patsied, played, no longer laid, unremembered ghosts, locked up inside ourselves, subservient, we only honor our own, self-destruction, a deathly, psychotronic embrace. We do what they tell us to do. None of it in our best interest. Go out and buy, asshole! We never ask why; ours is but to do and die.
To: American Prison Writing Archive
Hamilton College, 198 College
Hill Rd., Clinton, NY 13323
Steve Risk #[number]
Medical Center for Federal Prisoners
P.O. Box 4000
Springfield, MO 65801-4000
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