Monthly Archives: March 2017

Mar 10

My Cell

Prison Life

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011 |

My cell in the SHU is about 6′ wide and 12′ deep. It has one bunk bed that is the same as the Low. My mattress is very thin and uncomfortable, and lays on top of a steel deck. There is a stainless steel toilet and sink combo unit, a stainless-steel shower and a small desk. There is very little room to move around. The cell also has a 1’ x 4′ window with bars. The door is heavy steel with a small window and a pass-through door that is always locked.   This is small horizontal trap door is used by the inmate to receive his food, and it is also where he sticks his hands through so they can be handcuffed.

An inmate must talk through the cracks in the door, if he doesn’t want to yell, to talk to anyone. It can get very noisy since everything is concrete and steel. I do not have access to the light switch. The CO’s must turn the light switch on and off, which they will do upon your request.

From what I can tell, there are 24 or so cells in each wing, and there are four wings. Many of the cells have two inmates in them. I suppose that I am lucky to be by myself given that there is so little room in the cell.

Mar 10

BOP Facility Assignment

Prison Life

Friday, September 2nd, 2011 |

I have time, a lot of time.  So, I wanted to give you more information for the circumstances leading me to going to the hole. But first let me tell you a little bit about how BOP assigns inmates to facilities.  BOP reserves the right to decide which prison an inmate is placed. However, the presiding judge in the case can make a recommendation. BOP decides whether to accept the recommendation, or not. They will consider the length of the sentence, available space at different facilities, and the inmate’s security threat.

In order of security restriction, the five prisons at Butner are classified as Medium/High (really a high), Medium, Low, a federal medical center (FMC) or the Camp (minimal). Butner has all these prison facilities on one very large campus. The FMC houses inmates with serious or chronic medical conditions. FMC’s are considered high security since it houses inmates of all security levels catering to greatest threat. The threat level of a inmate is typically determined in the inmate’s Pre-Sentence Report.

My Assignment

In my case, I had never been in trouble with the law.  I have a short sentence of 5 years, but presumably will be reduced for good time and halfway house or home confinement time.  I have no history of violence or substance abuse. These factors yield me low points.  Therefore, I was eligible for a camp. We asked the judge to recommend the camp in Pensacola, He accepted our request because my mother lives about an hour away and it was convenient to my other family members.

However, the Probation Office (PO) got the judge to change his recommendation to an FMC because of my heart disease after the hearing, and unbeknownst to me. Eventually I found out about the recommendation, which caused me to great distress.  I obviously did not want to spend time, in what amounted to, a maximum-security prison.

We got the BOP to agree to place me in the camp at Butner, NC.  The argument being that I would be placed in an appropriately security level prison that would have an FMC available, if I needed medical care. This was an excellent compromise even if it were a greater distance from my family.

BOP Screw-Up

BOP also has a policy that co-defendants in an active case cannot be placed in the same facility. In addition, co-defendants cannot be placed in the same facility if there is reason to believe that it would case a threat to one of those co-defendants.  There is an BOP department assigned to making inmate assignment, and to specifically to prevent all the conflicts from happening. It is Central Inmate Monitoring Services (CIMS).

About 45 days or so before I was supposed to have reported, I went to BOP’s inmate locator website and searched for each of my co-defendants.  I noted that one co-defendant was at Butner Low. This did not concern me much because I thought I was scheduled for the Camp. A few days before my report date, I called Butner to ask a few questions about reporting. They told me to report to Low. I said no, that I was scheduled for the Camp. They said “No – You are scheduled for Low” and the discussion ended.

I was very upset because I knew that my co-defendant was there and I wanted the lower security of the Camp.  We optimistically thought that perhaps the Receiving & Discharge (R&D) was all through the Low. They also probably wanted to evaluate my medical condition at the Low before transferring me to the Camp.  These were wrong assumptions.  The Camp is a satellite of the Medium, so the Medium is where campers are processed through R&D.

Now I Wait

Not long after I arrived at Low, I discovered that BOP was not going to transfer me to the Camp for at least 6-8 months. I knew that was going to be a problem because inevitably I would run into my co-defendant. Sure enough, as I have previously written, my co-defendant saw me walking into Health Services.   So, here I sit in the SHU while the BOP sorts everything out!

Mar 10

Hauled Off to Solitary Confinement… SHU

Prison Life

Thursday PM, September 1st, 2011 |

Don’t Worry, I’m Doing OK.  I am in the SHU and in solitary confinement.  BOP probably finally determined their mistake after Christine called my attorney and the request to pick me up worked its way to Butner.  Communicating with the outside world will be very difficult.  I am currently writing with a ballpoint pen insert with nearly no ink in it.  In fact, I have five such pens in front of me. Of course, I have no access to a computer – and nothing else but some very few basics.  It is almost impossible to write more than a sentence without one of the pens failing.

Cell Shakedown

I was in my room this afternoon with my cellie.  The CO that supervises our floor came to our cell and told us to go the TV room until notified that we could return.  She also said that they were going to shakedown our cell and to leave everything in the room.  I had a book in my hand so she let me take the book with me.  My cellie looked very concerned and his face turned white.  He probably assumed that the shakedown was aimed at him.  Brandon disappeared quickly without saying a word.

The floor CO waved at me indicating that I was to return to my cell.  As I approached my cell, another CO asked me if I was John Foster and I answered in the affirmative.  He simply told me to follow him.  My cellie re-appeared and stared at me in disbelief; like, why are they taking this guy who only got here three weeks ago?  Also by this time, other inmates were gathering in the hall to watch the commotion.  Surprisingly, the CO let me keep the book that I was still holding but gave me no opportunity to get any of my personal property including my CPAP and medicines.

Walk to the SHU

I followed the CO out of the building and asked him what was going on and where were we going.  He said that he would tell me shortly.  I had not been in prison long enough to figure it out for myself.  As we approached the side of the administration building where Special Housing Unit (SHU) is located, he told me that they were going to put me in the SHU for my protection.  I really didn’t know what to expect at that moment.  I had heard about the SHU but that is about it.

The SHU is commonly referred to as the Hole.  This is a maximum security building where they house guys that cause trouble and are awaiting disciplinary action.  In my case, this is where they wanted to provide me protection and isolate me from other inmates.

Intake at the SHU

At the door to the SHU, the CO escorting me told me to put my hands on the wall.  He put handcuffs on me and led me inside.  We were met by the CO’s working there.  One of them grabbed me by the handcuffs and escorted me into a holding cell that resembled a jail cell with bars.  The other CO quickly disappeared.  Another guard appeared and told me to take all my clothes off and hand them to him.  He then asked me to turn around, bend over, squat and open my cheeks.  This was totally humiliating.  I went through something similar three weeks earlier at R&D intake.

They took all my clothes and gave me an orange jumpsuit, a pair of boxers, socks and flimsy rubber shoes.  In addition, I was given 2 top sheets, a blanket, towel, wash cloth and some toiletries.  A guard then escorted me down the far end of lonely corridor.  As far as I can tell,  I am at the very end of a jail block with no other inmates on either side of me.  I am isolated in a small bare cell – think the worst you have seen on TV. It is very cold in here.

Left in Isolation

No one has talked to me about when I will be getting transferred out. There’s no way to engage in a conversation with the guards. The CO that brought me here gave me a one sentence explanation that a co-defendant was here and they had to remove me.  I don’t think the SHU CO’s know why I am there and they probably don’t care anyway.

I don’t know the next step. I’m told that someone from medical will be seeing me shortly. Otherwise, I don’t expect any further explanation tonight. As far as I know, I could be here for a few days. Given the holiday weekend, who knows when I will get out of here.

I’ll be glad when this nightmare is over. I will call Christine as soon as I am able.

Mar 09

Working Food Service

Prison Life

Thursday AM, September 1st, 2011 |

My second day of working food service was today. A CO woke me at 5 am to line up at the front door with other food service workers where we would be released to go to the dining room a few minutes later. I noticed that my cellie wasn’t in his bunk. He appeared a moment later as I was dressing. I could smell dope on his breath as he passed me. I said in a low voice so as not to be heard by others, “Dude, man, brush your teeth! You reek. Aren’t you concerned that you are going to get busted?” He didn’t say anything, stared blankly at me and went to his bunk.

Food Service Job at the Low

I got assigned a job serving inmates their food in the dining room. What a trip! Food service is the most dreaded job assignment on the compound, and it is generally required for all inmates to work in food service, at least for a while.  There are a lot of inmates required to serve 1400 guys three meals a day.  There are two shifts – am and pm.  I got assigned the am shift by my counselor, but probably would have preferred the pm shift.  The jobs generally include line servers (me), cooks, table clean-up guys, moppers, tray/dish room operators, etc.  The cook jobs pay well compared to the measlier wages that are paid to other inmates.  But, the cooks also work a full shift.  It probably doesn’t take a grand total of an hour out of four for everyone else to do their job.

After all the inmates left breakfast, the food service inmates cleaned the dining room and kitchen, and then sat – for a solid three hours! The CO’s wouldn’t let us leave unless we had a call-out. Some food service CO’s won’t even let the inmates read or play cards while they wait to serve the next meal. I brought a book and read. No one said anything to me about it, except to be discreet.

Uncomfortable Interaction with My Co-Defendant

I saw my co-defendant sitting by himself across the room. Skip was a principal of my former employer, Peerless Real Estate Services, Inc. Skip and his brother owned a small manufacturing company in South Florida but vacationed in North Carolina. They met Tony Porter, a land developer in North Carolina, in Spruce Pine and together started Peerless. Skip quit working with his brother to devote all his time to Peerless’ real estate projects. I had previously met Porter when I was brokering large real estate projects and we became friends. Porter asked me to join Peerless to manage their income portfolio, conduct due diligence on new projects and seek institutional financing on those projects.  Others were brought into the company and Peerless commenced operations in January 2004.

Skip had first seen me a few days earlier while we were waiting in a medical line and started talking. He was initially friendly.  I was friendly as well and we engaged in small talk. However, he seemed to get agitated whenever we talked subsequently.   It was really weird seeing him and talking to him. He had reported to the Low at least a year previously.  It had been more than four years since I had last seen him, and I hadn’t had any communication with my other co-defendants since our case broke. I knew that co-defendants were NOT supposed to be in the same facility, and I could not be sure of his intentions.  I told Christine about seeing Skip, and I thought that we should let my attorney know.  Christine said she would reach out to my attorney and discuss.

We were allowed to go back to our units after lunch and I settled in with a book.  This day would be the last time I saw Skip or worked in food service at the Low.

Mar 07

The SHU Ordeal Begins!

Prison Life

Thursday, September 1st, 2011 |

I was so proud: I had balanced our accounts electronically and gotten them to coincide with Quicken.  However, that was after three hours with the bank and their support with Quicken!  Kevin probably thought I’d never get it done! He had been paying our bills since we were married.  I used to do it the old-fashioned way…. paper!

Kevin Picked-Up

I was doing a market analysis for our house and another listing to put into the real estate listing service system for Labor Day. It was a full work day.  Kevin hadn’t called or emailed by late afternoon so I was getting concerned. At 8:30 pm, the phone, which is now ALWAYS by my side, rang and Kevin told me that he had been hauled off into the SHU-Solitary Housing Unit (aka the “Hole”)! He was picked up by the guards at approximately 1:30 pm without any explanation. He can’t make but one call every 30 days; no email and, obviously. no visitors. NOTHING! When he questioned anyone, there were no answers.  Kevin will provide me with more details later.

We expected something might happen.  Kevin had me alert his attorneys that Kevin had run into a co-defendant on his case. This is against sentencing and BOP policy.  The two co-defendants in the same facility in an open case could jeopardize his safety and his pending downward departure review.  This second concern was that the co-defendant could “taint” Kevin’s testimony. While we knew, this co-defendant was in Butner Low Security, we didn’t think it would be an issue since Kevin was slated for the Camp.

Kevin had been assigned to Food Services on Tuesday, where the other co-defendant works the morning shift as well. I suspected that with our reporting this to his attorney, Kevin would be moved out of Low into the Camp early, but not into the SHU, and certainly not without any access to anything! The BOP doesn’t care HOW they do it, they just do it!  Kevin thinks that BOP has egg on their face since their systems didn’t detect the conflict. The BOP was directed by the AUSA (Assistant US Attorney) to separate the men, and the BOP doesn’t like looking bad.

Possessions Locked-Up

Guys, anything that can go wrong will go wrong…. there is more: Kevin put his wedding ring in his locker with his glasses.

BOP stuffs inmate’s property in a bag like this when they haul him to the Hole. Copyright: pixelsaway / 123RF Stock Photo

They locked up his locker and packed everything into duffel bags. We know how things get “lost/stolen” in prison, especially anything of value. It doesn’t matter that a guard slapped a lock on it and moved it into the CO’s possession. Worse, he doesn’t have his heart medications or his c-pap machine which needs so his oxygen levels don’t drop during sleep. His oxygen intake goes down to 70% without the c-pap, which causes severe stress on his heart. Nor does he have anything else that he needs for his regular medical issues.

In addition, he will more than likely be in the SHU over the whole Labor Day weekend!!! Here he has been upfront and honest, reporting all this on his own, and he is getting the brunt of it!

Mar 07

Random Thoughts on Prison Life

Prison Life

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 |

I just wanted to share some random thoughts on prison life.  It was decidedly cooler this morning so I walked for about 45 minutes in the fresh air. It was great. I got on the scale this morning and weighed 2 #’s less than 2 weeks ago. So, I am a full 30 #’s less than at the beginning of the year. I can’t imagine gaining any weight here. Though, they had lasagna last night and it was not bad.

Services by Inmates

Many guys here have nothing except the meager amount they make working here. So, these guys will work for other inmates using stamps as currency. I am paying 4 stamps for someone to do my laundry and another 4 stamps to iron my uniform. I can get a haircut for 2 stamps. You would not believe how creative the inmates are preparing food! Food prices in the unit vary; there is nothing much more that 2-3 stamps except for pizza which is considerably more.

Controlled Movements

One of the biggest hassles for me is the controlled movement. As I told you before, we are only allowed to move freely out of the unit on the 1/2 hour once an hour. But, it gets more complicated than that. There’s more freedom of movement around meals, and if they don’t lock the doors, or if you get called out, you can move. The key to look for is other movement. It is best to follow the crowd. You do not want to stand out.

Reading and Praying

I have been praying and meditating each day trying to find some significance in my plight.  I have two books going all the time, and one of them is always a religious book. The Magnificat starts up tomorrow so I will read that each day.  I hope that God uses me as his instrument, and something good comes out of my situation. I have faith.

Mar 06

10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To

My Spiritual Journey

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 |

A friend gave me a book titled “10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To”. Sometimes I find it hard to know how to pray and what to pray for. It seems that a lot of our prayers may be selfish, and may not serve God’s will. This book came at a good time since I have plenty of time to pray, and I am re-examining my life. I wanted to share these prayers with you:

(1) God, Show me you exist
(2) God, Make me your instrument
(3) God, Out do me in generosity
(4) God, Get me through this suffering
(5) God, Forgive me
(6) God, Give me peace
(7) God, Give me courage
(8) God, give me wisdom
(9) God, Bring good out of this bad situation
(10) God, Lead me to my destiny

I agree with the author that my life (and those around me) will serve His will when He says “Yes” to these prayers. I don’t think we can ask for anything more.

Mar 06

Butner FCI Low Prison Layout

Prison Life

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 |

Unit Layout

The inmate housing buildings are the 2 buildings on the right and administration buildings are on the left

The “Low” is an expansive facility housing about 1400 inmates with very typical prison buildings, cells and common areas for a federal correctional institution. There are two residential buildings with two stories each.  These are referred to as units and are named after local counties (e.g.; Durham). There are two wings on each floor with about 165 inmates on each wing. Each floor has a shaded glass control room occupied by a CO 24 hrs./day. The inmates get their passes from this room every time they need to go somewhere during the day. The unit offices are also located on each floor.

Inmate Administration Supervision

Each wing has its own counselor. Each floor has its own case manager, and each building has its own unit manager.  The counselors are responsible for the personal requirements of the inmates.  These include processing the inmates’ telephone and visitor lists, assigning jobs to the inmates, making cell assignments, and addressing any concerns that an inmate may have.  The case manager is responsible for managing the inmate’s confinement and release documentation.  This will include reporting the inmates’ adherence to the terms of their sentence and BOP policy, including education, drug rehabilitation and financial responsibility for fines and restitution.  The counselor and case managers report to the unit manager.  So, the unit managers have total line responsibility for the inmates.  The unit manager and camp administrators are on similar levels. The unit managers’ report to the assistant warden and warden.

Cells

The cells consist of one bunk-bed and one single-bed with three lockers for its three inmates. Each cell is about 8′ wide and 12′ deep with an open entry of about 1/2 of the cell width. Each cell is separated from the next by a 5 1/2″ cinder block wall. The floor is linoleum. There is a small bookshelf and a few hanging hooks. The cells were originally made for two inmates so the space is very crowded. There two hallways of cells with the center row consisting of back-to-back cells and a row on each of the outer walls thus providing four rows of cells. The beds are painted angle iron. The mattress is not thick and it lays on a steel pan so it is not comfortable unless you like a very stiff bed. The noise is constant given 165 guys on all different schedules.

Amenities

Each wing has two bathroom and shower areas, laundry room, ice machine and microwave room, one computer room with four computers, and two TV rooms (one TV room for Spanish and four TV’s in a larger room). The TV’s are the tube type and you must have an FM radio to listen to the sound. The chairs are very territorial and each is marked with a cell number. There is one bank of about eight phones in the wing and another bank of phones at the front entry to the floor.

Administration and Common Areas

All the administration offices form a L-shape building with a very large area of grass covered grounds. The inmates are prohibited from walking on the grass. There are two walkways out of each building but one is reserved for handicap access. Each building has an open canopy-type structure for inmates to congregate under, otherwise loitering is prohibited.

The administration building consists of a visitation room, Lieutenants office, health services, Special Housing Unit (SHU), vocational training, chapel/chaplain office, Psych services, education, library, cafeteria, laundry services, prison business offices, commissary, safety office, Recreation building, barber shop and a small room for a Trulincs terminal for printing envelope labels.

The recreation grounds consist of a weight area of benches and pull-up bars but no weights, two covered basketball courts, two open basketball courts, two softball diamonds, five or so handball courts, a soccer/football field, horseshoes area, bocce ball courts, volleyball courts. The inside building area has treadmills and cycles, pool tables, a Foosball table, arts and crafts room, a yoga room and a music room. The grounds are surrounded by a tall double fence with razor wire. You definitely know you are prison!

Mar 02

New Realities and Another New Friend

Criminal Justice , Family Impact

Monday, August 29th, 2011 |

Kevin and I continued to talk about surviving incarceration in our new world, and what our new realities were.  My reality was dealing with our investments; trying to make money with option trades in a sinking market with only a few weeks training; dealing with putting the house on the market and if it didn’t sell, foreclosure; and worst of all, losing my best friend and husband to a system that is so screwed up you wouldn’t believe it!

Surviving Incarceration

For him, struggling to deal with incarceration after being forced to plea bargain due to (a) lack of money to mount a proper trial defense and (b) the risk of losing at trial; dealing with commissary limits on purchases (he couldn’t buy anything else for a month); surviving with slop prison food; and, trading in a new currency (stamps).

Stamps can buy most of what inmates want in prison such as cake, dinner, wine, pot, and probably all kinds of things I will never learn more about!  I’d heard inmates smoke pot in the showers (supposedly the CO’s (compound officers) bring it in). When I mentioned it to Kevin, he said that was true and that he had seen its use.  There is a “no see/no tell policy” among the inmates or you are labeled a snitch. That is probably as bad as being a “cho-mo” (child molester).

What I’m about to share will give you goose bumps and is so hard to believe. I haven’t verified everything yet, but there is enough out there to make me want to dig even more. If this IS true, then trust me, it will become part of our mission to expose how corrupt the system is.

A New Friend

When it was time to go, another woman, Carol, approached me and told me she was glad that I had been able to make it to visitation given my clothing issues of the last few days. We chatted.  Again, I felt as if God was putting another person in my path so I could learn.  She revealed that her husband had already served one year out of his 10-year sentence.  He had been charged with the intent of mail fraud…. intent! He had not done anything, but was indicted and ultimately sentenced based on intent! He was a paralegal who did research for attorneys for issues with the IRS.

Long story, but he had mailed out a letter to his clients stating that if they were having certain issues with the IRS that he could help. The attorneys he worked for liked the letter and asked if they could use it. They did and it came to the attention of the government through an investigation of the husband’s boss.  The prosecutors tried to use three paralegals, who did research for the boss, to testify to set up the boss. The aforementioned letter was the pressure point to get Carol’s husband to cooperate.  Ultimately, this paralegal didn’t cooperate and didn’t take the plea bargain offer for 11 months since he maintained he wasn’t guilty of any crime.  Not taking the plea deal was costly.  He was sentenced to 10 years by the judge. The jurors slept through the trial according to Carol.

Her story really rationalized our decision to take the plea bargain and cut our losses.  The 10-1 (plea bargain time v. judge-imposed sentence time) risk factor was a reality for Carol and her husband.  This happens all the time in our criminal justice system.  The judges will VERY unfairly hit a defendant for going to trial.

Mar 02

Visitation Center & How to Master the Vending Machines

Family Impact

Monday, August 29th, 2011 |

The visitation center is a large rectangular room with seating for approximately 200 people with stadium-style seating.  There are three sitting areas in front of an elevated desk where the guards sit and monitor the room. The guard at the desk has his back to the wall and is on the left center as you enter.  There is a vending machine alcove with microwaves on the far wall. No inmates are allowed in the vending machine area. On the right are glass windows and doors leading to a walled courtyard.  The courtyard has two large picnic tables, two benches in sheltered shade and more benches in the sun. Obviously, the benches in the shade are at a premium. There are cameras everywhere.

TIP: I learned right away that the first thing visitors do is to buy food in the vending machines.  So, you get the best selection while waiting for the inmate to arrive before others empty the machines. They don’t refill the machines every night.  The food in the vending machines is better than what is served to the inmates. Inmates crave the vending machine food. Buying your food early also gives the frozen items time to defrost.  Later you can heat up the food quicker when needed.

Heating up is another trick! For example, there is a fried breast of chicken with the bone in…really! Best way to cook this is to remove the bone while cold. Put the breast on paper towels for 45-60 seconds. If warm enough, then add the buns for an additional 10-15 seconds. Don’t put the bun in from the beginning since it will turn to stone if microwaved too long. One of Kevin’s other favorites is the chopped steak sandwich with A-1 sauce.  Surprise!

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