Monthly Archives: July 2017

Jul 28

Today’s Inspections

Prison Life

Friday, April 20th, 2012 |

In today’s inspections, the camp administrator and the two counselors came through our unit opening lockers. This is after previous near daily room inspections.  They confiscated non-nude pin-up photos, food, locker buddies and a bunch of real petty stuff. We were due to be hit up. The other units have been getting hit over the last few weeks. By far and away, our unit is the cleanest and has had the least trouble. It was not enough to save us today.

As I write this, our counselor is calling guys in to give them shots. One of my friends got a shot for having an unauthorized water bottle of all things! I told you it was petty.   Another friend had gotten a shot for having a magazine under his pillow, and another got a shot for having his bible and a meditation book under his pillow.

They were giving shots for having fruit in the lockers. The problem was that our posted cell sanitation rules allow up to four pieces of fruit on the shelves between the lockers.  They took the rules down rather than allow the fruit. Then, they took back some of the fruit shots.

This whole thing is insanity. If you ask a counselor or case manager a question, they will tell you to come back because they are too busy. However, they have enough time to spend hours going through meaningless inspections and shakedowns. I’m still hoping this silliness ends soon.

Jul 28

Inmates Fired for Telling the Truth

Prison Life

Monday, April 16th, 2012 |

I previously wrote about a scuffle between a SIS CO and an inmate  at the garage. The inmate was suspected of having a cell phone, and SIS were going to take him down. We had heard that the inmate resisted and got in a fight with the CO. The truth is not always that easy of an explanation since there were some witnessing inmates fired for telling the truth about the incident.

There is usually an investigation to support whatever sanctions, or additional charges, the BOP wants to impose on the offending inmate.  SIS asked three inmates that were working at the garage who witnessed the incident to write their witness statements. The inmates all wrote that the inmate did not resist. Seems like the inmate may have tensed up, but did not resist. So, the clear indication is that the COs used too much force for the situation.

Apparently, this is a truth the administration did not want to hear. All three inmates were fired from their garage jobs by the Camp Administrator.

Jul 26

Inmate Email

Criminal Justice , Prison Life

Sunday, April 15th, 2012 |

The BOP inmate email system is a closed system meaning that the inmates are not connected to the internet. The Corrlinks system is really nothing more than an electronic message board. We type an email and it gets posted to the BOP message board.  The inmates must buy Corrlinks credits to be able to send email.

An email recipient must accept the inmate’s invitation to communicate by email. The recipient can revoke that permission at any time. Furthermore, the BOP has the right to review and reject email coming and going.  The BOP has greater ability to monitor inmate communication than they do with U.S. mail.  The recipient logs on to the message board to send and receive inmate emails on their computers.

Access to email was denied to ALL white-collar inmates by FPC Butner when it was initially installed. The camp administrator made some lame excuse about the white-collar guys’ experience with computers. This is as if the drug dealers and gun runners didn’t know how to use the computer! There was enough inmate backlash and complaints that FPC Butner backed down.

Lately, they have denied email access on a case by case basis. I know one guy who was never allowed email access, and another that recently had his email access taken away. Both guys were involved in Ponzi schemes, and the camp administrator alleged that their email use in their crime was enough to deny them any email use in the camp. I believe that these denials were arbitrary and served no institutional purpose.

I reviewed the BOP policy regarding the use of inmate email. The policy assumes some right of the BOP to restrict certain inmates from access to email. These would include online child pornographers and those with specialized computer skills, for example. It doesn’t seem to allow for unlimited discretion of prison officials to allow or disallow email access.  I would take the position that the unreasonable and arbitrary restriction of email use is just another denial of 1st Amendment right to free speech.

Inmate Email as a First Amendment Right

There is a case called Procunier v. Martinez that was decided by the Supreme Court in 1974. Justice Powell wrote the opinion (I believe unanimous) for the court. In short, the case involved a state inmate that was writing his wife informative and sometimes derogatory information regarding his incarceration. The state prison officials were censoring his letters deleting arbitrarily all information that was derogatory in their opinion. He sued alleging violation of his 1st Amendment rights.

The lower courts were hesitant about interfering with prison administration so these courts generally sided with the prison. The case made it to the Supreme Court. Interesting, the Court approached the case from a different perspective. They held for the prisoner stating that the censoring was a violation of HIS WIFE’S 1st amendment right to free speech. The wife has a 1st Amendment right to know about her husband’s health and condition of incarceration without being censored. In fact, the Court stated that the information didn’t even need to be true.

Technology has changed a lot since the 1974 Martinez decision. Email is the U.S. mail of yesterday, but significantly faster.  The existence of email as an alternative means of exercising one’s constitutional rights should remain open to prisoners. Accordingly, email access is not a privilege at all but a right subject to reasonable restrictions with a valid and rational connection to the interest of maintaining penal security.

Jul 26

Outdoor Recreation at Camp Butner

Prison Life

Saturday, April 14th, 2012 |

The cooler last few days has not daunted the outdoor recreation.  Our weight pile is outside.  I have an inmate that is helping me tweak my weightlifting routine.  FPC Butner and the Medium are few of the institutions that still have weight piles. I think this is really a shame. The weights provide great exercise and activity that improves the inmate’s’ health. The weights are heavily used to good and positive effect.

The Low didn’t have a weight pile. The inmates there had to rely on using their body weight for strength improvement with exercises such as push-ups, chin-ups and dips.

Besides the weight pile, my thing is to walk. It takes 5 1/3 laps to make a mile. I figure I can do a mile every 15 minutes (give or take). I try to walk at least twice a day to get in at least 4 to 8 miles (1 – 2 hours) depending on the weather.  Our track is made of loose gravel and dirt so it is a little easier on the feet for runners. The tracks at the other institutions are hard surfaces.

I still believe that the most popular outdoor activity is just hanging around, but there is plenty more going on. There is a small stream (and I mean small) that draws the borders of the boundary in the rec yard. A lot of guys will hang out on the benches there talking, reading, writing or just doing nothing. There are also guys that play guitar on the benches. On the not so pretty side, there are guys sunning without their shirts.

Guys are playing bocce ball, horseshoes, handball and racquetball. They recently put up the volleyball net but I haven’t seen anyone playing yet. They have basketball, soccer and basketball leagues by unit. These games are scheduled after dinner so they are very popular.

There is also an indoor rec area. This includes a hobby crafts/art room. There are a few guys that literally spend most of their time in there. There are several pool tables that always seem in use. The rec room has five TVs and a few exercise machines.

No matter what is going on outside, there are guys that stay in the unit reading, watching TV or sleeping. Overall, idleness is a huge problem. There is not a lot of work to keep everyone busy. Some guys can’t work because of chronic illnesses. Others, such as myself, have a job that takes no more than an hour a day. At 12 cents an hour, there is no incentive to work at all. The high paying jobs of roughly $1/hour are the Unicor jobs, but are hard to get. I taught two classes last quarter that paid much better than I was expecting.

Jul 24

Harassment Shakedowns, Census and Inspections

Prison Life

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 |

More harassment shakedowns and inspections!  In addition, we had a census and a special count yesterday.   Yesterday, they called in all the guys that were even working off the camp for a special count. This is very unusual.

A unit was shaken down at 12:30 last night. It’s too early to know if they confiscated anything of significance. They have been inspecting every unit except for ours so we have been hearing about the shots they are writing for petty stuff.  My room has been extremely clean, and everything has been put away in its proper place. I’m ready for the ultimate inspection.

Census and Counts

Most census are not “lock down” (or didn’t used to be), where they lock the doors and the census resembles a count.  Most of the COs will walk through the unit and check off guys’ names for the census. One CO just looks for the unassigned, orderlies and yard guys.  This is more of a hassle than anything else.

Typically for counts, we must wait for the COs to walk into the unit to count after the door is locked, and that time is unknown to us. There was a guy who had a “sit down” in the toilet when they walked through on the count yesterday. At the direction of the Assistant Warden, they gave this guy a shot for being in the bathroom during a count. What was he supposed to do – soil himself to get back to his cube? Most COs will count you in the toilet stall but being in the shower stall will get you in trouble.

Shakedowns and Inspections

They have been writing petty shots all week after all these inspections. One of the guys told me that he were up front this morning and there were about 50 guys getting their punishment for their shots. They are taking up to 90 days away of commissary, phone or visitation for crap reasons.  I think they are trying to make stuff up just to write shots. For example, our unit rules state that we can have four pieces of fruit on the shelf between our locker. But, they are giving shots for any pieces of fruit in our possession. This is insanity!

Nothing can be hanging on our four coat hooks except one laundry bag, not even a coat. They gave a shot to a guy who is partially blind because his shoes were not perfectly straight under his bed. They were giving shots to everyone who had anything extra in their room like pillows and blankets.

With all these inspections and shakedowns, I’ve only seen a few guys hauled off.

Why the Harassment?

I can possibly assume that they are trying to add “points” to guys’ records to disqualify them from the camp. It is also possible that the camp administrator is trying to make a show for the new warden. I never saw this type of treatment when I began here.

Another theory could be that the camp needs rotation of inmates to fulfill its purposes. We haven’t had many guys leave, and guys are not giving them reasons to haul them out.  Guys that have been at other camps are baffled.

Everyone is on pins and needles. It is not that they are afraid of the camp administrator; it is just that people don’t want to receive shots and lose privileges for stupid stuff. I’m not sure of what the point is.

A case manager told one inmate that the assistant warden is leaving. This is great news, if true. The new warden will have to make her mark so there is no telling what other personnel changes there will be.

Jul 20

Religious Services for Inmates

Prison Life

Saturday, April 7th, 2012 |

Nearly all of the religious denominations are represented here so there are religious services for nearly everyone who desires to worship.  We had our Catholic Good Friday services yesterday. We have an Easter mass scheduled for Monday.

The Protestants are having their Easter service at sunrise on Sunday. The Jews had their Seder last night.   I think they have been very accommodating on scheduling and facilitating the services.  You got to take it as you can get it.

Chapel

The chapel here is heavily used. It’s not big by any stretch.  It has a main room with partitions that divide the space into two other small rooms. One of those rooms is used for watching DVDs/Cassettes on individual players. There is always at least one or two guys watching something.  In addition to the religious services, the chapel is also used to show movies that are fairly new (no first releases here and nothing rated over PG-13).

There is an office for a chaplain and a secretary. The camp used to have a dedicated chaplain but not anymore. I see a complex chaplain every once in a while. The secretary works a full schedule coordinating the chapel activities.

There is also a religious library divided into sections by religion. I’ve donated some Catholic books to it so I assume that, for the most part, the books have been donated by the inmates over time.

Worship Services

We have Catholic Eucharistic service every Sunday and a mass with a Catholic priest once a month. All of the religious services are presided by volunteers. At least for the Catholics, the same volunteer services two or three of the prison facilities at Butner. I know that our volunteer also has services at the FMC and the Low. I’m assuming that there is a second volunteer for the Medium and the High.

There is a general Protestant service on Sunday evenings, but there are others, primarily evangelical such as Church of Christ, that have their own.  There are also regular bible study classes.

The Muslims are active and well represented here.  There is a small but active Jewish community. The Low even had a Wiccan community that had their service before the Catholic service, which was really weird. The Native Americans have their own tepee on the far end of the recreation yard. They smoke pipes and burn fires regularly.

Solo Religious Practice

The guys also find ways to worship on their own. For example, there are about ten black guys who always recite the Lord’s Prayer every night before the 9 pm count. One of the Jewish inmates teaches a comparative scripture class for Christians on Saturday evenings.

I also see a lot of guys reading their bibles. Obviously there are a lot guys who don’t practice anything but, all-in-all, there is a more active faith community than I was expecting.

As much as I complain and let out steam about Butner camp life, the reality is that we have it good.  Despite all the things I write about, it is far better than it is behind the fence. I know that some people prefer being at the Low, but I don’t see why. Everything that really matters is better here in the camp.

Jul 19

Joe’s Halfway House Experience

Life after Prison

Friday, April 6th, 2012 |

A friend of mine left the camp on December 20th and wrote me a letter about his halfway house experience.  Joe’s experience is typically the same I hear from other guys so I am sharing it now from his letter.

Halfway House

“My wife and daughters picked me up from Butner on my release date.  I stopped at the house to get some clothes and then went on to the halfway house. I figured I would be there 1-2 weeks, because I had a house, car, phone and a job.  The probation officer had been to my house and recommended home confinement. It turns out I would be at the halfway house until January 27th.

I believe part of the slowdown was that I was there at Christmas and New Year’s. It was a nice place. The beds were bad. The food was good. The people nice. Black and white was about 50/50. The halfway house is a Catholic-run house called Dismas Charities.

I didn’t have to pay for my ankle bracelet. I did have to pay for 25% of my paycheck for rent to the halfway house.  They also required me to put 10% of my check into a savings account. If you had under $100 in the account, they would charge $5 so I put in $100 right away. I still had to put in additional money every pay period. They prorated my paycheck at the end, they want their money.

I had a few weekend passes, the first was 24 hours because it was New Years, I didn’t get to go home at Christmas but Paula and the girls came and brought some lunch. Visitation was from 1-3 Sat/Sun.

I got a 12-hour pass, then another 12-hour pass, then a 24-hour pass. You could go to the library for a 2-hour pass.

Looking for a Job

If you were able to work, you had to be out looking for work. They required you to bring back signatures from employers, if you could.  Many of the employers want you to enter your information online only. People would make a list of 6-8 companies they were going to see.  The guys would then see one or two and, if they lived in Greensboro, would go to their house for the rest of the day.

One fellow worked at night at the coliseum, but would pretend to go job hunting and go to his house during the day.

On the Monday after New Year’s Day. I went to the library and it was closed.  So, I came back and they asked me why I came back so early. I told them it was closed. Three other residents got in trouble. They had left before me and were still gone. They had to do extra duty.

If you didn’t have a job, you had a job at the house doing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, TV rooms, etc. I cleaned the TV room and then I started working for a friend of mine.

Released from Halfway House

I got my driver’s license when I was released from the halfway house.  It was strange after almost five years not driving. I was nervous around people, anxious even about going to church.

My probation officer is great. I only have to report to him by filling in a questionnaire over the internet on the federal probation website about my finances, expenses, income. It isn’t bad but it has to be done between first and fifth of month. I can go anywhere in North Carolina Central District, which stretches from Greensboro to Virginia border, to Winston Salem, to Raleigh and to Charlotte, If I go anywhere else I have to call and get approved first.”

Jul 19

Bus Transport for Transfers

Prison Life

Monday, April 2nd, 2012 |

John, a new white-collar guy, just got transferred by bus to Butner from Philadelphia after a short stay in Petersburg.  Busing the most common form of inmate transport.  This is known as “diesel therapy” in the BOP.  These trips are notorious for being slow and uncomfortable.  The buses make numerous stops at county jails and federal detention centers picking up and dropping off inmates.

John has been waiting for three weeks for his personal property. BOP doesn’t put your property on the bus. They ship it to your final destination via UPS. It should not have taken long for his property to get here. He was finally able to get his counselor call R&D in Philly.

They told him that the property was shipped to his residence! There is a whole lot of problems with this. His wife is travelling for two weeks so the box has probably been sitting on his door stoop for most of this time. She can ship it here only if the packing tape is not disturbed. Otherwise, he has to replace everything at the commissary.

In any event, John has been without, and will be without, his personal property until he gets it all worked out. Our personal property typically includes our informal clothes such as sweats and shorts, unopened food, radios, OTC medicines, bowls, etc. bought at the commissary. They will also ship up to five books and personal papers.

John filed a BP-8 to complain about the BOP error but it won’t do any good. I think he is waiting on his wife to get home to make arrangements for her to ship it here. I really feel for the guy. He doesn’t know if he should be buying all this stuff or not.

Jul 19

Inmate Transport to Testify for the Department of Justice

Prison Life

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 |

Brandon, my former cellie, returned on Friday night after being away for 2 1/2 months to testify. Coincidentally, another guy from our unit was sent to Texas to testify at the exact same time as Brandon.  He also returned on Friday via the U.S Marshall Service inmate transport system.  Their stories are nearly identical. Both were put through a lot of aggravation and grief.  This is Brandon’s story of inmate transport to testify for the Department of Justice.

The government wanted Brandon to testify in Oakland against someone in a totally different case than his. He was supposed to leave the camp and get on “Con Air” for the air transit hub in Oklahoma. The plane got mechanical problems in Atlanta so it didn’t make it to Raleigh.  The BOP put them in the hole until the plane could make it here.

Brandon was shackled for the entire trip and had to wear an orange jumpsuit. The Marshall Service did not allow the inmates to use the bathroom until they got to Oklahoma City. He spent a few weeks at the Oklahoma transit hub, and then was sent to Las Vegas. Brandon spent two weeks in Las Vegas before being transferred to the Oakland County jail. He stayed there while he was waiting to meet with the AUSA.

Brandon met with the AUSA and agreed to look at some documents.  He asked the AUSA for a Rule 35b (sentence reduction) for his trouble and cooperation. The AUSA refused so he said that he had nothing else to say. That ended that.

Essentially, he did the entire trip back in reverse to Butner. His beard is real long, and he has lost a lot of weight. He didn’t get much sun or time outside for the entire two months. Brandon said that the food was really bad; worse than Butner if that is possible. He is happy to get back. There is more to the story and his treatment, but this is the gist of it.

Jul 13

New Warden

Prison Life

Friday, March 30th, 2012 |

The current Butner warden is retiring (actually, being pushed out). We have a new warden starting in April. She is from Petersburg, VA. This place could use some new blood and a lot of changes. The new warden visited yesterday but I did not see her. They shuffled her around the camp but didn’t give her a chance to talk to any of the campers. I’m not sure that she walked through any of the units.

The change of warden could be very positive.  But, knowing the BOP, I doubt things will get any better.  There are very few personnel changes that occur at prisons that make much of a difference.

All the staff wants to make the best first impression.  The camp administrator has been pushing everyone hard, as I have been writing all week. I already told you about the petty and brutal inspections and shakedowns. I hope that has stopped.  It is the inmates that get the brunt of their effort to make themselves look good.  This is very unfortunate because tensions are so high right now.

Besides the new warden, there is a Regional inspection scheduled for next week.  They are working on prettying up the grounds and getting the grounds crew to do their jobs. I also saw where some of the rotted pieces of wood have been fixed. Several of the units were painted. Our orderlies stripped and waxed our floors today. The floor work has been a minor inconvenience but it is something that should be done regularly. This is the first time that the floors have been properly done since I have been here.

Now, if they would only cut down that ugly dead tree outside of our unit.

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