Food Strike Aftermath

What really caused the food strike?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012 |

The first thing we noticed on Saturday morning was a heavy police presence and this would continue all weekend. But the camp is pretty much back to normal after the food strike on Friday.

Our unit and another were shaken down on Saturday afternoon. Our unit was shaken down once again on Sunday.  My cell was not even touched during these shakedowns and we were locked out briefly. This tells me that they were looking in certain cells. In fact, they took a few more guys off the compound because of cell phones.

The only real silly thing was that they didn’t serve any fruit on Sunday because they found five bananas in someone’s locker on Saturday. Everything seems normal but with more cops around.

Friends that had visitation on Saturday and Sunday reported light turnout since loved ones couldn’t confirm visitation plans because the phones are shut down. I was also told that there was a noticeable higher number of COs watching the visitors than normal. That could also be the case since the staff were being forced to be at the camp, and the visitation room is the most comfortable place to be.

Problems Prompting Food Strike

As I reflect on the last several days, I realize that the problems in the camp started many months ago, but particularly started when the washers and dryers were removed. That was the first thing that got the camp riled. It snowballed through punitive inspections, shakedowns, hassles from our “Super-Co” and the wrongness of the inmate death. The walk-off of an inmate was the first drastic measure taken by an individual who couldn’t take it anymore.

I realize the importance of keeping cell phones off the compound and they should. The question is whether the entire community should be punished or just the guys with the cell phones.  The administration decided to punish the community for the actions of a few bad apples, thus the community came together to make a simple statement by refusing to eat in the dining hall for one day.

Assistant Warden was a Major Contributing Factor to the Food Strike

The AW blew everything out of proportion and threw gasoline on the flames. She would have been better if she simply said, “I hear you, now let’s work together to resolve the cell phones.” By punishing the community, she started an act by the community. All of this was totally unprofessional on her part and disruptive to camp security and control, not to mention the staff.

The AW also compounded the problem further by taunting the guys. She told staff all last week that the campers were soft, had no guts, “they won’t do anything”, among many other comments. These comments were also made directly to campers minding their own business. Today she was going up to guys in the dining hall and saying, “you have something to say to me?”

These comments are enough to incite another food strike. The AW also said that if we acted like penitentiary prisoners we didn’t belong in the camp. She had already turned off the TVs a week ago and it was very evident that she was looking for an excuse to take away the privileges of the weight pile. All her statements were creating problems where problems didn’t exist. Most guys just want to do their time and that’s it.

Finally, she said she had intercepted letters and BP-10s intended for BOP Regional and Washington complaining of her actions. I don’t know how she can cover everything up. She really made herself look bad!

Impact of Food Strike on Other Staff

In addition, the AW clearly usurped the authority of the camp administrator and imposed burdens on other staff. We rarely saw the camp administrator all weekend. We got a lot of feedback from other staff. They resented having to spend overtime and effort in 90+ degree heat. We also heard that news of the food strike on the camp spread through the rest of the complex. Everyone, staff and other inmates, were surprised at what the campers did and the ensuing reaction.

 

Food Strike!

What happens when there is a food strike at a prison?

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 |

The guys started a food strike this morning to protest the punitive inspections, shakedowns and the recent disconnection of the TVs. The guys recognize an unfair punishment when they see it. The camp administration has been punishing 340 guys for the actions of a handful.  I only saw four guys eating in the dining room this morning so the guys were hanging together on this one. The food strike was not organized by anyone.  The word spread organically about the food strike. This morning, guys with food were sharing with guys who don’t have any.

I already told you the inmates who met with the camp administrator had no positive outcome. The food strike had nothing to do with that meeting but I think it had an impact on how the AW reacted to the food strike. Unfortunately, the camp administrator had refused to sign an agreement stating that there would be no retaliation for raising these issues. They came down hard on the inmate committee guys today.  I saw that happening.

I finished writing the above just as they were shutting down the compound at 10 am. The assistant warden decided to use a show of force after the food strike this morning.

Lockdown Following Food Strike

I’ll start this narrative with the lockdown. Everyone was recalled to their units, even Unicor and guys that work off compound, which is unusual. After the lockdown, we saw a lot of staff and CO’s outside talking and waiting. The guy (James) who had previously met with the camp administrator was called to talk to the AW.

One of the guys saw a big bus pull into the perimeter drive. So, we started putting everything together that they were going to take action against us. We waited anxiously for about an hour until they announced a count. They must have had six staff people taking the count, and they counted twice. I’m not sure how it would have changed two minutes after the first count.

The staff left us for about an hour alone.  I got hungry so I prepared a PBJ sandwich.  Just as I was getting ready to eat it, the AW came into the unit making a venomous speech about how dare we act as a group, our action amounted to an insurrection, etc. All we did was not eat one meal, for God’s sake. This was blowing into something huge. I didn’t know how bad it was about to get.

Forcing us to the Cafeteria

The AW told us that we MUST go the dining hall, or we would go to the hole. I know they locked up James when he refused to go eat.  COs rushed into the unit to make sure that all inmates left the unit for the cafeteria.  Some inmates refused so the COs cuffed those guys and escorted them out.

The cafeteria was serving fried fish sandwiches, which I won’t eat, so I took the PBJ sandwich to the dining hall. I sat without a tray but with my sandwich on a paper towel. I would have gotten in line but the line was very long. There must have been 30 or 40 COs and staff around the dining hall and the courtyard.  They even had cameras in the food line recording the inmates as they were getting their food.

A bunch of guys were taking their tray with food, and then immediately taking the tray to the tray return/dish room window to throw it all away. Upon seeing all the food going into the trash, the AW announced that anyone not eating their food would go to the hole.

I Get Called Out

So, I was sitting there without a tray and all these COs were staring at me. I decided to get in line to see if I could at least eat some sides and a banana. The food CO told me to get out of line and refused to give me any food. I returned to my table, and now even more COs were staring at me. I went back to the serving line to ask the food CO why she wouldn’t give me a tray. She refused to talk to me and I went back to the table.

The food CO was substituting for the regular food CO, who I get along very well with.  This woman CO is a real bitch, and she and I have never got along.  I’m guessing that she thought I had already gone through the line once because she saw me with my sandwich.

I finally left the table to go back to the unit. The AW started calling, “Hey you, the jokester, come here!”, as well as other words that I won’t mention. I looked around because I didn’t know who she was talking to. She specifically identified me and a few COs surrounded me. I put my hands behind my back and say, “I’m cool, I’m not resisting!” The CO said, “no, put your hands on the wall”, and then he cuffed me against the glass cafeteria windows.  They had no clue why they were cuffing me.

My friends later told me that they thought it was funny to see my face held against the glass windows.  They were all thinking, “what did Foster do to deserve this?”  I thought for sure that I was going to the hole.

In Custody for Eating a PBJ

They took me to the front and made me sit for about 60 minutes in cuffs. The COs brought three other campers into the room in cuffs. On three separate occasions, COs came to me and started yelling, “this is your last chance, this is your last chance.”  I say, last chance for what?”  I didn’t know what they were getting at.  None of them knew why I was picked up.  They asked me what I had did wrong.  All I could say was that I ate a PBJ in the cafeteria.

Finally, I’m told to stand up and a CO took me to health services. Another CO that I had not seen previously came in and asked what I did. I told him that I thought it was because I ate a PBJ rather than a fish sandwich. He said that he heard something about me mouthing off.

It clicked that they must have thought that I was hassling the food CO. So, I knew immediately that I was going to the hole over a misunderstanding.  Thankfully, the CO comes back and releases me to the unit.

I later found out that one of the other guys was cuffed when he wanted to heat his own meal in the microwave. He was eventually released. The other two guys went to the hole, one of which was James.

Town Hall Meeting

After lunch, we were informed that all the phones and internet were shut down, and would remain so through the weekend. We were locked down all afternoon and had another count.  In addition, they told us to stay in our cells.  Again, this was very unusual to be confined to our cells.

The AW held a town hall meeting for each unit later in the afternoon. The room was packed with COs and staff. She spews venom, threatening all sorts of retribution both personal and on the group.  She even called me out again by saying, “I see you jokester!”

The AW told us that we must go straight to the dining hall tonight and that we needed to “act like campers”. She talked more about the cell phones and the earlier meeting between the camp administrator and the inmates.

Two guys with diabetes state that they need to get their insulin shots before dinner. The AW won’t hear of any of that. She states that if we don’t like it that they would take us away on the bus. One guy jumps up and says, “take me, that is one crazy bitch!” The guy totally lost it. He was handcuffed in a struggle and taken to the bus. Some guys brought up that they don’t eat the enchilada casserole. What then? She essentially says tough.

When we were released to our units, the diabetic guy who brought up the insulin question stands up and puts his hands behind his back and says, “take me too”. He is told by a CO to sit down but the AW says, “No, take him out of here”.

Afternoon Lockdown

We went back to the unit and were locked down again until 4 pm count. We were told once again that we had to go to the dining hall for dinner. The evening food CO announces on the PA that they are serving chicken wings and chicken patties. I’m sure they changed the menu to diffuse the situation. Chicken wings are a rarity and loved by the inmates.

There were some thunderstorms so we were locked down again after dinner until after the storms pass. They eventually opened the rec yard and we were finally able to talk to our friends from other units. I think our unit had the most guys locked up at nine. The other units had three or four each.

Compound Finally Opens

Visitation was normal in the evening after an apparent discussion between the camp administrators whether to have visitation at all. I’m sure they decided to proceed with the visitation because of the adverse impact and fallout if it was unexpectedly cancelled. One of the visitors must have contacted a local news channel because one of their vans was sighted in the front parking lot later in the evening.

The complex warden and her assistant walked through the units in the evening. I stopped her and introduced myself to explain the situation earlier in the day about being cuffed. I told her that I thought it was a misunderstanding and that I was expecting a shot. The warden told me she didn’t think anything would come of it but if something did that we would talk directly. She was reasonable and engaging.  How can such two different personalities work together? The remainder of the night settled in normally.

I later learned that food strikes are considered riots by the BOP.  They are reported immediately to Washington, DC and are taken very seriously.  It is extremely rare to have a food strike at a camp.  I’m sure this day was very embarrassing to the Butner administration.  The AW made a total fool of herself in front of the inmates and the staff that was present.  It took the complex warden to step in and calm things down.

Camp Administrator Gives More Lip Service

Why can't campers get more answers and action from the camp administrator?

Thursday, June 21st, 2012 |

The situation on the compound is getting intense.  Guys are fed up and the camp administrator keeps giving lip service.

The inmate who organized a committee to deal with “camp issues” met with the camp administrator. She gave him some information but I didn’t hear anything new. Furloughs can be requested but the request needs to comply with BOP policy, which also states that granting the furlough is subject to the approval of the warden. This was always the hang up. The warden never approved any furloughs.

The camp administrator also said that if the clothes aren’t dry or clean, then return them to laundry.  She has been saying this all along, but it doesn’t help.

Guys are also complaining about the mattresses.  There are two types of mattresses, the old cotton covered and newer plastic covered ones. Both are extremely uncomfortable and don’t hold up. I’m sure the cotton-covered ones are full of dust mites and microscopic organisms.

I was smart enough to get a plastic covered mattress as soon as I could. Unfortunately, the one I have is concave in the center so it provides very little support. It’s like sleeping in a hole every night.  The camp administrator said to request a new mattress if there is something wrong with yours.  This is easier said than done.  These requests are more routinely denied than granted.

Elvis is Caught

Will Elvis get another five years added to his sentence?

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 |

My cellie was listening to the radio news this morning and heard the story about Elvis’ escape.  Elvis was caught sitting on a porch of a vacant home in Durham County.  The report said that he was due to be released in 2020. His family apparently told the news reporter that he was having a difficult time talking to the camp administration (just like all of us).

He didn’t get very far so I assume he had no help. Elvis could catch another five years and will spend his time waiting for trial in the SHU.  He’s going to hate the hole.  Elvis will be behind the fence until he is released. What a hassle!

In other news, we had another lockdown immediately after lunch today. In addition, we had shakedowns in our unit, another unit and the inside rec room today. They had us locked out of the unit for more than two hours, and it was blistering hot today.

I think the Assistant Warden just wanted to make a big show. They had a lot of staff doing the searching. My locker, like most of them, was barely touched. I heard that they got another five or six cell phones today. This was more an inconvenience than anything else. I’ll be glad when we get the new Warden. Things are spinning out of control.

At least it is quiet in the TV room since they turned them off.  It doesn’t bother me since I don’t watch TV.

Elvis Escapes!

Why would a camper walk off?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 |

We were locked in our units after 4 pm count until after 6 pm. This is highly unusual since we go to dinner at around 5 pm. It turns out that a guy in another unit walked-off the compound (as in an escape).

The escapee’s nickname is Elvis because he has a tall afro-type haircut.  I’m not sure how this equates to Elvis, but the other inmates think the name suits him.

I know the guy and it really surprised me. Elvis kept to himself and was a weird with some mental health issues. He must have walked off the compound when they opened the doors in the morning.  Elvis normally rounds-up the guys going to FMC and gets them on the bus. The bus stop is just opposite the weight pile.  I normally see him but didn’t this morning.

There’s a lot of inmate speculation about Elvis’ motivation to escape that people know nothing about, and this qualifies. Elvis spent all his free time watching TV.  The AW shut down the TVs last night because of more contraband being found. My bet is that Elvis would have nothing to do without the TVs and that he was stressed with the frequent shakedowns.  It was probably too much for Elvis so he walked off. Once caught, he would be out of the camp and in a higher security prison.

Elvis has been “down” for more than 15 years.  These guys get very institutionalized and it’s tough on them when their routine changes.

There are guys here that have mental health issues.  The serious mental health issues are handled at the FMC. There is a staff psychologist at the camp who I think is very good.  In fact, I think she is the most helpful and professional staff person at the camp. The BOP assigns care levels for mental health in addition to physical health.

 

Don’t Join an Inmate Committee!

Could “Inmate Committee” be a trap and viewed as “Incitement”?

Monday, June 18th, 2012 |

I previously told you about the town hall meeting where the Assistant Warden (AW) threatened to take away the TVs  and other things if they find more cell phones. In addition, I’ve written about how poor and unsanitary the central laundry is.  The campers are upset about these things and complain among themselves.  But, most inmates don’t think it is worth the risk of staff retaliation to complain too loudly to the administration.  However, there is a guy in our unit who wants to form an inmate committee to take grievances to the camp administrator.

This guy is very outspoken about certain things here including the laundry. He got some rashes that medical have attributed to the laundry. The water is probably not hot enough and no non-bleach whitening agents are being used. He wrote a cop out to complain and he has been openly complaining about a few other things.

The camp administrator invited him to form an inmate committee to present inmate complaints to herself and the AW. He asked me to be on the committee. I turned him down. The administration will play him as a fool and dupe. This is especially true since the new warden is supposed to be starting on July 1st.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they are trying to head-off some of these inmates’ complaints in advance. I also think it is a trap because they would never tolerate inmates getting together to form any type of committee. They would frame it as “incitement”. If you have a complaint, you are better off addressing it yourself.

Cell Phone Offenders Get Shipped

Do inmates bringing in cell phones really think they won’t get caught?

Friday, June 15th, 2012 |

All new inmates must through Admission and Orientation (A&O).  This is where the staff goes over the different resources and policies at the institution with the new guys. The camp administrator told the new guys at yesterday’s A&O that the camp associated ten previously confiscated phones with the inmate-owners. She said that the hole was full so they were going to pick-up these cell phone offenders as space becomes available.

In addition, they “know” that there was a drop of more cell phones earlier in the week. The shop guys were told not to report to work today so we assume they are shaking down the shops today. We are expecting a shakedown in our units this weekend.

The camp administrator also said that they were shipping the cell phone offenders as far from home as possible. There are some North Carolina guys going to Texas and California. I keep thinking, “what are these guys thinking?” Apparently, at least one of the guys had nude pictures of himself on his phone that he was sending to girlfriends. I would say that is proof positive – dummy!

Why work yourself down to a camp and then blow it on a cell phone? Now, they go back behind the fence permanently and are far from home. How can this possibly be worth it?

Jockeying to Get the Right Cellie

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012 |

Smith, my old cellie, went home today. He has a 27-hour bus trip back to Detroit. They are giving him 30 hours to report to the halfway house from the time the bus leaves.  There’s a Native American guy who goes home next week and his bus ride is about 36 hours.  They are letting these guys go home with the clothes on their back and one change of underwear.  The guys on the beach are now jockeying to get the open bunks.  The guys in the cell want to make sure they draw the right cellie.

Smith’s cellie is cleaning out his locker while I write this. There are three guys trying to move into Smith’s lower bunk. The guy who is next in line has a reputation for being uncleanly and just plain weird. This dude has mental problems from too much meth and skin rashes all over his body. He and the upper bunk guy have nothing in common.  I know there will be a lot of tension.  The guy in the top bunk is fighting the counselor over this assignment. He was told, “I own that bunk not you”. This is terrible to put two guys together who aren’t going to get on well together.

All new guys must start their stay in the beach, and then they move into cells as guys leave. This is the whole problem with the system – you can get unlucky and draw the wrong cellie. There’s another counselor here that would have honored the upper bunk guy’s request not to move the weird guy into the cell, but not our counselor. The upper bunk guy can move out of the cell and back to the beach. But, he can never get moved into a cell after that. I’m not sure how much he cares since he is probably going home in September.

Assistant Warden Threatens to Cut-off Phone, Email, Recreation, Visitation & TV!

What can the Assistant Warden do to stop the cell phones?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 |

There was a mandatory town hall meeting today regarding cell phones where the Assistant Warden (AW) read the campers the riot act about cell phones. There a lot of stupid guys that have cell phones. They are stupid for having them in the first place, but doubly stupid for getting caught. The camp has been coming down hard on these cell phones.  To say the SHU is filled with campers, as has been reported, is perhaps an exaggeration, but probably not by much. However, this does tell me that they have not been shipping these guys out fast enough.

The AW threatened to cut-off all the TVs, cut-off access to the weight pile, eliminate visitation and cut-off all telephone service, if they find another cell phone. Everybody is PO’d. Can you imagine the blowback from families if visitation and phones are cut off from their loved ones! It is common to take away privileges as punishment but her threats are going way too far.

Essentially, she is willing to punish 340 guys for the action of one person. I doubt that BOP Regional would let her cut off visitation and phones, but you never know.

I got to tell you that nobody can make this stuff up. First and foremost, the staff doesn’t respect the inmates, so the inmates don’t respect them. This place is out of control, and it is not solely because of some bad inmates. We keep hearing that there is a management change coming but it cannot come fast enough!

 

Camper Goes to Deuce to Make Lunch

Why would they send a camper to the Deuce?

Friday, June 8th, 2012 |

The COs found three bullets on the Deuce recreation yard on Tuesday. They immediately put any inmate that was on the yard in the hole and locked down the entire compound.  The inmates do all the cooking in prisons. All the Deuce inmates, including the cooks, are confined to their cells.  So, campers are making the Deuce inmate meals during the lockdown.    The Deuce has 1700 inmates there with a total capacity of around 2000.  This means there are a lot of meals to make!

The Deuce inmates were being fed sandwiches and other cold foods. However, they had a hot meal today for the first time since the lockdown.

My Experience at the Deuce

I went to the Deuce today to make lunch with 17 other campers.  We didn’t see any of the Deuce except for the dining room and the kitchen.  The experience was miserable. They had bought large cartons of pre-packaged lunch boxes so they didn’t need us to do the lunches. Instead, they started me and others cleaning the dining room. We didn’t sign up to be their custodians. All this work could have been done when they opened the compound by their inmates.

After about 90 minutes or so, I was told to go to the kitchen and wait for further instruction. Another guy and I were assigned the job of defrosting a pallet of frozen chicken and put them on baking racks. The chicken had a Tyson label on it but you could tell the quality from Tyson was low grade. In fact, I didn’t eat any chicken on the following day because I was so disgusted with its quality. I’ll get my courage up to eat it next week.

Anyway, this chicken was so frozen that there was no way we were going to be able to get 2000 pieces of chicken on pans by ourselves. Three COs and another camper jumped in and helped. We defrosted the chicken in large vats so we can place them on the pans. It was a miserable job. In the end, we were able to get 3000 pieces of chicken on the baking pans.

We were promised as much food as we could eat and that we could take food back to the camp. Wrong! They wouldn’t let us take any food back, and they served the same old stuff that we eat here. In fact, I would have been better off staying at the camp and eaten here. The only reason that I went on this little excursion was because the food service CO asked me to. He has been good to me so I could hardly say no.

I made $16 for the one day of work – that is about what I make for three months of my regular job. This is the only time the volunteering worked out.