I spent 37 months in a federal prison which included 28 days in solitary confinement. I give all those in quarantine some perspective by sharing my lessons from my prison experience.
I spent 37 months in a federal prison which included 28 days in solitary confinement. I give all those in quarantine some perspective by sharing my lessons from my prison experience.
When it comes to ethics, what you don’t know can hurt you.J. Kevin Foster
I was honored to sit down with Jon Tota, CEO of Knowledgelink, to talk about the common ethical traps that can bring people and companies down the wrong path, and how to prevent failures of integrity through training, seminars, and consulting.
In this episode of Learning Life with Jon Tota, hear about my journey of a real estate executive turned-convict turned-ethics expert, who formed a plan to end the slippery slope of bad ethical decisions in the business world during his 28 days in solitary confinement.
This is a great interview for those in the business world that are concerned about the pitfalls that everyday people can find themselves inadvertently in.
An older white-collar guy arrived in our unit from California today for a supervised release violation. Alan’s probation officer told him at their first meeting that he hated white-collar defendants. The PO said he would do everything he could to violate him. What a shock to find out your PO is such an ass!
Alan was three days late with a mandatory monthly report. That was enough to violate him.
Alan was picked up and spent 10 months in a medical unit at a Federal Detention Center in San Bernardino, CA. The judge yanked his supervised release and ordered him back to prison to serve his supervised release time. BOP sent him to Butner because he has a lot of health issues. Alan previously did his time at the camp in Jessup, GA. He has another 10 months or so to complete before being finally released.
All this becomes an issue because all federal inmates serve 85% of their sentence. At sentencing, judges assess defendants with an additional period of supervision by a probation officer. Probation officers are officers of the court and supervise released inmates during the remainder of their sentence after release from prison and during their supervised release period. These officers follow the BOP terms of release until the sentence is completed, and then the court-mandated terms of the supervised release. These guys have a lot of power over released inmates.
Interestingly, Alan said that there were Jessup campers with long supervised release times that would violate on purpose. Subsequently, they filed a motion with the court for immediate release. The theory being that the additional time served would do away with all the remaining supervised release.
This is not the only time I have heard of a probation officer intentionally violating an inmate and inventing a reason to legally do so. One of Christine’s friend’s husband was on supervised release. The family owned a farm that the probation officer wanted to own. The inmate’s wife saw the PO put bullets on the fridge during a home visit. Being in possession of bullets is a clear violation of any inmate’s supervised release. When she confronted the PO, he said, “who are THEY going to believe … you or me?”
Result: the inmate went back to prison and lost the farm that had been in his family for generations! Guess who owns it now?
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.
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.
Sex offenders are in every facility at Butner but the Camp. Someone estimated that about 40% of the inmates at the Low were sex offenders. They thought that this was generally true with FMC, FCI II (Deuce) and Medium, but I don’t really know for sure. I was warned to stay away from the sex offenders (“cho-mo’s”) when I was at the Low. These guys are ostracized, and a non-cho-mo can be assumed to be a cho-mo just for being friendly to cho-mo’s.
In addition, the Medium has the Maryland Unit, a special housing unit for sex offenders that have served their entire sentence. The BOP has held back a small percentage of the sex offenders beyond their sentence, amounting to 136 men. The BOP continues to imprison these men under a federal civil commitment law, and without going to trial. While in the Maryland Unit, they are being evaluated to determine whether they are safe for release to society. The sexual predators are supposed to be receiving specialized counseling related to sexual abnormalities. However, I have heard from guys who were at the Medium that they are just being warehoused there with little meaningful treatment.
The BOP does everything possible to separate from the Maryland inmates (i.e.; eat, exercise, etc.) from the other inmates for their own protection.
The warden made the decision to ban the above referenced article because it “contained highly sensitive, detailed information regarding specific inmates housed at that facility.” The facility mentioned is the Maryland Unit.
According to the article, USA TODAY’s investigation raised questions about the government’s handling of a system meant to indefinitely detain some of the nation’s most dangerous sex offenders. It found that the U.S. Justice Department had held dozens of men for years without a trial before they were released because they did not meet the strict legal criteria for detention. Despite six years of effort, the government has persuaded federal courts to civilly commit just 15 of the 136 men prison officials had sought to detain as “sexually dangerous” predators.
Far more often, men the U.S. Justice Department branded as “sexually dangerous” predators remained imprisoned here for years without a mandatory court hearing before the government was forced to let them go, a USA TODAY investigation has found. The Justice Department has either lost or dropped its cases against 61 of the 136 men it sought to detain. Some were imprisoned for more than four years without a trial before they were freed.
Donald is well-known in the camp as the visitation room photographer, barber and all-around great guy. A few weeks ago, Donald received a letter from an attorney stating that the attorney was appointed to represent him in a reduction of his sentence due to changes in the drug sentencing law. Donald ignored the letter thinking he had already received any reduction he was entitled to.
He called his mother to have her talk to the attorney after he received a second letter. Sure enough, this was a possibility for a new reduction. The attorney filed a motion with the court asking for immediate release about two weeks ago. Donald and I have been praying for his immediate release since he got this news. Donald visited me in my cube on Sunday night to talk over some things. He showed me a copy of the motion, gave me a haircut and an item which he thought I could use. I think he was expecting to hear something definitive very shortly.
Apparently, the court order for his immediate release was faxed to the Camp first thing on Monday morning. Donald was being constantly paged to either see the case manager or the camp secretary shortly thereafter. This is typically an indication that the inmate is going home. Donald was working off-facility at the time. I have no clue why the case manager or secretary didn’t look at his work schedule after the first unanswered page. They should have known that he had a Unicor job.
Donald came back to the premises for lunch when he found out the good news. I saw him shortly thereafter saying good-byes to everyone. He told me that he was searching me out because he didn’t want to miss saying good-bye. Donald told me that his mother was on the road and would be at the camp shortly.
Immediate release ordered by the court means exactly that. BOP will do everything in its ability to get an inmate out of the premises asap. I believe they are legally required to release no later than midnight no matter when they receive the court order. We have been seeing a lot of immediate releases lately because of the crack law changes.
Donald had been “down” for more than 17 years. He was originally given a sentence of 40 years, but received a couple of reductions over the years related to the particulars of his case. If the crack law changes were made a few years ago, he would have been released 16 months ago. He was expecting to be released in 22 months, which is a fleeting time compared to 17 years. Donald saw every type of BOP installation in his 17 years including a U.S. Penitentiary (the worst of the worst, and sometimes referred to a “gladiator school”). high/medium, medium, FMC (medical center), low and camp. He has seen a lot of things happen during that period, and always had good advice for me.
Donald was blessed in other ways recently which I previously wrote about. He was recently reconciled with his only daughter in November and saw his grandson for the first time in five years earlier in January. Donald has a good heart. I am sure he will do well on the outside. The world has changed significantly in 17 years, and he will need a lot of adjustment. As happy as I am for him, I will miss him. I wish him well.
This is a very strange and interesting place. I’m sure that all prisons are different but it always amazes me how some people in authority act. It must have something to do with people that will dominate you if they can, the lack of respect, the laziness, and the lack of human compassion. I’ve previously written how vindictive and uncaring some people here can get but I want to tell you some more about furloughs for funerals and compassion.
A friend was given an original release date of December 13th. But, the release date got moved twice to December 27th. The guy’s brother called the camp to get a message to his inmate brother that his mother was dying. The brother was finally able to talk to the camp administrator. The camp administrator told the brother that “they don’t forward messages to the inmates”, essentially refusing to do anything to let the inmate know that his mother was near death. The brother finally notified my friend by email. To make matters even worse, my friend saw this camp administrator twice since the brother’s call and she never said a thing about his mother! This is a cold, cold woman.
He called his mother in the hospital after getting the message from his brother. His mother died on December 12th in the evening. The camper asked for a furlough to attend the funeral. He was willing to attend the funeral and return to Butner immediately thereafter, and then wait out his final few days. The camp administrator refused the furlough request.
It can’t be because they were afraid he was going to escape. Admittedly, this guy may have pissed off certain management but I don’t think that was the reason. I don’t know if they refused it because they were too lazy to do the paperwork, or they just didn’t care. I think it is the latter reason. This guy was a transfer from Maxwell. He said furloughs were common and encouraged. He cited several guys that were granted compassionate furloughs, or a furlough in the city while family visited from out of town.
One friend’s wife was diagnosed with cancer the week after their last visit, and she could no longer travel to see him. The camp administrator denied a furlough to visit her before she died. He was also denied a furlough for the funeral. A young teen daughter is left to pick up the pieces without him. This story is common. Family members die, and they are refused furloughs.
I have an elderly white collar friend who has eleven months remaining on his sentence. He has been in and out of cancer treatment, which is why he is at Butner. His case was national news. His wife is totally mortified about his circumstances. She wants him to keep a low profile as possible and for him to do his time and get out. He is very worried about her because she has not been coping well.
In addition, his daughter is unofficially engaged to marry the son of a famous person. He believes they are delaying their engagement announcement until he is released. This daughter frequently travels internationally and has been harassed by the FBI on her travels. They questioned her about her travels trying to determine whether my friend hid any money overseas. He hadn’t, and if he did, he wouldn’t have involved his daughter.
His son was killed in action in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb while on patrol. He asked for a furlough to attend his hero son’s funeral. He was initially denied, then approved, provided he was shackled and accompanied by three BOP officers. I guess they couldn’t come right out and say they weren’t going to give him the furlough. This guy is about 70 and absolutely no flight risk. Also, this is not the type of guy who causes any problems. His wife said, “no way” to their requirements so they will have the funeral when he is released. This guy was given furloughs at both other two camps he was at. This past Sunday marked the six-month anniversary of the son’s death; He took it hard. This is an example of the troubles that incarceration can impact a family.
Just before my transfer here, another guy was told that he had very little time to live due to his cancer. He asked for a compassionate release furlough so he could go home to visit his last days with his family. The camper died in his bunk about a month or so after he asked for the compassionate release. His compassionate release was approved a couple of days AFTER he died.
Butner has a policy, or practice, that furloughs are not granted, period.
The criminal justice education/reform organization A Just Cause (AJC) issued a press release on March 17, 2017 announcing that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) are ready to release criminal justice reform legislation, but are waiting on a green light from the White House. As part of this proposed reform legislation, AJC is advocating for the closure of all 76 federal prison camps (FPCs) as way to save the taxpayers over a billion dollars a year.
The press release rightly describes federal prison camps as a waste of money that serve minimal security benefits to the community. AJC sites numerous statistics to support its position and asks that citizens sign an online petition to close the federal prison camps. Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice will have to get behind this proposal for it to be a reality.
Readers of this blog are familiar with the waste of money and human capital at FPC-Butner. The circumstances that I write about in my blog are true at the other FPCs as well. Camps have no fences and most have few guards who provide security supervision. Inmates must have a non-violent background and less than ten years to serve on their sentences. By definition, campers are low-risk inmates. There is no reason why those that would be eligible for a camp cannot spend their sentence in home confinement with an ankle bracelet.
I never met a camper who I thought could not have been on home confinement. In fact, most campers could do far more good at home with their families, especially those with children. There are enough fatherless children in this country. Furthermore, children of incarcerated fathers are 50% more likely to be incarcerated themselves in their lifetimes.
I was released from FPC-Butner to home confinement with ankle bracelet monitoring in October 2014. The terms of my home confinement were determined by the BOP but I was monitored by the U.S. Probation Office. My probation officers did not have much discretion since their hands were tied by the BOP. I was responsible for paying the cost of the monitoring equipment – and happy to do so.
My probation officer remotely turned-off the monitor for approved absences such as doctor’s appointments, church attendance and for my job. Probation officers have the right to make surprise visits to the home and search the home without a warrant. Someone on home confinement can expect random drug tests as well.
I knew that I could be sent back to prison for violating the terms of my home confinement. After spending 37 months in prison, I was strongly motivated to avoid any circumstances which could result in being sent back to prison. Most guys know the value of being able to spend time at home with their family versus at a prison.
Did I feel like I was being punished while I was in home confinement? Absolutely! The first thing to remember, though, is that the time leading up to sentencing was very punishing financially and emotionally. My whole world fell apart and there was nothing I could do about it. The feds got their pound of flesh out of me from the start of their investigation all the way through sentencing. My life as I previously knew it was ruined.
As far as home confinement, I had far more freedom to exercise and get fresh air at the camp. I hated not being able to go out shopping, visit with friends and family and being able to have some fun and recreation while I was on home confinement. But, nothing beats being able to sleep in your own bed with your wife.
There is an excellent Wall Street Journal article regarding the proliferation of criminal cases and their impact on civil litigation in the courts (WSJ, Criminal Case Glut Impedes Civil Suits, 11/10/11). The problem described is destined to become much worse. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is doing a totally inadequate job of preparing inmates for life after incarceration. Many of those incarcerated are better served by not being imprisoned at all. There are incarceration alternatives as I discuss below.
The BOP has significantly cut their education budgets. Almost no vocational skills are taught due to budget cutbacks and a lack of designated institutional priority. My experience is that, if it wasn’t for the white-collar inmates teaching classes, there wouldn’t be but a handful of any classes being taught despite BOP lip service to the contrary.
The federal recidivism rate is about 85% (depending on the classification and age of the inmate). There are about 220,000 federal inmates with an almost equal number either incarcerated in county jails pending admission to a federal prison, pending in the federal criminal justice process, or waiting to self-report. The federal prison system is already about 50% over-crowded. If the system continues a path of churning 85% of the inmates back to prison, we have only begun to see the backlog described in the article.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Many federal inmates sentenced to prison are being convicted for first time, non-violent crimes. Congress should pass legislation to eliminate the use of mandatory sentencing guidelines and the commonly-used point system. Instead, the courts should utilize, to the greatest extent possible, home confinement, penalties, fines and restitution, and community service as an alternative to incarceration. For example, those convicted with specialized skills, such as attorneys and doctors, could provide their professional services to the poor or underserved areas. Those convicted who have special trade skills can teach and train other convicts vocational trades, inside or outside a prison.
Many of the crimes pushed into the federal criminal justice system can be, and should be, pushed back to the state and local jurisdiction where they belong. The states are best suited to match the impact of crime to punishment.
We have been blessed that we could spend 5 hrs./day together these last four days to talk, hold hands and “drink each other in”. It was hour after hour of brainstorming/strategizing about the house being under contract and all the negotiations with the bank. We also got a chance to talk about the broken prison system and Kevin’s experiences in the SHU.
There is no doubt, since we were relegated to a small area of the visitation center on very hard plastic chairs, that the bottom gets numb! The other difficulty at visitation is the lack of decent food in the vending area. And, the vending machines don’t work half the time and eat up your money! But how can one complain when you see all the other atrocities going on with what Kevin must endure?
I tried in vain to leave a message for Kevin’s counselor, unit manager and case manager to find out why Kevin didn’t have access to his personal belongings. I made a call to the Butner general number. The good news was that I was lucky enough to talk to a nice guard. He said he would make a call to the head of the SHU. I was so grateful when Kevin came into visitation flashing his wedding band! It meant he finally got some personal items after eight days. But, they wouldn’t let him have a razor (he might slit his wrists), and many of his books and photos weren’t there. Frustratingly, he forgot to pull his stamps out so he couldn’t mail the letters he had written to everyone.
Kevin thought I had talked to the head of the SHU, but I told him it was a just guard who answered the phone. Normally, if they get a call like that from the outside, they put you at the back of the pile and you must wait longer! We got lucky, if you can call it that!
There is no doubt that this system is made for people with loose screws, not for the likes of Kevin. Sadly, there are far more men like Kevin in the system than we first realized. What we discussed is how to revise the system. Truly, it would be a miracle if anything this broken could be revised. I think it would be like undertaking the revision of the IRS code, if not worse! The overcrowding is one thing that must be addressed for several reasons. Our government doesn’t have the financial ability to build more prisons.
Our solution was that it should stop sending in first-time white-collar offenders (and perhaps all non-violent first-time offenders) to prison. Let them have home confinement with restitution. The fact that felons can’t find work is punishment enough, given the impact on the family and their self-esteem. In addition, there is a proposal that time off for good behavior should go from 52 days/year served to 120 days/year served. Those two things would probably send 25% of the inmates back on the streets.
While that might be a scary thought, what is scarier is that there are so many old men (80+ years) that rely on their walkers and wheelchairs in prison. Can you tell me how they could be dangerous to society if they are released? They don’t even know what life on the outside is like. For this, the taxpayers are paying $50+k/year to support those that are living in this broken system!
There’s so much money involved to support the criminal industrial complex – from law enforcement to the prosecutors’ offices to the defense attorneys to the prison employees and all the industries that support the prisons – that it seems very unlikely that true change can ever occur. There isn’t enough time for me to tell all the stories about how broken this system is!
Even though we were satiated after our four days of visitation, we knew the next 4-8 weeks were going to be bad. I can’t come to visit until after I sell the house, pack, move and unpack, all in the next 25 days. There just isn’t enough time for me to take-off four days for another trip to Butner. In addition, it is costing $300 in gas for every trip, so $600 for this past month! And, now I have the expense of a move!
I can’t begin to think of what Kevin is going to endure. We just don’t know when he will finally be moved out of the SHU.