Christine and I arrived in Butner, NC earlier than anticipated for my 11 am self-report arrival to the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Low on Tuesday, 8/16/11. There is very little to the town of Butner. I had my last breakfast as a free man and reviewed some last things with Christine. It was a good thing we arrived early. If you self-report to a federal prison during the lunch hour, you spend a lot of time in the holding cell in the Receiving & Discharge (R&D) area. Christine left after my intake. These are my first impressions of prison life:
I was escorted to a holding cell and waited for different people to come and talk to me that included my new counselor, a medical person, and another staff person asking background questions. Subsequently, I was taken into another room, told to strip, examined naked and then put on temporary clothing. It would be the next day before I was issued my permanent institutional clothes. I had my mug shot taken and given a prison ID card.
I exited the admin building into the main yard after about an hour or so. It was amazing how the CO (compound/correctional officer) essentially told me go out the admin building and go to my unit, as if I knew where it was. Fortunately, a guard noticed that I was a lost newbie and escorted me to the stairs of my dorm. I was assigned a bed by my counselor and went to my cell to get settled. There are 2 buildings, each with 2 stories with two main areas for the dorm on either side of the center of the building. There about 320 inmates on each floor. I am told there are about 1400 inmates in total at the Low.
Each cell has 3 walls with 1 bunk bed and 1 single bed (so each cell sleeps 3 inmates which is very tight). I have the lower bunk pass because of my C-pap machine. The lower bunk is highly desirable but passes are issued for medical reasons. Otherwise, it is very difficult to get a lower bunk pass.
The movements are controlled so that you can only leave the building and enter the yard on the half hour, every hour, and you have 10 minutes to get to your destination. The main yard is expansive with concrete walkways leading to a long series of buildings making up a wall facing the dorms. In these offices, they have medical, library/education, vocational training, chaplain’s office, cafeteria, commissary, laundry, recreation and some admin offices. They have a very large recreation area with 2 baseball diamonds, several basketball courts, volley ball court and some outdoor weight training machines. There is an indoor rec area with some aerobic equipment. They also have yoga classes 5 days/week that I plan to attend but have not yet.
The inmates are fed in a very large cafeteria in shifts but it seems like everyone is eating at the same time. I doubt I have spent more than 15 minutes at each meal so far. I really miss Christine’s cooking already. The food quality is very poor and not healthy. I’m staying away from most of the fats and sugars which means that I am probably consuming less than 2000 calories/day. Most of the inmates eat in the cafeteria, though some prepare meals in the dorm. Some of these guys are very creative in the foods they prepare; however, a lot of them eat junk food.
By far, my biggest issue was getting in communication with Christine. Typical Gov’t c##p. Nothing works as efficiently as it should. Christine tried to deposit money in my account right away but couldn’t because it took time to get my account set-up. In the end, it took over 48 hours! The counselor should also have given me my phone codes and pin but I didn’t get them until Thursday.
Most of the time you should ask other inmates what, how, and when you should be doing something. I have found that if I am doing something that others are not doing, then it is me who is doing something wrong. I’ve gotten good at observing the other inmates to figure out what I should be doing at a particular time. Overall, I have found the inmates to be helpful and pleasant. You are not allowed to bring in anything, for the most part, except for a bible and medical equipment. Other inmates went out of their way to find me shower shoes, a toothbrush, soap and other essentials to tide me over until I could get to the commissary.
Prior to reporting, I was told that I was designated to be in the Camp. But, for some reason I am at the Low and nobody can tell me why. I’m told that there are about 40 guys scheduled in Low to go to the Camp. I don’t know how these assignments are made. Some of the guys told me that there are just 320 campers so the Camp is significantly smaller. Best of all, the Camp has no movement restrictions. The movement restrictions are really a hassle. Even if you go for a short appointment, you will need to wait an hour before returning to your dorm. When you are used to free movement this is probably one of the hardest things to adjust to. That and dealing with restricted communications with your loved ones.