Dog Days of Summer

What happens in a camp when so many go to the hole for cell phones?

Saturday, June 30th, 2012 |

It is brutally hot here at 106 degrees. It is so hot, in fact, that the camp closed the rec yard for safety purposes during these dog days of summer. I have been inside since 9:15 except for lunch.

TVs Back On

The camp turned the TVs back on yesterday. I guessing there was backlash about punishing 300 guys for cell phones that didn’t belong to them. The AW backtracked and said that the TVs were turned off because the units were not sanitary. This clearly was not true. But anyway, the camp administrator did inspections on Thursday and Friday and declared everything as ok.

It came just in time because of this heat. It is better for the guys to be watching TV than just hanging around doing absolutely nothing (though watching TV is my idea of doing absolutely nothing).

Campers in the Hole

The AW told some guys that there were 40 campers in the hole. Something like 30 of those were for cell phones. Two of those have already pleaded guilty of the additional charge.  They will get an extra year added to their sentence and loss of all privileges (except immediate family visits) for 18 months. The rest of the 30 are in some form of investigation or charges pending.  The phones have been shipped to the FBI to identify its owner for prosecution.

I know some of the remaining 10 guys will be coming back to the camp. We already had one return earlier this week. We were also told that at least one of the guys is going to get re-designated to a medium facility and the rest will be designated to a Low elsewhere. The guys being shipped out are being sent about as far away from home as possible.

I’m hoping the crackdown is over with.

Cells Opened

Our counselor moved most of the guys on the beach into cells. As you can imagine we had a lot of cells open with the crackdown.

One of the guys that did not get moved is trying to get his FRP (financial responsibility payment) reduced. He came from the cadre at FMC which paid a lot more than his job at the camp. He can’t afford to make the same payment so he is trying to get it reduced.  On FRP refusal status, he is assigned to the least desirable housing.

The other guy that didn’t get moved has only been here for a few days. I’m expecting a lot of new guys in the next two weeks to take these spots.

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.

 

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.

Homesick, A Funeral, Old Friends Leaving, New Guys Arriving

What's new at the camp?

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 |

Another week has just passed, and again I am feeling homesick. A friend was released this morning in great jubilation – I would be happy too. I inherited a new pillow and blanket from him to replace older ones that I had. It is common for departing inmates to disperse their personal property to their friends.

The memorial service for Gary, the guy who died last week, was yesterday. He was Jewish so the memorial service provided was consistent with his faith. It was completely run by the Jewish community, and I thought tastefully done. The guys still talk about the unjust nature of his death under their breath.

We are still besieged by inspections (though far less frequent).  And, the twice daily census calls are such a waste of time. We also had two guys “packed out” yesterday. We are not sure why. Many times, we will know but no one has an idea in these cases. One of the guys was my neighbor and the other was Joe’s cellie.

We had a bunch of guys come in from the FMC, but none from the Low (at least, not that I am aware of). We are due do get some guys from the Low. It has been a long time since I have seen anyone transferred from the Low.

Another New Cellie

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 |

My old cellie was sent to California to testify in a trial about six weeks ago. He was expecting to return in March but I have no clue whether that is still the case. They don’t like keeping bunks open so I was assigned a new cellie yesterday afternoon.

This guy is a little older than me.  Bobby appears to be straight enough that I don’t have to worry about him having contraband in the cell. He seems like a real laid back and nice guy.  As much as I want my old cellie back, there’s nothing I can say or do about it. My new cellie was previously in our unit. He was put in the hole for 2 1/2 months for “investigation”.  Apparently, nothing came out of the investigation so they returned him to the unit, much to his delight.

His experience in the hole was much like mine but, unlike me, he had a cellie there for the entire time of his stay. Bobby lost 20 lbs. and was bored out of his mind. They didn’t give him access to his property for two months. He bought another radio from the commissary because he couldn’t get to his original radio. If my old cellie comes back, they will probably put him in a different cell.

In a lot of ways, it could be much worse. The guys that are currently on the beach would not have met my standards for a cellie. I’ve previously written to you about the importance of getting along with your cellie. Once a cellie is assigned, that’s it.

Missing Campers

Friday, December 16th, 2011 |

I’ve previously written that the camps don’t have fences so there is nothing that prevents a camper from crossing the border of the camp, except good sense when it is not allowed.  There are times when campers are authorized to leave the camp on their own.  There are campers that are drivers so they even use a BOP car or bus to drive around town.  Campers work at the other Butner facilities and even the nearby VA Hospital.  However, some missing campers will leave the compound to pick up contraband or for an illicit rendezvous.  There are woods around one border of the camp so leaving the camp is easy, and often undetectable.  Also, it would be very unusual for a witnessing camper to rat on another camper.

I was reading on Friday afternoon. It was cold and dreary with a possibility of rain so I was pretty laid back. I heard an announcement around 2:00 or 2:30 over the PA for everyone to get back to our units. It was the typical of voice that indicated right now; clear all areas and hurry up. This type of announcement doesn’t happen very often. The CO’s took a stand-up count at around 3:00, again very unusual. They did their standup count again at 4 pm. In addition, there were faces assisting in the count that I have never seen. We heard that the CO’s may have seen an inmate in the woods behind the recreation yard. They take these kinds of things very seriously. Everything was cleared by dinner, and I don’t think that anything was discovered because of the lockdown.

It could have been a false alarm, or the camper could have just gotten back to his unit before the CO’s closed the door.

Incarceration Stress

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 |

Incarceration stress is a real issue.  Some guys can’t handle the stress of incarceration.  One of the guys, who I know well, just had a bad panic attack.  He’s got diabetes so I thought that was his problem.  No, he just flipped out over personal issues and was belligerent.  The COs cleared out our unit and sent us to the back of the compound.  They put him on a stretcher and shackled him.  I assume they will take him to the FMC.  We all have personal issues.  Some can handle it, and others can’t.

You see signs of stress everywhere.  Guys generally don’t talk about their issues, but many have serious issues at home.  The worry about their family, health and little things.  Much of the stress builds up inside and then it pops.  I have not seen much physical altercations yet, but I have seen a lot of arguing between inmates.

Recreation in prison is a necessity.  Most able-bodied guys engage in some sort of physical activity.  The most common being walking or running the track and lifting weights.  These are excellent stress busters.  Other guys read, paint or knit.  Everyone does their time in their own way.  “You do your time your way, and I will do my time my way” is a common saying.

I have found that it is best not to increase another campers stress.  In other words, mind your own business.  Most verbal and physical altercations occur when an inmate butts into another man’s business.  It is best to keep your mouth shut, and mind your own business.

I feel the stress too worrying about Christine.  Meditation, walking and lifting weights work best to relieve stress.