Tag Archives for " education "

Aug 21

Money Smart and Release Expo

Prison Life

Monday, May 21st 2012 |

I started teaching Money Smart today. This group is tough, meaning that they are always asking questions off-subject and interrupting me. I will have a hard time keeping on message. There were one or two guys that I expect to drop out.  Remember, campers only take this class because it is required.

Many of the campers have never taken any responsibility for sensible financial management. Many of the guys have never had a bank account and/or a real job. This is a real problem being released to the outside world. They are going to have a tough time assimilating into the outside world and staying straight.

One of the guys told us that he would rather have $1 million in credit than $1 million in cash, and was adamant about it. Really!

Release Expo

There was a release expo, which is a panel of people from the Department of Labor, counselors, social services, etc., to answer questions about the services available to them when they are released. One of the guys asked the Department of Labor guy about accessing the computer to search and apply for jobs.  The fact is that nearly all higher paying jobs require some computer skills. The DOL guy absolutely said that this was the case, and that we needed computer experience before being released. The education director was cringing while this guy was answering the question.

I also think that Butner tries to keep it hidden that we don’t have access to the computers except for email. I’m sure he thought that we had this computer access but we don’t. We can’t even use a word processor with the ability to save files. I don’t know how they expect guys to prepare a resume in advance of their release, or have the skills that they need in the outside world. This is more indication that BOP is not interested in reducing recidivism.

Aug 18

Self-Study Education Programs on the Horizon

Prison Life

Saturday, May 19th, 2012 |

I had heard rumblings of an update for a self-study education program available on the computers. Its available at most other prisons, but is not available at Butner yet. The new computers are installed, so I’m not sure why we don’t have access now. There are supposed to be 70 classes available for self-study.  I hope to get an update on when we will have the new education classes available to us.  These self-study classes are better than doing all my reading.

A guy who just transferred here from FMC was a tester for the new system. He took Spanish and said it was very good. Remember, I told you that the regional BOP office visited recently. A friend overheard the education director tell the regional inspectors that we had access to the new system and loved it. This was a blatant lie. I’m never surprised at what these BOP people do to hide their incompetence and make themselves look better.

This is the week that all the new courses start, so I start teaching again tomorrow. I will have a very full class since Money Smart was not taught last quarter. It is required for guys to “program”. Programming means that there are certain classes that are required to get your full 6-month halfway release time.  Money Smart is one of them.


Aug 10

Putting a New Face on the Camp

Prison Life

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 |

The BOP Regional Office was supposed to be here for inspection today concurrent with the new warden’s visit. I didn’t see them walking around but that doesn’t really mean anything.

The punitive inspections that have caused so much grief have been to whip the units into shape for the new warden and the regional office inspection. Additionally, there has been a huge effort to paint and clean up the place. It amazing – nothing happens for the seven months I have been here.  And then suddenly, these COs rush to clean-up the place. I must admit that things are looking much better. The floors shine, paint spruces things up, and the units are clean.

I wish they would keep up the cleanliness of the compound and institute some discipline in its application. Hopefully, the new administration will do a better job than the past one.

With the inspections, my complaint has been the restrictions of what we can have hanging and underneath our bed.  Also, the shots over the past six weeks were arbitrary and unfair.

I’ve complained about the joke of the education department and discussed inmate taught classes. The new round of classes is scheduled for two weeks and no one knew what was going to be taught. Just in time for the regional inspection – all the class offering sign-up sheets were posted last night.

The offerings have expanded as more white-collar guys are volunteering to teach. These include Spanish I and III, French I, Money Smart (I’m teaching it), Advanced Real Estate, Grammar, Writing Skills, and a few others that are on regular rotation like Parenting and “Cage the Rage”. I’m sure they will offer the Meineke Auto and Keyboarding self-studies.

Aug 08

Cat Families and Expensive Tomato Stakes

Prison Life

Saturday, May 5th, 2012 |

We have at least three pairs of cat families here. One of them just had four kittens. They are so cute. The guys are always feeding the cats and taking care of them. In the winter, they converted a packing box into a little shelter for the winter weather. The cats get fed well every night. The guys are always playing with the cats and holding them.

There’s a good hunter cat by the recreation yard. This cat is always stalking something, and this provides some amusement for us. I think that there will eventually be too many cats.  Most of the staff doesn’t care about the cats, but I am sure that the administration will get rid of the cats at some point.

I’ve written about the garden in the back planted by the horticulture class. It’s beginning to come in. You won’t believe this – you know those medical stainless steel IV poles? One of the guys found them in the dumpster and brought them to the garden. They are now being used as stakes for the tomato plants. I don’t know why they were thrown away but they’ve got to cost around $100 each, if not more. I’m sure these are the most expensive tomato stakes in the U.S.

Jul 05

Silliness in the Education Department

Prison Life

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 |

There was some silliness in the Education Department that I want to share.  One of my friends is also an instructor, and he had his calculator and dry erase markers confiscated in the last shakedown. The COs would not give them back to him.  They said they were already in the dumpster.

So, after he gets that news, he goes to turn in the final test scores for a class he just wrapped up. The Education Director looks at his grade sheet and notes that the students had real low grades at the beginning of the class and real high grades at the end. The Ed Director had told the instructors to give a “pre-test” at the beginning of the course to see how much the guys know.  They know very little. I thought this was one of dumbest ideas I have heard of so I didn’t do it. It is always best to teach assuming they know nothing, because that is more of the case than any other. Anyway, she starts bitching to him that the pre-test scores should be included in the final grades.

He reminds her that it was she that insisted on these pre-tests, and it is totally unfair to include a test score before the course even starts. My friend couldn’t believe he was even having this conversation. He also tells her about the things taken from him a few hours earlier.  Of course, she was not going to do anything to help him.

Why Should Inmates Teach?

Then she starts talking about starting the next class soon. Now, remember he (we) don’t get paid for teaching these classes. We do it for the benefit of the guys, not the BOP. So, after taking all this crap, he asks her what’s in it for him. She says nothing.  He says, “why should I teach then?” I don’t think she had a satisfactory answer, or he could have been placated.

Essentially, they didn’t appreciate him imparting his knowledge to others for their benefit, and could not verbalize a reason why he should spend his time teaching with all this silliness. I still have two more class sessions to go before my courses end, and haven’t decided whether I am going to continue to teach. The best thing might be for me to take at least a few weeks off.

There’s another guy here who teaches two or three classes, and he is going home soon. The Ed Director is not finding anyone to replace him. Again, I may not teach my two courses so that means that there will be five less courses being taught. It doesn’t take much to appreciate things that some guys do. Unfortunately, it’s not part of BOP’s mentality.

Jun 30

Horticulture Class

Prison Life

Monday, March 19th, 2012 |

The camp posted a horticulture class for enrollment.  The description that was posted stated that the class met five days a week and was also a work detail (meaning the inmates get paid for attending). They had more than a dozen guys sign-up and start in the class.  The class involves some classroom instruction and time in the greenhouse.  They also start a garden and are responsible for tending it daily.  The greenhouse and garden are on the far side of the recreation yard.

A few weeks into the course the campers find out they are not going to get paid. Several of these guys took time off from their regular jobs to take this course. They wouldn’t do it if they knew they weren’t going to get paid. A lot of guys need their jobs because they have no other source of income.  The course description was too good to be true, and the guys were had!  I don’t know how many have quit so far.

The previous session was taught by an outside instructor. They had a pretty good size planting of some crops and plants. The instructor went on vacation for a week. She gets back to find out that some genius BOP staff had the garden field bush-hogged and plowed under. The instructor is obviously very upset, complains to the warden, and of course, nothing comes of it. She never returns to teach again.  I don’t blame her.

The screw-up on the class description and the plowing under of the garden are typical of the incompetence of the BOP staff.

Jun 16

Staying Busy In The Camp

Prison Life

Saturday, February 25th, 2012 |

I am surprised about how much I am staying busy. I’m not depressed in any way. The sense of loss in my absence from Christine is my greatest regret. I am hopeful for the future, and I am trying to find a purpose for this suffering. I think I am a better person now than I was, and I hope to be better still. The experience here is not as draconian as I was expecting. It’s like… so this is all that there is.

The reading, teaching classes and taking Spanish helps me. Also, I can generally get an hour’s worth of exercise daily. People do different things to spend their time in prison. Unfortunately, none of them, for the most part, are productive. I would say that idleness is a huge problem here. Guys get more used to sleep and hanging out rather than establishing work habits. There’s no reason to proactively pursue work if the pay is only 12 cents an hour for the compound jobs, and about $1 an hour for the Unicor jobs. It’s like, why bother? The incentive system is totally out of skew.

I was supposed to teach my real estate class last night. I only had six guys out of fifteen show up. There was a movie (The Help) and a mandatory training (“Cage the Rage”) for some of the guys. I can’t compete against either. I cancelled the class because we were going to discuss an important subject, and I didn’t want the absent guys to miss the lesson.

However, I had a chance to talk to one of my students for about an hour. He has previous real estate investing experience so he wants to get back into real estate investing when he gets out. He told me that he is getting a lot out of the class, and he thinks the others are too. I think that solves my dilemma about continuing to teach. Perhaps I am helping.

Jun 16

Substance Abuse Programs

Prison Life

Friday, February 24th, 2012 |

The Camp offers several opportunities for substance abuse programs.  Substance abuse is a very big contributor to the reason why many guys are incarcerated.  The primary program for alcohol abuse is AA, of course.  The group meets once a week.  One or more volunteers help moderate the group.  Inmates who have alcohol abuse issues are pressured to join and stay in the group.

The second program is a 30-hour volunteer drug rehab program that meets once a week for 15 weeks.  This session is moderated by the camp drug counselor.  I am taking this program even though I don’t have a drug or alcohol problem.  Amazingly, having a problem doesn’t seem to be required to enroll in the program.

The incentive is $30 and a “guarantee” on the 6 months release for halfway house time.  For me, it would guarantee my 6-month home confinement since I am not eligible for halfway house because of my heart issues.  However, I’m not sure that the case manager follows up.  There is so much that goes into scheduling halfway house and home confinement that the case manager can easily overlook and make excuses for not giving an inmate a full six months of home confinement or halfway house time.

I only earn about $10 a month so the $30 incentive to join the program is like an extra bonus for me.  I have the time, so why not?  This program is probably underutilized and the incentives are good.

We have eight guys in the only session presently going on.  Five participants are white-collar with minimal drinking issues. The other three guys were all drug dealers on the street.

In addition, some guys are eligible for the resident drug program which is not offered at Butner.  This is a year-long program.  It is the only program that leads to a 12-month early reduction of your sentence.

May 02

Killing Time While Doing Time

Prison Life

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 |

I was thinking today about how different guys are killing time while doing time.


As I have written before, there are no vocational skills training. What little classes there are here, they are one or two hour classes – some during the day and some at night. Some guys are good about going to classes, some refuse to go. Despite the total lack of beneficial classes (in the sense of being able to use the info to get a job), the Camp tries to encourage guys to go to the classes by holding early halfway house time over their heads. I’m not convinced that it matters much as the camp administrators are very stingy about giving guys benefit for anything.


Most of the jobs do not take up much time during the day. The skilled facility and Unicor jobs pay better and are 6 hours/day. The Unicor jobs pay the highest and preference is given to guys who have fines to pay. These jobs are also good for the guys who have no money coming in. I think about the most you can make is a little over a $1/hour. The other jobs take much less time out of the day and pay almost nothing. I get $.12/hour for my job.


A lot of guys work out on the weight pile or on the track. I try to walk at least an hour a day. Card games are very popular here. You would not believe how many guys watch worthless TV, day and night. I like to read my books, papers and magazines. I see some guys stay in bed and read all day long. Sleeping is also very popular here. You can walk into the unit, and you will see at least several guys napping at any time during the day. I’ve seen some guys that never go into the cafeteria so they cook their own food.

Hanging Out

Some guys just hang out, as if they were probably doing on the street. A few guys hang out at the library and use the electronic typewriter for letters or books they are writing. Unfortunately, they have no way to save word documents and no computers to use for word processing. I like typing on a draft email, and then printing it out as my final product. The problem is that this is expensive.

Overall, it is extremely difficult to be productive in the traditional sense. I’m witnessing a total waste of human capital. There is nothing going on here that would prepare these guys for the outside. It is sad. No wonder that the recidivism rate is about 85%. I think the taxpayers would be shocked if they knew about this human warehousing machine.

May 01

Incarceration Alternatives

Criminal Justice

Monday, November 14th, 2011 |

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.

Incarceration Alternatives

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.