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.

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!

 

Cat Families and Expensive Tomato Stakes

Are there cats in prison?

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.

Outdoor Recreation at Camp Butner

What outdoor recreation is available?

Saturday, April 14th, 2012 |

The cooler last few days has not daunted the outdoor recreation.  Our weight pile is outside.  I have an inmate that is helping me tweak my weightlifting routine.  FPC Butner and the Medium are few of the institutions that still have weight piles. I think this is really a shame. The weights provide great exercise and activity that improves the inmate’s’ health. The weights are heavily used to good and positive effect.

The Low didn’t have a weight pile. The inmates there had to rely on using their body weight for strength improvement with exercises such as push-ups, chin-ups and dips.

Besides the weight pile, my thing is to walk. It takes 5 1/3 laps to make a mile. I figure I can do a mile every 15 minutes (give or take). I try to walk at least twice a day to get in at least 4 to 8 miles (1 – 2 hours) depending on the weather.  Our track is made of loose gravel and dirt so it is a little easier on the feet for runners. The tracks at the other institutions are hard surfaces.

I still believe that the most popular outdoor activity is just hanging around, but there is plenty more going on. There is a small stream (and I mean small) that draws the borders of the boundary in the rec yard. A lot of guys will hang out on the benches there talking, reading, writing or just doing nothing. There are also guys that play guitar on the benches. On the not so pretty side, there are guys sunning without their shirts.

Guys are playing bocce ball, horseshoes, handball and racquetball. They recently put up the volleyball net but I haven’t seen anyone playing yet. They have basketball, soccer and basketball leagues by unit. These games are scheduled after dinner so they are very popular.

There is also an indoor rec area. This includes a hobby crafts/art room. There are a few guys that literally spend most of their time in there. There are several pool tables that always seem in use. The rec room has five TVs and a few exercise machines.

No matter what is going on outside, there are guys that stay in the unit reading, watching TV or sleeping. Overall, idleness is a huge problem. There is not a lot of work to keep everyone busy. Some guys can’t work because of chronic illnesses. Others, such as myself, have a job that takes no more than an hour a day. At 12 cents an hour, there is no incentive to work at all. The high paying jobs of roughly $1/hour are the Unicor jobs, but are hard to get. I taught two classes last quarter that paid much better than I was expecting.

COs and Staff Rotate Between Facilities Quarterly

When does the BOP rotate the prison COs?

Friday, March 23rd, 2012 |

COs and some staff rotate between the different facilities on a quarterly basis. This is the first week of the new quarter and some of these guys are going to take getting used to.

There is one guy who thinks he is super cop. Everyone calls him Opie behind his back.  He got the nickname because he looks like Opie from “The Andy Griffith Show.”  Opie hates his nickname and would be quick to make trouble for a guy who calls him by that name.

Our new “SuperCop” is nicknamed Opie, after Ron Howard’s character in the Andy Griffith Show

Opie spends all his time searching lockers, and generally creating havoc where it is not necessary. For example, he called both an AM census and a PM census yesterday. A census is where the campers return to their units, they lock the doors, and a CO comes through to mark your name off their list (like a roll call). In the past, there may be one or two weekly AM census, and I don’t recall any PM census. I’m told other camps don’t do this at all. It is unheard of to do both in one day.

The food service COs rotate a week or two after the regular rotation. I can’t wait until the morning CO rotates out of food service. He is a total jerk to the extent that you don’t know if he is serious when he is talking. I also believe he is a racist.

Steel Toed Boots for Weight Lifting

I have been lifting weights in my walking shoes as opposed to the required steel toe shoes. Apparently, Opie is a stickler for details including the steel toe boots on the weight pile. The Laundry Department would not give me steel toed boots without turning in my soft shoes despite my plantar fasciitis. I complained to my counselor. She talked to Medical and they told her the same thing as Laundry told me. I asked what sense does it make for me to worsen my plantar fasciitis for the sake of lifting weights a few hours a week. This is typical asinine treatment we get that makes no sense whatsoever. I’ll have to talk to the Camp Administrator but she is not the type of person to do anything.

Spring Exercise is Gearing Up!

What do inmates do for exercise in the Spring?

Monday, March 12th, 2012 |

The weather has been great for the last few days. This is the first day of the time change. I went directly to the recreation yard to walk as soon as the doors were open for dinner. I decided to walk rather than go to dinner. The recreation yard was packed so I wasn’t the only one that had that idea.

Guys were weight lifting, practicing softball, running, walking, handball, bocce ball and just hanging out. I could lift weights for an hour in the morning so walking is on the schedule in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. According to my walking times for the last few days, I can do a mile every 15 minutes. I try to walk three times a day on the days I am not lifting weights. My walking totaled 8 miles yesterday, 7 on Saturday and 6 on Friday. I only got 4 miles in today.  It’s nice having the time to get fit. It’s amazing what some of the guys have been able to accomplish with the free time utilized on the weight pile.

Everyone gets tired of hanging inside during the winter months.  Spring is very welcome!  The recreation yard is the natural place to go to watch sports and exercise, but guys also hang out around the units.

Staying Busy In The Camp

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.

Killing Time While Doing Time

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 |

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

Classes

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.

Jobs

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.

Recreation

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.

Beach Noise

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 |

The noise on the beach is bad.  In addition, the guys around me are generally inconsiderate.  I spend a lot of time reading in bed so the noise can be very distracting. I have found that I can escape the noise if I listen to the local NPR classical music station. It has very little talking and the classical music is very soothing.

Most guys stayed inside yesterday because it was so cold. Unfortunately, there is no place to read in quiet. The library is small and noisy. Sometimes I can go to the chapel to read but there seems to be a lot of guys in and out of there as well. Also, they have been playing movies in the chapel lately. There are no private reading rooms in the unit.

I would go to the TV room at the Low to read. It had a lot of natural light and most of the guys kept the radios to their heads so it was generally quiet. This is not the case here. There are never lights in the TV room at the Camp. Also, the TV is room is located at the door going outside so there is always noise.

Overall, I’m getting used to the noise but it does help to have something drown the noise out. In that regard, the classical music works. Given that I am a classical rock and roll guy, it amazes me that classical music is helping my spirits so much!

Camp Facilities

Friday, September 30th, 2011 |

The camp facilities are very different from Low in so many ways, and you recognize the differences as soon as you drive into the complex.  As I stated yesterday, the parking lot is immediately in front of the main building entrance.  The lobby of this entrance serves as the visitation center.  The back door of this main building opens to the campus, which is tight compared to Low.  All the services at the Camp are very conveniently located.  I had a chance to explore the Camp last night, and these are my initial observations:

Camp Facilities

The main building consists of a cafeteria, health services, commissary, some administrative offices, laundry services and barber shop.  There are no fences here so the feel of the Camp is more of a campus than what you would expect from a prison.  You can obviously tell that there is more freedom of movement and trust in the campers.

Behind the dorm buildings are another set of buildings comprising the chapel, library/education and inside recreation room.  The rec yard has about four handball courts (which are rarely used), weight training area with free weights (which are always being used), basketball court, horseshoes, bocce ball, volleyball and a gravel walking track.  There are several picnic tables and park benches.  A softball diamond/athletic field is located within the middle area of the track.  A small stream forms the border of the rec yard, and the other side is bounded by the Medium property that has the double fencing, razor wire, etc.

Housing Units

The dorms consist of two 1-story buildings of two wings each with about 42 bunks in each wing.  The units are named Catawba East and West and Hatteras East and West.  The cell setup is like the Low, but the cells are slightly smaller in size.  There is a just one 2-man bunk bed, one chair, and two lockers mounted to the wall in each cell.

Unfortunately, all new guys must go to the “beach” upon arrival.  The beach is at the far backend of the unit right at the entrance to the bathroom/laundry room.  The beach has two rows of three bunk beds.

I am in the lower bunk closest to the bathroom.  It is very noisy with guys going into and out of the bathroom and doing their laundry, which seems like 24 hrs./day.  The bathroom area is less than half the size of the Low bathroom areas.  It has two urinals, three full toilet stalls and about six shower stalls.

The microwaves are in the front of the unit in a utility room that includes an ice machine.  The ceiling of the dorm is very high.  There is ample lighting when the lights are on.  Our wing is nearly completely full with just one vacant bunk bed.

A TV room is located at the entrance to the building with four flat screen TV’s, a big improvement to the tube TV’s at Low.  Two computers are in the TV room at desks underneath the mounted TV sets.  There are only two phones in the unit.  One phone is just mounted on the wall and it can get very noisy, and the other is in an old-fashioned telephone booth.  I try to get the booth as much as possible because it is so much more private.  Even though there are only two phones and two computers, I really don’t have a problem getting on either except right after the evening count.

Campers

It was funny that last night and this morning, the guys from Catawba were scoping out the newly arrived campers – and not in a weird way.  The laundry is immediately across from the two entrances to the Catawba units.  A lot of guys hang out at the benches in front of the unit and in the courtyard.  The Camp is relatively small at 340 inmates so people get to know each other quickly.  You can’t help but notice new guys, and the laundry is typically the first place you notice them since all must get clothing upon arrival.

So far, the guys I’ve met have been very helpful and friendly.  There seems to be an eagerness to help newbies. I witnessed much the same at the Low on my arrival.  All inmates have been newbies at some point, so there is an understanding that new guys need to get a lay of the land, so to speak.

I’ll write much more as time goes on about my fellow campers so I won’t get into more detail now.