Food Strike Aftermath

What really caused the food strike?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012 |

The first thing we noticed on Saturday morning was a heavy police presence and this would continue all weekend. But the camp is pretty much back to normal after the food strike on Friday.

Our unit and another were shaken down on Saturday afternoon. Our unit was shaken down once again on Sunday.  My cell was not even touched during these shakedowns and we were locked out briefly. This tells me that they were looking in certain cells. In fact, they took a few more guys off the compound because of cell phones.

The only real silly thing was that they didn’t serve any fruit on Sunday because they found five bananas in someone’s locker on Saturday. Everything seems normal but with more cops around.

Friends that had visitation on Saturday and Sunday reported light turnout since loved ones couldn’t confirm visitation plans because the phones are shut down. I was also told that there was a noticeable higher number of COs watching the visitors than normal. That could also be the case since the staff were being forced to be at the camp, and the visitation room is the most comfortable place to be.

Problems Prompting Food Strike

As I reflect on the last several days, I realize that the problems in the camp started many months ago, but particularly started when the washers and dryers were removed. That was the first thing that got the camp riled. It snowballed through punitive inspections, shakedowns, hassles from our “Super-Co” and the wrongness of the inmate death. The walk-off of an inmate was the first drastic measure taken by an individual who couldn’t take it anymore.

I realize the importance of keeping cell phones off the compound and they should. The question is whether the entire community should be punished or just the guys with the cell phones.  The administration decided to punish the community for the actions of a few bad apples, thus the community came together to make a simple statement by refusing to eat in the dining hall for one day.

Assistant Warden was a Major Contributing Factor to the Food Strike

The AW blew everything out of proportion and threw gasoline on the flames. She would have been better if she simply said, “I hear you, now let’s work together to resolve the cell phones.” By punishing the community, she started an act by the community. All of this was totally unprofessional on her part and disruptive to camp security and control, not to mention the staff.

The AW also compounded the problem further by taunting the guys. She told staff all last week that the campers were soft, had no guts, “they won’t do anything”, among many other comments. These comments were also made directly to campers minding their own business. Today she was going up to guys in the dining hall and saying, “you have something to say to me?”

These comments are enough to incite another food strike. The AW also said that if we acted like penitentiary prisoners we didn’t belong in the camp. She had already turned off the TVs a week ago and it was very evident that she was looking for an excuse to take away the privileges of the weight pile. All her statements were creating problems where problems didn’t exist. Most guys just want to do their time and that’s it.

Finally, she said she had intercepted letters and BP-10s intended for BOP Regional and Washington complaining of her actions. I don’t know how she can cover everything up. She really made herself look bad!

Impact of Food Strike on Other Staff

In addition, the AW clearly usurped the authority of the camp administrator and imposed burdens on other staff. We rarely saw the camp administrator all weekend. We got a lot of feedback from other staff. They resented having to spend overtime and effort in 90+ degree heat. We also heard that news of the food strike on the camp spread through the rest of the complex. Everyone, staff and other inmates, were surprised at what the campers did and the ensuing reaction.

 

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.

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.

Cell Phone Offenders Get Shipped

Do inmates bringing in cell phones really think they won’t get caught?

Friday, June 15th, 2012 |

All new inmates must through Admission and Orientation (A&O).  This is where the staff goes over the different resources and policies at the institution with the new guys. The camp administrator told the new guys at yesterday’s A&O that the camp associated ten previously confiscated phones with the inmate-owners. She said that the hole was full so they were going to pick-up these cell phone offenders as space becomes available.

In addition, they “know” that there was a drop of more cell phones earlier in the week. The shop guys were told not to report to work today so we assume they are shaking down the shops today. We are expecting a shakedown in our units this weekend.

The camp administrator also said that they were shipping the cell phone offenders as far from home as possible. There are some North Carolina guys going to Texas and California. I keep thinking, “what are these guys thinking?” Apparently, at least one of the guys had nude pictures of himself on his phone that he was sending to girlfriends. I would say that is proof positive – dummy!

Why work yourself down to a camp and then blow it on a cell phone? Now, they go back behind the fence permanently and are far from home. How can this possibly be worth it?

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.

Inmates Fired for Telling the Truth

What happens when an inmate tells the truth about a CO?

Monday, April 16th, 2012 |

I previously wrote about a scuffle between a SIS CO and an inmate  at the garage. The inmate was suspected of having a cell phone, and SIS were going to take him down. We had heard that the inmate resisted and got in a fight with the CO. The truth is not always that easy of an explanation since there were some witnessing inmates fired for telling the truth about the incident.

There is usually an investigation to support whatever sanctions, or additional charges, the BOP wants to impose on the offending inmate.  SIS asked three inmates that were working at the garage who witnessed the incident to write their witness statements. The inmates all wrote that the inmate did not resist. Seems like the inmate may have tensed up, but did not resist. So, the clear indication is that the COs used too much force for the situation.

Apparently, this is a truth the administration did not want to hear. All three inmates were fired from their garage jobs by the Camp Administrator.

Harassment Shakedowns, Census and Inspections

When do shakedowns become harassment?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 |

More harassment shakedowns and inspections!  In addition, we had a census and a special count yesterday.   Yesterday, they called in all the guys that were even working off the camp for a special count. This is very unusual.

A unit was shaken down at 12:30 last night. It’s too early to know if they confiscated anything of significance. They have been inspecting every unit except for ours so we have been hearing about the shots they are writing for petty stuff.  My room has been extremely clean, and everything has been put away in its proper place. I’m ready for the ultimate inspection.

Census and Counts

Most census are not “lock down” (or didn’t used to be), where they lock the doors and the census resembles a count.  Most of the COs will walk through the unit and check off guys’ names for the census. One CO just looks for the unassigned, orderlies and yard guys.  This is more of a hassle than anything else.

Typically for counts, we must wait for the COs to walk into the unit to count after the door is locked, and that time is unknown to us. There was a guy who had a “sit down” in the toilet when they walked through on the count yesterday. At the direction of the Assistant Warden, they gave this guy a shot for being in the bathroom during a count. What was he supposed to do – soil himself to get back to his cube? Most COs will count you in the toilet stall but being in the shower stall will get you in trouble.

Shakedowns and Inspections

They have been writing petty shots all week after all these inspections. One of the guys told me that he were up front this morning and there were about 50 guys getting their punishment for their shots. They are taking up to 90 days away of commissary, phone or visitation for crap reasons.  I think they are trying to make stuff up just to write shots. For example, our unit rules state that we can have four pieces of fruit on the shelf between our locker. But, they are giving shots for any pieces of fruit in our possession. This is insanity!

Nothing can be hanging on our four coat hooks except one laundry bag, not even a coat. They gave a shot to a guy who is partially blind because his shoes were not perfectly straight under his bed. They were giving shots to everyone who had anything extra in their room like pillows and blankets.

With all these inspections and shakedowns, I’ve only seen a few guys hauled off.

Why the Harassment?

I can possibly assume that they are trying to add “points” to guys’ records to disqualify them from the camp. It is also possible that the camp administrator is trying to make a show for the new warden. I never saw this type of treatment when I began here.

Another theory could be that the camp needs rotation of inmates to fulfill its purposes. We haven’t had many guys leave, and guys are not giving them reasons to haul them out.  Guys that have been at other camps are baffled.

Everyone is on pins and needles. It is not that they are afraid of the camp administrator; it is just that people don’t want to receive shots and lose privileges for stupid stuff. I’m not sure of what the point is.

A case manager told one inmate that the assistant warden is leaving. This is great news, if true. The new warden will have to make her mark so there is no telling what other personnel changes there will be.

New Warden

How to prepare for a new warden?

Friday, March 30th, 2012 |

The current Butner warden is retiring (actually, being pushed out). We have a new warden starting in April. She is from Petersburg, VA. This place could use some new blood and a lot of changes. The new warden visited yesterday but I did not see her. They shuffled her around the camp but didn’t give her a chance to talk to any of the campers. I’m not sure that she walked through any of the units.

The change of warden could be very positive.  But, knowing the BOP, I doubt things will get any better.  There are very few personnel changes that occur at prisons that make much of a difference.

All the staff wants to make the best first impression.  The camp administrator has been pushing everyone hard, as I have been writing all week. I already told you about the petty and brutal inspections and shakedowns. I hope that has stopped.  It is the inmates that get the brunt of their effort to make themselves look good.  This is very unfortunate because tensions are so high right now.

Besides the new warden, there is a Regional inspection scheduled for next week.  They are working on prettying up the grounds and getting the grounds crew to do their jobs. I also saw where some of the rotted pieces of wood have been fixed. Several of the units were painted. Our orderlies stripped and waxed our floors today. The floor work has been a minor inconvenience but it is something that should be done regularly. This is the first time that the floors have been properly done since I have been here.

Now, if they would only cut down that ugly dead tree outside of our unit.

Shakedowns Because of an Informer?

What creates heightened tensions in a camp?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012 |

Get this regarding the shakedowns I’ve been writing about – There must have been an informer in the unit that was shaken down at 2 am the night before last. The COs were obviously looking for something that they couldn’t find, and got pissed. They totally turned the cubes upside down. I’m told they took fruit out of the locker and smashed it up against the wall. They then took what was left and threw it on the bed. They also turned over the trash cans on the bed. Obviously, they left the clean-up for the inmates. I wonder if all prison camps are like this.

Stupid Shots and Heightened Tensions

As I wrote last week, shots are disciplinary actions that are assessed against inmates for breaking the rules.  Another guy told me he got a shot for having his bible and a meditation book under his pillow, and it was completely out of sight. He got thirty days of telephone time taken from him. I hope this silliness stops soon.

All the punitive inspections and shakedowns have everyone on edge. I’ve noticed that the guys seem to be strung tighter than normal. I had words with a camper that I have never gotten along with. A friend had words with another friend of mine.  One of the lazy guys that works with us got mad when we teased him about his laziness.

All in all, though, I realize that 300 guys can’t all get along. I’m surprised there are not more issues with guys butting heads. I would say that one guy or the other will back down easily. No one wants to leave the camp. Despite all the problems here, it is still better than being behind the fence.

Shakedowns, Inspections and Unfair Punishment

What can result from shakedowns and inspections?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 |

I’m writing a lot these days about shakedowns, and it is getting old.  We can now add brutal inspections to the mix.  But, this is the reality we have been facing lately and this is what I write about.

We had a little excitement today. COs came into our unit at 5:15 am, and we were told to get up and out. Another shakedown! We were searched and wanded as we left, and told to go to the visitation room until they finished. Some guys dumped their cell phones in the hall as they were being shuttled out of the unit.  My bed was tossed but my locker was not touched. Of course, there was nothing for them to find anyway.

SIS (Special Investigative Services, aka the goon squad) does most of the shakedowns. We always know there is trouble when we see them on the compound. They tore apart our ice machine and microwave room today. I hear they found a carton of cigarettes and 16 sodas. It was no big deal, and the raids are definitively overkill for a few sodas and cigarettes.

A CO was walking through one of the units last night, and there was a guy on his cell phone when the CO walked up. He was taken to the hole immediately. The other units have also experienced shakedowns at off-hours.

I heard that our Super CO found a few cell phones hidden outside. I still haven’t heard of anyone going to the hole over this stuff. Another friend was caught smoking, and they gave him what amounts to a deferred punishment. He will get hurt if he gets caught again, but he is ok for right now.

Inspections

In addition, we also had at least two inspections today, apparently because the new warden is expected to visit the camp soon. Inspections are different from shakedowns.  Inspections are done by camp staff to verify adherence to unit housing rules.  In a shakedown, the COs are looking for contraband.

The inspections have resulted in some very unfair shots (disciplinary points). They gave shots for having even small amounts of bread, fruit and other fresh foods in the locker, and for minor things being out of place in the room. The shots were given based on which CO/Administrator was inspecting your cell. The constant shakedowns and inspections have been capricious at best.

I hope they stop this nonsense soon.