Inmate Death in My Unit

Will the family ever know the REAL truth behind the death of an inmate?

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 |

Gary, a cell neighbor, died in our unit this morning. The guy had a lot of medical and personal problems. He had a bad back that required him to be on morphine 24/7.  Gary rarely left his cell – mostly to go to the cafeteria and pill line. He was supposed to go home in September.  An inmate death is always a big deal in prison.

Gary had a strained relationship with his wife. He told guys that a probation officer went to his house to check it out for home confinement.  His wife told the PO that she didn’t want him back in the house. Gary’s wife recently (in the past two weeks or so) filed for divorce. He told me that his wife was laying claim to his property, and he was very distressed about it.

In addition, he got a shot two weeks ago for “stealing” and “disobeying a direct order”. This was for taking his food out of the cafeteria after being told he couldn’t do it. He never looked healthy since I have been here.

We don’t know the entire story of this inmate death, but this is what we do know:

Gary had what everyone thought was a panic attack. He was yelling and flailing his arms. An inmate called “222” on the emergency phone for help. Medical and the COs came down to the unit. He fell out of his bed and was still in panic attack condition. Gary told everyone to get out of his cell and leave him alone.

However, the COs took charge and told the inmates to get out of the unit. Unbelievably, a nurse made the decision that he was ok and was only faking. All medical personnel then left the unit.

The CO’s pulled out cuffs and shackles to take him to the hole. Then, we don’t know exactly what happened next.  But, he must have died when it was just the COs and Gary there. The COs called medical back into the unit. All the inmates were locked down in other units for the next two hours (they never want the inmates to witness things like this).

Gary was seen on a stretcher leaving the unit by some guys, and he appeared dead. Ultimately, they let all the inmates out for lunch. Shortly thereafter, a “town hall meeting” was called to announce his death by the chaplains. They said that the cause of his death was unknown. I asked if there would be an autopsy, and was told “yes” since it is required by state law, given the circumstances.

With all the guy’s medical and personal problems, he could have died of almost anything. Obviously, there are all sorts of rumors circulating around. I doubt if we’ll ever get the full story, but I hope his family does.

Locking Unit Doors For Census Could Be Life Threatening!

What is there is a fire when the doors are locked?

Friday, May 4th, 2012 |

I’ve written in the past how the COs have a policy of locking unit doors before and after counts, and at night, unlike other camps. I was thinking about this today – There would be a major issue if we had a fire! The doors cannot be broken down. The windows are too small for someone to crawl through, even if you could break the glass. There is a sprinkler system, but I don’t know if it is properly maintained (I doubt it).

In other facilities, there is a policy that a CO must be inside the unit each time the doors are locked for this fire reason. There are 84 guys in this unit. I never thought it made much sense to lock these doors at all.  But now that I really think about the implications in the event of a fire – it could be tragic!

Opie, our Super CO, has two days off, thank God! So, we have not had a census on these days. As I have said before, these census counts are totally worthless and not necessary.

Opie likes the census counts just to make our life that much more difficult. Other camps don’t do census counts, and it is rarely done here by other COs. I can understand the census if one of the perimeter COs saw something suspicious in the woods or yard. I hope the new warden stops this practice, among the other nonsense.

TV Room Is Not Worth My Time

What problems happen in the prison TV room?

Sunday, March 18th, 2012 |

The TV room is a place I do not care to spend my time in. I’m not that attached to TV, and l have found it is more hassle than it’s worth. It’s not the TV’s themselves that is a problem. There are four nice flat screens with good pictures.

However, there’s a limited number of chairs, which is the biggest area of contention in the unit. Guys get very territorial with “their” chairs, and with “their” TV programs. Of course, these things are not “theirs”, but they claim ownership to always having a place to sit and watching the same TV programs. Also, the noise is generally louder than I care for. So, I try to avoid it as much as possible.

Fight Over a Chair

As an example, one of my buddies was sitting in a chair watching TV sometime right before 9 pm count. A guy tells him that the chair is his friend’s chair, that the friend is coming back, and he needs to get out. My friend moves.

After count, the guys go back into the TV room. That same contested chair is still available, and noticing that the guy who supposedly owns the chair is not there, he sits in it. The guy who told him to move comes back and says, “I thought I told you not to sit in that chair”. My buddy replies, “I’ll move when so and so come back”.

That response was not reasonable, logical and good enough for the other guy. He gets up grabs the chair and literally dumps my friend onto the floor. My friend is now pissed. As I have said before, fighting is taken very seriously here, as well as taunting. You can get tossed out of the camp for either.

My friend gets up and goes to the emergency phone which directly calls the command center at FCI. He states that he feels endangered, and he needs help. Minutes later there are a dozen CO’s rushing into the room. They don’t know what’s going on, and they, rightly, assume the worse.

Now, the CO’s who have come from all over the complex are pissed. The camp duty CO’s are really pissed. I’m sure they didn’t appreciate having to deal with this commotion. They take both guys to the hole for investigation.

It’s too early to say what is going to happen to these guys. My guess is that they let my buddy stay in the hole for a week or two.  The other guy will probably stay longer.  The logical thing would be to put one of the guys in another unit when he returns.  However, the camp is not known for doing logical things.

Bunk Assignments

Monday, January 9th, 2012 |

The camp is preparing for an influx of new campers. As I have previously written, there have been a lot of guys who have left as a result of the new crack law change or it was simply their time to go. They try to put all new campers on the beach which means that they have to move existing beach residents into a cube. As you may recall, the beach is more like the pits! It is constant noise and activity 24/7. I was there for a month before I got transferred.

Cellies Can Get You in Trouble

I’ve written recently that it is important to get the right cellie.  This is so important that it bears repeating.  Any new guy should be looking for an empty bunk in a cell with a guy that he is compatible with.  Also, if you are already in the cell, but your cellie has left, then you need to be searching out a compatible guy from the beach – easier said than done.

The wrong cellie can get you in a lot of trouble. The biggest areas of contention are: reverse sleeping schedules, slob vs. a neat freak, a smoker or a cell phone user, personality, interests, etc. We spend so much time in the cell that the worst thing is to walk into your cell and be reminded of a miserable situation every time you look at your cellie. The other big issue is that if your cellie has contraband of any sort, both cellmates get blamed for it. Unless, the responsible cellie takes responsibility by saying “that’s mine and he didn’t have anything to do with it.”

I have seen guys whose cellie did not take responsibility for their actions so innocent guys went to the hole; or, in a worst-case scenario gets kicked behind the fence. In addition, they have not been doing inspections here lately but they can and will. Same thing – if your cellie is a slob and the cell is not cleaned to standards, then you both get dinged. Talk about taking a bad situation and making it worse!

My Cellie Selection Problems

My other cellie sought me out when I was on the beach. His former cellie got released. My cellie was a no-nonsense guy who is looking at going home in the Spring. He didn’t want to get a guy that was going to mess up his release date. I made the request to move into his cell, and it was done. He had the upper bunk, and I got the lower.

I was getting real worried. There was no one on the beach that I wanted in my cell. They were mostly young screw-ups. I talked to two guys that were in upper bunks in other cells that wanted to move in with me. One of the guys would have been one of those incompatible situations so we mutually agreed to nix the request. The other guy is with a cellie who a totally rude and messy slob. This guy is hating life! He previously asked for a cell transfer and got denied. I told him to ask again, which he did and got denied again.

Lower Bunk Pass

You must have a medical reason for sleeping in the lower bunk, and it’s not even based on age. Remember, this is a medical camp so many guys here have chronic health problems. My former cellie had a number of health issues, and even had a lower bunk pass in the past. He should have been able to keep his lower bunk pass but, for some reason, they took it away from him. He recently got his lower bunk pass and moved into another cell leaving me with no one in the upper bunk.

Counselor Makes Cell Assignments

The counselor is responsible for bunk assignments. Some counselors will allow cell transfers if there is truly an incompatible situation. For some reason, my counselor will not. Once you are in a cell, you are there permanently. It may be that she is too lazy and/or she just doesn’t care. Anyway, she won’t move people even though it only takes a minute to make the change in the computer. Ridiculous!

My New Cellie

We had a guy self-report the past week, and he was assigned to the beach. The “self-report” guys are an immediate clue that he is probably either white-collar, or he has a short sentence. This guy fit the latter case. I met him on his first day and told him that he should get off the beach asap. I also told him that my cell was open, and I was looking for a cellie.  He should come see me if he had an interest.

It seemed obvious to me that he would be my best chance of getting a compatible cellie. Yesterday, the counselor started calling all the beach guys to her office to discuss cell assignments. There are a few guys that don’t want to move off the beach. I talked to the new guy about telling the counselor he wanted to move in with me before it was too late. The other guys told him that I was absolutely the best choice of a cellie for him. Even though he had talked to the counselor about the transfer, I told him that he needed to submit a written cop out request for the transfer. He did so. The counselor made all the cell assignments, and I rallied by getting a guy that I could live with.

Brandon moved in yesterday, and we covered all the ground rules regarding cleanliness, sleeping, settling all his stuff, etc. We spent a lot of time talking and finding out about each other. This situation is going to work out good.

Lower Bunk Pass

Thursday, December 29th, 2011 |

My cellie Smith got a lower bunk pass so he is moving out of my cell. This will give me some solitude in my cell until they assign someone new.  However, I have an incentive to find my own cellie, just like Smith asked me to bunk with him.

Cellies can get you in trouble.  When the CO’s shakedown a cell, they don’t discriminate between cellies if contraband is found.  The same applies if your cell is not up to standards during an inspection.  Both men can get “shots”, disciplinary action that can include the loss of privileges.  The problem is that there is no one currently on the beach that I want for a cellie.

All newly arriving inmates are assigned to the “beach” until the cells open.  Lower bunk passes are assigned to inmates that have health issues that would cause the inmate to fall or stumble out of the top bunk. I rarely, if ever, see someone permanently assigned to a lower bunk without medical issues.

There is some leeway for inmates to request to be assigned to certain cells, but always within the same unit. The camper’s counselor makes the bunk assignments.  So, it helps to have a helpful counselor when asking for a cell assignment.  Unfortunately, none of the counselors at Butner are inclined to do more than they must, and are certainly not inclined to go out of their way for the campers.

We currently have many empty beds.  This is because there have been guys leaving before the holiday but almost no transfers in. I expect to see new people after January 1st. I’m debating taking a chance of being assigned a good cellie or asking someone who is not ideal, but will work.

Stranded at the “Beach”

Saturday, October 15th, 2011 |

It is an endless wait for the “right” cell and cellie, as I am stranded at the camp beach.  I continue to have difficult nights. Last night was a typical Friday night, 9 pm count, some talk, and then go to sleep. Problem is that others (particularly the younger guys) don’t go to bed as early as I do.  So, there is constant noise with people talking, laughing, toilets flushing and loud washing machines.  The beach is grand central station with everyone passing by my superhighway bed.  The guy in the bunk opposite me is constantly singing rap songs with his headphones on.  He can’t carry a tune and it gets obnoxious. Furthermore, the light never stops emanating from the bathroom.

Cell and Cellie Selection

I can’t wait till I get out of the beach. I have a lower bunk pass because of my ICD. There are two upper bunks that will soon be available because it’s from occupants were sent off to the hole. They have been holding one guy’s lower bunk available to him while he is in FMC.  But, no one is sure that he is coming back. Likely, I have to wait until someone leaves, and we have at six guys that I know of that are leaving between now and the end of the year.

I must be careful about getting the right cellie. The COs and counselors inspect the cells. They will write you and your cellie up if the cell doesn’t conform to their standards, regardless of whose fault the mess is. This includes perfectly made beds (military-style), swept floors, clean shelves, etc. Some guys here are slobs.  The camp administration can impose sanctions or take good time from you for simple infractions.

I am probably eligible for the next lower bunk available out of the beach. I have two possible cells that I have targeted. One will be available on December 15th, and the other on December 20th. It’s going to be tough to wait another two months to get out of the beach so I might be tempted to take what I can. I’ll keep you posted.

High Profile Camper Coming?

I got my WSJ last night and noted that the big insider-trader Raj was sentenced on Thursday to 11 years. His attorneys asked the judge to recommend Butner because he has some health issues. He will probably be given a Care Level 3 (CL3 like me). He is on the cusp of the less than 10-year sentence required to be in the camp. However, he may be able to get his good time counted towards this 10-year requirement up-front. The guy is worth $1 billion dollars so I’m sure he has persuasive attorneys and connections. His case is one of the most interesting insider trading cases that I have seen.

I spend most of my time with the other white-collar guys, who make up no more than 25% of the 300 guys here. You get to know them very quickly because of the commonality of interests, education, class, etc. I hope that Raj does make it to the camp by the time I leave. I would like to talk to him.

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.

 

 

My First Few Days of Prison Life

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 |

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:

Intake

My first prison ID card

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.

Overview of My Unit Building and Compound

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.

Food

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.

First Day Problems

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.