A recent visit with Russ left me feeling a little leery about the future of the USDB. I wrote previously about the change of command that occurred at the prison. The new boss made seasoned guards wary and keen on enforcing rules that had been allowed to go lax – for a variety of reasons, but largely due to their impracticality. Though the rules weren’t changed per se, their enforcement was and that caused some quiet unrest among the prisoners according to Russ.
The change of command also meant an influx of new guards (military police) unfamiliar with the culture of the USDB. Most of the new guards are young and inexperienced and are taking their positions of authority a little too seriously according to a few inmates. Russ reports that the influx of guards has come in small waves and each new wave is responsible for training the wave that comes after. Soldiers who’ve been on guard duty for roughly two weeks are “training” their fellow privates. Russ says it’s going about as smoothly as you would expect it to.
While some of the seasoned guards are taking the rules a bit more seriously, some of the new guards who have yet to conceptualize the USDB’s delicate prisoner-guard relationship are nonchalant about rules and timelines that the prisoners take very seriously. I’ll let Russ explain:
“The evening guards consistently call the recreation periods late which short changes the prisoners rec time. Each housing unit is scheduled for 65 minutes in the weight room four times a week. There is an NCO who’s supposed to direct the movement of inmates over the guard radios. The times never change and only one housing unit is allowed in the weight room during each 65-minute block. So when the NCO forgets to announce the rec time or, more commonly, the guards aren’t listening carefully to their radios and don’t hear the rec call, then the inmates have two options: they can stand patiently by the guard desk and hope that the guard realizes a rec time hasn’t been called, or they can engage a guard and ask directly. Engaging a guard in this manner is tricky – especially now. The guards are young and don’t know the rec schedule and their newfound power has gone to their heads a bit – so they’ve responded dismissively. “They’ll call it when they call it.” or “That’s not my job.” Every time they call rec time late or fail to call it at all, that’s time the inmates will never get back. It’s not like the prison is going to comp us a weight room session that we missed because the guards weren’t paying attention. Stuff like that is SO important when you’ve got nothing else. The inmates are getting really frustrated. But if they show their frustration at all to the guards who aren’t calling rec time properly, they risk getting written up for disrespecting a guard. That charge carries punishments that include losing custody grade (e.g. moving from min. to medium custody) and also goes on your parole record which allows a parole board a convenient reason to deny parole for bad behavior.”
Russ thinks the inmate frustration coupled with the guards’ inexperience and attitude are turning the USDB into a pressure cooker. Not to mix metaphors – but there’s more. The icing on the cake is that a couple of alleged “ring leaders” from the August 2010 riot at the USDB have been returned to general population. They were “heavies” back in the day and their re-entry into gen pop has caused some interesting ripples in the current social order.
Current heavies and these old-time heavies are speaking privately. The rest of the inmates observe their hushed conversations and it makes the whole place buzz like a poked bee hive. No one knows what’s going on and everyone has suspicions. Russ also has his and he’s worried about the mental state of the old-timers. They’ve now spent years in max security where they were locked in a tiny room for 23 hours a day. He can only imagine where their heads are after that kind of isolation.
Russ thinks the most likely reason for bringing the old-timers back into gen-pop is so they can be transferred to a federal prison. I guess it’s easier for the USDB to hand off a medium custody inmate than a max custody one.
Regardless of reason, their presence is causing a stir that, on top of the new guards and new command, is troubling.