Observation Report

We haven’t been visiting with Russ quite as often as we were in the first year of his incarceration. In those initial visits, he had lots to tell us about the culture of the USDB, the weird time warp of prison time, and his emotional state upon being subjected to it all. As time went by he stopped telling us what was going on inside because for him, every day was the same – there was nothing to tell. Prison visitation is an odd beast. It’s not like having someone over for dinner. There’s nothing to take pressure off of the conversation – there’s no conversation prompts like a book on the coffee table or odd piece of art, no TV program to muse, no food to provide fodder. So our visits have gotten fewer and our conversations more halting.

I know Russ is anxious these days, and I’ve been thinking that my usual practice of filling dead air by babbling on about mundane things Russ hasn’t experienced in years doesn’t seem like the best practice. So I determined I would get him to talk about some of the minutiae of prison life that we’d never discussed.

I didn’t realize that guards search his cell about once a week. It’s not a total

A typical prison cell at the USDB

A typical prison cell at the USDB

tossing, and it’s not something many inmates worry over because there’s no real contraband floating around the place. That said, there’s always something the guards could write you up about, depending on their mood. Magazines, apparently, are an easy and ubiquitous target. Magazines. There’s a rule, which I’ve mentioned before, forbidding “trafficking,” which, in practical application, means that no inmate can give another inmate anything. So Russ, for example, who has a subscription to GQ, can’t trade it for another publication when he’s finished reading it. And if your cell is searched and the guards find a magazine with an address label identifying someone else as its initial recipient, they can write you up.

“Some guards don’t care. During their ‘search,’ they’ll lean on my wall and flip through the latest GQ. Other guards will confront you about it if they see a magazine that has its address label ripped off, but typically, if you’re honest and say, ‘yep, you’re right, I messed up,’ then they’ll let you go with a warning. But if you’re stupid and don’t even take the address label off, it’s a pretty quick write up. Then when your parole board comes around, they’ll see a page in there that says, ‘written up for trafficking.’ That doesn’t look good. Even though I doubt anyone in here has ever had the opportunity to traffic anything harder then a Playboy, it makes it sound like you’re a drug dealer.”

Russ said it’s so easy to get written up for  small things – whether you’re record at the USDB is clean, or riddled with write ups is largely dependent on the mood of the guards that day. Luckily, Russ hasn’t had any write ups at all – not even an observation report. He’s hoping that small fact will help sway his parole board.

p.s. If you’ll notice in the photo above, the cell has a little stainless steel sink/toilet combo that’s sort of interesting.


It reminds me of this, the very apex of tech-eco-toilette.




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