The Ford Explorer that the two Military Policemen rented from the Kansas City Airport was clean and still had that new car smell. I sat in the back seat next to the officer my brigade had assigned to escort me to prison, Major Black. Major Black was required to sit through my entire court martial and he was as unconvinced of my guilt as the other seventeen people in the courtroom who weren’t actively participating in the trial. He handed me his cell phone and allowed me to make a few calls as we made our way from the airport to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
When we arrived at Leavenworth, the first order of business was to determine why my confinement orders assigned me to the JRCF (Joint Regional Correctional Facility). The JRCF is for people with sentences of less than five years; mine was for six. This caused some confusion. The gate guard at the JRCF called his supervisor who told him I would not be confined there. A phone call to the USDB revealed I would be confined there and they were expecting my arrival.
The Old USDB facility, a.k.a. The Castle
The USDB is the summit of the US Military prison system. It houses military prisoners with sentences from five years to life and all military death row inmates. Its previous facility was known as “The Castle” of mild cinematic fame. Upon arrival, guards ushered me through the West Gate and into a search area. Two obese Military Police Privates came with me into the initial search room.
The search room had a single exit and a prominent red panic button mounted on the wall. The privates stood there breathing heavily. I wasn’t sure if they had asthma or if they were trying to intimidate me. One of them informed me “any sudden movement will be taken as an act of aggression and you will be put on the ground.” I had to smile at the thought of these two fat kids trying to wrangle me to the floor. I was equally sure that a) I stood no chance of survival if they managed to get me to the ground and put their weight on top of me, and b) that they had no chance of putting me on the ground until my handcuffs went back on.
The New USDB Facility, opened in 2002
I slowly removed my Army Service Uniform (ASU) jacket and handed it to one of the guards. I began unlacing my spit-shined jump boots while one of the guards removed my medals, rank insignia, parachutists badge, and awards from my jacket. It bothered me to watch my ten years of service being striped from my uniform by a kid who’d never set foot in a combat zone.
Someone accidentally hit the panic button and two more portly guards bounded to the rescue. When the false alarm was cleared, I finished undressing.
Once I was completely naked and the guards were reasonably confident I wasn’t smuggling contraband under my scrotum or between my ass cheeks, I was allowed to put my pants, collared shirt, and boots back on. They placed me in a body cuff which is like a weight lifting belt that connects to your handcuffs. They put ankle shackles over my boots that restricted my stride to a shuffle and moved me to a waiting room where I was told to look at a wall.
I stood there inspecting the wall for some time while someone processed my paperwork.Then the guards walked me a few hundred meters through an outdoor covered walkway and into a new building. Even though I couldn’t move faster than a slow shuffle, the exertion required to move me to the new building seemed to severely agitate my guards’ asthma. They kept wheezing at me to stare at the ground, which made me want to look around even more. I kept my head down, but was able to see a few general population inmates in my peripheral vision.
When we arrived at the Special Housing Unit (SHU – pronounced “shoe”) reception office, an NCO (non-commissioned officer) issued me a hygiene kit, shorts, socks, shower shoes and a t-shirt. I was taken to another changing room where I took off the remnants of my ASUs and donned prison-orange shorts and white t-shirt. When I was dressed, the reception NCO issued me a copy of the all-encompassing regulation for the USDB: The Manual for the Guidance of Inmates, Vol. I and II. He then asked me some basic demographic questions and warned me not to tell the other inmates anything about my charges.
After I completed initial processing, the guards escorted me to an interview room where a man dressed in civilian clothes greeted me and explained that he was a Military Police Investigator (MPI). He inquired about my gang affiliations and tattoos and asked if I knew anyone in the USDB. Once he discovered I’d been an officer, he asked if any of my Soldiers had been sent to this prison. He also told me that the inmates may try to “tax” me because I used to make officer pay. I believe the real purpose of the interview was to recruit me as a snitch. He asked some more leading questions and I remained non-committal.
After the interview/sales-pitch, the guards escorted me to the Reception Tier and into my new cell. While I was making my bunk on the top rack, my new roommate walked in and introduced himself.