Mega-Million Jackpot

(Note: this post was sent to me in the form of a letter and I wasn’t sure Russ wanted me to post it. I waited until I confirmed he wanted it posted before writing it up, so it’s a few weeks old.)

I was woken up today after only two hours of sleep. A guard was standing directly outside my cell.

“A Miss called for you,” he said.

That’s not some prison-term. I think he was trying to tell me that a woman called for me, but the fact that he was making me decipher this message and its lack of real information annoyed me. I was exhausted from working the night before, but I knew that I wasn’t on the pass roster and I didn’t have any scheduled appointments. I pushed the button on the intercom in my cell so I could speak to the sergeant in the booth. He said someone had called, but the line had cut out before he got any details. I told him I was tired, I was going to bed, but if they called back to wake me up. About 15 minutes later, another knock on my door.

“The CJA office wants to speak to you.”

The CJA office is where you go for attorney phone calls and powers of attorney and I hadn’t made an appointment with them. So I was confused, but figured maybe my attorney was calling.

I came out of my cell and started for the CJA office. Halfway down the hall I stopped to chat with another inmate and he told me he’d heard the parole analyst requesting me. That made much more sense. So off I went, now at least semi-confident that this wasn’t going to be a wild goose chase, also very nervous that I was going to be told that my appeal to the parole board had been denied. It was too soon for that, though – they shouldn’t be getting back to me until mid-January.

In the analyst’s office, I groggily took a seat in front of the desk.

“I’m sorry to call you in so early, but I’m about to be out of the office for a few days. I wanted to give you the results of your appeal to the denial of your parole before I left,” she said.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I’d had hours to prepare myself emotionally for the results of my initial parole board and it still hit me like three tons of bricks. This was out of the blue … a full month early. Nothing happens before schedule in here. Nothing. I wasn’t sleep-blurry anymore. I took the sheet of paper she handed me across her desk and scanned it feverishly.

Reversed. It said ‘reversed.’

Suddenly I was tingling all over … I was nearing a cliff, but I couldn’t let myself jump just yet. I might not have a parachute. Did that mean what I thought it meant?

“You were granted parole on your appeal. Your release is about seven months from now in July,” said the parole analyst.lottery jump

Typically, they give you 90 days notice, not seven months notice, but I’m not complaining. I signed the notification and walked back to my housing unit on a cloud. I didn’t realize how thoroughly I’d abandoned hope of parole, but you can’t imagine the change in perspective I felt. It felt like winning the lottery.

Immediately I wanted to call everyone and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, I only had $3 on my phone account and calls are 32 cents/minute. Ahhhh!!!

Red Tape, Schmed Tape

Talked to Russ on the phone yesterday after a long hiatus. He used up all of his phone time and money trying to keep in touch with his family during his mother’s last days. So he’s been trying to keep phone calls, which cost him a pricey $0.32/minute, to a minimum since then.

He said he’s been working on his appeal to the parole board (a separate and lesser process than his appeal of his conviction) and he finally got a copy of the parole packet the USDB sent off to Washington. He had been eagerly awaiting this packet.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with this whole post-conviction judicial process (and let’s face it – I can barely follow it even when I hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak), here’s a quick synopsis:

Russ went through a local parole board at the USDB before the federal board met in D.C. to discuss his parole. Along with various letters and documents that Russ gathered for his parole board, the USDB sent a packet that included their own paperwork and recommendation. When he stood before the local board they told him he wouldn’t know their recommendation immediately, but following his federal parole board he’d get a copy of it. Well, he did. Except the entire thing was blacked out and redacted, so he has no idea what the local board actually recommended. So that’s helpful.

ImageEven less helpful: the USDB didn’t include copies of Russ’ most recent documentation. A big part of the parole process is accepting responsibility for one’s crime (we discussed his parole process here, here, and here). But the federal board saw paperwork that said Russ hadn’t accepted responsibility for his crime and had as a consequence, “refused” treatment. In fact, Russ has accepted responsibility for his crime and has completed all treatment available to him. He’s put his name on the waiting list for treatments not yet available. (That’s another story – the system is so back-logged that he’ll have served his full sentence before a slot opens up for his “mandatory” treatment. But if he’s paroled, he’ll be able to enroll in the same treatment in the civilian world almost immediately.)

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the red tape bamboozle may increase his chances at successfully appealing his parole.

Happy Halloween!

A Day in the Life, Part II

After count clears, the pods are called to dinner in a rotating order. Everyone gets 20 minutes to eat. The food is pretty good. I mean, it’s a prison – it’s prison food. But it’s not bad. In addition to the main line, there’s an all-you-can-eat salad bar with bread and fruit. At the end of each pod’s 20 minutes, guards go around kicking out loiterers.

We walk back to the pod and hang around until evening recreation, which starts at 6:00 p.m. every work day. We sign up on the activity roster for whatever recreation we want to participate in. You can lift weights, go to the gym, the rec field, music room, craft shop, or library. Those are the most popular choices. You have to pick and choose – not all options are open during the entire rec period, so you have to figure out which you can schedule. There’s plenty to do to keep busy.

Today I’m going to the craft shop for an hour, then heading to the weight room. That will leave me time to shower and get ready for night time work call at 10 p.m.

I shower and pack up the food I’ll eat at work tonight. We get a bagged lunch – typically with lunch meat, bread, fruit and vegetables. It’s not quite enough food for a seven hour stretch of work.

A Day in the Life…(part one)

I wake up to a soldier knocking on my cell door. It’s 1331 (1:31 p.m. for you non-military chapter17figure48types). The soldier is one of my treatment counselors for the Reasoning & Rehabilitation (a.k.a. R&R – but obviously not the good kind) treatment program I’ve been attending for the past few months. The classes are two days a week for about six months. I wasn’t on the pass roster today so I thought the class had been cancelled – apparently not. Now I’m late for a treatment. I get up and take a leak in my trusty toilet/sink combo unit. I pee into the toilet sideways so my back faces the door, not wanting to give anyone a free look at my junk. Some genius designed the pod so that, when squared to the toilet, taking a piss allows everyone in the common room to take stock of your delicate bits. I wash my hands and find that my towel isn’t dry. The steamer in the laundry is down. I hate getting up this early on a work day. I decide to make a quick breakfast before I go to treatment. I put a packet of oatmeal, a scoop of peanut butter, and some sunflower seeds into my special version of tupperware – a small, round container left over from a special order of christmas cookies. I put two scoops of freeze dried Folger’s coffee into my cup and push the button on my cell intercom. The guard in the control booth comes across the intercom – “Control.” I ask him to pop the lock on my door. The door opens with a harsh, metallic click. I make my way groggily to the opposite wall of the pod’s common area where the hot water pots are. I put a little water into my oatmeal and coffee cup. I sit at one of the metal four-person tables that are bolted to the floor throughout the common area. My treatment group might be waiting on me, but I decide to take a few minutes. I need this coffee – this freeze dried coffee. Prison_Furniture_Supervison_Model I put my bowl back in my cell and walk over to the side door that connects my pod to the medium custody pod next door. Between the two pods are a couple of offices and a classroom used for group treatment. I push the intercom button next to the door. “Control.” I tell the guard I’m going to treatment. “Go get your blouse.” I’m wearing my white under shirt with my brown uniform pants. This is a first. I’ve gone to treatment without my over shirt on before. Ugh – but not a huge deal. So I go back and get it. I finally get into the R&R classroom and I see that four people are still missing. both guys from N pod are missing. They must still be on lock-down for the two fights that happened last week. One guy walks in shortly after me and the facilitator says that we need to begin. Today’s class is about controlling our emotions. One of the guys argues for a while about people not being able to control their emotions, only their reactions to emotions. We list what makes us angry and share our top three triggers. Thankfully, class ends quickly, the counselors seem to have some place to be and our late start meant they couldn’t conduct a full session. I go back to my pod and see they’re issuing monthly rations a day early. I’m glad – I’m running pretty low on coffee. I sign for my rations and put them in my wall locker in my cell. I’m pretty well-stocked on rations now – after spending almost $80 (the maximum allowed) for the first time. A couple of guys in the pod ask me to play dominos with them. I play for about 45 minutes before I go over to the phone to make a call to a friend. I talk for the full 30 minutes allowed at a cost of about $10. What a rip-off. This phone card company gouges us like crazy. Still, it’s cheaper than the company we used when I first arrived here. By the time I finish with my phone call, it’s 1550 (3:50 p.m.) and they’ve announced work recall. All the day-time workers (the majority of the population) start streaming back into the pod. the noise level picks up and the prison news gets spread. Word has it that one of the more childish and annoying inmates was taken to the SHU (special housing unit – a.k.a. max security) for horsing around with another inmate and bumping into a guard. The guy annoys me, so I’m not too torn up over the news. More to follow. xoxo — Russ

Prison Schoolin’

I’m looking for a masters degree program that I can complete during my imprisonment. Call me snooty, but I want to find one that’s intellectually rigorous. The issue is not a dearth of distance-learning masters programs, but my lack of internet access. There are very few universities that offer paper-based courses and even fewer that offer them at the graduate level. The only program I’ve found is from a school in California that has no regional accreditation and a catalogue that looks like a 10-year-old could may have made it using Microsoft Paint.

Sigh. Aren’t there any old people out there with no computers (possibly word-processors?!) who want to earn their master’s degrees from home? There’s gotta be something. Just because I have a lot of time on my hands doesn’t mean I want to waste it (and my money) on a worthless degree.

The Scepter of Power

In previous posts, I’ve given you a general idea of the layout of the common area in my housing unit – remember the TV viewing sections: Whites, Brothers, Latinos?

The organization of these sections is much more detailed than I previously intimated when I was constrained by hand-written letters. Now I have a word-processor (remember those?) which allows me to delve a little deeper into the intricacies of prison society without getting a cramp in my hand. (A word-processor is one of the few luxuries an inmate can own. I had to acquire one that met prison specifications through a supplier who is well-known within the prison system. Though I’m happy with my purchase, I paid an exorbitant price for mid-nineties technology, let me tell you.)

Upon arrival at the USDB, a member of the Whites section welcomed me and briefed me on the prison hierarchy. The Whites is the largest, and therefore most complex, of the sections. I’m familiar with all the sections, but have maintained my membership in the Whites, mostly for simplicity’s sake, so that’s the section I’ll describe.

Each inmate is issued a blue plastic chair. These chairs are organized into four rows in my housing unit (I hear some housing units have five rows). The front row, which is nearest the TV, is reserved for the “heavies” of the section; the center chair for the heaviest of said “heavies” allowing him optimal TV viewing. The second row inmates are the B-team, if you will, and again, the ranking starts at the center and moves to the outside. Each row’s center man controls the row behind him, and the heavies decide when a person has earned the right to move towards the center or nearer the front. Attributes that help you move inward & forward include, but are not limited to:

1. Personality

2. Ability to kick people’s asses

3. Special acts for the section

4. Plain old popularity

I was sort of lucky – as far as luck goes in prison, I suppose. My section disliked the inmates in the fourth row so much that when an opening became available just two weeks after my arrival, I was able to move to the third row. I was told, however, that this was not the norm.

I’m in a Minimum Security housing unit where the people seem more relaxed relative to the higher security housing units; there are less politics to deal with. Some of the guys I was in reception with went into Medium Security and they tell me about the craziness that goes on there. For example, in Medium Security common areas, fourth row inmates are not allowed to speak to first and second row inmates. The remote control to the TV is revered, like a scepter of power. The front row controls what is watched during peak hours through a democratic vote. If no one in the front row is watching TV, then the remote is handled by the highest ranking inmate watching TV at the time. New inmates are warned that many fights start from a newbie grabbing the remote and changing the channel without regard for the social hierarchy.

Lesson: just stay away from the remote.

But let’s say you don’t want to watch what’s on TV in your section, and notice that another section, we’ll say the Latinos, are watching the show that you want to watch. You can’t just pull your chair into the other section, even in their back row, to watch their programming. There is a protocol one must follow. If you’re a new inmate, you need someone from your section to ask the other section’s heavies if you can watch their TV. Negotiations ensue at higher levels and you’re told by your own heavy if, when, and where you’re allowed to pull up your chair in the other section. I don’t think I need to say it, but don’t even think about grabbing another section’s remote control unless you’re looking for a fight.

People with status and time in the housing unit will sometimes join another section to watch TV with no issue. For example, a heavy from the Brother’s section might sit in the Whites front row as a guest to watch whatever TV program the Whites are watching. The division of sections would seem to indicate that race is a major issue within the USDB, but that’s truly not the case. I suppose it’s sort of like the first day of grade school when all the boys would gravitate to one side of the room and the girls the other. People just sort of go where they feel most comfortable and, at least in my housing unit, there’s absolutely no rift or rivalry between the sections.

The programming choices are somewhat stereotypical. The Brother’s TV is usually on BET or ESPN (though they watch more westerns than one might expect), the Latino’s TV is often on Univision (Spanish language channel), and the White’s TV is a hodgepodge of trashy reality TV, sci-fi, and movies.

I’ve heard of extreme cases where a person is so disliked that they are kicked out of their section and forced into another. If another section is unwilling to take them in, then they could be banished from the common area and told to stay in their cell. In the most extreme of cases, an inmate could be told to contact the guard commander and ask to be put in to the protective custody housing unit to avoid an ass-beating. This is very extreme, though, since once you go into protective custody, you never come back out and you lose many privileges, the most devastating of which is the privilege to work off your sentence through the work abatement program.