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It's Only Hell If You Make It That Way
Surviving in Federal Prison
By G V Profeta
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2014 G V Profeta
All rights reserved.
MISTAKE versus BAD CHOICE
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of you going to prison and how you should act in order to survive and get out someday in one piece and be a better person, I must say this: what you did to get yourself into this predicament was not by mistake but instead by a bad choice that you made. What everyone says, "We all make mistakes, you just got caught," is so untrue in many instances. You made a conscious decision to do what you did and ultimately got arrested. Misspelling a word is a mistake, or thinking someone is someone else is a mistake. Robbing a bank, selling drugs, driving drunk, sexually abusing someone, killing someone, or whatever crime you committed is the result of a choice that you made. Somewhere in your life, be it recently or many years ago, you allowed yourself or your brain to develop bad choices as the only way for you to go forward in your decision-making process. This risk-taking behavior could have been the result of poor family life and relationships; being abused mentally, sexually, or physically at some time in your past; or any other number of experiences or life-changing events that affect the way you think. I am not a psychologist, social worker, or a professional in the field of study of behaviors, but I am one who has gone down the same dark path you have and am just finishing up my third year of therapy where I am trying to find out when and why my brain short-circuited to the point where I allowed bad decisions to be the norm and not the exception as part of my daily behavior and decision making.
SEEMINGLY UNIMPORTANT DECISIONS (SUD)
From June 2010 until May 2013 (and possibly further), I was seeing Larry Auerbach, LCSW (licensed certified social worker), BCETS (board-certified expert in traumatic stress). Mr. Auerbach made it known to me and my group that every day we make decisions that determine the outcome of our life, be these decisions good or bad, thus making the results of these decisions good or bad as well. He has instilled or at least tried to instill in all of us attending how important it is to think through every decision we have to make where we see risk involved. Sometimes, the risk is not dangerous or criminal, but on many occasions, the risks we may involve ourselves in have negative consequences. It is during these risk-taking, decision-making times that we have to look at the possible results and make our decision according to that outcome result. People like me and you, the reader of this book, evidently overlooked the possible consequences of the risk-taking behavior we were allowing ourselves to partake in and went ahead and made a decision that not only had negative consequences but ones that could have been extremely dangerous as well. We ignored all the warnings and made a bad choice. This harmful behavior was the result of a seemingly unimportant decision or an SUD. Mr. Auerbach describes an SUD as the following:
What is a seemingly unimportant decision, and why is it a strong warning of a dangerous situation? The best way to define an SUD is to say that it is the first step on a banana peel that can lead to a slip and then a fall that could create a prolonged stay in a hospital or even a wheelchair or, at the very worse, lead to death. It is the conscious choice to not see a potential risk or danger that can often lead to a bigger risk and danger and a situation that an individual cannot escape from without risking a great loss or injury, either physically, financially, emotionally, or any combination of these.
There are certain phrases that are used by the individual who is making this SUD that if they really listened to themselves, would tell them that they are on the verge of making this poorly-thought-out and dangerous choice. Some of these common warning phrases are "It's only ..." "I'm just ..." "It's not really ..." "Everyone does this ..." "I know I shouldn't do/say this, but ..." and "It can't hurt if I ..." Anytime someone hears themselves saying these things, it would be a very good idea to pay close attention to the words that follow and think about the possible consequences that may occur if they go ahead with their plans. But this is the underlying problem with someone making an SUD—they are most often choosing to not see the potential disaster this choice can bring into their lives because their focus is on what the gain could be. The desire to see only the rewards blinds them to the possibility that there are pitfalls or problems with the behavior they are thinking of engaging in. It is the first step of a mistake in judgment that usually leads to a series of successive mistakes that only serve to compound the problem, increasing the danger at each turn, and leading the individual deeper into trouble at each decision. Because the individual is only looking at the desired end result, they will often miss the warning signs at each step of the process, blindly following their desire into a pit that they will seldom be able to climb out of unscathed or without a significant cost to themselves.
By focusing on what one wants to see instead of what is truly there, anyone can put themselves in the position of making a seemingly unimportant decision that can forever change their life and the lives of others in ways that can never be undone or repaired.
To put it simply, look before you leap.
Now, for the meat and potatoes.
YOU ARE GOING TO PRISON
If you bought this book, more than likely, you are looking at going to prison in the near future. No, not because you purchased the book, but because your actions have dictated that law enforcement arrest you, charge you, and have you locked up.
By now, you already know if you are going to prison or not. You will have either made bail and will have to self-surrender on an appointed date, or you will remain in custody and will be designated to a prison and then transferred there at the BOP's discretion. If you are going to self-surrender, you do not need to read this chapter. If you are remanded or decide to remain in custody, it will benefit you to read on.
OK, you did not make bond and have to begin serving your sentence from the day you were arrested. In a way, this is a good thing because your sentence has already begun being counted down even if you have not been sentenced yet.
For every day that you are locked up, you are accruing good time, no matter where you are, be it a federal holdover, a local or county jail, or anywhere that the BOP has you in custody. In my case, I remained at a county jail, in its federal "pod," for over sixteen months while my counsel was working on getting me the best "deal" they could with the prosecution. The bad thing was that I actually did get awarded bond and could have gone home, but for personal reasons, that was not going to happen, so I remained in custody. While I would have loved to be out among family and friends, getting my affairs in order, I think that I would really have wanted to put in as much time as I could up front so that this nightmare would be behind me as quickly as I could get it there. By remaining in custody, I cut off eighteen months that would have had to be added on once I self-surrendered. I look back now and thank God I did not go home on bond. Some people call me crazy, but if I did go home, I would be in prison until almost 2012. No way.
If you are in custody, then you are somewhat familiar with how the facility you are in works. In most instances, it is nothing like being in a federal prison, and in nine out of ten cases, you will find it much better in the Fed once you get there. Being locked up for a month to many months will prove invaluable, and it is best that you do your time there without making yourself a target. The less you interact with people, the better you will be. I am not saying you do not speak to anyone, but when you do, choose your acquaintances wisely and keep the number low. You will be able to tell the good "eggs" from the bad. Stay away from the bad as much as you can. Another thing to remember while you are in prison is that there is no social order among inmates. If you were the CEO of your company or some homeless person on the street, it will not mean a thing in prison. If you are used to getting your way on the outside, forget it, and I mean forget it. Once you start to make a fuss about all the little things that are not right, you will be asking for trouble. Suck it up and go with the flow the best that you can. It will be very difficult at first, but prison is unlike anywhere you have been before.
However long you are in a preprison lockup, you will come across some similarities with how things operate in the Fed. Depending on your security classification, your housing will be a big part of how well one adjusts to being locked up. More than likely, you are in a cell with one or possibly more cell mates. This cell is most likely locked every evening at lights-out and whenever your facility has a "standing count," which in most cases is at 4:00 p.m. You learn quickly how to use the toilet and other facilities in your cell and do it so that no one else in your cell is offended or made to clean up after you. The one constant of being in a holding facility is that you will be locked up. This also goes for being in a medium-security prison and higher. Most lows, satellite lows, and camps do not have cells, but instead, you will be living in dormitory-like settings, and you will be assigned to a cubicle-type cell. No doors, no toilets in your room, just you, your cell mates, lockers, and a desk with a chair for each celly. You have a little more freedom, and it really feels good not being closed in a cage every night. If you can survive the lockup you are in now, it won't get any worse unless you are going to a maximum-security prison.
While at holdover facilities, you will be allowed certain privileges and have some amenities that are similar to those in the prison you will be going to in the near future. Here are some of those features that you will use on a daily and weekly basis.
COMMISSARY. You will be allowed to purchase food and sundry items once a week. This will free you up from having to eat the meals prepared daily for the inmates or at least supplement them. It also gives you a little freedom in choosing better items for hygiene, such as soaps, shampoos, and deodorants. The list you choose from will not be as extensive as at a federal prison, but you will get a good idea how the system works. You will also learn how to have funds put into your inmate account. Be sure that when you are finally designated to a prison, your money follows you. Some holdovers have their own inmate accounts, and they are not the same as the lockbox fund used by the Feds. If they have their own accounts, your money may not be transferred to the facility you are sent to right away. Be patient; it usually shows up within one week.
LAUNDRY. Most likely, you will be issued two or three jumpsuits and a few pairs of briefs, T-shirts, and socks. Each week, you are required to turn in your soiled laundry to be washed and returned the same day. The same goes for bed linens.
RECREATION. Depending on the holdover that you are at, recreation can be anything from being allowed out a cement yard surrounded by walls and razor wire to being allowed into a gym where there a few things to do, such as play basketball, walk, play Ping-Pong, or sit down and play board games. Consider yourself lucky if you get to go to rec once a week. In many instances, men and women don't go to rec but for once or twice a month. When you are allowed rec, it is usually for about one hour. These change drastically for the good when you get to your prison.
LIBRARIES AND EDUCATION. Forget about wanting to take any kind of classes at a holdover or going to the library to read. These facilities do not offer either. Holdovers have computers for law work and tiny book carts that rarely make it to the different pods for inmates to choose books off of. The majority of books on the book carts usually are made up of bibles and other religious books. The best way to do some reading is to have family send books to you.
VISITS. You will be allowed visits, but you will have to speak to your friends and loved ones through the use of a phone while viewing them through a plexiglass barrier.
MEALS. I won't go into meals, seeing as the meals served in the Fed are much better than the meals you are being served now.
For most of you reading this, you have been in a holdover facility for a little while and are familiar with its workings. If you are waiting to go to your designated prison, let the "fun" begin.
TRANSFERRED ... FINALLY!
Your case has been settled, and your lawyer tells you that you have been designated to a prison. No one knows where you are going or when, but figure sometime within the next forty-five days. For security reasons, nobody can tell you where or when. Most holdovers will not allow inmates to take certain foods and sundry items with them to prison, so order commissary carefully. You will be informed by a CO to pack all your personal property that you want to take with you and what you want picked up or sent home. When that happens, figure that you will be leaving within the week and, usually, in a day or two.
Now is when the real "fun" begins—again. You will be pulled out of your unit/cell early in the morning, usually before 3:00 a.m. You will be processed out; issued bus clothes; and handcuffed, chained, and shackled for the umpteenth time. Depending on what part of the country you are going, you will be driven to a federal holdover or transfer center. In my case, I was bussed to the Atlanta USP, then off to Tallahassee FDC, and finally, to prison, which was the federal satellite low at Jesup, Georgia. Figure that you will be going through at least one transfer center before arriving at your designated facility. Naturally, the farther away your prison is, the more transfer centers you will pass through. Eighteen months after being in Jesup, I was transferred to Miami FCI via Tallahassee.
You will get your first taste of what it is like to be at a federal prison once you arrive at your first transfer site. In many cases, you will be put in to a cell and will have to be locked down during certain parts of the day, but for the most part, you will be free to use whatever is available to you at the center. You will notice that your meals are much better and that the commissary list is more extensive. You will be allowed to go outside every day and will find that there is much more to do. There will be television to watch and books to read. If you have any money on your "books," you will be able to make phone calls usually within the first day, but not for a few hours until after your arrival. It will be at your transfer facility where you will finally be told where your final destination will be. Most men find that once they find out, they can begin asking around and will usually find other inmates at the transfer site that had done time at the place where they are going. You should do that too because it will give you an idea of what to expect. Remember, you are dealing with all different types of men or women, and they all have different opinions of where they have been. For instance, once I found out that I was going to Miami FCI, I began asking around about the prison. Some men loved it, and some did not. Most of what forms their opinions has to deal with the amount of time they spend at each facility. I had found out that Miami FCI was much better than Jesup FSL, but at Miami, we would be locked in our cells for standing counts and overnight, whereas at Jesup, you are in open dorms. I was told that the food was better at Miami, along with education, recreation, and commissary. I also found out the prices at the store were cheaper.
The one thing all the men who were at Miami told me is that at Miami, there is a lake. Miami FCI is the only federal prison that encircles a lake. The original Club Fed. As far as Florida standards go, it is actually a huge retention pond, but a body of water nonetheless. So ask around and keep an open mind. You now know where you are headed, and who knows how many more stops you will have to make along the way. The good thing is that your final destination will be within reach and you will be able to settle into a routine once and for all. Like the bus trips you had taken in the past, you will once again get processed out and issued a set of bus clothes. You may even get to fly on Con Air, which is an old 727. The leather seats are pretty beat-up, and there are no flight attendants to see to your every need, just a bunch of hard-nosed US marshals. You will remain cuffed and shackled, and if you are lucky, you may get some bottled water and a package of crackers. Whatever you do, do not let any part of your body or head lean out into the aisle, for a not-so-friendly US marshal will smack you in the head or knock your arm, leg, or shoulder out of the way. Ouch!
Excerpted from It's Only Hell If You Make It That Way by G V Profeta. Copyright © 2014 G V Profeta. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAuthor's Note, ix,
Mistake Versus Bad Choice, 1,
Seemingly Unimportant Decisions (Sud), 3,
You Are Going To Prison, 7,
Transferred ... Finally!, 11,
You Have Finally Arrived At Your Destination—Prison, 15,
You Will Be Judged, 17,
Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't (For Sex Offenders And Snitches), 25,
Patience What? Another Line?, 27,
Doing Time Requires That You Use Your Eyes And Ears, 95,
Percent Of The Time And Your Mouth The Other 5 Percent, 31,
Do You Really Make Friends In Prison?, 35,
It Is Not The "Real World" Behind The Razor Wire, 37,
How Can You Be Proactive And Productive In Prison? Get A Job!, 41,
Gambling And Televisions: The Two Biggest Problems You Will Encounter While In Prison, 49,
Smoking, Drugs, And Alcohol, 53,
Prison Etiquette, 55,
Services And Programs, 65,
Family And Friends = Support, 77,
The Not-So-Legal Ways To Survive In Prison, 79,
When All Else Fails, 87,
Appendix B, 101,