The writer is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets online on Zoom on Monday evenings. He is currently in a Federal Prison camp for a white collar crime. As he can’t attend support group meetings while he is in prison, we are in touch regularly on Corrlinks prison email. He sent me this 12 Things list to post on prisonist.org. – Jeff Grant
Click here to read our article, “After Trauma: The Time for Spiritual Growth.”
Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. is the world’s first ministry supporting the white collar criminal justice/economy exiled community. It hosts a White Collar Support Group online on Zoom every Monday at 7:00 pm ET, 6:00 pm CT, 5:00 pm MT, 4:00 pm PT, information here. We will be hosting our 200th consecutive weekly meeting online on Monday, April 13, 2020.
Dear Fellow Travelers:
I have been where you are now. And I am where you soon will be.
It is normal to be frightened. Believe me, I was. So, I hope what I am going to share with you will ease some of your fears by giving you accurate information based upon my experience at a federal prison camp. I am 60 years old (soon to be 61) and an inmate at a federal prison camp in XXX (Camp population approx. 265). I arrived here in March of 2019 and I was/am a member of the White Collar Support Group. I have known Jeff since 2014.
It is normal to be scared, but do not let your fear of the unknown overpower you, or cause your imagination to run wild. The reality of your (our) situation is this; what you think life will be like in a prison camp is far worse than the reality of what it will be like.
Regardless of the facility you are assigned to, there will be many men (or women) there just like you. You will recognize them when you meet them. They will recognize you too. These people will help steer you through your early days and weeks. This will be invaluable. And I guarantee that you will do the same for other new arrivals in the months ahead. What you will learn is that you are not alone.
Yes, incarceration is very different that what we are used to on the outside, but you will adapt to your new environment. I know this because everyone does. The amount of time it takes to adjust is different for everyone but with your new friends help the process will move along. However, I encourage you to not judge your progress based upon how you perceive others are progressing. I made that mistake. Trust that your adjustment period and the path you are on are unique to you. Before you know it you will have a routine that will work for you. As time moves forward your routine may change, and if it does, that is normal.
I know you are concerned about your mental and physical health. This is also normal. Let me share some of my experiences with you.
I too have mental health issues. Anxiety and depression to be exact. I have been on many different medication since I was diagnosed in the 1990’s. Since I arrived here I have NEVER had an issue getting the medication I need daily for my depression and anxiety. My Rx’s are refilled like clockwork every month. I self carry my meds, meaning I do not have to go to the daily pill line. They are refilled monthly, I keep them in my locker, and they are available to me any time I need them. The reality is the BOP does not want inmates going without the meds they need for their psychiatric disorders.
That said, it is true the healthcare you receive in prison isn’t the best. However, if you speak up for yourself and you can be your own advocate, and know what you need, you will fare much better than if you just meekly go along. Remember that the medical staff has to deal with all types (for instance, some are in prison for drug related offenses) and often assume right off the bat that you are trying to ‘get over’ on them. That’s why knowing what you need and being able to express it will serve you well.
Last month I had an emergency situation. I made it to sick call and explained what was happening and the pain I was in. One of the nurses was inclined to dismiss my concerns, so I focused on the other nurse. I was very polite but I was firm in that what I was experiencing was not normal, that the pain was intense, and I needed to go to the ER. And that is what happened, I went to the ER. As it turns out I was diagnosed with diverticulitis. I got the antibiotic treatment I needed and I was back at 100% within a week.
So, do inmates get sick? Yes, they do. Have there been Camp-Wide outbreaks of the flu, stomach virus, or other things? No there has not, at least not here anyway. Is this Camp filthy and germ infested? No, it is not. Are there germs? Yes, of course, but if you practice good personal hygiene, you will be fine. Inmates are also given free flu shots if they choose to accept one.
I truly understand that your situation is not ideal, but it will pass. You will see that it will not be as bad as you worry it will be. Understand that some of your worry comes from the fact that you will have not have the level of control over your daily life as you are used to having in the world. It is unnerving to have to ‘wait and see’, but you will get used to this fairly quickly.
You will learn and you will grow. And when this chapter is finished, you will be ready for the next chapter. As Jeff says, ‘there is always a way through’.
Here are 12 Things to Know I hope you will find helpful:
1. On the day you report, plan to arrive mid-morning at the latest, between 9am – 11am (unless you are instructed otherwise by the institution). The receiving/intake process takes time and you do not want to arrive anywhere close to a shift change.
2. On the day you report, bring your prescription medications with you, in the container provided by the pharmacy.
3. Bring original paper copies of your prescriptions.
4. If you wear glasses, get your eyes checked and get 2 pairs of glasses. Wear 1 pair when you report. Keep the other pair handy at home with your family. If you wear contacts you may not be able to get contact refills at your facility. You need to research this and/or check with the institution you are reporting to.
5. You do not need to bring ID with you.
6. Do not wear a watch. They will not let you bring it in with you. You will be issued instutition clothing.
7. As a precaution, make sure you are up-to-date on your immunizations.
8. You may want to get your teeth cleaned, and take care of any lingering dental work. At this facility, the dental hygienist and dentist are very good BUT it takes forever to get in to see them. It took me almost a year. It may be the same where you are reporting to.
9. Make a complete and comprehensive list of all your contacts, personal, professional and legal. Mail ONE copy to yourself the day before you report. Have your wife mail a second copy to you the day after you report.
10. When you arrive, you are going to need funds in your ITF (inmate trust fund) account. Otherwise known as your commissary account. You will need funds for commissary, e-mail (referred to as Tru-Links on the inside, and Corrlinks on the outside), and telephone. There are several way to get funds to an inmate, the fastest being Western Union or Money Gram. I use Western Union. My suggestion is that you and your wife get familiar with WU over the next few weeks. As for how much you will need, that it going to be up to you. When you first arrive I suggest you have at least $300 sent to you to get your email, and phone funded, and so you can get the essentials you will need from commissary. The commissary isn’t cheap. Prices run approximately 30% – 40% above public retail. You may be able to view a sample commissary list off the BOP web site.
11. Visitation Forms – Anyone who wants to visit you will need to send in a completed visitation form. I suggest they do this around the time you report. Visit forms can be found on the BOP web site (at least they were on there when I reported). FYI, There was a time when anyone who was listed in your PSR was automatically added to your visit list. The facility I am at WOULD NOT do this, so I had to have my family fill out visit forms.
12. There are special protocols now due to the coronavirus pandemic, see below. Upon reporting to Federal prison, I think it would be reasonable to expect being quarantined in the SHU (solitary confinement) for fourteen days or more so your condition can be observed and assessed to see if you have coronavirus symptoms. Not the best way to begin a prison sentence, but probably necessary given the times.
I really hope you find this helpful. If I can help further, please let Jeff know.
Federal Bureau of Prisons Coronavirus Webpage: https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/
Federal Bureau of Prisons COVID-19 Action Plan: https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/20200313_covid-19.jsp
Petition: HOME-CONFINEMENT TO LESSEN CAMPER’S EXPOSURE TO THE DEADLY COVID-19 VIRUS: http://chng.it/DF4JCGfh2b
Some Recent Articles About Prison and Coronavirus:
Prisonist.org: Scared White Collar Sh*tless: Reporting to Prison During the Coronavirus Pandemic, https://prisonist.org/scared-white-collar-shitless-reporting-to-prison-during-coronavirus-pandemic/
Prisonist.org: Coronavirus Updates from Prison, https://prisonist.org/white-collar-support-group-coronavirus-updates-from-prison/
Prisonist.org: 12 Things to Know When You Report to Prison During the Coronavirus Pandemic, From Inside a Federal Prison Camp, https://prisonist.org/white-collar-support-group-12-things-to-know-when-you-report-to-prison-from-inside-federal-prison-camp/
The Marshall Project: When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus? Handwashing and sanitizers may make people on the outside safer. But in prison it can be impossible to follow public health advice, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/03/06/when-purell-is-contraband-how-do-you-contain-coronavirus
The Hill: ACLU calls on Justice Department, Bureau of Prisons to release inmates vulnerable to coronavirus, https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/488244-aclu-calls-on-justice-department-federal-bureau-of
The Crime Report: Huge Parole Caseloads Called Threat to Public Health in COVID-19 Pandemic, https://thecrimereport.org/2020/03/17/huge-parole-caseloads-threaten-public-health-in-covid-19-pandemic-warn-agency-chiefs/
NPR: Prisons And Jails Worry About Becoming Coronavirus ‘Incubators’, https://www.npr.org/2020/03/13/815002735/prisons-and-jails-worry-about-becoming-coronavirus-incubators
CT Mirror: To contain coronavirus, release people in prison. Do not let Covid-19 become Katrina in Connecticut, https://ctmirror.org/category/ct-viewpoints/joseph-gaylin-noora-reffat-and-arvind-venkataraman/
Business Insider: US jails and prisons are ‘fertile grounds for infectious disease’ and preventing the spread of coronavirus behind bars will be a challenge, say experts, https://www.businessinsider.com/experts-keeping-prisons-free-of-coronavirus-will-be-a-challenge-2020-3
Prison Policy Initiative: No need to wait for pandemics: The public health case for criminal justice reform, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/03/06/pandemic/
Government Executive: Federal Prison Employees and Others Question BOP’s Readiness for Coronavirus,https://www.govexec.com/management/2020/03/federal-prison-employees-and-others-question-bops-readiness-coronavirus/163692/
My Record Journal: State organizations seek prisoner release due to virus concerns, https://www.myrecordjournal.com/News/State/Organizations-seeking-release-of-prisoners-due-to-virus-concerns.html