Saturday, August 26, 2006


Dear Friends and Supporters:

This is the first in a periodic set of reports and observations based on my experiences being a guest of the Federal Prison System. Like anything, you can read about something until you're blue in the face-- but you have whole different appreciation when you experience it firsthand. Even though I've only been here a week, I think (at least I hope) the worst is over. I reported Tuesday to the medium security federal prison. The complex also has a brand new High Security Federal Prison where there have been two murders over the last several months- and a stabbing a week- luckily I am not there.

But still, my first two days were no fun. They put you in the "hole" for the first 48 hours. The "hole" is a segregated lock up in the Minimum Security Prison. You share a 15 x 8-foot cell with another new inmate for at least two days. The cell has a small shower, a toilet in the middle of the room and two bunks. Food is delivered through a slot in the door– not gourmet.

The stay in the "hole" – which is also used to discipline inmates – is intended to allow them to read a TB scratch test before you're allowed with the general population. It's also used to make the point that it makes sense to do what they tell you.

Luckily, my roommate in the "hole" was a wonderful guy from Louisville, Kentucky and was very interesting and a great Democrat.

Thursday --to our great relief– we were released to the Camp. The Minimum Security Camp has no fences. It's set up like a very crowded, somewhat primitive dorm with rooms of 16 people. There are 450 nonviolent offenders. The population is a mix of white-collar offenders (30%) and nonviolent drug offenders (70%).

By and large the inmates treat each other with respect and are eager to help each other– and work hard to keep each other's spirits high. My five-month sentence is one of the very shortest here, however. It was put in perspective by the orderly on our wing in the "hole" (also an inmate) who introduced himself by saying he was almost done with his sentence. He said he would be out in 2010 (only 4 years left on his 16-year term).

Everyone has to have a job. I've applied to teach in the small education program. Don't know yet what assignment I'll get.

Daily life is punctuated by a series of "counts" of the inmates in the quarters or work site. The main cardinal rule is to be where you're supposed to be for the count– or back to the "hole".

There's a fair amount of opportunity for exercise– a gym, softball diamond, soccer field, track, etc.

Haven't yet been able to use the commissary or get a phone card (can make 300 minutes of calls out per month). Hopefully get this next week.

Jan came to see me on Saturday– which was a huge relief. The six-hour visit flew by.

The food is ok– then again I have a very bland palate– much like my Golden Retrievers that I very much miss.

As you might imagine, customer service here is not great. As my lawyer Ted Poulos warned me, "In their view the customer is always wrong."

There is a 72-year-old Franciscan priest here named Father Jerry. Father Jerry is here (along with a young companion) because he did civil disobedience to protest the School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Georgia. This is the outfit that trains military personnel for many Latin American countries– including Columbia and Guatemala. Many of their graduates have been accused of human rights abuses and murder.

On Friday, the mild-mannered Father Jerry talked back to a particularly difficult guard (she is notorious here) and was sent to the "hole" as punishment.

That’s it for now, more in a few days…



Anonymous said...

Here's something to do: books are really valuable in prison. They are read and traded and re-read and traded. They circulate and get worn out. I know this among other reasons because of St. James Harris Wood (see and Jarvis Jay Masters, writers confined in California, who tell me so.

So, writers, it's a great thing to send your book without charge directly to a prisoner who will read and pass it along. It will alleviate boredom and a little suffering. It will make a small, but legal escape possible.

And when your writing world seems difficult and unrewarding, it always brings a smile to know that your book is being enjoyed by someone you don't know behind the walls.

Anonymous said...

I value not only Bob's contributions to spaces like this but St. James Wood in the Sun and other avenues like the darklyabsurd mentioned above.
I have been there and done that. I respect them both.