Punishing American Prisoners: No Dignity Allowed

As I neared the end of my stay at the Herlong Prison Camp, I realized that I didn’t like participating in furloughs. The so-called freedom I experienced was trumped by a self-realization that I was nothing more than free labor. I didn’t mean a thing to these people and all the hard work I did was truly unappreciated. I didn’t earn more respect or validate my dignity by working for them either. I get that inmates are being punished for their crimes, but that’s why they’re locked up. That’s the punishment, being taken away from family and friends, losing your stable income and the possibility of ever finding it again, as well as forfeiting any accomplishments you may have gained beforehand. It’s belittling, to say the least. To add insult to injury, prisons encourage inside labor and menial wages; they literally pay you a couple cents per day. If your post-prison goals don’t seem logical and reasonable to their administrators, then they’ll bluntly tell you how stupid and unrealistic your dreams are. Recidivism is high most likely because American prisons go beyond punishing criminals by stripping them of their dignity.

Dignity is the state of being worthy of honor and respect. It’s something that shouldn’t be lost during disciplinary action. Everyone agrees that telling young children they’re worthless for making mistakes is detrimental to the psyche of that child. Furthermore, it doesn’t help their self-esteem or the likelihood that they’ll have the confidence to shoot for the stars. The same is true for adults, criminal or law-abiding citizen. The lost of self-worth only leads to further problems in an inmate’s life, especially when they are released. Yet, American prisons seem to reduce the dignity of prisoners when they break up families, belittle inmates and their feelings, and invade their privacy.

In my book, Subprime Felon, I mention how most white collar criminals complained about their new harsh reality. They compared it to Europe’s prison system, which apparently allows home visits on the weekends. It seems American prisons aim to disrupt families by creating broken homes and relationships. Many inmates are sent far away from their families which makes it difficult to keep in contact. When I went into camp, I lost the ability to contact my family and friends at my leisure or on social media. The Trufone (telephone), TRULINCS, and mailing letters were the only ways I could talk to them. Family members had to create phone accounts and add money to it in order to talk to their loved ones. I had to pay for every email sent to them. When funds run out, so did the conversation. Unfortunately, funds are quickly depleted with just a few conversations. Also, most of my friends didn’t feel comfortable talking to me over the phone because it was recorded, and they didn’t know if the government was keeping their numbers on file. Other friends and family didn’t answer unknown or blocked calls, and when I called them, the caller ID would say either “blocked” or “unknown.”

Traveling is expensive and visiting hours are restricted to certain days. Visiting was out of my parent’s price range, so needless to say, I didn’t receive many visits. Nearing my release, I received only ninety days in a halfway house instead of six months. When I asked why they stated that I had a strong family connection and didn’t need as much assistance as other inmates. Perhaps the reason why other inmates didn’t have a strong connection could be due to the significant limitations to keeping in contact with family.

When an American prisoner is unable to visit familiar faces or talk to those who they’ve previously created a bond with, trouble can begin. Most often depression and guilt sets in. I know I’ve experienced this. I wondered how I got myself into this situation and blamed myself for my family estrangement. It was painful because I didn’t have the choice to spend the time I wanted to with my friends and family. That choice was made for me, and I was the only person to blame for it. I couldn’t help but to think of hugging and kissing and laughing with everyone at home. Not to mention, I was full of regret. I tried to focus on what I was going to do when I was released, but a counselor advised me that my dream of becoming a blogger and a writer was unrealistic. She wouldn’t even entertain the thought with me and offer suggestions. Instead, she claimed writers don’t make a lot of money. She also implied that writing wasn’t a skill that could keep me out of prison.  The meeting was a shocker, to say the least, and certainly didn’t help my self-esteem.

Dignity According to an article on Business Insider Australia, inmates in Europe’s prison system are treated like humans and not property. The correctional officers knock on cell doors before opening, have their own keys to their cells, and separate toilets. Prisoners can make their own schedules and are allowed to visit family on weekends. They are also allowed to vote while in prison and receive certain welfare benefits. They don’t throw away young adult lives by giving them life in prison if they commit a crime while underage (even if they’re 18 to 21) and solitary confinement is rarely used.

At the end of the day, an inmate still has to have some type of dignity. Dignity is the foundation of self-esteem and the fuel for confidence. Being treated with respect means that you have value in this world. Maybe dignity is the starting point of reducing recidivism. Either way, the article said it best, “there are better, more humane ways to respond to rule breaking.”

Describing Herlong Prison Camp

Are you on your way to federal prison camp? This video will help. I explain detail what you will find when you go to Herlong  Prison Camp.

At the camp, you’ll have most of your basic needs.  You’ll have a living area in a large dorm similar to the military. You’ll have a locker, a chair, and a bed.  The quarters are very tight with little privacy. It took me about six months to get used to it all.

Within the dorm, you’ll have access to your email, laundry,  televisions, a bookshelf, and a ton of tables to play games or write on.  You’ll also have microwaves for cooking food.

Outside the dorm, you’ll see the food service area.  The food service area is where inmates get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Attached to the food service area are the barbershop, leisure library, commissary, exercise and equipment room, and prison laundry. If inmates walk when the building, they will find a craft room, two classrooms, and a multi-purpose room.

The last thing inmates will find in this building are the administration offices, the nurses and dentist rooms, and the visiting room.

Behind the dorm, there is a soccer field, which doubles as a small track, a baseball diamond, and part of a larger running track that circles the camp. Between the dorm and the food service area, are a set of basketball courts and a handball wall.

Surrounding the camp borders are out of bound signs, crossing these lines would give an inmate a shot.  The parking lots for CO’s and visitors are right outside the “out of bound” area.

There isn’t much at the prison.  However, most inmates make it work. I recommend you have a steady amount of books coming to you. Resources at this camp can be low at times.

Prison Pen Pal: Rules of Engagement

Do you know someone who has ever thought about becoming prison pen pals with an inmate? Depression and loneliness are serious matters for inmates, especially for those that don’t have supportive families. They may have repeated a plethora of criminal activities and their families have shunned them. They may have strict families that despise their criminal activities, even if it was nonviolent. They may have a neglectful family or just never been close to their family members. For those that don’t have a family to go home to, the risk of returning to prison is greater. Having a prison pen pal may be the only support they ever receive, and although a prison pen pal is good for a number of reasons and it is bad for so many more. 

There have been countless stories of prison pen pals who have taken advantage of their writing partners. There are even more stories about people who fall in love with prisoners based on their writing skills. Some even marry them! Most of the time it doesn’t end well – as in they are killed and sometimes even their family members are murdered too.

According to Psychology today,

Although many offenders do benefit from a kind word and a helping hand, those people who wish to assist (or acquire a more serious friend) should learn the behavioral red flags. Past violence is among the best indicators of future violence. So is a lack of remorse for harming others, a history of deception, a lack of respect for others, and a tendency to blame others for one’s own behavioral issues. Convictions for murder, sexual or physical assault, home invasion and crimes involving deadly weapons all foreshadow a dim future with such offenders. Often, they have poor skills for inhibiting impulses and for negotiating in relationships.”

prison pen pal

 

So if you know someone who has decided on this venture, give them my suggestions for becoming a prison pen pal. 

 

 

Be Careful
Many people believe becoming a prison pen pal is extremely dangerous. They are right, some people don’t want to change and will still try to prey on weak minds. There are stories of inmates selling pen pal information and running scams. There are stories of pen pals inviting felons to their homes and dying because of it. However, there some people who have done it and found good people to mentor. A guy says that he found a young adult who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, He was a passenger of a friend who had almost done the same to him, but he survived. He sought someone to encourage and this is his advice.

“You need to be careful, some of these men/women are extremely smart and will try to exploit you so you need to background check on their crime before you decide to go into something like this. You also need to be committed to keeping in touch as these people have barely any or no contact with the outside world so they can be in a bad place so someone who writes [and] then stops can have a huge impact on their mental health.”

Never Give Personal Details or Send Money or Pictures
The point of a prison pen pal is to make a connection and provide outside social interaction for someone who is devoid of it. Although getting to know someone is obviously done by sharing information, your home address, the names of your children and family members, and where you live/work/worship should be off limits. You also shouldn’t do them favors such as researching or contacting people. Instead talk about aspirations, inspiring people, goals and dreams, and maybe even politics. Use a P.O Box when mailing letters as some inmates have ruthless bunkies that would love to take advantage if your prison pen pal doesn’t try it themselves. If you are feeling like you want to share personal information, write it on your social media page instead. In fact, if you are feeling like you need to share personal information, stop reading and writing for a few weeks and get yourself together. If your prison pen pal asks you personal information, don’t feel pressured to answer it. It’s a letter for goodness sake! It’s not a face to face conversation, so it’s much easier to either ignore it or set boundaries.

A Real Human Connection
You want to find someone who is in need of emotional support, but not someone who is needy. Change prison pen pals if you receive letters with sob stories over and over again. After you have offered them sound advice on how to acknowledge their wrongs and suggest ways to move on and better themselves, there isn’t much you can do unless you’re a licensed psychologist. Someone who is truly remorseful will bring up their wrongdoing every now and then, but they will not play the victim or make you pity them. The objective of exchanging letters is to communicate with someone who needs a normal human connection to the outside world. I previously mentioned that some don’t have families that care or visit them anymore. There really are inmates in need of human connection, but sometimes it can be a needle in a haystack. I read on the New York Post’s website about a woman who befriended a murderer and here’s what the killer said, “makes me feel like not everyone has given up on me. In a world so quick to shun people over a bad decision, I’ve found a one-of-a-kind connection with a woman who lives nearly 8,000 miles away”. The difference here is that his crime was drug-induced, however, who is to say that once he gets out, he will continue on a good path and never do drugs again?

If you ask me, there are better ways to help inmates that want change. Here are a few of the resources I found that actually have proven aid for prisoners.

Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop

This organization is dedicated to changing the lives of inmates through reading and writing. I don’t mean teaching inmates to read and write, but they encourage emotional expression through writing and reading poetry. They offer feedback on written works and have sessions where their interns write back to inmates. If you need someone to write to, this organization may be the best place for you because you will have accountability to write good things and not become romantically involved.

Support Wrongful Conviction Cases

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law has a clinic in which they help those who have been wrongfully accused. If you ever wanted to find someone to write to, these people may be a better choice than a random person on one of the sites below.

Send Books Through Amazon

The Chicago Books to Women in Prison has an Amazon wishlist full of books that inmates have requested but are rarely donated. This nonprofit organization sends books nationwide to women in jail and only ask for your name and email address.

Post Bail for the Holidays

The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund is a project that seeks to intervene on behalf of those that are too poor to post even the smallest amounts of bail. The work with other organizations nationwide to bring awareness to this issue. You may have heard of them when they posted bail for a large group of mothers on Mother’s Day. If you’re concerned about them making their court dates, rest well knowing that 95% of their clients make it back to court.

 

Food Contamination & Depression

Would you ever think, food contamination and depression could be linked? I definitely didn’t think they were until I read a post about a cook in a prison kitchen who encountered packaged chicken that was labeled “unfit for human consumption”. I’ve also written about it in my book, Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp.

It’s incredible that prison institutions would allow that type of food into the prison system and never notify the inmates. Foods with that label are full of contamination and are injurious to health. Those types of foods are derived from animals that are unborn, stillborn, heavily contaminated with bacteria. According to Dr. Mercola,

“Contamination of meat by heavy metals, veterinary drugs and pesticides is a problem which the U.S. government has for the most part ignored.  And while bacterial contaminants can be killed by cooking, chemical residues stay in the meat.”

This type of meat is considered unsafe and usually isn’t placed on the market for human purchase. In fact, because of that, there is a class action lawsuit at four prisons in Oregon regarding this matter. This issue creates more problems within the prison population. Heavy metals and pesticides have a lethal effect on the mind and body. It’s no wonder why so many inmates fight depression. Even after their release, depression can linger since metals and chemicals are stored within the body.

“The metals most commonly associated with depression are lead, mercury, and cadmium. These are commonly found in our environment. We can trace the origins of these particular toxins to industrial factories, dental amalgam, welding equipment, cigarette smoke, and old galvanized water pipes. Even natural medicines, such as Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs, have been implicated as sources“ (Naturopathic Doctor News & Review {NDNR}).

food contamination and depressionPesticides are known to lower brain, immune, and endocrine functions. Heavy metal toxins also affect brain functions as well as gastrointestinal and joint issues. If you’re a health nut like me, then you are concerned about the food you ate while in prison camp. Even if you didn’t go to prison, you’ll never know if your food was unfit for human consumption. However, research has found that there are some things we can do to combat this.

Heavy Metal Testing

We can get tested for heavy metals and see how much of a particular metal we are storing within our bodies. Hair most likely the best way to test since it can tell if you’ve had prior exposure to heavy metals. The longer your hair is, the better the test will be. However, if you have short hair or no hair, you can still get a blood or urine test. This test will only indicate heavy metal levels if you are currently in contact with heavy metals. If metals are found, there is a process called chelation that you can go through to remove the toxins.

Nutrition

The NDNR reports that certain minerals are effective in reducing chemicals in the body. These minerals include magnesium, selenium, zinc, calcium, and manganese. They are known to prohibit toxins from being absorbed into the cells and stop toxins from being used within the body. If you have any vitamin deficiencies, now is the time to start taking your vitamins and developing a healthier meal plan.

Proper Food Habits

If you are cooking often, make sure you follow proper protocol in the kitchen. Don’t allow your meats to stay unfrozen for more than two hours at room temperature. Don’t let uncooked poultry to stay in the fridge where its juices could drip onto other food items. Also, make sure to thoroughly cook meat to the correct temperature. Many times, prison cooking personnel are unable to follow these simple rules – if you were sick in prison, this could be the reason, if not, then maybe you should have been a germaphobe like these men I met in prison.

Supplements

If you suspect that you have trouble with depression that may be linked to unfit food, try taking vitamin C and vitamin E as they are known to help eliminate toxins rapidly. This is probably the easiest thing you could do to combat depression linked to toxins.

Remember, this world is growing larger and larger populations in every city. There aren’t enough people to properly check food contamination. There are companies worldwide that are fighting the necessary research needed to find treatments for food contamination and depression. Agricultural companies aren’t able to keep up with the demand of humans eating three times a day and prisons say they aren’t able to afford adequate food supplies, so as a human being it is up to you to make sure you are eating the best, safe food.

4 Easy Entrepreneur Ex-Con Business Ideas

inmate receiving business clothingThe number one issue for newly released inmates is surviving financially. It’s extremely difficult to find a job and/or housing with a criminal record because of employer discrimination. While there are multiple organizations that help inmates re-enter society and find jobs and housing, sometimes starting your own business is the quickest way to make a living until something permanent occurs. The following entrepreneur ex-con business ideas are possible and pretty easy to accomplish.

Business start ups seem challenging because there is always the question of how to obtain clients. Social media is the best way to expose people to your new business. It’s also the best way to establish yourself as an industry expert. Posting videos on social media platforms such as Periscope, YouTube, Instagram live, and Facebook live will draw people to your channel or page. This will show them that you are knowledgeable about your industry. You can also go to industry events and pass out your business card. Networking at an event where your clients will be present is a gold mine of opportunity. Obtaining email addresses and other contact information is important. These suggestions will help you gain clients faster than word of mouth. If you’re ready to start a business and need suggestions, here are 4 ideas for starting a business post-prison.

Personal Trainer

Many inmates worked out on a daily basis while incarcerated. There’s no need to stop once you’ve been released. In fact the muscles you’ve gained and the weight you’ve lost is just what someone is looking for. There are many people in the community that go to gyms and are making no progress. They are in need of help and you can help them.

Write down what you’ve been doing to help yourself gain muscle or lose weight in certain body parts. Use a couple of friends and try your work out plan on them for a few months and detail the progress. You can use that information to become a tried and true personal trainer. Don’t forget to track their progress with journals and photos.

Life Coach

Prison isn’t for everyone and you know exactly who it’s not for since you were there. You can mentor and coach those who are heading in the wrong direction. Many programs are looking for speakers and mentors to give their testimony or tell their stories to troubled youth or young adults.

Write a short business plan, think of a company name, and file your paperwork with the state and your local city hall. Write down all of the things you wished someone told you or you wished you’d listen to before you were incarcerated. Write down all of your mistakes and put them into a presentation or note cards. Then send emails to various social service agencies letting them know that your business mentors troubled adolescents and you’d love to speak at an event.

Personal Chef

If you worked in the prison meal system, then you’re probably a good enough cook to make meals for other people. There are many people who don’t have time to make food for themselves and instead of eating at fast food restaurants, they would love a home cooked meal. There are also elderly people who don’t have family or friends to check up on them regularly. You could bring a couple of small sample meals to your potential clients homes and give them your business cards. Let them know you are establishing your business and would like their patronage. Some families may even use your services when they are too busy with kids homework or sports/hobby activities.

Another way to look at being a personal chef is to create meal plans for those who have restricted diets. Health concerns are hard to live by when you don’t know what a low sodium diet, low sugar diet, or lactose-free diet consists of.

Laundry Pick Up

If you truly desire to start a business without a lot of starting funds, then creativity is required. Everyone has done laundry and you most likely have done your own laundry in prison. In fact, some of you have already started a business while in prison when you would wash other inmates clothing. The same is useful post-prison. You may not even have to go the laundromat to wash your clients clothes, but those that don’t have access to a washer or dryer in their residence would most likely be the people that use your business. You could also give business cards to those who have to pick up dry cleaning regularly. Look for those individuals who always have on suits or “Sunday morning” dresses.

Starting a business can seem like a frightening task, but if you take it step by step you’ll accomplish more than you thought you could. Using talents and knowledge you already have makes it even easier to go after your dreams and establish yourself financially. You don’t have to let your former prison sentence follow you for the rest of your life. You can take control.

The Importance of Having a Routine In Federal Prison Camp


4 Reasons Routines Help You in Prison

Routines can seem mundane and tedious to the person that has to follow its rigid structure. It can almost feel like life’s daily assembly line. However, having a daily schedule maximizes your day and allows you to be much more productive in life, even if you are in prison. Just because you are behind lock and key doesn’t mean that you can’t create an enjoyable schedule for yourself. While I was in federal prison camp for 17 months, I noticed that having a consistent routine is very important for the success of inmates. Here are four reasons you should keep a routine while in federal prison camp.

Routines Help You To…

  1. Work On Yourself
    While in prison camp, I had a routine that allowed me to better myself. Most inmates better themselves with education, however, I already had a degree in English. I created a routine which allowed me to workout alone or with a fellow inmate. I also made time to find spirituality and obtain a greater understanding of myself.
  2. Stay Out Of Trouble
    I personally feel that the biggest advantage to establishing a routine was the fact that I didn’t get caught up in drama or prison politics. I was too busy doing what I needed to do that I didn’t have a lot of time for unnecessary crap. The inmates that sat around and did nothing were easily drawn to trouble. It was usually the newer inmates that found themselves in trouble over petty things like showers or television shows.
  3. Ease Family Worries
    Another advantage of having a routine is that it always gave me something positive to tell my family. No one really thinks about how much family members suffer when a loved one is locked away. Quite naturally, my family was concerned about me being in prison. However, when I told them that I was writing books, studying, working out, and reading, they became more at ease. Instead of picturing me stressed out, bored as hell, or getting into trouble, they pictured me bettering myself just as if I was in college all over again.
  4. Accomplish Goals
    After prison life, my routines never ended. To be honest, I personally feel that having a routine helped me focus on re-establishing my post-prison life. My desire was to have a steady career as a writer so I went to the library to write my journal. My journal eventually turned into my first book called Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp. My routine also allowed time for other writing projects as well.

If you haven’t already watched the video above, check it out. It will give you more information on the importance of a routine for inmates.

Snitches, An excerpt from Subprime Felon

snitching

There’s a saying in the street and I’m sure you’ve heard somebody say to you. It’s simply, “Snitches get stitches”. It’s a powerful statement that implies that tattle tales or snitches deserve the consequence of getting beat up or jumped by multiple people. The community never favors a snitch and neither does the prison community.

As I spent seventeen months in a federal prison camp, I learned much more about snitching than I had ever known. Inside the camp, it’s a sneaky system used to keep inmates subdued. Below I share an excerpt on snitching from my own book called, “Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp.” Check it out.

 

“[…]we all had to be careful because some of those inmates were really undercover police officers or COs. It was believed that GM6 had a major shakedown because a police officer posing as an inmate told the GM6 COs about the wrongdoings of the inmates. The result was that five inmates got fired from the assignment. That’s why inmates avoided talking about sensitive information around inmates they didn’t trust. Snitches were always looking for some dirt on other inmates to use as blackmail. Therefore, they ear hustled (eavesdropped on) as many conversations as possible. According to what the inmates told me, snitches were the cheapest way to govern and regulate the system. They were very quick to tell on a person, mainly because they couldn’t fight. I talked to two snitches who told me to my face that they had no problem snitching. It’s the passive evil way of getting back at bullying. I didn’t argue with it.

“One inmate, Danny the Jew, admitted to me that he’d snitched on inmates and had fake cell phones just in case anyone picked on him or gave him problems. He told me that it gave him power over other inmates who could fight better than him. If an inmate ever gave him a problem, he could just put a cell phone on him. If the inmate got caught, he would get a 100-series shot (which added points to an inmate’s record and could make him lose camp status), a $75 fine, and about six months in the hole. The inmate would most likely be moved to another camp or prison. I kept my distance from him, though we did get along very well. However, snitching only made inmates look like bitches to other inmates and the authorities. The CO didn’t respect a snitch because he saw him as someone who couldn’t fight for himself or who didn’t have problem-solving skills.”

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt, check out my book, “Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp” available NOW on Amazon. It’s a smooth read that will keep you on your toes. Write below in the comment section about your thoughts on snitching in prison.

The “Subprime Felon” Launch party is on Feb 28. For more details click here:

Saying Good-bye to my Stepdad

He was taking his son to prison

Good-byes aren’t hard when you know you’ll see that person soon. When you are unsure of the time frame or know it’s going to be a long time, good-byes are extremely hard. The day I had to go to prison was a difficult time for my family. That day, we did things we didn’t normally do. Below is an excerpt about that day, taken from my book called “Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp.”

“On May 12, 2011, I started the day at four in the morning by saying good-bye to my stepdad, who was just waking up to wish me luck. From there, my mom dropped me off at Pierce Sr.’s house just before she went to work. I hugged her good-bye. It was the first time we’d hugged in years. We’re not a real affectionate family. However, anyone could tell how much we loved each other. The fact she hugged me meant that she knew that I was going on a crazy journey. She couldn’t do anything but watch on the sidelines like a stressed-out, emotional quarterback watching his defense hold the other team.

“Pierce was still sleeping when I got to his house. I entered without waking him and lay down on his couch. I actually managed to sleep until he woke me. We talked for a few minutes. I could tell that he was nervous about that drive. The two of us had a lot of issues in the past. It was one of the reasons that I call him Pierce and not Dad, and why I prefer my name to be spelled Pyerse instead of Pierce. However, that day, I saw in his eyes that he was going to take his son to prison. We both knew that I was going to a camp, which wouldn’t be like the prisons on television. However, at that moment I felt like he was doing the saddest task that he ever had to do. He wanted to do it because he knew how hard it would be for me to get there on my own. And maybe he just wanted to say a few last words to me and see me one last time. Whatever his reasons were, I know they were probably the most genuine I’ve ever felt from him.”

Excerpt From: “Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp.”

The “Subprime Felon” Launch party is on Feb 28. For more details click here:

What was your hardest goodbye? Let me know in the comments.

What Is a Halfway House?

BOP-Logo

Most people know what prisons are and the details of how they may be operated, but most don’t know what a halfway house is. This article will explain what halfway houses are, how they operate, and some of the issues I encountered as and resident. If you or a loved one is on their way to a way house, I hope this gives you some insight as what to expect.

A halfway house, or a residential reentry center (RRC), is designed to help inmates adjust to the civilian world. The Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice have contracts with private companies that provide housing in local communities for inmates. They also provide counseling, job placement, money management assistance, and sometimes schooling for advance careers. Halfway houses are also supposed to help inmates regain their ties with their family as well as their community. All of these services are provided under the supervision of the halfway house staff and the federal probation department.

To my understanding, the federal government contracts these services out to contractors because they can do it much cheaper than if the federal government does it, according to one of the staff members at the halfway house.

The halfway house I was living in, which was Oakland Halfway House, was owned by a company called GEO Care, a subsidiary of The GEO Group. Toward the end of my sentence, the contract for GEO Care lapsed and the government contracted with Cornell Corporation until October 2018, according to their website. However, Cornell Corporation is owned by The GEO Group, which purchased the corporation for $685 million in 2013.

Cornell Corporation has been in the correctional business since 1973 with juvenile operations. As the company grew, they began providing adult community-based programs, such as halfway houses, and then expanding to adult secure operations, like prisons, in 1984.

GEO Group was in business for over 20 years and had over 2,700 parolees and probationers in 20 RRCs throughout the country. The group made $1.61 billion in revenue in 2011, according though The GEO Group website, and has operations and facilities in three continents.

I bring up these facts because the Oakland halfway house seemed to offer very little assistance to inmates. The companies seemed to be more focused on making money and not spending money. The job training was terrible, and the counseling did nothing to help us adjust. All the staff members really cared about was making sure their bosses got their checks and the halfway house kept the contract with the government.

GEO Care employees at that halfway house were paid $11.00 at the time I was there, which was pretty low in Oakland. The rumor was that one employee had two jobs. GEO Care gave the halfway house employees just enough tools to perform their job. The employees seemed very stressed out because of being overworked with high demands from their superiors. I overheard many of the employees complain about long hours and working as much as seven days straight. The employees also complained about running out of supplies for themselves and for the resident’s  chores. It seemed as though the company did not provide enough supplies, resources, and staffing to get the job done. It gave me the impression that the corporation’s plan was to do the minimum needed to keep the government contract.

The assistant director of the halfway house told me that he and the head director made less money than their federal counterparts because the company wasn’t considered a federal or government institution, instead it was considered a privately owned business. It was basically a low-cost, outsourced prison camp. As I understood it, the government felt that nonviolent criminals were low-risk and safe to interact with the community because of their programming within prisons and camps. The halfway houses saved the government money since staff wages and benefits weren’t coming out of the government budget.

In order for the halfway house to stay within their budget, they would cut as many corners as possible. For instance, the food didn’t taste very good most of the time, but it was edible. The portion sizes were determined by the catering company, but was mostly due to how well prepared they were in cooking for a large number of people. We were rarely allowed seconds because they didn’t have enough food. Although the television was new, the living room furniture and the bedding were cheap like the prison camp. The living room had a bookshelf with old board games, dominoes, and books.

To my knowledge, the halfway house made money from the federal government and resident’s payments. Federal money was dependent on the staff teaching and conducting workshops and classes for the residents. Employed residents were required to give the house 25% of their income before taxes. I’ll talk more about that in the programming section. However, you can see that the halfway house are not do a great job of assisting inmates to adjust to society from prison. They are more concerned about the money than they are about the people. I believe if they were less concerned about financial gain, then recidivism could be less of a problem.

The End Of Solitary Confinement in California?

SOLITARY-CONFINEMENTThis week I read on SF Bay Review that California State and local prison have been forced to limit their use of solitary confinement units, or SHU. This is thanks to a settlement reached in the Ashker vs Brown federal class action suit.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time or any kind of programming.

I’m glad to hear that as many as 2500 inmates are going to be released from the SHU. Solitary confinement is widely deemed a form of torture. Limited access to the outside world will make an individual go crazy. If prisons are supposed to reform inmates, then SHU does nothing to make the inmate a better person. As the inmates are released from SHU, they now have access to resources such as the library. They also receive better food and better commissary, just as the other inmates have.

However, SHU was also a way to control and minimize gang violence and riots. Other SHU inmates were there to keep them from committing suicide or being killed. There are some inmates that want to “knock off” the shot callers and kill off snitches. Locking up inmates is a form of protective custody and those inmates will still be alive until the end of their sentences.

On the other hand, if SHU is supposed to keep inmates safer, what happens when inmates decide they want to go back to SHU? Most of them purposely violate rules just to go back in, how does that make prison safer? Will the CO and administrators send them back because of their actions? Perhaps the administrators should give them a lesser disciplinary action because of their previous extended time in SHU. There are also prison administrators that want inmates to stay in SHU. What’s keeping them from pulling an inmate out of SHU and then sending him back in two hours? It’s easy for them to justify their wrongdoings; all that is required of them is to say that “the inmate is a security risk.”  

Either way, this clearly isn’t the end of solitary confinement in California. I have firsthand knowledge of prison rules disobeying the law. The prison camp does not always operate as the law requires.

Let me know what do you think below. Do you think it’s a good thing to minimize solitary confinement?

He Pleads Guilty To Taking The Life Of His Cellmate. When He Said Why, Chills Ran Down My Spine

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I frequently read, watch and listen to things that pertain to inmates, former felons and jails. I recently watched a video about a man pleading guilty to killing his cellmate. The man’s name is Steven Sandison. He was assigned a new cellmate and it happened to be a guy who molested children. Child molesters immediately have a bad reputation in jail as soon as they enter. The seemingly “unjust act” that contributed to this cellmate losing his life was that he couldn’t stop talking about being a child molester.

Sandison gave his cellmate a choice of staying the night if he would look for another place to stay the next day. However the cellmate decided he wanted to keep talking about his crime, so Sandison killed him. There aren’t many people that can stand in front of judge the way Sandison did and talk about his crime. This very act is what got to me the most. He stood there and told his story without remorse, shame or guilt. It was almost as if Sandison knew in his mind that he was completely justified in killing his cellmate.

I don’t think Sandison should have killed his cellmate over this. However, my opinion is spoken at home, a place where there is very little danger and no prison politics. I tried to think of reasons why Sandison had such a strong urge to kill his cellmate. Perhaps he thought his life was in danger due to some inmates belief that child molesters have no control over their sexual desires and urges. Maybe he was simply telling the truth about not liking child molesters. It could also be that he didn’t want to be associated with him due to jailhouse politics, a topic I can not discuss because I went to a prison camp, which is different from going to a prison. Another reason could be that Sandison himself was also into molesting children or he really was okay with a person who molests children and he didn’t want that side to show in prison.

No matter what the reason was, Sandison had nothing to lose. He was previously serving life without parole for his 1991 slaying. Killing his cellmate because he had nothing to lose explains his laid back attitude in court about the murder.

Inmates Try To Make Quick Money To Overcome Financial Challenges

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The majority of inmates in a prison camp are non-violent offenders that just needed money and sought it out illegally. Many wanted to take care of their families the best they could and others just wanted the wealth and luxury that money brings. Even if they didn’t commit a crime with regards to illegal financial activity, while they were in prison camp, they were surely looking for a way to get back on their feet financially.

I remember being in prison camp and looking at the inmates with Entrepreneur magazines and other books about how to start a business.  There were other inmates there who studied for high paying jobs such as truck driving, fitness training, or being a counselor. These same inmates would also study stocks to increase their equitable assets.

Everyone knew that when they were finally released they would have to hit the ground running, as they say. No one wanted to work a minimum wage job, in fact, everyone wanted to get their lives back on track as fast as possible. Some inmates sent their families money, however, when they are making as low as five dollars a month, it’s difficult to give anyone the financial support they need. We also knew that the more money we had, the less likely we would commit a crime. Most crimes are based on financial gain, so inmates wanted to make as much money as possible to avoid the temptation of going back to their old ways.

Instead of just making as much money as possible, some also want to make money as quickly as possible. They would study stock, get rich quick schemes, real estate and gambling strategies. They wanted to avoid being broke. I totally understand the thinking because I had the same temptations. However, if I invested into those ideas to get rich quick, I’d lose most of my money in weeks. Although, I will be investing in stocks and metals when the money is available.

Many say that money makes the world go ‘round and for the inmates in prison camp, nothing could more true. However, when faced with the task of meeting financial needs, nothing will stop your drive to make sure you can take care of yourself and your family. Only this time, make sure it’s something that won’t land you back in prison.

My Work Ethic Made Someone Quit While I Was At Herlong Prison Camp

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You can tell a person’s characteristics by the way they work. It doesn’t matter if they are in prison or outside of prison, their work ethic shouts volumes about them. If someone doesn’t do their job right, you can tell that they are lazy. If someone puts all of their interest and time into learning all they can, they are pretty much a go-getter. In any instance, employers want someone with a great work ethic and prison is no different.

When I worked at the Power House, there was an inmate named Donny. Donny taught me what he knew about working in the sewers and working around the Power House, along with another inmate who helped me get the job. However, the COs (correctional officers) at the Power House didn’t like him because they knew he was lazy. In fact, Donny showed me where we could hang out at in the camp so we wouldn’t get in trouble and still get paid.  I didn’t want to focus on hanging around the camp because I really wanted to learn as much about HVAC as possible. If I wasn’t going to learn HVAC then I wanted to be in the library writing. When Donny drove around to do his thing, I went back to the Power House to learn more about HVAC and to help other inmates.

My work ethic and proof of my high school diploma afforded me a raise from $0.12 an hour (which was a grade four or also called number four) to $0.17 an hour (which was a grade three or number three). Donny had congratulated me; however, I heard rumors that he was upset that I got a raise in less time than he did.  Shortly after that, Donny’s work ethics worsened. It got so bad that he did a no call, no show, which could have gotten him sent to the hole. Suddenly, an inmate who was a number 2, quit. This meant there was possibility that someone at the Power House could get $0.24 an hour. Donny thought it was going to be him because he felt he was there the longest and worked the hardest, but the COs promoted me.

With in a few days of my promotion, Danny quit the Power House. In order for him to quit, he had to do a few things. He first had to ask the COs for permission. He also had to have another job lined up, but in order to get the other job, he had to ask the COs at that job for permission to start a job with them. Lastly, he had to ask the camp counselor to sign off on it. By switching jobs, Donny finally made grade four pay, $0.12 an hour.  A few weeks later, he asked for a transfer to a new prison camp.

I’ll never understand why people feel as though that they can do minimum work and still get promotions. Every job whether you in prison or outside of prison, is the same; you have to work to be noticed and move ahead. If you find yourself in prison, develop a strong work ethic and make the most of your stay.

Why I Don’t Want To Be A Victim Of The Prison System

 

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Prison stories are often filled with memories of inmates being victimized by the staff, the overall system or even other inmates. It’s hard to protect yourself from this type of harassment while you are under someone else’s authority. While trying to protect yourself you run the risk of bringing harsher or unnecessary punishment to yourself.

I tried to avoid victimization while in prison camp. Every time I started feeling like a victim of the system or of some grand conspiracy theory, I would start asking myself questions as to why I was there. I would ask questions like, “Was I there because of money? Political reasons? Was I here because John Q. Public feels like I needed to be punished? Did they want to punish me because I was a greedy black man or subprime borrower that advanced the system, and fucked them over their homes (which they feel they obtained honestly and legally)?”

I really started to always feel this way. However, I then began to feel like I was there because the politician’s voters wanted to feel safe (whether it’s an illusion or not) and didn’t care if I was right or wrong.

I don’t want to sound like a victim, so I’ll let you decide if I am or if I’m not. Personally, I really don’t think of myself as a victim. At the end of the day, I’m still a felon who did the time based on my actions.  I guess the fact I served my time made someone feel safer and happier. Maybe someone got a promotion because of my time in camp, however, I wasn’t going to let all of that make me a bitter person. Instead I would say to myself, “I have an opportunity here. Let’s take advantage of it because I’ll never get it again.”

I’ve read two books about the prison system, the New Jim Crow and Lockdown America.  I plan on doing blog posts on both of these books. However, I tried not to allow the information in these books affect me. Every time these books would give me a negative feeling, I’d put the book down and tell myself that it’s an advantage and a blessing being here.  It’s not that I was trying to hide the fact the prison camp was a horrible place to be, it was because I really believed it was an opportunity to get ahead in my life. All I did was read, sleep, workout, and write. It reminded me of college without the teachers and alcohol, so why view this place negatively? Plus with me having such a short time, I couldn’t allow that to get to my head because I was too close to going home.

Though I write these posts and my future book with limited knowledge of what I will be writing about—I can honestly say, I’m going to avoid the “God put me here for a reason” saying. Yes, I strongly believe in a higher power, though I follow no religious faiths. My issue with that statement is how could I be at a place like this while the “devil,” if you will, has all of the advantages?  Or maybe the god within me put me there in a pre-destined state and knew exactly what was going to happen to me and how I was going to get out of it. I don’t know.

I think you’re starting to see why I never questioned too much about why I went to a prison camp.  The questions created more questions. Before long, I was drowning in questions and became angry and hateful. Once I get like that, I can’t make any situation positive or fruitful.  Maybe I was a scapegoat, a patsy, a causality of war on the middle class, or it was just my time in life to have bad things happened to me. That doesn’t matter because if I was, let’s say a scapegoat, I’d still have to get out of the situation in one piece. If I was a patsy or some causality of war on the middle class, I’m still responsible for turning my life around.  Maybe one day, if someone tells me exactly as it was I’ll care, until then I’ll stick to “I committed a crime on my own free will and accord and I’ve accepted all blame and responsibility for the event leading to and following the crime”.

Fasting in Prison Camp

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They say fasting has benefits for the mind, spirit, and body. Many people have to fast for medical procedures and some do it for religious reasons. I did it fit none of those reasons, but I still experienced the benefits of a cleansing fast.

My fast was purely accidental. Since I missed the 3:30 pm short line (the food line for food service workers), I decided to fast. I found that if I didn’t think about food, I wasn’t hungry. I had been practicing a lot of vibrational states. and a lot of it became stronger in my mind. I had happier thoughts because of it. In this lower physical state, I learned to make myself happier. This state also helped me understand my inner demons.

Now that I understood them, I could get rid of them and free my mind for the real God within. I began to feel that people were important, their happiness was too. I also understood that some people are miserable and by getting angry with me, they are only reflecting themselves. In order to have the meaningful conversations and relationships I wanted to have I had to reflect how I feel about myself. I allowed my words to express my feelings and obtain what I wanted in life as I wrote it on paper.

After twenty-four hours, I was happier than I’ve ever been. It was because I fasted, looked at my problems, and forgave those I needed to forgive. My fast also helped me remove anger and hatred from my body and mind. My yoga teacher informed me that what I had done was cleanse all my emotional baggage. The vibrational states sent chills down my body and I felt strong sensations in my left hand and up my left arm that day. I had them strongly and sporadically. Off and on, my left hand would get cold and I had a sensation, but my face and body felt normal.

Next day after fasting, I stopped eating my fourth meal and had one of the best workouts I had ever had in prison. I still ate a snack after I returned from the library. I think I will get stronger because of eating less.

What I Changes I Would Like To Make At Herlong Prison Camp and The Oakland Halfway House

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been thinking about what would make prison camp more productive for the inmates. I thought carefully about all of my experiences when I was in prison at Herlong Prison Camp and when I stay at the Oakland Halfway House. 

If these suggestions are possible, it would better prepare inmates for society and make their sentences fruitful and productive.  Below is a list of some things that I’d like to change about prison camp and halfway houses.

 

Prison Guidelines

  1. Shorter Sentences
    There should be lower sentencing guidelines for all inmates. Most of the inmates that I have met had very long sentences. Long sentences took away their fight to want better as they became comfortable in prison. They knew that they didn’t want to return to jail after their sentence, but knew they would most likely become a repeat offender. If sentences were shorter then inmates would have a higher level of optimism. This would increase their chances when they are ready to reestablish themselves in their communities.
  2. First Offense
    Going to prison is an extensive cost for society as a whole. If someone is a first time offender sending them first to a halfway house with an ankle monitor and the responsibility to find a job or work community service would be cheaper than the taxpayers paying prison fees. When I was in a halfway house, I worked at a restaurant. The halfway house required 25% of my income, I had to pay for food and for lodging. The halfway house made about $250 to $600 per month off of me living there since I made $1000 to $2400 a month. This form of discipline is still punishment but offenders wouldn’t have to restart their lives.
  3. Second Offense
    If there was a second offense, we could send them to a low-security prison. I think the camps should be used for inmates who need to transition from the higher institutions before going to a halfway house. Lastly, I think inmates should pay restitution or jail time, but not both. Paying both is obsessive.

 

Prison Services

  1. Multiple 3 Day Furloughs
    I think inmates at the camp level should be allowed to have several three-day furloughs to allow them to obtain ID’s, take driving tests or gather any other information needed before they go to the halfway house. If this isn’t possible, then a service should be set up where the inmates could get these services.
  2. Improved Access to a Psychologist
    The camp didn’t do much to help inmates psychological mindset. The jail provided a psychologist, but from what I was told by other inmates, she only came when someone requested her. We never saw her in her office and she never gave out information on her available office hours for those of us that wanted or needed to be a walk in.
  3. Better Classes
    Most prisons offer classes so that inmates can better themselves, but I don’t think they really think about how hard the transition will be for former inmates. These classes below would have been extremely helpful to inmates I know and even to myself.

    1. Technology Classes
      For most inmates it’s extremely hard to assimilate back into society, but think how hard it is for someone that was locked up for 20 years. If the prisons offered technology classes for inmates that taught them new technology and other tech trends, newly released inmates wouldn’t have such a hard time in society. The classes could be conducted by the CO’s and they could also lock down the tech. This type of class would teach confidence in technology and software to help rehabilitate offenders for society.
    2. Business Classes
      Prisons should also offer classes to help inmates become entrepreneurs and businessmen. As mentioned before, it’s difficult for inmates to get back into the flow of society especially when looking for a job. However, the with courses like these, transition from prison to society would be a lot easier and this could help reduce unemployment rates among newly released inmates.

 

Other Changes Needed

Legalize Drugs
In an effort to focus on helping those addicted to drugs, I’d like to see all drugs legalized instead of throwing them in jail. I believe as a society, we should offer better solutions for those addicted and for those stuck in the cycle of selling drugs to pay bills.  Legalizing drugs would free about two-thirds of the prison population. Most of the drug offenders are non-violent. I don’t believe that legalizing drugs would cause our streets to be full of druggies as some politicians believe. If people had good living wages, decent living conditions, and access to great education, it would decrease the need for selling drugs in the first place.

Parole
I’d like to see a return to parole instead of supervised release. When a felon finishes his sentence, I don’t think he should have to deal with anymore scrutiny, especially from the government. Also, felons shouldn’t have to check in with their PO’s (parole officers) after they’re finished serving their time.

Halfway Houses
I think all halfway houses should be non-profit or government-owned. I think corporations focus too much on saving money and not enough on the actual needs of the residents in the house. Halfway homes should also be no further than 30 miles away from every major city in each state. During my time in a halfway house, I was too far away from family because the nearest house to Sacramento was Oakland, California. I believe if there was a house in Sacramento, then inmates like myself wouldn’t have such a hard time getting back on their feet.

Visitation
The bureau claims it values keeping families together, however, they only a small number of visitors. The government should allow more family to visit during jail time and also help inmates reconnect with their families when released. During an inmates stay in prison, services like video chatting or group messaging through companies like Skype or Google Hangouts should be allowed. Some inmates have family members that live long distances from the prison. This would also allow inmates to receive visits from family who are unable to travel.

Community Partnerships
My last suggestion has nothing to do with the prison system but rather the communities and businesses surrounding them. I believe we need those in authority and leadership to step up and create jobs that would prevent the need for drug dealers. If they can create jobs that pay at least $20 per hour and were available for people with high school degrees, then the need to sell drugs would decrease.

Ceiling. From my Herlong Prison Camp Journal

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Prison isn’t a place of positive enlightenment. It’s full of strict rules and regulations, required forms and paperwork, and negative attitudes from staff and inmates. However, I wanted a positive experience. I was determined to make my stay there a beneficial one, even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

As I entered the prison camp, I did my best to keep my mind in the realm of positive thoughts. I knew it was going to be difficult and I had mixed emotions. I knew that I would be able to read and write all day and really get a lot done, but there was a part of me that was like, “It’s prison, only God knows what will happen.”  Still, I was determined to make my sentence at prison a positive experience. I didn’t know how, but I was sure that I was going to do it. I knew that my mind would began to listen to negative thoughts, but I decided that I would ignore it and stay out of my own way. However, I did think about the times that I did wrong. I know I’m not a bad person, but I wondered if what I did would prevent me from being a great person who could shape the world.  

When I was in Herlong Camp, I had a desire to leave Sacramento. I guess it was due to my previous success. I had lots of it. Then all of a sudden, I started failing and falling. After falling so far, I didn’t want to come back to Sacramento. I began noticing other talented artists, business professionals, and other intellects leave the area and do very well for themselves. Once I came home, staying in Sacramento made me feel like I hit a ceiling, thus one of my many reasons I had failed and kept failing. I thought my lack of resources would also contribute to it. I was fearful of failing again.

Looking back, I realize had the wrong perception about things, about life and friends, and people about writing. I understand now that my key to success is knowing that I have no boundaries or ceilings except the ones I create for myself. Truth is, are were no boundaries if I don’t limit myself, only bumps, bruises, and hurdles, which only hold me back if I allow them to do so. For instance, the internet is a great resource that I can use to reach millions of African Americans with my humorous stories, I just needed a way to access it. I also realize that I should appreciate the relationships I have. They could have helped me access the internet. However, I recognize that I created those ceilings and the walls that limited my success. It was me, no one else.

I accepted my wrong thinking and I decided to stay in Sacramento. I knew that I needed to reestablish and re-root myself, Sacramento was the best place for me to do so. It was where most of my family lived. In fact, all the family I was close to lived in Sacramento. It only made sense to come back and remember how I achieved my success. It was important for me to come back, face my fears and come to terms with the choices I’d made. I believe understanding where my problems originated will help me to become better suited for success in other cities. Plus, it’s always nice to have a home to come home to.

In the end, I kept my mind on things that were positive, even when I returned home. By doing so, I was able grasp the concept of removing limiting thoughts and actions. I was also able to become secure in my home town and continue doing business in a place that I love. Being positive has so many benefits, I urge you to try it and see what it can do for you.

UNICOR Was Down At Herlong Camp

Inmates are required to get jobs while in prison. They are paid various and competitive wages just as if they are in the real world. The only difference is that the wages are significantly lower, so when a good job goes out of business, it’s a lot more detrimental to inmates.

One business in particular that was already shut down before I arrived was UNICOR. UNICOR was a department where inmates built chairs, household furniture, and office furniture for other companies. The furniture was sold in department stores in and outside the US.  However, I heard the furniture of UNICOR was poorly built. Several inmates, most likely the lowest paid inmates, used too many shortcuts when building the furniture. There experienced a high amount of returns, which cut into the company’s profits. I’ve also heard rumors that the COs didn’t have proper bookkeeping skills and were terrible when managing the inmates. Due to the errors, there wasn’t enough to fund the department. UNICOR was also closed inside the FCI as well.

A lot of inmates didn’t like that UNICOR was closed. The company paid some of the best wages in the camp. The top inmate workers made well over a dollar per hour. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but in prison camp, good money is when an inmate made more than $40 a month. At UNICOR, inmates made upwards of a hundred dollars a month or more.

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The furniture the inmates made where used within the prison and the camp. I remember all the Power House desk and chairs were created from inmates working at Unicor. However, I have no way of knowing if the respected department had to pay to get those furniture or chairs.

When I arrived at prison camp, the department used for UNICOR was used as a storage area for supplies from the Power House and GM6. In fact, I would get ten to fifteen ten-pound bags of salt from that storage area to apply to the hard water at the Power House.  Just before I transferred to the halfway house, the part of the building used for UNICOR was no longer accessible to inmates. We never received a reason as to why.

I’ve heard many express their disappointment when UNICOR closed. It’s just like when a business in the outside world closes; there are lost jobs, wages, and financial hardship. Inmates suffer economic depression just as those in the outside suffer. It’s truly a double penalty for the inmate.  

 

 

The Pay Scale at Federal Prison Camp–Herlong

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One of the most important details when looking for a job is the amount of money being offered for the position. As inmates, one of the privileges lost is job hunting by salary. In fact at Herlong Prison Camp, the amount of money given to a working inmate is just about the same given to a third world country sweatshop employee. However minute the earnings were, workers were still encouraged to work their way to the top.

The department I was hired at was called Power House or GM6 and had a payscale with levels called grades. The leader or foreman was in Grade 1. They were responsible for managing projects. The number ones, as we called them, discussed project assignments with the COs (correctional officers) and determined the best way to manage it all. Those in Grade 2 (number twos) were the assistants to the number ones. They would get instructions from them and also were next in line if Grade 1 was unavailable. Inmates in Grade 3 and Grade 4 (number threes and number fours) would help wherever they were needed.  

I experienced all of the grades when I worked at Power House. My shift started at 7:30 am and usually ended at 2:00 pm. The COs could have kept me and the other workers longer because they paid us for seven hours of work, however we only worked six hours with an hour break.

As a Grade 4, I made about seventeen dollars a month. Once I was able to show proof of my GED (or high school diploma), I became a Grade 3 and I made twenty-four dollars a month. When I was promoted to a Grade 2, I earned about forty dollars a month. When I finally made it to Grade 1, I worked hard. If I pleased the CO, I would get bonuses up to fifty percent of my base pay. Sometimes I could get double my pay because I worked several hours over my normal hours. I would work until seven at night or just after dinner. The most I made in any one month was eighty-three dollars.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but in prison camp, good money is when an inmate made more than $40 a month. The pay can be hard to determine based off of my earning, so here are the pay rates for each grade.

The pay scale for inmate workers at Herlong Prison Camp is as followed:

Maintenance: $5.00/month

Grade 4: $0.12 an hour

Grade 3: $0.17 an hour

Grade 2: $0.24 an hour

Grade 1: $0.40 an hour plus a 50% bonus for being the “lead.”

Some departments, like the Power House, tried to keep a small group of inmate workers. This enabled them to give the inmates the best possible learning experience and it also increased their pay. There was only a small amount of money approved for inmate pay. There was no way to go over budget until the COs had talked to their superiors to increase inmate pay.

Inmates don’t have the luxury of searching for better paying jobs and every cent in prison is helpful for a number of reasons.  If you find yourself or your loved one entering into a federal institution, don’t become outraged over the pay. Stay positive and remember to be diligent in your work ethic. Even though it’s a low paying job, the same work ethic is required if you want to get and keep a job.

My Dentist Experience At Herlong Prison Camp

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Part of the prison care system allows inmates to receive healthcare. In order to be able to see a doctor, dentist, or any healthcare provider, a form called a cop-out was needed. Once it was filled out and approved, inmates could visit the appropriate office.

I needed to have my teeth cleaned so I filled out my form and received a cop-out. It was an experience I would never want to go through again. I worked only a half day at my job, the Power House and then went to the dentist. As she poked around my mouth, she was extremely rough with my gums. She was supposed to be cleaning out plaque, but it felt as if she was scraping the insides of my teeth! I felt helpless. My mouth was in pain the entire hour, it was killing me. I also had a difficult time keeping me mouth open.

Although it was painful, it was also free. They found one cavity and a decay in one of my teeth. I guess they did a great job, but I would never go back. I decided to wait until I got home to take care of the cavity. I didn’t want to go through that again. It was a helpless feeling knowing that all I could do was squirm, shake, and stare at the light. I was forced to “open wider”, “lower my chin”, and “turn left or right”. I hated every moment of it.

I later heard a rumor that the dentist didn’t know any English because she was from Brazil. I’m unsure if that was true, but I don’t remember her telling me any other English words. Come to think of it, the assistant was the only person who did any real talking to me.

Her assistant was a White inmate I’ll call Vetti.  Vetti was a stockbroker who got five years for insider trading. I don’t know the process of how they hire inmates, but the medical staff figured he was smart enough to work as a dentist assistant.  It was his job to tell me to stay calm and inform me of the procedures the doctor was doing. The doctor never said a word except for the words I mentioned above.

At the time, I was thinking this wasn’t worth losing work over. I became teary eyed hours later just rethinking and journaliing the entire event. After the procedure, my teeth would bleed when my tongue pushed against my teeth. It wasn’t a lot of blood, but my spit was red and you could see blood around the side of my teeth. Also, my bottom gums were sore. When I asked Vetti a few hours later, he just told me not to worry about it. He tried to avoid talking to me too much. At first, I didn’t understand why, but later I found out that Vetti didn’t get along with Blacks because of some racist things he previously said.

I missed the rest of the day of work. It wasn’t because of the pain, but because I thought I didn’t have to go back. I thought I had a half day at work.  I was told by another inmate at the Power House that once you have obtained a cop out, you don’t have to go back that day. More on that inmate in another blog post, but he was dead wrong. Good thing nothing came from it.

My trip to the prison dentist was extremely uncomfortable and painful. It’s something that I would never do again. Especially because my teeth bled for about two weeks.