Dealing With The Struggle Of Returning From Prison

There’s nothing a person can’t handle if they have the confidence, support and persistence. I truly believe that, although when returning from prison after a 17-month sentence, I found it to be extremely difficult. Despite earning my Bachelor’s degree in English in 2008, it was still hard to find a job after federal prison. During my two year pre-trial, I knew that obtaining a job afterwards would be tough. It’s so tempting to give up, but how would an ex-felon or anyone else for that matter, keep from quitting?

I remember having the desire to return to prison camp because of the hardship. At least in camp I wouldn’t have to deal with rent, bills, or demanding employers. I tried everything I could think of. I even wrote and published a book called Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp. Although I value my accomplishment, I was disappointed because I thought it would bring me freedom and happiness. Needless to say, it didn’t. Finally, I realized that I had more freedom outside of prison than I did inside of prison. My challenge was finding a way to diminish my depression and frustration of returning to society. I needed to keep a level head and find a solution to alleviate the hardship of returning home. If you’re like me and need a couple of methods to survive, then here is a list of coping mechanisms.  

Developing a Great Diet

At Herlong Prison Camp, I was able to eat as many as four meals a day, but that’s not always possible in the real world. Whether or not you eat once a day or four times a day a targeted diet is need. For better focus and mental clarity, try a diet high in fiber and protein. Also, to minimize depression and anxiety, I recently discovered that a diet high in potassium can calm over-stressed nerves.

Finding Employment

Looking for employment is more than just putting in job applications and hoping to get the right job. What you really need is a game plan. For example, If you’re applying for a low waged job and are overqualified, avoid putting in high levels of education on your resume. It’s typical for someone coming home from prison to jump at the first job that is offered in order to satisfy their PO’s. This is understandable as well as sensible, but it isn’t a long-term financial solution.

I believe that newly released inmates should set time aside every day to explore their options such as self-employment or higher paying jobs. Even if you already have a job, it doesn’t hurt to apply for a higher paying job. Yes, looking for a quality job with a felony record may be hell, but if you believe a higher salary is needed, then stay confident and persistent in your quest. Part of your game plan should be researching sites like Indeed.com, using their search bar and entering in “jobs that pay $35,000” or more. Another tip is when searching on Indeed or similar sites, be sure to narrow down the search results. My normal search might look like “English major, $35,000, -sales, -management.” By putting “-sales” this eliminates any positions that have the keyword or phrase “sales,” which usually prevents me from seeing jobs with sales involved. Lastly, having someone review and/or write your resume and/or cover letter will help you to stand out from the crowd.

Building and Maintaining Relationship

Transitioning is easier when you have the support of a community. A community provides a felon job leads, counseling and the motivation needed to keep moving forward. Although some relationship will be lost throughout time, it’s essential for an ex-felon to focus on forging and maintaining relationships. This would also be the time to eliminate and avoid destructive or fruitless relationships with toxic people. Those types of people add nothing to your life except unnecessary stress.

Move to a Bigger City

The amount of opportunities for ex-felons depends on their residential area. I’ve learned the hard way that jobs in a city like Sacramento are just hard to find. Obtaining a quality job was difficult because of my criminal record and restaurant history, but when I moved to Los Angeles, things changed. I was able to reduce my time spent working in restaurants and begin working as a production assistant for films. I also worked as a background actor. Yes, these are low paying jobs, but my goal is become a Hollywood screenwriter. The experience I receive just by being on set is phenomenal!

Dealing With Depression and Frustration

There’s no magic pill or solution to dealing with the depression and frustration that a ex-felon will experience when they return home. The trick for ex-felons is to understand that they have done everything in their power, legally, to put themselves in the best possible position. Everything will work itself out in time. I truly understand the frustration of waiting for everything to work itself out. However, I constantly remind myself that if there was a better idea, I would do it.  This is why a game plan is highly valuable to newly released inmate. When you have exhausted all of your options, you must believe that what you’ve done is sufficient and that the results will manifest in time.

 

I hope this helps someone.  At the time of this post, I’m still struggling to have the life that I want. However, I see things coming together. If nothing in this article works for you, then the only advice I have left is to keep your head up and never quit.

The Importance of Making Your Loved-Ones Active in Post-Prison Recovery

As detailed in my book, Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp, prison is very difficult for the individual who’s going to prison. Yet, what’s not often talked about is how an inmate’s loved ones suffer because of it. Prison is meant to punish those that break the law, but it actually ends up punishing those connected to the inmate.

In my experience, my family wished there was something they could have done to prevent my incarceration. I told them that I don’t know why it happened to me, but there was nothing they could’ve done to prevent it, it’s just the system. My mom felt as if she had to do something to make my prison camp stay easier and my return a successful one. I was trying to avoid getting her in my mess until I learned that by helping me, it was also helping and healing her. Other family members also wished they could do more to make my return from prison easier.

In 2009, during the housing crisis, I purchased five homes with faulty subprime loans and was indicted for bank fraud. I was eventually released on my own recognizance (O.R). In 2011, I was sentenced to seventeen months in Herlong’s Federal Prison Camp. Federal prison camps are the second lowest prison security level in which inmates can serve their sentences. These prisons, sometimes called Camp Fed, are usually non-violent institutions full of non-violent inmates such as white collar criminals, who have transferred from higher institutions. I attended a satellite prison camp which is adjacent to the main facility. It also assists the main facility in operating efficiently.  In my case, Herlong Prison Camp helped and served the Federal Correctional Institution, Herlong, which was a medium security prison.

While on O.R., I was awaiting my trial and sentencing and was extremely stressed and full of anxiety. I worried about exaggerated possibilities of financial ruin and despair. My family told me about how they knew people who got great jobs working as truck drivers and laborers after prison and that their transitions seemed pretty seamless. They stayed with family or girlfriends, got the best job they could find, and supported the girlfriend or moved into their own place. I heard stories that their transition took less than a few months. Of course, they had the necessary licenses and certificates they needed. If they didn’t have them, they simply went to school while in prison or when they returned home. I didn’t want those types of jobs because I worked in the restaurant industry too long and felt it was already emotionally and physically draining. I also felt that it was no way to support a future family, should I have one. I think my family was concerned I was being stubborn. Maybe I was, but I saw prison as a way to reset my life, so I didn’t want to be stuck at a job I was going to hate.

During the two years that I was on pretrial release, my parents helped me save money for my prison and post-prison life. I needed a way to support myself. They also gave me emotional support and encouragement. Daily my parents reminded me to hang in there and to focus on what I wanted to do in my life. However, when I was younger, I often remember they would tell me things like, “You’ve been through worse,” meaning I have previously dealt with more difficult challenges and if I can remember how I overcame those challenges, then I can overcome this one too. I also remembered my parents telling me when I was younger to avoid getting angry or depressed because the anger would blind me and prevent me from focusing on improving my situation. These things really helped me minimize my depression and helped me stay focused. They also assured me that I would have a place to come home to once I returned from prison and they kept my car while I was away. That help and this assurance not only helped me relax, but it was helped my parents because it was a clear and concrete solution to a problem.

Once I was in prison camp, my parents became active partners in my post-prison strategy. Now, they were not an emotional quarterback sitting on the sidelines, they were in the game and controlling the outcome. They sent me books to help me learn a trade so that I could find a better job. They also sent me magazines and newspapers so that I could stay current on events at home. Not only did that help me stay up to date with everything going on in my city of Sacramento, but it gave me business ideas that I was able to work on while in prison. When I told my family how I was putting ideas together because of those magazines and journals, their minds were at ease.

My mother helped me type my novel that I had handwritten in prison camp. The pages she typed helped reduce the amount of time I spent typing the final draft. In fact, when I got home, I worked on the novel until my hard drive crashed. I lost the entire novel except for what she had saved on her computer. I am so thankful to her, not only for this but for all her support along the way. She even helped me with my driver’s license. She mailed me a form that wiped out my entire financial penalty because I was in prison. I didn’t know that was possible. However, she was the one who did the research online to find it. Also, she was online researching several ideas for me and downloading articles that supported or were in conflict with my ideas.

One of my ideas was to create a blog about random topics and articles I wrote while in prison. That idea is now my blog at www.pyersedandridge.com where I talk about my past and my post prison journey. Another idea I was working on were fundraisers to help an organization, which I cannot name, that I have been a part of for several years. I also worked out an idea to sell books online, which I’m doing now. When my mom visited me, I explained in detail how she was helping me and how she was giving me so much optimism. I didn’t like discussing my prison life while she was visiting, but I could see that once she saw me in good health and saw my positive spirit, she was more comfortable. She would have visited more, but she felt she didn’t need to keep seeing me because she hated the drive to Herlong.

Visits are so good to have, but they are very draining and take the better part of the day (usually like 8:00 am – 2:30 pm). Then after about three hours, we would run out of things to discuss. The two times my mom visited me, she saw how busy I was and that made her and the family more comfortable. The visiting room was a large room connected to a security window and sealed a metal door. The room was painted white and had vending machines, civilian and inmate restrooms, a play area for the children, and chairs for the visitors. At the camp level, inmates can get one hug and one kiss from each visitor. I’ve seen inmates have newborns and toddlers sitting on their laps.

If I had to give anyone advice, I would suggest being an active part of your loved one’s post-prison strategy. That is what helped me the most. I also noticed it helped minimize my parent’s stress while increasing assurance that I would return home safe and have a productive post prison life. Because of all they have done, I’ve dedicated my book, Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp to them. The help that they continue to give me aids in my surety that I will never spend time in prison again.

 

This was re-posted on www.prisonthehiddensentence.com

Snitches, An excerpt from Subprime Felon

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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:

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.

Every Setback Sentence Acceptance Speech

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As I was browsing the internet, I came across a blog post by Tara Pringle Jefferson. Her site is called “The Young Mommy Life“. In her post she mentioned her younger sister who is in her twenties and just finished college. She has high aspirations to make a positive impact on the community and make a decent living. However, although she has a degree she is stuck working part-time, dead-end and low paying jobs.

Tara gave her sister the same pep talks people keep giving me. They include “keep your head up”, “be patient” and “life is more than a paycheck.” Although it sounds good, her sister and I have the same reaction. We don’t really want to hear that. Instead, we are looking for quick, visible results. I’d tell people about my four year degree and that I didn’t mind washing dishes, I just wasn’t going to be Al Bundy.

Tara did give her sister some advice that I liked. Her advice is, “When I’m stressed about something, I tell myself that this is simply the opening line of my acceptance speech one day in the future when I’m on stage being given an award for my contributions to the world of media.” Taking that advice, I would say my opening line of my speech would be, “I realize sometimes going backwards is the only way to go forward.” As I thought about it more, I came up with more.

Or here are some others:

  • “Nothing in my life was straightforward and easy. Of course, my post-prison life was going to be challenging.”

  • “I’ve always said there was going to be a backwards way for me to get ahead. My life once again proved that.”

  • “Maybe it was just proof I had to come up with a more creative way to get what I wanted. And damn if it wasn’t worth.”

  • “As much as I hated the struggle, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Now that I’m done thinking of my acceptance speech opening lines, I have to remember that setbacks are a part of life just as much as moving forward is. If something stresses me out, I have remedies such as medication and journaling to get me through it.  I also remind myself of my time in prison camp and how I turned that into an advantage. I have more freedoms here than in prison camp and that means I have more freedom to change my life than I had in prison camp. Though I understand how hard life can be, there’s no excuse to allow myself to be a failure or give up because everyone struggles, but he best of us overcome it. I believe overcoming my problems is what will make me the best I can be.

Now to get ready for my speeches.

You Were ALWAYS A Strong Person Even Before Prison Camp

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While I was in camp, I learned that if you became a strong person because of being in prison camp, then you were already a strong person before you got to camp. Prison camp isn’t really about rehabilitation, it’s more about being restricted or like being in detention. When I did wrong at home, my parents would say, “You did something wrong, now go to your room.” While in there I would just sit down or lay in my bed. Instead of playing with my toys, I would read or write. Then I’d eat and If allowed, I’d go to the bathroom.

The difference between prison camp and my home restrictions is determined by the desired outcome. My parents tried to better me with the tool of restrictions. It proved that I could lose everything including my world and my family because of my actions. However, my parents taught me HOW to prevent that type of restriction from happening again. They taught me lessons about how to be a better man and to give people respect. Prison camp was more about someone locking you in a cage until the judge says the inmate can go free, at least that’s how I experienced it.

Yes, the camp counselors, administrators and correctional officers who are told to help an inmate as much as possible. However, I’ve seen too many times where inmates are told “suck it up” or “it’s not my problem” when they approach these individuals for help. Our response to that was to stay away from the ‘suits’ and CO’s until they called for you. Then when they called for you, do whatever it is that they’ve said to avoid a confrontation. It seems as though they had a list of things from their superiors that proved they were doing their job. Then of course, their superiors have to impress the politicians and the politician’s boss are technically the American people who wind up paying the bill.

Say for instance, an inmate wanted a Master’s degree, but his BOP (Bureau of Prison) record showed his Bachelor’s but not a high school degree. Technically, the administrator doesn’t have to help the inmate receive his Master’s degree, instead their job is to sign up the inmate for a GED. The administrators go by the BOP’s database only. Although the inmate has proof of his Bachelor’s degree, it is not sufficient or a suitable substitute for a GED. I can only theorize as to why that’s the case, but in order for the inmate to receive his Master’s degree, he’d have to get help from his family.

The prison camps responsibility is to give you the opportunity to gain a new skill or learn work-related habits. As long as there’s written evidence of this, which is in the inmate’s reports and in his progress reports, they are not responsible to help you with anything else. The administrators have demanding superiors and stressful, tattletale coworkers who make their lives worse if things aren’t done as they’ve asked. This can hurt the administrator’s future goals. The CO’s, administrators and other ‘suits’ are just following their career goals. In order to achieve their goals, they must please their superiors to get the necessary approvals and recommendations needed to move to the next level.

I say all this to say that if an inmate finds God, a career path, or does any self-improvement, it will largely be because of their strong will and desire. As for me, prison camp improved my writing career, but the spirit of a writer was in me the whole time. I made time to be a writer because I really wanted to be one. The administrators and CO’s only focused on making sure I had a GED and life skills needed to maintain a job and keep my apartment. That was their minimum requirement. In fact, the camp adviser told me writing was not a good choice for a career, even though she knew I had a degree in creative writing.

I’m sure there’s a conspiracy theory as to why the prison camp administrators only focus on doing the minimum as opposed to going above and beyond.  Those theories are not the point of this post, so I’ll discuss that in future posts.

I believe the reason prison camp was a great experience for me is because I wanted it to be an amazing experience. I believe it made me better because I wanted prison camp to make me better. I believe that prison camp made me a better man because it was the one experience that made me see who I really was inside and it helped me become comfortable with that man.

Now, there was a CO that gave me some advice on these issues. However, it was through kind and friendly conversations, not a regulated program, and thus unofficial. Some people learned a little from the developmental classes offered, but then quickly forgot it. What they did seem to remember was the developmental concepts and ideas they researched and studied. That is how these inmates improved themselves, so I’ve been told.

Also, the inmates who had strong families to go home too grew as well. Knowing that I could quickly readjust with the help of my family was the most important thing to me in prison. In fact, knowing how much support I had from family gave me the extra motivation to keep developing myself because I knew it would all be worth it in the end.

Again, if anyone obtained anything from out of prison, at least based on my experience, I believe it was already within the person the entire time. If you’re a better man because of prison, the better man was already in you. It wasn’t because of the programs, the inmates or anything else. You somehow obtained the confidence in yourself and God to be that man.

How I Used Herlong Prison Camp For Self-Development

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I found this journal entry in my prison camp journal at home. I wrote it because I was working on some self-development ideas about getting over procrastination and accomplishing my goals. Once I found it, I gave it a quick edit and decided to post it.

Self-development was extremely important for me in prison camp because it was the best place for me to really figure out everything I was doing wrong. I was in a place where I could really analyze and be honest with myself. There was no hurry for me to find a solution quickly, so I allowed myself to focus on the past, figure out what I was doing wrong, and then come up with a plan of action to figure it out.

When I came home, I found that I still had a long way to go. However, I believe I’m making strides to better myself.

Here is my insert:

I should be aware of my want and need to slack off. I must also promise myself that true enjoyment is around the corner. Maybe I just need a break from everything. Instead of getting mad at myself, I need to find the type of enjoyment were I can let my hair down and laugh. This will give me the best type of “break” away from my work.

If I get tired and do less work, and if less isn’t a possibility, then I should GET HELP even if I have to pay money. I must stay focused on my wants and desires. As I complete things, I must remember that it is just the beginning to the journey to better life. Maintenance is more important than the action or creation stage. Here are some ways to improve it.

  1. Pinpoint the Specific Action
    I’m going to focus on the first thing and then break it down into smaller tasks (or take a walk).
  2. Ask Questions
    I’ll ask myself “why am I putting this off?” I’ll be specific.  If I need a break, I’ll take one, or if something is more important—I’ll do that instead.

    1. Putting off something such as myself, I’ll have to wonder if it is worth it and why? What are the payoffs?
    2. Would I lose anything by putting it off? Or should I hurry and get it over wit? Don’t minimize the consequences.
  3. Visualize Goals
    What are the benefits of reaching your goals? Visualize them and feel the success and appreciate it.
  4. Repeat
    Repeat the preparation or decision stage if I’m still having trouble.

Self development is an important topic for everyone, or at least it should be. We should all want better for ourselves and our loved ones. I encourage you to find what works for you and begin the journey to enriching your life.

A&O Meeting at Federal Prison Camp–Herlong

Every job you attend and are hired for should give you some type of orientation. As soon as you start working, you should be trained and oriented for the job. Even if you are joining a new organization, then you should be given a class or meeting where someone gives you an overview about what you’re getting into. The same is true for prison inmates. However, my orientation didn’t start until my third week there.

On June 6, 2011, I had my Admissions and Orientation (A&O) meeting in the visitors room. The orientation was on prison policies and programs. We had to watch a sexual rape prevention tape.  The camp counselor, Daniels, put it on and explained the video while making dry humored jokes. He then told us that rape has never occurred Herlong Prison Camp. However, rape among the Federal Correctional Institution inmates was more of a concern.

Daniels had been in the system for 25 years and didn’t give a fuck about anything. He was sarcastic and a hard ass, who loved to “make it hurt when you fuck up.” However if you didn’t bug him, he didn’t bug you.  That was my relationship with him. I only talked to him when I HAD to talk to him. I never went out of my way to be his friend or to get “inside information.” Besides, he’d lie about it anyways or so I’ve been told.

The whole meeting annoyed me because it was really just a bunch of people coming in to tell us “don’t fuck up” or “I really don’t care about my job, but this is what I have to do for you.” We had a variety of people come in to talk to us, including disciplinary personnel, a camp nurse, a psychologist, and a GED teacher.

The disciplinary personnel was some dude that warned us about what happens if we have to see him, which would be if we were in a lot of trouble. I think he worked in the SHU or “the hole”. He also mentioned that if we did have to see him, we would be shipped to another facility. The camp nurse came in and made a brief introduction of his services and then left in a hurry. I don’t think I even saw him ever again at the camp. The psychologist was a young and very sexy. She told us about her history and what the type of things she offers at the prison. She mentioned things like counseling and medication, but she hurried out too. The GED teacher acted as if he had a gun to his head and was forced to talk to us. It was so bad that he just rambled a bunch of crazy laws to us—word for word—then took off.

I don’t think anyone made an appearance longer than thirty seconds, which was fine by me. I just wanted to get back into the library. This meeting was nonsense and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t there long enough that I should care. I just nodded when I needed to or said what I needed to say and then I hurried out of there. I knew the next day was going to be busy because that was going to be my first day of work at the Power House.

Orientation is supposed to be the most crucial part of starting a new experience. You would think prison systems would take more time to make these types of meetings more beneficial to the inmate. I think if they did, maybe prison issues would be less of a problem.

My First Team Meeting–Federal Prison Camp Herlong Journal

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Prison is supposed to be a place of rehabilitation. If that’s the case, then it should be a place of empowerment. It should focus on helping inmates make plans, set achievable and realistic goals, and find a job after prison. However, my first meeting with the camp adviser didn’t do any of that. Like all other interactions with prison staff personnel, it was rushed. They also empowered themselves instead of uplifting me.

The camp adviser is the person who was supposed to help me develop a plan and create a goal for my post-prison life. She was also the one that decided my length of stay at the halfway house. Secretly I prayed to get to the halfway house three months after I got into prison. However, she told me I would be eligible for home confinement on June 15, 2012, which was about thirteen months after my prison arrival. She also wouldn’t mention the halfway house anymore until my next meeting which was in November.

As I mentioned before, the purpose of this meeting was to give me direction on what to do after prison. The adviser was supposed to provide me with tips to make sure I didn’t commit any crimes again and to make sure I would have a productive lifestyle, but it didn’t happen that way. Instead, she asked me questions about myself. It felt as if she was trying to prove she was better than me just because I was an inmate.

She asked me about my family background and how close I was to family members; I told her I was very close to them. When she asked about my educational success, I mentioned I had a Bachelor of Art in English. She asked about my employment status and wanted to know if I had a job waiting for me. I did have a job, and I also thought I had one waiting for me. Then she asked me some basic questions about life; did I know how to balance a checkbook, shop for groceries, find a job, and if I thought I was emotionally sane enough to handle prison. I answered “yes” to all of those questions and all of the other questions of the same sort.

She also asked me about my dreams and ambitions. When I told her I wanted to make a living off of writing, she discouraged me. She told me that planning to make a living from writing was a mistake and was not realistic. Also, she mentioned that I couldn’t be self-employed while at the halfway house. Later in the conversation, she said self-employment could be a hobby or a part-time job, but not a primary source of income. While in prison, she wanted me to find a job that would give me a trade. She suggested the Power House and I didn’t argue with her. When I told her I already applied and it looked as if I got the job, she was satisfied. It wasn’t going to be my permanent job, just a second job or a hobby. In the end, working a job at the halfway house worked out pretty damn nicely.  More on that later. I also chose not to argue with her on the point that I could be a successful writer. It wasn’t the time, and if I won, I wouldn’t gain anything. It was best to keep quiet about my ideas.

I nearly had to take GED classes because the Board of Prisons (BOP) had no proof of my high school diploma on their file system.  If I didn’t show evidence that I had a GED or high school diploma, I would have to take the class. Without the GED, I wouldn’t have been able to make more than $0.12 an hour (about $17 a month). I know I have a BA in English, but they didn’t care about that. In fact, I found out that my BA meant very little, if nothing at all in the BOP system. They only wanted me to find my transcripts from high school—official transcripts only. My mom had to do some legwork and get the transcripts sent to my camp adviser (More on that in another blog post).

Okay, let me bring it back to the team meeting. As I mentioned earlier, this first meeting wasn’t very uplifting at all. It was yet another meeting where a superior proved she was better than me, but I focused on not letting it get to me. I just told myself, these people have put me down because they need to have a sense of empowerment.

My Doctor Visits at Federal Prison Camp–Herlong, Journal 07

Have you ever heard that prisons are supposedly the best place for anyone that needs medical care? I don’t know who told me that inmates get the best health care, but I can honestly tell you, that’s not entirely correct.

I hated doctor visits because the medical sucked at Herlong Prison Camp. My first appointment was conducted to determine if I was healthy enough to be in prison camp. Of course, I asked, “If I was unhealthy enough, can I go home?” They quickly responded with “No!”  

Anyways, an elderly black woman, I don’t know if it was a doctor or a nurse (most likely a nurse) asked me for my ID, but I had forgotten about it. Without any eye contact, she told me, “You’re supposed to have it on you all time.”

I replied, “Okay, do you want me to get it right now?”

“What do you think? I can’t work on you without it,” she said.  

I realize how dumb of a question it was. When I returned with my card, I showed it to her, and she didn’t even look at it. Without any personality whatsoever, she did a very basic check up on me. She also gave me very vague answers to my questions. If I didn’t know any better, she either hated me or was highly disappointed in me. If that was true, then she was basing it on other inmates, because I did nothing to make her feel that way.  I was in and out in a matter of minutes—healthy enough to be in prison.

I later found out that this was an appointment was just the prison’s evidence and documentation that I entered in prison without any bodily harm. It would be used in case I did cause bodily harm to myself in the future. The administration would have evidence and say, “He didn’t come in with these scars or tattoos.” Self-injuring and tattoos could get you a shot (disciplinary action). If there were any markings on an inmate they could go back and check the medical records Keep in mind, I had a similar check up when I first entered prison, which was just before I went to the actual camp.

Also, medical appointments are for funding. As long as the prison seems safe for inmates, Herlong will always obtain government funding. Thus, the people who are getting money from the prison can keep getting their money.

I had another medical visit a few days later. It was at a dentist office this time.  It was yet another impersonal and rushed doctor visit. The room was small and was right next door to the clinic I was in before.  There were two white doctors: one middle-aged and balding and one chunky gray-haired man. I didn’t get the names, but I wouldn’t have remembered them anyway. It was a clean, yet cluttered room. I first sat on a blue plastic chair and then sat on a gray chair with a donut-shaped headrest. I didn’t any chains, shackles, or restraints.

He poked around in my teeth mentioned I had three missing wisdom teeth — or maybe he said I need to have my wisdom teeth removed.  In any case, he wouldn’t clarify or give me an explanation for it. He told me my teeth were healthy and scheduled me for a cleaning. When I asked why my teeth bleed when I brush—all he said with a forced niceness is that I could need cleaning and could be brushing incorrectly. It felt like I was in and out five minutes. I found out that the balding dentist assistant was just another inmate who hated Blacks. He couldn’t do anything because he would get sent to the hole for being a jerk or for trying to fight someone.

Quality care takes time and all of my visits to medical professionals within the prison camp were rushed and impersonal. No one took the time to really care for me and make me feel like my health was important.

If you have experienced healthcare in the prison system, let me know how you felt in the comments below.

 

The False Hopes About SSI Payments To Inmates

I understand and respect it when people say prison camp was comfortable and not a real prison. The longer I stayed there, the more I understood the statement. However, some things made it more difficult to stay there. One of those things were false hopes and in this case, it was the false hope of Social Security Income payments for inmates, as well as a few others.

There was a rumor going around the prison camp that inmates could get up to $300 per month from SSI. In fact, there was a paper handed out that said federally incarcerated inmates (whether in prison, good time or halfway house) could receive money for all of the time spent in incarceration. It also claimed that any federal inmates could become bonded felons, receive disability, various cash awards, or loans.

Sounds amazing right? I was only in prison for two weeks and suddenly my current imprisonment was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was excited because that meant I could get about $5,100 since my sentence was seventeen months. I thought about starting a business with that money. I had also heard that there was a possibility that the Small Business Administration would give federal inmates a loan for up to $50,000 and would be bonded by the Federal Government. I honestly tried to take it with a grain of salt, but I couldn’t because it sounded like such a good way to get up on my feet after prison.

However, it turned out to be a complete lie.

None of the prison administrators knew of either program. I even had a family member call the 1-800 number, but it never worked. When I got home, I found this on the SSI website:

“Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments generally are not payable for months that you are confined to a jail, prison or certain other public institutions for commission of a crime. You are not automatically eligible for Social Security or SSI payments when you are released.”

Essentially, the only way I could get $300 per month for being incarcerated was if I was deemed medically insane and if my condition was permanent, meaning I couldn’t obtain a job or maintain my living status. On top of that, a licensed doctor would have to prove my case. Of course if I had that problem, then I wouldn’t be able to write a book or even wash dishes. I did find out that some inmates received their $300, but it wasn’t for the amount of time they’d spent in prison. They were receiving it every month for the rest of their lives. I also found out that the Small Business Administration wouldn’t fund inmates any amount of money.

Some people that are in prison firmly believe those papers circulating around the prison. They create imaginary lives around the idea of all of that money, just like I did. Inmates who are bound for ten years believe they are going to receive a large check when they get home.

The idea of receiving money was a major false hope. Other false hopes included early releases. At the time of my imprisonment, inmates believed President Obama, or whoever the current president was, would work with Congress to shorten prison sentences. Shorter prison sentences would free up space in the prisons so that they weren’t overcrowded. However, inmates from higher institutions have told me that this was a lie that they’ve been hearing since President Clinton was in office.

Another rumor and false hope was about reducing the 89% mandatory serving time to 50% for non-violent inmates. The only rumor that turned out to be true was the reduction of the crack law from 100:1 to 18:1. That law reduced a few inmates sentences as much as half or to time served. I’ve seen some inmates who had five more years to go, go home before I did.

Although prison camp isn’t the same as prison, it’s still takes away freedoms and privileges from people. False hopes only add insult to injury and unfortunately, while in prison, it seems to be just a part of the sentence.

For more got to SSI for inmates.

Transition to Continental Breakfast Due To Increase of Food Cost

Periodically, inmates receive memos from the Warden or other prison and prison camp staff about updates in policy or other warnings. This is an official memo found in the Trulincs system. The memo below tells both the prison camp and the prison that the administration is getting rid of the normal full sized breakfast. They are replacing it with a continental breakfast. Luckily I was released before this change took effect. I have no idea how effective this was at saving money or what the breakfast entailed.

If you want to see the normal, full sized breakfast, please click here.


Transition to Continental Breakfast Due To Increase of Food Cost

Herlong Prison Camp Transfer Plan Sheet

All inmates are waiting for the day that they can leave the prison or prison camp. Some of them, like myself, transfer to a halfway house, but the others transfer from prison to their own residences. This could be that they have completed their sentence or that they are on parole. I never had to fill this out, but this is also used for several different furloughs such as:

  • To and from an inmate’s home residence
  • To the halfway house

When completing this form, be sure to have the VEHICLE’S INFORMATION fully filled out.  The camp administrators are going to check out the vehicle and the driver. If the driver has a felony, that person cannot pick up an inmate. You can read the form below for more information.


Transfer Plan Sheet

National Food Service Menu Inmate Preference Survey

Ever year, inmates are given a survey about the food the prison serves. It asks each inmate which food they wanted to keep and which foods they wanted to get rid of. There are a ton of conspiracy theories about the quality of the food at prison. There are also questions about who really chooses the food and if this form is just a cover up. My thoughts about this are in my prison camp journal entries.

When I received this form, honestly, I didn’t fill it out. I was told that the correctional officers that were in charge of food were the ones that collected the forms. These forms supposedly helps them figure out what food to keep on the menu and which items to remove.


National Food Service Menu

No Collect Calls at Herlong Federal Prison Camp: Prepaid Accounts

Staying in touch with family and/or friends is sometimes essential to an inmates psychological and emotion stability. Being able to communicate with those that love you is a reward of its own. When someone is unable to speak to their loved ones, depression and agitation can set in quickly. Fortunately, the prison has multiple ways to communicate with family and/or friends.

Below is a memo explaining the process of calling loved ones. Usually, prison inmates could call their loved ones with collect calls, however some people cannot accept these calls. When I was in prison camp, the prison didn’t give collect calls as an option. Instead they encouraged inmates to tell their families about the Value Added Communications prepaid account. They would have to set up a Value Added Communications by calling 1-800-913-6037.

I had the option to set up this account, but I chose not to because I wasn’t going to be there very long. If you have a loved one in prison and cannot accept collect calls, create a prepaid account and make communication between you and your loved one easy.


Prepaid Accounts

How To Survive Federal Prison Camp

Federal_Correctional_Institution_Herlong_CA_minimum_camp

17 Ways To Survive Prison

Let’s be honest, prison camp or any kind of prison is stressful. You’re already tired from the drawn out court process of being convicted and now you’ll be separated from all your friends, family and other loved ones. Those same people will also now have to get by without you. This is extremely stressful if you are the person who fixed the car, paid the bills, or touched her the right way. On top of all of that, you’re wondering how you’re going to survive your sentence. Even a short sentence can seem like a long time. Well, I’ve been to prison, survived and even wrote the book called Subprime Felon about it. I can tell you the ups and the downs you’ll experience, the type of people you’ll meet and advice on how to deal with the CO’s. So how do you survive federal prison camp? There is honestly no easy answer, but here are a few suggestions.

1.Stay Busy
The only true way to keep your mind from going crazy is to fill it with other things and distract yourself from your negative surrounding. Read books, write a journal, and find every way you can to educate yourself. In prison they have inmate classes, attend as many as you can. As long as your mind is busy you’ll keep from losing it.

2. Focus on the Positive
I understand this is easier said than done, but negative thinking isn’t going to help. In fact, it stresses you out. Even worse, it will stress others out and cause unnecessary drama. If you begin to think about how long it’s going to take you to get home, shift your mindset and focus on how great things are going to be when you go home. Looking forward to your next visit will be extremely helpful.

3. Create a Daily Routine
What was once considered dull in life will become one of your biggest stress relievers. Having a schedule will help you focus on positive things and give you better sleep at night.  It’s also proven to aid in reducing stress. This daily structure helps the camp life become a little more predictable.

4. Learn to be ALONE
This is really important. You must learn to have fun and enjoy yourself, by yourself. There is nothing more annoying than someone continuously bugs everyone. The same is true for someone who wants to hang around all the time. If you’re going to be around someone, look for like minded individuals.  Staying busy without company will attract those types of people. Having people with a positive mindset makes your sentence more enjoyable.

5. Find a Low Stress Job
You definitely don’t want anything else to cause you stress. If you’re going to get a job to stay busy, find something that doesn’t add stress to your sentence. Everyone is different when it comes to stress. You may like cooking while others would be stressed in the kitchen. When searching for a job, don’t look for something you think will make time go by fast. I promise, whatever you do will make time go by quickly as long as you are buy and positive. If you notice the majority of the people who work in laundry are stressed, then it’s a sure sign that you don’t want to work there.

6. Relay Positivity
Although you are having a rough time, know that your family will be more stressed than you are. You’re in a world they only see on television and they think it’s like the prison show OZ or whatever prison tv show they watch. Tell your family positive things about prison. This will help them relax as well as help you relax knowing they won’t be worried. Prove to your family, with a smile on your face, that you’re getting a license or you’re reading that book you always wanted to read. Try to make prison camp look as fruitful as possible.

7. Stay Away From Negative People
Anyone who is extremely negative or anyone who is continuously complaining about being in prison camp will bring you down. I cannot stress this enough, negativity will make things worse for you and everyone else around you.

8. Accept the Things You Can’t Change
There is a lot of responsibility and privileges you lose while being locked up. You won’t be able to help your wife fix the TV, help Junior with the model car or help your daughter with her boy problems. Accept it and move on. Truth be told, you’re no longer obligated because you no longer have the freedom to do so. I’m not saying that you should stop caring. However if you overwhelm yourself with the former responsibility of caring for your family and couple it with the heartbreaking truth that you physically can’t accomplish any of it will only further drive you crazy. The inmates who accepted the fact that  they couldn’t do those things seemed to be a lot happier than those who stressed over it.

9. Don’t Rush Your Sentence
Many new arrivals concern themselves with their release date as soon as they are locked up. The truth is, you’ll leave when you leave. Don’t get caught up with early releases or rumors about early releases. Most of those things will change several times throughout your stay and most rumors end up being false.

10. Keep Your Mouth Shut
This isn’t the place to be a saint or completely honest. You’ll see someone steal—you didn’t see it. You hear about something illegal—you didn’t hear it. In prison, there’s nothing worse than a snitch. In fact, you’re not a better person because you told on someone. It’s a bad idea because you’re not helping the person you snitched on and to make matters worse, the CO won’t even like you anymore. On top of that, everyone is watching you closely; they’re careful about what they say and block you out of conversations because they think you’re going to snitch again. The CO’s will also have less respect for you. The entire community will see you as a sellout and an ass kisser.

11. Keep Low Funds
Never put more than $50 on your books a month. This will prevent you from having to pay so much in restitution fees. Also, you really don’t need that much money in prison. I was able to get by with $50 every two months.

12. Don’t Be in a Hurry to Make Friends.
If you’re a first-time felon like I was, then NOTHING HAS PREPARED YOU FOR PRISON. My advice is to learn the prison camp system. Observe the people inside and find out who is cool, who isn’t, who runs things and who’s full of shit.  Keep in mind that the first people you find to hang out with in prison are going to be the first people you dislike. Usually, people who rush to be your friend in prison don’t have any friends and are desperate to make some.

13. Don’t Brag About Anything
I would think this is something that doesn’t need to be discussed, however you wouldn’t believe that people still make this mistake. No one likes an all knowing nobody. You couldn’t have been that smart if you ended up in prison with the rest of them. Even if you are brilliantly intelligent, don’t make yourself sound smarter than anyone. Actually, I find that if you try to learn as much as you can from others, you’ll get a lot more friends.

14. Stay Away from Cell Phones and Smoking
Cell phones and smoking are violations in prison. You’ll end up going to the SHU (the hole) as punishment. If you’re a first-time inmate, going to the SHU would be like “real prison” from what I was told. You know, the horrible stuff you see on television. Also, these crimes will increase your sentencing time.

15. Respect Everyone
This is simple. You don’t have to be overly polite, but use wisdom and don’t have an attitude or try to act hard. When you respect people, the people will in return respect you.

16. Avoid Sarcasm
Sarcasm in its nature, is very difficult to understand even to the wittiest of people. To avoid terrible misunderstandings avoid sarcasm even in joking.  Wait until people better understand who you are. Hopefully by that time your friends will be quicker to ask what you meant, then to harm you.

17. Don’t Take ANYTHING Personal
You will experience things that just aren’t fair, but remember, nothing is about you. No one cared about what you did before jail and no one will care about you after you leave. Just worry about staying positive and making it to your release date.

Remember, it’s an unfortunate situation to be going to a prison camp. However, you can make it a positive and fruitful experience by desiring to stay positive.