DAY ONE HUNDRED FOURTY-TWO
Federal Prison Camp
NOTES FROM FEDERAL PRISON
There was a heavy early morning fog covering the prison grounds
yesterday. After finishing my kitchen duties, I was headed out
the door towards the workout area. A voice on the loudspeaker
system blared out: "All inmates back in the building. No
one is to be outside."
dust," one of the inmates murmured. The chance of escaping
is better when fog surrounds the prison. Not here at the Camp.
We have no fences. But at the adjoining main prison facility
housing hundreds of foreign detainees, there are often attempts
to escape. Prisoners on the run could easily blend in with inmates
from this Camp who work at jobs throughout the prison grounds.
fog lingers through the morning. I'm needed in the kitchen by
lunchtime (10:15 a.m. is serving time) so I will delay my workout
until the afternoon.
* * * * * * *
Big News! I received a high approval rating for my work in the
kitchen and a raise. That's right. Instead of making 12¢
an hour, I have been "bumped up" to 17¢ an hour.
That's eight dollars more a month than I was previously being
don't make light of the pay schedule. A large number of inmates
here receive no financial help from the outside. The small wages
they receive pay for their phone calls and basics from the commissary.
And prices here are not cheap. Phone calls are 20¢ a minute.
Commissary purchases are often significantly higher than on
ask the camp supervisor if I will get a W-2 form when I leave.
Whatever my meager wages are, I certainly do not want any trouble
with the I.R.S. when I get out of here. I'm told no on ever
asked that question before.
* * * * * *
Every Tuesday is commissary day; our time to stock up on basic
food items, clothing and hygiene articles. But this ain't no
Walmart. I pick up a printed list of items available and check
the goods I want to purchase. The list is slipped through a
6" by one-foot slot in a door to a storage area. My purchases
come through a shoot in the wall, and I load them into an empty
pillowcase or mesh laundry bag.
purchase restrictions are interesting. I can buy 20 packs of
cigarettes but only 2 writing pads. Eight large bags of hot
and spicy pork skins but only one small box of envelopes. Twelve
cans of spam but only one bulb to read by. Unlimited buttered
popcorn packages and cans of chili, but only one small box of
washing powder. Go figure.
study the list in some detail. After all, this is the one and
only time each week when I can make any purchases. And I have
to watch closely from week to week how much I spend. There is
a limit of $290.00 a month. That may sound like a lot, but I
always seem to cut the limit close. I'm on a strict eating diet
now, so I'm buying extra food in the commissary to compensate
for what I cannot obtain in the dining hall. And I am always
wearing out or misplacing some clothing item. So there are many
purchasing needs. I am including a typical Commissary List to
give you an idea of what I buy.
butter (with wheat crackers), Tuna, and Mackerel for protein,
lemon juice to add to water at meals, lots of nuts and dried
fruits, and all the stamps I can buy. There is a limit of only
three books of stamps. Who knows why? I always run out. Few
vitamins to choose from. I take everything available, but still
have joint pain.
on a link below to view a Commissary List:
List (image 1)
List (image 2)
always buy four photo tickets. Several of the inmates work extra
on weekends as Camp photographers. I can have pictures taken
of the many friends who visit. On one particular weekend in
December, it was cold and I put on a sweatshirt over my green
prison uniform. So did most of the other inmates in the visiting
room. The guards had no objection because of the cold weather.
My mother had come for a visit and we had several pictures taken.
Weeks went by and I never received the pictures. My mother asked
about the photos every time I called her. Finally, I was told
that someone "higher up" didn't like the sweatshirt.
The photos had been confiscated and I would not be allowed to
have them. I paid for the photos and they would have been meaningful
to my mother who finds it physically difficult to travel. But
there is little I can do.
* * * * * * *
A number of inmates here have a surprisingly intense interest
in current affairs. With the possibility of war, the crashing
of the Columbia space shuttle, and the shaky economy, there
is good reason to be concerned, even by prisoners. Since I take
so many publications, I am often asked to share and pass on
what I read. A structured grapevine has developed. When I finish
with the four daily papers I receive, I put them side-by-side
on the empty top bunk above me. Inmates in the grapevine come
by to pick them up. There is an unwritten but adhered to rule
that you read the paper quickly, no later than the day you pick
it up, then pass it on. My New York Times circulates among 10
inmates before ending up in the prison library. A Baton Rouge
inmate, who has yet to finish high school, still eagerly seeks
the local paper each day.
friend from New York surprises me with a subscription to the
New York Daily News. More a tabloid with lots of pictures in
color, some a bit "racy." So lots of grapevine interest.
Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Business
Week…all make their rounds throughout the prison camp.
A small way for me to contribute.
* * * * * *
The novels of Alexandre Dumas have been the origin of some of
the really good action movies and love stories in recent years.
I've seen three versions of The Three Musketeers, and
two versions of The Man in the Iron Mask.
movie version of the Count of Monte Cristo came out
last summer. After seeing it twice and purchasing the DVD, I
thought it might be time to read the novel. And what a treat.
Simply put: innocent man is imprisoned, he meets a fellow prisoner
who tells of a buried treasure, innocent man escapes, finds
the treasure and plots revenge.
weaves this basic tale through almost 1000 pages of adventure,
intrigue, and romance that certainly has become one of the great
thrillers of all time. You can see where modern day writers
like Zane Grey, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy and John Grisham found
their inspiration. Dumas just tells a great tale.
novel is actually close to a true story. Dumas was digging through
the police archives in Paris, and came across extensive notes
and anecdotes of a similar reported episode. He crafted his
take based largely on an actual occurrence.
can understand why one of the parts of the novel I liked best
was when our hero, Edmond Dantes, was sent to prison. He was
framed for a crime he didn't commit, and unjustly sentenced
to a prison in a French island fortress. (O.K. I'm not in the
middle of the ocean at Alcatrez, but hey, prison is prison.)
While an inmate for 14 years, Dantes meets another prisoner
who becomes his mentor and, on his deathbed, tells our hero
of a buried treasure. Dantes' escape is a classic that is worth
reading by itself.
gets the treasure and dubs himself the Count of Monte Cristo,
after the name of the island where the treasure is buried. He
also gets the girl and gets his revenge. But he does find that
revenge is not all that satisfying. Put the past behind and
get on with your life. (A good lesson for me.)
be put off by the book's length. It's a fast read. And if you
do decide to read Dumas' novel, I urge you not to get an abridged
version. Too much Victorian language. A new translation (the
guy was French, right?) by Robin Buss (1966) is more descriptive
novel is clever and captivating. You won't be wasting your time
with The Count of Monte Cristo.
* * * * * * *
the evidence is misleading or incomplete,
sometimes the critical testimony comes from people
with something to gain, sometimes the authorities
"cook" the evidence - or just make it up."
The Washington Post
Peace and Justice to you and your family.