Federal Prison “One Day at Club Fed”

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I was making a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen when I overheard a CNN story about our exploding inmate prison population. This brought back memories of when I worked for the federal prison system in years past. I performed an internet search and found as of last year, 1 out of 136 people are behind bars. The search also revealed that the population is increasing at a rate of 1000 per week nationwide. Total inmate population as of 2005 was 2.2 million.In early 1992 I was working for the U.S. Navy as a civilian “Tech Rep” living in the Norfolk, Virginia area. During that same period of time, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the Mid West. Because of this, I decided to relocate back to the Mid-West by taking a new federal job with the DOJ (Department of Justice).I worked for the FBOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons) from 1992 thru 2001. Prior to this job, I envisioned prison as a place where inmates wore striped jackets and turned large rocks into smaller ones. My view was similar to the one portrayed in the George Clooney movie, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”. Up until 1992, I never knew of anyone who actually worked inside a prison.Now, fast forward to about the year 1999 with about seven years of working for the federal prison system. While supervising a small group of inmates working inside of an inmate housing unit, I noticed a piece of paper on the bulletin board that had a list of available items in the inmate store. The inmate crew I was working with knew me well and enjoyed working with me on various jobs. I turned to one of the crew and told him, “It says here you can buy Chucky Monkey Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream”? I smiled and said, “God help you guys if Mike Wallace of the show 60 minutes gets wind of this”. The inmate laughed and went on with his work.Our conversation was overheard by another inmate who was not part of our crew. He casually approached me and said, “I take offense to your statement since we earn those things on the list. We pay for those things with our own money.” I turned and noticed this person was extremely well groomed for an inmate. Unlike the workers in my crew who had tattoos and worn faces, this unfamiliar inmate seemed out of place. He had pressed clothes, pasty face, spit shinned shoes and well groomed. At first appearance, he was what we call a typical “White Collar” criminal who spent years of pampered life on the outside.As I turned to respond to this unfamiliar inmate, I noticed one of my inmate crew who was grinning at me since he knew what was about to happen. I looked at inmate directly and spoke in a calm voice and made the following statements.
The items on the list are not basic staples at all. You can buy ten flavors of expensive Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. I also see you can buy many other extravagant things too.
I notice you’re wearing a long sleeve shirt, but it’s 95F outside and very humid. Maybe that is because the A/C is keeping your housing unit a chilly 70F inside. I also noticed last winter this same housing unit temperature was set to around 80F. I can’t afford to keep my own home heating and cooling temps as comfortable as yours nor can most of the people in the United States.
I notice you have cable TV with HBO in your housing unit. I have cable TV, but we decided not to get HBO due to cost.
I notice you have fresh baked bread made every day, fresh milk, coffee, soda, butter, salad, fruit and vegetables every day.
I notice you have free medical and dental services and we even take inmates to the local hospital for medical services we can’t provide for you inside the prison.
I notice you have pool tables, arts and crafts rooms and some weight room equipment that is some of the best made. I also notice that your Gym has wall to wall carpet on the floor for your comfort.
I notice that your Library is well stocked with an outstanding collection of law books, novels and magazines for your personal use.
I notice you have an educational department that allows you to attend GED and college courses at no cost.
I notice that you have a lot of things that don’t cost you a penny. Tax dollars pay for many of the things you take for granted. My point is that the public is largely unaware of what you have inside of this federal prison. My point is that the public would be shocked if they knew you had access to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. I don’t care if you pay for it or not. That is my point.
At this time, the inmate turned around without saying a word to me and walked away. One of my inmate crew lit a cigarette and told me, “You’re bad boss, but you’re correct”. After we completed our work in the housing unit, the inmate I had spoken to earlier approached me again. He told me he thought about what I said and he now agreed with me. He apologized to me and told me to have a good day.In conclusion, I don’t want anyone to think being in a Federal Prison is a good place to be. Losing your freedom to travel or do whatever you enjoy in your life is bad enough. I only spent nine years working for the FBOP and it was an interesting part of my life and an eye opener as to the reality of life on the inside. I hope you find the article interesting and pass it along to your friends.

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