The recent weeks have been filled with a series of unexpected events. It all started with my forced move from the RDAP Unit of Kansas over to the dark side- the general population housing unit of Nebraska.  As new RDAP enrollees transfer and surrender in, the bed space becomes needed. About 10 of us got the boot just a couple weeks ago on Dec. 16th. Its been over 13 months since I spent my first 30+ days in prison in the Nebraska Unit. It was then on Nov 5th, 2015 that I enrolled into the RDAP program, to be moved to the Kansas Unit and there I had remained until now. As most of us tend to do, I became “comfortable.” Comfortable in my routine. Comfortable? Never a word I’d thought I would use while in federal prison. Yet, considering the circumstances, I’ve found my way to some comfortability. In a routine, with a good Bunkie, and aware as possible, of what each day would bring.

At first I rejected the idea of moving back to Nebraska, but knowing it was imminent, and I had no choice in the matter, I took advantage of scoping out a new bunk. Typically we are not allowed in the other housing unit without explicit permission. It can be compared to going from an all boys school with strictly enforced rules in Kansas, to a more free-for-all style and crowded place in Nebraska. Many with the mindset of “I don’t give a …” or “I got nothing to loose.” I asked around as to which bunk some of the guys I know recommended. Top priority- to avoid a cell that may contain contraband, like a a cell phone, cigarettes, alcohol- any paraphernalia. If anything is found in your cell, even if it not yours, I wish you luck staying out of the SHU (special housing unit in the medium security FCI next-door). Not to mention the potential loss of ones earned year off if lucky enough to be an “RDAP Complete” (someone who went through the 500+ hour, 40 week program in Kansas). I have yet to see anything fishy, but I am offering some advice to people who might one day end up in prison. Follow the rules, lay low and avoid anything that could lead to disciplinary infractions.

Knowing I may have to sacrifice some things over others I narrowed it down to a few potential bunks. Making sure to avoid one of the four housing wings in the unit entirely (there is wing 100, 200, 300, and 400). Throughout Nebraska its 3 man cells/cubes, which is set up as a single lower bunk plus a lower and upper double bunk (Kansas has 2 man single bunks which gives it a more open and less crowded feel). The lowers are given out for medical purposes or by seniority. Tops are always easier to come by. A group of us made an attempt to band together and build our own little community in wing 400 but I found what looked like a great spot in 200. Both of the guys in the cube I considered work all day in the education building, are rarely there, keep to themselves, and are a couple of the last likely to have contraband. I put in my request and carted my locker down the interior sidewalk of the yard a mere 50 yards door to door. Luckily I just got my locker switched out and in place as an announcement was made over the intercom. “Anyone moving from Kansas leave the lockers where they are at. Do not move your lockers.”

Some lockers have additional shelving, hooks, and are in better condition than others. I disinfect the plastic covered mattress pad and pin up my photos & amazing-countdown-calendar that my Fiance’ Anna custom made for me on my board-of-dreams (cork board on the block wall next to my bunk). I notice the ladder is missing so climbing up involves a careful step up onto the desk to reach the top. My first night took some adjusting.

During my first goodnight call to Anna I stuff my nose into my shirt to filter the plumes of smoke filling the air; bringing back memories of my earlier years, prior to the smoking ban in Chicago. Cleanliness is sometimes forgotten throughout the unit but it could be worse. Cooking happens all the more frequently with food items of higher quality than typically found around here. The lack of RDAP programming promotes this sleep-all-day hangover with a drugged-up-zombie, losing of the mind from whatever substance they manage to obtain type of behavior. A few days into my stay back in the jungle, On Dec. 20th I get woken up a 5:30am to a panicked crowd of BOP staff moving the whole unit out the back doors and into the gym. I grabbed what I could which turned out to be a good call as it became a 14 hour long lockdown from a rumored suicide by a man in his 40s. His body was found that morning in the shower area right outside the 200 wing in the bathroom I use daily. During that long 14 hour day we were locked down in the gym, left to wonder what happened. It involved stripped down upper body searches and one on one questioning of each and every one on the compound. Including some FBI agents who came in and questioned a specific group of inmates. A horrible tragedy. A man who was due out of prison, after 16 years, this spring of ’17. I feel bad for the two inmates who are medical orderlies. Who although have been certified, had the job of cleaning up the blood before the rest of us were allowed back into the unit that night. As you can imagine this even has left several men quite shaken, especially the two bunkies of this deceased man who found a suicide letter left there on their desk. There was a lingering smell in the air for the next couple days that brought a sobering energy throughout the the unit. {the actual reason for his death may be still under investigation by the FBI, anything written here is inmate.com (rumors as they are called here)}

On the 29th of December the Nebraska housing unit was locked down again after an inmate freaked out on something the night before and ran around the compound ending up at the officers station yelling out for help (rumored to be k2). After several hours the unit was reopened after searches were complete. Mass punishment is the typical response by the staff. After the “freak out” the TV rooms were locked due to lack of cleanliness in the unit. Luckily we still have the payphones and email system, the only two things I miss when down or taken. Although from what I’ve heard, the BOP is only legally required to provide us with the US mail. So its a privilege to have email & payphones, if one is fortunate enough to afford them.

On New Years Eve I woke to a moldy sewage smell that hit me as I adjusted to the bright light in the hallway. I got up and noticed sewage coming from the bathroom into the hallways. I carefully made my way around most of it but then come to find the majority of the unit had backed up and the water was shut off. A couple guys were already at work doing their best to squeegee it out to the front door. Apparently some guys were attempting to flush small plastic liquor bottles down the toilets and it jammed up the system somewhere. Just another day in Nebraska.
My New Years Day was extraordinary. I had a phenomenal date with Anna. She arrived earlier than I expected which was a spectacular gift. We enjoyed all 6 hours face to face, talking away, and catching up. I am always captivated by her beauty. She is a bright shining light through all of this and lifts me up daily.
About halfway through our time we noticed some commotion in the officers station. What apparently happened is all three of the laundry orderlies were taken to the SHU for rumored bags of contraband being found in the laundry room. I washed some clothes that night by hand just in case we would be without laundry longer than expected. After long holiday weekends the laundry piles up as it is, and without anyone to work the laundry room it could put a wrench in the normal processes there.

Its not all gloom and doom for me in this housing unit. I have found more independence in the ability to create more of my own schedule throughout the week. The RDAP environment in Kansas comes with additional responsibilities to the community, even as a Complete. Such as being available to mentor other lower phase-men, attend a weekly meeting of a community service group, and some additional scrutiny of the program guidelines throughout the week. Also, with still possibly being required to attend an hour long morning meeting M-Fri. This is a meeting I’ve known Completes move to Nebraska just to avoid.
The additional freedom will continue to allow me more time to focus on what I want to accomplish each day. There are positives to living in Kansas over Nebraska, as well as positives to living in Nebraska over Kansas. I see this move into Nebraska, before my exit of Pekin, as an additional level or additional phase- the final phase of this chapter. Where I continue to learn about patience, about remaining in the state of mind & mood I choose. To not allow my surroundings dictate my attitude or emotions.

It’s about Focus. As in the book “Notes from a Friend” by Anthony Robbins. “The fastest way to change how you feel about anything is to change what you’re focusing on…You and I must make sure that when problems come up we focus on solutions, that we focus on where we want to go instead of what frightens us. Whatever you think about most you’ll experience.” To be immune to any negative behaviors and remain grounded, deeply rooted, unwavering, centered. Transform the situation. This is the way I maintain my focus. With 3 months to the door, its the Final Stretch. NOTHING will bring me down. I’m soaring.

Happy New Year!

-JV

Into The Jungle In Federal Prison
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