October 26, 2008

Avoiding Quagmires in a Federal Prison Camp

Higher security prisons allow prisoners to slide by with a lot of infractions. The guards are too busy trying to enforce serious rule violations and therefore disregard most of the petty infractions.

In a camp, the guards don’t see too much action as most of the camp prisoners serve time for white collar offenses or non-violent drug offenses. The environment doesn’t seem any more dangerous than an office park. Without much in the way of excitement, the guards enforce every rule, regardless of how ridiculous they are.

For example, one rule prohibits anyone from carrying food from the chow hall. I saw a prisoner trying to walk out with an uneaten apple. The guard stopped him and ordered him to throw it away. He was fortunate, for I have known prisoners who were taken in handcuffs to segregation for the same offense.

Guards in higher security institutions don’t bother with such trivialities as uneaten fruit as they have bigger problems. I follow the rules. I eat my apples in the chow hall. I have no problems following the rules. I figure since my sentence is relatively short, I can put up with anything the system asks of me.

A problem I occasionally have does not stem from my own behavior. What is troubling is that often guards will hold prisoners accountable for the behavior of others. For example, yesterday’s guards threatened to send everyone who worked in food services to segregation. The guard was furious because a vital utensil had been misplaced. Only one prisoner was responsible for the mishap and yet every prisoner on the food services crew stood on the verge of mass punishment.

Obviously I can control my own behavior but I don’t have any influence on the choices others make here. My friend, Michael Santos, has been incarcerated for over 21 years in various penal institutions. He told me to serve my time as if I’m a submarine which means to stay beneath the current and remain out of the spotlight. I must keep my periscope up, however, to ensure I know what is occurring around me. Michael’s influence has guided me and I will always be grateful to him.

In order to avoid quagmires in prison, then, I have taken Michael’s counsel to heart and I follow the submarine plan.

Justin Paperny

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