Fire Drill At 1 AM in Federal Prison

It’s 1:30 in the morning on November 6th. Thirty minutes ago all four dorms were awakened by the over powering noise of the fire alarms which are approximately 15 feet or so above each bunk. Without question, the noise easily eclipses 15 fire trucks and is impressive. Just on the off chance the alarm would not wake us up (and one would have to be either dead or five miles away), several correctional officers started yelling and screaming and hitting our bunks telling us all to go outside immediately. It was obvious to everyone that a fire drill at this hour was done to teach us a lesson. I doubt it will work.

Obviously, few inmates were pleased about having to stand outside in 45 degree temperatures at this time of night. Sleep is essential in prison as it provides a much needed respite from the prison atmosphere. Some inmates sleep 16-20 hours a day. Their logic is simple. They claim they are not in prison while they’re sleeping. Regardless of the reason, I was annoyed at having to get out of bed at this hour and stand in the cold.

There have been several fire drills since I arrived in April. This, however, was the first one to take place in the middle of the night. Apparently a correctional officer was upset because several inmates were late in returning to their assigned cube for the 10 P.M. count and were also noisy and disrespectful. Because of their behavior, the entire compound (500 plus inmates) had to pay the price. Occasionally, I am still taken back by the lack of deference and the surfeit of defiance that some inmates show towards correctional officers. One simple explanation is that some inmates forget this is a prison. Yes, it’s a camp but the word ‘prison’ precedes ‘camp’. Expectations for all of us are quite low. Simply following the rules is a difficult concept for some. I never forget that my freedom and rights were temporarily suspended when I choose to break the law.

Nights such as this make me grateful I only have 6 months or so remaining. The only positive news to come from this fire drill is that my Thursday blog is now complete and I will have it in the mail by the 2 A.M. mail pick up. Now, back to sleep.

Justin Paperny

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