MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2008

Life In Federal Prison Transit

For the first month or two at Taft Federal Prison Camp, I was extremely reticent about my personal affairs. I was also mildly affable with inmates and most everyone knew. I had zero interest in discussing what led me to federal prison. Through 7 months I’ve learned that my behavior wasn’t unusual. Upon self-surrendering, I felt wracked with anxiety and fear. I chose to learn the hard knocks of prison camp life with my eyes and not my mouth. I surmised my mouth had already caused enough trouble. Plus, I wasn’t focused on making friends. My only objectives were recalibrating my life and reconciling with society.

It wasn’t until the middle of August that I let my guard down. Opening up immeasurably improved my prison experience. In developing friendships, I’ve learned a great deal about the criminal justice system and heard fascinating stories highlighting the actions that delivered my fellow inmates into incarceration.

I self-surrendered to Taft and in doing so spared myself the chagrin and discomfort that is inherent with prison transit. I didn’t fully comprehend the benefits of self-surrendering until I heard horror stories. Every inmate with whom I’ve discussed prison transit has said the following: “Being in transport has been the worst part of my prison experience.” Prisoners are usually left in the dark and not told when their transfer will take place. Prison transit, like confinement, follows the hurry up and wait procedure. Shortly after notifying the prisoner to collect his belongings, the guard escorts him to a holding cell to prepare for a strip search. I’ve been strip searched at Taft but I’ve been told the process is much more humiliating while standing in a cage in a county jail wearing nothing but a one-size fits all orange jumpsuit. An officer stands a few feet in front of an inmate hollering, “bend over; lift your genitals; spread your ass; wider!”.

The next step in the process is for guards to begin the chaining process. My friend, Kevin, told me, “this was when I really knew I was in prison.” He follows with, “I’ll always be grateful my 6 year old daughter never saw the steel cuffs around my ankles and wrists”.

After the inmates are chained, guards slowly walk them to a bus with steel bars covering the blacked out windows. The back of the bus has a cage where an officer sits, gun in hand, watching all the activity.

Some inmates are lucky enough to endure just one bus ride. Many are designated to prisons across the country and are forced to visit many jails, while taking a combination of bus and plane rides. I’ve heard repeatedly, “prison transit was so awful that I was dying to finally get to federal prison”.

Self-surrendering, unfortunately, is not always an option for a criminal defendant or prisoner. In later postings, I’ll discuss scenarios that increase a person’s chance to self-surrender. Prison transit is part of the justice system I avoided. As expected, opinions vary greatly amongst my fellow inmates. Some feel it is simply a part of the process and others insist it is degrading and inhumane. I’ve concluded that those who embrace the process seem to adjust better to confinement.

Justin Paperny

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