Saturday, March 7, 2009

Seventy-Three Days Until My Release From Federal Prison

Yesterday I heard my name paged over the prison’s loudspeaker. I was to report to camp control. Camp control is an area where one of the lead officers of the camp seems to preside, and it is adjacent to the visiting room. Since Friday was a visiting day, I half hoped that someone had surprised me with a visit.

When I presented myself to the officer in the booth, he recited the time. Then he told me that I had two hours to urinate. I had been selected randomly for another urine test. This would be the second time I would have to pee in a bottle for the officers of the Taft Camp. I didn’t like it.

I have never been a drug abuser, and I didn’t like the feeling of being suspected of drug use while in prison. The officer assured me that I was not suspected of anything. Random drug testing was simply one of the steps administrators took to maintain security. Despite the explanation, I felt violated. Besides that, I couldn’t pee.

Just prior to being called, I had used the bathroom. The fact that I had recently relieved my bladder was not a sufficient excuse. Once called for a urine test, the officer told me, I had a two-hour time horizon. If I could not squeeze out enough urine to fill a bottle during those two hours, the officer would cite me with a disciplinary infraction of the greatest severity within the disciplinary code. The consequences would mean my reassignment to the isolation unit, a postponement of my release date by 90 days, and an ugly blemish on my record. The pressure hanging over my head did not make peeing any easier.

I sat down on a bench in front of the control center. People were walking around and wondered why I was sitting there. I didn’t have anything to read, and I suppose I looked out of place. I was an inmate sitting in an area that was reserved for staff. “Why are you here?” A staff sergeant questioned me. It felt humiliating for me to respond to a woman that I was waiting to urinate. She accepted the news as if I were a delivery boy awaiting a signature. Prison can feel so dehumanizing.

After 90 minutes had passed, I felt the possibility. Could I squeeze it out? I wasn’t sure. Still, I called the officer. He would have to stand beside me. “I’ve got to watch,” he explained himself. I took it in stride. Fortunately, the urine flowed. I filled the tube without a problem. Then I signed a few forms the officer prepared and returned to the normalcy of camp life.

In 73 days my time in prison would end. I didn’t know what awaited me outside, but I looked forward to closing this chapter of living as a prisoner.

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