Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp

I heard many people complaining that yesterday was their worst day in prison.  With only a few more full days to serve, I can handle just about anything.  I understand why yesterday felt so miserable for so many people.

For one thing, the temperatures have climbed to the triple digits.  That’s not too surprising for this time of year in the Central Valley of California.  What made the conditions worse, however, was the lack of air conditioning.  The Taft Prison Camp is a modern facility, built sometime in the 1980s.  It has an excellent HVAC system, though the city or the county was performing some maintenance work in the area.  The administrators at Taft cooperated by turning the electricity off before 7:00 A.M. and leaving it off until around 10:00 in the evening. The buildings felt stifling without the air and to compound the discomfort, administrators locked many of the common area rooms in the housing unit.  As prisoners, we understand that we’re not entitled to explanations. The disruption to the day resulted in many disgruntled inmates.

I coped okay with the sticky feeling of sweat on my skin and the extra noise in the housing unit.  I spent a lot of time reading, writing and talking with a friend. By nine I lay on my rack and that was uncomfortable but not unbearable.  It’s just that I’m used to climate control.  Without air conditioning in this concrete shell of a building that is packed with 120 prisoners, sleep did not come easily.

Then came the worst event of the day.  As I was sleeping, the honking sound of the fire alarm began blasting.  Strobe lights were blinking in the dark unit.  Then the guards walked through yelling, “Everyone out!  Get up!  Outside!  Move it.”  They didn’t stop. One guard was banging on a garbage can.  I was wearing only boxers.  I put my shoes on and joined every other prisoner from Taft Camp and walked outside at midnight.  In a building of concrete and steel, I didn’t know why a fire drill was necessary at midnight.  Nevertheless, we stood outside for 30 minutes before the guards permitted us back inside.  My body was still sticky from the heat.

Not too much longer, I reminded myself.  In fewer than 100 hours, I would be out.

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