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The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operates 114 Facilities across the country. Some “compounds” are multiple housing units with various levels of security. Depending on the “points” a convicted felon has amassed due to his crime or crimes, he will assigned to a facility with a specified security level. Felons with a history of violence will generally have the highest points and be incarcerated in the highest security facilities. There are far more State prisons than Federal and the conditions generally run worse than any Federal facility. Moreover, many facilities are run by Corporations such as CCA (Corrections Corporation of America). You do not want to be detained in CCA facility! The staff, food and medical care are usually sub-par even though they have to meet minimum Federal standards.

As the inmate serves his time it is possible for him to reduce his “points” based upon a number of factors. Conduct, programming in various classes, work ethic and other factors can reduce his points. As points get lower over time he will transfer to lower and lower security facilities Felons convicted of heinous crimes such as acts of terrorism, serial killers, bombers and other notorious acts of violence are sentences to life in Administrative Facilities such as the SuperMax (ADX) at Florence, Colorado and others. These convicts will never have their points lowered and will never transfer to a lower security facility. The BOP categorizes their various security facilities in the following manner.

Minimum Security

Minimum security institutions, also known as Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), have dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing. These institutions are work- and program-oriented; and many are located adjacent to larger institutions or on military bases, where inmates help serve the labor needs of the larger institution or base.

Low Security

Low security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) have double-fenced perimeters, mostly dormitory or cubicle housing, and strong work and program components. The staff-to-inmate ratio in these institutions is higher than in minimum security facilities.

Medium Security

Medium security FCI’s (and USPs designated to house medium security inmates) have strengthened perimeters, often double fences with electronic detection systems), mostly cell-type housing, a wide variety of work and treatment programs, an even higher staff to inmate ratio than low security FCIs, and even greater internal controls.

High Security

High security institutions, also known as United States Penitentiaries (USPs), have highly-secured perimeters (featuring walls or reinforced fences), multiple- and single-occupant cell housing, the highest staff-to-inmate ratio, and close control of inmate movement.

Correctional Complexes

A number of BOP institutions belong to Federal Correctional Complexes (FCCs). At FCCs, institutions with different missions and security levels are located in close proximity to one another. FCCs increase efficiency through the sharing of services, enable staff to gain experience at institutions of many security levels, and enhance emergency preparedness by having additional resources within close proximity.


Administrative facilities are institutions with special missions, such as the detention of pretrial offenders; the treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems; or the containment of extremely dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates. Administrative facilities include Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs), Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs), Federal Detention Centers (FDCs), and Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), as well as the Federal Transfer Center (FTC), the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP), and the Administrative-Maximum (ADX) U.S. Penitentiary. Administrative facilities are capable of holding inmates in all security categories.

A convicted felon will usually serve time at a facility within 500 miles of home or his family. However, the BOP regularly moves prisoners from facility to facility and, often, across the country from home! There appears to be no rhyme or reason for many of these transfers. After sentencing the “convict” may spend several weeks in detention awaiting transportation to his assigned BOP facility. These assignments are made by the Bureau of Prison (BOP) after the judge in the case has forwarded the details of the case and the sentence to the Department of Justice. As the felon is moved from the jurisdiction where he was convicted and detained he will be transported first by the correctional facility where he has been detained. Every movement is carefully supervised and the prisoner is shackled hands and feet. No advance notice is given to the prisoner when he will be moved, ever. He is usually awakened in the early morning, taken to a holding cell where he is fed, clothing changed, shackled and placed in a vehicle for transport. At some point the will be transferred to the United States Marshals Service where they will return shackles to the delivering authority and re-shackle the prisoner with their hardware.

The prisoner is now transported by Federal Marshals by ground or air, depending on where he is going. Most will travel by “Con Air”, one of three Boeing 737’s operated by the Marshals Service, and sometimes in a smaller aircraft operated from time to time under special circumstances. These all route through the BOP routing facility in Oklahoma City, near the center of the country. The aircraft makes several stops throughout any given weekday, picking up prisoners from various regions and cities, occasionally dropping others off to go to their assigned prisons. Other prisoners will travel by van, bus or train to their ultimate BOP facility with a U.S. Marshall escort, especially if they are closer than 500 miles from their detention facility. If an overnight stop is required the prisoner will be taken to a city or county jail located along the way and he will spend the night there in a cell. The U.S. Marshals Service aircraft usually arrives at the Oklahoma City facility late afternoon, early evening after several stops around the country. The 200 or so transported prisoners are taken directly off the aircraft into the “concourse” of the BOP facility located across the runway from the regular airport commercial facilities. The prisoner is herded with the others through Receiving where he is unshackled, strip searched including orifices, given a change of clothing and interviewed. Any medical needs will be addressed at that time. The prisoners are then assigned a floor, Pod and cell. The Pod houses some 80 to 120 inmates in two man cells. The cells have bunk beds and a small table, toilet and sink. An already housed prisoner usually gets the bottom bunk unless the new prisoner has medical problems where he is unable to climb into the top bunk. Showers are located on the corners of each floor.

Each inmate is assigned chores such as sweeping, mopping, serving food and clean up after meals. There are at least three television rooms around each Pod, each TV usually turned to different programming; sports, news, Spanish speaking, sit-coms or movies. Who watches what can sometimes be a bone a contention among the inmates. The correctional officers (CO’s) keep the remote and the televisions cannot be changed by the inmate. They must ask permission for channel changes. Book carts have reading material for the inmate. Religious services are offered on Sunday. There is no outdoor recreation or “yard” at the Oklahoma facility. Inmates so inclined usually walk around the Pod for exercise or do pushups in their cells.

All inmates are locked in their cells at night and allowed into the Pod each morning and throughout the day for meals, work and relaxation. Meals are brought to the Pod morning, afternoon and evening. These are handed out to each inmate. Tables are available in the Pod for eating and relaxing afterward. Medical will bring prescriptions and medications morning and evening to those inmates requiring them. Inmates are housed in Oklahoma City as little as 5 days to as much as 8 weeks awaiting transportation to their assigned facility. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the delay. Prisoners who have been convicted of lesser crimes, have been out on bond during their trial or other disposition are often allowed to self surrender at a specified BOP facility. Others, who have been already incarcerated in a minimum security BOP facility are sometimes permitted to self transport from one facility to another if they have been re-assigned.


Correctional Facilities have nothing to do with “correction”. Punishment is the byword. Rehabilitation is a farce. The public wants and expects its sociopaths convicted of crime to spend time in prison with the least amount of privilege and as little comfort as possible. As the Government built more and more prisons over the years they modernized the facilities with better recreation, day rooms and other amenities not available in the older facilities. It gives some the impression that convicts/inmates live and eat better than many of our unfortunates in society. In some ways this is true. Three nourishing meals are served each and every day. Showers and clean clothes are always available. TV is available and, in state facilities and in SuperMax Federal facilities, an inmate can have his very own TV if he is able to afford one. The inmate is usually required to work for which he will receive a stipend of some $.10 per hour up to $1.00 or so per hour for wages.

Recreation in the form of weight rooms, library, chapel, basketball, soccer, softball, track, arts and crafts and board games are prevalent in all facilities. All may partake of these activities excepting those confines in Special Housing Units (SHU), called either solitary, segregation or the HOLE! All activity there is limited to a book or two a week and one hour per day to walk in a caged area. So, yes, inmates do have a better lot in life than many poor people on the outside, thanks to the efforts of liberal lawyers and bleeding heart congressmen. Compared to the stark images given to us in the movies about Sing Sing, Alcatraz and San Quentin the facilities of today are pristine, comfortable and clean. The loss of freedom, lack of female contact, restrictions on movements and the large number of rules and regulations separates the prisoner from society. Worse, in the higher security facilities where the more violent are housed there is always the risk of assault and racial outbreaks.

When you arrive at your assigned prison or camp you will be processed into the facility and begin to serve your sentence. After your sentence you are now the property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). They have assigned you to particular facility based upon factors that may or may not ever become apparent to you. The BOP makes its determination on the type of facility where you will serve your time by the number of “points” you have on your record. The higher the point level the more secure the facility with greater restrictions on the prisoner. You will not be able to change facilities to get closer to your home for at least 18 months and, only then, if you have been assigned to a Camp or low security prison.

R & D:

Receiving and Departure. You will be stripped and cavity searched, photographed, fingerprinted, identification card issued and given a change of clothing to the standard prison garb of the facility. Every tattoo will be photographed to ascertain if any represent a gang or ideological affiliation. You will be issued shirts, pants, belt, under shirts, under pants, socks and shoes. In addition, you will receive sheets, blanket and pillow for your bunk. You will be provided food and drink, depending upon the time of arrival. This is usually a sandwich, a piece of fruit and water. A package with a bare amount of toiletries will be issued to you. The only personal belongings that you are permitted to keep are a wedding ring, eye glasses and a small, inexpensive religious medallion. All other items such as watches, radios, tennis shoes, sweats, etc. must be surrendered to either be sent home or donated. The BOP will not store these items for you. Any money that you may have or was in your account at another facility must be forwarded to your “Commissary Account”. Under no circumstance is any money permitted in prison. A cursory medical exam will be scheduled for you shortly after your arrival and you will be questioned about current or recent past injuries or afflictions that you may have. If you have been in detention or another facility a medical exam will have been performed on a regular basis and your records will follow you wherever you go. Any medications that you are authorized to take will be made available to you through the morning and evening sick call or pill line. If your illnesses are critical enough you may be sent to a facility that provides specialized medical treatment such as Rochester, Minnesota or Buckner North Carolina.


A prison counselor will be assigned to you who will review your case and criminal history and make a determination where you will be housed. If you are in any other type of facility but a Camp you will be housed in a POD or a cell among other cells on various levels in the unit. Your specific bunk assignment will be made by the Counselor or the Correction Officer on duty. Your cell will have a bunk bed, a combination stainless steel toilet and sink, a locker or property box and a small table. You have no choice about whom you will bunk with unless there is a serious conflict that may develop after your arrival. If you are assigned to a Camp you will usually be housed in a “dormitory” with two man low walled cubicles. As of this date the point level to qualify for a Camp is ten. It was as low as six but very few non-violent, good behavior prisoners were qualifying for a Camp and continued to be housed in higher security facilities.


Shortly after your arrival, usually within a week, you will receive an orientation by your counselor. Sometimes these are scheduled with other prison staff. At this orientation you will be informed of critical rules and regulations that must be followed, the time of meals, movements allowed, services available and a myriad of other topics. You will meet with your counselor on a regular basis to discuss your work, activities, programming, point status and family issues. He will update your file with this information for future reference. Your file follows you to each and every facility from the time you were initially arrested. Any contact between you and your counselor after orientation is made with you sending a “cop out” or “kite” to him with your request. He can take up to 30 days to respond. His response may be to extend his response another 30 days if it is an issue that appears to be frivolous or non-essential. Ultimately you will receive and answer and it is usually negative. If you are not satisfied with his response you can then move up the chain of command by sending a BP 8. This is reviewed by prison authorities who usually extend it 30 days or more before responding. It is usually negative. You can then file a BP 9 and BP 10. The entire process can take several months with the extensions always filed by the system, other delays, “lost” paperwork and other excuses. These tactics often are so frustrating that the inmate simply gives up. Rarely is an issue resolved in favor of the inmate.


You will be given a “handbook” of the rules and regulations as well as the penalties and sanctions for disobeying any of the rules. These fall into the category of 100, 200, 300 and 400 series Codes, the 100 series being the most severe. For example, the 100 code is killing and a 400 Code could be having your shirt untucked from your pants on the way to your job! Each will bring a penalty commensurate with the infraction. The first will result in new charges, prosecution and a life sentence while the latter will give you extra duty like shoveling snow in the winter or washing windows in the summer. All rules and regulations will not be covered here but it is important to note the most important affecting your day to day life while confined.

Ÿ-All inmates must be up, dressed, bunk made area cleaned at 6:00 AM each day.

Ÿ-Meals are served from one to two hours three times a day.

Ÿ-All head counts by the C.O.’s (Correctional Officers) are made standing by your bunk. --No talking or radios on during the head count. The 4:00 PM head count occurs nationwide every day.

Ÿ-You must report to your assigned job on time each work day.

Ÿ-No gambling, tools, knives, pornography, narcotics, tobacco, alcohol, cell phones, computers, pagers, beepers, modification of clothing or tattooing is permitted.

Ÿ-Clothing not issued or not purchased through the Commissary is not permitted.

Ÿ-All orders from C.O.’s or staff must be obeyed without argument.

Ÿ-Inmates are subject to search at any time and your living area can be “tossed” at any time. Any contraband found will result in a write up (shot).

Ÿ-You are subject to a Urine Analysis (UA) at any time. You have two hours to provide the sample while you are detained by the C.O. taking the UA. After that, if you fail to give a sample you are considered to have “balked” or refused and you will receive a shot. If your UA is “dirty” you will be taken to the SHU (hole) for at least 30 days and may have new charges filed against you.

Ÿ-All medications must be provided by the medical facility. Pill line is at 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM for those who must have their medications given under supervision, including diabetic shots. It is your responsibility to take these medications as prescribed by the prison Medical Doctor.

Ÿ-No loaning or borrowing from each other.

Ÿ-Lights are out at 10:00 PM excepting on weekends.

Of course, this is but a sampling of the very extensive list of rules that each prisoner must abide by.


The hierarchy generally runs something like this in most facilities: The counselors mentioned earlier are staff. They report to a Unit Manager who reports to an Administrator. All, then , report to the Warden of the facility. On the Corrections side there are the Correctional Officers who have responsibility for the day to day security of the facility. They are rated much like police rankings. The Lieutenants and Captains are the leaders of the C.O.’s. They are usually union and receive their reviews and disciplinary action from within their own hierarchy unless brought before a prison board. They, then, also report to the facility warden. Each facility reports to a regional BOP office which then reports to the BOP in Washington D.C..

Security of Facility

All facilities but Camps will have cells, PODS and tiers for housing. There is a lockdown every night. All movements of inmates are controlled. Aside from day rooms, if available, any movement by a prisoner occurs during a ten minute period every hour. The inmate must be at his destination within that ten minutes. His destination might be recreation, medical, a job, the Chapel, crafts, chow hall, visitation, telephone room, the gym or return. Anyone caught in between will be given a shot. All facilities are surrounded with several layers of chain link fencing, concertina and barbed wire. All have electric fences. A vehicle patrols the perimeter every fifteen minutes or so. The C.O.’s regularly walk the POD, tier and check cells. There are cameras located strategically around the facility. Cameras are prevalent to watch all activity from a central control, called a “bubble”. The “bubble” is an enclosed, secure room with TV monitors, glass all the way around to view the areas and remote actuators for the individual cells to open and close doors. Each area within the facility has a “bubble” with which to monitor that series of tiers, PODs or wing. C.O.‘s rotate duty in the “bubble” If any problem develops in an area an alarm is immediately sent to all on duty C.O.’s and they can be there within minutes to quell whatever disturbance is going on .

If there is rioting or fighting in the yard or recreational area the guards or C.O.’s in the towers can use their firearms to stop the altercation. They are required to use rubber bullets, however, at the orders of a superior, can load and fire live rounds of ammunition at or around the prisoners. Any infraction by an inmate is investigated by SIS (Special Investigative Supervisor). Rumors of illegal activities, snitches and observations by staff or C.O.’s can result in an SIS investigation. These usually end up with an inmate or two or three or more going to the “hole”. If an inmate is found to be committing violations regularly or if the infraction is severe enough his “points” will increase and he could find himself transferred to a higher security facility. These are more confining with even more strict rules and regulations and tend to be more dangerous for the inmate due to racial tensions and gangs. All fights and riots result in a facility lockdown where all prisoners are confined to their cells for some period of time, generally one week to several months. All meals are bought to them as well as medical requirements. They will be permitted a ten minute shower once or twice per week. There will be no telephone privilege or Commissary. There is a no nonsense attitude among the staff and guards. They are not there to be your friend or confidant. Do not think that any bantering about that may go on among themselves or between them and you is a sign of relaxing or friendship on their part. If you take the position that they are always looking for a reason to give you a shot you will do okay in prison.


The Federal prison system provides meals that meet certain minimum requirements for caloric intake and nourishment. Breakfast consists of fruit, eggs or pancakes, toast and coffee. Sometimes a pastry is provided. Bacon is rare. Sausage is regular. Cereal is always available along with milk. Lunch can consist of grilled cheese sandwiches, beans, hot dogs, hamburgers or chicken, a Kool Aid drink, salad bar and dessert. Dinner can be a stir fry or meat patty, rice, beans, mashed potatoes, gravy and the ever available salad bar and Kool Aid drink. All eating utensils are made of plastic. All food is served on trays. All drinking “glasses: are plastic. Inmates working on the serving lines are closely monitored by a C.O. to make certain that all inmates receive a like amount of food, especially the meat and desserts. One serving is all that is permitted on the hot line and, without supervision, a serving inmate will give more to a friend or to curry favor with other inmates. Staples, drinks and salads are readily available on an all-you- want basis.

If in lockdown the meals tend to go from hot to cold because the inmates who normally do the cooking are now confined. The C.O.’s who run the kitchens get lazy and make baloney sandwiches for days at a time. Major national holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Independence Day warrant special meals with all the trimmings and ice cream and sodas. Prisoners requiring special diets due to health or religion are prepared accordingly. It is not unusual for five different food programs to be prepared by the kitchen to accommodate these prisoners. Heart and healthy meals are available at each mealtime.


Idle hands being the workshop of the Devil, inmates in the lower security prisons must work. Prisoners in high security facilities are restricted in movements and work. Many of the jobs are make work to keep busy but most are repetitive cleaning chores that are done daily or several times a day. With so many men in close quarters cleanliness and sanitation is paramount to good health and well being. Bathrooms are cleaned three times per day. Hallways are mopped and buffed daily. Waxes are stripped, re-applied and buffed monthly. Windows are washed daily in high traffic areas. Grass, weeds and debris are removed by those assigned to yard work. Snow detail will be awakened at 3:00AM during the winter to remove any new snow from walkways and outdoor rec areas. They will shovel snow throughout the day. Some prisoners will have visiting room and telephone room cleaning detail. They will clean the offices of staff and their bathrooms under close supervision. They will NOT clean the “bubbles”!

Food service is the most important duty in any prison. The inmates assigned to this duty are responsible for the preparation and serving of meals. They do this under the close supervision of the kitchen C.O’s. Food, its preparation, taste and nourishment can cause more trouble in a prison institution than any other issue if not done properly. Consistently bad or ill prepared food will not be tolerated by prisoners. It is in the Wardens best interest to keep the prison population as docile as possible. He does not need the notoriety of riots, subsequent killings and more ACLU lawyers telling the Government how to run their Corrections Facilities and penitentiaries. Kitchen duty is handled on a three shift basis with the inmates doing the cooking, serving and cleaning under close scrutiny by the kitchen C.O.’s. Each meal starts from scratch with food cooked or processed in bulk, served, everything cleaned and put away within two hours. The entire process starts again for the next meal within two hours.

Disinfectants are widely used on utensils, all stainless, and floors flooded with soap, rinse and disinfectant after each meal. Huge pressure cookers are used for staple cooking (beans, potatoes, soups, pasta, etc.). Large rotating or stationary ovens bake pastry, chicken, meats and other items. Deep fryers cook fish and chicken. All utensils used in the cooking process are issued to individual inmate kitchen workers as needed and must be cleaned and returned after each meal preparation to the supervising C.O. Any missing utensil results in the prisoner receiving a shot.

If the facility has a UNICOR (Government manufacturing facility to produce furniture, clothing or other items sold within the government system) prisoners with high fines or many years to serve are allowed to do these jobs. For the most part these jobs are coveted more than the others because the rate of pay is usually five to ten times the going rate. For example, the minimum base rate for menial tasks such as cleaning hallways and bathrooms is $.10 per hour. UNICOR workers can be paid as high as $1.25 per hour. All “money” earned is transferred to the inmates Commissary account once per month which he can use to pay for phone calls and purchase food, stamps, candy, radio, watch, batteries, packaged food products, coffee, tea, soft drinks and many other items. Unfortunately, with minimum pay and no outside support from family or friends an inmate may only receive enough money from his job to buy a jar of coffee each month, maybe.


There a various forms of recreation available, again depending on the facility. The “yard” is an outdoor open area that may or may not have grass. There is usually a track around the perimeter where many of the inmates spend their time walking or running laps. The interior has sufficient room for softball or soccer which are played in leagues during the summer. Most facilities have outdoor basketball courts. Many facilities have an indoor gym that has stationary exercise machines as well as basketball and handball courts. Each wing in a facility has one or more television sets catering to various interests among the inmates. There are many arguments about who watches what and who belongs to what chair or space location. Crafts are usually permitted such as beading, crochet, leather working, painting, drawing and ceramics. The inmate must purchase his own materials for these crafts through the recreation department and all materials must be stored where used, not in his cell locker. Board games and cards are standard throughout the entire prison system.

Many facilities have musical instruments such as acoustic and electric guitars, drums, horns and piano. Inmates will form bands or groups and practice for shows that are put on from time to time. Pool tables and Bocce ball courts are available. The libraries at the facilities are well stocked with books of all sorts. Legal books occupy a large part of the libraries. Correspondence courses are encouraged for inmates to further their education. Every inmate without a high school diploma must take GED classes. Religious services are available for every faith and denomination.

Prison Diseases

All prisons maintain a very high level of cleanliness and sanitation. The isolation of inmates from the outside world is near complete, except for newly transferred inmates into the facility, visitors on visitation day and the staff itself. These are typical ways that disease make its way into a facility. Newly incarcerated inmates may or may not have been in any jail or prison prior to their arrival. If they have somehow contracted any blood borne disease because of behavior such as homosexuality, using dirty needles when shooting up on drugs or received a tainted blood transfusion they could have hepatitis or herpes. These new inmates use the bathrooms, brush their teeth, shave and eat in the chow hall. Most inmates will not disclose to other inmates the seriousness of any condition that they may have if they are not symptomatic. If they are in the early stages of a flu or cold when they arrive it is possible for them to bring this into the facility. When that condition is known the prisoner will often be segregated from the general population and placed under observation with the proper medications dispensed to him until the symptoms are passed. If inmates are housed in facility where contact visitation is allowed the visitors with children are the most likely to bring in colds, flu, and other diseases such as chicken pox etc..The staff and Correctional Officers come and go each day and they can be a source of spreading any health problems among the inmates. Wash your hands frequently and try to use bathrooms and sinks as soon after cleaning as possible. Change sheets and blankets regularly and, if you are have access to a washing machine and dryer, wash your own. Do not use anothers’ soap, toothpaste or razor. Avoid inmates and staff who are sick or have a cold.


The medical department is staffed with a Doctor, nurses and physician assistants. These will administer exams, x-rays, blood pressure, dispense medications and tend to injuries. For issues that go beyond their capabilities or requiring specialized equipment and services not available, the medical staff will transfer the inmate to either a local hospital, clinic or another Federal facility for treatment. Inmates who require daily medications that must be monitored by the medical staff must go to pill line morning and/or evenings. After dispensing the medication the inmate must open his mouth and manipulate his tongue to the observing medical personnel to assure that the medication was taken and swallowed. As incredible as it may sound many inmates regularly try to hoard medicines that might even remotely result in a “high” or “low” if taken in quantity! Diabetic shots are self administered and witnessed by the a staff member after his readings are taken for dosage. Other medications required by an inmate made be prescribed and issued for thirty days at a time such as high blood pressure pills, inhalers, Ibuprofen and others. Inmates who have a serious onset of a medical problem such as a heart attack, stroke or asthma crisis are treated as an emergency but often the facility is ill equipped to deal with the illness. It has been observed that inmates who suffered a health crisis resulting in death are immediately transported by EMT or ambulance to a local facility where he is pronounced deceased upon arrival (DOA). Even though the inmate expired in the facility his record will show that he died in route so as not to create a paperwork and investigative problem for the prison and staff. Riots or fights resulting in the killing of an inmate by other inmates or staff are investigated and disciplinary action is taken.


Prisoners are allowed visitors on the weekends and holidays. Depending on the facility the visits are contact or no contact behind partitions with telephone communication. There are no conjugal visits in a Federal prison or Camp. All talking and contact is monitored closely by guards and cameras. Visitors are not permitted to bring in anything of value and no notes or any other exchanges may be made between the visitor and the inmate. All visitors must be pre-approved by prison officials prior to any visitation. The inmate must submit a phone list and visitor list to his counselor and approval may or may not be granted after verification. No Federal prisoner may have contact with a convicted felon outside, either by telephone or mail. Visits can last from one hour to as long as six hours if the visitor has traveled a long distance. Again, it depends on the facility and regulations. Children and friends are permitted to visit with the inmate if they have been approved. A prisoner can lose visitation privileges for months at a time for committing certain infractions of regulations.

Telephone Privileges

Inmates not on restriction have telephone access during certain allocated hours. If an inmate is not able to call collect or lacks sufficient funds in his account to purchase the phone service his counselor will usually permit one short call per month to his family or attorney. Calls from prison systems pay phones usually cost $.25 per minute but services can be procured by the inmate that reduce that cost to as low as $.05 per minute. These funds come from the inmates Commissary account replenished either from his job or from funds sent by family or friends. Inmates are restricted to fifteen minute calls to allow other inmates to use the phones. All telephone calls are recorded and reviewed for content. Any threats or suspicion of an enterprise or illegal activity will result in an investigation by SIS and the inmate could be disciplined. An inmate can lose telephone privileges for up to several months for certain infractions.

Mail, Books and Magazines

All incoming mail and outgoing mail is monitored by the authorities. Photos exceeding 5” X 7” are not permitted and some are not permitted on photo paper, depending on the facility. They must be copied to regular paper by the sender. Photo paper can be saturated with chemicals that might be used as a drug or even an explosive. Nothing but mail may be received by the inmate. Special medication not available or authorized by the BOP or personal items are prohibited. Reading glasses may be received with an approved frame. Inmates may receive books and magazines from the outside providing they meet certain criteria. Hardcover books must be sent directly from the publisher to the inmate to assure that no binding contains drugs. Magazines and soft cover books can be received providing the quantity does not exceed a specific number during the week or month. Stamps are purchased from the Commissary. No stamps are permitted to be mailed to the inmate by friends or family. Stamps are often used for currency between inmates in the prison system. A $.42 purchased stamp has a trade value of $.35 inside. This currency is then used to purchase haircuts, tattoos, payment for gambling, food products smuggled from the chow hall or Commissary products between paydays. This activity is prohibited but is widely done anyway. Anyone caught with an inordinate number of stamps during a toss or body search will be charged with running an enterprise and will be given a shot and probably sent to the hole. Mail call or delivery is conducted once per day during the week. Prisoners confined in solitary or segregation in high security facilities do not receive their actual mail. Mail is transmitted electronically from a central location to a TV monitor screen which placed in front of the prisoners cell where he can read his mail from that screen.

Buying and Selling; Lending and Borrowing; Theft

Simple advice, don’t do it if at all possible. It is against the regulations and will result in a write up for those caught. It is regularly done by inmates who need something and others who have it to sell or give. If you must buy something from another inmate you will pay them in whatever the going currency is or some other agreed upon item. If, at the time, you don’t have the wherewithal to pay then do not take it on “credit”. You do not know what his or your status is going to be when the debt becomes due. If you are not able to pay you could bring trouble on yourself that you don’t need. It goes the same way if the debt is owed to you. There is nothing more despicable to prisoners, aside from child molesters and homosexuals, than a thief or a snitch. Those who are caught stealing are dealt with swiftly and severely. Understand that, once a man has been deprived of his freedom, his possessions, his family and his finances the only thing he has left are the meager items he is able to accumulate in prison and his integrity or word. Compromising any of these is going to dangerous ground. Taking an inmates belongings, disrespecting him through disparaging remarks or slighting him can result in an altercation.

“Bulldogging” …Rent…Payment from outside…Favors…..etc.

Bulldogging is where inmates, through threat or action, attempt to intimidate another inmate for payment or favor. This can range from demanding monthly “rent” on his cell even though they have no claim to it. In return, the inmate is protected by the parties involved from the parties themselves! While this is more prevalent in detention centers it has been known to occur in the higher security prison facilities. The bulldogged inmate is expected to pay regularly from his Commissary account. If the inmate is known to have access to substantial financial resources on the outside he may be “encouraged” to supply the Commissary accounts of others with funds. Sometimes inmates will demand the expertise of a new inmate if he has special knowledge in stocks, bonds or other schemes to make money. It is important for a new inmate to make alliances with like minded individuals upon arrival. This alliance may be joined along racial lines, ideological line or religious lines. More often than not other inmates will approach the new inmate with the proposition or demand that he ally himself one way or another. Each prisoner must determine whether or not any of these relationships are beneficial to his safety and well being.

Greetings and Courtesy

Prison culture demands certain protocols and courtesy. Eye contact is selective, usually within the races. All greetings begin with the fist bump often seen among athletes and some entertainers on the outside. Actually, the fist bump is better than a handshake. It is more sanitary as a large number of greetings occur on the way to the chow hall to eat. Refusing the fist bump is considered a slight or “dis”. A “whatsup” or “hey” is a nominal greeting. No one calls each other by name unless they are buddies.

Over time inmates will find their comfort zone within the system. They will gravitate to like minded individuals and nearly always form their relationships along racial lines. They will occasionally mix to participate in sports or games but generally stay among themselves.


Gambling, is prohibited but this does not preclude the fact that many inmates do it. Gambling inside comes in the form of poker games, board games and sports betting. Basketball and football pools are rampant during the season. Payments are made with transfers to Commissary accounts from the outside, stamps and even food products such as packages of mackerel procured through the Commissary. In the course of betting markers are used in place of any form of currency so as not to arouse suspicion among the guards. All markers and debts must be paid. There is little tolerance for those who welch on a debt inside. Some leeway will be given on the time to pay off but not for too long. Penalties are severe for those caught gambling.

Gangs and Races

No writing about a prison would be complete without mentioning the impact of gangs and races in a prison environment. Suffice it to say that everyone has seen movies and television programs which depict these issues up close and personal. Be advised that it is real, alive and well in any jail or prison. All prisoners are housed pretty much together, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin. They have no way to separate or segregate. Those in maximum security prisons are more restricted in movement and have but little occasion to congregate together. The chow hall and yard are the two most common places where many inmates are able to mix. Those are where most altercations occur.

Because of culture, upbringing and other factors, races are different. Don’t let the social engineers and bleeding heart liberals tell you any different. Racial tensions brew constantly in prison. Some of it is because of the type of individual incarcerated. Often sociopaths to begin with they are looking for any excuse to assert themselves and impose their will on others. Any sign of disrespect from another will result in a confrontation and even an assault, without warning. Prisons are noisy. The most noise emanates from blacks who, for some reason, must be heard above and beyond all others, put together. They slam weights when working out, shout at each other when face to face in a conversation, slam chess pieces and dominos at boards games, slap cards hard on the table at card games and generally disrupt all those around them. This is tolerated for only so long by Mexicans and Whites before an outbreaks of violence occurs.

Mexicans are highly volatile and especially have problems even with each other if involved in different gangs. Norteños, United States citizen Mexicans, are generally identified by themselves as Chicano. National Mexicans from south of the border, Sudeños, are generally identified by themselves as Paisans. For the most part they do not like each other, as hard as that may be to believe. They will go off on each other at the slightest provocation. There are many Mexican gangs. MS 13 originated in El Salvador. Others are from U.S. cities and even communities within that city. Many are nationwide. All are involved in the drug trade or stealing for income.

A short list of Mexican gangs:

MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha) Surenos

Nuestra Familia Varrio Hawaiian Gardens Gang

505’s Mexican Mafia (La Eme)

Border Boyz Los Zetas

A short list of Black gangs

Bloods Crips

DC Blacks Acorns

Panthers 18th Street Gang

ii (double “eyes”) BGF (Black Guerilla Family)

A short list of White gangs

Aryan Brotherhood Skin Heads

Nazi Low Riders Peckerwoods

Insane Gangsters Disciples 974 PENI

Alliances are formed between racial lines and often a “gang” within that line. Inter-racial friendships among prisoners beyond simple courtesy and casual encounters is not common practice. Inmates will take meals, work out and participate in sports along racial lines. One of the first things a new inmate learns is where he will sit and with whom in the chow hall. In the lower security facilities, especially Camps, most inmates are careful to stay out of harms way or be confrontational so as not to lose their good time or even catch new charges for violations. The racial tension exists but actions as a result of it are few and far between. Other issues are more important, especially those related to respect.


All prisons are noisy. Cells door clanging, shouting, snoring at night, inmates talking in their sleep, C.O.’s radios crackling and cleaning machinery such as floor buffers running. Radios in prison are not supposed to have built in speakers. Ear buds and head phone phones are sold at the Commissary. Yet, inmates will fashion a speaker from materials available. Round empty oatmeal containers and cardboard toilet paper holders are the most common used to amplify sound from ear buds or headphones. If there is not a TV room available, all TV sound is off and the inmate can dial an FM station on his personal radio to listen to the TV through his head phones. The noise will graduate exponentially as the volume of each radio is increased to drown out one close by. Eventually, other inmates will demand some semblance of quiet and the process starts all over again. Quite solitude can be found in the corners of the yard during recreation or in the Chapel.

Grievance Procedures

Inmates are able to petition the prison officials if they have a grievance. As noted earlier these are called “kites’ (because they go up the chain of command of the staff) or “Cop Outs”. These are a formal document which the inmate notes the request or grievance and sends to his counselor or staff member. They usually have 30 days to respond. If the response is unfavorable the inmate can file a BP 8 to the next level of authority within the system. If that response is unfavorable he can continue to file up to a BP 11 which is the uppermost authority at regional. The system typically stonewalls the prisoner on most issues by continually delaying the response. This process can take as long as a year to work through and, even though prisoners have nothing but time on their hands, they will get discouraged by the delaying tactics. Often lawyers are brought into the equation by the prisoner to be their advocate. Sometimes a letter from the lawyer is sufficient to move things along. For the most part, however, unless the grievance or request is some minor issue such as visitation, or a change of job there will be no resolution by staff. The request will be denied. If enough prisoners petition about the same issue something may be done to prevent any outbreak by the prisoners.

Letters written directly to law makers, judges or the warden are not only discouraged, but against the rules.


Religious services or Holy Books cannot be denied to inmates. Even those in the SHU (hole) are permitted to have a Bible, Quran, Book of Morman or….whatever. The Chapel caters to all denominations and usually has an extensive library of religious books and commentaries. Services are conducted by the Chaplain or an inmate. Saturday, Sunday and evening services are conducted according to faith and allowed time. Visiting pastors and Rabbi’s occasionally conduct services with permission from prison authorities. Muslims are allowed to have prayer rugs and to pray throughout the day as required. Special meals are prepared by the kitchen staff for the various denominational religious holidays. Native Americans have a space allocated outside for erecting their sweat lodge weekly, wood for fire and rocks to heat. Drums and chanting are part of this ceremony and the sweats last from one to three hours. Odinists, panthiests and others may practice their faith and rituals as long as no contraband is used in the ceremony.

Homosexuality and other Sexual Activity

With so many men, especially young men, confined in such a small area for such long time the sexual needs and desires of these men are not any different than those on the outside. In the beginning, much like boot camp in the military service, the focus and attention for young men is not on sex but the realization of the discipline, work and hardship. In time, though, their needs are no different than any other man. Homosexuality exists in any facility. The vast majority of inmates will not have their “masculinity” or machismo challenged or compromised and will resort to violence to any advance by a homosexual. Others will embrace this lifestyle but do so in as much secrecy or discretion as possible. There is little privacy in a prison so rampant homosexual behavior non-existent. Some justify their behavior to have gratuitous gay sex by being a “catcher” or one who receives the benefit. The homosexual is the “pitcher” who gives the benefit. In the “catchers” minds eye he, himself, is not a homosexual but merely the recipient of a pleasure.

Needless to say, men will masturbate when and where they can, usually quietly in the shower or late at night in their bunk.

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