My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 1

I walked through the doors of my designated institution minutes before noon.  Just before I went in, I smoked my last two Marlboro Reds and ate a gas station hot dog and an ice cream sandwich. (There’s not much in the way of culinary delights in this part of town.)

While I wasn’t expecting the Ritz, this joint has exceeded my expectations.  The facility itself can’t be older than 20-30 years and if you take away the double-fenced, razor-wired perimeter, one might feel as if they were strolling through the campus of some non-descript community college.

I checked in with the gentleman up front and I was directed to a seating area reminiscent of the DMV — minus all the people.  Within a few minutes, another dude came in, took my skrilla, offered a receipt, and then took me back up front whereby I placed my shoes and belt in a bin that was sent through a scanner.  I, too, then sauntered through the silver arches and was soon walking with my escort across the open well-kept grounds, the smell of fresh-cut grass permeating the air.

Next up — getting fitted for my new Spring wardrobe, courtesy of the Bob Barker Company.  (Yes, THAT Bob Barker.)  I stripped to my bespoke birthday suit and went through the motions that I assumed would be fairly routine in the foreseeable future: the opening of my mouth, the lifting of my tongue;  the raising of my arms far above my head; the heaving upward of my extraordinary manhood to dispel any notion that I may be hiding contraband beneath my impressive sack; showing the bottoms of my feet; and perhaps the coup de gras (sp?), the cherry on top, the well anticipated “squat and cough.”

In the open cardboard box in front of me was the heap of my recently discarded street clothes.  Fittingly, this was the same outfit that I wore when I was initially arrested last year…as well as the same outfit I wore when I was released on bond pending trial:  1 medium grey chambray long-sleeved button-down (J. Crew); 1 pair dark-blue slim-fit jeans, 32X34 (Levi’s); 1 pair medium black boxers (Hugo Boss); 1 pair black socks (Calvin Klein); 1 black belt with square silver buckle (Gap?); and 1 pair of size-11 grey high-topped boat shoes (Sebago)…all of which would be shipped home at the institution’s expense.

I stood pin my new uniform (well, less than new, but these would be temporary until tomorrow) and I was then told to step into a nearby room.  From there on out, I got my glamour shot, had my prints taken, and received my brand new ID card to be worn around my neck at all times — my own little albatross on a lanyard.

I then met with some guy who never properly identified himself, who conducted the “social interview” (although it wasn’t very social).  He proceeded with his battery of questions (Him: “Any reason why you shouldn’t be allowed within the general population?”  I’m thinking, “Um…what would be those reasons?  Would I get to go home?  Am I too hangsome?”).  Ultimately, this dude seemed more fascinated with my crime than with anything else on his interview form.

Next up — the medical screening with a male nurse or physician’s assistant.  He took my blood pressure (excellent) and tested for TB.  Per my understood instructions of the intake process, I then presented him with my 4 empty prescription bottles (Zoloft, Xanax, Lithium, and Adderall).  It became quickly apparent that I would not be allowed to receive the Xanax and Adderall (which was somewhat expected…at least for the Adderall) and that I would be allowed to “self-carry” the Zoloft and receive the Lithium in a daily, controlled pill line.

And then the other shoe dropped.  Let’s just say I had no intentions of ever spending any time in “the Hole” while I was here..let alone the very first day.  Many of you may know of “the Hole” from dramatizations of prison that usually depict the offender wasting away in solitary confinement with no contact to the outside world.  The official name for that dungeon here in Federal prison is the SHU (pronounced “shoe”) or the Special Housing Unit.

It all began with some simple questions about the Xanax.  I assured him that I took it “as needed” and that aside from taking one that morning, I had not taken one previously for several weeks & rarely do.  I’m not an overly anxious person and I originally got the script from my shrink thinking that I might be able to take this little treat with me while incarcerated.  Since I’ve had the pills, I had probably only consumed about half a dozen in the past 3-4 months.

As a matter of precaution, since they had ONE instance of a guy who had serious hallucinations and started throwing shit after being deprived of Xanax for a few days, I would have to be kept in the SHU until Friday (or so I was told) when a doctor would need to give me medical clearance in order to return to the compound.  Hey Alanis…you know what’s ironic?  Don’t you think someone with documented mental health issues would be MORE prone to hallucinations being thrown in “the Hole” upon their first day in prison?  I feel truly bad for those with serious anxiety issues that not only can’t keep their meds but are also put into an even more stressful situation than what they had imagined.

Keep in mind, there are 2 types of individuals that reside in the SHU — those who are sent there for disciplinary reasons and those who are sent there for administrative reasons (like myself).  Unfortunately, there is no discrimination between these two camps and we are all treated equally…same rules and regulations, etc. and it would soon become clear that the overwhelming majority of the individuals in the SHU were there because they couldn’t keep their shit together.

Before getting taken to the SHU, I did meet with the chief psychologist, who was very warm and empathetic, but he did inform me that there are no phone calls in the SHU for 30 days, which was a fairly crushing blow.

I was then lead to the SHU intake area, a separate building in the compound altogether.  I was handcuffed with my hands behind my back and, once inside, I was placed into a tall, narrow holding cage — the likes of which seemed designed for Hannibal Lecter.  I was forced to undergo yet another costume change, this time exchanging my khakis for a standard orange jumpsuit.

We then walked down the long gray hallway, past neverending cells on both sides, until we reached my new temporary home, a roughly 7′ by 12′ concrete room complete with steel bunks; a stainless steel toilet, sink & shower; a small steel desk with attached stool; and a small 2′ by 2′ window above the top bunk, which seemed largely cosmetic as it was frosted and impermeable to the human eye.  Perhaps the least desirable feature in the room was the blinding fluorescent lighting on the ceiling that would never be turned off during my time in here.

With the steel door shut behind me, I began to make myself comfortable and I made my bed.  I opted for the top bunk and I set up my sheet and blanket atop the thin blue vinyl mattress (no pillow provided).

Before my surrender, I was warned by many to not show up drunk or high…I had not consumed any recent drugs and my previous night’s alcohol consumption consisted of 4 craft beers (high abv), 1 margarita (Patron), and a small glass of wine.  I wasn’t even close to being hungover.  During my intake, I was actually given a breathalyzer test — to which the guard exclaimed (sarcastically), “You’re drunker than a skunk!”…and then showed me the triple-zero readout.

My point?  I never thought I’d find myself in this precarious predicament for admitting to the consumption of prescribed medication…especially one that I consumed so rarely.  The kicker?  I learned that I wouldn’t even be able to have the Xanax while here…which, had I known, I wouldn’t have brought the empty bottle that landed me in the mess.  (I’m actually quite surprised that they didn’t have a larger problem with the Adderall…the male nurse didn’t even know what it was until I explained it to him…and then he also noticed the word ‘amphetamine’ on the label.)

I’ve never had much problem with solitude or spending time by myself…in fact, I usually relish those opportunities to exercise my brain and to get to know myself better.  Oftentimes, I feel as if the “noise” of society can be so distracting to me that I don’t focus on my own needs.  And if the alternative, here, would be a crowded cell full of knuckleheads, I would choose my current situation.  The major downsides, of course, include no phone privileges, no radio/tv, no e-mail, nor fresh air, and no reading materials…and ultimately, no clear answer as to when I’ll be getting out of here.  Thankfully, I was able to scrounge up some random blunt pencils and scraps of paper to write this update.


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