My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 84

I started a new job last week.  If you recall, I was working the 3-hour General Maintenance shift which involved sitting in the Facilities Room for the afternoon, reading a book, and then collecting my $5 monthly paycheck.

Last Monday, I began my tenure within the Automated Data Processing group of UNICOR — which is the Federal Prison Industries corporation.  The name, UNICOR, is totally awesome because it is only one “N” away from “Unicorn”…and it sounds as completely generic as ACME or even the fictitious INITECH from Mike Judge‘s “Office Space.”

Most Federal prisons (if not all) have a UNICOR division, however, most are typically a manufacturing plant where they make the vast majority of the “furniture” that you see within the prison.  My particular prison is unique in that there is no manufacturing facility…here we have a Data Processing unit — which is actually more interesting and slightly more complicated than it sounds.  As a matter of fact, I consider myself lucky to have found a job that is closely aligned with my background and experience on “the Streets.”

I have an undergraduate degree in English (Poetry Writing concentration) and my first few jobs in the real world were as a proofreader/editor and as a technical writer or documentation specialist for software companies.

At this particular UNICOR facility, we are responsible for ensuring that all of the patents submitted by inventors, patent attorneys, and patent agents are properly formatted per the rules and regulations of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  Keep in mind, this isn’t just a matter of cleaning up some punctuation and running a spell check, but everyone that submits a patent for consideration typically does not follow any set format, yet the format accepted by the U.S. PTO has hundreds of rules and just as many exceptions.  The patents that are submitted can include inventions ranging from extremely complicated chemical formulas to everyday household items.

Under my new schedule, I work from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with two 15-minute breaks and a 45-minute lunch.

While the atmosphere is a bit Orwellian (e.g., bright fluorescent lighting, hundreds of inmates typing away at computer terminals, security cameras, everyone wearing the same uniform, etc.), this gig is a really nice change of pace, with the benefits including nice, comfortable chairs (albeit not Herman Millers), air-conditioning, non-manual labor, getting to eat lunch prior to the rest of the compound while it is still hot…and a starting salary of up to $40 for the first month which, believe it or not, is the highest pay on the compound.  Ultimately, you can make close to $300 a month after you have been there for awhile and after you have been promoted several times.  Because I have fines and restitution, theU.S.government will take 50% of my earnings after my monthly pay is greater than $40 a month, per the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP).

It really helps being on a set schedule which makes the time go by fast…and the weekends actually feel like weekends again, minus the end of week happy hour.  Which reminds me…as we were let out after Friday’s shift, our manager advised us to “have a great weekend.”  Um.  Okay.  I’ll try to remember that while I’m in prison.

My favorite moment in our training class was when we were explicitly told by the trainer not to type words like “tit”, “ass”, or “fuck this patent” in the word processor because it will send a signal to the central office and you will be immediately terminated.  Good to know.


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