I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Archive for Federal Prison Industries

Day 238 – Part I

I thought I had died and gone to a less marginal prison.  The kind that has a gourmet bakery.

You know those evil muffins they sell at Starbucks that are packed to the hilt with cream cheese?  The ones with muffin tops the size of large UFOs?  Well, they served those for breakfast this morning and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I don’t know where they came from and I don’t care. I just hope they keep on getting ’em.  A moist, freshly baked pumpkin spice cake surrounded by a plump, cream cheese pillow.  Nom, nom, nom.

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Is it just me, or is it weird how there’s no holiday songs about prison?

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HOW TO EAT A BANANA IN PRISON

1. Avoid unnecessary eye contact.

2. Hold fruit below chest.

3. Peel quickly and without innuendo.

4. Break off an inch of peeled fruit with thumb and forefinger of opposing hand.

5. Insert piece and chew with mouth closed.

Repeat.

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WHY YOU HAVEN’T HEARD FROM ME IN SO LONG

 

I think I’ve become institutionalized…no, not in the ass-raping, tattoo-getting, gang-affiliating way…but in such a way as the things that once seemed so odd and foreign to me here no longer seem that strange.

The fleeting joke of “Hey Mom! Look at me! I’m in prison!” soon became the sharp reality of “Oh shit…I’m in PRISON.”  Not that my experience has gotten any worse since I arrived here last May…au contraire.  In fact, it’s gotten somewhat comfortable (not a good thing, necessarily), yet I’m feeling less like a tourist on some “extreme” vacation than I do an actor playing a bit part. And since becoming ingrained in the prison lifestyle, it’s difficult for me to assume a me vs. them (blogger vs. inmates) mentality…because, for better or for worse, it has become more of an us vs. them (inmates vs. prison) reality.

Which is why I am forcing myself to “come up for air” again and to view this experience as new and fresh…and to remind myself that it is definitely not normal to be here. So, expect much more frequent updates in the New Year. Unless the Mayans‘ prophesies ring true…

Oh yeah, and I owe you some answers to your thoughtful questions from a few months back. Coming soon…and part II of this update later this week.

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PRISON LINGO

Instead of “thank you,” say “good lookin’,” which is shorthand for “thanks for looking out for me” or “good looking out on my behalf.” (At first I was flattered by all the compliments.)

Example of proper usage:

“Hey brother, drop that stinger.  The cop is making his rounds and will be coming through here in a minute.”

“Good lookin’.”

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ANOTHER REASON FOR MY SILENCE

I feel totally ridiculous for saying this, but…I’ve been busy.  I know, that may be hard to believe and I’ll be the first to admit that many of you are leading much harder lives making a living and feeding your families.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been KEEPING myself busy.  Big difference.

It’s very easy to imagine prison as a bunch of lazy degenerates lying around all day doing nothing — and while there certainly ARE elements of that behavior — prison is what you make of it.  If you have the motivation and the spirit, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t come out of here a better person than when you first came in.

So, how exactly have I been so busy? Here’s a peek at my schedule. Monday through Friday, I get up around 5:45 a.m. and go to breakfast.  At 6:30 a.m. I have a 30-minute Power Yoga class (more on that soon).  My job in the data processing unit of Unicor (Federal Prison Industries) begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs through 3:30 p.m.  After work, I go to Chow, and then I work out for another hour or two with my “crew.” By the time I get back to my Unit, it is usually around 7:30 p.m., at which time I take a shower, do laundry, check my e-mail, and call my wife.  Before bed, I write letters and catch up CNN.  I then read until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Repeat.

On the weekends, I read, exercise, work on my writing projects, catch up on magazines/newspapers in the Leisure Library, and watch the institution movie (if it appeals to me). I don’t watch much t.v., or at least not anything regular.  Wednesdays used to be my t.v. night when I would watch X-Factor and American Horror Story, but both shows have recently wrapped up.  Every now and again, on Saturday nights, I might catch “48 Hours Mystery” on CBS.

Oh yeah, and I’ve also got involved with Hobby Craft — ceramics, oil painting and calligraphy (more on all of that soon).

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Overheard in the TV room:  “Is that ‘GH’ or ‘One Life to Live’?”

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I grew a moustache-soul patch combo this past November.  My hispter bros from my hometown were diggin’ it…some  other guys told me to shave it immediately…and a few more said that i looked, um, “ethnic.”

Proof positive — I was at the prison pharmacy filling out a prescription form and a nurse asked if I could translate for another inmate.  She had assumed I was hispanic.  (I guess this is only funny if you know who I am.)

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An inmate from my Unit was recently selected, at random, for a breathalyzer test.  He registered a false positive because he just ate a honeybun. It contains a high amount of yeast. Just tell that to the next officer that pulls you over.

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My prison job isn’t that much different than most jobs in the real world.  We typically spend the morning discussing what we’re having for lunch.  Then we find ways to work hard at hardly working — paper shuffling, aimless walking, impromptu meetings, etc.  We return from lunch at the last possible minute.  We watch the clock as if our lives depend upon it.  We invent scenarios that would allow us to leave work early.  And many of these guys would rather sit in a stinky bathroom stall on an extended poop break than sit at their desk feigning productivity.

Oh, and the gossip…anything from which prison employees are having affairs with whom, to which inmate was caught giving another a BJ in the closet.  We have an enormous dry-erase board that details recent changes and updates on standards for performing our jobs.  At the very top of this board, in red, someone  wrote — “If this were GOSSIP, you would read it!”  The same could probably be said for all of the mass e-mails you get at YOUR job, with subject headings like “Corporate Communication.”  Does anybody ever really read those?  It’s so much easier to ask the Office Manager what’s what and then watch her get angry at you for not reading the relevant e-mail.

Although, unlike the cutthroat nature of many jobs in corporate America, very rarely would any inmate throw another inmate “under the bus.”  Because that would be snitching.  And in Prison 101 you learn that a snitch is the greatest severity offense next to being a chomo.  This rule is particularly amusing in my job here at the Federal Prison Industries, considering what it is we do exactly…ensuring that inventors’ patents adhere to the standards of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  Moreover, we have several layers of Quality Assurance whereby the more experienced inmates check and verify the work of the less experienced, before the patents can even leave our factory.

The QAs are held to a quota of writing a certain number of error sheets — that is, writing up inmates who incorrectly process a patent.  But, of course, a lot of guys refuse to write error sheets because they don’t want to “snitch.”  Can you imagine if the same logic applied in an automobile plant?  “Jimmy forgot to add the brake pads again.  Oh well, I wouldn’t want him to get fired….let’s just pass this one through.”

Oh yeah…and I bet YOUR computer monitor doesn’t just start randomly smoking like a chimney.  True story.

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PRISON LINGO

“Jack my wreck”, i.e., fuck up my routine, mess with me, play around, make things difficult for me, etc.  Origin = carjack my automobile.

Example of proper usage:

“Man, that nigga coming over here to do pull-ups in in this shower stall when he KNOWS it’s my favorite joint.  Why he always tryin’ to jack my wreck??”

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Prison Pet Peeve: Why do all of the inmates here insist on typing their e-mails in ALL CAPS…and then never to turn it off for the next guy??

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Happy New Year.  It was nice not waking up with a hangover this year…although, I did wakeup in prison.

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Day 94

SCABIES.  What’s next…Scurvy?  Leprosy?  The Plague?  Just after lunch today, an announcement came over the intercom alerting all inmates from Bravo Unit (that’s me) to return back to their housing.  Keep in mind, there are roughly 2,000 inmates on this compound divided up between 6 units.  And ours was the only one asked to return.  Something ominous was going down and word quickly spread that there was a scabies outbreak in my home (sweet home) and we had to undergo an emergency inspection/quarantine by the medical team.  It was nice leaving Unicor after only working a few hours, but I’d rather be permitted to be lazy for a less nefarious reason.  This was the more shameful version of a “Snow Day.”

A seemingly infinite stretch of inmates streamed up and over the horizon like a squad of roaches marching back to their hotel.  Some joker behind me made up a song for the occasion that went something like “we’ve caught us scaaaaabies, we’ve caught us scaaaaabies.”

Back in the Unit, it looked like something out of a Michael Crichton novel — nurses in full-on paper body suits, trash bags full of infected clothing, sheets stripped and lockers removed from the offending cubes, and medics spritzing pesticide randomly throughout the Unit from a pump handle and hose apparatus.

Once everyone was accounted for, the head nurse requested that we all strip down to our drawers and to stay put until the nurses checked us out.  She mentioned that they might ask us to drop our skivvies but that probably wouldn’t be necessary.  Well, wouldn’t you know it but, for better or worse, a female nurse visits my cube and singles me out for the more “thorough” inspection.  She has me lower my drawers and, I shit you not, requests that I “move my JUNK around.”  Is that the scientific term?  I’m guessing that her request was more for her own amusement than for medical purposes.  As for her coup de grace, she had me do a 180 so she could also check out my bum.

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.