“A revealing journey through the federal prison system through the eyes of a white-collar criminal”
Inspired by a true story
Dedicated to the memory of
Dannie M. Martin aka Red Hog
I am a psychosomatic psycho. I think I am crazy but it is all in my head. My lawyer certainly thought I was crazy when I told him I did not want to wait to self-surrender to federal prison. He could not understand what I knew in my heart. The truth was, as soon as I started to do my time, the sooner I got out. My attorney screamed from the mountain top that people like me do not start their time in county jail. My kind of criminal was supposed to put everything off until that last possible minute and then self-surrender to a minimum security federal prison otherwise known as Club Fed.
I knew that I was going away to prison for years and I wanted to start my time right away even before I was sentenced. I understood that any time in the county jail would be rough but it would also be included in my sentence as time served. The problem with my wish or desire was that due to the overcrowding problem in county jails across the country, no judge wanted to exacerbate the problem by filling up the limited jail space with people who did not need to be there. However, where there is a will, there is a way and I had a habit of imposing my will.
I was out on bond awaiting my sentencing trying to figure out a way to get in and start my time. Part of the condition of my bond was I had to abstain from alcohol and drugs. In fact, many conditions came with my bond. I thought this was my ticket in. The system is set up for people who actually want to be free on bond and was not created for maniacs like me who wanted to revoke his bond and start his time. I poured a cocktail of Captain Morgan’s Rum with a splash of Coke and lime while rolling up a joint of some good weed. I was off and running.
It was not too long before I got a call from the pre-trial services people claiming that I had failed a drug test and tested positive for marijuana. There was a black woman on the other end of the phone line scolding me and threatening to send me to jail. She forcefully told me she was going to revoke my bond. I stood there holding the phone to my ear listening to her cacophonous tirade. When she was done, she asked me, “What do you have to say for yourself?”
I said, “Listen, woman, I don’t know if you missed out on your daily consumption of Bojangles’ Chicken today, but you can go fuck yourself talking to me like that!” There was dead silence for a moment and she said, “Excuse me?” I said, “You heard me you government whore, go fuck yourself!” I continued, “Furthermore, I just ran out of rolling papers for my pot so I need to go to the store.” I asked her to call me back after I bought some JOB rolling papers and got back from the liquor store. As I heard her gasp, I hung up the phone. I walked out to the front porch and waited for the police car to show up. It took about thirty minutes. It was time to start my sentence.
The FBI white-collar crime unit that hunted me down was based out of the federal middle district of Florida. That unit operated out of downtown Tampa, so my time would have to start in a county jail there in Hillsborough County. The first jail I was brought to was called Orient Road. The Orient Road Jail is a 636,000-square-foot facility that was somewhat of a bizarre place when I went through it. The jail’s complex was made up of a North and South Command run by one captain. The place consisted of six housing units. Each housing unit contains four pods that were constructed to imprison 64 inmates at a time. There was a captain who oversaw the Central Command. This part of the complex is the receiving area for new inmates and includes Intake Housing and the Central Breath Testing Unit. The Orient Road Jail processes all the people arrested in Hillsborough County whether it would be county, state or federal agencies doing the arresting.
Over seventy thousand people per year are herded through this one place like cattle. These are some of the facts you would find on Wikipedia if you looked up the jail but all I remember is that fucking purple dinosaur Barney! There were TVs everywhere that played nothing but the kid’s show Barney & Friends. It was a very odd place. I was told that some judge ruled that keeping television from inmates was cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the TVs put back in the jails. Apparently, the staff of this jail had another opinion on the subject and rebelled and protested by turning the TVs back on but programming them only to play Barney & Friends. Day and night, all you could hear was that freaking dinosaur going around singing about being friends. “I love you, you love me, we are a perfect family” and on and on would be playing in the background when the inmates would be trying to speak to each other. I do not know if this was true about the judge and all, but it was in fact reality that in 1996 this purple dinosaur nightmare was being played out in the Orient Street Jail in Tampa when I was there. It was the first taste of this bizarre journey I was about to embark on with America’s jail and prison systems.
After being processed in the cartoon graveyard that was Orient Street Jail I was transferred to an old school true prison horror show called Morgan Street Jail. This facility was my first taste of real physical danger. This jail was constructed in the early 1900s and went through a few expansions and reconstructions until in the 1960s when it took on its true face of evil. Morgan Street Jail was an old school style jail with real metal bars caging in the rejects of society. It had an old school design with what is called ‘catwalks’ in which the design style was created to operate with minimum staff. The jail’s design and operating standards did not require correction officers or guards to be in sight or hearing distance of the inmate population. We were left to defend ourselves without any supervision whatsoever. It was the Wild West where inmates were left unguarded for long stretches of time. I was stripped of all of my civilian clothes and put into an orange jumpsuit.
Depending on whether or not the inmate was county, state or fed meant what color uniform you had to wear. The federal government would pay local jailhouses across the country millions of dollars a year to help to temporarily house federal inmates who were in various stages of their incarceration. We wore only bright orange jumpsuits while the locals were dressed in other colors identifying what level of criminal they were. Strangely enough, the color orange holds to this day a kind of status amongst inmates in incarceration facilities across the nation. We were not arrested by some local cops. We were arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and other governmental agencies who policed bigtime crimes. If you were wearing orange you were not in there for some DUI. Everyone including the staff understood this and acted accordingly.
The guards walked me down this long hallway passing barred cellblocks and threw me into a cell that was beyond overcrowded. As soon as I walked into the cell everyone attacked me and started to punch and kick me all over. I was holding this mat that was rolled up with a few supplies in it and I just used it as a shield to block all of the blows coming my way. There was simply no room in this cell to defend myself and there were way too many people assaulting me to fight them off. Just as fast as the attack started it ended and everyone went back to whatever it was that they were doing. I stood there in a state of shock. Once I realized no one was hitting me anymore I made my way through the cell and looked for a space on the floor that was big enough to roll out my mat so I could sit down. There were so many people in this cell that all one had was a mat to sit on the floor with. The bunks were long ago taken by some inmates who were probably forgotten and left in there to rot by society.
The smell of this place has no adjective in the English language that even comes close to describing it. I was in a real-life hellhole. It was not too long before the cell opened again and another inmate walked in. I watched everyone stand up and go attack the new guy. They pounded and beat him in a similar manner that they assaulted me and then just stopped after a minute or so and sat back down as nothing had happened. I asked the guy next to me what this was about and he told me this was a tradition at Morgan Street on the catwalk and that every new inmate gets this initiation or hazing. I could not believe they called this hazing. However, truth be told, when the very next new guy walked into the cell I stood up with everyone else and pounded that motherfucker punching and kicking him! I was learning the ropes. I was a convict in training.
My final resting place in the Tampa Area before I was sentenced was in the northern suburbs of Tampa Bay. I was taken to Hernando County Jail and this is where my true education of how the system works really kicked in. Hernando County housed federal prisoners like other county jails on the government tit across the nation and dedicated a section of their jail to federal inmates. In this place, we were housed in glass pods that were designed for the staff to be able to view all corners of the pod without even entering it. We were segregated from all other inmates that were not federal but to my shock, we were not segregated from each other. I was very naive in this regard at the time. I guess I always assumed that violent criminals were separated from nonviolent offenders. I never imagined in a million years that the system would place a white collar criminal in the bunk next to a stone cold killer but that is actually what they do. Once I learned this harsh reality, I was constantly on guard and ready to defend my personal safety.
There were many occasions throughout my incarceration experience where this axiomatic reality manifested itself in real-world life-threatening situations. My first such violent situation was when I learned more than one lesson at a time. Somehow, I found myself being attacked by a Vietnamese gang that was locked up with me on some conspiracy wrap. I offended these little fuckers somehow or some way and found myself smack dab in the middle of a brawl with about five or six of these little guys. They were all punching and kicking me but because none of them weighed more than a hundred pounds soaking wet their blows never really hurt me. It was more like swatting away mosquitos from biting me than any kind of real threat to my safety. However, there were so many of them that there was not much I could do but just fend them off. I must have looked like I was in trouble or needed assistance because this one long-haired California type guy picked up a chair and joined in to help me. Between him, that chair and me we turned the whole thing around and crushed these bugs.
This is when I learned that in situations like this, the staff for the most part just lets this kind of thing play itself out without stopping or interfering with anything until it is over. They came in and removed the unconscious Vietnamese that cluttered the landscape and never once said a word to me or the guy who helped me. That day I made my first jail friend. His name was Mark and he was in fact from California. From that day forward, Mark and I hung out and protected one another from any threats inside. Mark also schooled me on federal laws, how they were applied and laid out for me and how to view the system that now controlled every aspect of my day.
Mark was facing thirty-five years in federal prison due to his sister and her boyfriend. His sister asked Mark to give her and her boyfriend a ride to someone’s house. On the way, his sister’s boyfriend asked to stop by this other house real quick. Mark pulled up to this house and the boyfriend got out of the car and walked up to the porch. He came running back to Mark’s car when the porch blew up. The guy put a pipe bomb on the porch of this house and set it off. Mark drove away in a panic and dropped off his stupid sister and her insane boyfriend. Later they were all arrested and charged with setting off a bomb, which carries with it thirty years of prison time in the sentencing guidelines and another five years for conspiracy to set off a bomb. Because he would not testify against his sister, Mark was being squeezed by the government and faced over three decades in federal prison.
He told me if he was truly convicted of this he would just check out and kill himself. He said there was no freaking way he was going to spend thirty-five years in prison for this. I believe his words were, “I’ll just check out and see what happens after we leave this planet.” He was very matter of fact when saying this. I believed him. Mark had no priors or any history of problems with the law. His only crime was having a bonehead sister. Yet here was a man facing the end of his life as he knew it and the government was giving no credence to the big picture of who he was. This was the beginning of my education into the belly of the beast. I was now going to see how our system really works from the inside out. My eyes were going to be pried open and all of the myths I believed about right and wrong would be eviscerated. Any concept I held about who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in America started a slow death that day. I knew I belonged where I was but I started to realize I might be part of a minority locked up inside. It did not take too long before I realized most of these people did not need to be locked up at all. It was my first view of the ‘business’ of prisons and business was booming.
Among the many myths that the public and I believed, at the time, was that pedophiles had a hard time when they were imprisoned. This falsehood was completely shattered for me when I saw the exact opposite with my own eyes. This was a myth I wanted to believe in. I hoped that monsters that harmed children were, in fact, having a hard time inside. However, in my personal experience, I did not see any evidence of that whatsoever. Not only did I not see this kind of inmates having a hard time but instead I witnessed that they had become trustees and took jobs in the jail that gave them access to all of the different populations within the jail itself. With those jobs, they received certain benefits including freedom of a lot more movement within the jail facility. No one was bothering pedophiles in any way or treated them any different from any other criminal.
One of the things that I learned right away was the fact that people locked up in jail can still be charged with a crime for what they do inside the jail. I never knew or understood this. People who are already locked up can still be arrested again and charged with new crimes. This fact carries with it a lot of weight among the jail population who are in various stages of their cases and sentences. Hurting pedophiles inside can get a person in a lot more trouble. They are already in a battle with the law and people tried not to add to it. Because of this ‘Chester the Molester’ is doing the same kind of time as everyone else. They are the target of nothing and no one. Justice for the harmed children in their wake must come in some other form or way because from what I viewed in person nobody gave a shit. This does not mean that there is nowhere in the prison system where that reality comes to pass, but in jail, pedophiles are as safe or unsafe as the rest of the folks.
There is a prodigious gulf between jail and prison. Most of the public uses these two terms interchangeably but nothing could be further from reality. Jail is not prison and prison is not jail. For me, I was sitting in jail and I had no idea what federal prison I going to be sent to. I knew that the law stated that we must do eighty-five percent of our federal time. The only way out of that, I learned, was that within the federal prison system there were a handful of prisons across the country that had a drug program called ‘RDAP’ or Residential Drug Abuse Program. If you qualified for that program back then and graduated from their in-patient drug rehab, you got to have six months taken off your sentence. That was the only way to chip away at the eighty-five percent rule back then. Any inmate can ask any federal judge to be sent to this drug program. The only way the judge can consider it is if there is proof you have had a drug problem within the last twelve months. It was not enough to just make the claim. There had to be documentation that you even did drugs in the last year.
I, if you remember, tested positive for marijuana while out on bail. I not only had proof I did drugs but I had documented proof amongst the very people who are demanding it. This was a very helpful factoid that I learned while I was in jail and I would have never known this if I self-surrendered at Club Fed. Jail was helping me learn the ropes as a convict. No matter what my sentence was going to be, getting six months of my life and freedom back was very valuable to me. There was no doubt in my mind. I was going to ask the judge for help with my so-called drug problem. I got the name of each prison that offered this program and the closest one to me in Florida was in Talladega, Alabama. My plan was to ask the federal judge to send me there. It was my goal to ask for help for my evil marijuana addiction. I just wondered if I could pull it off with a straight face. Pardon the pun. My self-imposed jail time was extremely valuable to me. It allowed me a viewpoint from within the belly of the beast.
I learned things about the system and how it worked far beyond what any lawyer tells you. The decision I made to start my time early before I was sentenced was one of the single most fortuitous actions I made on my behalf since the day of my arrest. The Day of Atonement was approaching. Soon it was time to face the piper. It was time to pay my dues to society. The case of The United States of America vs. Charles Richard Walker, Jr. was coming to fruition.
Transportation of federal inmates is handled by the U.S. Marshall Service. It was time for me to be transported to the federal courthouse to be sentenced in downtown Tampa for my evil crime of telemarketing. The Marshalls provided that ride but in no way was it some kind of pleasure cruise. Just being in the presence of the Marshalls is a nerve-racking thing. By this time, I learned of a thing called ‘diesel therapy’ and I could honestly say that within the prison system itself there was no bigger fear. This so-called ‘diesel therapy’ is one of the most feared tools that the feds have in their arsenal to make inmates act properly. This is how it works. The feds put you on a bus completely shackled from hand to foot. Your limbs are chained to a bar that goes around your waist and your movement is severely constricted. You cannot even sit up straight when in this contraption. Because they are the federal government, they have the entire jurisdiction of the continental U.S. at their disposal. They can send you to any federal prison in the country and they have them scattered across the whole nation from coast to coast. Because of this, they can put you on a bus and claim they are transporting you from one side of the country to the other stopping a thousand times at every single county jail in every hick town across America.
They actually put people on buses and vans, move them from one jail to another, and literally take a full year or two to do it leaving you in one jail for two days or two weeks and then moving you again over and over. The inmate never stays in one place too long and is chained and shackled for an entire year or two moving from one nasty jail to the next. You can spend up to two years crisscrossing the nation never getting a sense of peace and never being able to just rest your head in one place for too long. Your mail from the U. S. Postal Service never catches up with you and your family can never keep up with where you are next. You simply get lost in the system and no one can give an actual answer as to where you are at any given time. There is no phone number to call to see if your husband or dad is at a certain jail, in transit or even what state your loved one is in. For the inmate, it is living hell.
Each time you arrive at a new jail you must be booked all over again with fingerprints and all. You have to deal with every scumbag inmate in every little city from the town drunk to the local wife beater. This ‘diesel therapy’ is one of the evilest things that the feds can do to you legally and they do it often if they deem you a ‘pain in their ass’ or have some beef with you. At any given time on any given day, there are inmates suffering through ‘diesel therapy’ and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It has been ruled completely legal by the courts. The U. S. Marshall Service is allowed to transport inmates in any manner they see fit. Because of this power, any inmate who is in their custody is very self-aware of their own situation and is on pins and needles trying not to offend a Marshall. This federal agency is one of the toughest and most ruthless arms of the federal government. They are tasked with handling the most horrible criminals and monsters known to mankind and they do not play. They are given great latitude in the way they handle their business and they are no one to fuck with. Every single moment you are in the presence of the U. S. Marshalls you have a gun pointed at your head. They are extremely armed with automatic weapons, shotguns, and pistols. They have an arsenal of firearms at their fingertips and they are always locked and loaded. You don’t even want to move too quickly when in their custody. You would not want your motions to be misunderstood or seem threatening in any way. I cannot stress enough that these motherfuckers are bad to the bone and are not the people to fuck with. You will not see stories on the news of anyone getting away from these guys. You can rent that Harrison Ford movie all you want, but not even he is going to get away from these guys in real life. Only in Hollywood does that absurdity exist. In real life just do what they say because ‘diesel therapy’ is a very real thing and those are not fake bullets in their firearms.
I was transported to the federal courthouse in the heart of downtown Tampa. That day when I arrived, there were snipers all over on the rooftops of the high-rises and there was a palpable police presence on the streets. The day I was to be sentenced a large portion of the biker gang called the Outlaws was being sentenced as well. They were going to be handed some long sentences for loading and unloading an airplane full of cocaine. The Outlaws declared in open court that they were going to bomb the federal building and drop it to the ground. The Oklahoma City Bombing was fresh in the government’s forethoughts that day and they took that threat seriously. Whether or not the Outlaws had the ability to bomb that building or not I have no idea. However, the law took them seriously enough and had much of the city locked down. I was thrown into a very crowded cell that was in the federal courthouse itself. This cell was used to hold the inmates who would appear before a judge that day. No one ever spent the night there. It was just a holding cell. The guards told us that normally they had lunch catered from a local sandwich shop but since the Outlaws threw the food back in the guard’s faces all we would get now was a piece of baloney between two slices of plain bread and one packet of mustard to wash it down with. That biker gang really rocked the city of Tampa that day.
Over our pristine lunch, our overcrowded jail-cell sparked up a conversation about why we were all there and what we thought our sentences would be. Each of us talked a little bit about our crimes and how long we were going to be sent to federal prison. We talked about the federal guidelines and minimum mandatories that Congress created. One guy sitting next to me was a Colombian dude who was caught flooding the Tampa Bay area with a quarter million dollars’ worth of counterfeit twenty dollar bills. My ears perked up listening to him because he was talking about white-collar crime and I wondered whether or not our sentences would be similar. Sitting on the floor of our cell eating the baloney sandwiches we threw theoretical darts at the imaginary federal sentencing dart board and mused about our fates out loud. One guy spoke up and said our judge had a nickname. When we pressed him on the nickname, he revealed to us in a scandalous tone that they called her ‘The Time Machine!’ When it was time for our cell to face the judge the guards shackled all of us together and created a chain gang of assorted crooks. They marched us into the courtroom chained to one another and sat us in the jury box.
One by one, we were released from the chains and stood in front of the judge to hear our fate. I was one of the last so I got to see everyone else be sentenced before me. The one other white-collar guy who took his case to trial and lost, cost the government all that time and money to do a trial and even had a Secret Service agent testify at his sentencing, got twelve months in prison. I thought, man, I’ll plead out, save them the cost of a trial and not have some cop there trying to get me more time. I thought I must do better than twelve months. When my time came to stand up and face the music I got sentenced to thirty-three months in federal prison, $832,000 in restitution and three years supervised release for Mail Fraud and Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud. I asked the judge to send me to Talladega, Alabama so I could go into their drug program and she agreed. She seemed almost embarrassed to send me to prison when I asked her why would I, first-time non-violent white-collar offender, have to go to prison. She explained how Congress tied the hands of all federal judges creating a federal sentencing guideline book and she could only depart from the guidelines for drastic reasons. Later I found out that meant only for the rich or famous. The guards returned us all to the cell and released us from the chains. The mood in the cell was now completely different after we had seen the judge. Many people in there with me got some serious time and was going away for decades. The one Colombian counterfeiter sat in the corner and cried over his twelve-month sentence. The rest of the men in the cell kicked and beat him into a fetal position screaming at him that he got what was called a ‘microwave’ sentence. They yelled at him saying, “How he dare cry,” when others in the cell got decades of time. I stood along the wall of the cell just watching this guy get beaten into a pulp. No guards came. His cries turned into screams that turned into silence and the corner of the cell filled up with a puddle of blood. Only one thought came into my mind at that moment and I said it aloud, “Fucking cry baby!”
The Justice Department turned over custody of me to the Bureau of Prisons or B.O.P. and from that point on I was completely in the federal system. I would no longer share my incarceration experience with any county or state offenders. I no longer even dealt with the staff that handles them. Everyone from this point on, from the inmates to the federal employees who handled us, was all part of the U.S. Government. Right away, I felt the change of everything around me being bigger and more impressive in scope. I was picked up by the U.S. Marshalls to be transported to the federal prison in Talladega, Alabama in a brand new charter bus. The first stop on my trip as I sat on the bus shackled and chained was to drive onto the tarmac of Mc Dill Air force Base in Tampa. The Marshalls drove up onto the runway of one of America’s premier Air Force Bases and parked right next to an executive jet sitting all by itself. I looked out the window of the bus and watched at least fifty U.S. Marshalls surround the Lear jet in a circle shoulder to shoulder with their firearms and pump shotguns pointed at the jet. The door of the jet opened downward creating steps for the people inside to walk out of the plane and onto the runway. Three shackled inmates walked down the steps with at least fifty rifles and shotguns pointing at their heads. They could only take little steps due to the restraints of this contraption the feds shackle us with. Step by step and at gunpoint, the three made their way from the jet across the tarmac and onto our bus. I had no idea who they were or what they did to be on this bus with me. Our bus trip was from Mc Dill Air Force Base in Tampa to a federal prison in Florida’s state capital Tallahassee.
In Tallahassee, Florida there is a low-security federal prison called FCI Tallahassee for women. There is also a federal detention center to process male inmates in their adjacent administrative facility next door. Normally people just stay there for a couple of weeks waiting to be processed and sent to their final destination. Some people are doing their time there as well and work jobs that support the prison facility. There are two unavoidable things in federal prison. Every inmate without exception has to get his General Education Diploma or sit in the classroom forever until he does and they also must choose and work a job inside the prison system. When I arrived at Tallahassee, it was my first taste of a real prison. It was surrounded by barbwire fence and had a prison yard with a track to walk around. The inmates that were there were in various stages of their sentence. They were either on their way to prison or on their way out and there were those who were doing their time there. Inside it looked like most prisons one sees on TV or in the movies. It was a two-tier facility lined with cells that did not have bars but heavy thick doors with a window in it. One inmate per cell was how they housed inmates at this facility. One of the first things I learned was that the food is awesome in federal prison. Unlike state prisons, the feds feed inmates well. The wardens of every prison are alerted when a certified chef is within the system and any prison in need of a chef will have that inmate sent to their prison. If you are a cook or a chef, the feds will know your occupation and you will have no say on what prison you are sent to. Your skills are always in demand and you will be not only be cooking for the entire population of whatever prison you are sent to but you will personally cook for the entire staff and be at the right hand of the warden. You will have great latitude and be able to create whatever menu you want with the supplies they give you. You will have everything from steak to lobster to work with and everything in between. A chef is the most valuable inmate in the federal system. Hands down these guys do a very different kind of time and are protected by the staff. The better the cook you are the longer they try to keep you in prison. It is a very slippery slope, to say the least. As I started to interact with the inmates, I was told early on to pick the right job.
There are many different kinds of jobs in federal prison. They have a thing called Unicor that makes furniture and stuff where they need electricians, landscapers, school teachers, clerical workers and on and on. Every kind of job outside in the real world is also available inside. However, it is a slave labor force because at the time I was in they only paid 13 cents an hour. I was told it snowed in northern Alabama and that it got hot in the summer so I should keep that in mind when choosing a job. I was told food service is a good job inside because the inmates are in air-conditioning in the summer and have heating in the winter. It sounded like sound advice to me and I filed it away in my mind for when I got to Talladega. In Tallahassee, I needed to learn the rules of how this prison worked. Every day during the workweek, Monday through Friday, the lights go on at 6:30 am and 10 am on weekends. Immediately upon waking up, you must make your bed. Just like when you rent an apartment the inmate must inspect the cell he is assigned to and see if there was damage done to the cell from the guy before you. If you fail to report any previous damage, the government will actually charge you for the repairs. It is here where I learned that every single federal prison in America has a standing count of the inmates at 10 am, 4 pm and 9 pm each and every day. The inmates have to stand next to their bunk until they are all physically counted and the count is cleared through Washington D.C. with the Bureau of Prisons. Inmates must keep their cells clean at all times and are subject to random inspections including contraband bodily inspections and from 7:30 am to 4 pm all inmates must be dressed in their jumpsuits and have them buttoned all the way up. It was here where I got my first good meal in four months. I’ll never forget it.
I had spaghetti with meat sauce and after they feed everyone, they called for seconds for anyone who wanted to come up and get a second plate. I certainly had seconds. The food was excellent. Between the four months, I spent in county jail before my sentencing and the fact that I learned about the six months off thing with the drug program, I would get out of prison almost a year earlier. If I would have listened to my lawyer, none of that would have happened. In fact, I viewed federal lawyers as almost completely worthless. The feds have the system so rigged that the middle district of Florida where I was convicted had a 98% conviction rate. Having such a high rate of conviction only highlights how titled the whole thing is and what a scam it is to the notion of justice. The lawyers are useless against a 98% conviction rate. They literally have almost no purpose except as a show pony for the government to act like federal courts are fair and balanced. The general public has no idea about the rules of things like discovery in the federal system where the government is not required to show you and your lawyer everything they have on you.
If they knew things like the superseding of indictments where they can keep charging you with different crimes right up to the moment the trial begins, the ruse of a fair and balanced federal court system would be up. Hell, even the way they calculate your sentence is an anathema to the concept of Double Jeopardy. The entire federal court system from start to finish is against any notion of fairness or justice. The whole thing is to create as many prisons, convicted felons and government jobs as possible. Now that I was in the belly of the beast, I was going to get a real education. I was going to learn the stuff the lawyers never tell you. Prison is like college for crooks. I was going to get a degree at the University of Hard Knocks.
Before I went inside, I called up a friend who did time in prison and asked him, “What do I need to know?” I wanted some pointers on how to get through such an arduous experience. My buddy did state time, not federal time, but I felt any advice would be helpful. I was told to stay out of trouble I needed to avoid the queers and never play cards. No poker, no rummy or any card game should I mess with. Men fought over queers in prison and too much drama came with that scene too. Playing cards in prison was also a thing that landed up getting violent as well. So there was going to be no jailhouse blowjobs for me and I would have to go years without ever playing cards. He advised me to never give an inch when someone wants to take something for you. I was told once the prisoners smell weakness they never leave you alone.
Armed with all of this sage prison advice I decided I would use the time to educate myself and gravitate towards the smart people while inside. I got a hold of two lists of what was considered the best books in history. The criteria were that the books had to stand the test of time and be a book that people kept reading throughout the centuries. I got my hands on the top ten books of all time by Readers Digest. It was an incredible list that had books by Homer, Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, and other greats. I also got my hands on a list of every book that had won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. One by one, I was going to read each book on both lists. In addition, I was going to take up the task of learning Chess and play that instead of cards. Last, I was not going to back down from a single fight even if I thought I would get creamed. I would walk through my prison time like a man and take absolutely no shit from anyone. This was the plan I put together. I am the type of personality that always needs a plan. I have to be always planning the work and working the plan. At all times I must be working towards short terms goals and also creeping towards some long term goal in my life. I have always been that type of person and feel lost if I am not learning something new each day and working towards accomplishing something.
It is as inherent in my personality as much as primal survival is in the makeup of all living things. Being a people watcher, I always sit back and absorb people around me. I find this pastime to be one of the most interesting and constructive things to do. I can sit for hours at a mall and just watch people in the food court. In my short time, I had already met some very interesting people and I wanted to talk to each and every one of them and see what made them tick. There are all sorts of types inside and I wanted to interview them all. On top of my list, I was finding out that some of the most colorful people locked up are bank robbers. I immediately sparked up conversations with these guys and found them to be very forthcoming and just full of colorful stories. It is not every day one gets to talk to real-life bank robbers and I was going to spend a lot of my time getting to know these cats. I found them to be absolutely fascinating. Armed with my plan to get through prison and already on the way to doing my own personal human study of humanity in America’s prisons, my time in Tallahassee was up. It was time to go to my final destination. The U. S. Marshalls showed up with their shackles and routine and I was placed on a bus with other inmates all of who would be dropped off at different prisons in the Florida Panhandle while the bus was on the way to its final stop in Talladega, Alabama where I was headed. Some of the prisons along the way were located on military bases and we pulled right up to each base, drove right to the prison on the property, and dropped off my fellow convicts to their new homes. As I stared outside the bus window and watched the terrain of the Redneck Riviera go by I mused about what my new home would be like in my mind. As the bus pulled up to Federal Prison Camp, Talladega, or FPC Talladega as it is called, the first thing I noticed was there were no fences around the prison camp. It sat on the property outside of the fence that surrounded the medium security prison Federal Correctional Institution, Talladega or FCI Talladega.
The people doing life and other hard time were inside that fence. Club Fed as the public calls it was located on the property outside of that fence and looked more like a community college than a prison from the outside. When the U.S. Marshalls removed the shackles and chains off me and I stepped off the bus, it was the last time the federal government had a set of cuffs on me for the rest of my life. From that point on and as I walked into the building, no more shackles and chains were needed. I was now on the honor system. As a white-collar non-violent first time offender, that day was the first time, I was treated like one. Because of my decision to take the hard road through the county jail system, I was always locked up behind fences and bars. I was treated like some hardcore criminal with shackles, chains, and cuffs and surrounded by low life undesirables. All of that was behind me now. If I had self-surrendered, I would have never gone through any of that kind of a hard time. I would have just walked into the building in a federal prison camp and started my time. However, because I made that decision I already had four months served out of a thirty-three-month sentence and I was nowhere in Alabama for RDAP and the six months off that it came with.
My decision got me out ten months ahead of time as long as I did not get any extra time while I was inside. This was going to be my home for the next two years. As I stood inside the building for the first time in four months, I felt a sense of calm. Right about that time another inmate walked by me and smashed my back with his shoulder as he was walking by and thrust me into the cement wall. I turned around and looked him right in the face and he just kept walking as nothing happened. My calm feeling went away and I made sure I got a good look at that mother fucker. We were going to have a face to face talk very soon.
The United States government created the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1930 with the intent of creating a more progressive and humane way to treat and feed prisoners. At that time, the government had eleven prisons it operated. Today the government has around one hundred and twenty different prisons that are scattered across the entire nation from coast to coast. These prisons are broken up into different security classes. The classes are minimum, low, medium and high. The U.S. government also hollowed out a mountain in Colorado and built what is called a Supermax Prison inside the mountain itself where the prisoners rarely see or have human contact. Their food is brought to them on a conveyor belt. Their mail is projected onto a TV screen for the inmate to read and a robot cage comes around twice a week and brings them to a shower. The prisoners rarely see a human being again with their own eyes except in certain limited circumstances. Lastly, the government has ‘death row’ located in Terre Haute, Indiana where they execute prisoners by lethal injection. The prison complex where I was sent, Federal Correctional Institution, Talladega or FCI Talladega, housed just over one thousand inmates within their barb wired fence. The minimum security prison camp outside the fence was my destination and on the same property, it housed around three hundred inmates. In 1996 when I was there, not all three hundred people at Federal Prison Camp, Talladega or FPC Talladega were there for the RDAP program. Some of the inmates worked their way down to a minimum security camp from higher security facilities behind the fence. It must be said that my memoir Up The River Paddle Not Included FPC Talladega is my own personal story and recollection of my experience at these facilities over twenty years ago. Many things might and have changed in the federal prison system since I did my time. I did my time in a period I have coined ‘The Last Generation of Freedom’ or pre-9/11 and before everything from the DMV to our airports changed the way they operated. I have no idea how 9/11 changed the federal prison system if at all.
My memoir is a period piece and is not meant to be an official account of anything. It is the collection of memories never forgotten and recalled while writing this memoir. America has more people locked up than any other country on the planet Earth even though many countries have four times the population we do. My story is just one of many stories about the experience of being in the belly of the beast of the United States Prison System pre- 9/11. In addition to my memoir, I suggest also reading two books; one being Committing Journalism by Dannie M. Martin which is a collection of more than fifty essays by famed convict writer Dannie Martin, a.k.a. ‘Red Hog’; “Hard-hitting, eloquent reports on the racism, brutality, inadequate health care, harassment, and other conditions of life behind the prison walls,” according to Google. The second book I highly suggest reading on this subject is The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison by Pete Earley. There are many stories to be told about what really happens when incarcerated. My story is about what the country calls ‘Club Fed’ and how that term makes it sound like one is going to the spa. I want to tell the story from a white collar criminal point of view.
This is the story about where first-time non-violent offenders go in the federal prison system and what it is like. I am more interested in telling the story of the business of federal prisons and how that business is based around creating government jobs, maintaining a manufacturing slave labor corporation that crushes mom and pop businesses and how the business of federal prisons affects communities. Being a businessman myself, I always look at things from the top down. This book is from that viewpoint.
At FPC Talladega, inmates are housed in a college dorm type of open atmosphere. They do not keep the inmates in cages or glass pods. The best way to describe the housing unit of FPC Talladega is to ask you the reader to picture a building the size of a middle school gymnasium. Then picture many cement wall cubicles five to six feet tall covering the whole gym. Inside each cement, the cubicle is a bunk bed, a desk chair combination and a storage locker or pantry like thing. There were at least two men assigned to each cubicle. Some of the men in that housing unit were going through the RDAP to get time off and some were just there doing their time. Inside the housing unit were six toilets for three hundred men and six showers all open with no doors or curtains. It also had six sinks to shave and brush your teeth in and a reflective piece of metal that stood in place for a mirror. There are no glass mirrors in any prison anywhere for obvious reasons. The whole time I was there I never got a good look at my face and I cannot explain in words how strange that felt. The prison had a chow hall that looked like any hospital cafeteria.
It had a building for administration and staff. It had a commissary or store along with a medical section used by doctors, nurses and dentists. It had a Laundromat as well. The prison had a phone room full of pay phones. It had classrooms for the RDAP and G.E.D. classes and it had a building used for all the different religions that at any given moment could be a church, temple or a mosque. There was a big field in the back with a walking track and weight pile for the weightlifters and there even was a music studio for country, rock and rap bands alike. There were wooden benches and tables scattered across the property and the whole place was open and not fenced in. Anyone could simply walk or drive away from prison if they chose. We were there on the honor system. The government deemed our security level to be minimum and no threat to the public so there was no need to fence anyone in.
If you wanted to leave, you could, but of course, you would be charged with escape no different from if you tunneled out of the place Tim Robbins style in Shawshank Redemption. If you walked away, you would be charged and convicted of escape and you would never ever be sent to a federal prison camp again. Anyone who left the camp, and believe it or not some people did, would be put behind the fence with the convicts doing life. The murderers who had little to lose if they killed you while doing their life sentences would be your new peers. The government gives you one shot at Club Fed and that is it. If you left the property, your life would forever be affected in a very negative way. Make no mistake about it, there was a fence of sorts but you just couldn’t see it with your eyes. It wasn’t made out of barb wire. It was in your mind and it was as real as any cement wall or steel fence constructed by man.
I settled into life at FPC Talladega and got paired up with my first inmate to live with. We called each other at that prison ‘cellies’ instead of cellmates. The first guy they put me with was some redneck guy who was done with the RDAP and on his way home soon. He was an uneventful dude missing some fingers and on the ass end of his sentence for a meth lab conspiracy. The social makeup of federal prison is an interesting thing in itself. We had certain groups that you would expect like members of the Italian Mafia, Columbian Cartel and a good portion of politicians, judges, and other government workers went wrong. However, the absolute game-changer for the federal system was the fact that the DEA went across the nation and scooped up every street corner crack dealer in every ghetto across the country. The crack epidemic brought with it these insane disparities in sentencing and filled the federal prisons up with young uneducated black men from the hood that were supposed to be in state prison not federal prison. It changed the nature of doing federal time overnight.
I cannot stress enough how this was the hardest thing to deal with while doing time. When you are in prison and you live, shower, eat and work day and night with the black community there is no room for political correctness. There is not enough white guilt in all of the world to change the fact that, of all of the different groups of people doing time in federal prison, the black community hands down is the most horrible group to do your time with. Of course, there are individual exceptions but as a whole, it is fair to say the blacks made the time harder to do. Out in the real world, I do not listen to a single white motherfucker who has no understanding of the truth of this and I make no apologies for stating the facts of this axiom. Just the noise alone that they create in prison is something almost impossible to get through. They never shut the fuck up. They talk all day long and never give anyone a moment of peace day or night. They can jabber until the cows come home and never say anything important or intelligent. They just make an unending obstreperous nightmare even more nightmarish.
You can talk to any old timer who did time before the DEA did this and ask about how it was after. It changed the milieu forever and it is the single best reason to never commit another crime as long as you live. It is almost unbearable. You could actually lose your sanity being exposed to it too long. It can turn a non-violent person into a serial killer, it was the worst part of prison, period. Nothing is even a close second. It is the single biggest reason why I never wanted to commit a felony again. With all the different groups inside, the single biggest one is the people who collectively did not need to be there. It was one of the things that shocked me the most. It does not take long before you realize most of the people are non-violent or whose offense is so innocuous that they could have been punished in a different manner. Most of the people should be working out their sentence in the community that they came from. Whether the punishment could have been house arrest, community service or probation there was no need to go to the extreme and send this group of people to federal prison. The government destroys communities and families when they put people in federal prison whose offenses did not really qualify for such a harsh punishment, looking at it fairly. The taxpayer is on the hook for so much more money to house these many people in prison. However, the more people they put in federal prison the more government jobs it creates.
The more people that are put in prison the more prisons are needed to be built. The more people put in federal prison the bigger the slave workforce who can manufacture things without having been paid the federal minimum wage to that workforce. The more and more people who are locked up makes it crystal clear that incarceration has little if anything to do with justice, fairness or about crime. UNICOR is the federal company that is taking advantage of this underpaid workforce and most of the states have a state-level version of this form of slavery. Even knowing there are countries with five times our population we still have more people locked up. Not even North Korea, Iran or Russia have more people incarcerated. In certain corners of the so-called free-market, there are bubbles of industries that are being crushed by the manufacturing of goods that are being produced from prison in this country. The mom and pop operations have to pay their workforce at least the minimum wage. The prison does not. They do not have to worry about sick employees taking the day off, a workforce demanding paid vacations and holidays. If the full-time worker in prison does not want to work, the prison just throws them in solitary confinement until they get back to work. It is on any measure of slavery in America that is not only sanctioned by the government but also propagated and legal. The general public does not care about this subject for the most part. Americans are lead to believe cops are good and if you got arrested you did something to deserve it and they care even less about what really goes on in prison. The government counts on this.
I am telling you the reader from every pore in my body and every ounce of my soul that I belonged in prison but I was a minority. People need to understand what is going on because all of this was true when I went through the system in 1996-1998 and today twenty-some-odd years later it has only gotten worse. Today twenty years later the statics show that 97% of federal prisoners are in prison as non-violent offenders. Still, twenty years later no one seems to care about what is going on.
I took the earlier advice I got from a fellow prisoner and took a job in the chow hall of the prison. I spent the entire sentence there at FPC Talladega in food service. My job was to operate and maintain the hot bar. I had a four bin hot bar with a sneeze guard that was on wheels and it was parked right in the middle of the chow hall. The inmates would go through the main line to get their main course from the chef and before they went to their tables to eat they lined up and went through the hot bar and got their vegetables, beans, and rice. I had to stand next to the hot bar and make sure I rotated the pans of hot food while three hundred men came through my line. I had to do it while the guy the warden put in charge of the whole camp stood and watched over me just a few feet away. It was a full-blown circus when we would serve collard greens with ham-hocks in it because the blacks would literally act like animals and rush the hot bar to get the ham-hocks out of the pan. It was actually a dangerous thing being in charge of the collard greens and ham-hocks while the black inmates held me responsible if they did not get some ham in their greens. There were never enough ham-hocks to go around. Because of that, no one lasted in this job very long.
The prison guards liked that I would stand up to the blacks and held my ground defending the integrity of my hot bar. Because I took no shit from anyone and controlled the scene well, the staff liked the job I was doing. They even pulled me aside one day and told me what a good job I was doing and how they appreciated me keeping the chow hall in order. The guards sat down with me and had a meal with me as a reward for a job well done. The guards allowed me to eat stuff no one ever got to have like this gourmet coffee only the staff drank as I joked about being “The King of Beans.” It was a real humbling experience for me. Going from running a million dollar criminal enterprise that spanned coast to coast to running the hot bar in a prison chow hall in Alabama was humiliating. I called myself “The King of Beans” and told people I ran an empire of beans. I joked often about my new station in life or how so much of my life was changed forever. Humor was my first defense mechanism for self-survival and a tool I used to cope with my life being shattered.
One of the hardest things to deal with personally in prison is facing the truth of your new reality. It is extremely arduous to face oneself and look at the choices you made in life to land you up inside the prison. In my case, I was paraded across the evening news on all of the networks and had my reputation completely shattered. The Scarlett Letter, while you are alive as a convicted felon, is a stain that follows you to your grave and is forever. No matter what else I would accomplish in life or how old I would live to be it would follow me. I was judged by society and as an ex-con, I would forever have my life altered. Even after twenty years, I still cannot vote in an election. I cannot own a firearm. This conviction comes up all these years later on background checks for certain things thanks to the internet. I am denied more things than you can imagine twenty plus years later even though I walked away from a life of crime over two decades ago. I never got in trouble again, convicted of a crime or even so much as a whisper of anything criminal yet I am treated by society as if I just walked out of prison yesterday. Each inmate has that certain day when it all hits the person like a brick wall. It is unavoidable and for different people, it hits at different times during one’s incarceration. It is the deepest of depression I think one can go through. I have lost loved ones that were close and have had setbacks in life like everyone else but the depression that comes with facing your life choices in prison was for me the most dangerous depression I ever felt. It was dangerous on many levels because the person that is going through it has to go through it alone. There is no one in prison to talk to about such things.
When hitting rock bottom emotionally a person gets very close to self-destructing completely and harming others around them over just the littlest of things. On top of that, you also interact with different inmates who on any even day are going through the depression themselves and could lash out and hurt you over something of no importance. It is dangerous all around to be walking amongst men who are dealing with their own family dynamites and their own troubles because of their incarceration. At night you can hear some men cry and some men would have horrible dreams about what they have done. Some would talk in their sleep and tell on themselves and some would scream in the night from the nightmare of what they did to people. Many of these types would feel guilt over testifying against other people they knew to get time off their sentence and scream about it in their sleep. In the dark of the night, men would cry, scream and whimper in their sleep over their choices in life. When they woke up the next day, no one would say a word to them about any of it. Only the heavy snorers would get grief in the mornings because many people had little tolerance for that cacophony of annoyance. Those guys along with the sleepwalkers were the only men who were confronted with their nightly conscience and deeds in the light of the next day. The rest of us just covered our heads with our pillows and tried to get some sleep.
Inmates are not the only people doing time inside prison. The staff, from the administration down to the correction officers, are also doing time. Yes, they get to go home each night but make no mistake about it, those people are doing time as well. Think about how many of us reading this book feel like they spend more time with their co-workers at work than they do with their own families at home. Well, imagine for a second your work is inside the world of prison. The staff spends more time with the inmates and is living out most of every waking moment of their life within the culture of prison. In their own ways, they are very much doing time as well. The staff in any prison or jail is made up of all different kinds of people seeking different ideas and goals rather than a job like that. Remember for the most part they are government workers who are there for the great benefits of a government job. With the exception of a prison run by a privately held company, and that is getting more and more prevalent, most of the government workers are the same kind of people who work at the post office or the DMV. For me to think that I walked out the door over twenty years ago in that place and there are some of the same staff still there all these years later, then I ask you, who was and is really doing the time? I got to go home after a couple of years.
If you chose as a career working in America’s prison system than like the inmate doing time you are doing a kind of life sentence too. Anyone can see in the staff’s eyes the introspective understanding of this axiom with career prison workers. They already know most of the people do not deserve to be in there but that is their job and how they support their own families. They certainly will not be at the front of the line trying to reverse or fix America’s rapacious prison problem. They need their paychecks for their own personal survival. They are part of the machine so they march to the bank with their paychecks in hand and deposit their guilt without so much as a glance in the rear-view mirror as they pull out of the parking lot of the prison. They know what is really going on. They go to church on Sundays, raise their kids, and tell themselves they are the good guys. They convince themselves that they are on the right side of the law if and when their own conscience presses their psyche on the subject. I don’t blame this group of people for anything. I just do not look to this group to solve America’s prison problem. The politicians making a career out of tough talk about locking up all the bad guys and all the law enforcement officers are all part of the problem and the ones gaining the system for their own career aspirations and survival.
They are not the ones to look to for addressing the fact the so-called leader of the free world is locking up more souls than any communist or totalitarian country on Earth. The gung ho types that were picked on in high school who grew up to be bullies in the fields of law enforcement and correction officers won’t be the ones to alleviate this prison stain on our nation. They are too busy smashing heads and working out their own personal demons behind the protection of the badge or the law. I can’t stress in words how thin the line is between law enforcement and criminals. It is on display every time you see some cop Taser some pregnant or old lady. It is crystal clear for all to see when you see the videotaped beating of some inmate in some jail cell across the nation. Of course, society’s reaction is to say not all cops or correction officers are bad, but hey folks, I know lots of criminals that would never Taser someone’s grandma or shoot an unarmed person. The so-called good cops are complicit with their silence and are just as guilty or certainly also part of the problem. This insane incarceration rate that is growing bigger and bigger over time can only be reversed by the collective conscience of a nation as a whole. The other Americans who are not part of gaming this system for their own personal advancement must be the one to grapple with this embarrassment. As millions and millions of more people get locked up over time a solution or course-correction will rise to the surface when the taxpayers see what a ride they are on in all of this while trying foot the bill for it all. When more and more people have their own families affected by this then maybe we could have a collective waking. This has already happened to the black community.
As time goes by, the prison machine will need more and more souls to feed on. The system will turn away from the black community because their resources are all dried up with all the men being locked up already and the prison machine will focus on other communities. This has already started as more and more laws are created to target white people and other nationalities. The question is how many more communities, families, and lives have to be shattered before there is a tipping point that reverses this? Will I even live to see that happen in my lifetime? I carry no illusions about the magnitude of this problem and what it will take to solve it. I just want my book to be part of the solution by telling you my personal story and provide you my opinions on it all. I want to tell you about the people I met in prison and what I saw and thought of it all.
I met a lot of great people in federal prison. There is more talent locked up in prisons across American then people even know of. There is enough talent locked up to do almost anything. If you took the three hundred men that were locked up with me in Alabama and dropped us on a deserted island there would be enough talent on that island to build a nation. We would have carpenters who could build us homes; we could have had farmers to grow our food. We had the teachers to educate the island population. We had our religious types to provide spirituality, judges to address island grievances and even poets to recite poetry at sunset. There was enough talent in FPC Talladega to have done anything. Heck, if we had just one female social worker at childbearing age we could have restarted the entire human race if called upon. America is doing itself great harm by imprisoning millions of its talented men instead of having them work their talents in their own communities to make them and their communities better. Community service as a sentence instead of incarceration, not only make more sense, but it is a hell of a lot less costly to the American taxpayer.
There will always be certain men that have to be separated from society but that is a small percentage of the people locked up nation-wide. I met a man in there whose only crime was killing the wrong bird when hunting. I met a man in there who caught the wrong protected fish and somehow he was in federal prison. Could you imagine that? Being in prison for fishing? I met farmers whose only crime was growing a plant that made people smile when they smoked it. I even had an eighteen-year-old guy in FPC Talladega at the time that was in federal prison doing time for a DUI. This kid was straight out of high school, got drunk and took a short cut home that included a strip of dirt road that was federal land. This poor slob had to do eighty-five percent of a year sentence for a first time DUI in federal prison! No one! No one does time in prison for their first DUI unless they killed someone! But that poor schmuck got napped on the wrong road. One by one I kept meeting men who should have never been in prison for such acts. I sat outside on a wooden bench one day next to one of the sweetest old men one could meet. I asked how on Earth he landed up in there. He got up, went back to his bunk, and returned with his paperwork. He handed me his case and said read it. I sat there one sunny day on that bench and could not believe my eyes. This sweet old man owned a used car lot in some small town and he had a service manager that worked for him for twenty years who was in charge of fixing the cars. This manger of his got caught up one day in a marijuana conspiracy and told the feds, in an effort to reduce his sentence, that the car lot was rolling back odometers in the shop. Because the title gets mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, the title itself became mail fraud because of the tampering of the odometers. The feds asked the prick if the old man who owned the car lot knew of this and the manager said no. The feds wired the service manager and sent him into the old man’s office and the manager told the old man, “We have a problem.” The old guy asked, “What problem?” and the manager told him that the shop was rolling back odometer readings on the cars to make them look like the cars had fewer miles on them. The only words the old man said was, “How many are we talking about?” and the manager said, “Six!”
Then the old man said, “Don’t do that no more, it is illegal. We do not do that here.” I read every word of the transcript of this man’s trial and that is all the old dude said. The feds, however, waited a month and then returned to the car lot and arrested the owner. He was charged with something called “imprisonment of a felony” which means if you know about a crime and do not report the crime, you are now guilty of a felony and need to go to federal prison. I will never forget reading that old man’s paperwork that summer day. This poor bastard was sent to federal prison for a year or two because he did not report what the service manager of his car lot said to the federal authorities. I could not believe my eyes. There is something so completely evil about what is going on in America with the criminal justice system. It has been going on my whole life and I see absolutely no sign of this changing in any way. The more and more I saw of this kind of thing just broke my heart. People who believe in right and wrong or good and bad about so-called great America are living in a non-existent world that has no foothold in reality. There is no black and white. There are only shades of gray and there are a lot more than 50 shades people.
There is cancer eating away at the core of the idea of America and freedom. That cancer is the United States federal government. There is no justice from what I have seen. There is only ‘the business’ of justice and business is booming. From my vantage point of being in the belly of the beast, it was clear to me that the federal justice system is an anathema to the concept of fairness. I was always told by older people that life was not fair. They forgot to mention to me that it was also rigged.
Of course, not everyone locked up inside was some poor schmuck the government was using. There were, in fact, some bad guys who deserved to be in there like me. It was those men I felt comfortable with and hung out with mostly while I did my time. I felt completely uncomfortable around normal people. They were not exactly my cup of tea. I spent my entire life from my teens up to twenty-eight years of age living a criminal lifestyle and surrounded by criminals. It was quite ironic that most of the people locked up with me in federal prison were not the criminal type. Strange how I had to go to prison to meet good and honest people. Yep, I felt at ease with the bad element inside. I sat on benches in the prison yard with Mafia types, cartels folks, and bank robbers.
I would pass time talking to all those kind of guys and listen to the stories of their adventures. The so-called bad types lived colorful lives and had memories of their own larcenies to share. I particularly loved the bank robbers. There were different kinds of bank robbers. Some of them were on a team that worked the banks. Some guys were solo bank robbers. Some guys went only to the cash in the drawer at the bank, while others went for the vault. Some bank robbers used a gun and some used a note. I learned that if you rob a bank and do not use a gun or threaten anyone, but make believe you have a gun, then you do much less time in the federal guideline book. If you just walk up to the teller and hand her a note saying, “This is a bank robbery. Give me all the money in your drawer,” then if and when you get caught, you only have to do two or three years in federal prison. If you used a gun it is the same time but add another five years for a gun. If that gun goes off then add even more time and if you hurt anyone then you are fucked. However, it was interesting to me to learn if you just walk in with a note and rob the drawer, then really you don’t do a hell of a lot of time in the end. Some bank robbers I talked to just did this as a living and considered doing the time as simply the cost of doing business in their line of work. In fact, most real criminals just looked at the prison as part of their life and that it was a cost that came with their choice of careers. Prison was more like college to these guys or even vacation. For some, it was time off from the old lady nagging at home and the ungrateful kids who had no clue what it took for daddy to go out into the real world and hustle up some money. The street corner crack dealer types just enjoyed having things like a clean place to live, air conditioning or even three meals a day. Prison to them was paradise, they never had it so good.
Most criminal types just take the time in prison to network with other crooks and set up some new forms of law breaking and ways to make a buck when they get out. I knew when I got out that everything I had done with my life up to that point was over and done with. I went in at the age of twenty-eight and when I got out I would be thirty years old. My twenties were over and whatever I was going to go with my thirties was either going to be an extension of my previous life or something complexly new. I had two years to wrestle with this notion and decide what path I was going to take. I hated prison so much that the one thing I knew in my heart was I never wanted to return. I could not consider this prison time the cost of doing business. For me, that cost was way too high. And despite any reason at all I just needed peace and quiet and could not stand all of the unending noise that is prison life. Very early into my prison sentence, I decided that I was going to get out of telemarketing and the life of crime completely. What I did not know sitting in prison was the fact that times were changing.
The years of 1996 through 1998 were very important times when the internet took off in many ways and changed our lives forever. The world I left behind was not going to exist when I walked out. The times were changing and my entire way of life faded in the sunset of the old communication grid and was mowed over by fiber optic cables and a new way of life. The people in my line of work moved over to the World Wide Web and abandoned the phone lines altogether. There was a whole new world of fraud and spam was no longer just sandwich meat. I knew nothing of any of this while sitting in FPC Talladega. I just knew I needed to recalibrate my life but I had no clue how. I looked into the reflective piece of metal in the shower room that stood for a mirror and decided that it was time to finish high school. I looked at the distorted image of my reflection looking back at me and said out loud to myself, “It is time to get my G.E.D.” Another inmate heard my musings out loud and said, “Then you need to go sign up for the class.” I asked how and he told me to go see my case manager. I walked out of the shower room and wondered to myself what the fuck was a case manager and who the fuck was mine.
After asking enough correction officers, or ‘hacks’ as we called them, where to go to see my case manager, I got directed towards a certain building on the compound. I sat in a chair in the lobby for hours when finally some five foot tall little flat belly comes out to introduce herself as my case manager and invited me inside her office. I remember feeling strange because it was the first time in a long time I was alone in a room with women. This broad looked fuckable enough until she opened her mouth and ruined any fantasy in my head that could have put me to bed that night. The more this women talked the more I realized what a brain dead little robot she was. To be fair and kind to the women it was clear she had no value as a human being. She certainly had little knowledge of most things I asked her about but at least I was able to sign up for the G.E.D. classes.
I was told first I would have to take a written test to see where I was academically and then they could take me from that level to my diploma. So, on another day, I took the actual test that the state of Alabama gives any person in their state who wants to obtain a G.E.D. and go to college. After I took the pre-test I was called back into the office to be told that I scored the highest on the pre-test for the G.E.D. than any other inmate in the history of the prison in Talladega and that I would be exempt from the mandatory classes. They told me I could go straight to the test. After I took the test no one told me I scored the highest on the actual G.E.D. test in all of the history of the prison but I got my diploma anyway. I even have a picture of me standing in my gown wearing my mortarboard and tassel holding my diploma in prison like some Shakespearean tragedy. I was an educated man now and my claim to fame forever academically now was that I scored the highest on the pre-test for the G.E.D. in federal prison. The thought of that is so sad. However, looking back at it now I guess that was my first real steps towards walking away from a life of crime. Little did I know at the time but nothing or no one would ever help me to accomplish that goal. The people and the system itself was not geared in any way to rehabilitate my life. They never even believed my declaration to do so was genuine or real. The whole thing was set up for me or anyone for that matter to fail. Even all these decades later I am looked upon through the lens of being that criminal. That remains true even with my own mother. Somehow I accomplished that goal to change in spite of it all but society will never acknowledge that. I am reminded of this today each and every election that goes by that I cannot vote in. It rings loud every time someone asks for a background check on me. It never goes away.
Working in the chow hall I sparked up a friendship with the chef that was there running the whole kitchen. We soon moved into the same cubical and became cellies or bunkmates, depending on your sensibilities. Hands down this guy were the best human being I ran into within the entire federal system. It was his friendship that sustained me throughout the majority of my prison time. The chef, as I will call him for the purpose of this book, was a guy from Arizona that was a classically trained chef with a culinary degree and also an LSD dealer on the side. He got nailed by the DEA on a large acid conspiracy and because of his training as a chef, he landed up at FPC Talladega as the head chef of our prison. He had the run of the prison and could cook his ass off. Funny as the day is long and loyal to a fault, I grew to love this man like a brother. What that man did with the ingredients the prison gave him was extraordinary. He cooked so well that the guards turned their heads when he would bring back to our bunk a giant trash bag full of fried chicken that he would, in turn, sell to the blacks on a weekly basis.
They even turned blind eyes to the fact that a lot of the fresh fruit turned up missing as he made an alcoholic drink in prison called hooch. The making of hooch was a skill set in itself because, if done improperly, one could land up having hallucinations or even go blind. The chef had the run of the prison for sure and by extension of our friendship, I did well too. At the very least I ate very well. We would do our shifts in the chow hall and then spend a lot of time outside on the yard. We would walk miles around the track and he would watch me play chess. We passed time by walking around the track and telling each other stories of our lives and the things we had done and seen. We would sit on the bleachers on the far end of the yard by the exercise track and watch people go by and talk shit about them. Nobody gossips more than men in a prison and we brought it to a new level picking out shit about our fellow inmates and tearing them apart verbally to each other. The one thing that got the chef more riled up than anything was the fact that there were blacks who stood on the edge of the property where the prison yard met the woods and they would throw rocks at these stray dogs that would come out of the woods. There was little we could do about this because it was very prevalent in the black community to hate dogs and our prison was full of Michael Vick types that for whatever cultural reason just hated dogs. The chef made a good living selling fried chicken and hooch to the blacks so he did not want to overturn his apple cart and wreck his hustle. Almost everyone in prison had a hustle. The term in prison refers to what men will do to make extra money or trade on commissary goods.
I never acquired a hustle in prison because at the time I felt it was just too sad to have accomplished all of what I did in the real world of crime only to being left in prison stealing fruit or chicken out of the chow hall. I could never get myself to hustle anything because of my criminal pride. However many men had lots of skills that they would be able to turn into hustles. Again we had such great talents locked up inside that painters would hustle their paintings, carpenters would make things out of wood and sell them and on and on. If you had a skill then you could hustle that skill in prison and get a little extra stuff. Some people’s skills were drug dealing so they would sneak drugs into the prison and sell them as their hustle. Everything and anything that was not sold in the commissary by the prison was a potential hustle if one could sneak it in the prison. Many times because of the nature of the drug program at our particular prison alcohol and drugs were constantly being monitored by the staff. We were all subject to random drug tests and breathalyzers because of the time off of our sentences we were receiving by being in the RDAP. It was nothing to have a guard just walk right up to you and ask you to blow into a machine or piss in a cup. So any drug use or drinking one had to be super careful as not to be thrown out of the program and lose all the time off for attending it.
Of course, the best way was to abstain completely, but human beings have an inherent desire going back thousands of years to get out of their heads, so we were very careful getting a buzz. We only had to work our prison jobs five days a week and like many in the real world, we had two days a week off. Only those days would I attempt to have a drink of hooch and when I did I made sure certain zealous staff members were not on duty that day. I knew where the chef kept his stash and I snagged one of his jugs one day and headed out to the bleachers by the track. I sat there one sunny winter morning in the foothills of Alabama and I drank to my Irish heart’s desire and watched the inmates circle around the track like ducks in a pond. There was a certain symmetry to the crowds of prisoners circling the track in their groups. The backdrop of the little mountains surrounding the property made it almost seem as if I was inside a Norman Rockwell painting. That day what broke my scenic view and illicit alcohol consumption was the sight of this abused dog that popped his head outside the tree line of the woods. The poor dog looked so disfigured from being pelted with rocks by the black inmates who thought this was a good way to pass prison time. The dog seemed to look me straight in the eyes as to say to my soul he was hurting and needed help. I got off the bleachers and started to walk towards the dog to go pet him and show him some love.
As I got close to the woods he turned around slowly and started to walk into the woods from the direction he came. I followed him for a little while through the thick brush of forest that surrounded the prison. The closer I got to the dog the farther he walked into the woods until I realized I was off the prison property and clearly deep into the forest. I got the vibe that the dog was trying to show me something. I don’t know how far I followed that dog into the woods but after a while, I came upon a clearing where the dog just stopped. He stood next to what looked like the body of a young girl. I walked up to the body and saw that it was, in fact, the dead body of a little girl around ten years old. It must have been there for a while because the blood around her head looked aged. It looked like someone hit this little girl with something over her head and cracked her skull. I touched her little body with my toe and pushed on it to see if there was any life in her but there wasn’t. Right about that time, I heard a man yell, “There he is!” and I heard the barking of all of these dogs coming towards me. I took off running back to the direction of the prison. I never turned around and looked but it sounded like there was a group of men chasing me with dogs and I could hear them yelling shit like, “There he goes!” or “He’s from the prison!” My heart was pounding and I kept running as fast as I could through the woods. I could hear the leaves under my feet being displaced and it was harder and harder to keep my breath. The dog I followed was running next to me seemingly trying to protect me from the crowd that was on our heels.
All of a sudden I heard a gunshot and the scream of that dog bounced off the trees and echoed my mind’s soul. He was hit and I heard his death cry as his body slammed limply into the trees. I just kept running towards the prison and I tried to turn back to see how close they were and I tripped over a log and fell. I hit my head on this big rock and I passed out unconscious. I don’t know how long I was out cold but I came to consciousness with my Bunkie the chef standing over me asking me to wake up. He grabbed a hold of my arm and started to walk me towards the prison walls. As I was coming to he said that he had been trying to wake me up for twenty minutes” and thought he was going to have to go get a guard to call an ambulance. About that time I realized that I was passed out drunk on the bleachers and not being chased by local gunmen though the woods. There were no gunmen, there was no dead body, there was just me drunk from the hooch. The chef looked at me and told me not to take the jugs of hooch until he says so because the alcohol was not ready and I could have gone blind. As I walked into the prison towards the showers I promised myself that would be the last time I drink prison hooch ever again.
The RDAP classes were in retrospect hardly groundbreaking material. I remember doing all the work and taking all the tests and thinking the whole thing was bullshit. However, when I went and looked back at the success of the program I found out through my research that it was and still is very successful. Inmates came back to prison a lot less than the regular prison population. The government expanded the program and people get a lot more time off for attending nowadays than they did went I went through it over twenty years ago. The two things that stayed in my mind about that experience was that the man who taught the class was a stuck-up prick and I remember one day in class when the classroom had tried to address the subject of race. The prick counselor running the class, who at the time was working on his Master’s Degree and could not shut up about that, though it would be a good idea to try to invoke the class into a race conversation in prison.
Of course, that idiot had no connection whatsoever to what prison life was really like or how that conversation he started in the classroom would ripple throughout the prison long after he was gone and went home for the day. All I remember was this old man in class who stood up and said in a calm and slow voice that it did not matter what the blacks say because they really have nobody in power anywhere. He slowly explained that blacks were not running Fortune Five Hundred Companies, had not much representation in the halls of power in Washington or had their black hands on any of the true levers of power in our country. He told a room full of guys, a third of whom were black, that they had no voice at all in America. He told them the state of their own families and communities guaranteed that their kind would be locked out of true power and decision making in the U.S. for generations to come. It was one of the most extraordinary moments in the entire time in federal prison for me because of the reaction. The old man that said all of those truths said it in such an old man kind of grandpa way that it did not incite anyone to anger but had the opposite effect. The blacks in the room started shaking their heads in agreement and thanking the guy for being truthful. However, prison is the mad hatter’s convention that it was, once the class was over, those blacks in the class went and told other blacks at the prison who were not there in that classroom those so-called truths, and the shit hit the fan. Tensions between blacks and whites raised to a level that became uncomfortable. This moron drug counselor that taught the RDAP classes created a problem amongst the prison population at FPC Talladega that was certainly not needed. There were a few weeks back then where it was touch and go on how my prison time would play itself out.
I remember working in the chow hall after this all happened and this huge black guy started to scream at me. He was yelling at me telling me to fetch him a piece of chicken. The whole chow hall went silent, staff and all, putting me right on the spot to respond. In the silence of the hall, I stood over this guy who was sitting down at the table with his tray of food and just sitting down he was nearly as tall as I was standing up. I just stood over him and started thundering down at him all of this talk about, “Who the fuck was your nigger this time last year?” and telling him what I thought of his fucking request. The whole time I was thinking, “Man, this dude is huge. If he moves at all or tries to stand up I needed to hit him with all that I had right there and try to lay him out.” The mother fucker was the biggest guy black or white in the whole prison. I thought my only chance was to cream him right there if he tried to stand up. The whole chow hall stood in abject silence waiting to see what he was going to do. Luckily for me, he backed down. As I walked away I thought of that stupid fucking drug counselor who started all of this shit about race. I mean what the hell he was thinking? Not too long after that incident, a Spanish guy who painted everyone’s portraits for extra money decided that the blacks needed to pay him now and he started demanding all of the money he was owed. One of the blacks grabbed a hold of a weighted dumbbell as the Spanish guy was demanding his money and starting to beat the guy with the metal bar.
Each time the Spanish guy lunged at the black dude he whacked the Spanish guy in the ribs with the dumbbell. Over and over again the Spanish dude kept going after the black guy on the weight pile in the yard and the black guy kept cracking up all of the Spanish guy’s ribs. The Spanish guy got so crushed up internally, that he had to crawl to the medical department, who in turn called the cops, an ambulance to take him to the hospital and threw the entire prison into lockdown mode. The Spanish guy would not tell anyone who did this to him so all of the entire staff that worked at FPC Talladega was called in for a lock-down. They made all three hundred men strip down naked and we stood there for hours while the staff female and male looked over our bodies one by one. They were looking for signs of a fight. They inspected our knuckles and whole bodies from head to toe looking for some sign of violence. Because the black guy used a metal dumbbell on the weight pile there were no other injuries to see or report. This went into the dark of the night as we stood in line one by one and got dragged into the office and asked what happened to the Spanish guy. Nobody would say a word, so at about the one-hundredth man into this interrogation, the hacks started offering a weekend furlough to anyone who would squeal. Once that carrot appeared it was not long before the line of people waiting to be interviewed about what they knew was dismissed. The black guy with the dumbbell was arrested and taken away forever, never to be seen again, and one of the inmates who was a local and did the snitching went home for three days to fuck his wife at his house.
All of this transpired because of some college type prison employee who had no businesses being in charge of a hot dog stand was put in charge of the RDAP classes. He wanted us to talk about our feelings about race. He thought that might help us cope with each other. There is nothing more dangerous in life than some do-gooder with good intentions. It was a bad thing all around because a few years before I got there in 1991 there was a famous prison riot where Cuban dissidents that Castro let out of his prisons during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift took over the prison behind the fence at FCI Talladega in an effort to block their deportation back to Cuba. They held staff hostage and had a ten-day siege of the prison until it ended ten days later when a team of two-hundred so-called special agents stormed the prison and took it back with explosives and stun grenades. The federal prison complex in Talladega, Alabama already had enough problems with race. They did not need to import it from college types wanting to do a feel-good session in drug class about black and whites.
Before I entered federal prison I asked a friend of mine to give me some tips about doing time. I took his advice and stayed away from the homosexual sex benefits of prison while also abstaining from playing cards. Both of those activities could land a person up in some jailhouse drama and get you in trouble. It was good sound advice but the other thing that I learned to avoid was the phone room. At FPC Talladega we had a building with wall to wall telephones where inmates would go into and come out completely wrecked as a human being. It really was a dangerous thing to be around. One minute an inmate was in a fine mood emotionally and then they would go into the phone room and talk to their friends and family in the outside world.
Afterward, they would walk out of that building in a rage and be completely inconsolable. Those phones were a direct line to hell for inmates. The phones would remind each inmate on it that the world was moving on without them. They would hear news about their wife fucking another man, their kids would be in some kind of trouble and everything was changing on the outside without them being a part of it. There was even a running joke throughout the entire American prison system that there was a guy named “Jody” who was back at the house keeping your old lady nice and wet while you were gone. Inmates and even staff would make comments about Jody this and Jody that. It was the single greatest threat to harmony at any given moment in time while doing time. I made it a point to stay away from the phones as much as possible and I banned anyone from visiting me at the prison. I did not want anyone to see me at this low stage in my life. Still, there were phone calls that had to be made about this or that, so I had to go into the nefarious phone room. I, like any other poor schmuck, fell victim to Jody and the evils of the phone room when one day I picked up the phone to talk to my wife. I found out not only was Jody also tapping my wife but my wife was having his baby.
I cannot describe in words how deeply lost I felt when I was holding a phone attached to the wall and listening to my wife tell me that she meets another man and was pregnant with his baby. I stood there listening to her tell me she was mailing me divorce papers and asking me to please sign them and not to protest the divorce. The fucking cunt could not even wait until I did my time before she pulled this stunt. I was only going to be gone two years and she could not even make it halfway before she completely betrayed me. Just imagine if I went off to war. I was going to divorce the bitch anyway but I figured all the effort I made keeping her ass out of prison might have bought me some respect and time on her end. One of the hardest things in prison is when you go through a low point in your life the clouds part to show the true sky and you get to see the true colors of people. I learned who my friends were and which family members really cared about me. It was shocking to see all the people who rode by my side while I was flying high scatter to the wind. Even my own father took my inheritance I was to get from the will and estate of my grandmother and liquidated the entire estate into cash weeks before she passed. He cut his sister and me out of the will by selling off the entire estate down to the silverware, turning it into cash, then taking all the cash to the casino and gambling it all away with thousand dollar dice rolls.
I stood in that evil phone room at FPC Talladega holding the phone listening to him brag about how fun it was to gamble all of this money away knowing I could not fight him or stop him from inside prison. The estate would have given me around forty or fifty thousand dollars and been there waiting for me when I walked out of prison. It was start over money, but he joyfully and to this day un-regrettably blew every cent of it on drugs, hookers, and gambling. The man felt absolutely no remorse even after I went out of my way to keep him out of prison. All my friends that were a part of my life for years never even called my mom once to see if I was alive or even bother to mail me a letter. One lover of mine mailed me a letter every day, but outside of that, it was like I was never born. It seemed to me that any contact to the outside world whether it be phone or mail; it only made doing time even harder. All I could do is write poems about how I was feeling and about the things around me that I was seeing inside the prison. My writing kept me sane and alive through one of the darkest periods of my life here on Earth. Whenever I felt pain or anything at all I would just write something. One day I plan on publishing a book of poems; some of which were born from this era in my life. Everybody in prison did different things to pass the time and get them by. Some would throw themselves into sport related stuff, some would pass the time doing exercise stuff and some people would read a lot or even play board games like Chess. For me, I wrote and I read mostly.
I also learned to play Chess and got really good at it. I did not know how to play Chess before I went to prison, but by the time I was deep into my sentence, I learned that I was actually very good at it. The prisoners would have mainstream Chess magazines sent to the prison and amongst our population, we had at FPC Talladega was a guy who was ranked twenty-second in the world in Chess. The guy was a dentist by trade and he got caught growing tons of weed in his basement. The guy was a real stuck up asshole. One day I played him a game of chess outside on the wooden benches and tables and I beat him. He was so freaking angry that I beat him because I told him I just recently learned the game. He declared odiously and out loud that I would never beat him ever again and bet me a pint of ice cream from the commissary on it. We played another game right away and I beat him again. The fucking guy got up so angry and just walked away cursing. He refused to ever play me again or pay his bet. I never got that pint of ice cream from the prick, but I was not going to go to blows over a pint of ice cream; Ben and Jerry’s ice cream maybe, but the ice cream they sold at the prison was no Ben and Jerry’s. I was not going to lose my time off that I earned over this dentist but I must say the guy really was a petty and unlikeable prick. Inside you really had to pick and choose what hills you wanted to die on and make sure you do not get things all messed up for yourself over something that really does not matter.
Every inmate you interact with is a potential landmine that can blow your life up all over again or even end it. I got into a discussion with a man who overheard I had a Republican-leaning as a businessman politically and that nearly went to blows. The guy stood up and went nose to nose with me in a fit of anger because he hated Republicans. He never did swing on me thankfully. Later that day his bunkie told me that it was good that I did not fight the guy because he was going to spit in my eye. I told his Bunkie that sounded childish but he explained to me that he was HIV positive and that threat was a very real danger to me. I’ll never forget how stunned I was to be told that and how I realized that something as little as being spat in the eye over politics could have resulted in great bodily harm for me. The outside world does not apperceive any of this when they use the term Club Fed. The real and present danger to one’s own life just does not lend itself to such a term. Maybe the public should consider using the appellation Club Dead in place of their misleading nick-name. After that scene, I bought a set of headphones for my radio so no one could hear me listening to Rush Limbaugh while sitting on the benches outside. I did everything I could to get out of there in one piece. The dark and dangerous confines of a minimum-security prison in Talladega, Alabama did not make me feel like I was at a spa. Club Fed my ass.
In the federal system, there is no shortage of famous and notorious people. FPC Talladega was no different in this regard. We had plenty of people who made their mark on the evening news and then some. As a white-collar criminal, I certainly took note of guys in my line of work. There, doing time with me, was the Wall Street investment firm’s giant Dean Witter’s grandson David Witter, who according to The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and an article published November 3, 1994, by the staff writer Lisa Ocker, had quite a career in crime. “The grandson of the founder of the Dean Witter investment banking firm will go to prison for conspiring to launder more than $1.1 million in money he believed to be the proceeds of drug sales. Witter also suggested a plan for the undercover agents to invest $1 million in Cash Kingdom, a Fort Lauderdale pawn shop, owned by brothers who are now co-defendants. Under the plan, the undercover agents would be listed as employees of the pawn shop and would be repaid the $1 million as if they were receiving a salary from the business.”
One guy who I thought was a super cool dude was an art connoisseur turned con artist, turned author, named David Ramus. David was a cool guy who turned me on to one of the best books I’ve ever read, Shogun by James Clavell. David told me that it was his favorite book and that he read it once a year. He told me once you get to page seventy, it is time to say bye-bye, because I would be lost forever in one of the greatest books ever written. After he gave me the book, he would walk past my bunk saying bye-bye and wave with his hand, knowing he just turned me onto a classic. According to an article published on June 19, 2000, in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel by staff writer Liz Doup:
Ramus, 45, began penning novels only a few years ago. But he’s smart enough to follow the advice of accomplished authors: Write what you know.
Ramus knows about prison. Unlike his character, he knows he was guilty, too. By swindling his clients, the ex-heroin addict went from art connoisseur to plain old’ con.
The hard facts of Ramus’ past life are this: He cheated clients by selling their paintings and keeping the cash in a futile attempt to keep his art business afloat. He landed a prison sentence and bid goodbye to the good life, including his New York Park Avenue apartment once filled with precious oil paintings.
In 1996, he entered the dangerous confines of a minimum-security prison in Talladega, Ala., where he spent a year, followed by six months at an Atlanta halfway house.
His reputation as an art dealer was ruined. His creditors were left largely unpaid. But out of that professional ruin, an author emerged.
In prison, Ramus’ job was tutoring inmates. He filled other hours furtively scribbling his second novel on a yellow legal pad. He’d quickly learned that prison was no place to call attention to himself.
He wasn’t always successful. Most of the men doing time weren’t published authors with million-dollar advances. Ramus recalls one heart-stopping moment when a skinhead approached him with a rolled-up magazine. In prison, a rolled-up magazine can be a weapon.
“You, Ramus,” the man called, as Ramus stood motionless.
He opened the magazine. It was People. Inside, a story about Ramus and his first book.
The prisoner only wanted his autograph.
In that article, David mentions a skinhead who scared him. I don’t remember asking for his autograph but I shaved my head before I started my prison time. In 1995, a white guy shaving his head was looked at as a skinhead. In the 1990s white men shaving their heads was not as common as it is today, but all throughout my prison experience, I was looked upon as a skinhead. I was even approached by a member of the AB or Arian Brotherhood and asked if I wanted to join because of my haircut. I only shaved my head because I started to go bald and I was damn sure not going to watch it fall out over time strand by strand. I only remember a few white guys who were doing time with us who could have been what David was talking, skinheads. I hope it was not me who scared him. I would hate to think that all of his help with books and classic literature was out of fear.
Because of my background in working with the Italian Community, I once again found myself in the same room rubbing shoulders with the mob. This time I was doing time with one of the most powerful Mafia figures and families in the country. Doing time with me at FPC Talladega was a man named Joseph Corozzo, Sr. who was the consigliere for the Gambino Crime Family.
According to Wikipedia:
Joseph Corozzo, Sr. started with the Gambino family as a transport truck hijacker. Corozzo earned the nickname “Miserable” because he allegedly suffers from bipolar disorder. In 1971, Corozzo was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to answer grand jury questions about organized crime.
In 1991, during the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act trial of Gambino boss John Gotti, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) identified Corozzo as a Gambino caporegime. In 1992, Corozzo became the Gambino consigliere. He replaced Frank Locascio, who had been sentenced to life in prison that year.
On November 24, 1992, Corrozo was indicted in New York on charges of running a hijacking crew, a horse race betting establishment, and a loansharking operation. On May 30, 1994, Corozzo was indicted in New Orleans on racketeering charges involving mob infiltration of the video poker game industry in Louisiana.
On May 20, 1995, Corrozo was acquitted of all charges in the New York trial. On September 8, 1995, Corozzo pleaded guilty to conspiracy counts in New Orleans as part of a plea bargain deal. Corozzo was sentenced in New Orleans to three years in federal prison.
Joe was sent to FPC Talladega where I was doing my time. Joe’s brother Little Nick was tapped by the Mafia Commission to take over the Gambino Crime Family. Word of that made Joe even more important at our prison amongst the inmates than he always was. I knew a lot about all of this before much of the nation did. A lot of this went down in my neck of the woods, Broward County, Florida, including Gotti, Jr. being arrested at the beach while coming out of the waves and surf by the FBI. Add the fact that I was now in prison with some of these guys I had a front-row seat to America’s Mafia Saga. One day I was sitting outside on a wooden bench in the yard when an Italian man there named Richie sat next to me and sparked up a conversation. I was told before this by people in the prison that Richie ran Fort Lauderdale. I had no idea whether that meant he was a soldier or the boss of the mob in Broward County. All I knew was back when I was living there I did not know Richie. South Florida was very different from New York for the mob or any crook for that matter. It was open territory that had all sorts of underworld elements operating in it from Colombian Cartels to Chinese Triads. I operated outside of Richie’s circles so to speak.
Richie sat down next to me and asked me, “Why didn’t I get envelopes from you?”
In the world of Mafioso, if you operate in some mob boss’s territory, you had to kick up a certain percentage of your earnings to the boss in an envelope full of cash for the privilege of using his territory to earn money.
I explained to him, “I operated independently.”
He said, “Smart. Very smart.”
He then said, “I heard you never dragged anyone in here with you and that you are doing your time like a man.”
I was caught off guard because I had no idea how he knew anything about me.
I told him, “I took the fall so there was no need for anyone to join me.”
He explained to me that “they,” his business associates, were running some kind of phone room and that he wanted me to run the thing. I declined his offer telling him that part of my sentence was to abstain from the field of telemarketing and if I get caught anywhere near it the government would violate me and send me back to prison. I told him I needed to keep clean for at least three years dealing with a probation officer. Meanwhile, I already made up my mind to walk away from the life of crime and start over all new. However, I knew how that would sound if I said that aloud to the mob or even the government. No one would believe me and they were certainly not going to help me do it. On another day Richie told me when I get out to go to this certain car lot in South Florida or this moving company that the Italians owned and they could help me get a job to please the probation office. We became friends while doing our time and he would give me real expensive quality cigars that he somehow got inside and a pint of good booze from time to time. He slept in the same cubicle as Joe Corozzo or “Jo Jo” as they would call him along with some other Italian that seemed like nothing more than the muscle. The guy spent most of his time weight lifting and shaving his entire body bald. He and I did not get along because he would fart all the time next to me but Richie kept the peace. Richie was a standup guy and I enjoyed his company. One evening he invited me to join him and Joe for some drinks and cigars while the guards rolled out a huge TV outside in what was called the breezeway. That night on the TV was a show like 20/20 or 60 minutes, I don’t recall what show it was, and they were doing a whole hour on the Mafia.
I sat in these folding chairs next to Richie and Joe as the TV shows one mobster after the other. It was surreal because I sat there looking at Joe on the TV as they talked about him and his family while actually sitting next to Joe in real life watching him watch himself on the tube. It was truly an unforgettable evening for me. Richie would get these cigars called La Fontana snuck in the prison and he got me hooked on them. It truly is a quality cigar. I thought he was a quality guy as well.
Down in Florida, we have these places that people go to in order to obtain pain medication called pain clinics. The colloquial term that is used is ‘pill mills’ and online colleges where you can get diplomas real easy are called ‘diploma mills’ on the streets. I think it is time to coin a new term in America, ‘prison mills.’ Now that we have more people incarcerated than any other country on Earth, we must admit that this really has nothing to do with truth and justice. It is a business, plain and simple, and part of that business model is to lock up as many people as possible on as many charges as possible as to feed the prison mills. Inmates are the grease that makes prisons churn. One of the ways that the government greases the mill with warm bodies is a system of snitching that they have created. The American government has created a nation of snitches through two programs that were created for this very purpose and it is unstoppable. There are two ways a person can reduce their sentence in the federal system. One is called a “5K” motion and how that works is, after you have been arrested and before you have been sentenced, if you give the government someone else doing something criminal you can reduce your sentence. Then after your sentence and when you are in prison you can do another thing called a “Rule 35” motion and reduce your sentence even more by once again snitching someone out doing something wrong. You can keep coming back in front of the court with one “Rule 35” motion after the other and keep reducing your sentence until you walk right out the front door.
If the government hands a person a ten or twenty-year sentence, right away the person starts working on reducing that by snitching. It is the single biggest snitch program in the history of mankind. It is beyond successful. It is the cost of doing business now and routine. At FPC Talladega I sat on a bench listening to a guy tell a group of us that his grandmother sits on a rocking chair on the porch and sells little dime bags of weed to supplement her Social Security. He said he was going to snitch her out and use her as his last Rule 35 before he left prison. He actually said, “Grandma has lived her life and it is time for grandma to go. I need to live my life!” I can’t say in words how shocking that was to hear him say that or how strange the matter of fact tone he used when telling us this. That motherfucker said grandma had to go! I could not believe my ears. Try to understand that at FPC Talladega, if you say the word snitch out loud in a derogatory way, you just offended most everyone in the room. It is common and accepted now that this is how it works. There is absolutely no honor among thieves. There is no code of conduct anymore in this regard. That way of doing your time without snitching out your buddies is long gone. You will be a minority if you do the original time you were sentenced to and not snitch someone out for something. People will exactly tell you that you are being foolish and you damn sure better watch what you say to your new prison friends who are always on the hunt for a new Rule 35 to file. For me, with my background and old school way of coming up in a world of crime, this was one of the most shocking things to get over doing my time.
Once I learned how this all works I knew my days of being a white collar criminal was over. There is no possible way to be a criminal in the modern world without being snitched out by someone you know. In fact, it is my opinion that anyone who does crime in today’s environment, along with the way the government has used technology in a post 9/11 Edward Snowden world, needs to have their head checked and deserves a lifetime in prison. The days of having a successful criminal career are over and gone forever. I sat on a bench one day and listened to an old-timer’s opinion on this subject. He blamed it on all the milk cartons. He said, “As soon as they put the picture of missing kids on the milk cartons they started to create a nation of snitches.” His point was that it started out with the good intention if you see this kid call us, but it evolved into “If you see your neighbor do this or that, call us.” He believed the government slowly conditioned the population to be tattle-tales and after time it became commonplace to throw your own grandmother under the bus.
I cannot stress in words that if you go to prison, and for sure FPC Talladega, you need to keep your mouth shut about stuff. The men inside there are not your friends. This is not the place to share your secrets. The prison camp is not summer camp and you better never ever forget that when you walk through that front door. You must live by that rule and keep your own counsel until the day you leave. Always remember, “Grandma has got to go!”
“Good morning destiny for I have waited for thee to wake up from your eternal sleep. Hello my fate, not a moment too late, for the answers of my future you keep.” Those were words I wrote in a poem as I got ready to leave federal prison and move on to the next stage of my sentence called the halfway house. In many ways, this transition is trickier than prison itself. Many men refuse to even attempt it and opt to stay in prison for the entire sentence avoiding the pitfalls of probation or supervised release as the feds call it. It is called “taking your sentence to the door” where the inmate refuses probation, halfway house and house arrest and just stays in prison for the combined length of time of all of it. Some believe this is the only way to be truly free. When you “take the sentence to the door” the day you walk out of prison you are a free man that answers to no one. Supervised release or probation is called “paper” by the inmates.
One would say I got 33 months and three years of paper as my sentence. Many men tell the government to take their “paper” and stick it up their ass and the reasons for this are very alarming and real. The general public believes that programs like halfway houses, house arrest, and probation are ways to acclimate prisoners back into society or a way of easing the environmental change an inmate goes through. Nothing can be further from the truth. From the time you walk out of the door of the prison, to the last day of your supervised release, you will find yourself in a maze of pitfalls set up for you by your government. The whole entire thing is set up and created for you to fail. The entire concept of rehabilitation was abandoned by the U.S. Government decades ago and these programs have nothing to do with preparing you for your re-entry to society. They are only tools the government uses to keep the prison mills churning. If you chose this path you better get ready for a whole new set of problems to overcome.
The first problem you will incur when your prison sentence gets close to being over is the other inmates around you. Everyone around you will know that you are leaving prison soon and you will become a target because of it. The inmates around you are jealous that you are leaving years before them or that you look happy the closer you get to getting out. Remember some of the people around you have been in prison for decades and have worked their way down to the prison camp you are at. They call your sentence a “microwave sentence” and are disgusted that you did such little time compared to them. The inmates will try to wreck your departure by getting you in some kind of trouble that keeps you in prison longer and sends you to another more horrifying prison. They know you are watching your Ps and Qs and you are less likely to defend yourself or get in a fight when you are so close to leaving. They will start to push your buttons, steal your belongings or just straight out get in your face.
Remember I told you that these people are not your friend. You might have thought they were or that they were friendly with you for a long time. All of this is not real. No one inside prison is your friend. The closer you get to your release date the more dangerous and troublesome prison gets. There is nothing you can do about the reality of this but just suck it up and stay out of trouble. You might have to suffer some indignities and your ego might take a hit on this or that but you must weigh what they will do to you and how in the big picture it means nothing. You must just let these things pass. At the beginning of your sentence you would never put up with such shit and you stand your ground, but at the end of the sentence, you will have to loosen your grip on what is important to you and choose what hills to die on or not. Your wife and children are waiting for you, do you really want to blow your release date in a fight over a pint of ice cream? I had to weigh this when I was confronted with the dentist playing Chess. The world outside awaits your return and these bastards you’re locked up with would and can put more time between you and your return to the outside world. Even certain mean-spirited guards will test your resolve and try to get you wrapped up in some trick bag. Never forget you’re a walking target the closer you get to your prison release date and always defend yourself against the forces that would mess your plans all up with your brain and common sense and logic.
For me, one of the worse parts of the end of my sentence was that I had to sit down once again with my case manager. Now if you got a case manager that wasn’t so bad this part would be bearable. My luck I got issued a case manager that lacked any of the skills or brain power for that position. It was so hard for me to deal with this woman personally. It was like somehow the government put some football cheerleader in charge of my life with pom-poms singing the cheer; “Give me a P, give me an R, give me an I, give me an S, give me an O, give me an N and what does that spell? Prison! Yey!” It was a horrible nightmare to have to sit next to her in her office and listen to her brain dead observations about things. The woman was permanently stuck in the college world in her head still giving so much importance to what school is better. Alabama or Auburn and their collegiate feud were all she could talk about. Not only did this woman not help me in any way to prepare for life again outside, but she actually told me she could guarantee that I would violate the term of supervised release and be right back in her office in no time at all. I looked her right in the eyes and said, “You really think that I am one of this kind of people that will return to prison while on probation?” and she said, “Absolutely. Your type always comes back!” I couldn’t believe that broad.
I should have gotten time off for combat duty just having to deal with that unaware moll. She knew nothing of me outside of what was in a government file, she knew nothing about the prison she worked at or what prison life was like and the chick had no understanding of where I had been or where I was going in life. Yet I had to deal with her ignorance as some kind of last penance to be paid for my life choices. It was just so horrible. It must have been some ironic payment for all the girls I fucked over in life. Because the government’s jurisdiction is the entire nation an inmate can pick anywhere to go to do their probation as long as they have some tie to that community. I knew I did not want to return to South Florida. I wanted to start a new life over and get away from all the people I knew. I decided to go do the three years of supervised release in a small town where my mother lived. I had not lived in the same town as my mother in over a decade and I wanted to spend time with her. I thought a little town like that was the perfect place to start over with a new life. I looked at my case manager in the eye and said, “Send me to Ocala, Florida.” She looked back at me all puzzled and asked, “Where?”
Up The River Paddle Not Included FPC Talladega
Copyright © 2014 by C. Rich.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
I have tried to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances, I have changed the names of individuals and places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and places of residence.