Journal Entry – May 18, 2011 – Lockdown

633643_lockdownThis is an excerpt from my prison journal. It should give you a taste of my experience while serving my six-year sentence. This post is about a lockdown caused by an inmate food strike while I was at FCI Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio.


2:00 pm – The inmates decided to begin a food strike, starting with a boycott of today’s lunch. It is mostly about some of the lights being kept on at night. I was one of about 20 people (out of 2000) who actually ate lunch. I was nervous, but it just seems so silly. I could get behind it if it were over some kind of abuse or something. It just seems like these guys are whining. It looks like we’re going to be locked down for now.

9:15 pm – Yep, we’ve been locked down for 7 hours or so and will likely stay that way for days. I just don’t get it. But if anything good (from the BOP) comes from it I will be surprised. I am spending time with the Bible, though. Praise God! I’m not about to call Lisa because of the lock down. (End of journal entry)

PS – The lockdown lasted about 4 days. We weren’t allowed to leave our unit for any reason. They turned off ice machines, limited showers, no TV, etc. I’ll post more from this episode in the future.

The Super Bowl in Prison

Super_Bowl_logo.svgThe Superbowl attracted more that 111 million viewers in 2014. A few million of those 111 million people watching the big game were incarcerated in jail or prisons around the country. I watched 5 Super Bowls while serving my sentence and it was a welcome respite from the daily routine, but also a reminder of the separation from my family and friends.

Both at FCI Elkton and FCC Petersburg I was able to watch the Super Bowl without much incident. There is a lot of gambling that goes on around the game, but I avoided that kind of behavior along with the resulting conflicts and potential violence that go along with it. It is amazing how invested the guys would be in their selected team.

Super Bowl day usually brought a special meal of pizza and wings that we could take back to the unit to eat while we watch the game. We would also often make something special like a nacho bowl with which to celebrate.

I’m grateful we were able to watch the Super Bowl despite our imprisonment. It is the small things that provide some sense of connection with the outside world. It is definitely something to look forward to.

Great Prison Reads About Prison

hiding placeAs I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the blessings and curses in prison is the time you have to do. I chose to use much of my time working to improve in body, mind and spirit. One way I sought to grown in mind and spirit was by reading uplifting, encouraging and enlightening books. Many of these books were about men and women who used their own prison experience to also grow in body, mind and spirit. I highly recommend reading these books either in preparation for prison, or while in prison. You certainly can’t use the excuse that you don’t have time. Click on the the book title to read more and purchase it

  1. Born Again – Chuck Colson
  2. Gulag Archipelgo – Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn
  3. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  4. The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom
  5. Letters and Papers from Prison – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  6. Heavenly Man – Paul Hattaway/Brother Yun

Friendship in Prison?

These are some of the friends I made in prison. We all participated in a Bible study together.

These are some of the friends I made in prison. We all participated in a Bible study together.

Can you make friends in prison? Should you make friends in prison? These are questions I get asked often regarding the five years I spent in Federal prison. The short answer is yes, you can and should make friends in prison. Of course there are different types of friends no matter whether you are in prison or on the street. I had just a couple of guys I trusted to speak with about family and other important issues. We had a deeper relationship and encouraged each other during down times and challenged each other when we needed it.

There was another set of friends I spent time with in activities like Bible study, working out and attending church services. These were good guys and ones I enjoyed being with, but didn’t usually know as well as my closer friends.

There’s another degree of friendship I would call acquaintances. These were guys I knew and would associate with if the situation called for it. We had a nodding friendship but it was fairly superficial. These were probably most of the relationships I experiences in prison. It is difficult to trust others in prison at is best to keep a healthy caution when interacting with others.

Finally there are the friendships formed out of necessity. One example of this is when i entered population at Tidewater Regional jail. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a racial divide in jail and prisons. This was very much the case at Tidewater and when I entered the pod of 40 men I was directed to the “white” area where I met various guys from white supremacists to drug traffickers. I learned quickly to just do my best to fit in and not draw a lot of attention to myself. This is where I picked up the below-the-radar and no-drama philosophy that sustained me through my 5-year sentence.

So, yes, you can make friends, but you need to be discerning about those with whom you choose to foster such a relationship.

Becoming an Entrepreneur in Prison

safb_classroomWhen I entered prison I sought to allow God to improve me in body, mind and spirit. One way I took advantage of prison to improve my mind was to participate in an entrepreneurship certificate program offered through Kent State University at FCI Elkton. We earned more than 20 hours of college-level credit and a certificate in entrepreneurship from Kent State. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. For some guys it was their first opportunity to attend college-level classes and earn college credit. We definitely need more of these programs available to inmates at all levels of incarceration. I taught a small-business marketing class to inmates and found that many of them had some great ideas and were willing to put in the effort to build a business. They just needed encouragement and a helping hand to get started.

Another such program is being offered by a Texas prison (click here to see more about it). This course teaching everything from character building to how to write a business plan. It is helping one inmate start the process to build a mobile youth counseling business.

As you enter prison, you will have a choice to use the time to improve as a person or to become a better criminal. I hope you will choose the former and seek out opportunities to deepen your knowledge and faith.



The Cost of a Call

Prisoners-in-housing-unit-005Using the phone in prison is expensive. The county jail is even worse. In Federal prison it cost 6 cents per minute to make a local call and 26 cents per minute to make a long distance call. County jails can charge up to a $2.00 “connection fee” plus 25 to 50 cents per minute. I must have spent thousands of dollars those first 9 months I was in county jails. I was a burden on my family. If I knew then what I know now I would have handled it differently. I would have gotten a local number sooner and I would have used the phone less frequently.

There are many groups advocating for reform of the laws around regulating phone calls for those locked up. This is one group’s latest efforts – I agree something needs to be done. I also encourage you to be prudent about your calls and keep your family’s needs ahead of your own.

Working in Prison

sewingIn most prisons inmates are required to hold a job unless they are physically unable. During my 5 years I held many different jobs. I cleaned tables in the cafeteria, worked in the chapel and held the always glamorous job of cleaning toilets. You can also work in the laundry, landscaping, barber shop, and recreation. Federal prisons also have the opportunity to work in UniCor, which produces various good and services delivered specifically to the government. They manufacture clothing for the military, process patents for the patent office, sew clothing for inmates, run print services for government offices and other similar services.

Pay for non-UniCor jobs ranges from about $5 to $200 month (starting at about 15 cents an hour) depending on the job. The most desirable jobs with the best pay are in the commissary and cooking in the kitchen. In Unicor, you can make up to $300 or so a month. As the cost of phone is up to 26 cents per minute (around $70/month) and use of email is 5 cents per minute, the money can disappear quickly.

I recommend finding a job as soon as you hit the compound. It takes time and effort to get into a good position, but it is possible. You will need to get to know the corrections officer in charge of that work detail and show up regularly and persistently to demonstrate your reliability and dependability. It also helps to get to know the head orderly on the detail as they tend to have some say in who is hired. At times, it is possible to pay a little homage to them with some ice cream or something to grease the skids a little.

Ultimately, work helped me learn some discipline and humility. It taught me to serve others and not get caught up in my own pride. It also helped me stay busy and active. God used the time to teach me lessons I didn’t learn when I should have learned them earlier in life.  I tried to live by Colossians 3:23  – “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”

What can Gov. McDonnell expect in prison?

Virginia Governor McDonnell is sentenced to two years in Federal rison

Virginia Governor McDonnell is sentenced to two years in Federal rison

If you’re keeping up with the news about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell you’ve likely heard he received a two-year prison sentence for accepting bribes. So what can he expect as he and his family prepare for his prison experience? The former governor will likely be allowed to stay out while he appeals his case, but if he does end up going to prison he will probably be sent to a Federal prison camp. There are various levels of incarceration in the Federal system – Maximum is usually at a Penatentiary, then you have a medium facility, medium-low, low and the lowest level of incarceration is the camp.

A camp usually houses inmates who have non-violent/ non-sexually related crimes. Most have no fence around them, unless it is to keep others out, like the one in Atlanta where it is in a rough neighborhood and the homeless would actually sneak into the camp to have a place to sleep. Many camps are on or near military bases where the inmates are allowed to work in various capacities from landscaping to office management. There is usually very little violence in a camp as most of the inmates are nearing release and don’t want to do anything to extend their time.

Gov. McDonnell will likely be able to self-report and have opportunities to work, receive visits, participate in worship services, engage in physical exercise, take or teach continuing education classes, etc. He will have to wear prison-issued clothing and will be subjected to strip searches, drug tests, required to submit his DNA and other such activities required by the Bureau of Prisons.

Nebraska Prisoners Get Chance to Gain Skills, Career

Community Corrections Center inmate Angelo Douglas of Omaha shows off his bathroom tile work in the Prairie Gold Homes home-building project on Dec. 10, 2014, at 1739 N. 28th St. in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Community Corrections Center inmate Angelo Douglas of Omaha shows off his bathroom tile work in the Prairie Gold Homes home-building project on Dec. 10, 2014, at 1739 N. 28th St. in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Great non-profit program in Nebraska that allows prisoners to gain a skill and earn certifications in the building trades (click here for story). This is the kind of activity that can help redeem prison time for the good. Before you go in it will be helpful to identify a few areas of interest and skill on which you can focus and work during your sentence.

From Inmate to Personal Trainer

Coss Marte training in the studio. He now has about 400 clients, holds 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him. Coss Athletics

Coss Marte training in the studio. He now has about 400 clients, holds 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him.
Coss Athletics

Another great story, this one from NPR, of a former inmate, Cross Marte, who used his time in prison to not only improve his health, but also his professional opportunities (click here for full article). I know many guys in prison who used their time to earn a personal trainer certification and learn about how to start a training business. It is probably one of the more accessible programs and relatively inexpensive. I think you only pay for the test, which amounts to about $25. FCI Elkton also offered a certification in entrepreneurship from Kent State University. I participated in that program and learned a great deal about starting and managing businesses. I also taugh public speaking and small-business marketing to the inmates through the Adult Continuing Education program. It was great to see these men work toward a goal and to play a small role in helping them improve their chances for success on the outside. I strongly recommend participating in these programs during your prison time.