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The Truth About Surviving Time in Federal Prison

Kevin spent 18 months in the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp and 11 months in the Edgefield South Carolina facility.

Do your time, or your time will do you!

Do your time, or your time will do you!

Having spent 18 months in the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp and 11 months in the Edgefield South Carolina facility, I feel as if I am qualified to write about spending time in federal prison.

My willingness to write about my own experiences stems from a desire to help someone who has been convicted of a crime and either awaits sentencing or has already been sentenced but has not yet been assigned to a particular camp.

In all candor, I must say that this was a horrible time in my life for a number of reasons. First, the sheer tension of waiting to know how long you will serve, much less where you will be, can to a great degree, be all but paralyzing. Secondly, as I have said before, there is a limited amount of good information available, either in the form of written material or on the web. Most of what I found I considered low quality and anything but informative.

When I was awaiting sentencing and then again while I awaited word of where I would serve my time, I was looking for information with content that was real and would help to prepare me for what I was about to face. Sadly, I found none of that. Having recently searched again to see if time had brought about any change, I found basically the same result.

Uncertainty Is Difficult

The experience of preparing for the impending eventuality in and of itself is a multi-faceted one. There are so many things to consider and so much of which you are unsure about that it is often easy to feel as if the emotional strain will simply be too much. I struggled with it so, that I am sure, at times my family and friends might have thought that I was a candidate to attempt to run away or worse yet to become suicidal.

Hear me now—if you hear nothing else in this article—it isn't as bad as to be worth doing something stupid in either one of those scenarios. Yes, it is hard, but not unbearable, it is the most mundane of existences, but there are things you can do to make it less so. It is extremely difficult for families, but most of those who are willing to work together can make it through.

It's Tough on Relationships and Marriages

Even still, the statistics regarding the failure of marriages brought about by time in prison are staggering, and the longer the sentence, the more likely the marriage will fail. As painful as it may be, I believe that it is prudent to have a frank discussion with your partner regarding this situation ahead of time. After all, forewarned is forearmed, and the likelihood of surviving a problem that you are prepared for is far greater than facing one for which you are not.

I am of the opinion that often, the largest part of the strain brought on by any situation is being unprepared. Just as people ready themselves for a hurricane that they know is coming, it is wise to prepare for this emotional and financial disaster as well.

Speaking of finances, I am a true believer that, next to the sentence itself, money problems are the largest single contributor to the above-referenced failures and that while there is probably never enough time to prepare those who are left behind, it is always prudent to do as much as can be done in that regard to minimizing the strain that such a situation can impose. It is difficult to address specifics here as each situation is different, but I certainly feel as if it should be discussed so that as much as can be done will.

Post-Prison Life Is Hard to Navigate

I have written before about specifics related to serving time. In this writing, it is my attempt to address more of the emotional and psychological aspects of the experience. Before I went away, I longed for someone to talk to who had been through it and would be willing to share with me any and everything that they might tell me about those aspects specifically. Sadly, I found no one willing to do so.

It is an odd phenomenon that most inmates, once released, prefer to move on with their lives and do as much as possible to forget the experience. I think that this is largely a defense mechanism that serves in part to help them in doing so, none of us like to relive bad times, and this is no different.

If I can give one example to compare to the experience as far as the day-to-day life, I would say that the most closely akin situation would be the experience of serving in the military. While I do not feel as if I am well qualified to address the issue, never having served in the armed forces, many of the inmates who had indicated some tremendous similarities.

You'll Be Dealing With Boredom and Idiom

The largest single factor that has to be dealt with is two-fold, boredom and idiom. There is no shortage in the BOP of people who are more than willing to continue to do something that makes no sense because "that is the way it has always been done." Don't get caught in the trap of trying to suggest change. It is pointless and will get you nowhere regardless of how much common sense it makes

As for the boredom, It was my observation that each inmate dealt with that aspect of confinement differently depending on their preferences. Some slept as much as possible whenever possible. There was a standing joke that if an inmate could sleep 50% of the time, then if was like they were only serving half their sentence.

Others read. Some exercised, others played sports or cards or even checkers. I chose to spend my time divided between reading and exercising and feel as if I benefited greatly from both experiences. I came home knowing more than I did when I began my sentence and certainly in much better physical shape. There are also worship services as well as various courses and study groups available. I took two Spanish classes while at Edgefield.

Prison Is Challenging

In the final analysis, this is the situation. It is no picnic, and it takes work on many fronts to get through it, but I am living proof of this, 29 or 36, or even 54 months is not forever. You can make it through, come home, and restart your life. The system is flawed, and many men serve time who would have been as well served to pay a fine and time on probation.

Again, a common-sense approach to an obvious problem of lack of funds and overcrowding, but let's have none of that! This is a government agency, after all. To dwell on what might have been will serve no purpose. Take the Nike approach, "Just do it," and it will be over sooner than you think—I can promise you that.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Fin from Barstow on November 23, 2017:

well you have written a few articles about your experiences in federal facilities. interesting.

curious (still) about the food because I have heard it was exceptionally good with the Feds. All the staff eat in the same dining facilities I was told.

KLS on February 05, 2017:

I am awaiting my location and self reporting date. I have a 15 month federal sentence.. I am terrified of leaving my wife of 27 years and my 6 children and 3 grand children. I am most afraid of coming out and my and children losing everything.

KLS on February 05, 2017:

I am awaiting my location and self reporting date. I have a 15 month federal sentence.. I am terrified of leaving my wife of 27 years and my 6 children and 3 grand children. I am most afraid of coming out and my and children losing everything.

klw1157 on August 16, 2015:

Garbadge I'm sorry I didn't know what that was about will certainly unblock and friend you and be happy to talk to you and do anything I can do.

garbadge on August 16, 2015:

Tried to outreach to Kevin on Facebook and he blocked me he really doesn't understand being Christ like is about.

Kevin Washburn on December 29, 2014:

Ruben it is tough there is no question about that. What is also indisputable however is that running will only make matters worse. If you do you will never again be at peace and if caught will serve much more time. If you get 5 years you will serve you will serve 45 months plus 6 mos halfway house. If you have drug charges and your time is federal ask your lawyer NOW to research and ask the judge to order you into the drug rehab program which will reduce your sentence by another 12 months bring the total down to 33 months. If you are doing state time you will most likely serve half of your total sentence. I am sorry you are going through this and will be glad to answer any questions I can. You can email me directly at klw1157@hotmail.com

Ruben on December 29, 2014:

Hi my name is Ruben and I'm about to serve a five year sentence. I have to admit that these past couple of weeks have been the worst and most stressful of my life. Knowing that I have to go to prison has been a toll on me. If I can be honest is not the time that gets to me, it's my family leaving them for so long and not being here for my wife and children is tearing me up. The day of my sentence is fast approaching and I can't no longer sleep. And what's worse that my family see's this. I've been out for nearly three months now and I just started feeling the weight of what is coming. I'm starting a job tomorrow and it's a great one and now I'm feeling like why did I even apply I was chosen from 25 other people and I'm not going to be around, I just want to help my wife with the bills and rent. So many things go through my head like you said everyone expects me to run. But I have a family I could not leave them. I've been looking for information as well as you did and it's so limited, and most of weekday I find is useless. I just read your experience and it's true the reading and exercise do help. I was in there for a month trying to fight my case before I took a plea and got released on pre sentence. And to be honest it was bad I came out different. I almost hit my wife while sleeping, I awoke and thought someone had gotten into my bunk. I can't imagine what 5 years would do. Maybe when I was younger it would be different, but now that I have a family. I can't bare it I think of running all the time.....

Jd on January 31, 2014:

True blue words of pure wisdom and experience keep ur mind n spirit strong nothing can hurt you then learn as much as u can about itself , life n anything positive

Kevin Washburn (author) from Macon, GA on January 16, 2014:

Thank you Pamela. I would assume that most of what was true when I was there would still be true today. Inmates were allowed to sleep during their free time and many do. Some more so than I could imagine while I was in. Sleep, exercise and reading were the big three things people did to occupy their time. Thanks for reading!

Pamela Dapples from Arizona now on January 15, 2014:

I see that you wrote this three years ago and I imagine everything in it still holds true. I was wondering just the other day if inmates can lay down and sleep other than at night. Your article hints that they can.

I'm glad to read you made it through the ordeal. Many of us wouldn't. Sounds like good advice you've given here -- to get busy at something and stay with it so that you can continue to have goals and reach objectives even while away from family and not being where you want to be.

Voted way up. Sharing.

JR on December 13, 2013:

Thank you for you're article. It really helped me out since my father is going to serve time :(. It really hurts to know That hes going away and i pray to god that he will help us with this tough time. Your article helped me see a little of how time in a federal prison works out and I pray my father will adapt to it. Thank you again and blessings to you and and you're family.

masterx from Elizabethtown KY on January 11, 2011:

I served 33 months in FMC Lexington KY,this is a good accurate article. The saying "do your time or time will do you" is a very true saying.

Keep your mind in prison and not on the street. Get a routine and stick with it.

Don't owe anyone anything. Don't gamble unless you can afford it.

Good article

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 10, 2010:

KLW, Thanks for sharing the feelings and experience. I can't imagine how I would feel except terrified of the unknown. Interesting hub.

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