The Truth About Surviving Time in Federal Prison
Do Your Time or Your Time Will do You!
I have previously written about spending time in Federal Prison. 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 do so.
My willingness to write about my own experiences is born primarily out of 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 to be of 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, In a word, I found none of that. Having recently searched again to see if time had brought about any change, I found basically the same result.
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 and it is extremely difficult on families but most of those who are willing to work together can make it through.
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. Afterall, forewarned is forearmed and the likelyhood 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 minimize 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.
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 there 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.
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 form both experiences. I came home knowing more that 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.
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. They system is flawed and many man 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 over crowding but lets 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 get over sooner than you think I can promise you that.
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The population of our federal prisons continues to swell, and more people are faced with doing time. No one is prepared for this experience their first time.