This is part four of a continuing look at my friend Sam’s prison stay for selling overloaded fireworks. Sam is a law-abiding, well-educated entrepreneur who ran afoul of a government who really wanted to put someone in prison. This is his story.
If you care to read about our previous prison visits, Part One is here. Part Two is here. Part Three is here.
This past weekend was my fifth visit to see my friend Sam in prison. I never thought I would know this much about the Federal prison system, but there you go. Signing in and getting past the guards (no wallet, no watch, no plastic explosives) is old hat now. Sam came out to the visiting area quickly and was extremely happy to see me. I’m sure he’d be happy to see anyone not dressed in a gray or blue uniform. It seems all the folks who know him are getting used to the fact that he is in prison. Letters, cards and visits have slacked off to only his closest friends and family. His other close friends and I continue to send friendly reminders to folks who would be inclined to keep in touch or send him a card occasionally. Presently communications from the outside world are sporadic at best.
Unfortunately, things inside are all too routine by now. Sam has spent 230 days in the “work camp.” He has approximately 195 days to go before he can go to home incarceration or a halfway house for two months; then he is out. That’s out of prison in June and out of incarceration in August. The day after he passed the halfway point he called me, jubilantly proclaiming he had less time to serve than he had already served.
Sam said two unusual things had happened recently. Morning counts of prisoners are usually conducted at 10:00am, but in reality it is 10:05 or 10:10 before the counts begin. One day he forgot something in his cubicle and was one minute late to the count. A nasty female guard who thinks she’s defending Stalag 13 climbed his frame and read him the riot act. He was not verbally resistant to her, but apparently didn’t show the proper amount of deference and she put him in her sites. The next day the other unusual thing happened; he thought the incidents were related but it turned out they weren’t. A guard found him and said he had to report to Administration right away. He thought he was going to get a dressing down and tossed into a well, but one of the Administrators had called him in to ask if he wanted a higher paying job at the prison. I believe the standard job of cleaning/organizing, etc. at the prison pays around $26.00 per month. This one would have paid around $35.00. It would have involved taking a shuttle to the maximum security prison across the street, cleaning the visiting room there, and sitting around for long hours waiting for the return shuttle several times each week. He thanked the Administrator and declined, admitting he was satisfied with his present duties.
By the way, I don’t mean to slight the guards at the prison. It’s true some are less than friendly, but most are just human beings trying to do a tough, stressful job.
I asked Sam what had been happening. He related a story of an incident with another prisoner. Each night, Sam puts his shoes on the top of the wall separating his cubicle from the prisoner next to him. The tips of the shoes overlap the wall on the other prisoner’s side an inch or two. The other prisoner didn’t like that, but said nothing to Sam. He finally started stealing and hiding the shoes until he came clean with Sam and lost his temper. He yelled strangely, “I don’t mean to be rude, but dust from your shoes falls on my bed and I don’t like it!” Sam agreed to put his shoes somewhere else and everything was resolved. But how many prison stories do you hear that involve someone yelling, “I don’t mean to be rude?” Minimum security could be a lot worse.
As a nosey busybody, it’s always interesting to hear what folks have done to be sentenced to prison. Sam mentioned some of the new offenses he had heard. One was a CPA that cooked the books and embezzled from his Fortune 500 company. Another was a drug offender that was in year 18 of a 25-year sentence. That’s a long sentence for minimum security. We figured he was either caught with a warehouse full of heroin or sold drugs to children. If it’s the latter, 25 years is way too lenient. Another unlucky felon was a farmer who grew and sold marijuana (alongside his legal crops) serving a 5-year sentence. That seemed like a lot, but Sam said the police found a few guns in his house and connected them to his drug crimes, turning the 18-month sentence into 5 years. The farmer swore he just likes guns, bought them years before he started the marijuana business and had the receipts to prove it. Nonetheless, an ambitious prosecutor connected them and the man got 5 years. If true, that’s punishing someone just for buying a gun, which is unconstitutional. But in prison everyone is innocent; just ask them.
Sam usually inhales the food from the vending machines during our visits, as he has a sweet tooth and little access to sweets. During our visit he had two large honey buns, two heated up White Castles, two packages of chocolate donuts, three cups of coffee and two cans of Pepsi. I got full just watching him.
As usual, the guards kicked me and the other visitors out at 3:00pm sharp. As we said goodbye, we agreed that there was a light at the end of tunnel. June is right around the corner. Unfortunately, the holidays are too. It’s never easy to serve prison time, but we both knew the holidays are going to bring even more loneliness and possible depression. I told Sam I would make it down again around Christmas—the rules dictate that I can’t bring him a present, but I can buy lots of honey buns from prison vending and have some type of celebration.
If anyone reading this would be willing to send Sam a letter, card or magazine—especially a simple Christmas card—please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll set you up with his contact information. I know it would mean the world to someone who needs some kind words right now. He needs to know that the universe recognizes—and is pleased—that he is alive.