It’s not surprising that in prison there are rules that we inmates have to follow here in the federal prison camp. It is also not surprising that there are some inmates that don’t follow the rules. What is stunning though is that in a prison, or this prison at least, rules nor many actual federally mandated regulations and policies are not enforced.
This makes me logically question then, what is the purpose of incarcerating those that aren’t a risk to public safety? What is the incentive, especially amidst overcrowded prisons, the high costs to tax payers and to society in general, and the overarching need for prison reform for which many astute politicians are rallying at present?
In this institution, it seems more like a shell company than an effective means of addressing non-violent crimes. In the visiting room there is a plaque that states the Mission of this camp which includes its commitment to rehabilitation, addresses barriers to successful reentry such as drug and alcohol treatment, education, and vocational skills. This is what the Bureau of Prisons is funded to do, but that isn’t happening here. There is no rehabilitation. Where is the correction? Even the basic function of maintaining order is failing at the moment. Does the public know this is the case? Do politicians know this is what legally designated dollars fund?
Some of rules include not being able to be in someone else’s living quarters or within a dorm that you are not assigned, not altering (tailoring) your issued or purchased clothing , no stealing (you’d think that this one should be a given!), no fighting, and you must report to work unless you have a scheduled appointment to be elsewhere. Other rules include prohibiting contraband, which is anything that cannot be purchased at the commissary (our prison “store”) – so that no hard money, cigarettes, alcohol, or other non-allowable goods are in circulation.
Most of the inmates I have been serving my time with over the last 18 months here, do follow these rules without question. The rules are mostly based on safety and respect for others and their property, and basic respect and consideration for other inmates and staff. There are some inmates that do continually display issues with not following authority, create unsafe environments for other inmates, and smuggle contraband amongst other behaviors and actions. Too many times it is not addressed via regular disciplinary actions that are available to staff and it is ignored. Therefore, lack of enforcement not only creates unsafe environments that no one outside the walls would want to live in willingly, but it also perpetuates the behavior, much of which is ironically criminal behavior, which was probably associated with why many of those inmates are here. Those inmates that are allowed to continue their criminal behavior behind the walls, will leave here one day with no new skills in order to operate in the “real world’ with success. Thus, you find recidivism and they come right back. To the expense of the American taxpayer. Doesn’t it seem obviously critical to the success of incarceration that rules are applied and followed, and that there be consequences when they aren’t? Dually, what about these life skills, vocational training and education, or mental health and substance use treatment? Inmates are not getting them, and they are supposed to be receiving them. Again, I question the purpose of the institution which is funded to provide these things and does not? Most importantly, where are the funds actually going; and, whose contracts are they supporting?
This afternoon we had what is called a “Town Hall Meeting.” During these, all the inmates are gathered in the hallway and group announcements are made by staff. The Camp Administrator conducted inspection of the camp along with the camp correctional officer, Associate Warden, and Warden. The Town Hall announced the move of the Spanish language TV, and told us we are limited to having 5 hangers. Meeting concluded (?!). Of all the issues that could have been discussed, and SHOULD have been discussed, hangers and TV are not priorities on my list. The last Town Hall Meeting we had was with a Lieutenant from the Institution that has been hearing complaints about the camp. He basically gave a warning that the nonsense was going to stop. The nonsense he was speaking about was inmates who are loud and rowdy in the dorms, showers etc. Needless to say, it hasn’t stopped – because the staff is still unwilling to enforce the rules. But this meeting was about hangers and not about the inmates that have money and use the vending machines in plain view of others, have alcohol, steal large quantities of food from the kitchen, have sex with other inmates in shared dorms, or fights after someone slapped another inmate and was not given any discipline even after it was reported. This is all apparently allowed to go on. He also called the limit of hangers an issue of sanitation, yet there is mold in many of the areas and the plumbing backs up in the kitchen so most days it smells like sewage (stay tuned for more on that!). This all has been reported to the Bureau of Prisons, and has not been addressed.
The camp portion of the prison only has one correctional officer from 4pm -8 am for almost 200 inmates (when I first came to Danbury the population was 216). To note, for the most part we are here on honor system, and many doors are unlocked or just open. That ONE officer is supposed to walk around the dorms to ensure that no one is ‘out of bounds’, or in possession of contraband items. What they walk by though is a room with two girlfriends sitting on a bed (there are rules against having these types of relationships AND against having someone in your room AND against having someone on your bed at all) and some officers merely stop and talk to them. Officers walk down the hall and see a pedicure/manicure station set up with a tray of dozens of nail polish options. What is wrong with that? Nail polish is not sold on commissary – it is brought it from the outside as contraband (which is against policy for inmates, and against the law for those who provide it), yet staff work side by side with inmates that have a fresh manicure every week and not a word is said.
Eighteen months ago you would see every now and then the Camp Counselor make someone remove their nail polish, but it has been well over a year since I have witnessed that. Some staff members even have extremely close relationships with inmates, which affords them numerous nepotistic opportunities to have access to things such as phone calls, computers, and food that are not available to the rest of the population. Why would “professionals” in the criminal justice enable an inmate to continue criminal behavior and perpetuate their sense of entitlement? This is a question that baffles me, as does the question of why it is allowed to continue by Camp superiors. Not only do some inmates benefit from those things I just listed, but some actually have received increased recommendations for release time for themselves and their friends. That to me is the most detrimental type of manipulation of policy and one that discredits the integrity of this institution.
I largely spend time with a group of other women that would love to see more enforcement of the rules for safety, fairness, and to truly receive rehabilitation and services as they are entitled during this mandated time here in the Camp. It is a small percentage that are defiant, but it affects everyone around them. If you are going to mix groups of women from different cultures and back grounds, and different ways of living , the only way to have order is to enforce the ‘rule of the land’. This is what policies and regulations are for. Without them, some inmates try and dominate over others who follow rules, which is typical bullying behavior. Just like in many communities. If the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t address this issue, they lose the opportunity to teach these women to be successful in the real world and that their actions have consequences. Again, the opportunity for rehabilitation. Unless, it is that no one really cares and they might profit somehow from the recidivism? There is a question to ponder!
These incidents may seem trivial, or make an entertaining TV series, like “Orange is the New Black” based on the book of the same name by Piper Kerman, but they seriously and loudly speak to my question of “Where is the rehabilitation and correction for which American taxpayers PAY?” It just is not happening here. So, then, why are we here, many of us mothers, nonviolent, little or no risk to communities, wasting our lives, our families and children’s lives, and wasting others’ monies, especially if there may be other community-based alternatives to all of this? The courts assign us to the Bureau of Prisons as our “wards,” and they are not doing their jobs. The system is not only ineffective, it is just broken.
What is even more dangerous is that Congress is proposing many programs that would enable inmates to earn increased good time. This sounds great to those of us who are incarcerated, and to our families; to those of us who are in fact low to NO (ZERO) risk to society, nonviolent, and who have been accused and sentenced for “white collar crimes.” To rejoin our homes and communities sooner would be constructive. Yet that same reduction in sentence would not be available to those who have disciplinary issues, but as I mentioned, many aren’t addressed nor even documented, and it is those inmates who will slip through the cracks and be out on the streets again without the benefit of improving their behavior. These persons will be a continued risk to society.
It is not only important to enforce rules in prison to ensure an orderly environment for those within the institution, but it is critical for society to ensure that the purpose of incarceration and rehabilitation is carried out during that time. When inmates reach their period of reentry into their communities, and into your communities, they will be coming with just some of these issues I have mentioned. Real reform would address these problems preventatively instead of allowing these dysfunctional and destructive cycles to continue.
If you would like any specific questions answered, or to help with prison reform issues, you can write me at:
Stacey Petro 17986-014
Federal Prison Camp – Danbury
33 1/2 Pembroke Station
Danbury, CT 06811
If you prefer email, please mail me your email address and full name so that I can submit a request to try to have your address added through CorrLinks (The prison’s email system).