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May 15, 2007

Fascinating article about serving white-collar federal time

Am_cover In the latest issue of The American has this fascinating piece discussing the imprisonment experience of white-collar offenders.  The piece is entitled "Enter a 'Hellish Place,'" and has this teaser: "Tougher rules and longer sentences mean that prison for white-collar inmates is no longer Club Fed. Prisoner No. 20532-050 tells his eyewitness story to Luke Mullins."  The long article covers lots of interesting ground and justifies the time needed for a full read.

May 15, 2007 at 04:28 PM | Permalink

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The article in The American was interesting. However, as anybody who has done time in the federal system can tell you, it was also pretty ridiculous. I mean the title is a joke. Even the article contradicts the title!! The article can in no way be read to support that the place the guy went to was hellish. It was a federal camp, a place with close to zero violence, decent food, clean etc. Not even a fence around it. Plenty of recreation and reading/library stuff. Religious services. The guards may not be geniuses but they are not brutes either

The article also misrepresented the federal system in general, when it descirbed higher security places "with some of the most violent prisoners in the country". This too is not true. The next two leves of security after a camp -- minimum in and medium -- rarely have much violnce either. The BOP actually does a decent job of keeping the violent idiot types out of the lower level security places. If you get violent you get bumped up to the maximum security places.

In fact, the fderal prison systme has little violence in any of its institutions. Why? Because the vast majority of violent crimes are charged by the state not by the feds. Just think about it: To rape or rob, or kill someone and get charged fderally you have to do it on federal land or in post office etc.!

When I did time (9 years in the first two levels of security) I saw almost zero violence. I am white, and the violence involving whites especially is almost non-existent. I did see a two good gang fights between Mexican gangs, and a riot invloving mexicans and blacks, but us white dudes just sat thee and dranks cokes and watched the thing go off. No one was after us.

The subject of the article was what made it interting. He was a white-collar guy who had to do some time, and he obviously made the best of it. Good for him. And the article was generally true to how the situation in a camp is. Precisely becasue it was true to it, any reader can see that the title was a joke and just a soap-opera typoe catch for attention.

Posted by: Chris Boys | May 16, 2007 9:25:42 AM

The article in The American was interesting. However, as anybody who has done time in the federal system can tell you, it was also pretty ridiculous. I mean the title is a joke. Even the article contradicts the title!! The article can in no way be read to support that the place the guy went to was hellish. It was a federal camp, a place with close to zero violence, decent food, clean etc. Not even a fence around it. Plenty of recreation and reading/library stuff. Religious services. The guards may not be geniuses but they are not brutes either

The article also misrepresented the federal system in general, when it descirbed higher security places "with some of the most violent prisoners in the country". This too is not true. The next two leves of security after a camp -- minimum in and medium -- rarely have much violnce either. The BOP actually does a decent job of keeping the violent idiot types out of the lower level security places. If you get violent you get bumped up to the maximum security places.

In fact, the fderal prison systme has little violence in any of its institutions. Why? Because the vast majority of violent crimes are charged by the state not by the feds. Just think about it: To rape or rob, or kill someone and get charged fderally you have to do it on federal land or in post office etc.!

When I did time (9 years in the first two levels of security) I saw almost zero violence. I am white, and the violence involving whites especially is almost non-existent. I did see a two good gang fights between Mexican gangs, and a riot invloving mexicans and blacks, but us white dudes just sat thee and dranks cokes and watched the thing go off. No one was after us.

The subject of the article was what made it interting. He was a white-collar guy who had to do some time, and he obviously made the best of it. Good for him. And the article was generally true to how the situation in a camp is. Precisely becasue it was true to it, any reader can see that the title was a joke and just a soap-opera typoe catch for attention.

Posted by: Chris Boys | May 16, 2007 9:25:49 AM

"I am white, and the violence involving whites especially is almost non-existent"
interesting comment in light of the fact that the feds recently tried members of the Aryan brotherhood for violence in the federal sytem.Infamous fed pen in Marion,Ill had a deadly riot in which the aryans and blacks were together against the guards.Also the man featured in the story was older which has an impact on how other prisoners tend to react to you.Not having done time in either state or fed pen,I think the point is the years given are going up for white collar crimes.The years sentenced makes a difference on the environment. In state or fed, a dime or less, guys just want to do their time and leave.From my experience, no group has a monopoly on violence or good behavior in USP or FCI in Florence.

Posted by: Mark | May 16, 2007 10:14:49 AM

To the reader who talks about the Aryan brotherhood and Marion penitentiary: THINK A LITTLE MORE CLEARLY!! Marion is the second highest security joint in the federal system. It is just next to the super max in Florence (in fact, it was the supermax after Alcatraz shut down and before Florence opened). It has a long history of explosive tension, precisely because you have to be a real violent fellow to be sent there. I guarantee you that no milk-toast, white-collar crime guy will ever be sent there (he might be sent to the Marion camp, but not to the pen), no matter how long his sentence is.

As for the age of the guy: I knew several fellows his age doing sentences of 5 to 15 years, and none of them was hassled because of age. In fact, the opposite was sometimes the case. Other inmates took it on themselves to help these guys out, especially if they started to become infirm with age.

It is interesting that the BOP in general tries to take care of marginal inmates through peer help. The system is not perfect, but it can be effective. The system has a suicide watch where inmates will be a buddy for another inmate almost around the clock. I saw problematic psychological cases also handled in such a way. I had to admit that it worked well.

Your comments to my comments are filled with contradiction. You say you have never done any time. The how do you know what you are talking about? You do not. Your comment about a state system and a federal system being similar is ridiculous. I knew many guys who had done time in state prisons, and they all told me that those places are heavy joints, period. The typical Hollywood portrayal of such places can be very true indeed.

The federal system is helped out by two basic factors: the size of the population (the biggest in the country, or perhaps tied with California's), and the crime pool from which the inmates come (again, as I have said, this pool is largely non-violent). The system has about 6 security levels, and it does a good job of shuffling violent types out of the lower levels. Also, the BOP's initial classification sheet is incredibly complex and takes into effect many factors which would screen out a non-violent type from a heavy joint, even if he had a very long sentence.

Another thing to realize is that the guy in the article went to trial and was convicted. That is actually rare. The vast majority of guys plead guilty. Any white-collar guy who pleads guilty will have a sharp lawyer, and as part of the plea agreement he will usually be able to negotiate a recommendation of the place that the defendant will do his time. This recommendation is strong and the guy will usually end up doing his time where he prefers (though it might take him a year or two to finally land at the place). Of course, if he has a twenty year sentence and asks for a camp, he won't get the recommendation. But if his lawyer asks within reason, the prosecutor will usually agree.

The article was good and informative, but it was also ironic. The real message of the article was that if you screw up as a white-collar guy and commit a crime, then there is a price to pay. However, if you are a man of decent intelligence, then you can very well find the time productive and the overall effect salutary. I mean, it seems to me that the guy in the article needed just the type of "vacation" he received. He came out of it a better man.

I want to say one more thing: There is a lot of pissing and moaning right now about white-collar sentences being too high. I am not sure I agree. To make any categorical statements is not possible; you would have to consider each individual’s characteristics. However, if a guy like Ebbers is actually guilty of what he was convicted of, then in my opinion he has a significant price to pay. The guy (along with the Enron crew) did not just take a few bucks out of people's pockets. They were directly responsible for massive harm to many people. Their behavior was not violent per say, but substantively it seems about the equivalent of a good hundred, or maybe even a thousand unarmed bank robberies.

There is the old saying: "If you do the crime, you have to do the time" It applies across the board.

Posted by: Chris Boys | May 16, 2007 10:32:18 PM

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