Pekin Federal Prison Camp

Justin Paperny:
“Hi everyone, I’m Jim. No, I’m not Jim. Sorry. Hi everyone. I’m Justin Paperny, and I’m here with my client and very good friend, Jim Vani. How are you, bud?

Jim Vani:
Good. I’m Jim Vani. How are you, everybody?

Life In Pekin Federal Prison Camp

Life In Pekin Federal Prison Camp

Justin Paperny:
Yes. Yes. Actually this is the second go round in my video with Jim. Last time we couldn’t do it because Jim was using, I think, a technology service from the 1970s. Jim, are we ready to go today?

Jim Vani:
I upgraded my internet connection here, so I think we’re a little smoother than last time, not so choppy.

Justin Paperny:
Excellent. Excellent. Jim and I have worked together for more than three years. He served his time at Pekin Federal Prison Camp. Before we get into Pekin, Jim and I were working with a client together who just got re-designated from Pekin to Thompson Federal Prison Camp in Illinois. For those of you watching, there’s a chance that, if you ask for Pekin, you may get it or you can get re-designated. Isn’t that correct, Jim?

Jim Vani:
That’s right. Rumors are they’re turning it back into a women’s facility so, if that’s the case, then you will not be going to Pekin.

Justin Paperny:
Keep that in mind for those of you requesting prison designations in Illinois. Jim, before we get into Pekin, can you quickly tell the viewers how you found me and a little bit about why you chose to work with me?

Jim Vani:
I definitely can, Justin. It all started off with being in this total chaos. I was upside down. My life was going down the hill. I was lost. I didn’t know where I was going. I went to trial, spent over a week in trial. After that happened, I was looking for answers. First, started the almighty Google and, the next thing you know, I find prison consultant. I’d never heard of it before. I came across a few different companies. A couple didn’t answer. A couple didn’t call back. I had one individual that did call me back. He was really aggressive. It was more of, “We’re going to fight the system together and, if you get thrown in the SHU, I’ll help you get out.” It scared me more than anything.

Then I found yourself, Justin. The first phone call was uplifting. It was positive. It really fit myself, and it fit what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something with this time, and you were able to open that door for me and lead me in a direction. You gave me a plan, and there’s a guide to follow, and that really helped a lot.

Justin Paperny:
I’m happy to hear that. For those watching, Jim worked incredibly hard. We also spent some time together, which was pretty awesome, even though I’m in Los Angeles and Jim is in Chicago. I was a keynote speaker at an Allstate Conference in Chicago at their headquarters, and Jim actually picked me up. We went to a Dunkin’ Donuts, if I recall, and we prepared together for a couple of hours before I gave my keynote address at Allstate, so that was a pretty cool experience.

Jim Vani:
That was great.

Justin Paperny:

Let’s jump right in. Tell us a little bit about Pekin and where is Pekin Federal Prison Camp.

Jim Vani:
Pekin is in Central Illinois. From Chicago, you’re about two and a half hours. I requested if I can go to Pekin. My fiance and I discussed it, and it would be easier for her to visit. It’s a camp level, no bars, no big barb wire fence. Next door to it, there’s a median that has that in Pekin, as well. It’s wide open. It’s your own will that determines whether you leave at any given day.

Justin Paperny:
Some federal prison camps, like Taft Federal Prison Camp where I served time was cubical. Other prison camps are pods. Some are just a dorm with 150 guys in there. What does the housing situation look like at Pekin Federal Prison Camp?

Jim Vani:
It sounds like a community center. It’s kind of grim and cold, all white concrete concrete block walls, no doors. There’s no color. There’s two housing units. One is for a drug program, and the other is for the normal population. the same. We have double bunks with, what they call a Cadillac, a single bed. These are three-man bunks. They’re cubes. It goes down a long hallway, wide open. Some of us would try to get a fan or something in the area and deaden the noise.

Other than that, there’s an area that’s common when you first walk in, there’s microwaves down at the makeshift kitchen. We have three or four TV rooms.

Justin Paperny:

As part of our prison preparation, you asked my advice about speaking with staff. Do prisoners speak to staff? Should I?

When’s the appropriate time to push or retreat? Walk us through how you were treated at Pekin Federal Prison Camp, some of the rules that you saw there, some maybe things to do and some things not to do? Educate us on your experience and what you saw.

Jim Vani:
Of course. The staff, it depends on what you’re dealing with. The [inaudible 00:05:05] overall, the staff is careless, negative, degrading type of attitude. Every now and then, you would get a guard who would give you some common decency, but it really didn’t happen a lot. It didn’t make a lot of sense trying to be, or attempt to be, buddies with any of the staff. First off, you couldn’t trust them and, second off, it looks really bad on you to other inmates if you’re friends with someone that’s a guard.

Justin Paperny:
You were extremely positive throughout your prison term. Jim documented his journey through one of my websites. He wrote repeatedly. I know it was probably rewarding for you when people would surrender and find you and say, “Dude, I’ve been reading your blog. It’s so helpful.” I know you got a lot out of that because I would get a lot of those emails like, “Let Jim know that I’m coming.”

You also nurtured a relationship while you were away. I know your relationship with your fiance, Anna, is very special, so talk about how you stayed positive and how you were able to, one, stay positive despite getting convicted at trial. Very few people go to trial. How you were positive, how you nurtured the relationship while away, and some advice for those watching who are going away for two or three or four years who are in a similar type situation. How did you stay so positive?

Jim Vani:
The positivity there, definitely the pull from within, and it definitely tests oneself in a way unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

It was definitely additional level of a challenge to tend to your relationship and nurture it and grow it, but try to look at it and spin it around to a way where we’re going to have, every week, gratefully you had every week. There was no distractions. There was no cell phone. There was no television. There was nothing that we had to do but sit together, face to face, and talk. It was like courting.

We were dating in a way that we’re growing our friendship every week, four or five hours every week or something. A lot of couples don’t ever do that. We never even made time for sitting across and just looking at each other and talking for hours on end, so that was something that actually was a positive, but it’s very difficult every week to leave each other. That was something that we would look at, okay, one more week or maybe two more weeks if it wasn’t a week out and kind of fitting this together and grow together the relationship through that struggle. Be able to communicate through email. Phones were limited. You couldn’t talk much on the phone, about ten minutes a day. A lot of it was through the email or visits.

Justin Paperny:
I commend the way you nurtured and invested time with your relationship. Relationships go bad primarily due to neglect. You nurtured it, you grew it, and I admire that. I kept in touch with Anna while you were away, and I’m happy to see that you’re home. Let’s transition back to life at Pekin Federal Prison Camp. A lot of people watching have seen Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke. Is it like the movies, what’s sensationalized on TV? Are there gangs? Did you see fights? Is it more like a corporate office park, kind of like what I saw at Taft? Walk us through what it’s like there. Is it like the movies?

Jim Vani:

Definitely not like the movies, definitely not at all.

That was not what I was concerned with, and that was something I was gratefully able to get answered by you, Justin, with a lot of that was. I’d be afraid of how the situation is? Is there going to be an initiation to some gang when I first get there? Those were things that first came to my mind. I didn’t know anyone who was ever in prison, and I didn’t know really what … I never thought about thinking of how that seemed to be. When I got there, it was like a corporate park, like you say. I wrote up a blog. One of those was about that. It’s just like a university college campus.

Jim Vani:
Although there was an influx towards the end of my time there of individuals who were more involved in gangs throughout their life, and you’re going to come across that, I think, at any prison. It depends on the population at the time and even still, though, a lot of guys are ready to go home. They’re at the end of their time. They’re focused on getting out the door, so they weren’t really. They were really, in their mind, they were, “Okay, I got to be here for another 20 years,” and they don’t care what they’re going to do, so I didn’t have to worry about my physical safety. You had to kind of go out of your way at Pekin Federal Prison Camp to find trouble. Guys did, but that’s their own doing.

Justin Paperny:
I’ll never forget my first call with Jim. It was April of ’14. My wife and I were preparing to have our daughter, and we were getting her baby room ready, and I was speaking to Jim. He was like, “I didn’t even know guys like you exist.” It was very interesting. He had mentioned, “I’m not going to bash any competitors here. I wish them all well.” Someone was trying to scare Jim a little bit like, “I have a survival program and how not to get your ass kicked,” and I’m like, “Jim, the highest value in these prison camps can be boredom, watching paint dry, waiting for mail call.

You have just as much risk of getting into a fight at the Dunkin’ Donuts that we were sitting in Chicago before I spoke,” so there’s nothing to be scared about from all of you watching. Boredom can be the highest value in a federal prison camp. You never hire a guy like me or anyone akin to me to learn how to not get your ass kicked in prison. If you would just properly follow the rules, lay low, watch more than you talk, everything is going to be just fine. There’s nothing to be scared about.

Let’s transition a little bit into the RDAP program. On our first call, we prepared you properly. You got into RDAP. There was no guarantee for RDAP. Jim, didn’t we discuss that on our first call. There’s only a deliberate plan to get in? Talk about that and also completing the RDAP program at Pekin.

Jim Vani:
That’s the one thing. There’s no guarantees of anything when you’re going through the BOP. It’s all doing your best and doing the best to prepare to put all your chips in order. That way, when you do get to that point in time, you have a little advantage on others that have not prepared properly, and you’re giving it the best shot. No matter what happens, no matter what anyone happens or what anyone tells you, there’s not a guarantee. Justin always says the same thing, there’s no guarantees but, with the proper planning, you’re increasing your odds of getting in to then receive time off.

Justin Paperny:

I probably should have asked you this earlier. How long was your sentence at Pekin Federal Prison Camp because of good time, RDAP, and halfway house time? How long did you actually serve in federal prison?

Jim Vani:
I faced the guideline range of 87 to 108 months in prison. Based on my character and background, the judge brought it down to a 42-month sentence, which was still significantly more than I had expected. From there, I got 12 months off for the RDAP program. I got about five and a half months for good time, and I received six months of a combined unconfined in a halfway house, which that was given due to the fact that I graduated through the RDAP program. Every location’s different from how many months you’re going to get for that. Overall, I actually served in prison 18 1/2 months.

Justin Paperny:
Eighteen and a half months on a 42-months, even though convicted at trial, guideline range of 87-108 months. Jim prepared aggressively here for his sentencing, character reference letters, a narrative, proper evidence of RDAP, conveying to the judge that he was better than this conviction. 42-month sentence. He was out of there in 18 months. Nurtured a relationship. He’s home, strong, working, and ready to go. It’s a success story from start to finish, and I’m grateful to have played a small, tiny role. Let’s get back into life at Pekin Federal Prison Camp. What is the food like, what is the commissary like, and what was your job?

Jim Vani:
Food is something that, I guess, for each person it’s different but, for me, I had so much on my mind that it wasn’t something I was thinking about until more the end of my time. I was every day, and I would be cringing at what I had to eat in the chow hall most of the time, but it got better, more maybe I got adjusted to the food, and I found ways to get more creative with what I could buy at commissary. There’s also some individuals that’s all they do. As I was there for a longer period of time, I started to say, “Fine, this guy he can help make this type of meal.”

You go in a group and you actually get something that’s more similar to street food, something you get at home, closer to it, at least. If you’re going to eat only at the chow hall and you don’t have any money for commissary, you’re going to be a little limited, and you’re not going to get the best meals. Overall, the food situation wasn’t the worst. I’ve heard it’s ten times worse at county. At least, there were some decent overall baseline, getting in with the right guys. As far as …

Justin Paperny:

Your job at Pekin Federal Prison Camp?

Jim Vani:
Yeah, your job. I was thinking of how I was first there and going back to how I dreaded looking at the potential of working in the kitchen and just being there for half the day and not being able to attend to what I had planned on doing. The first thing they’ll do is throw you right in the kitchen, and you’re stuck there for the good majority of the day, so I was able to work my way into the Education Center.

I wrote about this as well on one of my early on blogs. I got into a decent position, a clerical position that was real light duty at the Education Center, and that allowed me a lot of time to free up that I could focus on my studies and things I wanted. After a short period of time of being there, I then get into the chapel position, which is a chapel orderly, and that was even lighter duties, and that allowed me to then focus 90% of my time on myself.

Justin Paperny:
I want to close with a couple more questions. A few minutes ago, I said there’s nothing to be scared about in federal prison. That doesn’t change that you have to adjust properly. I’ve always said preparing to go to prison should be very much be like preparing to go to college. White collar advice, we have lesson plans and private videos, other consultants on my team with whom clients will speak, so Jim and I aggressively went through disciplinary infractions and how easily they can happen and how easily you can get swept into a disciplinary infraction by associating with the wrong people.

Quickly, Jim, I presume you saw prisoners getting written up for disciplinary infractions, and can’t that just totally derail a whole prison term? Did you see some crazy, stupid things because people didn’t know any better at Pekin Federal Prison Camp?

Jim Vani:
Big time. There’s a story that I heard before I got in there that happened again my last month being there. It was a guy working in the laundry. That’s an area that they have a lot of because everyone pays them for their services in the laundry but, what happens is, contraband gets hidden there often, at Pekin, at least it did, and the guys would go to the SHU and they could be there for resend then without being involved at all.

Justin Paperny:

When you go to the SHU, you can lose visitation, the commissary, you get own out of the drug program. I know a client in Pensacola Federal Prison Camp and he shared a story with me where someone who had graduated the RDAP program was caught taking a puff of a cigarette and, just like that, you lose the year. It’s pervasive.
Let’s close with two more questions. What was your most difficult experience or time at Pekin Federal Prison Camp?

Jim Vani:
Overall, the most difficult time for me was that initial time of getting there and trying to adjust into the population. What I see helped that significantly was preparing with Justin for that time. That still was the most difficult time, the day where you have to surrender in and turn yourself over, all your rights over, to the DOP. That was the most difficult thing for me.

Justin Paperny:
Let’s finish up with, as quickly as you can, your daily routine at Pekin Federal Prison Camp. I was a proponent of waking early. I still wake very early. I liked waking while the dorm slept to get some private time in to myself and using the restroom in privacy, so quickly walk us through your daily routine from the time that you woke up at Pekin to the time that you went to sleep and a little bit of your activities in between as quickly as you can.

Jim Vani:
Sure thing. I set myself a schedule, pretty quick, where in the morning, first thing, I would do is do basic cardio.

Justin Paperny:

What time would you get up at Pekin Federal Prison Camp?

Jim Vani:
Every day, I would get up at 6 o’clock. Every day, 6 o’clock, do my basic cardio, have breakfast, which I would make my own oatmeal and then, from there, read the paper and start some reading until I would go from there to work, do my job real quick, and practice guitar and do any other activity that was available, if the ceramics room was open. If there was an activity going on in the gym, you could do that [inaudible 00:18:42] and I would do that first thing in the morning.

Justin Paperny:
I was going to ask if you wanted to break out the guitar and maybe play a song. We actually get to have a musician on the White Collar Advice Channel. Any time you ever want to play a song for the audience, we’d love to hear.

Jim Vani:
Sure, I’ll grab my guitar for the next video.

Justin Paperny:
Please. Thank you. Please proceed. Go on.

Jim Vani:
That was when I was learning an instrument. They had a piano there, but it was difficult to access, so the guitar was something … For over a year straight every day, so I picked up some pretty good basic skills with that. I also studied Polish, my fiance’s native tongue, so I got the basics of Polish down, and every day would also I would consume then any educational materials I could get my hands on. A lot wasn’t provided there, so a good amount of my research just came in from the outside by bartering and trading amongst each other and on campus.

From there, we’d have lunch. Then we would have another physical routine of resistance training, and then if there was classes available, which was sporadic, I would take the classes, pretty much all of them they had, just take them and send in work. From there, we would go out and finish off whatever books I would have and any other college type of material I had, as well, that wouldn’t be as more of a nonfiction type.

Justin Paperny:

Curiously, regarding counts, what time were the counts at Pekin Federal Prison Camp, and did you have to stand for the later count in the evening? What time were the counts at Pekin?

Jim Vani:
There’s actually count on weekends. During the week, you don’t have to stand for count. It would be prior to your lunchtime, and then before bed. Those are the ones that you have to stand up for counts.

Justin Paperny:
So you actually had to stand for the evening count? What time was that, 10 o’clock?

Jim Vani:
It would be right around 9 or 9:30, 9:45, depends on when they would get around. They called in 9:30, but sometimes it didn’t get done until 9:45.

Justin Paperny:
Sometimes, it takes them seven times to do the count, and you wonder … Let’s not get into that, actually. We want to keep it nice on this. Let’s not question their ability to count. Any last minute thoughts, Jim, as we wrap up about life in Pekin Federal Prison Camp? You’re on the other side now. I know it’s hard to believe that it’s over, you’re home. I know it’s surreal. Any closing thoughts for our viewers who are immersed in the system and who are learning from your experience?

Jim Vani:

It’s all about staying positive and trying to find the silver lining, no matter how hard it is in any situation.

We all have our difficulties and struggles. The come in different shapes and forms. For me, it’s what I’ve taken away from this mostly is to stay cool, keep calm, and find what I could get out of it.

I love those motivational quotes and sayings, those things that I live by, and the one that I tend to look at a lot is the one by Napoleon Hill if you’ve ever read any books by him before. He has a good one about that, “Strength and growth continuously for continuous effort and struggle,” and that’s the one that I always looked at and was like, “Okay, this is definitely continuous struggle, so it turns into growth.

Justin Paperny:
Thank you. Actually, you mentioned Napoleon Hill. That’ll be a plug for a video I filmed, Twelve Books Every Prisoner Should Read. On that list, of course, is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Speaking of books, Jim, you know I can’t end a video without a terrible, shameless plugs for Lessons in Prison. The book is free. All you have to do is invest your time to read it, and I think it will help guide you for life, both before, during, and after prison. Jim, I’m very grateful that we’re friends and we’ve had this opportunity to work together and continue to work together. Now, you’re actually spending time consulting some of our clients who are going to prison. When you work hard, you positioned yourself for it. Thank you very much.

Jim Vani:
Thank you, Justin.

Justin Paperny:
Thanks for sharing your experience, bud. It’s a privilege to have you.

Jim Vani:
I appreciate all the help you’ve given me, as well, Justin. It’s definitely been a great experience, too. Thanks.

Justin Paperny:
My pleasure, bud.”

P.S. Jim called me after reading my book. Download it for free here.

P.S.S Are you a white collar defendant interested in volunteering? Click here to learn more.

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Life In Pekin Federal Prison Camp
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