I still get such a kick out of this statement:
“The Bureau continues to assist individuals releasing from federal prisons in their efforts to become productive, law-abiding members of society.”
Worse than any politician, the BOP does nothing but issue slogans, platitudes and cliches. The BOP is hardly, if ever, held accountable, and for the most part they can act with total impunity. After all, do taxpayers truly care if their tax dollars are not actually used to help prisoners prepare to be productive, law-abiding members of society?
Before I went to prison I never thought twice about it. And if I did, the BOP’s slogans would have been good enough for me.
Cliches and slogans work, after all. That is why the BOP offers them as often as Donald Trump says, “Make America Great Again” or Hillary saying, “Stronger Together.”
But the cliches will continue, like it or not. They work. This writer, however, will use his small and modest platform to re assert his belief (am I writing in the 3rd person?!) to continue to talk about the many injustices the BOP and their minions dole out on a daily basis. Those minions include the folks who work at the halfway house.
I found the people who worked at the Vinewood Halfway House in Hollywood, CA to be the absolute worst government employees I have ever come across. Would you like to know the only requirement to work in a halfway house? A pulse…
Quick story: My bunkie at the halfway house had been in and out of prison. He was a good dude. He had scary characters tattooed all over his body. One knee cap had Freddy Kruger, the other had Jason from Friday the 13th. Pick a villain from a famous movie and he had it somewhere on his body.
He also had a lot of dignity and respect. Despite being in the system most of his life, he never complained. In many ways, I broke many of my prison rules in the halfway house. In prison, I spoke to few people and made it clear I did not wish to be spoken to. I let loose, however, in the halfway house. Perhaps being so close to freedom influenced me to be more myself.
My mom used to visit the halfway house and bring food for Juan and me from the nearby Gelson’s in Hollywood. My mom could set a world record for asking questions in a 5 minute period. It is incredible. Perhaps it was her training as a paralegal. Before she met Juan, I asked her to keep the questions brief. I knew within moments she would ask about his background, his family (his brother was serving life for murder), growing up in a gang infested area in Santa Ana, why he was at the halfway house, where was he working and more.
But she did not listen. She asked and he answered.
And in those answers I listened and learned. For example, in one instance he told us that the case manager at the halfway house made him drive an hour back to the halfway house during the middle of the work day only because, “She knew I was broke and she hoped I would run out of gas on the way back.”
The idea, of course, was that if he showed up late she could call the Marshalls and have him remanded to custody. When he told the story, he did not complain. “Been dealing with this type of treatment from staff for 20 years, bro. It is all good. I am just glad you only had to deal with it for 18 months. Oh yeah, your mom is crazy funny!”
Now, if asked the BOP would offer their worn out cliche saying, “Our concern is keeping costs down and security of the institution. We needed him back to perform a random drug or alcohol test”.
On another occasion, my other bunkie was forced to clean toilets and had his weekend pass revoked because he would not disclose what inmate was sleeping with a staff member. Yes, that is the BOP: Compel someone to snitch, or else. He told them to pound sand. He cleaned toilets and missed his home visit, but he maintained his dignity and pride. When asked what I miss about prison, I think of two things: 1) the disciplined structure of the day; 2) learning from many men who endured heartache with dignity and class.
All of this leads to a new change within the BOP, and with that, many complaints from staff, I am sure.
1. These policy changes removed the 25% subsistence requirement for home confinement. For those that are unaware, prisoners are required to pay 25% of their gross pay to the halfway house. When I was in the halfway house, I would get a money order for 25% of my gross pay, and give it to the halfway house each Friday. When I moved to home confinement, I continued paying. This long over due policy change will ensure prisoners no longer have to pay 25% on home confinement.
I recall hearing prisoners inquire why they had to continue paying the 25% payment when they were on home confinement. They were told the 25% helped offset the costs to monitor us. We all knew it was about money. Making us pay 25%, while suggesting that if we did not pay the 25% we might not go to home confinement, was essentially a shakedown. Staff, however, would tell us that we were still eligible to go to home confinement if we did not pay. Believing that is like believing McDonalds wasn’t disappointed when they were forced to stop asking, “Would you like to Supersize that?”
If someone did not pay, the case manager might forget to process your paperwork to go home confinement. It was that simple. And I saw it happen many times. As sickening, the people who worked there got a sick thrill telling some prisoners, “I am waiting to hear back from the BOP about you moving to home confinement”. Hear back? Funny, they never submitted the paperwork to begin with.
Just as McDonalds loved to hear, “Oh yea, Supersize me please. I need enough Cola Cola to fill my swimming pool,” the folks at the halfway house, despite their statements to upper management, loved to threaten repercussions for not paying. That is why I am sure these folks who have no education but unearned power are angry over this rule change. It will not allow them to unnecessarily punish and scare prisoners any longer. Sure, they will find some other tactic, but at least this threat is removed.
The BOP will take credit for this change, but I am sure they did it reluctantly. I am sure they were compelled through some lawsuit or something to that effect.
I suppose I could have just posted this new policy statement for this blog and called it a day. But I had 20 minutes to kill before driving to Orange County to play golf with a friend and client in from Florida. So I decided to write this piece, or rant, about the dichotomy that exists between BOP stated policies and their actual behavior. Indeed, despite this policy change, the BOPs culture still very much trumps the code.
PS – A client asked me recently if writing negatively about the BOP or the halfway house impacts my ability to do work with the government. The irony is the more honest I am, the more some–not all–appreciate it. When I lectured at the FBI Academy I spoke openly about these issues and more. Plus, unlike my career as a stockbroker, I won’t say something simply to get a desired result. It may cost me money, but the real value I receive is knowing I did not sell out and say what I thought others would want to hear.
PSS – I am also asked if there are people who work in prison or the halfway house who do have a real interest in helping prisoners prepare. Since my release, I have met some. But when I was in prison, and in the halfway house, I did not meet a single one.
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