April 14, 2021
“Hi, can you help? My dad is going to federal prison for mail fraud. He is not a drug user or drinker but he has still been told he will get drug tested and also that drugs will be at the federal prison camp. Is that right? Why are drug tests given if he never does drugs? What is the drug test like? Can you help me understand that process? Thank you.”
When I was in federal prison, I wrote two blogs about my experience with drug tests. To help Diane, and you, I will copy and paste the blogs I wrote from federal prison.
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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2008
Urine Tests In Federal Prison Camp
I’ve never had a history of substance abuse. My conviction relates to my career as a securities broker and has no relationship to drugs whatsoever. Nevertheless, during my seventh month in Taft Federal Prison Camp, I was paged to report to the Control Center. Since I had never been paged to the Center before, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I was busy writing in one of the quiet rooms since 5:30 in the morning, so I didn’t even hear the page at 7:00 A.M. Fortunately, other inmates told me that I had been called.
I walked from my housing unit toward the Control Center with a little anxiety running through me. I had no idea why I was being paged but I sensed that the experience was not going to be pleasant. When I showed up at the glass-enclosed office, I presented my prison identification to the officer and said that I was responding to the page.
“I called you four times” the officer said. “What were you doing, hiding?”
I explained that I was in one of the quiet rooms and didn’t hear my name over the loudspeaker. He told me I had been selected to provide a urine sample.
Later, I learned that policy requires camp administrators to provide random urine tests to approximately 10% of the camp population each month. and I was among those selected on that day. When an inmate is called for this test, he has a time allotment of two hours to provide the sample. If he fails to provide the sample within the two-hour time allotment, policy requires staff to issue a disciplinary infraction of the highest severity. That infraction brings an automatic sanction of at least 60 days in segregation, a loss of good time, and a transfer to a higher security prison. That’s why anyone who is called for a urine test in prison should immediately set his stopwatch and keep a close eye on the seconds ticking away. Some guards allow the prisoner to drink water; others do not. Either way, the prisoner best watch the time closely and do whatever is necessary to squeeze out a vial of pee within the 2-hour allotment period.
Although I was a bit disturbed to have been called for the test in the first place, I was glad the prison guard called me when he did. It just so happened that I was ready to use the bathroom at that moment. God forbid that I had urinated before the page.
Once the guard notifies an inmate of a urine or drug test, the clock starts ticking.
Providing a sample was not going to be a problem. I was escorted into a bathroom where I was required to wash my hands with water. Ironically, I was prohibited from using soap. Once he saw me rinse my hands he handed me a small tube and instructed me to fill it up. I performed like a stallion. He took the tube, then commenced to filling out the paperwork. After all was signed and sealed, he sent my urine off to the lab.
I shouldn’t have any worries about the test results as I’m not a drug abuser. Nevertheless, I am a prisoner. Somehow, despite my not using drugs, I have some anxieties about mistakes in the lab, or some other complication. This is the life I’ve been getting used to, though I do look forward to my return to normalcy.
Blog #2: Saturday, March 7, 2009
Seventy-Three Days Until My Release From Federal Prison
Yesterday I heard my name paged over the prison’s loudspeaker. I was to report to camp control. Camp control is an area where one of the lead officers of the camp seems to preside, and it is adjacent to the visiting room. Since Friday was a visiting day, I half hoped that someone had surprised me with a visit.
When I presented myself to the officer in the booth, he recited the time. Then he told me that I had two hours to urinate. I had been selected randomly for another urine test. This would be the second time I would have to pee in a bottle for the officers of the Taft Camp. I didn’t like it.
I have never been a drug abuser, and I didn’t like the feeling of being suspected of drug use while in federal prison. The officer assured me that I was not suspected of anything. Random drug testing was simply one of the steps administrators took to maintain security. Despite the explanation, I felt violated. Besides that, I couldn’t pee.
Just prior to being called, I had used the bathroom. The fact that I had recently relieved my bladder was not a sufficient excuse. Once called for a urine test, the officer told me, I had a two-hour time horizon. If I could not squeeze out enough urine to fill a bottle during those two hours, the officer would cite me with a disciplinary infraction of the greatest severity within the disciplinary code. The consequences would mean my reassignment to the isolation unit, a postponement of my release date by 90 days, and an ugly blemish on my record. The pressure hanging over my head did not make peeing any easier.
I sat down on a bench in front of the control center. People were walking around and wondered why I was sitting there. I didn’t have anything to read, and I suppose I looked out of place. I was an inmate sitting in an area that was reserved for staff. “Why are you here?” A staff sergeant questioned me. It felt humiliating for me to respond to a woman that I was waiting to urinate. She accepted the news as if I were a delivery boy awaiting a signature. Federal prison can feel so dehumanizing.
After 90 minutes had passed, I felt the possibility. Could I squeeze it out? I wasn’t sure. Still, I called the officer. He would have to stand beside me. “I’ve got to watch,” he explained himself. I took it in stride. Fortunately, the urine flowed. I filled the tube without a problem. Then I signed a few forms the officer prepared and returned to the normalcy of camp life.
In 73 days my time in federal prison would end. I didn’t know what awaited me outside, but I looked forward to closing this chapter of living as a prisoner.