Flaws With Federal Prison Camps
Many years ago I received a phone call from a stockbroker who was about to surrender to Sheridan Federal Prison Camp. Earlier that year, he had plead guilty to securities fraud and money laundering. The length of his federal prison sentence was 60 months.
I am always interested in how people find me. In fact, it is the first question I ask after someone calls or schedules a call with me. I was not doing YouTube videos at the time. I learned that this white collar defendant googled “federal prison consultants” and “federal prison camps”. Apparently, a blog I wrote from Taft Federal Prison showed up. From there, he called me.
I spent the first 15 minutes of our call listening. Maybe I said 15 words. He was angry. He was losing his securities licenses, his friends had abandoned him, and soon he would lose his freedom. His wife, Angie, was angry. Further, the press coverage around his case was so awful they had to pull their two children out of school.
“What changes, if any, would you like to make while serving time at Sheridan?” I asked him.
“What do you mean changes?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, you told me you plead guilty to federal charges. You are up all night googling what life is like in federal prison camps. You are no longer a stockbroker, which if you are anything like me, was a huge part of your identity. Your wife is angry. You have no idea what the future holds. Logic suggests you might need to make some changes. If I were you–and I was–I would consider forming some new habits while on the inside. That way you will come home a little stronger and better than when you went in,” I said.
“Man, I did not call you for life coaching. I called to find out what RDAP and day to day life is like at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp. Truth is all I really care about now is making sure I get into RDAP (Residential Drug Abuse Program),” he was rude. I realized then that he no longer had anyone left to vent to–hence the reason he called me to purge for 15 minutes.
“I believe in life coaching, but I am not a life coach. At some point you will have to cultivate new habits. You are angry, not accepting of responsibility, too focused on yourself (I wished I worked with Ro then because she could of helped his wife, Angie), and you are not paying enough attention to the bigger problems. I would do more than google federal prison camps and talk about getting time off through RDAP.”
“I am not in the mood to have this call,” he was direct.
“No problem, bud. When you are ready, I am here.”
Fast forward 34 months to yesterday. While running in Calabasas, I took a call. I knew it was him–I never forget phone numbers. Our prior conversation played through my mind in the 1 /2 second it took for me to say hello.
“If you need an RDAP expert you can hire me. I am out now. Prison is easy, pretty chill. It was hard being around so many losers who have never done anything with their lives. But whatever, I am out now. RDAP was so so. Not hard to fake your way through it. The workbooks in RDAP are like for 5 year olds, LOL” he still had that same arrogant tone. I liked him even less than I did 34 months earlier. I was grateful I had not introduced him to any clients at Sheridan. As a prison consultant, I take introducing other clients or people I know to my other clients very seriously.
“How is Angie and your two boys”? I asked.
“She left me. Whatever. She was there when I had the big job, but I knew she would leave when things went bad. She came a couple of times to visit but we just fought. Prison is easier if you just shut down the outside world you know,” I now liked him even less than I did two paragraphs ago.
“What did you do all day in federal prison, anyways,” I asked. I already knew the answer.
“Just chilled, lifted, did RDAP, you know,” I noticed he had picked up the phrase “you know” in federal prison. He had said it 17 times.
“What are you planning to do for work?”
“I am hoping one of my buddies will give me a job. Not worried about that now. Only goal now is to get out of the halfway house. This place sucks. They are making me look for work. If I did not do RDAP it could have been easier to just stay in prison and chill. I am not doing some $10 an hour job for these fools who work here,” he got stupider in prison.
“There is value working and earning an honest wage. I earned $10 an hour in the halfway house. It was a big part of my journey, and I attribute much of my current success to those early days in the halfway house and working at Sotheby’s Realty. Yes, it was humbling, but I did it. It felt good to work and work towards a second chance. Those lessons came to me in federal prison.” I told him.
“Man here we go again with your life coaching. I just wanted to call to let you know I am home and finished RDAP. I can tell your guys about the program if you want to pay me–just make sure you pay my friend so I do not have to give 25% to the fools who run the halfway house, LOL,” he had also begun to say LOL more than I remember.
“Thank you for calling. I am going to get back to my run. You are still free to call when you are ready to begin making changing and cultivating new habits. Until then, please do not reach out to me. Take care,” I hung up on him.
If taxpayers did not fund federal prison camps, there would be no need to hold them partially accountable for this defendant’s abhorrent prison adjustment. Truth is prison administrators do not care if prisoners spend their days watching the Kardashians, Jerry Springer or writing blogs or books.
I fully accept that not every prisoner wont adjust as well as Ken Flaska, David Applegate or Jim Vani. But considering the colossal expense associated with funding these federal prison camps, you would expect the Bureau of Prisons to actually do something productive with tax payer money (like funding cognitive behavioral programs that change thinking patterns). Instead, they use the money to hire more guards.
But they have no interest in doing anything productive. No one, especially this new administration, will truly hold them accountable. And society for the most part could care less.
How do we fix this flaw?
Federal prisoners, I think, should be required to attend cognitive behavioral programming that focuses on the changing of habits. Now, I understand some prisoners, and I put myself in that camp, are more imbued to take on a more self directed study. In other words, our motivation to cultivate new habits is intrinsic; we do not need prison administrators to force us.
In some cases, however, some men are just buried in anger, rage, shame and denial. Rather than being forced to engage in programming that cultivates new habits, they lose their days in the inevitable boredom of confinement. Cultivating new habits cannot be pursued haphazardly. It is a full time job.
This former stockbroker would have been better off spending his days in educational programs that focused on cultivating new positive habits. Instead, he complained, argued with his wife in visitation, learned to say “you know” repeatedly, and worst of all, made fun of the fine men around him who were actually trying to better themselves. Then he insults men like me who found great value in earning $10 an hour.
People who run federal prison camps argue their job is to keep costs down and maintain security.
I understand that. But if you were to visit one of these federal prison camps you would see platitudes, like, “helping offenders prepare for re-entry” posted all over the compound. It is not true. While there are pockets of programs that work, the truth is these federal prison camps do nothing to truly change a prisoner’s behavior. I and my prison consulting succeeded because some of us recognized we needed to change some habits. The prison system should play a larger role in that effort.
Some would argue that it is not the Bureau of Prisons job to change behaviors. I suppose some do not think there is anything wrong with taxpayers funding federal prison camps that allow prisoners to watch the Kardashians all day. I am just not one of them. Until this problem is addressed we will continue to have defendants leave federal prison unprepared to overcome the challenges that await them.
There are more flaws with federal prison camps than I can get into in this blog.
But sufficed to say, the fact that administrators do nothing to offer real programs to help prisoners cultivate new habits, is sickening. I just wished more taxpayers cared.
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