A final dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon. Mike Maki was released, after serving his three year term, earlier this month. Here is one of his final dispatches.
A Thousand Oregon Days and Nights 1/1/16
… And then some, since I came to reside here at the Sheridan Oregon Federal Prison Camp. Now I’m looking toward my last week here as a new year begins. Today, as we greet each other with “Happy New Year” it means different things to different men. Some of them have spent ten or fifteen New Years in prison, and because only nonviolent offenders qualify for camp, there is some resigned grumbling about spending such a chunk of their lives incarcerated.
For me, of course, it’s my third and last New Years here, and, I admit, I feel just a twinge guilty leaving everyone behind. Everybody’s glad for another’s imminent release, of course, but there are unspoken messages in the congratulations. But everyone, eventually, takes their turn through the exit turnstile.
There’s a broader shift in the population here this year, with many of the core inmate faculty in education also leaving. Besides the presidential clemency release of Chad Latham from the computer lab, Robert Miracle, the building trades lead is transferring to SeaTac FDC (Federal Detention Center) to finish his sentence nearer his family.
Then there’s Ned Roscoe, the super bright, but slightly crazy guy who spends his spare time (when he’s not teaching pest management or parenting classes) figuring out ways to provoke the people in blue, with the open sub-text of challenging them to do their jobs. Ned once ran for the governor of California as a Libertarian, and his right/libertarian perspective provides humor, challenge, and intellectual depth to all sorts of situations.
Other inmate teachers in GED and ESL have left recently, but as the saying goes, there’s another bus coming in right behind them. However, there is going to be a momentary gap, and I’m trying to help make a smooth transition in our voc-ed hort department. It’s going well, really, and the next crew is lining up. My last week will be filled with orientation as well as good-byes.
Even though SeaTac FDC is an indoor facility, with only one high window in the concrete rec area open to the sky as the only visual contact with the outside world, they have more liberal visiting regs and a couple of other percs, which include two-man rooms, which are much quieter (unless your bunkie happens to be a snorer) and more private (even though the in-room toilet calls for a bunkie etiquette of one guy leaving the room when the other needs to use the commode). Even though every family/friend visit to SeaTac involves a strip search for inmates, it’s one of those inconveniences that one simply gets used to. Here at Sheridan they just do random (and rare) strip searches after visits.
Apparently, the SeaTac FDC has set up a dedicated wing for campees who volunteered- or got drafted- to go there. Several guys have gotten shipped there over the last year, some willingly and some not. A few guys are like my bunkie Singh, who wants to transfer there because he can play cards, watch tv, or lay in bed all day, as well as see his family more frequently, basically wasting away his sentence in sloth and indolence. There are a couple of ways to do one’s time, and I haven’t felt like I had a day to waste anywhere along the way.
The truth is, I’m going to miss my friends here and can’t help but feel a tad guilty leaving them behind. After three years, I have become part of the old guard, and in my own way something of an inmate institution—the Plant Guy who can answer all your horticultural questions (fortunately, most all the questions are pretty simple ones), except for those pertaining to high-tech pot growing, for which there are some real wizards here. I’m also the resident old-school radical, not an angry one, but a peace and love stalwart who always has a note of good cheer (what I call “deep cheerfulness”) to accompany my freely offered opinions about the inequities and dysfunction of the System.
There’s also a big changing of the guard in blue suits, with a new warden coming on January 4, new counselors and case officers, and a whole raft of rookie men-in-blue corrections officers who’ve been showing up of late. It’s clear that our keepers, new and seasoned, are far from the best and brightest, but on the other hand they don’t for the most part either seem to be twisted and sadistic from their time spent on the job here in the human kennel. Messed-up alcoholics, maybe, and dog-kickers no doubt, mostly though, just BOP drudges doing their paid sentences to support their unhappy families.
All of this swirls together into the day-to-day life here that is a surreal reflection of the workaday world out there, except that here nothing much ever gets done, or done well. It is, as I’ve said before, the dysfunctional convergence of federal bureaucracy and trade unionism, long on gimme and short on giving a shit. I recall to my fellow inmates that while we come and go for a year or ten, our keepers are basically doing life sentences. It’s no wonder their life expectancies are short and suicide rate for their vocation (prison guards) is one of the highest in the country. We’ve had one c.o. suicide during my time here.
To create and maintain something resembling a real esprit de corps is a tall order, and it begins with the quality of people who choose the field as a career. There seem to be endless days in training for the c.o.’s, although to what end is opaque from here.
Altogether a tough business, and I’m curious to observe who shows up in both color uniforms. One thing for sure is that the potential for human development for the inmate is huge and virtually untapped. Rehabilitation receives lip service, but is basically a joke. There’s just not enough intelligence and initiative on the “management” side, or support for it from on high, where the mindset of punishment versus rehabilitation has not yet been resolved.
May the new year bring a new breath of change for the BOP, for the benefit of all involved—inmates, cops, and all of their families on either side of the legal divide, which divide is thinner all the time with the ongoing decline of the West.
I look forward to beginning the process in person in 11 days of reunion with my many friends. All my relations! -MM