Living the Dream by Jason Gerhard
F.C.I. Fairton is essentially a small community completely enclosed by razor-wire topped chain-linked fences. On the grounds are medical facilities, a church, and even a jail (the Special Housing Unit). Minus the fences and sadistic, obese, borderline retarded guards Fairton resembles a community college campus.
Four separate buildings house the general population. They are designated A, B, C, and D. Each individual building is then split to form a right and a left side. For example, I live in C-Right which is identical to the other seven units. Approximately 165 prisoners live in each unit putting the grand total for general population around 1,380.
Overcrowding is a problem at Fairton. The prison added a third man to a majority of the two-man cells and converted TV rooms into cells containing up to eight inmates. Regular cells are only 11′x7′ and with three men inside they become crowded quick.
To add insult to injury, inmates must pay .50 to wash and .25 for every 30 minutes of dryer use in order to clean clothes on the unit. This is on top of paying for laundry detergent. If you crowd people into incredibly tight spaces, logic would dictate that every effort be made to encourage cleanliness, but this is obviously not the case.
On March 3rd new restrictions were placed on the showers in the name of water conservation. Now only two showers will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with one additional shower open for 2 hours (10:30-12:30) every Friday on account of Jumah prayer. So much for promoting good hygiene especially as summer approaches.
The Chow Hall
As one would imagine prison food leaves much to be desired. Wherever possible to skimp they do with the end result being food that is barely edible. Think of a school cafeteria but replace the lunch ladies with inmates who are paid as little as $5.25 a month then add dirty cups, sporks, and trays.
A large oval track made of asphalt, similar to those found at high schools across America, dominates the yard. Inside of the oval are two softball fields and a football field. In the northwest portion of the yard lies a small weight pit. The weights are extremely worn out due to an asinine B.O.P. policy that prohibits new weights from being put into use once the old ones break, essentially phasing out all the weights. A good number have disappeared or been broken just during the six moths I’ve been here.
Once all the weights break, prisoners will have no way to vent their frustrations besides fighting, drinking, and doing drugs. Anyone who lifts weights on a regular basis is aware of the therapeutic effects of such exercise. Too bad the people creating these policies don’t ever exercise or they would know it too.
UNICOR has a factory here that produces various cables for the U.S. government. Inmates can make anywhere between $0.23 to $1.15 an hour by working there. The waiting list is about 2 years for those who do not owe restitutions or any other money to the government. Compared to the other jobs on the compound, UNICOR is considered high paying, hence the long waiting list.
All inmates must work according to the policy. However, due to overcrowding, there are simply not enough jobs to go around. Nowhere is this more evident than at Facilities, a warehouse that contains the plumbing, maintenance, painting, landscaping, electrical, and HVAC shops.
Upon entering facilities one is reminded of a subway station due to the large number of people sleeping everywhere, including on the concrete floor. Only a small amount of inmates are able to obtain work passes, with the rest forced to stay until the end of the day. Why they are not allowed to go back to their units remains a mystery.
Inmates work pretty much everywhere on the compound. For nearly 5 months facilities was my place of employment; I averaged about $25 a month, which is considered good pay around here. Then one day while out on a work pass with two other guys, a tool came up missing and I was thrown in the S.H.U. even though the tool was recovered less than an hour later. The S.H.U. is by far the worst place to do time in a prison.
Special Housing Unit (S.H.U.)
Referred to as the ‘hole’, this separate unit is for inmates who either get in trouble or are afraid to stay out on the compound (Protective Custody) for whatever reason. Another way to end up there is to be put under ‘investigation’, which allows them to hold you for up to 90 days for absolutely no reason.
For close to 23 hours a day, two men must live in an 11′x7′ cell with no access to fresh air. The windows are bolted shut and covered with scuffed up Plexiglass that lets a little light in but nothing else.
Showers are only given on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and are a whole adventure unto themselves. Once an inmate is locked up and thrown in the hole, his property is packed up and sent shortly afterwards. Yet attempting to obtain basic necessities, such as shower shoes, is nearly impossible when dealing with lazy cops. For the entire 9 days I was there they did not give me even one article of my property. This is commonplace I learned later on.
Without shower shoes, the shower becomes a dangerous proposition. Privacy is hard to come by in the regular housing units, but in the hole it is nearly impossible with shower time the only time you are alone. Therefore, to enter one of those showers without some sort of protection for your feet, is simply asking for a serious case of F.F.S. (Funky Foot Syndrome).
The prisons solution to the problem of lazy officers not giving inmates their property is to offer a pair of community shower shoes that are permanently left in the showers. Besides the fact that they are perpetually wet, ripped up, and generally make you want the throw up, I see no reason why anyone would hesitate throwing those bad boys right on their bare feet.
The other option would be to just buy a pair of shower shoes from commissary that is offered once a week, but if you are on commissary restriction (a possible punishment along with lost visits and loss of phone privileges), shower shoes are not able to be purchased. The funny part is anti-fungal cream is able to be bought though. After the infection takes places from using the same shoes as everyone else who did God know what in them, at least you can put the cream on and rest assured till the next shower when the whole cycle starts over again.
The clothing system follows a similarly illogical path as well. Each inmate has only one set of clothes that can be turned in for new ones after finishing their shower. Problem is the clothing issued is almost always rupped, dirty, and ill-fitting (collars on T-shirts are alway stretched out to at least twice their origional size). Johnny, from down the hall with the creepy rash in his ‘no no area’, was wearing the same tighty whities thatare being redistributed the next day after being supposedly ‘washed’. The fact that the whites are a grayish brown makes you question just how effective the cleaning process is. I am pretty sure throwing the clothes on the ground and hitting them with a garden hose would provide a more thorough cleaning.
When I sit down and think about the time I’ve spent in jail, and now prison, it would be a lie to say that it was all suffering. Sure sometimes it is hard, especially in those first few weeks, yet as time goes on the idea of being locked up becomes just a fact of life. Besides the few shitbags, most impates are the same ones you would find a construction site during the day and at the bar come Friday night. Laughs come easily around here, despite the adverse conditions. There is no doubt in my mind that memories of these times will forever be with me, and put a mile on my face each time I remember them.