Wednesday, December 31, 2014

FPC N.Y.E. 2012

It's not New Year's Eve, and the year is still young; this week is cold, and winter so far has been a single long blur of frozen mist and cabin fever -- like being locked down in the fog on New Year's Eve three years ago.

The FPC Duluth was cloaked in a sound-dampening fog. You could see from dorm to dorm but not much farther. I couldn't see one side of the walking track from the other. That's where I was when we were recalled without warning around 7:30 p.m. I assumed it was because of the fog and started heading toward my unit to be counted.

On my way back to the dorm I walked past the admin building, where all the lights were on. My dorm-mate Pat pointed out the cars parked alongside the building and then one of the windows, through which I could see the warden, the AW, two lieutenants and the HR officer. Given the fact that it was a holiday Saturday night, this seemed really strange. Maybe they were going to have some kind of shakedown.

Back in the dorm, after count. Everyone was on edge. We were back early on a holiday evening. People in the theater had to leave their movie. The TV rooms got crowded and loud. Throughout the evening, COs would randomly pop up and conduct breathalyzer tests, trying to flush out hooch.

Earlier that same week, a large cache of contraband -- including tobacco, a cell phone, an MP3 player and creatine supplements -- had been found above a ceiling panel in our unit. The CO who'd found it, Carlson, was known among the inmates as Jack Bauer for his doggedness in tearing apart fixtures and structures in his search for contraband. As a result, the TV rooms and microwaves locked up for several days, and our unit was placed in the last position for the dining hall.

In addition, inmates in our unit were required to write a page-long essay describing how we all played a part in letting contraband into the dorm (e.g., not ratting out people we may have known were using tobacco or simply not being observant enough to notice such things). We each had to read our essay in the theater in front of the rest of the inmates. It took us weeks to get through the 150 people in our dorm.

On New Years Eve, in the midst of all this going on, the staff-appointed inmate leadership of the dorm (the CORE) was on edge about contraband use. They were walking the halls confronting people doing things they they thought could get us into more trouble as a unit. They caught one of my roommates, Thalen -- an unusually twitchy pill-peddler from Tennessee -- smoking hand-rolled cigarettes at the top of one of the fire escapes. A couple of the CORE group members came to our room and were trying to get all thuggy with Thalen, which made for a rather tense moment for the rest of us who were just chilling in the room. I got into an argument with one of the guys when he started mouthing off to the rest of us. A weird tense evening all around.

Next day -- New Year's 2012 -- the flags at FPC Duluth were all half-mast. Info seeped in fits and spurts, but it eventually came out that CO Jack Bauer had committed suicide in staff housing the previous evening, precipitating the recall and the presence of all the brass on the compound on a holiday weekend night. The stress that incarceration creates among individuals is not just limited to the inmates. It stretches out its tentacles to their families and even to the staff who have to remain in the setting long after inmates get to go home.

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