Life in Prison: Visitation as a Weapon

Life in Prison: Visitation as a Weapon

I’m angry; I can admit it. Today I received a copy of my list of approved visitors in the FCI Petersburg institutional mail. This is commonplace when new additions are made to a federal prisoner’s visitation list.*1 After all, several weeks ago, my aunt and uncle submitted visitation applications so that they could visit me at FCI Petersburg. This planned visit was to be the first time I’ll have seen them in a number of years. But upon opening the taped-shut visitation list, I found that the two visitation applications were not approved but denied. On the list of approved visitors, in quasi-cursive writing, was a notification that with the two new visitation applications, I would be over the allotted 10 “non-immediate family” approved visitors.*2

Several aspects of this angered the hell out of me. The most insulting aspect was that I had actually seen my counselor — the F-North Correctional Counselor at FCI Petersburg — on several occasions since the two applications had been denied, and she didn’t have the respect or dignity to mention to me that she had denied the two visitation applications. By mentioning this one of the numerous times when she saw me, she could have given me enough time to resolve the matter. But instead, she opted to wait until she was going to be away for a week and then had the notification of denial delivered to me. To say that I feel insulted would not even begin to cover it.

But I digress. When dealing with the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ personnel, it’s not about humanity and being honest and upright; it’s about rules and regulations. Most federal prison guards don’t treat federal prisoners as though they are people. They treat us as degenerate dogs who deserve to be starved, beaten, and left out in the cold.*3 And they expect us — the dogs they abuse whenever their sinister desires tickle them — to come to the door and beg for food, to thank them for being such good masters, and to evidently internalize our own need for such punishment.*4 While there will be bootlickers in prison, I am most certainly not one of them.*5 I’m a jailhouse litigator, and that’s both a state of being and a way of doing things. As such, the respect I have for myself and my own personal worth will not allow me to gladly accept the repeated abuse with a smile.

So, the regulations. My counselor numbers all of my “non-immediate family” on my existing visitation list. She lists another uncle, a family friend, a few aunts, and even my Minister of Record (someone who, by Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy, is not to be counted against the list of 10 non-immediate family visitors). The numbers go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and end at nine. Not even the full 10, she alleged. That’s not the end of it, though: of the two applications submitted, one was for an address update for an existing visitor, my aunt. The other was for a new visitor: my uncle. As such, even if we were to include my Minister of Record, I’d still have one open slot. Regardless of this, both my aunt’s and uncle’s visitation applications were denied.*6

Perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps my counselor was trying to do the right thing but just erred when counting from 1 to 10. Perhaps she meant to give me the opportunity to have the visitation applications resubmitted with enough time for them to be approved but forgot to mention it to me prior to taking a one-week vacation or leave of absence.*7 But then again, perhaps she’s just up to her old tricks, which seem to include passive/aggressive tactics to show everyone who’s in charge of the F-North Housing Unit at FCI Petersburg.*8 As the courts would say if she was a criminal and had engaged in such conduct, her “pattern of relevant conduct” would lead one to believe that her instant actions are not mistakes or one-time infractions but recidivist tendencies that will continue without abate unless her course is altered for her. Sadly, as she is a career Federal Bureau of Prisons’ staffer with a strong union and a permissive culture to support her, I fear that there is no one strong, honorable, or decent enough to do just that.*9

While most decent people would not hold access to a person’s family hostage, evidently, the Federal Bureau of Prisons — FCI Petersburg prison staffers in particular — has no qualms about it. While I’m sure that the F-North Correctional Counselor at FCI Petersburg is at home with her family, I am not. And due to her mischievous and passive/aggressive actions, I suppose I will not be seeing my family as soon as I thought I would. I, for one, find this sort of blatant disregard for the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ rules and regulations and the basic lack of professionalism and humanity to be atrocious. Holding contact with a person’s family as a weapon is pathetic, inhumane, and simply unfair.

As always, I encourage you to post your comments below. Am I being too harsh? Have you experienced torment at the hands of the Federal Bureau of Prisons or, dare I ask, FCI Petersburg staffers? Please leave your thoughts below. They are desired and valued.*10

*1-Federal prisoners are only allowed to receive visits from preapproved visitors. A person who desires to visit with a prisoner at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility must submit an application beforehand. Once the person has been approved, they remain approved and need not re-submit the application to visit in the future.

*2-While national Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy indicates that prisoners can have up to 10 non-immediate family visitors on their approved visitation list, this limit can be waived by the inmate’s unit manager. It is also not uncommon for correctional counselors in the Federal Bureau of Prisons to allow prisoners to have a reasonable number of approved visitors. As such, even at a particular institution — FCI Petersburg, for example –, it is not uncommon for some inmates to be limited to 10 non-immediate family visitors on their visitation list, while others who have a different counselor have in excess of 20 approved visitors.

*3-To be fair, there are decent and humane Federal Bureau of Prisons’ employees. Sadly, they are the exception to the rule. The Prison Law Blog knows of several upstanding current and former Federal Bureau of Prisons’ employees and stands by their dedication and character. Others, though, we do not stand by and find their conduct offensive.

*4-This is at least the case for some observers. It’s more of a general concept and idea as opposed to a requirement. Yes, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will feed every prisoner housed within their prison system, and no, they do not require prisoners to humiliate themselves or beg for mercy in order to have shelter provided for them. But the impression given by many federal prison guards to their captives is that of just this: you are undeserving of any compassion or basic human rights, deserve to be punished and abused frequently for your misdeeds, and should be grateful that society has allowed you to live.

*5-The term “Boot Licker” refers to federal prisoners who do the guards’ bidding for them. They are like the guards’ lapdogs: they jump when told to jump and seem to live to serve and appease the prison guards directly responsible for them. They are despised by the prison population and often show symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.

*6-While there is no specific Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy on what protocol is to be adhered to when two or more visitation application forms are submitted for one available visitation slot, common sense would indicate that one of the applications would be approved and one would be denied due to space limitations. This point is moot in the instant circumstance since one of the visitation applications was for an address change for an existing visitor. As such, a cursory review of the 12 total entries on my visitation list — which also include my three immediate family members — would clearly indicate that only one of the visitation applications needed approval and, thus, would count against the total number of “non-immediate family” approved visitors.

*7-It’s not clear why she is currently not at work at FCI Petersburg, but it is clear that she will be absent for the complete week. In the interim, a correctional counselor from another housing unit at FCI Petersburg has taken over her duties. This correctional counselor is one of the few good ones and is currently trying to resolve the needless problems made by my correctional counselor.

*8-Such tricks include forcing adverse parties to cell together, canceling Open House on a whim (the only explicitly approved time for inquiries to unit team members), and even harassing inmates about the number of books they possess as if hindering inmates from reading serves a viable purpose. Sometimes these actions are not passive but actively aggressive, such as when she screams and speaks disrespectfully to the inmates under her care and control.

*9-As the public record indicates, abuse and misconduct by Federal Bureau of Prison staffers are widespread and commonplace. In recent years the public reporting of such actions has become more and more prevalent. Yet, official misconduct reports for prison guards remain negligible at the institutional, non-public level. This indicates a clear culture of allowing co-workers to slide when engaging in employee misconduct. In fact, a strong argument could be made for there being an intimidating impetus for reporting fellow employees for rule and regulation violations. It’s as if Federal Bureau of Prisons’ employees do all they can to watch one another’s back, look the other way when official misconduct is staring them in the face, and cover up rule and federal regulation violations in an effort to ensure that the misconduct and abuse perpetrated by their fellow prison guards doesn’t become known and isn’t provable after the fact.

*10-Just a fun footnote here. The Prison Law Blog is most assuredly not affiliated with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, FCI Petersburg, or any other governmental entity. As such, we actually care about what you think, have to say, and want to help your voice to be heard. So leave a comment. We won’t scream at you for doing so.