Chapter 5

Con Air
An integral part of BOP transit is the absolute secrecy.  Inmates awaiting a transfer can wait for weeks to months to move, and then they get no warning- and neither do their families.  You literally disappear in the dark hours of the morning.  By October 1, 2008, it became very clear to me that Dan had disappeared.  We had implemented our calling system, where he would call me in the morning so I would know he was alive, and instead of pressing five to accept the call, I would hang up after saying I Love You.  He would call again in the evening and we would have two minutes to talk quickly.  The deal was if he missed two calls in a row, I needed to panic.  Since the prison knows when travel is set for, they will turn off your phone the night before- so when he missed calling me that night and then again, the next morning and for a few days after that I knew he was either on his way, or in SHU. Or dead.

They woke Dan up at 4am, shackled him and then moved him down to a holding cell along with thirty four others. A few hours later they all loaded onto a bus and drove to Stewart Airport. From there they got onto an old plane and flew to Pennsylvania, where 1/4 of the inmates got off, and then they flew on to Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, sixteen of the original one hundred travelers, including Dan, boarded another bus and headed to Grady County Jail.  Twenty hours to get from Brooklyn to Oklahoma, and for fourteen of those hours Dan was shackled. He should have been sent to the Oklahoma Federal Detention Center, but it was too full and the county jail handled the overflow.

Traveling courtesy of the BOP is by far the most hellish way to see the country. Inmates of all security designations are lumped together to travel in groups.  It does not matter what your crime, or your sentence- to travel you get to wear a paper jumpsuit (yes, paper) and you are black boxed.  Black boxed means that your wrists are cuffed and a black box is placed over the cuffs and will remains there until you either get to your destination or unload into a facility for the night to resume travel the next day.  Your ankles are cuffed as well, and then a chain joins your ankles and wrists together.  To reduce bathroom issues, inmates don’t eat much if they know they are going to travel- but since the BOP rarely does anyone the courtesy of giving them advanced notice, you can never quite know when you are going to actually travel.  The food during the trip is not great anyway- mushy sandwiches and some water plus maybe some cheese or something if you are lucky. I was horrified when later Dan told me of the hours the guys all spent standing in the hot sun on the tarmac in their paper clothes, chained up and waiting to load or unload onto whatever the next mode of transportation was.

Because I wasn't 100% certain he had actually transferred, I called MDC a lot. Every time I called to ask if he was there because I hadn’t heard from him, the CO who would answer the phones would get all cagey and avoid answering. They would ask if it was a family emergency or if I was a lawyer. After calling multiple times for a few days, one officer finally took pity on me and answered without answering directly that they were sure I would get a call from him eventually.  It did not allay the fears and worries but at least they were not saying he would not be calling.  That special form of torturous response is the kind they reserve for inmates who have gotten the shit kicked out of them, are in the medical ward or who have been punished, and are in SHU.  Turns out, this time, he was on his way. Westward Ho!

Grady County, Oklahoma
Dan liked Grady a lot more than the other guys he was traveling with did. They complained about being in county non-stop. He felt the guards were much cooler and as long as you were respectful and started your sentences with "Sir" or "Ma'am" and spoke respectfully, you could get a lot done. The general consensus was that they would be held over for two or three days but other inhabitants at Grady warned the new guys that reality could be more like two to three weeks before they transferred on. I looked up the facility and realized I could order food items and extra stuff, like a mini chess set, that they would deliver to him same day. It was an online system and there were no limits. County jail is really different than Federal prison!

A few of the more outrageous stories happened during his time in transit.  One such story involved an ex-NFL player, Adrian Cooper, formerly of the 49ers. This guy was legit out of his mind.  He was so mad that he was in prison.  So angry that life was unfolding this way for him.  He would pick fights with anyone and everyone and one day he lost it and made some sort of move to go after a CO, so he was stripped naked, locked in a bare cell with a skinny window in the door and left there to ‘cool off’.  It is county jail, remember, although some of these guys are doing Federal time, they are still classified as "in transit" so the facility they are in dictates how they are treated if they end up breaking rules.  He was lucky actually, because had he been in a true Fed place, he would have been up a creek without a paddle, with rocks tied to his body and someone pushing his head under. No not really. Maybe. I don't know. You get the idea.

Anyway, this dude was naked and completely furious about it.  He kicked the door, pounding on it, yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs to let everyone know of his intense displeasure at the entire scenario.  There was nothing in the room - no sink/toilet, no bed- just the in ceiling light fixture, the door itself and the emergency fire sprinkler.  Guess which of the three items Einstein decided to take his rage out on?  If you guessed the sprinkler, then I probably already told you this story once before.  Yup- he somehow finagled his fingers up into the fixture and pulled.  I should remind you that they construct these places with people like this in mind- so every surface is flat, there are no screws or pieces or really any access of any kind.  If they could lock them up in a giant rubber bubble for the duration of the sentence, they would, because inmates will find a way to convert anything into literally anything.  So the fact that this guy was even able to get his finger up into the sprinkler was pretty remarkable.  Even more so was what happened next- he yanked it out of the ceiling.  As sprinklers are apt to do, it set off the system and water started gushing into his cell.  Fast.  In my head, I imagine this huge guy holding onto a tiny bit of sprinkler, suspended from the ceiling naked with water pouring over him.  Apparently, that is a pretty accurate visual… well, after this went on for a short time, an officer noticed water seeping across the floor of the hallway.  The officer, realizing this was not normal, followed the water right to the door of the cell.  

Radios and PA’s suddenly came to life as people hurried around trying to shut off the water at the main and find someone with a key to open the door and alert the Sergeant (or whoever was in charge at the moment) of the situation… utter pandemonium.  I assume they eventually managed to turn off the water and get Senior Fix-A-Lot into a dry cell.  They also rounded up a few inmates to mop it all up, so Dan got to see it firsthand.  The way Dan described it to me I remember thinking that this was either the most comedic thing ever or the most schizophrenic bizarre nightmare anyone could fathom.  I hope I laughed at the time, because this one is one of the more humorous events.

Another randomly funny quirk about Grady County Jail was the system of assigning beds.  Common sense would indicate that perhaps they would keep the actual Federal inmates housed with other Federal inmates.  Just keep apples with apples and make the oranges live on another floor.  Nope- the BOP (the guys nicknamed it Backwards On Purpose…  BOP) just sort of allowed the guys to room however the person on duty when the inmates were brought in saw fit.  And so it was that Dan ended up bunking with a murderous Indian named Big Brown.

That was not a joke.  Big Brown actually did murder a person, I do not recall if it was in self-defense or what (although ask any murderer and 95% of the time it is ALWAYS in self-defense) but yup, he had killed.  And he was a Native American Indian. I assume his name Big Brown was an indication of both his size and nationality.  Dan wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing at first, whispering into the phone that this was the first time he was going to sleep in a cell with a murderer (that he knew of) and while the guy seemed nice enough, they hadn’t really talked.  Actually, Big Brown did not talk to Dan at all.  The entire time he was in Grady, he played chess with Big Brown; they made food together, cleaned up their cell together…not a word. No one else wanted to bunk with Brown, he made everyone mad and had raging episodes. I didn't know most of this until I read Dan's letter telling me all of the details after the fact. Oddly enough, the two of them did ok as bunkies. Then Dan disappeared again.

Victorville USP
Dan was incommunicado for a little over a week and finally on October 9, 2008, he popped back up again. Her stupid commands “If you would like to accept the call, press 5 now", teasing me over the phone. LADY - I ALWAYS WANT TO ACCEPT THE CALL! He was in a place called Victorville in California.  I looked it up.  Then immediately wished I had not done so.  Victorville USP.  United States Penitentiary. It is approximately 1200 miles away from Oklahoma, give or take.  I actually have driven this route myself, when I drove from New York to Los Angeles and in hindsight, that is a pretty awful trek.  From his telling of it, that part of the trip sucked the most.  From Grady they took a bus to an airplane hangar, boarded and flew to New Mexico, took off and landed in Arizona and then Victorville. At every stop some inmates got off and new inmates would get on. Dan was black boxed the entire trip in his blue paper suit and it was freezing.

One of the other funniest stories he ever told me happened at Victorville.  There are different kinds of stories- epic, horrifying, outrageous, scary- the funny ones were always by far the best obviously although they always seemed bittersweet at the time. I remember thinking for most of them that while it hurt to hear it now, I’d probably laugh in years to come… this has proved over and over to be true.

So, Dan is in Victorville after a harrowing trip and, as was the case in most prisons he experienced on his national tour, it was extremely full.  They had stopped over for the night and would hopefully continue their journey in the morning, or in a day or two.  The officials there decided to cram 12 low/camp men, including Dan, into Activity Room 2 in the maximum security SHU unit because the entire prison was full and there was no where else for them to go. Dan wrote that the guys in Room 2 felt lucky- at least they were not the other 12 guys crammed into Activity Room 1- because if there was a fire in the building all the 300+ SHU max security inmates would go into Room 1 first, per fire escape protocol.

These guys have all been on a bus for a significant number of hours, they are hungry, tired, dirty, exhausted and in prison.  Its lights out in the facility so they hunker down on the floor or if they are lucky, on the bench, and try to sleep.  
Pfffffftttttttttttttttttt.
There is an old guy who seems to have an ongoing, unending incontinence issue and the most potent horrendous gas you have ever encountered in your entire lifetime.  He has spent the last few hours talking about everything that has ever happened on earth ever, since the beginning of time, which he was likely present at.  It does not matter that no one is interacting with him or responding, he keeps talking as if he is being paid for every word.  Sometimes he will nod off, and then it turns out he also snores.  And passes a lot of gas.  Often.  These men are in an enclosed, crowded space, crammed shoulder to shoulder with bio hazard grade fumes enveloping them.  They proceed to spend a miserable night trying to sleep through the noxious stench that has totally permeated the entire room.  In the corner, huddled up against the wall is a young kid, early twenties, nicknamed Cocho.  He is in transit to some place where he will serve a fairly lengthy sentence for being a drug dealer.  The old man continues the retell the history of the world, unabridged version, and the smell gets worse and worse too.  This kid, Cocho, he has been sort of a tough guy throughout the journey but finally he breaks, cradles his head in his hands and in complete anguish with the pain of someone who has suffered a thousand punishments and has reached the limit of what is humanly possible to cope with, he cries out in absolute anguish:
“My god!  I promise I will never deal dope again!”
As the story was told to me (over the phone when Dan told it to me he was giggling so hard I had to join in) that young man was as fully repentant as they come and had learned the consequences to his actions, albeit perhaps a bit after the fact. Best of luck Cocho.

Victorville was scary to me, actually it still is.  I had found a chat community where you could post about different prisons and from Victorville everyone always posted about fights, lock downs, and just major negativity across the board.  You immediately got the sense that it was a much rougher group than whatever we thought was rough before.  As I came to find out, California Federal Prisons tend to be that way- you might get the true crazies in New York but the California inmates are trying to follow the footsteps of the inmates before them and in additions to the racial tensions and gang issues, it is just so completely unpleasant to deal with the majority of the individuals you encounter both serving time and working at places where time is served.  I debated trying to fly out to visit Dan there, but quickly realized that it was not remotely possible and also even if I could somehow be approved and get in before he moved again, it was going to be really scary, so I decided to wait until he arrived at Terminal Island. He had only been in prison for three months and I had already experienced enough to write a book.  A short one maybe, but don't worry- there is much, much more!

Terminal Island
Up to this point in the journey, I had been staying at my parent’s house in Long Island so I could see Dan once a week while he was waiting to transfer out west.  I flew back and forth to LA a few times to take care of some issues but I always made it back to New York by Wednesday for visiting. We still had not told anyone what was going on and the plan was to keep it that way.  I think my parents thought we had broken up or were fighting, and they mostly left me alone without asking too many questions. To be fair, I didn’t really let them ask me questions, I was too afraid of trying to figure out an answer. I was getting ready to go back to my apartment in Los Angeles for good, instead of doing the bi-coastal commute, which left me neither here nor there.  By October 15, 2008, Dan arrived in Terminal Island... a.k.a. TI.  

It would be weird for me to say that I was relieved Dan was finally in a ‘regular’ prison but that is really the only way to describe it properly.  Being in the detention center in Brooklyn and then the various facilities while in transit took a toll on him both physically and emotionally.  Everything is designed to break you down in prison and while there were many things they completely messed up, the BOP definitely got that part of it right.  You just become this number, without a name- a body that is told what to do and when and there are consequences for not following everything exactly as it has been decreed. In a letter Dan wrote me he said "In prison you are doing time, just not on your own schedule". I always liked how he phrased that.

TI taught me very quickly that this was real prison and it was definitely not going to be smooth sailing, no matter how nice I was to everyone.  I should describe TI first- it is located between Long Beach and San Pedro, right after the bridge.  You know where the Queen Mary cruise ships dock?  Just across from that is this tip of California that juts out into the water, and built onto this peninsula of land is a Federal Prison complete with barbed wire and concrete fences and guard towers.  This was the first prison I saw with guard towers. Frankly the image never gets easier, it is always unsettling and puts the fear of god into you when you suddenly realize you have driven into a restricted area with armed guards in towers pointing weapons at you, as was the case on my first visit.

There is a myth that various California residents tend to travel past TI by boat and take part in that phenomenal Spring Break-ish tradition of flashing oneself at applauding male inmate onlookers.  As I saw firsthand one time, this is in fact, less a myth and more of a humorous reality.  To the unknown females who have participated in this sport, the inmates of TI thank you, as you saw when they ran up to the fences and waved, applauded, cheered and whistled.
Because TI is located on the water, you get lulled into a false sense of ‘this isn’t so bad’-ness.  The truth is, it sucks.  

TI is a classified as a medical facility, meaning it has a wing dedicated to the health and treatment of sick incarcerated individuals.  What this actually translates into is a predominantly elderly and ailing population.  A number of the men in TI were wheelchair bound or had canes and the pill line usually included the majority of the inmates.  The idea of actual healthcare in prison is a complete misnomer- you learn very quickly not to bring up ailments.  For instance, the solution to a toothache is to remove the offending tooth.  If you can even get in to see the dentist.  After you sign up to see him and get wait-listed for a few months.  I think you get the gist of it.  Any inmate who is on the west coast and requires actual medical surveillance will get designated to TI, mostly because it reduces the BOP’s liability in case something should occur to the inmate in another facility where they may not be equipped to handle whatever ailments the individual in question has.  

There are famous inmates who served time at TI, among them Al Capone, Charles Manson, John DeLorean… and a guy named Robert Manning.  I have short little blurb about him- he was in prison for sending a bomb to a computer company executive’s office in 1980 and murdering the secretary who accidentally opened it instead of the intended target, the CEO.  Why did he mail the bomb?  Well according to the prosecutor, a friend of his was upset about a business deal involving the sale of a house and hired the ex-JDL associate to kill the guy.  Mr. Manning is approximately 60+ years old and in October 2012 was still serving his time in TI…  Dan once watched him get into a fight with another inmate on the grounds.  He was upset about something and wobbled over to the other inmate, who was wheelchair bound and started shaking his cane at him, yelling.  The way Dan described it; it was like watching a fight in slow motion.  With old dudes yelling at each other.  In slow motion.  Yelling. The mental picture still makes me laugh a little bit to this day.

So you have old guys with various handicaps and issues (seemingly major issues sometimes), and the young guys who have to put up with them.  And the different races.  And the different gangs within each race.  Did you know that Hispanics, for instance, have multiple gangs depending on what part of the world they are from?  I got a first class gang education through the duration of prison and learned exactly why it is that wearing a specific colored bandanna can get you jumped in various neighborhoods or what different symbols and hand gestures mean.  I also got my first real taste of being treated like a third class citizen at TI.  Both by staff, by other inmates, AND by their visitor’s.  That part blew my mind.

I had never in my life experienced any kind of racism or blatant outright anti-Semitism and suddenly it was this unavoidable obstacle I was unprepared to cope with in addition to the staggering weight of being alone in a city where my husband was serving time 45 minutes away and no one on the earth knew about it or was there to help me deal with it.  The one part of the hatred I never really accepted was when guards would yell at me or make me wait to go into visiting even if I was there before other people, just because I was a young, Jewish, white female.  I wasn't an inmate, they didn't have to be that way with me, yet they showed no kindness, no sympathy, and made my days difficult and hard. And I just had to take it. It was not like there was a suggestion box I could drop a note in to verbalize the injustice of it to some higher ups.

Visiting at TI was an entirely new experience with an entirely new set of rules and restrictions.  To start with, when you drove up you were not allowed to enter the parking lot until the posted time.  To paint an accurate picture of what this meant- you drove along this road with nothing but warehouses and boat slips and then suddenly passed through this gate with a guard tower and barbed wire fences.  There is literally nothing else around unless you go back down that road, past all of the warehouses and boat slips and back to civilization.  You are not allowed to wait on the road either (although depending which guard is posted you can get away with it).  So I drove up the first time, pulled into the parking lot, started gathering my things- and suddenly jumped out of my skin as a mean looking officer rapped loudly on the window and told me I could not park there.  But the sign said visitor parking and I am a visitor...? He explained to my dense self that no visitors are allowed on the property until visiting hours commence.  Interesting that they never tell you where you ARE allowed to go, only where you are not.  

Once the clock struck 9am and the lot was officially open, all the visitors walk in to the front lobby and fill out their paperwork (HAH!  I know how to do this part already!)  Then get lucky enough to sit in the dozen or so chairs or just sort of hover around the general chair area waiting for the always pissed off CO sitting at the front desk to motion you forward.  Each place has its own system- at TI visitors just sort of keep track of who got there first and go up in that order.  You do not, ever, EVER, cut the line.  Ever.  If you do, don’t worry- the other visitors will all make it known that you are not going to get away with it.  It resulted in the offending visitor and some of the offended ones as well being kicked off the premises a few times when I was there.  To this day, I do not ever cut lines.  Ever.

TI also had a pretty strict drug rule.  As in, make sure you do not have even the slightest trace of a drug on, around, in or near you because you won't pass the inspection.  It was such an extreme rule that previous visitors warned me not to even touch money before you come to the facility because if the ion scanner (I swear to god this is true) picks up an iota of drug residue on you when you are being checked by the CO, not only do you not get to visit that day, you also get banned for six months.  I learned to bag my money the night before in a Ziploc baggy and not touch it until safely in the visiting room.  I also started asking the bank for gold dollar coins instead of dollar bills- much easier to deal with (less likely to have cocaine residue on them!) and they had the added effect of cheering me up on the sadder days because they looked like gold treasure all shiny and pretty in the clear plastic pouch.  You learn to appreciate the little things.  

Then there was the matter of the dress code.  In Brooklyn, they would make us walk through the metal detector and turn out our pockets so they could check them for holes- yes, I said holes.  Believe it or not visitors would cut holes in their pockets so they could hold their loved ones hand and allow them to slip fingers near their, ah, nether regions.  Resourceful if nothing else.  TI took it to a more extreme level where you had  to go through the scanner, turn out your pockets, someone would pat you down (always with gloved hands as though we were at TSA security about to board a flight) and if they felt there was anything remotely amiss they would ask you to come into the next room and you would actually get searched more thoroughly.  Considering my luck, I am extremely surprised I never was called in for that, but I know many women who did and it left an impression on them and on me.  I still get a bit edgy when I need to go through an airport; security makes me nervous to this very day.  There was also a different restricted color palette at TI.  You could not wear white, khaki, and tan, green, brown or grey because that was what inmates wore.  Once an officer tried to tell me I could not wear black or blue either because that is the color the officers wear.  He was wrong, but he did turn some people away for wearing navy that day.  The issue I had with this was that it really limited what you were permitted to wear.  I mean, essentially they only left reds, yellow and oranges (and their corresponding variations) on the table.  The usual no jerseys, bandannas, sweats, cleavage baring tops, skirts to the knee (no shorts) and nothing sheer or see through…  I am sure there are more rules I cannot remember now but basically I lived in jeans, t-shirts or long sleeve sweaters and sneakers.  I also always kept a change of clothes (a few actually) in the trunk because you just never knew.  

So in TI you had to wait outside, then wait in front with your paper filled out and your pre-bagged money and your ID (everything else gets left in the car except your car key- there are no lockers or anything) and then you get scanned by the ionic scanner thing (but not everyone, they do it randomly) and then you put your shoes, ID, money bag, car key and any sweater or jacket you might want to bring in to the visiting room into the plastic bin and it gets scanned through the x-ray thing.  Assuming all goes well, you pass through the metal detector where you are not allowed to beep- any beep at all and you cannot come in so wear your cheapest jeans- these tend to beep less although I have not quite figured out why and avoid bras with under wires.  Trust me on this.  Then you gather your stuff up and walk into a second waiting room where you have to sign into the visitor’s book and then wait in silence while they process enough visitors in for an escort to the actual visiting room.

The reason you need an escort to get to visiting is because once they have assembled a group of us visitors, they walk us across an open courtyard - then you suddenly realize the building we just came from was actually the pre-prison so to speak, as the courtyard separates that building from the actual prison itself.  They walk us across the courtyard to this outdoor hallway literally called the sally port- it is fenced in and made of steel bars with barbed wire on top.  An officer unlocks the door with a giant key and then another officer waits inside the sally port with us while the first officer locks us all in.  It is surreal- because your back is against a concrete wall and you are facing a barbed wire metal bar fence with a spectacular view of the ocean, but you are literally locked into a giant cage.  We wait there until the visiting room officer opens the next giant steel door and lets us in.  Sometimes they allowed us to choose our seats, sometimes they assigned them.  The visiting room at TI was much more pleasant than what I had experienced in Brooklyn.  It was a little bit larger but this time the room itself had windows and if you were lucky enough to be in the first group, you could even snag a table right next to a window so your entire visit was with a view of the ocean.  There were many little tables with two chairs, one on either side and then there were bigger tables with four chairs, two on each side.  The BOP limit for visitors is three adults, plus the inmate (so four) and depending on the place usually up to four children. Once you picked a table, you had to stay there, no switching- unless the guards decided you needed to be closer to the front or away from another group.

At the end of the visit, the guys all sit in the chairs on one side of the room and the visitor’s line up against the wall.  It occurs to me now that I should be grateful we learned how to line up in kindergarten because that skill actually came into play in my adult life in a way I never expected.  And stop laughing- you’d be surprised how many grown ups simply don’t know how to line up - it’s called personal  space asshole, stop stepping into mine- basically if I can feel your breath or smell you, we are too close for comfort.  Also, it is single file genius.  That means stand behind one another, not in a group… blah.  The end of the visits were rough because we would have to leave and know that our guy was just sitting there watching us go.

I got a taste of what that felt like to sit there and watch Dan leave during count- there was one count during visiting that they made all the inmates leave the room for.  They would have to line up in the hallway they came into visiting from (where they also got stripped searched before and after each visit) and wait to be counted, and couldn’t come back into the room to rejoin us until count cleared throughout the entire facility.  

Ah, yes, I mentioned strip search so now nothing else will hold your attention until I discuss it.  Ok, you asked for it.  Because TI was in fact a LOW and not a Camp, there was limited movement- meaning the hourly moves. Once an hour all the doors would open in the facility and inmates could move from wherever they had been for the past hour to a new location. They were then stuck in that location until the next move, an hour later.  There was also much more security, so before each visit the inmate had to remove his shoes, show the officer the bottoms of his feet, then step out of his clothes and do what is called in the slammer ‘a cough and squat’.  Exactly what it sounds like cupcake- you squat and while some CO is looking at your rear end, you cough.  The science is simple- if in fact you are hiding anything within your aforementioned posterior, the act of squatting and coughing should expel said foreign object.  Or cause it to puncture your intestines if you were for instance trying to smuggle a sharp shiv like object into visiting.  Safety first, always.  The guys usually did not have to strip down totally coming into visiting, usually just a quick pat down occurred but after visiting they got the full monty because you would be AMAZED at how many visitors smuggled stuff into visiting for the inmates.  I was  shocked when I heard the stories of the pills, amounts of money and assorted objects people brought.

One nice thing about visiting at TI was that the inmates could buy photo tickets and there was an inmate whose job at the facility was official visiting room photographer.  There was a ‘cheerful’ little corner where you posed and he snapped a picture and a week later, you would get it mailed to you by your inmate.  Dan and I took many pictures there and I am undecided at present time if I am going to include them here or not.  If I do, stop making fun of me- I was very creative with my outfits because I had to balance clearing the metal detectors with being as cute as humanly possible without pissing off the guards or getting the unwanted attention of others.  I also had to make my makeup last for hours without touch ups and withstand the possibility that I might end up crying in the visit.  So much harder to do than you would think!  The funny thing was Dan hated it when I cried in visits- he would look around and say I had to stop because the other inmates might see.  I was never sure if that was because he did not want to appear like he had a wimpy wife or if he did not want them to think he made me cry.  Ironic since it was usually the treatment of the other visitors prior to entering the room, or the CO standing there writing notes on our behavior (I swear, they would write down if I cried and later someone would ask Dan why I was crying in the visit) had yelled at me or made me feel awful.  Nevertheless, the pictures are something that I look at now and think about just how much has happened since they were taken, and how different I am today compared to then.  It is surreal and also extremely real at the same time.  Plus, we were cute, what’s not to like?

Another nice thing about TI visiting was the vending machines had a better selection of food.  You still had to be smart and get what you wanted at the start of the visit or you’d be left with slim pickings- those machines emptied quickly. This brings me to the most fantastic food I ever ate in a prison. This magical food was called Eddie’s Kitchen Grill Cheese Sandwiches.  You can laugh- I swear to you now they are utterly fantastic.  They come in these plastic sealed pouches and you pop them in the microwave, they come out perfectly toasted- a little crunchy, and lot cheesy and super yummy.  I probably gained the most weight while Dan was in TI as opposed to any other place due to those damn things.  Every morning I would rush to place my keys on a table by the window then run up to the machine and buy at least two of them, sometimes four.  Those sandwiches and two cups of French vanilla coffee from the coffee machine… as close to perfection as I could get given what I was working with.

Visiting worked by a system of points at TI- I believe you got 12 points every month and weekdays are worth 1 point, weekends are worth 2.  Dan figured out the schedule based on allowed visiting days, usually weekdays to maximize our points (although there were certain days that the facility itself did not have visiting) and I would always come to every single one.  I did not start missing visits until the last year he was in.  I literally formed my entire life around the visiting schedule.  This is a huge part of why I was unable to get a job during the time he was incarcerated.  It was a point of contention between us because he insisted I should do something to fill my time and I agreed- but he occupied all of my time and when I wasn’t actually at a visit, I was writing him a letter or waiting by the phone- just totally dysfunctional and holding down a job would have been impossible for me at the time.  In hindsight, I absolutely wish I had put his needs a little bit less before mine in the sense that I could have been creating a life/career that would have probably helped us get through the time in a healthier way.

I do not remember our first visit in TI really, I mean, I can guess how it went after the initial getting to the visiting room itself but I do not recall exactly what I was wearing or where we sat.  I do know that I sat waiting in my chair, knowing I had not seen Dan since he left Brooklyn and not sure what to expect.  He walked out in this hunter greenish uniform, looking like a member of the air force.  Or the Israeli army.  I do not care which nation’s army you want to credit, he looked hot.  And skinny.  And his hair was longer, and gelled.  This was something that cracked me up every time I saw him- the prison made the guys wear their ‘greens’ for visits, but the guys took it upon themselves to literally get as dolled up as they possibly could.  That meant the abundant overuse of this cheap hair gel and lots of cologne came into play as well.  If they were not restricted, the guys would also shave, maybe get a haircut, and trim their nails (that last one was always iffy- you had to get permission to check out a nail clipper and then return it before visiting…not always a sure thing).

So he walked out in these green pressed slacks and button down collared shirt… very cute.  He was allowed to wear his sneakers although usually you were not allowed into visiting unless you were wearing prison issue work boots.  Visitors also had to wear close-toed shoes with an ankle strap- no flip-flops or slide on shoes of any kind.  I typically stuck to converse sneakers just to avoid any hassle but a few times I wore boots and they were just a pain (remember, take em off for the x-ray machine, hop around in your socks till they get through then carry them till you sign the book and get them back on… just easier to wear sneakers really).  He was much skinnier than before, but he also had more muscle- his arms were very very built up.  And so we started our California leg of the BOP experience, eating too much grill cheese and wondering what the next five years would be like. I predicted a lot of Western Union transactions in my immediate future.

A Letter from K-81, The Mental Ward in MDC Brooklyn

Dearest Chani,

What do you think about Bananas? Do monkeys have special knowledge about bananas that we as humans don't? If you think about it, monkeys throw temper tantrums when they don't get their bananas. They, the monkeys, peel them (the bananas) with great dexterity (skill). They, the monkeys, eat them (the bananas) by the dozen.

Bananas are sweet, tart, better when ripe, but not too ripe. They are green, then yellow, then black-ish when no longer edible. They are soft, sometimes large, sometimes, small-ish. They grow in bunches on trees appropriately called banana trees. They grow in jungle like climates. Dole seems to put their stickers on a lot of bananas. Back to the real subject of this letter, bananas.

Today I was presented with a box of bananas at dinner. Carry as many away as you want was the modus operandi. I walked away with seven. Four are already gone, peeled, eaten by me, yours truly. The remaining three are sitting in a bowl on my little desk. Right in front of me! To keep a nice fruit bowl going, there is a small-ish red apple in the bowl too. But I digress again. Back to bananas.

As I write you this important letter about Bananas (note: I have elevated the word to using a capital letter at its beginning...you should consider how Important capitalizing the first letter can be...Banana...looks much better than... banana). If you looked back at the first sentence of this letter, I had previously elevated the word "Bananas" with the proverbial first letter "B" being capitalized. Ah ha! I think of everything...it is the Bananas improving my memory, my brain, my processing power!

Bananas may be bringing me to a whole new level of realizations, of enlightenment, of mental growth.
Bananas write about themselves.

But, I should remind you of my youth. My mum gave me a banana every day when I came home from grade school. It was always perfectly ripe, not overdone. It was always in great shape, never beat up. It was always sweet, never bitter, never green.

So, I think Bananas are the greatest. Bananas remind me of how much my mother loved me. I miss her.

Dan.

Chapter 4

Macs and Stamps
To most people in the world, a stamp is just a stamp.  It is an accepted system of currency adhered to an envelope and used to ensure that the contents are delivered from A to B.  There are different kinds of stamps- they come in many different designs and colors and you can get them in a variety of denominations.  Because inmates are not allowed to have actual U.S. Treasury currency, they use stamps, instead of dollars.  How many dollars a stamp is worth can vary and depends on many things, but it is the main currency of the inmates.  They use stamps to buy items from each other, they use them for their poker games, and sometimes they even use them on envelopes.

Dan says there are inmates serving long sentences who have stamps that are twenty or thirty years old.  Most of the time, stamps are bartered in whole books- not as individual stamps- and they aren’t used for postage, so the books stay complete.  There are inmates who have hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of stamps in their possession.  This is not allowed (I am not sure of the limit but I know it is not very high) and since some inmates prefer not to tempt fate and get into trouble (others have no issue breaking rules), they do not use stamps as currency- instead they use macs.

What is a mac?  

I asked that too, when the term started showing up in letters from Dan.  He would write, “Got a haircut for three macs” or “Pedro did my laundry for two macs”.  I was slowly building up my prison slang but this was a new one. I'll just tell you because you won't guess- I didn't.
Macs are mackerels.  
Yes, like the fish.  
At MDC Brooklyn, they sell macs at commissary in a sardine type can.  People (not me or Dan) seem to like to eat these macs.  Therefore, they have a value- and since they have value, they are used to ‘purchase’ items and favors from fellow inmates.  The value fluctuates based on supply and demand.  During the weeks when commissary runs out of macs, these treats become very valuable indeed.  It made me laugh when I first heard it, I mean, if you would have asked for my guess, I would have said the most valuable food would be a Twinkie or some type of candy bar or protein like peanut butter for working out.  It also seems funny to use a perishable, edible object as currency. Kind of like a drug dealer with a drug problem- you'll never cut a profit. C'est la vie.

The Yard
Using the term "Yard" to describe the space the gentleman at MDC use for their daily hour of exercise is a bit of a misnomer.  It is really just a giant double height room (like two stories I think) that has mesh over the windows and a high ceiling.  There is a floor to run around on, some lines painted in case you can organize a game of some sort and basketball hoops on either end.  Don’t play basketball unless you are ready to either show up or get shut down.  These boys play hard mean street ball and the weak or meek need not apply.

Yard politics are even more complex than Washington politics!  Seriously- who you talk to, who you look at, where you stand, what you do- all of it is judged, weighed and measured.  It is like high school but so much worse because unless you want to be stuck inside the loud, noisy dorm every moment it is the only chance you get for a change of scenery and some room to move around. In prison, unless you are in trouble or there is inclement weather (I will explain that one later don’t worry) or some facility safety issue, you get one hour a day.  That is it.  Sometimes it is not even every day, depending on how the day went.  For instance, if the guy a few beds over gets mad because his best friend tells him on the phone that his girl on the outside is seeing someone else (a very common scenario) and then he slams the phone down and shoves someone or starts up…well.  Yard may be cancelled.  It might also be cancelled because the CO on duty that day does not feel like escorting the guys in that particular dorm to the yard and staying there for an hour.  

In MDC, the yard was not technically outside, although in other places it was, but it still was a chance to get out of the dorms and hopefully stretch a bit.  Dan had always been active and athletic so for him the constant inactivity was horrendous.  You always wonder why ex-cons have such a specific body type right?  Necessity becomes the mother of all invention.  These guys spend all day cooped up together so that hour becomes blow off steam time.  They create push up challenges, there are usually two handheld grips bolted to the wall that they can do pull ups (Oh my god the variations of pull-ups that exist on this earth are mind blowing.  I literally had no idea you could even move that way against gravity until Dan showed me some of the positions these guys come up with).  Sit ups, squats… basically these guys are proof that you don’t need a gym, equipment or really anything except the weight of your own body and a floor (or a wall) to get so utterly ripped you could compete in body building competitions.  Minus the drug test prerequisite of course.  Sometimes.  

The yard was also a place where the old timers could scope out the new fish and see if any of them were worth meeting.  Or worth not meeting.  Or could use a lesson in how to act.  It really depended on the day.  One way to make sure a new person knew exactly how welcome or unwelcome he was would be to get him to play some basketball and then overtly foul the hell out of him until he was forced to either push back or suck it up.  Dan wisely stayed away from the basketball courts.  

I did not really understand until much later that Dan never saw outside while he was at MDC.  I mean, it just never occurred to me because we literally take the idea of seeing sunshine so much for granted.  Not having the choice to feel the warm rays on your skin and have to squint your eyes… that is so very sad to me when I think about it.  Sunshine always cheered me up; just being warmed in the rays was enough to instantly make me happier. Stupid shady faux outdoor yard.

Phones and Commissary
Of all the ways to keep in touch with a loved one when they are incarcerated, the most important one by far is the phone.  It is really the only real time, low risk way to be in contact.  It becomes a lifeline, if you can afford to buy the minutes. While the BOP supports this method, they also make it a very difficult endeavor.  For example- there is a limit to how many phone minutes you can buy every month.  The general amount in most places was 300 minutes/month.  That works out to approximately ten minutes per day.  If you are smart you will buy a watch from commissary when you first arrive, then timing calls is not such a big issue.  To explain the phones a bit better, let me first explain commissary.

The lifeblood of any inmate is that stupid commissary account.  It is exactly like when you were in camp as a kid and there was a canteen that your parents sent money for your account, where you could spend a couple of dollars on food or whatever you needed that you forgot to pack.  Only in this case, there is a limit on quantity (like you can only buy ten stamps per week) and there is only one day a week when you can place your order, and a maximum amount of money you can spend as well.  If you miss your day to order or do not have enough money, too bad.  Dan and I figured out that if I deposited $300 in his account every month he was ok.  That worked out well since $300 was the limit Western Union allowed anyway, per transaction.  I became something of a Western Union maven, despite their customer service being a call center overseas.

You need money for everything- to buy phone minutes, stamps, food, toiletries, clothing, shoes, and headphone. The dumbest little items that you do not even glance at twice in your home are more precious than gold in prison. Batteries. You need them to power your radio, watch and your alarm clock.  A radio is such an essential item to make the time pass by in jail.  It is ironic that most prisons are made of concrete and therefore the radios get bad reception.  These radios are actual am/fm radios with headphones. Dan became a fan of NPR and other random talk shows, he would listen to them at night to fall asleep.  Sometimes we would coordinate and I would to listen to the same station as I drove to visiting, and then we would talk about the songs we'd both just heard.  

While the prison will give you basic essential toiletries, when I say basic, I mean BASIC.  Soap.  Toothbrush.  If you want say, deodorant, you need to place an order on your ordering day and get it a day or two later.  Same for shoes, underwear, socks- you get the idea.  And this is for people who can afford to have money deposited in their accounts.  Many inmates just do not have the means or ability to get money sent to them.  They are the ones who will work for macs or whatever the currency of that facility is- they might do your laundry for you, clean your bunk or whatever… and that is how they survive.

Back to the phones- you have to buy your minutes every month to use the phone.  Dan, being really observant, figured out that when he placed a call to me (and she would start talking to me in that detached recorded voice once I picked up) there was a short few seconds where he could hear whatever I said into the phone before the damned recording started telling me to press 5 to accept the call.  I could not hear him, but that was ok.

We worked out a system of him setting two times a day to call to check in. If I was ok, I would just say I love you over and over really quickly, or whatever I needed to tell him in the few seconds.  Then he would hang up and do it again, sometimes a few times in a row.  If I needed him to stay on the phone, I would say “pick up” and he would wait for me to press five.  I hated pressing five unless it was a pre-designated pickup call because I knew that every minute literally counted.  Moreover, that recorded bitch was stingy with minutes- go over by a second and you lost another minute, even if you hung up right away. We would both get frustrated if I veered from the "I love you" and he thought I needed him to pick up and we accidentally wasted precious minutes.

I came to resent phones in general, and mine in particular.  What represented such a lifeline to Dan was such a ball and chain to me.  I panicked if my battery was low, I never put my phone down and the few times I did it was always close by on my body and within eye sight.  I had extra chargers everywhere, in every purse, vehicle, location I could think of, plus a few backups.  To this day I refuse to allow anyone to make me feel that way about a phone and will even turn mine off or put it down and ignore it if it rings.  I have very specifically told people not to call, only to text me.  My voicemail says please do not leave a message, text or email me instead.  Like I mentioned earlier, there are aspects of this that will always haunt me- and the dreaded phone ringing is one of those things. Even having a super awesome ring tone like "Bittersweet Symphony" can't make it better.

Along with the delightful monthly minute limit, the phones had another phenomenal layer of complication.  Depending on the facility, there was a time limit per call and then another time limit of how long you had to wait BETWEEN calls, also the phones were shut off at a certain time at night and turned back on in the morning.  Because some places had limited movement, (I will explain that later) there were times when the line of men waiting for the phones would get extremely long.  Prison seems to be about waiting in line.  Even if you were not sure what the line was for, you got on it, because you might need to get whatever was on the end of it – food, medicine, supplies you ordered.  Dan would routinely wait an hour or more just to talk to me at the end of each day before they shut the phones off for the night (oh, yes, and they stayed off until an officer remembered to turn them back on the next day).  

He got really good at figuring out the ‘quiet’ times when the lines would be short and he could do a quick hang up call with me just to let me know he was thinking of me and was ok.  My young nephews had a running inside joke about me answering the phone- they would mimic me picking up a phone frantically spewing “I-love-you-I-love-you-I-love-you-I-love-you” and then dissolve into giggles. It is really embarrassing when you get an unknown call (that is how they always showed up from Dan on the caller id) and it turned out the person I just professed frantic love to is actually my banker or some other individual who cannot quite fathom why the hell I am answering the phone that way.  I grew oblivious to the random looks I would get from strangers too, when I would answer like that in public, immediately hang up the phone, and then repeat the process again a minute later. 

SHU
You know how on TV and in movies prisoners wear this brilliant eye-gauging shade of orange jumpsuits?  That is accurate. But, as it turns out, it has a specific and special meaning in the BOP.  Not everyone gets to rock such a hideously flurescent shade of citrus. This neon orange jumpsuit is reserved specifically for inmates who are serving their time in the SHU a.k.a the hole or the box.

The first time I heard the term ‘SHU’ was when my husband was in it.  About a month into his sentence, he suddenly stopped calling.  Odd.
The first day I was sad thinking the line to get to the phones must have been really long and he was not able to call. The second day I started panicking and by the third day I was freaking out.
Then I got a letter in the mail. 
“My love, something has occurred, there was an incident with another inmate where he was anti-Semitic to me in front of a CO and since that was deemed a threat against me, I have been put in the SHU.”
Still does not explain where/what SHU is, but at least I know he is still alive as of three days ago. It's the little things, right?

SHU (stands for Special Housing Unit, Secure Housing Unit or Segregated Housing Unit depending on the reason you need to be there and no that is not a joke) is basically a fancy way of saying solitary confinement.  Sort of.  If an inmate breaks a rule, he put in SHU as punishment and loses all privileges.  If an inmate is threatened, he is put in SHU to keep him away from other inmates.  If there are no beds on a regular tier when inmates first arrive at most facilities, they sit in SHU for a bit before they get to general population.  A cell in SHU is usually a tiny room with a bed and a toilet/sink hybrid.  To differentiate SHU inmates from general population, they all wear the hideous orange jumpsuit- in some places the sheets, towels, socks and shoes are orange too.  The shade is bright enough to make your eyeballs bleed. A calming shade of sea foam green or lavender might be better suited, but what do I know.

It sounds like a good idea- keep the troublemakers locked up in a small cell alone (or possibly with one roommate).  Put inmates who are in danger in a locked room where no one can get to them.  However- the obvious flaw in this system is that SHU is on one floor- so the inmates who break the rules and the inmates who need protection end up right next to each other and sometimes even sharing a cell together!  Not on purpose of course but sometimes scary stuff would happen before the roommate situation got resolved. I would like to think that error was made out of innocent stupidity, but I might be giving too much credit here.

Due to the inconsiderate thug who threatened my husband, and the vigilant CO who witnessed the exchange, Dan got to experience SHU firsthand even though he did not report the person who threatened him and he most definitely did not want to go.  Being in SHU is the sole thing to this day that he fears about the system.  You are completely alone, cut off without phone calls (you get one fifteen minute call every thirty days in SHU). You get escorted to the showers every two days,  are allowed outside to the rec for an hour once a week, and slide written requests under the door hoping a CO picks it up and acts on it… it is very difficult to endure for long and most people do not handle it well.  You also lose all of your property because everyone knows you are in SHU and aren’t going to be back to your bunk right away (anything that doesn't get looted first gets boxed up until/if you get back to general population or it gets mailed to your family). So you are locked into a room 24 hours a day with absolutely nothing to do, no human contact, no extra food to eat aside from what they deliver to you at meal times and nothing to occupy your mind.  

Dan did still eventually receive my letters while he was in SHU, and I sent one every day, but some of the rules about what I could send changed (no printed articles or pictures) and I could not order books for him either.  After a few days he managed to get a piece of paper and pencil to scratch out a letter to me, but it took him two more days to convince a CO to give him an envelope and a stamp.  The only food you get is what is on the menu, so he could not order extra food from commissary and he literally lived on apples and bread for a week because the meals tended to be partially frozen or weirdly burnt. There was a considerate CO who slid a book from the prison library under the door and when he finished it, he was able to trade it for another with an inmate across the hall (they slid them to each other).  It helped pass the time.

I had to visit him in SHU at MDC.  That was a terrifying experience I was unprepared for.  Instead of being brought to the regular visiting room with the chairs and vending machines, I was brought up in the elevator by armed guards to the floor where SHU is.  The cells are steel bars so you can see right in- and out.  Walking past men locked up in SHU is awful- they openly leer and talk about you.  It was the first time I ever felt unsafe within a prison, although not the last.  I was led down a long hallway to an empty cell and locked in.  It was really hard not to panic, watching the guard leave me in there and hearing the key turn in the lock, knowing there were all these eyes watching me. And that I was locked in. In a real live prison cell.

I waited for a bit, and then I heard shuffling coming down the hallway and saw the bright orange jumpsuit. They brought Dan into the cell, hands cuffed behind his back, and he had to turn around and slide his hands through a slot in the door to get uncuffed before they locked us both in together.  We sat in plastic chairs across from each other, not touching or holding hands.  You don't even get your before and after hug in SHU visiting- it's no contact whatsoever. I could tell he was a wreck, he was skinnier and very pale, but seeing him alive and getting to just hang out for a few hours really helped us both.

There was a murderer in the cell next door getting a visit from his ancient mother, and he was very friendly to Dan and said hi to me before I left.  I didn't want to respond but Dan whispered that I should be polite and acknowledge him after he greeted me. It was at that moment that the thought first crossed my mind- he is in here with actual criminals.  Violent criminals- bad people who physically hurt others, admit, it and brag about it.

Say what you will about the white collar guys- at least they are not violent- and that core difference really stood out to me at that moment.  It remains with me, the unfairness of housing white collar and regular inmates together.  It is a part of the broken system that needs fixing- white collar should be separate for obvious reasons. Even just using common sense- stop putting all the different types of criminals together because they all just talk about their specialties and teach each other and then you have actually contributed to the education and building of a better criminal!

This was not the only time he was in SHU. Somehow it remains at the forefront of those terrifying experiences because of how shockingly detrimental it was to my otherwise relatively thriving husband, considering the circumstances. Dan started to fall apart emotionally, and physically the entire ordeal was taking a visible toll on him. It was the mental strain of being in a room alone for great lengths of time, cut off from everyone and everything that broke him down more than anything else.  So he was scheduled by the staff for an evaluation with a counselor at the facility.  At the evaluation, he found out from the counselor that if he maintained that he was not coping well on a general floor, he could get to K-81 also known as the psych floor. Plot twist!


K-81
Some people are just not cut out for prison, for a variety of reasons.  At MDC Brooklyn, those individuals are placed on the top floor unit, the one known as K-81.  The other units are basically big dorm rooms with bunk beds where the inmates are all roommates. It can be great because there is always someone to talk to, but it can suck because there are always people talking and no privacy.  There is also a lot of racial segregation in prison, so certain areas are off limits to certain races- things get very political in the TV rooms especially.  On K-81, there are individual cells where most inmates get their own room although rarely they have a bunkie they share a cell with. There are much fewer inmates housed on the floor, which leads to a better quality of life, even if you do get classified as a psych patient on your official BOP record.

Due to his frayed nerves from SHU, Dan was reassigned to K-81 after the psych evaluation.  At first I was very much against this move- I mean, there are some genuinely crazy or disturbed individuals on the floor.  I didn’t want it notated on his file that he could potentially have a mental issue either- I felt like that could be used against him somehow by the BOP.  It is a lot quieter up there though, and once you meet a few people and find your groove, it can be relatively pleasant.  There is also a lot of extra food, since extra trays are sent up to fewer inmates and in a phenomenal turn of good luck, K-81 inmates all seem to work in the kitchen.  Democracy at its finest.

It turns out that while there are some nutty inmates housed there, the majority are older inmates who have been serving time for years and got tired of the new fish constantly coming in, starting chaos, so they get themselves sent up to the quieter floor to live in peace.  And maybe get an extra orange for lunch.  Really, they are not crazy at all- these inmates are brilliant- playing the system perfectly to have a more pleasant experience.

Speaking of brilliant plays, these guys literally spend all day playing chess or dominoes.  They play poker too but not out in the open, no gambling allowed.  So that image of the old foreigners sitting in the chess parks in NY all day--- just apply it to this situation only these guys aren’t smoking cigars and hanging out by choice.  They do take their chess very seriously though, and being that Dan was such a great player he learned super fast that he had to let them win.  Like, every time.  It was not worth the attitude and issues that would arise if he won a game.  If he forgot and won a game, somehow his meal would disappear that day- strange right?  Apparently, it just never made it out of the kitchen and up to his cell.  Once again, he learned how to conveniently avoid issues like that by either not playing in the first place or making sure he lost every time.  I reiterate- prison politics are more complicated than Washington.

One of the individuals placed on K-81 was Peter Gotti, the former New York mobster and boss of the Gambino family, also the older brother of deceased Gambino boss John Gotti.  I owe him a tuna sandwich, and I believe Dan owes him a pair of shorts and shower shoes.  Trust me on this: I will make certain he gets back all three one day.

I met Pete during one of my regular visits (non-SHU) and had no idea who he was.  He had a few people visiting him, who I think were his nephews.  I was waiting for Dan to come into the visiting room and Pete was waiting for his visitors to bring him food.  As we sat waiting, he leaned forward and asked whom I was there to see.  Not really thinking much about it, I told him Dan’s name, he nodded, and said Dan was ok.  (Later on I wondered what would have happened if he had not thought Dan was a decent person?!?).  When Dan came in a short time later, I quickly whispered and filled him in on what had happened.  He instructed me to NEVER EVER do that again- because you never know who is who, and who might have a problem with someone and don’t ever talk to anyone except a CO, if they talk to you first.  Oops. I have to stop being so polite.

As Peter’s visitors were leaving, he leaned forward and handed me half of a tuna sandwich.  NOW I was nervous, if I take it- well technically I owe him right?  And if I refuse… could that be misconstrued as an insult?  I took the stupid sandwich, waited until he was gone, and then threw it out.  Also, visitors are not supposed to interact with inmates who are not the one they are there to see. It was a very stressful incident for me. Dan later filled me in- that Pete was actually a decent person, just old and trying to get through his time without issue.  When Dan first arrived on K-81, he had nothing but the set of prison clothes he was wearing. Everything he had bought was gone because he had been in SHU and they only gave him back the regular inmate uniform that they had given him his first day. Peter gave him a pair of shorts and a pair of shower shoes.  The shower shoes were these ugly plastic flip-flops and you might think that shower shoes would be considered a luxury but no- they are probably one of the most necessary items ever.  Inmates treat the showers like toilets; they are not cleaned properly and are used by a high volume of men, often.  Trust me- shower shoes are gold.  Thank you Peter Gotti.

Dan’s time on K-81 was ok, and he slowly started figuring out how prison worked.  One thing that constantly drove me nuts was his inability to stay below the radar.  He would get so excited on commissary day that he would order a few extra candy bars.  He would give a few away to other people who did not order anything, just to be nice.  However, what he just failed to understand EVERY SINGLE TIME is that doing anything like that within the system looks like favoritism or repayment.  By the time he was two years in, he finally learned that lesson but it was something that caused other inmates to resent him in every facility he was in.  He’s lucky he was so damn helpful with other stuff- like fixing the typewriter’s or computers, because I am certain that saved him on more than one occasion- in fact, I know for certain one time that it absolutely did.

Inmates are master MacGyver’s when it comes to re purposing everyday items for their own uses.  Pringles are not allowed in prison because the bottoms of the cans make really good knives- as demonstrated by the guys who figure out that you could fold them in half and use them to cut prison-made pizza.  Another genius invention was using the paper slip from a Hershey kiss, dipping one end in a cup of salt water and a paperclip and somehow you had an incendiary device that could spark a flame.  In addition, they can make cheese- they use vitamin c, milk and a microwave… and probably some other ingredients, I cannot really remember, but yes- with enough ingenuity you can actually make your own prison-grade cheese.  It never ceased to amaze me what sort of inventive things they could come up with.  

Meanwhile I still burn the toast in my high tech toaster oven.  I forget to insert the carafe into the coffee maker properly resulting in steaming hot coffee with coffee grinds overflowing all over the machine and onto my counter.  Sometimes I realize the jam in the fridge has an entire sub planet growing in the green fur that has taken over the inside of the jar.  It is a wonder I have survived on my frozen prepackaged dinners and/or pop tarts this long!

So Dan is in Unit K-81 in Brooklyn and settles into a daily routine, awaiting his transfer to California.  Remember?  He was never supposed to be in prison in New York in the first place!  That he spent any time there at all was due to a paperwork error when the Judge signed his sentencing documents.  The Judge ordered a self-surrender date but failed to designate Dan to a facility.  Even though he had ordered previously that Dan could go to Taft Camp, it was left off the form, so the BOP never assigned Dan there.  The BOP also does not have to send you where the Judge recommends, unless it is a signed order, which is what we later had to obtain.  By the time Dan turned himself in to start serving his sentence, they had no beds available for him at Taft… so he sat in MDC waiting for a bed to open up so he could transfer over. This also meant that I crashed at my parent's house in New York long after the wedding and had to keep coming up with excuses as to why I was there and not back in Los Angeles with Dan. It felt awful to lie to everyone but the truth seemed worse, so I tried to seem normal and every once in a while asked to borrow the car for mysterious excursions to Brooklyn.

On August 19, 2008 I was able to confirm with an officer who treated us nicely at MDC Brooklyn that Dan had finally been designated… to a place called Terminal Island in California.  I had to look it up.  Terminal Island is a very famous prison- it is located between San Pedro and Long Beach.  You know where the Queen Mary and other cruise ships dock?  You have never even noticed but if you look past the shipping containers and giant ships, there is a giant complex on the very tip of the island with barbed wire and towers.  Welcome to FCI Terminal Island. You know what this means don't you? ROADTRIP!