Chapter 8

It was in TI that Dan started looking into getting home early.  We had thought we were prepared to cope and he saw that I was barely functioning. I don’t know why I thought he was only going to serve one year of his sentence, but for whatever reason I did.  He would talk for hours about the calculations of Good Time Credit, I tried to listen but it was all math and dates. Good time credit means 10% off your sentence assuming you have no issues while you are in.  If you do not get in trouble - no fights or problems with the staff or inmates, every federal sentence gets an automatic reduction. You can lose your Good Time Credit too.

There was another way to get time off- through a program called RDAP- Residential Drug Abuse Program.  Inmates who participated in extra programs provided by the BOP, could gain credit that counted favorably in their files. Many inmates took classes like a parenting class or an exercise class to get certificates.  It was also a productive way to pass the time. When the unit team reviews an inmate, they look very favorably on inmates who make the effort to earn these certificates, and it will aid in them receiving a better outcome.  

Inmates have to qualify to participate in RDAP- usually through their PSR.  The Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR) is the document a judge will review when weighing sentencing.  No one will tell you this prior, but your PSR is perhaps the most important document you can get before sentencing.  It trumps how good your lawyer is, even how lenient the judge is.  You meet with a pre-trial officer and they will ask you every question under the sun.  Their job is not to figure out if you are guilty or innocent, but merely to document exactly what kind of person you are, what kind of life you have led, what your life circumstances are…everything and anything you have ever done can come into play.  A lot of inmates never even realize that their lives are literally on the line with this report, and most lawyers don’t understand the gravity of it either as far as I can tell.  I think you can have your lawyer answer all of the questions on your behalf, and I assume that ads a layer of protection in terms of confidentiality when you actually get to trial.  Dan and I, however, not being experts at this sort of thing in the slightest, had dutifully attended his interview together without a lawyer present (this all occurred pre-trial and pre- prison in case the timeline got confusing). 

We talked to the officer at length about our life and our marriage, financials, details about the case, even mentioning extremely personal details about ourselves.  She asked, she had a badge, and we were under the impression that we were obligated to answer everything almost as though we were under oath, in fact to my recollection Dan had to sign off on it at the end of the meeting.  After that, the officer prepares a report and you get the chance to object to any details or facts that you may not think they understood or wrote up properly. But, as was the case many times throughout the judicial process, no one told us that and we never even reviewed it with that understanding. 

Your PSR is the document which the judge uses to weigh his opinion of you and becomes part of your legal file with the court.  The reason for this long winded explanation is that it is within the pages of this report that any drug or alcohol problems you might have are supposed to be written up here.  For clarification, it should go without saying that this PSR does not matter one bit after court if you in fact win your case…it is only in the unfortunate event that you lose that it matters because to the BOP your PSR is the bible.  BUT if you lose- once you get to prison, the BOP takes every single word in it as the law and base every decision on it. 

The RDAP program is designed to rehabilitate inmates serving time who have a pre-existing noted problem with either drugs or alcohol, or both.  There are weekly classes on addiction, diseases, anger management, family as well as one-on-one meetings with the Unit Team and your assigned counselor.  The goal of the six month program is to educate and help addicts overcome their issues so that when they get released they can cope properly in the world.  There is such a high demand to get into an RDAP program that some facilities have waiting lists that take six months or more.  The reason it is such a desirable program to take part in, aside from the obvious benefit of hopefully learning skills that will aid you in your free life down the line, is that it qualifies you for a sentence reduction.  That’s priceless.  When we were dealing with the BOP, certain facilities were giving six months to a year off of prison terms.  Not every prison has an RDAP program and inmates wait in other facilities for class space to become available, only then do they get transferred to the prison where they can sign up and hope to get into the next ‘semester’. 

When Dan found out about the programs existence, he immediately knew he wanted to take part in it.  Six months off from a fifty seven month sentence, in addition to the 10% good time credit… according to his calculations if everything went perfectly he could shave more than a year off.  There was the slight problem of not actually being a drug addict or having much of a history with alcohol abuse (I presumed the occasional glass of wine at dinner should not be a qualifier in this instance).  Due to the most amazing stroke of luck, there was one line in his PSR bible that mentioned Dan had turned to alcohol to cope with the death of a very close friend. That one sentence was enough to allow him entry into the program.  After that it was just a matter of waiting for a seat to open up in the program. 

Another detail about RDAP, inmates in the program do not dorm in the regular dorms with the general population.  They are assigned a separate dorm on the grounds and no one who is not in the program is allowed into their building.  The reason is simple- inmates do not react well when they think someone else is getting a special exemption or benefit and there was always the fear that one prisoner would be jealous that another was getting out early and could cause problems for him.  Any sort of violation and you could lose your place in the program, not to mention your good time credit and any awarded time off.  So while the program and it’s benefits were a phenomenal thing to be allowed access to, it was accompanied by risk of becoming a target on other people’s radar.  I witnessed more than a few instances where a person would have only a few more weeks left to serve and unfortunately some other inmate would take it upon themselves to involve them in conflict and all the accrued time off would be revoked.

There are certain very specific visuals that have remained in my mind from prison. One that affected me very deeply was an event that I watched take place a few times at TI- the day RDAP inmates got released.  It was usually on Monday mornings, before visiting started.  As I would drive up to the gates hoping to be one of the first visitors in, I would see families waiting by the side of the road in their cars.  They didn’t come in for processing so I couldn’t figure out what exactly they were waiting for.  Later when I was sitting in the waiting room for our group to be led into the courtyard for visits, I saw them.

Usually four to six inmates would come out of the doors from the courtyard carrying a box or pushing a cart with a few boxes on it.  They were not dressed in prison greens like inmates getting visitors, but rather they were wearing standard issue grey sweat pants, white t-shirts or grey sweatshirts and sneakers.  As they filed past the visiting waiting room you couldn’t help but notice the expressions on their faces.  They were literally taking their first steps towards freedom.  Some were smiling, others were just walking without making eye contact, but the energy in the air was so palpable.  There was hope, triumph, fear, relief- you could almost taste it.  I wanted to know what their thoughts were in those moments. Most of the time they were going to be picked up by their families or friends (the previously noted individuals waiting in their cars across the street) but sometimes they had no one there waiting for them and they would have to stand outside waiting for the prison shuttle driver to drop them at a bus stop.

The image of these men filing past me in their sweats remains something that inspires me every time I think about it.  It is hard to put into words, but some of these men were coming off of very long sentences- twenty years or more- and you got to see them looking at the world that was so utterly different from what it was when they first went into prison.  I think during our time at TI I saw three classes get released, and every time I would start to get emotional and tears would form in my eyes as I wished desperately that one of those men would be Dan.  It is funny to me looking back on it now, but every time I saw an inmate leaving a prison for any reason, I always had this tiny flicker of hope that it could be him, that they said we made a mistake or that he had been punished enough and it was time to get back to normal life.  Positive thinking at its finest, even if the logic is completely flawed.

Dan became the master of programming in the BOP. Seriously, he took part in any and every class offered to him and I have the certificates to show for it. He knew he needed to get into that class and set about making it his mission.  First, he had to get classified as being eligible for it.  Getting reclassified for anything in the BOP is a daunting task and up to the person who makes the decision at the facility, so depending on their mood the day the request hits their desk you are either golden or SOL (shit out of luck).  Once the approval and reclassification was done, he had to get on the waiting list.  This meant scheduling a Unit Team meeting to discuss requesting the program and having them approve you and put you on the list.  Then he had to wait until the previous class graduated and a new class started, and you cannot actually start the class until you have less than two years left on your sentence so it was all about timing.

Dan was able to get into the actual class so he could start the educational part of the program but he was not able to get on the list for RDAP early release, but we weren’t complaining, it was a step in the right direction.  Dan also got lucky because his assigned counselor really liked him and she helped walk him through all of the steps to get into the class.  The idea that he had someone in his corner who would advocate for him put us both at ease and I continue to regard her fondly to this day, even thought she and I never met.  You would think that all counselors would do that for all inmates who want it, but the reality is that most BOP staff don’t really care about helping inmates beyond doing the minimum they have to do at their jobs.  That probably sounds like a harsh generalization but it remained a pretty constant fact throughout the facilities we went through.  The funniest thing about RDAP for us was that even though Dan got into the class, he never actually graduated from it because he transferred to a new facility just before he would have been eligible to get on the early release list- and this happened more than once. 

One of the times that I watched an RDAP class get released, the most heartbreaking thing happened.  I came to TI a little bit late, probably due to traffic, and as I walked up to the front door an inmate came out in sweats carrying a box.  I held the door for him and he looked scared, unsure if he should accept or interact with me, and I realized immediately that he had just been released. I smiled at him, trying to convey happiness and comfort with my eyes and then he smiled back.  In my head we were sharing a moment of acknowledgment that he was experiencing the first tastes of freedom.  If you had asked him, he was probably stoked that he could smile at a pretty girl and might even get lucky later in the day with someone. The visit that day was uneventful and at the end of it I hugged Dan and walked out of the front doors towards my car.

As I exited the parking lot, I saw the same now ex-con sitting on the side of the road with his box next to him.  He was just sitting there, with a lonely, lost look on his face.  I don’t know if his ride had stood him up or gotten lost and were late or if he was sitting there because he did not know where to go next.  I think I cried a little bit after I drove off because it was so sad to think about someone finally getting their day of freedom and then having no one to share it with, no place to go.  You are wondering why I did not stop to ask him if he needed anything like a ride or a phone to call someone.  BOP 101 - Never get involved in someone else’s business, especially if you still have someone on the inside doing time.  You just don’t know- what if this guy had been a complete jackass to Dan and did him wrong when they were in together?  What if an officer saw me talking to him and thought something could be up and then took action against Dan?  Everything in the BOP becomes suspect so yes, while I empathized with the sad lonely releasee, I also knew I had to just drive away and hope he wasn’t still sitting there when I showed up for my next visit.  In case you are wondering, he was gone when I came back a few days later.  Hope he made it out there in the big, wide world.

On January 7, 2009, Dan received official word that his bed at Taft had become available finally and that he was going to transfer.  It was a wonderful Anniversary gift for us both, as we had gotten married on New Years.  It was also an early birthday present since Dan’s birthday was two days later.  We waited with excitement for the transfer thinking that finally, this was going to get easier because he was going to be in a camp where he should have been all along.

They woke him up super early on January 9 and he boarded a bus, black boxed and chained but eagerly anticipating the next phase of the journey.  Taft is located two hours north of Los Angeles, right next to Bakersfield.  I had driven past the exit on my way up to Sacramento from Los Angeles many times without even knowing it.  A two hour bus ride in the BOP transit world should be a simple, easy thing but of course that is not how it worked out.  The bus made numerous stops throughout the course of the day and it was dark when Dan finally got to the R and D building at Taft.  R and D is short for receiving and delivering, it is the department in every prison that handles inmate intake, release and also the processing of packages and mail into and out of the facility.  Taft is comprised of a Medium security prison and the satellite camp, but the R and D office is in the Medium so the inmates coming in are treated like Medium security inmates until they make it into the actual camp.

Taft is a privately run prison. The company that runs it is called Wackenhut, and it is a publicly traded company.  Some prisons in the United States get contracted out to companies that specialize in running facilities.  It’s all about making money at the end of the day, but make no mistake, it is still a very real prison with rules and consequences should you break these rules.  According to the BOP website:
Approximately 15 percent of the Bureau's inmate population are confined in secure facilities operated primarily by private corrections companies and to a lesser extent by state and local governments, and in privately-operated community corrections centers. Contract facilities help the Bureau manage its population and are especially useful for meeting the needs of low security, specialized populations like sentenced criminal aliens. Staff of the Correctional Programs Division in Central Office provide oversight for privately-operated facilities.

Usually when inmates first get to R and D they are placed in a holding cell as a group (picture the oft filmed scene on TV where people go when they have been arrested and spend the night in jail- just a large cell with a concrete bench).  The CO on duty will call each inmate up one at a time and process them in.  This means that they undergo a complete physical, a short interview and review of their inmate file and then they get fingerprinted, pictures get taken and an ID gets made.  They are never allowed to keep the clothes they come in with, because it could be used to hide items and smuggle contraband or weapons in, so they strip down and endure a complete body search (cough and squat included) and then they are issued prison greens, sweatpants, a pair of underwear, a pair of socks and a t-shirt.  They also get basic toiletries (plastic toothbrush, soap and a small towel) and a pair of slip on canvas shoes with rubber souls known as Bobo’s.

Rumor has it that BoBo’s are owned by Bob Barker and that's why they are called that.  I think the Bush family also owns a company that has the exclusive contract to supply the prisons with toiletries, although I am not sure if both of these are actual facts or just rumors.  It seems biased and unfair that the ex-president of the United States would be allowed to profit off of the prison system, but I guess someone has to do it.

Intake can be a very long process, especially when it occurs later in the evening, and instead of getting assigned a bed in general population, new arrivals will almost always get placed in SHU until they can be assigned a proper bed.  Dan got lucky this time and he was given a bed in the camp that same night.  His phones did not turn on right away so I didn’t know that he had actually arrived there, but it is comforting to know that he wasn’t treated too badly when he first got to the long anticipated camp.

I mentioned the downside to being in a camp located next to a higher security prison earlier.  The guards work shifts at both so they tend to treat the campers poorly, either out of spite that these men seem to have it easy or just out of habit because medium inmates are regarded as more of a threat.  I did not like the guards at Taft.  They were mean to me, treated me badly and were openly anti-Semitic.  I will describe some of the worse encounters in a bit more detail soon.  At the start, I was so thankful that Dan was finally at the camp.  It was an utterly different world than what he had previously endured.  Inmates were mostly low key, complacent and easy going. Instead of restricted movement, he was allowed to roam the grounds of the camp itself and could move freely within the buildings of the camp.  The medium was across a dirt road, surrounded by barbed wire fences with guard towers.  Some of the campers worked in the medium, but for the most part it was kept separate.  Taft is in the desert, so the climate is dry and dusty and the entire place looks exactly like prisons do in the movies. 

Driving to Taft was a little bit more difficult than driving to TI, because it was a longer distance and located in the middle of nowhere, but it was a pretty direct route so once I figured out the easiest ways to get there it was just a matter of getting in the car with everything I needed and making it on time for visits.  It took me approximately two hours each way to drive up to see Dan. I would wake up at 4 or 5am, make coffee and put it in a travel mug and get into my car.  The streets were usually fairly empty and the freeway portion of the trip uneventful.  I would like to proudly state that I never once got pulled over or ticketed (except for the one New Year’s incident at TI) during the entire time Dan was in prison, although I easily commuted more than 60,000 miles.  It is probably a much higher number but I just don’t care to sit and figure it out.  I can say that Lexus makes a phenomenal car because I lived in mine for the entire time. Aside from the extreme amount of flat tires I encountered later, it was the most comfortable way to handle the drives and I often ended up napping or waiting in my car for long periods of time- so thank you Lexus.  You made a small part of my very strange life a lot more comfortable. 

Dan was able to work out at Taft, unlike at previous places, because he could do it on his own time and without fear of encountering unpleasant groups of inmates who could cause trouble for him.  He would walk the grounds at night, looking up at the stars and enjoying the fresh air.  There was no weight room or gym equipment, but he learned to play tennis and sometimes the guys organized a softball game when it wasn’t too hot.  Most of the inmates were walkers, putting their headphones on and listening to the fuzzy reception of whatever radio station a battery radio can pick up in the desert. 

Taft was a totally different world than the other prisons we had been at because of the vast freedom the campers had.  I still giggle a little bit at the term campers but that is what they were called.  In my head, campers invokes the traditional summer time visual of kids wearing shorts and t shirts living in cabins in the woods near a lake for two months.  Actually, the description isn’t that far off from what prison camp seemed like, minus the lake.  And add in the barbed wire and guard towers across the street.

The road leading up to Taft is called 12 Mile Road.  Probably because it is twelve miles long- I once checked. After you exit the freeway, you turn onto this two lane barely paved road that has farmland, orchards and dirt along it.  You drive a few minutes, make a right at the stop sign, then a quick left and then literally drive straight for twelve miles.  The speed limit is 35mph I think.  Prison staff and guards would pass me on this road easily doing 100mph.  They would just fly along it, kicking up dust behind them.  It doesn’t sound so terrifying except that the road was not a level twelve miles, it had dips and swells so you were on the straightest roller coaster from hell.  There was also the risk of cattle and other animals wandering onto the road, in addition to oncoming traffic passing you at the same breakneck speeds.  I would drive along it at about 80mph and it always blew my mind when the car behind me would get impatient, swerve around and pass me.

One of my favorite songs to blast at top volume while I zoomed along this specific stretch was Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’.  I haven’t touched on this yet but once I started commuting to prison’s for visiting, I started relating specific songs to each place.  For instance, the now forgotten Kevin Rudolf smash ‘Let it Rock’ and The Killers ‘Are We Human’ are from TI (I mentioned the Killers earlier when I discussed TRULINCS).  As the story continues, I will touch on what I listened to in the car a bit more, because later on it became very relevant to my drives back and forth for visits.

Once you reached the last mile of twelve mile road, you could see the sprawling facility surrounded by desert with the scary guard towers and barbed wire.  Then you slowly approached a brick entrance, turned right and drove along the curvy road slowly, circling around the perimeter of the Medium facility and bouncing over the speed bumps, following the signs until you passed a trailer that was pulled up to a loading dock.  Next to the trailer there were a few empty docking bays, and all of these attached to a small one story building with a parking lot.  This was the camp itself.  I think because Taft was located literally in bumblefuck USA, we were allowed to wait in our cars in the lot instead of not being allowed to enter the property until visiting started.  All of the visitors would pull in and start getting their items ready- sweaters, money…and when the time came for visiting we would line up by the front door and fill out our forms and wait to be called in.  

Visiting here was different than the previous two places because there was no metal detector to get past, just a quick pat down (easier than at the airport I swear) and a pocket check.  Again the rules about clothing were in place with regard to color and revealingness, but it was a bit more laid back and easy going.  The officer sat in a room behind a thick sheet of glass (same  architect and designer as MDC I guess) and you slide your form and license through the slot.  They kept your license until the end of your visit, and you took your car key, money and jacket or sweater in with you.  If necessary, you could also bring in limited feminine products but I was always mortified by this part of the process. Once you entered into a visit you could not leave- if you did the visit was over for that day, so if you thought you might need those tampons you had better bring them in with you or you were screwed.  Another thing I didn’t have to deal with until later was visiting with kids- especially infants who require formula, diapers, wipes… I watched mothers struggle with this at every place and it was always difficult to see them trying to wrangle the kids, the items, the officers, the paperwork.   It made me supremely thankful that as tough as this was for me, at least I did not have kids that I had to cope with on top of it all. It was painful to acknowledge that although we had wanted children, we knew it was not the right time in our lives to have them, then be grateful that we had none. 

One by one we would go into the visiting room and pick out a table and place our keys to mark our spot, then go survey the vending machines for items.  Taft had mediocre food from what I recall.  Whatever company is responsible for those damn BBQ wings- oh my god.  I know they make a killing in terms of sales, because it is the most desired item at every place I have ever visited except one- but those wings smell and look so awful.  I would get nauseous just watching people eat them.  Taft had a game closet where inmates could check out games but you were only allowed to use them if you had kids at the visit.  Once we were allowed to scribble on paper with crayons and spent the visit drawing cartoons and enjoying the activity, but usually we just sat and talked. The best part about Taft visiting was that we were allowed to hold hands and if the officer on duty didn't say anything, I could sometimes rest my head on Dan's shoulder and listen to him talk. The visit lasted seven hours, if I got there first thing in the morning. Of course I always did.

Taft also had a tiny outdoor patio for visitors to use.  It was not big at all, just large enough for three picnic tables to fit on the concrete slab, and it was covered by an awning so we couldn’t tan in the sun (fair enough though, we were in the desert), but at least we could sit at the tables outside in the fresh air.  The one negative to the outdoor patio was that the inmates who had kids visiting them tended to end up out there so you would be surrounded by these loud, bored kids running around until a guard would warn the parents to keep their kids at the table and quiet.  Inevitably the screaming and running around would start up again, but we grew immune to the surrounding chaos and learned to zone out of our surroundings and just focus on each other.

Just like at TI, there was an inmate who served as photographer and we took pictures every once in a while.  The rumor was that if you left a sandwich or candy bar on the lid of the trash can on the patio, you were guaranteed fifteen minutes or so of quiet time when you could get away with being physically affectionate.  Dan was pretty much told by every inmate that if he wanted to be intimate with me, there were many ways, but I was too scared to break rules and too afraid of the consequences, even though the idea was so tempting.

The hardest part of visiting at Taft was leaving.  At every other place, when the visit was over, we were taken away from our loved one and left without seeing them.  At Taft, as I would exit the building, Dan would be standing by the loading bay watching me.  There was just grass separating us- no fences or barriers.  It wasn't even that far of a distance, just like if he was standing across the street. The first time I had to get in my car and drive away, I could see him in the rear view mirror waving and it took every ounce of determination not to turn the car around, zoom up and yell for him to make a break for it.  It was actually harder to make myself leave than you can imagine.  I would cry for at least the first few miles of twelve mile road and then usually just put the car on cruise control once I got to the freeway and drive home on auto pilot.  The visits were long, sitting there all day once or twice a week (depending on points), but Dan was flourishing so it felt like a small price to pay to see him smiling again. 

Because there were no gates or fences, there was the possibility of getting into shenanigans although Dan and I never risked it.  I knew of a few guys who would sneak out to the parking lot at night and have their significant other meet them so they could conjugate under the cover of darkness.  The potential fallout should you get caught in the midst of this endeavor was severe. Getting caught breaking any rule at a camp resulted in severe punishment because the inmates were entrusted with so much more freedom than inmates in higher security places.  Any infraction could and usually would result in the offending inmates immediate expulsion from camp and reclassification to Low security, and redesignation to a stricter place.  Inmates usually took this seriously and rarely tried to test the boundaries of their hard earned privileges but it did occasionally happen.  There were also a few escape attempts- every once in a while you read about it in the news that a prisoner just walked off the grounds.  They always got caught eventually and then were punished with extensive time added to their sentences plus no hope of ever getting back into a camp again, but some people did attempt it.  I imagine the temptation of being in a border less prison became too great to withstand.

Taft has had famous inmates just like every other prison we ever went to.  A few of the inmates have gained renown for an assortment of reasons.  Justin Paperny was an ex-stockbroker serving time at Taft while Dan was there.  He chronicled his prison sentence by writing a blog and having someone else post the articles online for him.  You can google him- I believe he now consults with people before they surrender to prison.  I don’t remember if I was ever introduced to him but I know he was in the visiting room a few times when I was there.

Another Taft inmate who gained a lot of publicity is Michael Santos.  He was sentenced to 45 years in prison for a drug bust and had been serving that sentence since 1987.  He is one of the few inmates I met who managed to not only better themselves in prison but also maintain a marriage and add to society in a positive way while still incarcerated.  His wife, Carol, posted blog entries that Michael hand wrote and mailed her every day.  He served approximately twenty six years in prison and was released on August 13th, 2013.  He was a very sweet and quiet presence in the visiting room and I wish him the best of luck with all that the future holds for him and his wife. I invite you to read his blog, he is a sweetheart and a great example of someone who made the best out of what happened to him:

Dan said Taft was much cleaner than any facility he had been in previously. There were only 480 campers. Brooklyn MDC had 3300+ and TI had 1300+ by comparison. The camp building had four dorms and Taft even had a "quiet room" on premises that was used only for studying. It was a totally new experience for Dan. Everything was run by the inmates themselves and at night there were only five CO's on duty- one for each unit and one in the control room. Taft didn't have email so we were back to writing letters and quick little phone calls.

We had heard that Dan would be able to apply for a community service job while at Taft. If he could find a company or organization willing to take responsibility for him, he could fulfill his prison work requirement off grounds. We wanted this desperately so that I could come see him during the day. It was one of those things we knew other people had, so we were going to figure out how to get it too. We never did though.

The Lady Under the Bed and Molly the Dog
Life at Taft was so much easier for Dan, you could see the physical and emotional changes in him almost immediately.  He played tennis every day and I would get so aggravated when I would talk to him and ask him how he was doing, and he would bubble up with a response like “Today was great! I played tennis and walked a lot and had a really great day!”
I wanted him to have a great day, but it was so hard for me to exist the way we were. Hearing him accept the way our life was and be ok, even enthusiastic, hurt me somehow.  It almost felt like I was the only one suffering.  I was still fairly damaged from my car accident and had started smoking cigarettes again. It was the only way I could handle driving on freeways, even though I had quit smoking five years earlier. It sucked that Dan was in such a great place mentally and physically and I was in a totally opposite place. Taft was SO much easier that he was able to forget a lot of the misery we had endured up to that point.  Not totally forget, but sort of put it aside and be ok in the moment. For me all that had changed was that I had a longer drive and less face time with Dan.

I was also stressed because our tenant in New York had moved out of our house in the city and now we had to find a new tenant. Their rent had paid our mortgage on the place, and it was going to be a serious problem if I didn't get it rented quickly. We had a broker who was helping us but now that we didn't have email I had to make most of the decisions on my own if they were time sensitive. He didn't know Dan was in prison and had dealt with him directly before, so he didn't really tell me all of the details. But he did email them to Dan's personal email, which of course was really me responding on his behalf. It was a lot of pressure.

Dan would write me the funniest stories and I would retell them to our families and have them cracking up.  One story that other inmates kept telling Dan was about the lady under the bed.  As he relayed it to me, before Dan got to Taft there was an inmate who missed his wife so much, he convinced her to sneak onto the grounds at night and stay.  Supposedly, she lived at the camp for months, hidden under his bed and eating whatever he brought her.  I don’t really believe this one, because it seems utterly ridiculous but then again, you just never know.

There was a camp pet, a stray dog that the inmates adopted and called Molly.  She was a mutt and someone had tied a red bandanna around her neck. I used to watch her roaming the grounds while I waited for visiting to start.  In addition to Molly, there were a lot of stray cats that the guys would feed sort of look out for.  No one acknowledged that they had Molly as a pet, it was not allowed, but I assume it was comforting to the prisoners to feel like they had some sort of animal to care for.

As with the other facilities, Dan had to work at Taft.  He got assigned the job of Fire Safety Inspector.  He had no previous experience (although he once rushed into a burning house and saved an employees cat from the fire- true story) but his job suited him.  He had a red clipboard and was tasked with walking the grounds surrounding the Medium and checking that all of the fire safety equipment was in good working order.  Basically his job meant he walked around in the sun all day.  I think he was making thirteen cents an hour for that job. He loved it. He had access to all areas- the garage, the storage areas, the gardens.

There was a project called "Wheels for the World" that some of the inmates worked on. They would fix donated broken wheelchairs, thousands of them, and ship them out to third world countries. It was a beautiful charity project and I haven't heard of anything similar since. Dan liked to stop by and watch the guys working when he was on his fire inspection safety route.

He was perplexed by the garden. The prison allowed the inmates to tend a garden, and it counted as a job. However, all of the produce that was grown was tossed away. And inmates as well as staff were banned from entering the gardens unless it was during work hours and for the specific purpose of tending to the plants. Dan also noted that it took an incredible amount of water to maintain the garden since most of the stuff grown was not indigenous to the desert. Per his letter "The gardens are an anomaly, they serve no purpose and are quite sad".

Before Dan went to prison we had stocked up my apartment with frozen dinners and toilet paper. This sounds really goofy but it meant the world to me. I ran out of the frozen foods but I still had 6-8 cases of toilet paper left in my closet around this time. We had bought them on sale at some store and just stacked them all up in the back of my closet. He was trying to make things easier for me, and also bought extra light bulbs, paper plates and boxes of one of my letters I mentioned I was almost out of toilet paper and it made me sad because I was slowly running out of things he had gotten for me. I was going to physical therapy a few times a week and everything still hurt but I was slowly healing. Dan knew I wasn't doing well and started pushing me to find a psychiatrist. I wasn't against it, and it probably would have helped tremendously, but I just didn't have the energy to actually go find one. Instead, I spent my days wandering Los Angeles, finding quirky spots to sit down and people watch. I spent a lot of time at Venice Beach, looking at the art work for sale and getting henna tattoos with Dan's name. I felt comfortable in Venice- I was not the weirdest person there. I still couldn't sleep at night and started taking Tylenol PM's to knock me out. The downside was the medicine made me useless the next day, so I could only take them if I didn't have visiting to get to.

It was rough for me to feel so gloomy when Dan was doing so well, I felt guilty. I also started a "Friends and Family" newsletter email chain- every week after our visit I would write up a quick weekly summary and send it to our families and the few friends who knew what was going on. Most everyone wrote to Dan directly and mailed him cards and books, but to get information out it was easier if I did it instead of him having to write a letter to each person separately.

Weird things set me off. I watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy where the staff had to save an inmates life who was a serial killer and scheduled to be put to death in a few days. In the episode, the inmate wasn't sorry for what he had done but he didn't want to die in prison, he wanted the doctor to help him die in the hospital. There was a little boy in the hospital waiting for a transplant to become available and the inmate wanted to donate his parts to the boy. But the doctor couldn't make that happen and attended the inmate's execution a few days later. (The boy got organs from another donor). I lost it. I cried for hours after I watched it. I know, I should have shut it off, but I couldn't. It seemed like prison stuff was all around me and I was so sensitive to it. I felt like a damaged baby deer, wobbling through nature alone with big scary predators all around me in the shadows.

Dan moved bunks and had a new bunkie named C-Boogie. Boogie was a well know former LA club promoter doing time for a well known E ring drug bust. A lot of people I knew in LA knew him, and it was strange to think that he could write one letter or mention Dan's name to someone and then everyone would suddenly know my secret. He was a cool bunkie for Dan though- they were both neat freaks although as Dan wrote to me:
"Best thing: Boogie is very clean
Worst thing: Boogie is insanely clean.
Chani, he deloused my mattress, washed the walls with bleach, made my bed to show me how he wants it to look, waxed the floors, washed his chair and mine and cleaned my locker."
I thought it was a good thing for Dan- in our relationship I was always the "messy" one even though I am obnoxiously organized. It perked me up to know that Dan was now the messy one, and had a new standard to upkeep.

I knew Taft was a good place for Dan to be. It was six months in and we were finally in the right place and he was finally getting into a routine that was normal. Now we only had to get through the next few years without another disaster. As my dad is fond of saying "We plan, and God laughs". I believe in my case, I am his own personal punch line.
"Oh my God - I just remembered I can fly."
Dan sent me this in one of his letters when he first got to Taft. I felt it was apt to include it here.

Chapter 7

Random Stories
Fish, Yogurt, Peanut Brittle and Pie
I have so many stories about Terminal Island, it gets really hard to keep track of them all. In reading through our letters I picked out a few of the funnier things and memorable ones. They are all sort of jumbled together but enjoyable.

For instance, inmates at TI made a lot of food on their own. Dan was able to get onto the yogurt list. He called me and was so excited- apparently it was a really hard list to get on. The guy who made the yogurt did a fresh batch every day and once you were on the list, as long as you could pay for it, you had a daily fresh yogurt treat. In one later letter Dan wrote on and on about how he got TWO bottles of yogurt one day- it was clearly very exciting. I looked in my fridge at my own yogurt and wondered what I was missing.

Another wonderful list to be on was the Peanut Brittle List. per his letter:
"Ok! New Development! Another guy here makes peanut brittle! I am on the list! Fresh warm peanut brittle, it is the bomb! I got 3 today: one brittle with peanuts, one peanut butter brittle with peanuts, one root beer peanut brittle with peanuts. It is currently being cooked up!"

Dan was even more excited when he got on the pie list. Apple pie, banana pie, fudge and chocolate cake. He was nowhere near as excited as another young man was though. He wrote me about a young kid named Ludlow who would greet him at the entrance to his unit whenever Dan had food waiting in his cell. They never discussed it, but wordlessly it was agreed that Ludlow would guard Dan's cell until Dan got back from visiting and in return Dan would always give him a piece of pie. They had this charade going where Ludlow would greet Dan at the building entrance then follow him to his cell where Dan would smell the pie and see it on his bed and act surprised that it was there. Ludlow would act doubly surprised and then make a sad face (he had no money or stamps to buy anything) and Dan would tell him to get his bowl. Ludlow would run around the unit trying to borrow a bowl but no one would give him one, so Dan would lend him one of his own and offer him a slice of pie again. As Ludlow would start to cut off a piece, Dan would tell him to make it bigger and his face would light up and he would thank Dan then scurry off to eat the prized pie in his cell. Ten minutes later Ludlow would return with a spotless empty bowl and a huge smile, say "See ya later" and take off. 

After a week of this, it occurred to Dan that Ludlow had no bowl of his own. So Dan gave him a bowl to keep, explaining that he didn't have room for three bowls in his locker so it would be a favor if Ludlow would take one. He felt really bad that it took him an entire week to realize the kid had no bowl. I think it was very smart of the bowl-less Ludlow to find a way to provide security for Dan's pastries in exchange for a piece of the pie.

When it came to the TV's in TI it was a very serious issue indeed. There were four TV rooms in B Unit. They were dirty and uncomfortable and also had an extreme chair shortage issue. Inmates would claim a chair and write their name on it then take that chair to the TV room from their cell when they wanted to watch. Dan and his cell mate had a chair they shared and it never really was an issue as they both tended to avoid the TV rooms. Four TV room for 96 inmates in B Unit meant one room for whites, one for Southsiders (Mexican Americans that don't speak Spanish), one for Pizanos (Mexican Americans that do speak Spanish), and one for African Americans. American Indians were considered white and foreigners were not welcome anywhere. The room for "whites" had three TV's but was super crowded and they only played AMC, Sports and something trashy. The "Southsider" tv room usually played CNN but if you weren't Mexican you were unwelcome, so Dan would stand by the glass and watch the markets and read the headlines then wander away. Usually he avoided the TV rooms altogether.

Before Dan got his Cadillac job sweeping one square of yard every day, he got assigned as assistant to the guy who ran the recreation equipment room. He was really waiting for a job teaching in the education department to come through, but that was always being delayed and meanwhile he had to have a job of some sort. He had to sit at a desk in case someone came in and requested equipment. They had all kinds of stuff- racquetball rackets, jump ropes, horseshoes, basketballs, soccer balls, chess sets, guitars, pool cues and balls, shuffle board sticks and disks, drum sticks and bass drum kicks and a tambourine. For the first hour no one came but there was a typewriter at the desk so he typed me a letter describing all of this. Then he had three "customers' who wanted a ball, an exercise mat and a guitar respectively. After a few hours he left and came to visiting, where I was waiting.

Upon his return to the recreational desk after our visit, Dan was informed by his supervisor that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that he was done working for the day. The bad news was that there was no future for Dan in the department because they had nothing for him to do on an ongoing basis. He told me so in another letter he typed before he left that position. After that it was back to handwritten letters.

One time while I was getting dressed for visiting, I just wasn’t paying attention and put on a white t-shirt and tan cardigan with my jeans. I forgot I had a limited palette from which to choose colors. When I went into the lobby to sign in I immediately got stopped and they informed me I couldn’t wear that to visiting.  If you wanted to be able to visit, you had to be processed in within the first two hours of visiting; otherwise, you were not getting in that day.  The nearest store (Target) was not close and I would have to get back on the freeway during morning traffic so that was out of the question.  (I once had the genius idea that someone should look up the rules at each facility and park a fashion truck out front, so that all the new visitors or people who mess up can just meander out, browse the racks of pre-approved clothing and make it back it- you would make a decent profit!).  

Well, I took off the tan cardigan thinking it was the offending garment, and then was told that my white shirt was too sheer so I still couldn’t come in.  In addition, because I was in a rental car while my own car was in the shop after the accident, I had no backup clothing with me! I had gotten into the habit of keeping a change of clothes in the trunk, but of course, had forgotten to move them to this temporary car. I gulped back sobs of panic, willed myself to think rationally and ran out to my car desperate to resolve this issue before the visiting window ran out for that day. I was also anxious because Dan would not know I got turned away. He would be waiting to be called to visiting and if I didn't make it back in time, he would not realize it until hours later, he would just assume I didn't make it in the first group.

There was a rundown shack at the end of the road that housed the dirtiest, stinkiest diner I have ever seen (to this day) where all the fishermen and dockworkers went to eat breakfast.  I drove up in a panic, looked around the room, and asked the enormously obese individual frying some grease on top of grease with the greasiest skillet ever known to man if there was a way I could buy a shirt anywhere nearby.  There were maybe seven patrons (I use that term loosely here- let us just admit they were the regulars who probably missed the boat that morning, pun intended) sitting around reading the morning paper and drinking dark liquid from grimy mugs.  No one really looked up or even acknowledged me so I asked the cook again and he said he didn’t know, maybe one of the guys in the place could help me.  

I walked up to the first table where two scraggly gentlemen were shoveling the remains of whatever they had ordered (betcha it had grease in it!) and asked if either of them had an extra shirt I could buy or borrow from them.  They looked at me as if I was absolutely insane and then the younger one saw the panic in my face and he slowly stood up.  He unbuttoned the black Levi’s collared shirt he was wearing and took it off (he was wearing a white t-shirt underneath) and handed it to me silently.  I thanked him profusely (manically) and promised I would be back in a few hours to return the shirt to him, and that is when he started laughing.  He told me not to worry, he had more.  I threw the shirt on and raced back over to the prison, just eking into visiting before the morning count cut-off.

When the last group of us was escorted into the visiting room, I suddenly relaxed, it was all going to be ok, and exhaled.  Then I inhaled- big mistake.  Huge.  The aroma that assailed my nostrils and caused an almost instant swell of nausea and revulsion that reached my very soul, I mean, there are not enough words to describe the epicness that this smell was comprised of.  Was that god-awful stench unknown to man before this day emanating from me?  Oh. My. God. At that moment Dan came out from behind the corner into visiting and walked right up to hug me.  Without blinking or reacting as he got closer, he hugged me (remember, one hug at the start of the visit and one at the end, no contact the rest of the time so beggars can’t be choosers) and then he whispered in my ear “I love you but what in the hell are you wearing and what on earth is that smell?”  It may have been a stinky, fish smelling, too large, strange man’s shirt but I honestly could not have cared at that moment. Not only had I averted a total crisis by problem solving but also I had done it on my own instead of totally falling apart.  That was the first time I discovered my own strength and realized that one way or another I was going to get us through this even if I had to drag my sometimes obtuse mate along, kicking and screaming for the duration. Or suffocate us both by accident.

I did go back to the diner after the visit, and gave the cook the shirt to hold for the kind fisherman whose name I do not know.  I also paid for his breakfast for the next week and told the cook that this was not remotely enough of a thanks to pay back my unknown savior but it was all I had on me and please make it stretch as far as possible.  I sincerely hope he did not pocket my $20.  In addition, if that anonymous man ever happens to read this story- thank you.  I hope you got your week’s worth of breakfast and your shirt back. You saved my visit.

I didn't mind the handwritten letters because Dan was finally in a facility that had TRULINCS. For me, getting mail from him in my mailbox was such a treat. When Dan first got to prison this program was just beginning to roll out in some facilities across the country.  It is a server-based email system that the BOP used to enable inmates to ‘email’ their loved ones.  The reality is that it is not actual email- they have no web access- but rather it is a system where they have an account, can type letters (that get scanned and reviewed for content) and sent to people not currently residing in a prison.  These people had an account as well and could respond with letters of their own.  Going back to the concept of rehabilitation, it was viewed as a more high tech, real time way for inmates to interact with their families and friends.

TI was the first place we saw that had TRULINCS and it changed things for Dan and myself in a good way. It wasn’t available when he first got there, only towards the end, but once he was able to use it having that form of contact was a game changer for us.  Up to this point, I wrote him a letter every single day and usually spoke to him twice a day for two minutes in the morning and then for five minutes before the phones shut off.  Aside from visits, this was the extent of our contact.  Letters were rough because we knew that they were reviewed and read- and there was always the possibility that someone would take it and use it against us somehow.  Why anyone would want to read the pages and pages I penned describing my longing for Dan to come home and the hardships that each day brought, I don’t know.  Our phone calls were all recorded and listened too as well.  Visiting was the only way to communicate without the risk of letting a third party into our discussions.  But all three of these forms of communicating were limited by time- Dan had to get through the phone line and use limited minutes to talk to me, letters took time to get delivered by the post office and then by the facility (they had to be checked for contraband and inappropriate content) and visits were restricted to certain days.  If I had something time sensitive that I needed to tell Dan, I either had to risk telling him over the phone or hope that by the time I was able to discuss it with him, it was not obsolete or too late.  The TRULINCS system was not instant- there was approximately a two hour delay between the time Dan penned an email and the time it actually got delivered to my inbox, and the same was true for what I sent him.

The system had a built in filter- it scanned each email for specific words and if it caught one, your email could get held up for much longer than two hours and possibly not delivered at all.  If a suspect email was received, the inmate receiving it could be called into the counselors office to explain it, but I don’t think that ever happened to us.  We did, however, experience a length of time where it was trial and error as we tried to figure out what words would trip up the system and cause a delay.  For instance, you could not use words like ‘bomb’ ‘death’ ‘murder’ ‘gang’…common sense really.  Once an email was flagged by the system, a staff member would have to review it before it would either get delivered eventually or held back indefinitely.

The way we learned this was because I would email Dan the lyrics to songs every day.  It was a nice idea that we could share the words and listen to the song on the radio at the same time (I tried to stick to current popular songs mostly).  I kept sending him the lyrics to this one song that had just been released that I was obsessed with- The Killers ‘Are We Human’.  For some reason, he never got that email, even though I sent it a few times.  Finally it dawned on us- the system was keeping it from being delivered because of the word ‘Killers’.  Sometimes the most innocent words would get caught and it became somewhat of an exercise in creativity for me to find new ways to describe things so they would not get delayed.
This song used to make me cry- the line "Now in the morning I sleep alone, sweep the streets I used to own" rang so true to me. It verbalized the extent of how we had gone from ruling our own life to hitting rock bottom, losing almost everything.
 Dan LITERALLY swept the streets (his square foot of concrete).

I sent him news articles via email, updates about life and funny anecdotes, transcripts from movies and books…anything I could share with him that would make him smile and occupy his time.  He would print these and read them later at night in his bunk.  We worked out a code with each other where I could write about something and he would know what I meant or whom I was referring to, and to anyone else it would be meaningless- it was in this way that I was able to let him know about other inmates or people in our lives that I didn’t necessarily want the staff to know we were discussing.  I also had to deal with the tenants who were renting our house in New York while he was away, so having email enabled me to ask Dan questions about renting it when it was vacant or repairs… it was just a very helpful lifeline that made things a lot better for us in the long run.

Email was not free- it cost five cents/minute and there was a thirty minute time limit per session.  I think TI had four computers, although one was always broken.  The computers themselves were locked up but the inmates could access the keyboards and screens.  Realize, some of the people serving time were there for electronic fraud and were computer geniuses, so they would not be allowed access to the computer room because they might find a way to crack the security and gain access to the prison network or something.  Dan was able to email with our families, friends and some lawyers although he kept those ‘legal’ emails to cordial unimportant topics and emergencies only.  Having the ability to type up a quick email throughout the day and send it to him to let him know I was thinking of him was such a source of comfort for me.  The flip side, receiving a notification that I had a message waiting for me was amazing too- it made me feel connected when oftentimes I felt so lost and alone.

Sometimes when I was out at night in a club or with my friends I would sit down and type up a quick “I’m thinking about you and miss you” message and sent it, knowing he would get it first thing in the morning.  Since the computers were shut off at a set time every evening, I knew that the latest I could receive an email was 11pm and not to expect anything after that time.  I had to help everyone get signed up to correspond with him this way, and then I had to warn them all that not only was everything they wrote ‘public’ but that they had to watch out what words they used or risk getting Dan in trouble.  The plus side of involving everyone in TRULINCS was that Dan could reach out to everyone on his own and let them know what he was thinking.  Instead of writing letters, mailing them to me and then having me distribute them to the correct person, he could maintain a connection with them on his own.  This really helped him get through a lot of the sadness that permeated every day and gave him an emotional support network he did not have until this point.

The one big downside to the computer room was that Dan had to wait until move to get in, and then hope there was an open computer for him to use before the next move.  If not, he would be stuck in the room without having anything to do for an hour.  On a positive note, if he was in the computer room and no one else was waiting, he could use the computers for the whole hour.  The thirty minute time limit was only in place if there were other inmates who wanted to use the computers too.  At five cents a minute, email was an expensive form of contact but the end result of being so connected, almost in real time, was absolutely worth it.

Back in SHU
TI was like prison boot camp for us. We learned the real ropes of what this experience was going to be like. In mid December Dan got thrown into SHU and this time it was even more of a problem than before. We had been waiting for his transfer to Taft to be approved, and any sort of perceived misbehavior or issues, even if Dan wasn’t at fault, could derail that. The official story was that an officer heard that Dan was going to get beat up and they were placing him in SHU for protection. Cute. The real story was that someone who wanted to mess up his transfer spread a rumor that Dan paid a guy to beat him up so he could get moved to a camp. Besides the obvious part where getting beat up wouldn’t have gotten him into a camp, there was the fact that we already had the transfer paperwork and confirmation in our possession- but the inmate who spread the rumor didn't know that fact. I was livid.

I found out all of this because I showed up for my regular Friday morning visit and was turned away. At first no one would tell me anything, but I refused to leave (I was learning when it was suitable to stand my ground even if I was scared) and when I pushed to speak to a Lieutenant I finally got a few answers. The rest of the answers came in the mail via letters from Dan. I felt robbed. Even though I should have been allowed a SHU visit, I was denied that as well. I was furious that someone could dislike us enough to make up lies and put the transfer to a camp in jeopardy. And now I had an added stress- I had to let our families know that they couldn’t email Dan until he was out and that brought on an onslaught of questions and worry. I have a large family- I had to answer each person separately and reassure them that it would be ok even though I had no idea if it really was. It was just too much.

We had a lawyer in New York who was dealing with an assortment of issues for us and I pushed him to press for answers and a resolution. He was maddening- said there was nothing to be done, just wait it out. I couldn’t accept that. We had another lawyer in California who had handled civil cases for us and he actually tried to get in to see Dan and push for answers but was denied. At least he tried! Before all of this happened I made contact with an amazing Rabbi who worked for a program called Aleph. They advocated for religious rights for inmates and made sure they got kosher meals and the ability to pray and all sorts of things. This Rabbi was aware of Dan’ situation and pending transfer to Taft and used many of his connections to try to get Dan moved. He proved to be an amazing contact throughout the duration of our prison experience, and an incredible friend to Dan. He got involved at this point, trying to push for Dan to be transferred immediately. At least someone was getting something accomplished.

Meanwhile I was slowly starting to feel the crazy coming back to the surface. No contact from Dan and I didn’t know if he was ok or in transit or hurt. I only had the words of the CO’s telling me he was in SHU, no actual confirmation from Dan himself. I trusted no one. It was weird to watch myself spiraling silently in my apartment. I didn’t go out for a few days, just wrote endless pages and pages to Dan. And fielded the calls from our families. There was nothing new to tell them, nothing good to say- the pressure of SHU this time was tenfold because now I had all of these additional worried people leaning on me and looking to me for guidance and reassurance. (I had none). I said I would update them as I found out and that they should all rest easy because it would be fine. (I had no idea if that was true).

A few days later I got a letter from Dan - he was in SHU, he was not hurt and he was hoping to get out in a few days. He also had a 72 year old bunkie who was in prison for violating FCC regulations by running an anti-Bush radio station. The guy had a BA in economics and considered himself a political prisoner. Weird but harmless. Thankfully he was able to loan Dan a pen and gave him some paper so he could write to me.

He was released back into general a few days later, some pounds lighter, and anxious for a visit. Another crisis dealt with , handled and done.
I was exhausted.
Glad we had made it through that one. Should be easy breezy from now on, right?

Dan disappeared again. NO time to be tired! After a few frantic calls and some inquiries I was able to confirm he was headed to Taft. We were five months into this nightmare, although it felt like a century already, and I thought I could finally see some sort of silver lining. LOL. Silly rabbit, there’s no silver lining in prison.

Chapter 6

Inclement Weather/ Fog Watch

Hopefully, I have been able to paint a fairly accurate picture of what life at TI was like. I mentioned that TI is located on the ocean between Long Beach and San Pedro.  Ironic that this very desirable real estate is allotted to inmates being punished.  They get fabulous sunrises and sunsets, ocean views and the occasional topless California girl to ogle.  TI was a sprawling campus with freestanding dorms surrounding an octagon shaped quad in the center.  When the inmates were assigned yard, they would go out to the quad and enjoy the beautiful sunshine while working out or playing a game of basketball or softball.  If they worked in the factory, they woke up really early and went to work all day but if their job was something Cadillac, they could lounge around and hang out once they did their work.  When they were at work or in visiting, even for Cadillac job, inmates were required to wear their ‘greens’ (the air force inspired button down shirts with pressed slacks) and boots.  The rest of the time they wore grey sweat pants or shorts and white t-shirts or grey sweatshirts.

Most Federal prisons across the United States require the occupants to do some sort of job every day.  Having a job is not optional, it is required.  How strenuous your job is can sometimes be up to you, sometimes not so much.  TI had a factory where they made furniture and license plates but because you were paid a lot to work in those factories, the jobs were hard to get if you were new.  There was the other side of the coin, the lowest paying jobs that were a joke but still qualified as your daily labor.  These jobs are referred to as Cadillac.  I don’t quite get why- perhaps because you ride smoothly along?  Dan was paid a grand total of 6 cents/hour to sweep one square yard of the courtyard every day.  There were dozens of other inmates who were paid the same 6 cents to sweep the other squares.  Sometimes one person would sweep all of them and then everyone would go play chess or stand wistfully by the fence hoping a boat full of topless chicks would speed by.

The one huge downside to the location of TI was something known as inclement weather.  Being on the water meant there were a lot of wonderful days, but the flip side was the days when the fog rolled in.  Any sort of weather that impaired the ability of the guards in the tower to see properly meant that the entire facility would go on lockdown.  Lockdown is exactly what it sounds like- literally everything gets locked and there is no movement allowed until an all clear is sounded.  This situation can really suck if you are about to go into a visit and they announce inclement weather.  You simply do not get allowed in and once I even got stuck in the waiting room for a few hours because they wouldn’t let those of us who had already been processed in start our visits until it cleared.

Fog watch was a frequent occurrence and any time fog rolled in (which was all the time) the whole facility went on "Fog Watch" and shut down. It should be noted that being under Fog Watch did not actually mean there was any tangible fog- just a warning that fog could potentially be present. Dan would sit in his cell, locked down, looking out the window at the clear blue sky, waiting for the watch to clear. We mocked it at first but once there was a fog so thick he couldn't see past the glass of his window and after that we stopped joking about it being overkill.

Prison is full of stories and the general rule of thumb is that if one person repeats it, don't believe it. If a few people repeat it, it might be sort of true. If everyone is talking about it, it happened. There is a story that one time during an extremely thick fog, there was the sound of whirring and suddenly a helicopter was seen above the quad and an inmate running towards it.  I don’t know for sure if that story is made up but there were so many in that same vein of being completely ridiculous and wild that there is probably some truth there mixed in with some embellishment.  I also don’t know if the helicopter story is what prompted lockdowns or if that was just a good cover for an escape attempt.  Probably the latter since all of the facilities had lockdown for one reason or another- fighting, bad weather, punishment, contagious diseases (DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES VISITING WAS CANCELLED DUE TO AN OUTBREAK OF CHICKEN POX?!?).
I think of all the places TI had the worst inclement weather because it was most often foggy in the mornings when visiting would have been getting underway.  The painful part of it was that you couldn’t call in advance and ask if visiting was cancelled or not- they wouldn’t tell you over the phone unless it was a medical quarantine (stupid chicken pox) but they were very eager to let you know once you drove up and tried to come in for a visit.  For me, it wasn’t so bad to deal with at TI, although it was disappointing when it happened, but when I had to go further distances to other prisons it would shatter my entire day, just gut my entire core to be turned away without a visit.

There were a few instances where lockdown would happen while we were in visiting, and this would be like a bonus because they wouldn’t cut our visit short to let other visitors in if the room got full.  The way that worked was based on who arrived first, if the visiting room was at capacity and new visitors were waiting to come in, then your visits would get terminated early to make room.  I liked being first in because then I got to choose our table but I would always try to let two or three people sign in before me because the visiting room officer would base his decision on which of us to kick out based on the sign in log.  It wasn’t something that happened often, but it sucked when it did so we were always grateful when it wasn’t our visit that got cancelled mid-way through.

The sad thing about the weather being so great was that we could only watch it together from the window, if we got a window seat.  I had always taken the fact that I could go for a walk outside with Dan for granted, and once I could no longer do it that became something I desperately wanted.  We would sit looking out at the water and plan how much we were going to enjoy being able to walk freely down the street one day, hand in hand.  I know, super sappy, but it helped us get through and I would tell you this- if there is someone in your life that you care for today, make time to go for a walk with them and enjoy every second.

Nights were the hardest thing to get through because I am a night owl and insomniac.  For the first few months that Dan was gone, I would pile up pillows along the length of the bed where he would have been sleeping and cuddle up against them, trying to pretend I was not alone.  I didn't really sleep much those first few months and the sleep deprivation made things a lot harder. The total lack of physical intimacy and human touch messed with my head in the strangest ways.  I became hyper aware and super sensitive to any and all physical contact.  I avoided hugging people because it was almost too much for me to handle.  If someone brushed against me, my entire body would tense up and I would become acutely aware of how tightly wound I was physically and try not to cry.

It got a point of physical yearning where it was all either of us could think about. Dan and I had always had intense physical chemistry, it was something that initially attracted us to each other.  Over the years we were together, we developed the ability to read each other’s expressions and know what the other one needed and wanted without having to say anything.  During one of our visits Dan was holding my hand and I was explaining my stress over our mortgage when he suddenly pulled my hand up to his mouth and sucked on the tip of my finger.  He had to do it when a guard wasn’t looking or we could have gotten into really big trouble. I know, this is not as exciting as Fifty Shades of Grey or other popular literary erotica, but I guaranty you that if you were in the same situation you would understand the electric flash that we both underwent from this seemingly tiny action.  Stop judging us, this was a very creative solution that brought us both a nuance of pleasure mentally in a very constricting environment. Or judge us, whatever, it worked.

Why I Will Always Hate the 405 More than You
I lived in Century City during this time, approximately 45 minutes away from Terminal Island give or take depending on traffic. On a really bad day it could take two hours to drive. Usually on my way home from visiting, I would stop at this great Target nearby to waste time during traffic hours and then drive back home along the 405 freeway. I am a very capable driver, having started in Canada in the snow/cold and graduated in NYC, I can literally drive through and to anything. Once I was driving home from a Friday visit and as I rounded a curve just before the exit at La Tierja, I saw traffic ahead was at a dead stop. I braked and stopped my car, as any capable driver would. Unfortunately for me, the sixteen year old in the SUV behind me who had just received his license a few weeks prior was not as quick and proceeded to slam into the back of my car with such force that my sunroof shattered and my gas tank popped open. My head was swimming and I looked down at my knee which had jammed into the steering wheel at an impossible angle. As I started to reach for my seat belt to undo it, everything spun and I pitched forward and I realized I been hit again, as the SUV behind me had been rammed full force by a pickup truck.

I sat there, in the furthest left lane of Friday 405 traffic, unable to focus on anything except to wonder how I was going to tell Dan. I needed him to help me. But I couldn’t call him, I had to wait for him to call me. Everything was slow motion and blurry. The guy in the pickup truck walked up to my car and said we had to move to the right shoulder- five lanes over. I said I wasn’t feeling capable of driving and we should wait for the police. He walked back to his truck, picked up his shiny bright blue bumper off the road and tossed it in the back of his pickup. The kid in the SUV had a passenger and she was crying but they were both fine. The guy in the pickup indicated he would block traffic for us so we could make our way across the freeway since his car seemed the least damaged. I started to try to merge over, and suddenly I saw him zip onto the shoulder and drive off at the exit and disappear. Mother heifer.

The SUV and I made our way to the shoulder and explained it all to the police when they eventually arrived. We had to exchange insurance and I asked what about the third guy and the cops said, he’s not here, there’s nothing we can do. Assholes. I couldn’t call my family- it was already Shabbat on the east coast. I had a lawyer who lived in LA but he was in Whistler on vacation with his family when I called. It was almost Thanksgiving so the few friends I had in LA were out of town with their families as well. I sat in my car as the sun set and forced myself not to cry. I was truly alone in this, and the only person who could help me right now was me- hold it together!

The police offered to get an ambulance but I didn’t want to wait any longer and I was not feeling great. My car started up when I turned it on and although it was accordioned it seemed like it would drive as long as I didn’t do anything too dramatic. I called my insurance and they advised me of a body shop nearby I could drop off my car and get a rental. Once I had the rental and had dropped off my poor smushed car, I drove myself to the ER. I held it together until after the x-rays and when I was finally in a bed and waiting for the doctor with the results, I let myself fall apart and started to cry. It hurt physically and emotionally, all the pain reached every corner of myself. At that moment, as I lay there feeling tremendously bad for myself, my phone rang. I pressed 5.

God bless Dan. After I told him the situation, he stayed on the phone with me for ten minutes, the max for a call. We knew when he hung up he would have to wait thirty minutes to call me again. What I didn't know was that after he ended the call he ran over and begged the prison chaplain to allow him to use the office phone for a family emergency. When my phone rang again ten minutes later I was so relieved- he had come through for me from prison! Dan talked to the doctor and together they ascertained that I was very much banged up and would be in a world of hurt later, but that I should be ok with physical therapy and good care. I asked them to release me and I didn’t take any pain meds until I limped back into my apartment and collapsed into my bed. Then I popped two vicodin and slept for two days. When I woke up, I had a bruise across my chest and shoulders and waist from my seat belt and my knee was an ugly swollen eggplant colored mess.  Everything hurt.

My body was a nasty assortment of purple and brown hues and everything ached, but I had visiting with Dan to get to.  I found the plushest coat I owned which was a knee length faux white fur, and took it with me to visiting.  It was the only thing I could bring in to act as a pillow that would enable my back to withstand sitting in a plastic chair for my visit with Dan.  It was also 70 degrees outside and I looked utterly ridiculous. Walking was difficult, sitting was sometimes worse.  When I walked into the visit Dan hugged me (I tried not to cringe as my muscles screamed out in agony) and we settled into our regular routine. Grilled cheese and coffee for two please.

The real pain from that entire experience was realizing I was on my own.  There was no one I could call to just come out and help me when something happened.  It did not matter how much Dan wanted to help either.  The fact remained that he was in prison and as much as we were in this together, I was doing my end of it completely by myself. The bills, our tenants in our house in New York, making sure all the different facets of our real life were in good working order throughout this time, that was all on me although I constantly asked Dan for input on how to handle things. In the end, it made me stronger than I ever could have imagined.  Although I still get a little bit jumpy if I am driving and people are a little bit too close behind me…I also do not drive along that stretch of the 405 if I can avoid it.

Asians and White Supremacy
One time when I was waiting to go into visiting, a group of twenty or so Asian executives in suits walked in all at once, bypassed security and all of us hopeful visitors and entered the prison.  No one explained it, no one even acknowledged it, but we all wondered why that group of Asians in suits had marched in unchecked. It was one of the weirdest things I had encountered so far because it made no sense. Dan explained later that apparently TI was being run so well at the time that foreign governments would literally send out groups to get a guided tour to experience how it was being run firsthand with the hope that they could learn from it.  I do not know why that strikes me as the funniest thing but it can still set me off laughing today.  There are so many things Americans look to the Chinese for because they do it better- but hands down, we are enviable in our prison management.  Land of the brave, home of the….  Never mind.

Now a not so funny story.  In telling this, I am trying to keep it light hearted even though a lot of the time I was scared or upset or angry and fearful. Among other things, TI is known to be a prison that has a high population of white supremacists.  Yes, they exist and yes, they are still very powerful within the prison systems.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or ignorant.  A few members initially approached Dan because he is white (I guess they assumed Italian or something because of the dark hair?) but then they figured out he was Jewish…  I mean, it is pretty obvious given the last name.  Prison is a Predator/Prey society.  You are one or the other, there is no middle ground.  You might sometimes swing between the two but you always end up on a side.  Unfortunately for Dan, being new to prison and being the charismatic personality that he is, he was an easy target for predators in the system.  He didn’t see that they would use him to get free candy bars (I TOLD him to stop giving them away!) or that CO’s would mistreat him because they perceived him to be a suck up instead of realizing he was just being nice and not giving anyone a hard time across the board, not just that specific officer.

We were strong! We would make it through this together! As long as we had each other this thing would not break us! Unfortunately, I did not account for the possibility that there would be a person who made Dan’s life in TI living hell.  A white supremacist in the unit blackmailed Dan and threatened him that if I did not deposit money into his commissary account, that Dan would get hurt.  Dan had to tell me this in code; since all of our calls were recorded and our letters read (anyway letters are not real time).  He explained it to me further in visiting.  Based on the look of fear in his eyes, I knew immediately that he truly believed something horrific would happen to him if I didn’t deposit the money.  He made me swear I would leave visiting, go to Western Union, and do it right away, in cash so it could not be traced back to us.  The cynic in me was thinking, um buddy, I’m not putting cash into some dude’s account just because he made you nervous- but I had also never seen that specific look in Dan’s face and it freaked me out to a degree that I knew he wasn’t kidding with me. There was no way I was going to be able to convince Dan to stand up to him and do something like report it (which by the way, if he had reported it he would have got the shit kicked out of him by guards AND inmates because you don’t tell.  It is just a prison rule). After our visit I did exactly what he asked, I withdrew cash from the ATM, went to a local grocery store and western unioned the money into the guy’s BOP account anonymously.  

At our next visit Dan was still very scared, very shaken, but said I had saved him. That gave me no comfort. What would stop this man from doing this again? It was the night before Thanksgiving and I was miserably lonely.  The loneliness was so intense, I couldn’t sleep and I would cry in bed for hours at night saying over and over again, “I miss you, please come home” aloud in the dark empty room. When I showed up for our Thanksgiving Day visit, he was still very shaken. Dan told me more about how horrible his extortionist was being and that he had warned Dan that if he complained or told anyone he would kill him.  I saw for the first time that my strong, good-hearted husband was becoming a victim because of his circumstances and it absolutely gutted me.  

This is the stuff nightmares are made of.  I tried to convince him to file a report, get the guy in trouble, but Dan insisted that the Aryan Brotherhood would come after him, after me too, and that the only thing to do was stay silent and try to get out of TI. I left that visit shattered, crying and feeling like there was no hope left in the world. I got back to my apartment, crawled back into bed and cried for hours. Dan and I never really talked again about this horrifying man after we left TI. That man took something from both of us with his actions- besides the pain and fear, it was bigger than that. He broke something inside of Dan that never healed properly and made an already terrible situation immeasurably worse.

Telling the Family
After Thanksgiving Dan started feeling like we needed to tell our families what was going on.  I was actually finding a routine in the weirdness of the life I was living.  I had my prison life and my LA life.  On visiting days, I would wake up at 4 or 5am, drive out to see Dan and spend the entire day visiting him, then I would come home and crash.  Visits were exhausting- emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically- it is amazing how hard it can be to sit in a chair for hours all day.

On days I did not have visits, I would sleep pretty much all day and then watch TV or surf the web until evening, when I would get up and get dressed and go out.  I created a great circle of friends- none of whom knew what my real story was.  They knew I was married and that my husband was away, but to them that meant traveling or working and that they just never saw me when he was around or something- really it was easy to get away with because unless people are told directly the first thought is not necessarily that one’s spouse is incarcerated.  I went to great clubs, danced, and had a blast, meeting fun people and pretending I was enjoying life- and then at the end of the night I would drive home alone and cry all the way, because I missed Dan.  They shut the prison phones off at 11pm, so I knew he would usually try to call at around 10:45pm.  I would get dressed and hang around waiting for his call, then once he called I would head out for the night and be home in bed around 3-4am, sleep through the next day… it became an interesting cycle.  I can see today that it was absolutely abnormal.  But it kept me sane having that fun balance to the hell that was the rest of my life.

It is also important to describe the type of partying I did, since that could easily be misunderstood.  I literally went out to clubs, danced, met people and socialized- I do not drink at all and never did drugs.  I always told everyone it was because I am a lousy drunk (which is true, I get completely wasted on half a beer) but really it was motivated by intense fear of losing control and not being able to function properly if an emergency were to happen.  I am still like that today. The fear behind the reason is mostly gone but at this point, I would just as soon be able to drive myself and know I am making sound decisions than get messed up and have a hangover.

Dan decided that we needed to share what was actually happening to us with our families, starting with mine since I could call them and tell them myself.  He was so lonely and scared when we were not in the visiting room; he deserved the comfort of knowing he had more people supporting him than just me.  I agreed that we should tell them, but I also knew the burden of that was on me since he could only do it by writing them letters.  We did not have the phone time for him to call them and tell himself, so I did it.  It was a weird call.

I spoke to my parents first and they were surprised of course but they had known something was up, even if this was not what they had imagined at all.  They were very supportive and loving, as I knew they would be, and said they would think about which siblings I should tell.  We decided on telling the three oldest ones and not letting the others in on it for now.  I called my two sisters and told them and I think my mom told my brother.  My sisters told their husbands, both of whom were close with Dan, and everyone pledged support and promised they would do whatever we asked of them to help us get through this.  I will always be thankful and love them for that love and support- they had no real clue what it meant, what the reality of the situation was, but they loved us and that was enough for me.  I asked them to write letters and let Dan know how they felt, that was really the best thing they could do for him anyway. I also offered to print any emails they sent me for him, since that was a really easy way for them to reach out to him.

Then I had to call his brothers and Dad.  That was much harder for me, but I spoke with each of his brothers first and then one of his brothers and I called his dad together.  It was a rough call, but at the end of it Dan’s brother said he would come see Dan right away and his Dad said he would plan a trip soon as well.

I had been nervous to tell his dad- I felt like given his age and the events in recent years the family had gone through this might be too much for him but he did ok with the bomb I dropped on him.  Dan’s mom had passed away suddenly the year before and the family was still shell-shocked by the entire event and dealing with estate paperwork.  That had been very traumatic for me because she had been overseas when she fell ill, and Dan had to request permission from the Judge to travel out of the country. The Judge granted the request based on one condition- he stated in court that he knew Dan loved me (his wife) more than anything and that if I were to turn in my passport and forfeit my right to go as well, that Dan could go. The family thought I was being a horrible human, that I didn't care enough to fly out to see her, to be there with them. 

I never got to say goodbye to her and that is just another scar that this journey engraved in my heart. To be able to tell them now is a relief, please know I would have given anything to be by her side with everyone. I am grateful that my brother was already overseas and went and sat with Dan during that time. I can never repay him for that kindness and even though he would say I don't owe him for it, I do. The loss had caused them all to be closer but ironically, it also meant we could not tell them the truth about Dan being in prison because we just did not want to add to the hard year they were already coping with.  

Dan’s brother and his wife came to visit first- I picked them up at the airport and walked them through the entire process of getting in.  It was a pleasant visit although the conversation stayed pretty neutral and everyone seemed very polite.  I think we ate grilled cheese. Of course.

Dan’s dad came for a visit with both of Dan’s brothers and a sister-in-law for New Years.  That was an experience- to start with, it is 8am on New Years Day, I am driving a rental car… a wonderful reminder of the accident that smashed my own car.  I am driving over the bridge at the blistering speed of 50 mph and suddenly realize I am being pulled over.  On the bridge, on New Years Day with my father-in-law, brother-in-law’s and a sister-in-law in the car on my way to a prison to visit my husband- and it is his dad’s and one of his brothers first visit.  There is a joke in there somewhere.  I got a ticket for speeding - it was 35mph. limit. Sigh.

The visit was strange- first I had to help Dan’s dad get through security, which was stressful for us both.  He is a refined, well respected doctor and his family roots are South African so he has certain mentalities about class that are ingrained in his every thought.  He kept referring to the other visitors as though he was not also a visitor.  For instance, he would ask me when they were going to be allowed in, but he never included himself in the questions.  "When do those people go in to visiting?" It was rough to watch Dan hug his dad when they finally saw each other.  New Years is also our wedding anniversary- we were celebrating four years that day.  It was not how I wanted to spend the day, but I knew it was important that Dan see the people he loved supporting him. We took a family photo, and it came out fairly decent. If you squint your eyes you can ignore the prison garb and it looks like just another family photo.

During the visit with his Dad, Dan started pointing out some of the inmates in the room with whom he was friendly.  He started telling his dad specifically about a doctor who was serving 17 years for Medicaid fraud- his office had double billed Medicaid and as a result the doctor was held responsible even though he really had nothing to do with it supposedly, and boom, seventeen years.  Dan’s dad suddenly realized that he knew the doctor!  They had done a surgery together years before… it was funny and Dan re-introduced them to one another quickly (there really was no fraternizing between other inmates and families allowed).

Overall, it was a good visit; although it was the only time his dad ever came to see him in prison.  Even though his family supported him via calls and letters, it was painful for me to watch how rarely they were able to come see him.  Dan had specifically requested he be designated to Taft so he could be close to his Dad through the duration of his sentence but with the exception of the two visits at TI, his oldest brother and Dad never came to see him anywhere else.  His other brother did make it to three of the facilities though, and I do not think he will ever know how much that meant to us both. It meant everything.

After the visit was over, I drove his dad, brother and sister-in-law back to the airport.  The drive to the airport was pretty quiet, there was not much to discuss.  I saw the visit was hard for them, both emotionally and physically. I also knew that it was also a relief for them to be able to see exactly what was going on instead of what they imagined in their minds.  Anyone I ever brought to visit had the same reaction, nervous chatter prior to the visit and then quiet contemplation after. To everyone who ever made that trek, near or far, I thank you now. I know how hard it was and what it did to our spirits, but the joy and comfort it gave Dan to have loved ones nearby, however briefly... thank you.