Army Prison (Click to Tweet)
I was headed to Army prison and my final destination. Once again I was placed in a vehicle and escorted from to the next. My next stop would be the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, KS. I would not be going anywhere again for a couple of years.
As we pulled up to the almost ninety year old USDB, I noticed how massive the brick walls that surrounded the compound were. They were very tall, anywhere from sixteen to forty-one feet depending on the terrain. They were topped with razor wire and guard towers. These towers were manned with military guards, armed with rifles.
Visible above the walls was an even larger structure. It had a domed central building with long wings jutting out of it like spokes on a wheel that were about nine stories tall. This was the main housing unit for most of the 1500 inmates that resided inside the walls. It was an imposing sight. It was called the DB or sometimes called the Castle.
We arrived at the West Gate, which had an electrically controlled sliding door that was made out of four and a half inch thick steel. The vehicle pulled up to the gate and I was told to grab my duffle bag and get out. I did not have to go through the massive sliding door though, there was another regular door at the bottom of one of the guard towers and I was buzzed in.
Once inside a couple of guards jumped in my face and started dressing me down. It felt like basic training all over again. They said things like, “You really screwed up coming here. What are you in here for?” I told them, drugs and AWOL. One of the guards said, “Didn’t you hear Nancy Reagan when she said, ‘Just say no.’?” This was an anti-drug campaign made famous by the former First Lady.
They made me stand in the shake down position. I held my arms out, feet spread apart and a guard patted me down. This was something that I was going to have to get used to. They did not find any contraband or weapons and so I was told to grab my duffle bag. As I did, the Bible that my parent sent me fell out and landed on the ground. One of the guards mumbled, “You’re going to need that in here.”
I found out later that this was just an intimidation technique that they do to every new inmate to put them in a frame of mind that you will have no control here. This was no different than any of my other military experiences to date and so it didn’t bother as much as they wanted it to. I really wasn’t too worried about the guards in this place.
I was escorted into the main entrance of the Castle which led to the rotunda. Inside I was greeted by a highly polished floor and sitting in the middle was a two tiered control room where all the surveillance for each wing was monitored. The evenly spaced openings on each wall of the rotunda lead to a different wing or some other part of the DB.
In between the spaces there were walls lined with benches. If you got into trouble, you would end up on one of these benches until you talked to someone, from there they would figure out what to do with you. There were a couple of men in brown uniforms sitting on these benches.
Because I was still in BDU’s everyone knew I was new. So as I was being escorted through the rotunda towards 3 Wing, all the inmates from the upper levels were calling out to me, saying things like “Fresh meat” I just kept my head down and kept being led through. We went down a flight of stairs below ground and then into 3 Base, which sat directly beneath 3 Wing. This was one of the maximum security cell blocks and was specifically for new inmates that were in-processing. They called it reception.
I walked past a row of cells and I did not look into any of them. Most of them were occupied and I felt like I should not make eye contact with anyone. At the end of the cell block was a table where I was told to put my duffle bag and empty out the contents. They went through everything and told me that I could send home whatever I didn’t want to keep with me. I really only had stuff to write with, my Bible and some pictures along with grooming items, so I didn’t send anything home.
One of the last cells was converted into a shower and I was told to strip down, take a shower and I had ten minutes to get it done. I was glad that they didn’t throw that delousing powder on me that you see in the movies. After I got out, they handed me a brown shirt and pants that looked just like a UPS uniform but without the logo. I got to keep my Army boots, belt and undergarments however, they took all my Army uniforms away from me.
This is when I finally felt the transition from soldier to inmate. The time I spent at Fort Hood IDF gave me a little taste of being back in the Army, but that was all over with now. They gave me a cell number and told me to take my stuff and get in the cell.
As I entered the six by eight foot windowless cell, I saw a regular Army bed, fold out mini table bolted to the wall, a metal toilet/sink combination, and a cabinet to put my stuff in. Behind me I heard the door slowly sliding shut and then the metal on metal sound of it locking me in. The door wasn’t solid. It had vertical and horizontal mini bars, woven up and over each other and so you could see clearly out of the cell.
I would spend the next month in 3 Base reception, until they decided I was ready to move up into general population. I laid down on the bed which was quite comfortable and started to read my Bible. I didn’t have any other books to read at the moment and so I started in on that.
That night as I was laying in my bunk, I heard a song playing on the radio by Sinead O’Connor. It was “Nothing Compares 2U” and it tugged at me. All the lyrics didn’t make complete sense to my situation, but the emotion in the song got to me. Maybe it was me trying to be brave and holding in a bunch of suppressed feelings but, I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
I cried quietly as she sang, “Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling, tell me baby, where did I go wrong…”
Next post, In-processing…