Nov 18

Prison Was Hot

Prison was Hot


Prison was Hot

The beginning of Summer brought some intense Kansas heat. The DB wings were not equipped with any air conditioning units. This made prison very hot. Located at the back end of each tier were tall oscillating fans set up to circulate the air. There were also some fans attached to the walls of the wing. The fans didn’t cool the place down, they just moved the hot air around. At 2:00 a.m. it would already be seventy degrees outside.

Sometimes the temperature would reach ninety degrees inside the wing. If I drank a cup of water and counted to sixty, I could watch the water come out of the pores on my arm. It was a miserable existence. Someone told me that the temperatures in the dining facility would get up to one hundred fifteen degrees in the summer. This could have been an exaggeration, but I believed it.

Working in dining facility was not my first choice but I tried to make the best of it. In this place you do as you were told or you go to the hole. The hours were kind of crazy. We would work four days on then two days off. During the four days on, there were two schedules that alternated. Morning shift was from 2:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. and the evening shift was from 9:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The best part about having shift work, was that I was able to take a shower with virtually no one sitting at the “viewing table”. I had to get up a 1:30 a.m. before the morning shift. Before the second shift, most of the other 3 Wing inmates were at their respective work details. Another good thing about shift work was, since the schedule was a six day rotation, my two off days were often during the week. This meant that I had free reign of the wing most of the time and it was quiet.

Pots and pans was not a terrible job but it seemed to never end. Cleaning up after cooking for five hundred people was a serious chore. After I had been there for a couple weeks, I was moved up to the short order grill. This meant that I cooked eggs and omelets for breakfast. For lunch it was hot dogs and burgers. Working the grill was hot and greasy. I’m not sure I was ever able to get the grease smell out of my uniform.

While serving chow one day, I noticed an inmate with a familiar face. Sure enough, as he came through the line, I recognized the name on his badge. Clayton Lonetree. He was a Marine and used to be a U.S. embassy security guard in Moscow. His involvement with a Russian woman, who turned out to be K.G.B. got him into trouble. Lonetree was the only Marine ever convicted of espionage and was serving a 30 year sentence.

When we weren’t serving chow to the wing we were prepping for the next meal. Cracking hundreds of eggs and putting them in bowls, chopping up vegetables for the omelets. Surprisingly they let us use large Chef’s knives to do most of our work. We would turn in our badge to get a knife out of a locked cabinet. In the wings, there were always military guards around. In the dining facility the soldiers that supervised us, were NCO’s that were regular U.S. Army cooks. I’m sure they had self-defense training, but they wore body alarms just like the guards. They weren’t all happy slappy to us, but they did treat us with more respect than some of the guards. Especially when we had the knives.

When we turned on the light in the kitchen, early in the morning, the first thing we would see was mice. Lots of them scurrying around to find a dark hole to dive into. There were sticky traps set up in various places to catch them. This worked sometimes but it wasn’t uncommon for us to see one running across the floor during the day. If you saw one you had to kill it. The bread rack was one of their favorite places to hang out. We constantly had to throw out full loaves when we found evidence that a mouse had nibbled through the bag. One morning an inmate was pulling out a bread rack when a startled mouse ran from one of the shelves, across the guy’s arm and leapt from his shoulder to the ground. It scared the crap out of him. We all had a good laugh because he screamed like a girl.

For my first custody board, I sat across a table of Officers and NCO’s. These soldiers would decide if I would get to move up in custody as well as change my work detail. The time that I served in the other facilities did not count towards this board. They only looked at the two months that I had served in the DB. There were some questions about how I thought I was getting along and what I planned to do while I was serving my time. Telling them about all the classes I was signed up for did not do any good since I had not taken them yet. Because I didn’t have enough presence in this facility they literally had nothing to go off of.

Shortly after the board, my assigned counselor informed me that I would not be moving in custody or detail. No surprise, although I was still pretty¬†disappointed. He did tell me that if I stayed out of trouble over the next six months, I would move up to minimum custody and maybe, just maybe, I could change my detail. He also told me that I was eligible for a parole board on the fourteenth of June, 1991. If I didn’t have a good parole packet before then, I wouldn’t probably get parole the first time around.

When I arrived at the DB, I had fifteen dollars on me. It was placed in a PDA or prisoner deposit account that they kept for each of us. This money could be used to order things through the mail. It was much easier to have someone from the outside mail me things from a commercial source. That way, I did not have to fill out the paperwork.

For health and comfort items, I was allotted thirty-five dollars a month in the form of a credit, to buy what I needed. It was always more than enough. If I didn’t spend the entire amount, the remainder would disappear, meaning because it was a credit, we didn’t get to keep any of it. It was wise to use up the whole amount. The type of items I could select were; soap, shampoo, toothpaste, chips, candy, mints, Kool-Aid, tea, coffee, etc. Everything I needed to function was provided. Actual cash was prohibited.

If anyone was ever caught with real money, they would be charged with attempted escape. The premise for that was, you only needed it if you were planning on escaping.

The last time I called Dee collect, she mentioned that the phone bills were getting too much for them to handle. Especially since she was three-way calling to Germany for me. So, until my parents moved back to the U.S., I would not be able to call them anymore…

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  • As I read, I can’t help but think of my brother. I’m praying he ends up in a fire fighters prison where he can work. Reading through this really cemented that working would help the time go by and keep him a little more removed from the masses. Thanks for sharing this. I never imagined that when you started writing this almost a year ago that I would find with such a personal connection to it.

    • David Mike

      We had to work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but working in the mess hall made my time easier. No one really messed with me because I was a cook. You don’t mess with the cooks. I’m glad you have found some peace from reading my blog. Helps validate my putting it out there. What is a fire fighter’s prison?

      • Just seeing this, sorry. A firefighter’s prison is designated for those who’ve been a firefighter. They work the lines and help in large fires. They are considered more of a working prison. We have 6, I believe, in California.

        • David Mike

          That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of anything like that.

  • The physical circumstances, like the mice and the showers and the heat make even just reading this uncomfortable. And, so, I’m wondering, from an insider’s perspective, how likely it is that prison promotes rehabilitation of any kind? Were you the exception?

    • David Mike

      One of the unique aspects of the DB is that we were all military. This meant a few things. One, almost every inmate was a first time offender. It is hard to get into the military with a criminal record. Two, everyone had a good sense of discipline and were highly educated. These two factors made rehabilitation easier than most other prisons. As for the conditions, it was not nice, but you can imagine that most of these military guys had been in much worse situations. Combat field training, actual combat, mud, swamps, bugs, creatures, desert heat, freezing temps, etc. Truthfully, I was probably being a sissy. I was stationed in Louisiana and I complained about the conditions there as well.
      I think the DB did the best that they could.

  • Amy Bovaird

    I have just read this post of your memoir but it held my interest. Will be checking back for more posts! I just published my memoir on October 4th, last month! Keep writing!

    • David Mike

      Thank you for checking out my story. If you’re interested to start from the beginning, click on the menu and then select The Fort Leavenworth Story.

  • Powerful story David. It’s my first time to your site and I really found it intriguing. I served in the Army for 5 years and I’m very curious about the penal system. I look forward to hearing more of your story. I’ll check out the Ft Leavenworth Story.Take care.

    • David Mike

      Bradley, thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate it. It’s changed a bit since the early 90’s. When were you in and where we’re you stationed? To read the story from the beginning, go here:

      • I was in from 1999-2004 and stationed with the 82d Airborne Division at Ft Bragg, NC. Those years shaped me into who I am in many ways.

  • It’s been a year and I’m back reading all the way through. Rats in the bread,yikes! Let’s say you got into working out, could you easily eat all you wanted when you were in the kitchen or were they strict on eating extra?

    • David Mike

      As cooks we were allowed to eat whatever we wanted. It was definitely a fringe benefit.

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