Making it in Prison
Leaving the walls of the United States Disciplinary Barracks was such a relief. The minute I stepped through the West Gate exit door, it felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.
There were so many sights and sounds, that it was almost overwhelming. Across from the prison was a large parking lot filled with vehicles. There were trees, bushes and plants. Soldiers were walking along sidewalks and going in and out of buildings. Cars where whizzing by on the street. Everything was so different. Even the air smelled different. It was clean and didn’t feel like the dank, musty odor of oppression.
After I threw my belongings into the blue passenger van that was waiting for me, I stepped inside and began to buckle myself in. The belt felt strange in my hands. As the two pieces of the buckle merged together and snapped into place, I realized how familiar this simple task was but at the same time, very unfamiliar. The soldier that was escorting me to my new living arrangements, asked me “How’s it going today Trustee?” My answer was the same that I always answered in letters, “I’m doing fine.” It kind of felt like I was being chauffeured somewhere.
As the driver started to take off, I felt a little uneasy. The fastest I had moved in the last couple years was the speed of a brisk walk. We weren’t driving very fast because the Army Post speed limit was pretty low, but I felt like we were moving at the dizzying speed of a rocket. Hanging on to the seat in front of me, I couldn’t stop looking out both of the side windows. Trying to process all that was going on was pretty challenging. The driver was trying to make small talk, but I don’t remember much of the conversation.
The Local Parole Unit (LPU) was only three quarters of a mile northwest of the Disciplinary Barracks, so it was a pretty short drive. As we neared the complex, I saw three, long, two story buildings. They were set behind a smaller two story structure that seemed like it would be the administration building. To the right, on the other side of the road was a very long, one story building. The driver pointed out that it was the dining facility. This would be where I would work from now on.
We turned left into a circle and pulled into a parking stall. As I was grabbing my bag, the driver came around an opened the door for me and I stepped out. He escorted me up to the front door of the smaller building and we went in. As I approached the main desk, I reported in, “Trustee Mike reporting as ordered, Sergeant.” He replied, “Welcome to the LPU.” He gave me a quick briefing on what was expected of me, some of the main rules and code of conduct. Basically, if I screwed up or tried to escape, I would be going back inside the walls to start all over again from the bottom up.
Another Trustee was assigned to show me to my building and help me get set up in my area inside. As I walked through the admin building I noticed a one chair barber shop. One day, I would get my chance to cut hair professionally, just not in here. Behind the admin building on the left, there was a building facing east to west that could house about eighty Trustees. Straight ahead there were two north to south faced buildings that could house about one hundred and forty-four Trustees. These two were attached on the south end by a corridor. We headed to the middle building and went upstairs.
The setup was very similar to Minimum Custody. Open bay barracks with bunk beds, desks and tall wooden wardrobe style lockers. There were two lockers next to each other creating kind of an alcove for each set of bunks. My area was a quarter of the way down the long building. The best part about this spot was that there was a window that faced the wooded area behind the building. Finding myself staring out of this window, I realized that this new custody level was going to be amazing. The Trustee, who brought me up here, needed to show me around the rest of the place and so I quickly shoved my stuff into my locker.
In the corridor that attached the two buildings was a large square shower with multiple shower heads. Across from that was a latrine which was pretty big. The residents of both attached buildings shared these areas. Also in the corridor, were a bunch of washing machines and clothes dryers. We would have to take turns using them, but this was such a step up from when I washed my clothes in the toilet back in 3 Wing. My escort showed me where to find the gym, visitor area, and the room where they showed movies on a projector. Not quite as big as the gym and theater set ups in the Castle, but I wasn’t complaining.
After my orientation tour, I was taken to exchange my brown uniform for a blue one. This blue was a symbol of trust. Not only was it lighter in color, but it felt lighter on my body. Or maybe I felt lighter wearing it. There were no plans to go back to brown ever.
It had been a long journey to get to this point.
From the first night after being slapped around by cops, being locked in a urine and vomit scented jail cell, still high and scared.
To the Fort Polk Installation Detention Facility where I was berated by the guards and spent the night naked on suicide watch. Then to the disgusting conditions of the Leesville jail, with the terrible food, the sewer backups, the drunk tank and getting punched in the head by kid with no future.
From there to Fort Hood where I was expected regain my military bearing while shoveling sand into a never ending supply of burlap sandbags.
Eventually arriving at the Disciplinary Barracks, only to spend a month in Maximum Custody or solitary confinement, with way too much time to listen to the thoughts in my head.
Moving up to Medium Custody, with people who lived life, “every inmate for themselves” with an “I’ve got nothing to lose attitude”. Always watching my back because, I constantly felt like they were out to get me. And the noise, the decibel hell that only waned when everyone finally passed out in the middle of the night.
Things got better with my elevation to Minimum Custody. Freedom and a semi relaxed atmosphere. Since this was an earned level, no one wanted to lose it. It was still noisy, but I could escape with headphones.
Every step got a little better and the LPU was the last one before release. What I noticed the most though, was that everyone here seemed to be at peace. We were still prisoners. We couldn’t leave the area, but the freedom to roam around the facility did wonders for morale. There were places that you were allowed to go that were quiet. It seemed to be a common desire and so it was easy to find.
If there were such a thing as making it in prison, then being a Trustee was it.
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