Drug War Prisoners

Welcome to Prison Lifestyles of the not-so-Rich and not-so-Famous, Featuring Hotel Fluvanna

By Sandra Forthright

Sandra Forthright (not her real name) is one of a growing number of writers who write what they know from within the walls of a Drug War prison. Sandra is a prisoner of the War on Drugs, sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Until recently, she was in the federal women's prison in Tallahassee, home to about twelve hundred women, three fourths also there for drugs.

This piece was written three months after Sandra was transferred from the relative calm of a federal women's prison to the sharply different atmosphere permitted in a state prison in Virginia. Among Drug War prisoners, Virginia's prisons are reputed to be near the worst. It was to such a prison, the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia, that Sandra was shipped last December.

Prisoners are affronted. Deprived of the slight but not negligible benefits attached to confinement in federal versus state prison, yet nonetheless subject to a lengthy federal sentence without parole, a federal prisoner like Sandra, on transfer to a state prison, suffers the worst of both worlds.

The reason for transfer is simple. Federal prisons are overcrowded due to the influx of prisoners of the War on Drugs, many sentenced to 10, 20, or 30 years imprisonment without parole and not a few imprisonment for life. As a result of the War on Drugs - no other explanation is conceivable - the federal government is short of prison space. For a long time, states including the Commonwealth of Virginia have taken out-of-state prisoners on contract. Last year, someone at the federal Bureau of Prisons thought of shipping federal prisoners to Virginia if Virginia would take them. Virginia would, and a one-year contract was signed for the transfer of 225 federal women prisoners to the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, terms renewable upon satisfactory performance in 12 months.

It's extremely compassionate and thoughtful of the Bureau of Prisons to force those inmates with the least amount of clout and wealth in today's overcrowded federal prisons to take a year-long luxury, work-free vacation in the wonderful world of Virginia's Maximum State Prison - Fluvanna.

Yes, most of the prisoners here were chosen because they've been no-problem inmates, just as the contract between the Virginia Department of Corrections and the BOP calls for. The majority of these non-violent, mild-mannered women were counted on by BOP staff to be the least likely to scoff at the abusive treatment Virginia has to offer. For allowing these women - mothers, sisters, daughters, and even grandmothers - to stay in Virginia's strictest maximum security prison, the BOP is generously spending more than $78 per day per inmate. The contract, supported by your tax dollars for a year, amounts to 6.5 million dollars for the 225 lucky (inmate) ladies taken from their jobs and educational programs to be warehoused in a prison that even the worst, most violent criminal should not be subjected to.

The dreamy Hotel Fluvanna accommodations are such that not only must the federal inmate "check in" to this maximum state prison any time the BOP demands, but the inmate can never check out. There is no eligibility for transfer to be closer to home, and no half-way house time prior to release unless the paperwork was started before leaving federal ground, which excludes 99 per cent of the inmates transferred. Just like Hotel California without the wine.

The Virginia Department of Corrections does its part to ensure the no-check-out system works. Everything is a security risk. One example: an inmate can have 12 underwear and 12 bras - of her own purchasing, of course - but only 6 pairs of socks. With more than six pairs one may join the socks together and try to escape by hanging. Oh no, no, no, that would take away the fun from those BOP officials who hand-picked each and every poor and cloutless inmate for this luxurious get-away.

Evidently to the BOP's delight, the Virginia DOC ensures that inmates - federal or state - are physically deteriorated and brain-wasted. Thin vinyl mats atop solid metal flats for sleeping break the body in a mere few months. For those interested in a weight loss program, Hotel Fluvanna is the place. Enchanting meals are served by a pair of ungloved hands through a square hole in the wall. Guards swarm the dining hall to watch inmates eat - sometimes each bite - and voice the times-up call after an enjoyable 8 to 11 minutes spent on a cold metal seat in the cold noisy atmosphere.

The exquisite cuisine of Hotel Fluvanna leaves one asking in amazement: "How do they get away with this?" Somehow, they've managed to serve macaroni and cheese without the cheese. Plain white rice is labeled "chicken fried rice," and bean soup consists of water with 3 or 4 navy beans plopped in the bottom of the bowl. Yes, watching one's weight drop exceedingly fast is a must in Virginia's finest.

Not to worry, though. Meals are only for those inmates not afraid of contracting AIDS and hepatitis through broken fingernails and other goodies added to federal inmates' trays by state inmate kitchen workers who don't want the company. They can be very creative, adding hair, dish soap, and the most recent and newly discovered maggots. Yes, real protein for a change!

An average of 50 lucky ladies are locked together in one basement-size room for 23 to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The view from the small windows is another of Fluvanna's many fine security risks. Yes siree, an entire escape charge is waiting if a little peek outside is taken.

Staff are on hand with bright smiling faces, ready to harass that one odd inmate who looks a little ill at ease.

Fluvanna's accommodations include such lavish features as toilets ice-cold without seats, tin cans for mirrors, hot showers once in a while, 24 hour lighting to aid in sleep deprivation, 4 to 6 standing counts a day, a 4.30 AM whistle blow, no TVs unless one can afford an extra $60.00, backwoods medical equipment (inmates wonder if it's only for lobotomies) - one can only hope!

Recreation activities include walking in a circle on a sidewalk surrounded by guards.

An appreciation for the finer things in life is to be had in Hotel Fluvanna: the always in demand yet never enough toilet paper, paper towels, and sanitary napkins. Rations are tight, so don't miss the long line. Inmates court-ordered for psych drugs or taking other medications in the BOP have been miraculously cured. The medical staff sees no need for consumption of expensive drugs. The psych alternative is to visit the rarely accessible library to find a self-help book pertaining to the problems and needs. Instruction on the fine art of day-dreaming is freely given.

I know you'll want to rush right to the Hotel Fluvanna to visit one of these federal inmates. The officials will do all they can to make you feel at home. After one hour, one day a week, you'll be told to leave. Everyone sits shoulder to shoulder, reminding one of a musical chairs configuration. Don't forget the Ben-Gay, because after leaving you'll realize the body wasn't meant to be in a straight-forward position with the head in a constant turn to chat with the inmate. Keep in mind - don't jump too high when the guards yell at the top of their lungs for a silly mistake you make. High-jumping encourages them to look closer and yell louder. Always wear clean socks in case you're chosen for a contraband hot-check. Ladies, be sure to wear loose fitting bras and shirts so it is not too hard to convince the guards you're not trying to smuggle contraband into the prison. It happens on occasion that lady visitors must prove there's nothing in there.

If your loved one has checked into Hotel Fluvanna via BOP travel fare, don't be worried when the phone ceases to ring. It will save you anywhere from $10.00 to $20.00 for that 15 minute phone call which used to cost $2.25 in the BOP prison. All you'll be missing anyway are the tears, the anger, and the news of who won the last card or board game supplied to the multitude, since very few jobs exist for federal inmates.

Yes, you'll wish that you too could be in Hotel Fluvanna to enjoy the fun but only the BOP can decide who the next lucky inmate will be. If Virginians everywhere aren't proud of the way their VDOC corrects and rehabilitates, a quick letter or to-the-point phone call to their senator or congressman would be a good start. You never know when you may be checked in at Hotel Fluvanna yourself.

The BOP certainly seems content with the arrangements America's tax dollars have made possible for these no-problem, non-violent federal inmates. One BOP staff agreed in front of a group of inmates that Fluvanna is a mind-wasting, body-deteriorating facility that does nothing but warehouse people. But, she gets a share of that tax dollar of yours. Her job depends on the federal inmates remaining in Fluvanna, so it's easy for her to overlook the physical and mental degradation brought to a mere 225 human lives in exchange for the finer things in life which only money can buy.

Ah, what a wonderful vacation spot! Keep an eye on where your tax dollars are spent! You could be the next lucky individual to visit Hotel Fluvanna.






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