INCREDIBLE WOMEN I MET IN FEDERAL PRISON- PART #6
by Lisa Barrett
With much attention being given to the imminent arrival of Teresa Giudice, cast member of the Real Housewives of New to Federal Prison, I decided I would throw my insight into the mix to give a more accurate account of what her life will be like during incarceration. I am winding down on a one year sentence at Danbury Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Danbury, Connecticut, the same facility where Mrs. Giudice will be housed. She is scheduled to begin her sentence just 13 days after my departure. As author of "How to Navigate Through Federal Prison and Gain an Early Release," I will share with you, firsthand, what Teresa Giudice, will experience at Danbury FPC.
Contrary to what is being reported in the media, the FPC does not have barbed wire or fences around the premises. In fact, inmates are free to move around the facility and recreation area at will, except during official counts. Because the FPC is adjacent to the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), where higher security male offenders are housed, the media has mistakenly shown pictures of that facility. The two facilities at Danbury share the same property, but are two separate compounds. The FPC is basically one small, narrow building a stone's throw up the hill from the FCI. Inside the Camp is just one long hallway with 12 rooms raised up half a level on one side of the building, which houses new inmates. Offices line the other side of the hallway and the downstairs consists of three dormitory style housing areas. The rooms hold 6-8 bunk beds and lockers along with a chair for each bunk. The facility also consists of two education class rooms, a small chapel, recreation room, a chow hall and a visiting room, which is also used as a television room for inmates. On the grounds is a Commissary, Out Warehouse, UNICOR, Food Service Warehouse and CMS shops where inmates work.
Entering prison and the few days following are generally rougher than day-to-day prison living. Theresa can expect to be handcuffed, strip-searched, medically screened, fingerprinted, issued an official Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Identification card and outfitted in prison issued clothing upon her surrender. This is the initial intake process, which takes approximately 2- 4 hours.
Life for Teresa won't be as bad as the media has portrayed it. The women at the Camp are anticipating her arrival. She has several die-hard fans who will be there to greet her and show her the ropes. Inmates generally compare the Camp to a retirement home or a college campus. Some Campers crochet or knit the hours away, while others use the time to advance their knowledge through reading and writing. There are educational opportunities and so many talented individuals who are willing to share their skills and knowledge freely. Teresa will have access to a hair salon, manicures, pedicures and facials, but not on the level to which she may be accustomed. The holidays at Danbury FPC, while sad to be away from family, are a lot better than could be expected. Contrary to what has been printed, Teresa will not be eating "canned gravy and instant potatoes." The Thanksgiving feast I ate last month was as good as any I've ever eaten. The inmates who work in Food Service take pride in what they prepare and made everything from scratch including sweet potato pies, collard greens, candied yams, macaroni & cheese, turkey, ham and stuffing. There are holiday decorations throughout the facility and many holiday activities including Karaoke and Bingo.
Danbury FPC is a small camp housing just over 200 inmates. For the most part, everyone knows each other and gets along. There are professional and blue collar women who interact well together and learn from one another. Hopefully Teresa didn't spend too much money on self-defense classes as reported by the tabloids, because she won't need them at Danbury. In the nine months I've spent here, I have heard numerous arguments, but only witnessed one fight. I've come to understand most fights are between gay couples, so I don't think Teresa will have any worries unless she decides to become "gay for the stay."
Depending on her job assignment, Teresa will most likely spend her days working out or walking the outdoor track. Danbury is nestled within the beautiful mountains of Connecticut with scenic views from the building and recreation area. I've experienced winter, spring, summer and fall here at Danbury and each view has been more amazing then the season before it. She may have extra time to watch television or she may learn a craft such as crocheting or knitting. She may even decide to teach or enroll in a continuing education class at the Camp or earn college credit through correspondence courses. Whatever she chooses, I have no doubt she will find ways to pass the time.
Almost every woman at Danbury looks forward to family and friends visiting on weekends. Inmate visitor lists are limited to 15 people over age 16, including immediate family. At first, Teresa may not want to subject her girls to a prison environment, but I'm sure once she thinks it through, she'll want to see them as much as possible. I enjoy the visits I get from my family once a week. Thank goodness they haven't missed a weekend since I've been here. That has been a means of escape from every day prison life. Along with recreation movies, which are played on the weekend, and religious services, visits are the highlight of the week at Danbury.
As a mother, wife, daughter and celebrity, communication with the outside world will likely be a priority to Teresa. Some women dislike the idea of standing in line to use one of only four telephones for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time. All calls are monitored by the BOP, including email messages. Therefore, I wouldn't advise her to get too personal over the phone. Telephone use is limited to 300 minutes per month at a cost of $0.06/minute for local calls and $0.23/minute for long distance calls. Email is archaic, but functional, at a cost of $0.05/minute with unlimited use. As long as there are funds in an inmate's account, she may purchase TRU-Units to use the email. With only eight computers available for email use, there is usually a period of waiting. However, once a computer station is secured, it can be used for up to one hour. There is no access to any application software or the Internet; there is only standard email.
Contrary to popular belief, it takes money to survive in prison. Money shouldn't be a problem for Teresa. Although the BOP provides free room and board along with basic clothing, there are many other essentials inmates are not provided. These essentials can be purchased through the Camp Commissary. Teresa will be allowed to spend up to $320 per month, restricted to $160 bi-weekly on Commissary items including hygiene products, t-shirts, sweatpants, shorts, alarm clock, snacks, coffee, religious items, radio, MP3 player, hair dye and yarn. Funds to purchase these items comes out of an inmate's deposit account, which is the same account used to purchase TRU-Units for their TRULINCS account in order to download music or send funds out of the institution. Teresa is arriving on Monday, January 5, 2015, giving her the opportunity to shop Commissary the very next day. The Commissary is open weekly for business at Danbury FPC between the hours of 6:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. on Tuesdays. She may spend her full $160 if the money is available in her account.
I've never watched "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," but from what I understand, Teresa likes to be at the center of controversy and cannot always control her temper as demonstrated on the episode when she flipped a table over in anger. To avoid confrontation, Teresa will need to follow this advice: Don't ask too many questions of other inmates, it may make you appear to be a rat. Mind your own business and do your own time. Don't ask anyone about their charges and you will notice they won't ask you. Don't talk about what you have in the outside world like money, cars and homes. It may make others jealous and possibly make you a target for extortion. Don't cut in line for meals, laundry or other services. Don't reach across another inmate's food under any circumstances. Always remember you are an inmate, not the police. If you have a problem with another inmate, settle it between yourselves. Do not go to the CO unless the matter has gotten extremely out of hand. If you hear or see something that goes against the rules, keep it to yourself or risk being ostracized. The only exception is if your life is in immediate danger, which is not likely to ever happen. Be respectful to other inmates. Fights in prison mostly happen because one inmate feels a lack of respect from another inmate. Always be courteous, especially with the courtesy flush, which means when using the toilet, flush often to keep odors at bay. Generally, maintain a quiet confidence, stay under the radar and simply blend into the crowd as best you can. Trust no one and never let your guard down! If she keeps all of these helpful tips in mind, she will do her time in peace. No one wants to do time in prison, but by knowing the ropes in advance any one can successfully navigate through federal prison and gain an early release. I did!
Lisa Barrett, author of "How To Navigate Through Federal Prison And Gain An Early Release," is a life-long educator and prison reform activist. While serving a year in Federal prison for theft and embezzlement of labor union funds, Barrett developed a comprehensive guidebook to help prisoners survive the hardships of incarceration and gain an early release. Today she is utilizing her experience as an educator, political activist and an overcome to make strides for prison reform and educate women behind bars.