In prison speak, going "inside the wall" is the lingo used by inmates when they refer to entering a real prison facility. It is not about the actual wall surrounding the prison, but more about the feelings this wall provokes. The wall represents a sense of finality and it also represents a place of danger and intense fear.
For me, going inside the wall was extremely scary. I spent the first seven weeks of my prison term in a Federal Prison Camp. I was allowed to self-surrender so I basically walked myself right onto the camp. The camp had no wall and the inmates could walk around the complex, except for at night when we were locked in our units until the next morning.
I was not told by the Federal Prison Camp in Victorville, Calif., that I was going inside the wall. I knew that I was being transferred to another facility because Victorville does not have a program I wanted to enroll in. My security status is "Camp" so I assumed I was going to another camp.
In the Federal system, inmates are classified and given a status based on a point system. You are scored according to factors such as age, education level, severity and type of crime, past criminal history and if there are any incidents of violence in your background.
A "Camp" status is earned and afforded to inmates with low point scores because it's the lowest security level facility in the federal system. Inmates with higher points go to real prisons -- Federal Correctional Institutes (FCI).
Prior to my transfer, the word on inmate.com (prison speak for the rumor mill among inmates and not to be confused with bop.com which is the rumor mill among BOP staff members) was that the Dublin Prison Camp was closed and the program I was accepted into was now being held in the real prison, the FCI.
Now, inmate.com is largely unreliable. I witnessed an event in Victorville where one inmate overheard another asking her husband about the 65% law (this is an unpassed US Sentencing proposal that reduces the amount of time federal inmates serve to 65% of their sentence). Three hours later this simple question asked in a private conversation morphed into a rumor that the law had passed and the entire complex was rejoicing. Eight separate women approached me to tell me the law had passed and would be effective in April of this year, and they were trying to contact their attorneys to find out when they would get out.
Rather than believe the rumor mill, I asked the Head of Psychology, the one who was in charge of the program, where I would be going.
The Victorville staff had previously refused to tell me where I was being transferred for "security reasons" (even though I am in a camp and work in the garage where I am driving cars all day).
But I decided to ask again anyway.
I very nicely asked where the program was and stated that if it was in an FCI that I would prefer to wait until the next one is available in a camp.
An FCI is a dangerous place with very strict rules. I'd have preferred to avoid this type of institution especially since I earned my Camp Status by not being a violent criminal.
In a series of non-official, non-answers, I was told not to listen to inmate.com and that "perhaps" the camp in Dublin (even though it was never officially confirmed I was going to Dublin) is reopening for the next program.
You can imagine my dismay after spending 10 days in various forms of handcuffs commuting to Dublin to pull up to a large ominous wall.
The wall itself is roughly 20 feet high and made of double chain links separated each foot by a 6-inch wide steel pole. For 10 feet in front of the actual wall, there are rolls of barbed wire arranged like a staircase with the final set of steps the same height, 20 ft, as the wall itself. And there is shorter wall in front of the main wall which is about 16 ft, with barbed wire on top.
For me, this steel fortress represents a sense of finality. This is it; this is my new home; this is where I will be spending the next 24 months of my life. Going inside means who knows if I will make it back out because you know the type of criminals behind this wall might be dangerous.
I held out hope that once I was inside the R&D department I would be sorted and sent into the Dublin camp. But, unfortunately, I was sent inside the wall.
In order for the BOP to send me inside, they had to put a management variable that changed my "Camp Status" to FCI.
I am still wondering how this is possible if I've committed no infractions (shots) and I did not consent to being put inside. I am technically property of the BOP, so I guess consent is not necessary and they can do whatever they want with me.
This process has been made worse and scarier since no one here at the FCI spoke to me for two weeks to tell me what was going on.
When I arrived here, I was put into a housing unit outside of the program unit I am supposed to be in. I was not told why this happened or when/if I was moving into the program.
There is no camp staff here in the FCI, and since I am considered a "camper" no one here knows my case details.
It is beyond scary to be taken inside of the wall and not told why.
This is not a camp; this is real prison. The inmates are different, the attitude of the staff are different, and everything is highly regulated and controlled.
Coming from camp, I can appreciate what I had. Campers have an in and out mentality. They want to get in and out quickly and peacefully.
Many of the inmates here have long sentences, upward of 20 years to life. A decent number of women are here for violent crimes including murder and manslaughter. This is their home and this is all they will know for the next decade or more of their existence. They have turned gay for the stay (a good 80% of them), they have an aggressive sense of ownership of their rooms, and they are easily angered or provoked.
Being a camper in an FCI means I am in the minority and is a largely uncomfortable experience (although any time in an FCI is uncomfortable). The FCI'ers have a complete disdain for campers because they are jealous that they aren't in a camp and they see us as easy prey to bully and pick on, and even extort.
The FCI'ers have nothing to lose, so they like to fight while us campers would be too afraid to lose our camp status and be stuck here.
The women here like to fight and start trouble. I have had my limits pushed more then a few times, but I have stood my ground and I am also kind in general so that has helped them associate me as a friend rather then some stuck-up white girl. Though my first couple of weeks here was about proving myself and that was pretty hard for me.
Because this is a real prison, the attitude of the staff is that we are hardened criminals and we are often treated in inhumane ways.
The small freedoms of the camp are gone and I am on lockdown most of the day. We have a "movement" for 10 minutes each hour and I can go to the library or recreation area during that time and have to wait another hour (or two) until I can move again.
This is what the wall represents: fear, restriction, and danger. This is my new home, for now.