Club Fed: Ex-Inmates, Lawyers Describe Reality of Life Behind Bars

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011 12:00 am  

Ex-inmates and lawyers describe the reality of serving time in federal prisons.

New arrivals are issued a prison policy booklet and go through classroom-style orientation early on in their incarceration, spokesman Edmond Ross said.

During orientation, inmates learn that they will be assigned a prison job and find out other basic information, such as when health services open for sick call, how the commissary works, how to create an approved list of visitors, what education and recreation opportunities are offered and when religious services are held, Ross said.

A commissary list from the Forrest City penitentiary reveals that the prison store stocks sundries like postage stamps, Cheetos, deodorant, toothbrushes, sweatpants and reading glasses.

New arrivals receive khaki prison uniforms, work shoes or boots, bed rolls and toiletries. Of their own belongings, they may keep a wedding ring and religious medallions, while the clothes they arrive in are typically packaged and mailed home, Ross said.  

Inmates who are physically able to work are given jobs to maintain the prison, such as in food service or on the grounds crew, he said.

Webb Hubbell, the former Associate U.S. Attorney General, chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Little Rock mayor, spent nearly two years at Cumberland Federal Prison Camp in Maryland in the mid-1990s.

He now offers free counsel to people under indictment. Hubbell helps provide answers to their questions about prison - typically, he said, "What is it like? How's it going to affect my family? The big question - [am I] going to be safe? What am I going to be doing? How do you keep contact with your family? Are you able to conduct business?"

Through an organization he started called the Mark of Cain Foundation, Hubbell tries to educate the public on laws that restrict felons' employment and other aspects of their re-entry into society.

Hubbell, as many Arkansans remember, pleaded guilty to two felonies related to his overbilling of clients while a partner at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, a by-product of the long-running investigation, known as Whitewater, of President Bill Clinton and his associates.

Once in prison, Hubbell started off working in the prison's power house, doing a variety of chores from plumbing to changing light bulbs.

"Depending on how long you're in, usually after awhile you get tired of the job you're doing," Hubbell said in a phone interview from his home in Charlotte, N.C. Seven months in the power house were enough for Hubbell, so he requested a change. He briefly worked washing windows, then ended up finishing out as a breakfast and lunch cook. 

"You're working hard and time passes very quickly," Hubbell said of his kitchen labors. "In prison, you try to get a job where time passes quickly."

 

 

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