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.

In the minimum-security camps, Webb Hubbell said, inmates sleep in bunkrooms accommodating 50 to 100 people or in smaller cubicles instead of cells, and they are allowed to spend time in common areas for exercise.

Inmates shower in stalls separated by curtains, not in open locker room-style showers, he said.

But the only private time an inmate has is when he meets with his attorney, Hubbell said.

Some prison facilities have visitors' rooms and outdoor picnic areas where inmates can spend time with approved guests, he said. Visits are not private, and visitation rooms could be full of 20 other inmates, their visiting wives and small children, as well as a guard.

Conjugal visits are not permitted, and displays of affection even between spouses are restricted to holding hands and kisses upon arrival and departure, Hubbell said.

Hubbell was permitted to have only two visitors at a time, and all his visitors had to be on an approved list of 10 people who had undergone background checks. How often family and friends can visit depends on the warden, but typically visitors were allowed to come once per weekend, he said.

His visitors were only permitted to carry in identification cards and loose change in a clear plastic bag for vending machines or the like.

"If your wife has your tax return prepared and needs your signature, she can't bring it in. You have to mail it," Hubbell said.

Inmates in minimum-security camps tend to be on their best behavior so that they don't get reassigned to a higher-security prison, Hubbell said, so he was never involved in a prison fight. When fights did break out, he and other inmates went elsewhere as quickly as they could to avoid getting in trouble by association, he said.

‘What You Make of It'
Hubbell and McDougal were the only former federal prisoners willing to answer questions for this story. Letters seeking comment from numerous other Arkansans currently imprisoned weren't answered. 

However, the late Warren Overton shared thoughts on his federal prison experience in a commentary written for Arkansas Business in 2009.

"I was head-butted and spit at, and I had to learn how to fight. I quickly realized I was on my own to deal with the consequences of my bad decisions. ... I knew at that point I had to change, and I did," Overton wrote. "I would spend the next couple of years living with some rough characters but also some people who taught me a lot.



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