I was sentenced to 50 years in Prison at the age of 18 for non-violent crimes (40 years suspended). Spent my entire sentence in Maximum Security Facilities. AMA Again!
I ended up serving 6 years and was also sentenced to 10 years probation which I violated in 2007 and served 5 months in jail. I have seen pretty much everything you can imagine. I have been out of Prison for 15 years! Ask me anything!
We started the sub /r/ExCons to help former inmates recently released, which has gotten some traffic since my first AMA. Our hope is that the recidivism rate our communities face will dwindle with more people helping a stigmatized group of individuals. Please visit us and contribute. Thanks so much.
Edit- Off to bed, work in the morning. I will answer more tomorrow. I appreciate all the questions and interest. Thanks... and please check out our sub: /r/ExCons.
Good for you, thanks for giving people a chance.
How did you, a non-violent offender, end up in a maximum security facility?
How did you cope with prison? How was your first night?
I ended up in an altercation with a guard at the county jail before I was transferred which is why I ended up in max.
Looking back, do you regret the altercation that put you in maximum security?
What happened? Was the guard goading you?
Not so much regret, although my time would have been easier. No the guard didn't goad me, I just thought I was a bad ass, I was a punk kid.
I admire your honesty, and want to thank you for your replies.
If I may ask one more question... what positive and negative effects has being in jail had on your outlook on life? Do you think your mental health has been affected?
Yes, it affected me, mostly with interpersonal relationships and learning to trust people. On the positive side, people really can't pull the wool over my eyes too easily, I have seen it all.
I am a doctoral student, studying rehabilitation programs in prisons for offenders. While we don't do a lot of work with people who are serving sentences so long that they'll be seniors when released, we are trying a lot of things in prisons: Cognitive behavioral therapy (Where we ask the offender to make a "Chain of events" that lead them to offend), vocational training (Teaching them a trade), college education in prisons, probation instead of incarceration, religious programs, etc.
Did you ever participate in any of these programs? Were you ever aware of them? What's the general feeling about "Rehabilitation programs" inside the prison?
On an unrelated note, what do you want to do now that you're out?
Thank you for your honesty and candor.
I did not experience any programs like that. The only thing that was offered at the time was adult education (GED). It depends on what prison you are at. I work everyday but not at a job that uses all my potential sadly. I have had difficulty due to most employers doing background checks.
Other than finding employment, what's the most difficult part of having a criminal record?
You would be surprised how much they can affect your personal relationships. A lot of trust has to be built. My current wife's brother actually ran a check on me while we were first dating and told the whole family, although did not tell us he had done so. My now wife knew upfront about my past but it still created an awkward situation with my in-laws initially.
What was your crime, and if nonviolent why was the actual sentence so long? Why did you only spend six years out of fifty?
Daytime burglary, credit card fraud, forgery. The sentence was so long due to my juvenile record. A lot of people are misinformed- In the state I was sentenced in, they can use your juvenile record against you for a period of 5 years after your 18th birthday because it shows a pattern of behavior. 40 of the 50 years were suspended and served 6 on remaining 10.
When you say 40 of the 50 years were suspended, what exactly does that mean?
I was given a 50 year terms. They required me to do 10 but held the other 40 over my head. If I had committed any crimes upon my release, I would have been required to finish out the remaining 40.
Ok, so is that held over you for the rest of your life, or is there a certain time period?
The 40 years were taken away as soon as I finished probation. Today I am free and clear.
Oh ok I understand, thanks for clearing that up !
Congratulations on being free, and thanks for the AMA!
Thanks so much for being a part of it!
Glad to hear you're free and clear. And the 40 years went away. I have to think though, that at any potential future sentencing hearings, this would come up, and be used against you?
Potentially my former record could come into play if I was convicted of another crime. Your record stays with you forever.
Could anything as simple as jaywalking have sent you back to prison?
Technically when you are on probation any violation of the law can send you back to prison. For me, no. Such a minor infraction most likely would not have sent me back, although I am guessing.
What did yo do to get you sent back for 5 months?
Left the state without permission and missed a PO meeting.
Shit, I've done both of those things. Was your probation overly strict much more strict than average because of the severity of your crime?
That's the way it was in the state I was in back in the 90's.
So is that parole ?
It is called Probation.
How long did you spend on probation after you got out? The remaining four years?
9.5 years after that I was finished.
What's difference between Daytime Burglary and "regular" burglary? Is it just the time of the day that you do it, and is the sentence more severe?
Daytime is considered less because there is less of a chance of someone being at home, not sure if this is still categorized this way. It doesn't make it less significant.
I know that burglaries in PA have either person present or no person present next to the charges. Obviously if someone was home it would be much worse.
Source: I was a druggy and stole from my Neighbor when I was 18. My charge was Burglary-no person present.
Yes, that's pretty much how it was in my state. Both PA and VA are commonwealths, although I'm not sure if that has anything to do with it.
I forged checks that did not belong to me and was turned in by my ex-wife.
ex-wife Were you divorced by 18 ?
Do you resent her for it ?
She was not my ex-wife then, sorry for the confusion. I don't even think about her now.
Hey dude, thanks for doing IAmA.
I've got a hypothetical for you: if you were put in charge of the legal and penitentiary systems today with free reign to change anything, what would you do?
Better mental health care, more educational opportunities for life skills and more vocational training. Aftercare is important.
Absolutely. When you are in prison, some people, like myself, will take any opportunity that is offered to them. I would expect people to be receptive for the most part and you would be doing a lot of good.
I've considered doing something like this as well, but I'm not a teaching professional of any sort. What sort of classes were in your prison(s)? What sort of subjects were you or your fellow inmates interested in learning about?
GED classes were offered. Anything vocational or providing life skills would be helpful. Anything that would help gain employment upon release- computer skills.
Did you masturbate when you were in prison?
All the time.
This may sound as a dumb question but I've always wondered how do inmates shave? Isn't there a risk of stealing a razor blade or something like that to make a shank?
Not sure how they do it now, but back when I was locked up they would hand out razors and then collect them after a brief period of time. If one came up missing we would get locked down and searched.
Did you ever do solitary confinement? Was it warranted or unfairly assigned?
On a couple occasions. Was in solitary when I was stabbed and also locked down when the warden of our facility was stabbed and during some riots.
This is what I fear the most for my son. He's already done "the hole" once and it was NOT justified. Do you have any advice for him about how to walk the line between not being a wimp and not being a troublemaker?
I would say stick to himself. If he can get a job while inside to eat up the time then that is great. More time working or in classes leaves less time to get involved in altercations. However you cant escape the fact that in prison shit may happen. I would do everything in my power to avoid confrontations. I know sometimes it is unavoidable. He is lucky to have such a great mom sticking with him.
Thank you. I will definitely let him know your advice. I think he's trying to stick to himself but there are all these gangs...he isn't part of them but they try to pull him in. It's so hard. And thank you THANK you THANK YOU for the subreddit you and your wife made. It's been such a help for my son and for me and I'm sure many others.
Am grateful to have you. thanks so much for everything you have contributed. Hang in there!
What's the something that you want to say but no one has asked yet?
I love to go fishing and I read every day- both news and literature. Also, even though they suck, I love the Redskins.
Hail Victory... well not so much lately.
What were your thoughts when you first entered prison?
I thought mostly about how much time I had to serve. Being 18, I thought it was never going to end. Also fearful because of my environment.
Really cool you are open about this. I was just wondering how hard it has been finding work and just adjusting to become a "normal" citizen again?
I have adjusted to being a regular guy but employment issues stay with ExCons forever. That stigma is part of our sentence. Employment is difficult to find at times.
Do you feel that the eternal stigma from this significantly contributes to the numbers of repeat offenders? Why try to fix yourself or turn your life around if you're going to just be shat on anyway? Just more shit in the bucket, as Jaime Lannister would say.
Making a living selling drugs seems like it would be a lot more enticing if you can't even get a job flipping burgers. Your supplier probably doesn't care if you're a felon.
Yes, I can see that happening when someone has low self esteem and no sense of worth. If you are strong enough, you get away from the "woe is me" cop-out, you have to just keep trying to better yourself.
Did you ever have the feeling that you were going to killed while inside?
Sure, a few times. The thing I had to learn quickly was to stay to myself and mind my own business.
Great question and I have no clue how to answer. I was a drug addict. I am not sure how it would have went down. That is why I am thankful I was sent to Prison. It changed my life.
Why did you get stabbed? Any gang realted activities?
No. Actually got into the altercation over my first wife. Had some pictures of her in my cell and another inmate who I had been having issues with made some comments and it escalated. She is black and I am white. It ended with me getting stabbed, him getting hit in the head with my TV and me spending almost a year in the hole.
Can you have books when you're in solitary?
Yes, thankfully. A book cart came by about twice a week.
I've always wanted to ask this: is the hole really that bad? And if so, why exactly?
I know many of us who have never been in prison like to think the old "I'll just punch a guard and get put in solitary the whole time 'cause that's better then getting shanked and raped all the time!"... now, I suspect most of use would NOT punch a guard 'cause that can't end well, hole or not, but I tend to be a loner regularly anyway so I'm really not sure what about the hole would be worse than having to look over my shoulder constantly in genpop. Can you fill me in?
Thanks in advance, and very happy to hear you got your life turned around!!
The hole is that bad, it is extreme isolation and it takes it toll.
How are sports?
We had a prison softball and basketball team that I played in pretty regularly.
Maybe a stupid question but weren't there concerns about baseball bats as a weapon?
Sure, so were locks or batteries in a sock.
Did you ever see any opportunistic violence with a baseball bat or other equipment during games?
No, not personally. People weren't trying to fuck up any privileges.
What are the actual "prison rules" that inmates play by on the basketball court?
Actually pretty respectful. No one wants to start a big issue over a ball game and most of the teams are grouped together by cliques or gangs.
Some number of years ago I was in the Phoenix airport (well, outside it) and and I struck up a conversation with a guy who asked me if it was okay to smoke where we were. Turned out he had just been released after serving time for drug and firearm related offenses (according to him) and I was the first person he'd had a conversation with since he got out.
One thing he said stuck with me and I've been curious about it ever since. He was from New Jersey and was flying home that day but he told me that the other inmates had a major issue with people from other states, to such an extent that he was kept apart from the general population. Is where you're from really a big deal in prison?
No, I never encountered that problem. It was more on the lines of regional gangs within the state.
Did you consider the possible consequence of your actions? Was the potential for prison sentence enough of a deterrent for you? If not, what do you think would be enough of a deterrent?
No I didn't because I was addicted to drugs at the time, which is by no means an excuse. I deserved every day I served. There would have been no deterrent for me, prison saved my life.
Ever meet someone called Bubba?
More seriously, what was the kind of atmosphere relating to sex offenders?
I've often heard of them being reviled and sought out by the majority of prisoners, but not too much about max security.
Also, did you end up joining a prison gang or did you keep to yourself?
It's pretty hard to tell if someone is a sex offender unless they are announcing it or have a case that is in the media. Most sex offenders try to stay under the radar. No gangs, tried to stay to myself most of the time but there were quite a few gangs.
How do you avoid joining gangs? If they ask and you say "no", do they fuck with you?
It was never forced on me, although I cannot speak for others.
Did you enter or consider entering a relationship (physical or not) with another inmate? If so, how did you handle it? If not, how were other inmate-inmate relationships treated and thought of by others?
Not personally, however, there were numerous consensual relationships. They are not much different then the relationships you see everyday in your own life... except for the bars and razor-wire.
What is your current motivation or goal you wish to achieve now that you are free?
Also, what does it feel like being out and about at the end of 2013. Are you more socially anxious?
When I finished my contract with the Marines, after 2 combat tours, transitioning into the civillian world was hard for me. To this day I cannot be in crowds without having an anxiety or panic attack. Do you suffer from any mental or physical ailments now?
Thank you for this IAmA.
Thank you for your service
I have had a lot of anxiety issues, like you, around crowds are the worst. It has been more than a decade since my release and it has not gone away.
I'm in the process of becoming a county deputy, and just this past Saturday was given a tour of two of our county jails. The things that struck me were how depressingly boring life inside those walls must be, and then when I heard that the recidivism rate was around 85% I actually exclaimed "holy shit!"
It's got me wondering what I could be doing with my spare time to help these guys get out and stay out, but I can't even imagine where to begin. Do you have any suggestions? I'm nothing special, don't have any connections to jobs or even a host of skills that I could teach them that they would really find useful aside from basic computer literacy, I suppose.
Obviously you have a good heart but I would imagine it is out of your hands and more dependent on what that specific facility offers. I would recommend not being a dick and realizing people make mistakes and that they are not all bad at heart. It's the young kids that would be best to help if they are accepting, the older cons are set in their ways more or less.
howd you get caught?
Funny thing is my future 1st wife turned me into the police when she found out I had warrants. The police had threatened her.
Did any specific event stand out among others, while you were in jail? Gang shenanigans? Violence?
A sexual oreo cookie I witnessed and getting stabbed are probably the things that stood out the most.
The fuck is a sexual oreo cookie?
Think about it Sally
Where did something like that occur? The showers? A certain area everyone just knows about?
Did anything in particular happen while you were in prison to really make you reconsider your life choices? Recidivism is so high typically, what made you different and not make choices that landed you back in the exact same place?
Realized I was a punk selfish kid that didn't know shit. I was a coward for stealing from others and I deserved every day I served. Realizing who I was and that I didn't want to be that person lead me to change my life.
Congrats on coming to that realization. I'm so glad it worked for you. Do you think the prison system could do anything better to help other have the same success you have?
No, for me it was more of a self-realization of who I was and how I had to change.
How did you pass the time while in prison?
I read a ton. Also worked out and played ball.
Would you give testimony against someone who got arrested for the same shit you did?
Hard to say because I was not in that position. I guess if you are facing a life sentence and the only recourse would be to testify against a co-defendant, I could see where people would think about it. Personally I feel like whatever decisions I make I have to accept the consequences and not put them off on anyone else. I'll let the police and prosecutors do their own work.
Were you in an institution where conjugal visits were allowed? If so, did you get any while locked up? If not, did you see anyone else get any unauthorized visiting?
No, unfortunately in the state I was in we were not allowed to have conjugal visits but that didn't stop people from having sex. We had 2 visitation areas, one outside and one inside. On the outside were picnic tables and whenever the guards would do their rounds and go back in, a lot of shit went down.
Any juicy stories about those picnic table incidents?
Had a cellmate whose mom lived in philly. She would come down once every couple months with bundles of dope hidden in her. She would pull the dope out once she got in the visiting room and my celly would swallow it. Pretty fucked up.
Did you ever have any suicidal tendencies while in prison? If you did, how did you prevent yourself from going through with it?
I did. I just was never strong enough to follow through.
Given the current explosion of the prison population, especially with the advent of the 3 strikes laws in many states in response to cases such as Polly Klass and Kim Reynolds...what is the answer? What is your solution in reducing crime while at the same time reducing the ever increasing prison population, while at the same time ensuring the safety of the general population?
I did a research paper in college 20 years ago, and the last line of the paper was a quote from a convict who stated something along the lines that the 3 strikes laws would be the thing that would keep people from offending again.
I would agree if you are applying 3 strikes to violent offenders, maybe even 1 strike in certain cases. However, the disparity in sentencing laws for non-violent and drug offenders is out of whack. Giving somebody a life sentence for say a third felony auto-theft conviction is absurd. Not sure if that has happened, but just as an example. As far as for keeping people from re-offending, more community-based programs that will help those while incarcerated and those transitioning out would be beneficial in my opinion.
What did you do to violate? And why when you were 9/10 years into your probationary period?!
Left the state without permission from my Probation officer. Also missed probation meeting. After I was locked up for violating and when i went to court, the judge dismissed the rest of my probation time after I had served the 5 months.
How did your probation officer find out you left the state?
Ex-wife. That wasn't enough to seal my violation but when I missed my PO appointment that was.
Thanks for doing this, OP.
Can you explain in any sort of detail how one SUCCESSFULLY manages to stay out of the drama and just do one's time? Can you give a few examples of how the prison system makes that difficult, and how you avoided any pitfalls?
I see a lot of excons saying that, but I have also been conditioned by the media to think that is nearly impossible.
Congratulations on your freedom. I hope you do well!
It is tough. I was fortunate that I was ok financially while incarcerated which made time easier. I still had my problems but I was in a better spot than most.
Why do they sentence anyone to 50 years with 40 of those years suspended, rather than calling it 10 years?
So they can keep the time over your head in case you fuck up when you get out.
This might seem ridiculous, but is there anything you miss that is in prison. Like a certain system to things??
No I can't think of anything. Nothing fun about doing time.
Do you have any good Pruno recipes?
Oranges, bag of tang, bread - place in a bag in your toilet, allow it to breathe, wait about 7 days and get fucked up.
Would you say that the depiction of prison in the movie The Shawshank Redemption is a fairly accurate one?
Friendship-wise yes, if you can find someone that you click with, violence no.
Brooks was here.
What was your initial reaction when you knew you could possibly spend the next 50 years of your life inside a prison cell at the age of 18?
I was petrified. I actually was facing a lot longer but my plea deal got my sentence reduced. To be honest, I never thought I would make it out,
Were any riots involved during your time inside? If so, how did it start and how messy did it get?
A few, they were quelled fairly quickly. If I remember correctly, gang related and personal property issues is how they all started.
I took for granted everything. I was a drug addict and didn't think about anything but my next high until I was locked up. That was when the self reflection began. After that I missed everything.
What was the first thing you ate when you got a out of prison?
I would like to say pussy but no... it was fast food.
Best commissary food/snacks?
Also please share some Mcgyver tactics you learned during your time, you know what im talking about
ramen noodles + cheetos + summer sausage + jalapenos = BLICKIE!
Use 2 pieces of lead from a pencil in an outlet as a lighter.
You said your crimes were daytime burglary, credit card fraud and forgery. Were you required to pay restitution to the people you stole from?
Yes I was. I am free and clear of the system now.
Coming from a family who has been habitually in and out of jail. Recidivism among 'criminals' is usually pretty high. Was there anything in prison that actually habilitated you, something that taught you how to live?
People in my family always messed up because they were taught to live by people who didn't know how. You can't really rehabilitate someone who was never 'right' in the first place.
Nothing in prison helped me to change my life. I realized after my years of incarceration that I never wanted to victimize another person. Rehabilitation comes from within.
Were there any Argentine Nazis there?
Read all of your replies, I'm very glad you made it through and found inner redemption. An honest question: Is it possible to be a "nice guy" in prison? Or is a certain degree of violence necessary to ward off threats? I fantasize that kindness is still around inside but accept that this might be unrealistic.
It is never really possible to be a nice guy. You always have to have a front because you never know what each day is going to bring. That does not mean you have to be violent. Just that you always have to portray a certain image. I guess it is possible in some prisons just not where I was housed.
My cousin was sentenced to 7 years in prison a few years back. I've had a hard time writing him and don't know where to start or what to say. Any advice?
Be consistent. Mail call is the thing inmates look forward to the most during the week. Let him know you are there for him and stick to it, he's looking for any kind of support.
Is it true that myth that the wise guys control the traffic inside prison? If so, is there any "help" from the guards on circulating stuff around?
Certain gangs did control a large portion of the drug trade and guards were certainly in on it. Tons of money to be made inside the walls.
How do the people inside get their money? I imagine most of them aren't well off to begin with. And if you do have money, how do you get it into the jail?
Lots of hustles in Prison. From drugs, store boxes and gambling anyone can hustle. Cash money came in mostly through visitation. A $50 bill is worth 100 on the yard.
How many of the correctional officers you encountered were dirty?
Maybe 25% if I had to put a number on it, but it was known.
What does your mind turn to when you've had so much time to contemplate? What did you focus on or think about the majority of the time?
I missed my family a lot, thought about how fucked up it was that I stole from other people and victimized them. Prison time gives you a good opportunity for self-reflection.
How did your time in prison affect your familial relationships (before, during and/or after you served time)?
When you were released, what was the first thing "fun" thing you did?
Did not stay in contact with my family much while inside. First fun thing? Probably going to Daytona a few months after my release for a week.
From a prisoner's point of view, what is something about the American prison system that needs to change?
Is there anything that goes on on the inside that the majority of the public wouldn't know? Any interesting stories you can share?
Better mental health care. Tons of drugs. Not sure how it is now but when I was in almost everyone was looking to make a buck. Guards, inmates, it did not matter.
Warden was stabbed at a facility I was at. We were locked down almost a year. Probably the most interesting thing that happened.
What was the crime(s)?
Daytime burglary, credit card fraud, forgery
Weird question, but you keep saying daytime burglary. Does it matter what time it is when you commit the crime, prosecution-wise?
Back then it was, not sure now but they equated "daytime" to the fact that there's a better chance the resident was not at home.
Did daytime carry a lighter or heavier sentence than nighttime?
Nighttime carried a longer sentence at the time, but I am not sure what it is now or if they even classify it differently still.
Ah thanks for the answer, follow up question, how long ago was this and how old are you now?
Was in prison from 1992 - 1998 and I will turn 40 in January.
Okay... as a suburban white person, the first thing that pops to my mind (and the only thing that really makes me DEATHLY afraid of prison, and acts as a real deterrent) is prison rape. How common is it really? Is there a way to avoid being raped, as in, steps that guarantee you won't be? Or is it just something that can potentially happen to anyone, particularly scrawny pretty boy white dudes from the suburbs. Thanks for your response.
Nothing like in movies or TV. It does happen from time to time, but is not common.
I hope you don't go back to prison like this guy: http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2013/11/reddit_texas_prison_rape.php
Got life in prison for rape after an AMA about serving time in prison
It's scary how 85% end back behind bars.
I am sure I will not have that issue.
Did you ever tar the roof of the plate factory in the spring?
Yup... and beers to boot.
Do autistic/schizophrenic/otherwise mentally challenged people get messed with?
Not that I was aware of. Most of the time the severely mentally ill are not housed with the general population.
What was the most disgusting thing you witnessed? (Besides ppl jerking it).
What was the most brutal thing you witnessed? (Share as many stories as possible plz!!!)
What was the most inspiring event witnessed?
The most disgusting was the sexual "oreo cookie" I witnessed in the shower when I got up to go to work at the chow hall at about 2:30 in the morning. Most brutal thing is kind of subjective since I had seen several people get stabbed, myself included. And I didn't really see anything inspiring... sorry.
black on the outsides, white in the middle
You got it.
Picture three guys in the shower. White guy in the middle. I am sure you can visualize that.
Thanks for doing the AMA, I am currently a heroine addict and I am fearing prison.. I take caution from yor story.
Please pizza me ?:/
Thanks for doing this. Some of your responses are legitimately inspiring, which I didn't expect to find here.
My question is: Does being rich on the outside do anything for your inside? Like for example, would drug dealers or whatever be able to secure favorable treatment etc? Maybe more generally, do you believe that inmates are treated about equally, or do some obviously have the favor of the guards? If you were "in with the guards" how would your life be better?
You never wanted to be seen as in with the guards. Most convicts would think you are snitching. However some had business relationships with them and it happened all the time. Prison is the same as the outside world. You have the 'Haves' and the 'Have not's' Money and drugs were a big factor on how you did your time.
I did not. I am sorry you had to deal with that. I did witness a ton of corrupting things on other issues though. Sex and drugs mainly,
Did you ever drop the soap? If so how did that go?
What an original question... have an upvote! And the answer is no.
I don't give karma to criminals.
That is fine. Put in a stocking and give it to someone for the holidays.
I understand about the stigmatization. I ran a contracting company and I tried to hire a lot of ex cons. My brother did 2 years in prison and just hearing the stories of the guys who had gone back two and three times or more because there was nothing out there for them really made me need to act. Of the dozens I hired, many stayed with my company for a long time and a few even ended up running crews for me. I can think of only two times I had to fire an ex con. It just goes to prove that if you give a man honest work and a real chance, he won't let you down.
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