My wife and I woke early on July 18, 2019. I had a mandatory report time of 12:00pm at the Institution, and I wanted to eat breakfast prior to departure. My days at The Citadel and in the Military taught me to arrive early. My target time was 9:00am (not early in Citadel or military terms, but early for federal employees, and probably prison, too). I wanted to be first in line. I wasn’t sure why, but I would later learn my early arrival was spot on for the very same reasons it would have been advantageous in the military. I was feeling anxious because I did not know what to expect. I had definitely seen my share of television shows, so I could only envision some very unsettling images. I fought to be upbeat and positive for my wife whom I knew was terrified for me. She fought to be positive for me for similar reasons. In the months leading up to my imprisonment, I spent many nights searching the internet in order to get some idea of what to expect. I found it difficult to predict based on the fact that people’s experiences varied from prison to prison, from custody level to custody level, and from correctional officer to correctional officer (CO). My YouTube investigation paid off in terms of determining what to wear. #Alldressedupandgoingtoprison. I chose to wear a pair of Crocs that needed to be thrown away, an old t-shirt, a pair of shorts I should have donated to Goodwill long ago, and a forward stare I had learned to utilize thirty years earlier during my time as a freshman at The Citadel.
The intake process was more dehumanizing than humiliating. Though being naked, lifting ones testicles so that a complete stranger could examine my “under carriage” for contraband or turning around to squat and cough was not an experience I would recommend, it was secluded and professional. From there, I was given some temporary prison gear, and led to a full body scanner. Once completed, I stole a quick glance at the screen containing my body image. I had not realized the toll the Oreos, couch sitting, and daddy duties had taken on my physique. My insomnia was normal, but my weight gain needed to be addressed ASAP. The thought led me to think about my first goal–Hit the ground running. I promised myself I would knock out 30 push ups upon entering the holding cell, and then I would practice the meditation techniques I have been learning at the VA. I must have “passed” the scan because the CO seemed satisfied I wasn’t carrying anything that God didn’t give me. Shortly after being photographed, I was led to a holding cell. Over the last several weeks I pictured entering a packed holding cell with numerous inmates glaring at me, but in actuality, the cell was empty. The concrete walls were white, the cell contained a concrete bench and the world famous stainless steel toilet I had vowed never to sit on. I quickly knocked out 25 push-ups but ran out of gas (I had planned to do thirty–See Oreo cookies, couch sitting, and daddy duties). Exhausted by my sad attempt, I moved on to meditation. As I struggled to relax, the thought of being in prison continued its assault on my mind. I have no idea how much time passed, but at some point I was finally escorted into another cell after being told to change into yet another prison outfit. This time it was in order to transport me to my “quarters”. I was given a greenish t-shirt that I believe was supposed to be white, another set of ill fitting trousers, and some “Mr. Rogers” type slippers. As we rode to the prison, I worried the pants they had issued me were way too big. I had no belt, so when I entered the prison I shuffled along holding my pants up. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. In fact, it was humiliating in a way that I had never experienced. There were inmates standing in front of their assigned units watching as the new guy came onto the yard. It was strange because they looked at me with familiarity. It wasn’t the first time they had seen a new guy shuffle in. Because I arrived early, I was told to go to the laundry where my bedding and permanent prison gear would be issued. I emerged from the laundry with two bags of prison gear. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel as I walked to the door. Though my entire life had been reduced to two bags of government gear, I knew that everything I really cared about was outside the confines of my new reality.
As I crossed the courtyard with my gear, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I knew there were rules in prison, but I wasn’t sure what they were. I had no experience in prison etiquette. I decided it wasn’t wise to act tougher than I was or to appear more scared. I chose to simply be myself. With my hands full of gear, I smiled, gave a few head bobs to acknowledge the onlookers, and headed towards my unit. As I walked, someone yelled, “wassup South Carolina”, and a friendly face appeared to showed me too my bunk. I soon learned the 171 at the end of my redshirt number indicated the district in which I was convicted. Therefore, anyone with -171 was convicted in South Carolina. As I unpacked, several guys poked their head in to welcome me. Some brought some items by that they knew I would need. A fellow former lawyer brought me some used tennis shoes that were just about my size, some tattered shorts, and a work out regimen that would make my old Coach Charlie Taaffe proud. The tattered prison gear wasn’t much, but it was exactly what I needed to begin my redshirt year in prison.