Marc Emery’s US Prison Blog #20 – D. Ray James Correctional Facility

[Editor’s note: This letter was sent from Marc Emery to CC Editor Jeremiah Vandermeer on Dec 3, 2010.]

Dear Jeremiah: D. Ray James is a bizarrely run prison – excuse me – “correctional facility”. Of the many wrong things here:

Security

The facility is designated low-security for INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) ‘deportable alien’ inmates. It is, in fact, run and controlled like a medium-high security prison. But in regular BOP medium-security prisons, you get a two-bunk cell to share; here in this “low”-security prison, we have 60 men in one big dorm with no privacy.

At BOP low-security prisons for Americans, there’s a large fence to keep inmates in. Here, there are two rows of huge fence with razorwire on top and all over. It’s very menacing and makes this place seem like a medium-high security facility.

Administration

As an INS facility, it is supposed be staffed with immigration experts who can do treaty transfer applications. Unfortunately, none of the staff here has ever done a treaty transfer application, nor have they correctly started the procedure for any of the Canadians or anyone else here.

When they said they wouldn’t start my paperwork until the Canadian Consulate forwarded paperwork to them approving my return to Canada, I realized they had no idea how the procedure works.

Aghast, I had [lawyer]Kirk [Tousaw] contact [transfer specialist lawyer]Sylvia Royce in Washington D.C. (Royce worked for the Bureau of Prisons in Washington as transfer specialist before her private practice). She must have got something going because when I went to see my case manager, Mr. Rodgers – lo and behold – he said, “I just got your package from Washington D.C. 30 min. ago”. There it was, about 15 pages with my name across the top. He said it’s his first one, so he’d contact some INS people to help me. As far as I understand, it has to be completed and back in Washington D.C. by January 16.

Well, well, well. That money bomb fundraiser for Royce was more than a good idea – it was essential.

Up till that moment these people were operating under entirely false assumptions of how transfers are done. I will keep you informed on how things go.

Photo by Jodie EmeryPhoto by Jodie EmeryVisitation

Jodie is due to visit me tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday for five hours each week – which is wonderful and I can’t wait – but there’s nothing in our ‘inmate handbook’ about getting visitors approved. I found out from other English-speaking inmates (about 40 to 50 of the center’s 750 inmates) that I have to get a form for each visitor to fill out and return. I have, in fact, sent Jodie a blank one so you can visit me at some point.

The Commissary Inmate Funds Account

The commissary inmate funds account is a total scam.

This place is run by The GEO Group Inc, formerly known as the Wackenhunt Corrections Corporation. In a normal Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.) run detention center or Federal Corrections Institution (F.C.I.) or US Penitentiary Maximum Security (U.S.P.), money can be put on an inmate’s account by money orders sent to the Des Moines, Iowa B.O.P. or through Western Union Quick Collect (online or phone-in).

It’s convenient, but there is a charge from Western Union. An inmate can have up to $10,000 in an account. The reason for the $10,000-limit is that an inmate often has to pay child support, order books and magazines, pay bills, pay lawyers, etc., and from an inmate account (also called a “commissary” account) one can issue a certified check. Of course, the commissary account is where you pay for your 300 monthly phone minutes, order up to $350 worth of goods monthly from the inmates store, and pay for Corrlinks electronic mail service ($3 per hour).

That’s how it’s supposed to work for all American inmates in any normal US prison. ‘Deportable Alien’ Prisons, like this one, do not run under these rules at all, and we don’t get Corrlinks either.

Here, one can only put money in an inmate’s account through a private company known as the Keefe Commissary Network, an affiliate of the Keefe Supply Company, which bills itself as “the nation’s leading supplier of food products, personal care products, and electronics to prison and jail commissaries”. The company does business in many GEO-run private and state prisons and is rumored to be owned by the Bush family.

Using this service, Canadian or other non-US Visa or MasterCards are not allowed, and neither are Western Union wire transfers or money orders.

Only US credit cards are allowed, even though every inmate here is a non-US citizen.

When a non-American inmate’s family can finally find someone with a US-based Visa or MasterCard, they call 1-866-345-1844 from 8 AM to 5 PM Central time or go to http://www.accesscorrections.com and put money in an account at D. Ray James Correctional Facility (being careful not to put it in ‘DRJ Prison’, which is the state prison next door).

AMOUNT TO INMATE FEE BY WEB FEE BY PHONE
$0 – $19.99 $2.95 $3.95
$20.00 – $99.99 $5.95 $6.95
$100.00 – $199.99 $7.95 $8.95
$200.00 – $300.00 $9.95 $10.95

Keefe Supply Company also makes many of the products sold to inmates through our commissary accounts, so they are making money on the income of mostly poor inmates in every which way.

What’s really strange is that you can’t send a money order to inmates commissary account, even though the inmate handbook says you can. They are, in fact, sent back. You can’t send money via Western Union.

If Keefe doesn’t get a cut, there’s no way to put money in an inmate’s account.

Photo by Jodie EmeryPhoto by Jodie EmeryCollect Calls

Instead of just dialing 0 to make a collect call to one of our 30 approved numbers (like you do at a B.O.P. prison), a prisoner here must have someone put money on a ‘prepaid collect phone account’ before he can make a call.

A collect call through the phone provider Public Communication Services is staggeringly expensive, and it is not really collect, as it has to be paid in advance – and there are extra service charges to boot.

Electronic Mail

B.O.P. prisons allow inmates to use an electronic mail system called Corrlinks (or Trulinks) to communicate with a pre-approved list of friends and loved ones. This system is not available in INS facilities.

There is a sign in here that says they don’t discriminate in their treatment of ‘Deportable Aliens’, but that is obviously not true. Though we get the same amount of telephone time in an INS facility as a B.O.P. prison, there is no Corrlinks here in GEO World, nor will there ever be. This makes communication with family much harder, and our 300 minutes per month goes much faster.

Lockers

Instead of having our own lockers, we are expected to put all of our property in these clumsy and awkward ‘barracuda boxes’, plastic bins we keep under our bunks. They are horrible and so annoying and it’s impossible to organize your stuff in them.

In a 60-man dormitory, there is no privacy in any aspect. Showers have no curtains or doors, and the toilets are the same. I bunk beside 15 other guys, so when I go through my box it is noisy, cumbersome, public, and completely dysfunctional.

They took the lockers that were previously here out just before GEO opened this place on October 1.

Language Barriers

All the English speakers here are segregated from other English speakers. In my 60-man dorm, 55 to 57 speak Spanish.

There are two Canadians (me and Peter), one Nigerian, one Armenian, and about seven others who speak English as second language fairly well.

Of our entire 750-inmate population, there are six Canadians, one British guy, one South African, three Nigerians, three Bahamians, three Jamaicans, and maybe 25 others who speak English as their first language; yet we are kept in separate dorms.

The six Canadians in this 750-man inmate population should be in one pod of 60 English-speaking inmates so we have each other to converse with, but also so we can watch television shows in English on the limited number of televisions. In my current unit, one TV is permanently Spanish programming and the other is permanently sports.

Photo by Jodie EmeryPhoto by Jodie EmeryLibrary

I have a new job in the Inmate Library. The Library – though it is now tidy, organized, and staffed with friendly people – is the most pathetic library anyone has ever seen.

The magazines, a total of 38, are all one to 18 months old – our single issue of Rolling Stone is from August 2009; the Michael Jackson death issue.

There are a total of four magazines in Spanish in a place with over 700 Spanish speakers! There are about 250 Spanish paperbacks, but only about 100 are popular.

The English language books are universally 10 to 40 years old, severely beat up, although now well organized and labeled.

[Editor’s note: The section of this blog post asking for books and magazines has been removed since Marc is NOT ALLOWED to give his books to the Library – please do not send any more books or magazines as they will not be accepted by the prison.]

At my Library job I get 29 cents an hour and work from 8 AM to 10:30 AM and 1 PM to 3:30 PM, Monday to Friday. That is $1.45 a day – $7.25 a week. I like the job though, so doesn’t matter that the pay is so low. I type up legal letters for inmates and help them do requests and fill out job forms. Most of them have limited English skills, so there’s a lot to do.

Ok, Jeremiah, that’s my report.

Thanks for everything!

Marc

Marc Emery
Marc Emery

Marc Emery is a Canadian cannabis activist, entrepreneur, and politician. Known to his fans as the Prince of Pot, Emery has been a notable advocate of international cannabis policy reform for decades. Marc is the founding publisher of Cannabis Culture and Pot TV.

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