Entry 6: January 29, 2014
Wow. Compared to the near continuous inactivity of the past seven months, these last three weeks have been a whirlwind. I’m writing this from a federal correctional institution (FCI) in Louisiana, where I will be residing for at least the next 15 months (no sign of Sukie, Bill or Eric as of yet).
First I traveled from Miami to the transit center in Oklahoma City for a week stay, courtesy of “ConAir.” Worst flight ever! Actually it's not so different from your average airline; same type of plane and a snack was even served. Only there are no screaming infants, you're shackled in your seat, the cabin smells like urine and the crew wears tazers. The last time I flew on a low-cost carrier I only wished the flight attendant was packing high voltage to use on the jerk seated next to me.
Thankfully, I can report that I’m safe here. FCI Oakdale is a low security facility, meaning that while there is a razor wire topped double fence around the perimeter, inmates are free to move about to certain areas, though only at hourly schedules 10-minute intervals. This means I’m free to spend parts of my day in the library, recreation yard and even the chapel. Low security facilities house mainly white collar, drug and sex offenders. Inmates with a history of violence have had to be well behaved long enough to work their way here from higher security facilities, a process that can take years. The absence of violence here is no doubt due to the fact that no one is looking to be moved to a more restrictive environment.
There is safety in numbers; out of the approximately 1,800 or so inmates housed here at FCI Oakdale (my new home in Louisiana) roughly 450 of us are sex offenders, or as we are known in the prison vernacular, 'chomos' (rhymes with homo, stands for child molester).
Regardless of what sex offense a man commits, in the prison hive mind he is a chomo, period. Chomos are restricted by the unwritten prisoner’s code to use only certain showers, to watch television only from certain chairs, to sleep in certain bunks and eat at certain tables.
On the prison social totem pole, chomos are at the very bottom. Interestingly, the black and Latino inmates have, for the most part, a “live and let live” approach to the chomos. It's the white inmates that spew the most invective. Several times already I’ve caught snippets of conversation among white inmates that referred to their desire to 'smash' (beat up) a chomo. That said, I’ve been assured by many of the more seasoned inmates that as long as I act respectfully I’ve very little to worry about in that regard.
What I do worry about is how I’m going to cope with how ridiculously crowded it is here. There are six of us grown men in one 15 by 12 foot 'open bay' cell. We are literally living on top of one another. My bunk is five feet off the ground and if I sit up in it my head touches the ceiling. These bays were designed to only hold four people. Each bay is separated by a full wall, and the interior facing wall is only three feet high with a wide opening, so at least I no longer have to hear the demoralizing slam of a locking cell door. But with 250 men it's extremely loud in the unit, so it's a definite trade off. Of the six of us, one other of my 'cellies' is also a chomo. He was found guilty of the same charge as mine, but he received a 20 year sentence followed by lifetime sex offender supervision.
Although I’m imprisoned, I’m reminded daily how much worse it could have been for me.
Christopher Reina is doing a five year sentence in federal prison. In his writing he shares how he is surviving prison life as a gay inmate. Chris is paying it forward by donating his compensation for this column to a charity.