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Prison Cellmates & Jobs…

If and when I write a formal memoir—an autobiography—it would have to include the third of my life that I’ve spent in jails and prisons … some 25-yrs.  A significant aspect of those experiences would be cellmates and jobs… (But I’m kinda like Meyer Lansky; a full memoir? Not likely.)

Co-defendant Larry Genoa & Author, FCI McKean, PA, 1995

Co-defendant Larry Genoa & Author, FCI McKean, PA, 1995

Within a certain context, there is a freedom in prison of association. The First Law is that wardens, counselors, case managers and corrections officers—all being part of an institutional bureaucracy—spend most of their time making things easy for themselves. This includes writing and interpreting the rules to best suit their own situation.
The Second Law is that prisoners themselves are relatively free to associate (live, work, etc.) … within the context of the First Law, of course.

(The American Gulag is essentially a vast system of over 2.3 million prisoners housed in over 4,575 prisons; second-place Russia has 1,029.)

The only other preamble I would draw here is that there are a variety of  trial, sentence, age, security level, ethnic group and politics, in addition to crime factors, that enter into how prisoners associate w/each other.

(The American prison system tends to treat all prisoners the same w/out special privileges, dressing them in nondescript uniforms even as they proclaim that they seek to rehabilitate them for the “free world.” One might wonder how they really view that “free world.” A mass blend of twilight bland ruled by an elite few? They decry “communism,” yet create an institution that projects their pathological image of it.)

Wayne County Jail, Detroit, 1989

Wayne County Jail, Detroit, 1989

Prisoner association of generally equal group and “rank” is common. Either we’re assigned that way, or we seek each other out and are so assigned.

After 9-months in Detroit’s Wayne County Jail, my first prison cellmate at FCI Milan, MI, 1990, was a Colombian engineer who had worked for the US gov’t. He lived in Washington, DC, and had a wife and two young girls. He had an American “friend” who pestered him for a coke contact. (He either knew none or didn’t want to be involved.)
One afternoon while he was at work, this “friend” dropped off a package at his house, giving it to his wife. She left it on the dining room table for her husband. After he arrived home, the feds hit the house and busted them both (it was a kilo of sugar w/a smattering of coke. Under US law, that counts the full weight as coke).
Long story short: Unwilling or unable to produce a source for coke, the prosecutor offered him a plea-deal to 14-yrs or they would prosecute his wife. He took it. After his conviction they also pressed his Colombian wife for coke contacts. Not “cooperating,” they prosecuted her for the possession of a kilo of cocaine. She got 10-yrs. They had their two little girls sent to Spain to live w/relatives.

FCI Ray Brook, NY

FCI Ray Brook, NY

In 1991, I was transferred to FCI Ray Brook, Lake Placid, NY. It was originally the Athlete’s Village for the 1980 Winter Olympics. My first cellmate was a general contractor from Virginia. He scammed the banks out of several $million and got 10-yrs.
One day he showed me a state indictment from VA for scamming the sub-contractors as well and asked for my advice. I advised him to file for a speedy trial assuming there was a good chance that VA wouldn’t comply w/in the required time limit (70-days), and would otherwise tend to accept a plea for a consecutive sentence while serving his federal time. (He could always cop a plea down the line…)
He rebuked me as he had come to “accept Jesus as his savior” and would plead guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the court. I gave him Jesus’s advice: “Render onto Caesar…  To the Criminal Justice System, you’re just a coonskin on the wall.” When I saw him next, he had an additional 14-yrs to serve in Virginia after he completed his federal sentence.

Other cellmates at Ray Brook included a Lufthansa airline pilot w/a kilo of heroin under his flight seat; a Vietnamese ship’s captain, caught w/a load of Thai-stick off the coast of Hawaii; and a Cuban Brigade 2506 commander from the Bay of Pigs invasion, who was a chiropractor who defrauded Medicare.
My work assignment at Ray Brook was as an Account’s Payable clerk disbursing about a $250,000/month to vendor’s of the prison facility and UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries. Inc.). I determined the payments according to Treasury Dept guidelines, processed the computer billing, and passed it on to my supervisor. When I disqualified a $300,000 payment to local contractors for prison work, the fit hit the shan. (Of their $900,000 billing, I only approved $600,000).

(All UNICOR moneys, to and fro, are disbursed thru accounts w/the US Treasury Dept. I was merely following their own guidelines [granted, as a former criminal investigator, I could smell the contractor rip a mile away, but I didn’t take into account the “cozy” deal between certain prison personnel and the locals]. Taken from my cell early one morning soon thereafter, I was given a round of “diesel therapy” to another prison.)

Seamus Moley & Author, FCI Schuylkill, PA, 1993

Seamus Moley & Author, FCI Schuylkill, PA, 1993

FCI Schuylkill, PA, was new in 1992 and w/out a seasoned comptroller or experienced business staff, UNICOR hired me as Payroll Clerk. Among several cellmates over the next 3-yrs, my most memorable was Seamus Moley (shamus mooley), an IRA officer from Northern Ireland who had been busted for buying a Stinger Missile.

(We hit it off right away when he found out that my mother’s side was all-Irish, and that I could describe precisely the training camp he had attended in Syria … where I had been a journalist attached to the same PFLP-GC commandos.)

It was an entrapment scheme so blatant that the Miami federal court judge dismissed most of the indictments and only sentenced Seamus to 5-yrs for the one guilty verdict.
Unfortunately, the gov’t, being pissed off at the Miami judge, waited ‘til Seamus almost completed his sentence, then re-indicted him in another jurisdiction on the dismissed charges, which that judge allowed and gave him an additional 10-yrs.

Other cellmates at Schuylkill included a young dead-head (follower of the Grateful Dead) who was sentenced to 40-yrs for a 3rd-strike felony (#1 a lid of reefer; #2 a lid of reefer; #3 a sheet of LSD thru the mail); a smuggler pilot who’s airfield and aircraft were confiscated by the feds, which has since become Air America for the DEA/CIA; and a Replug PA state legislator busted for taking a 10-yr-old boy across the state line for a little diddly-time.

In 1994, w/the help of Congressman Sander Levin’s office, I was transferred to FCI McKean, PA (a lot closer to Detroit and family visits).  Well-known to federal prisoners as “Dream McKean.”

Peter MacDonald

Peter MacDonald

My most significant cellmate at FCI McKean was Peter MacDonald, former Chief of the Navajo Nation for 5-terms (20-yrs). Pete was given 14-yrs for “conspiring to overthrow the gov’t…” There was an election dispute on the res, it got violent, two Sheriff’s officers were “kidnapped” and two of Pete’s supporters were killed. Pete wasn’t even there at the time.

I learned a lot about Native American history from Pete. From the age of 7, he was raised in a gov’t-Christian missionary school (as was law for all Native Americans), forbidden to speak his language, wear Native garb or hair, and forbidden to practice their religion.
At 15 he joined the Marines (1944) and became a Navajo Code-Talker serving in the Pacific and China. After the war he got an electrical engineering degree from Oklahoma State on the GI Bill, and joined Hughes Aircraft as a Project Manager for the Polaris Submarine Missile Program. When he retired back to the res, he was elected to the Chairmanship (Chief).

(On Clinton’s last act as President, he commuted Pete’s sentence, after he had already served almost 10-yrs.)

While not a cellmate, I spent some time w/Gene Gotti (John’s brother) out on the track. I knew a number of the Detroit Family (working as an investigator to both criminal and civil plaintiff attorneys) and we spent time swapping stories.
At one point, Gene suggested that I distance myself from Novi Tocco, nephew to the Detroit Don (whom I knew from Detroit and often visited my cell). That was just before Novi went back to Detroit to strike a deal w/the feds in return for testifying against his own family (father and uncle). What a slimeball.

In 2001, I was transferred to FCI Jesup, GA. Around 11am on September 11th, I was unceremoniously thrown into the hole (Segregated Housing Unit) incommunicado. I learned the story of 9/11 over 50 days later when I was released and sent back to work and my housing unit. Just a little reminder of the essential political character of my conviction.

Scott Robin Roston

Scott Robin Roston

After that period they put me in a cell w/one of the weirdest characters I’ve ever met. Pretty much a doppelgänger for Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) or vice versa.  Scott Robin Roston is a stone OCD psychopath. Nine days into his honeymoon back in ’88 aboard a cruise ship he beat his bride unconscious and threw her off the ship to her death.

Witnesses said they argued at dinner over her eating sweets and using the wrong fork for her salad. Several days into my celling w/this freak I awoke in the night to his standing in front of the commode, whipping his willie w/one hand while he held his thumb up his ass w/the other.

I went ballistic. He apologized saying he didn’t think I’d mind, and it took me several months to get the f*ck outta there. My Case Manager said they’d move me asap “but it’s difficult to find any inmates who will bunk w/him.” They had to wait ’til some newbies were transferred in.  No shit!?! (P.S.: This sex predator is scheduled to get out July 8th, 2017. Be aware.)

In 2006, after one of one of my 6-month Program Review interviews, the Unit Manager took me aside and asked me if I knew that my file contained a Secret Service, FOIA-Exempt security section.
I told her that I did know (I already knew what was in it because an SIS lieutenant had privately allowed me to read it). She asked me that since I had at least 6-yrs remaining on my sentence (of 25-yrs, minus 15% Good Time), would I prefer to be in a prison camp (no fence, community privileges)? Yes, of course.
She advised me that she would get notice to the Secret Service that the BOP was misusing their information to bar me from a proper lower security status. (I knew that the file included a notice by the Secret Service to the BOP that I had been cleared of all threat allegations.)

Author w/Kaley at Auburn University Vet School Show, 2006

Author w/Kaley at Auburn University Vet School Show, 2006

She notified me a couple of months later that my status was changed and I would be sent to the first available camp. (My non-snitch and political quasi-status, often earned me the respect of both inmates and staff. Part of the prisoner hierarchy.)

I was soon sent to the camp at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, and was assigned as a dog-handler w/the freedom of the base and downtown Montgomery (in order to socialize the dog to the public for later advanced training). Quite a change after 16-yrs behind the walls, eh?

Before I got my dog Kaley (who lived w/me and went everywhere I did), one of my cellmates at Maxwell AFB was former Congressman Ed Mezvinski (D-IA). Before he was a Congressman, he was an investigator during the Watergate Hearings, of which we had many interesting discussions.

Marc Mezvinsky & Chelsea Clinton.

Marc Mezvinsky & Chelsea Clinton.

He was convicted of fraud and got 5-yrs. The camp PA-system confused our names all the time … we had to both respond to their calls. His son, Marc, married Chelsea Clinton. Small world, eh?

Two years later, I was transferred to the camp at the Pensacola Naval Air Station where I was sent to a Navy school for training as a haz-mat officer. When I completed training, I was assigned a 4-man crew, three haz-mat vehicles, and the security codes of all areas of the base (including the Blue Angels’ compound). What more could a federal prisoner ask for?

(What I found especially ironic was that two of my assigned crew were former pilots at Pensacola. One a Navy F-16 Falcon chief instructor, and the other an F-4 Phantom Marine fighter pilot w/73 combat missions over Viet Nam. They were convicted of tax evasion…)

Former Congressman, Ed Mezvinski (D-IA).

Former Congressman, Ed Mezvinski (D-IA).

After two more years, for a total of 20, I was selected for a 2-yr early out (to home arrest in Detroit). It was a Congressional Program for Elderly Offenders. Although clearly qualified, many were routinely refused (the BOP doesn’t like being told what to do). I was fortunate to have Congressman Charlie Rangel as a sponsor.

Over the years, my cellmates also included an Air Force general, police officers, CEOs, Mafia figures, Israelis, Palestinians, rock musicians and numerous pilots (being one myself) who flew choppers in ‘Nam, CIA-Contra traffickers, 3-different Colombian drug cartel pilots and more. Never a dull moment.

I had the opportunity to complete a 2-yr psych internship thru WSU and the VA (I have a fully accredited PsyD), but I figured going into clinical practice at the age of 70 would be a bit much.

My current (and last?) roommate up here in the Heart of the North Country (Grayling, MI) is Boo. Best pussy I’ve ever had. I got him at the shelter and he pretty much totally ignores me… Just the way I like it.

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), January 2015…

 

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Prisoner Jobs…

The full title of the American Tribune blog includes “The Prison Experience Connection.” That’s how I started it back in May of 2010, 360 articles ago.

Voted: Most Popular Prisoner…

One of my pet peeves is the corporate media’s propaganda about “how easy prisoners have it,” such as, lounging around all day, watching TV, living on the (ever-decreasing) public dime, bulking up in weight piles and planning our next criminal enterprise after an all-too-early-release, and other conservative commentary.

Unless one is in a holding or transit situation, every prisoner works. Let me repeat that: Every prisoner has a job. more…

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Gulag America—Prison Nation…

Toward the end of the workday at the prison factory (UNICOR), one of the tools—a hammer—turned up missing.  Before we could return to the housing units for count and dinner, all tools had to be accounted for and locked in the toolroom.

Pat-Down Line…

When a preliminary search failed to find it, the inmate who had checked it out and the 5 others in his crew who had access to it, were ‘cuffed and taken to the hole.

Collective punishment: In its more extreme forms, the Nazis were prosecuted for it at Nuremberg.  The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) uses the nomenclature,  Common Area Punishment.

   Still, there was the problem of the missing hammer.  Doug Moyer, the Supervisor of Industries (one of the more retribution & punishment oriented jumped-up prison guards) called for a full-strip search of the worker-prisoners, about 250 of us. more…

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Prison Jobs (4)…

In several previous articles here at the American tribune, I’ve spoken to the issues of prison industries.

In prison, everyone has a job.  It’s enshrined, in fact, in the U.S. Constitution.  At the conclusion of the American Civil War, an exception clause was inserted into the 13th Amendment (1865), which ostensibly prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for crime…”

So, when some of my more libertarian buds crank out, “Hey! They can’t do that!  I got rights!”  Actually, they can.  The only “rights” we have are those they choose to give us.  They don’t call us outlaws for nothing. more…

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Prison Jobs (2)…

In Prison Jobs (1), I spoke to the general issue of prisoner employment and pay throughout the United States—50 independent prison systems.  In this segment, I’ll address the federal system.

UNICOR Furniture Factory

Most facility jobs, as in the state prison systems, start and pretty much end at 12¢/hr.  The major exception is UNICOR.

Relatively speaking, Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR) is a bright spot in the American gulag.    Created by Congress back in the midst of the last depression (1934) with the cooperation of gov’t and American unions, it’s controlled by a 5-member Board of Directors appointed by the president. more…

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Prison Jobs (1)…

In prison, everyone has a job.  I recall one occasion, when a new group of dog trainers were having a meeting, an old prisoner with a walker coming out of his housing unit.  He too had been assigned as a trainer.

Factories with Fences

As the meeting among prisoners proceeded on the quad in front of the unit—perhaps 100’ away from the front door—the old guy slowly made his way down the walk.  He had an assistant (whose own job was to take care of him).

Just before he got to the group, they finished their business and broke up.  The old guy stopped, sighed, and slowly turned around to make his way back.

I recall a conversation I had with his assistant.  It seems the old guy was so infirm, that at night he often couldn’t make his way to the bathroom.  The assistant’s job in the morning included cleaning him up.

He was a real big-time criminal; he had refused to pay some taxes. more…

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Lord Black & Prison Experience…

Some prisoners are clearly more equal than others.  I’ve known quite a few over the past 20+ years.  Most of them were business types, whether in street-corner direct sales and personal services, or corporate executives.

Lord & Lady Black

     Conrad Moffat Black, a member of the British House of Lords, knows few equals.  A multi-millionaire media tycoon (at one time, number three in the world), the Baron Black of Crossharbour, is clearly one of the most elite.

I personally have no problem with that…the American gulag has a way of democratizing us–whatever its intent.  Sorry to say, I never met him…we were prisoners in different places.

The recent term of the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled (a rare event in itself) that the prosecutors used “overly vague concepts of corporate fraud.”  Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal attacks the law and the over-zealous prosecution of Jeffrey Skilling, Black, and others as “the criminalization of business.” more…

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UNICOR Recruitment…

One afternoon, the Business Manager was discussing the need to hire another CPA for all the work coming into our local Federal Prison Industries, Inc., factory, UNICOR.

As the clerk to the Factory Manager, I suggested that I had an idea for how to get an accountant for practically free from the prison population.

“Really?” said the Business Manager.  “Do you know an inmate here who’s a CPA?”

“Not exactly,” I replied.  “But I have an idea.  Contact the local U.S. Attorney’s office and ask them to mail a plea deal out to every CPA listed in the local Yellow Pages.

“Have them offer, say, a three-year plea bargain on an open felony charge in return for immunity from prosecution for anything else.”

The Business Manager turned to the Factory Manager with a smirk, “Your clerk has quite a sense of humor…”

“No, really!  Try it,” I said.  “I’ll bet you get acceptance letters from maybe half of them—or bankers, lawyers, doctors–whomever you want.  “I mean, basically, that’s how the system works.”

               Dr. Publico

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Federal Prison Industries, Inc…

When FCI Schuylkill, PA, first opened back in ’92, I was one of the first prisoners bused there.  I resumed my usual clerk’s job at the prison factory.

Arbeit Macht Frie

As the prison filled up, a logo design contest was held for the factory.  The design I submitted was of a factory belching smoke on a hilltop with a long snaking line of prisoners in chains.  Over the gate to the prison they filed thru was a sign reading: Arbeit Macht Frie.

To my utter amazement, I soon became one of the five finalists in the contest.  Being interviewed by Mike Campanale, the Associate Warden of Industries (AW-I) and his staff, they asked me what the slogan on the gate stood for?

more…

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Puppy Love…

One of the first sights that greeted me as the bus rolled into the federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, was a couple of green-uniformed inmates walking a pair of black Labs on the grass.

Kaley 2006, Maxwell AFB

Kaley 2006, Maxwell AFB

When I showed surprise, my seatmate told me, “The camp here has a dog-training program.”

“Really?” I said.  “Well, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

“I doubt it,” he replied.  “I hear there’s around a thousand prisoners here and only 8 dogs.”

I was fortunate.  Within three weeks, I had one of those black Labs.  My prior dog-training experience and the fact that I had a doctorate in psychology (PsyD) didn’t hurt.

FPC Montgomery, AL, was definitely a more pleasant experience after living behind the walls and razor-wire for 16 years (khaki uniforms).  A lot of Mickey Mouse in the camps, but—what the hey!—in the circumstances, who could complain?

(Besides, one of the first things you learn in prison is that complaining is just another hard row to hoe; staff eat that shit up…hell, they live for it!)

Former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky (D-IA)...

Former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky (D-IA)…

Everyone in prison has a job.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a quadriplegic (counting spiders on the wall, whatever)…you have a job.  Part of the retribution-punitive mentality, laughingly referred to as: “rehabilitation.”  To add to the joke, the guards are referred to as “corrections officers.”

One of my cell-mates during that period was ex-Congressman Ed Mezvinsky. His son, Marc later married Chelsea Clinton. Before his Congressional election he was an investigator during the Watergate Hearings. A lot of interesting conversations…

Most prisoners at Maxwell are bused out each day to grounds-keeping and other base assignments.  Even so, riding a mower over a golf course ain’t so bad, eh?  (The reader will find another article on this subject by selecting Prison Jobs in the Index.)

The dog I got, Kaley, was already partly-trained.  The original inmate-trainer got caught with a private commissary stash (stuff you won’t normally find in the prison commissary) buried under some straw in the kennel, so he was shipped out.

The Labradors are supplied under a contract with SEGDI, and live 24/7 with their prisoner-trainers.  A pallet is set on the floor at the end of one’s bunk with a short lead.  The dogs go everywhere we do, except the visiting room.

Nice to walk into the chow-hall practically anytime you want and park the animal under the table.  They live and train with prisoners under supervision of SEGDI personnel until they’re 14 months old.  They’re then shipped out to the main SEGDI facility in Palmetto, FL.  The best ones become seeing-eye dogs for the blind.

Maxwell'06Probably the best part of the gig for an Old Head like me, was all the relative freedom.  Most campers surrender off the street with short sentences.  Camp is all they know.  A lot of them have rarely even, if ever, been handcuffed!

Basically, whenever the rare cop, military officer, gov’t official, politician or CEO gets convicted, the federal BOP needs a “Camp Cupcake” to send them to.

We would drive to different places around the base, housing barracks, bars, restaurants and malls, for example, to socialize the animals to people and public spaces. Once a week-or-so we’d drive to downtown Montgomery for more exposure/training.

Once, shortly after I took the job, we were bused over to Auburn University to give a couple of shows at their Veterinarian Fair of the dog’s training.

I’d guess that easily 75% of the grad-student vet-school were young females. We spent the day relatively free to roam around with the dogs (“Be back at such-and-such…”). Pretty strong stuff to have spent 16-yrs behind the Walls and have a group of nubile goddesses walk up to you and ask, “Can I pet your dog?”

Auburn'06

Auburn University, 2006…

A typical day was the usual dawn wake-up, chow, and down to the kennel to let the dogs have some run and play time (otherwise, they’re always on-leash under discipline).  Maybe a walk over to the river and let the ducks go nuts for a minute.

A training class with SEGDI and a possible walk-about on base comes later in the morning and early afternoon.  Mostly, the dogs get only basic obedience training with a lot of socialization.  Seeing-eye dogs require extensive experience of coping in social situations.  And therein lies the best part of the job…where they go, we go.

Like I said, there’s jobs, and then there’s jobs

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), July 2010…