Federal Prison Industries, Inc., UNICOR, INMATE EARNING STATEMENT
The amount a person may want to send an incarcerated individual, depends on many factors. He or she has shelter, and though it may be lacking at times, most prisoners do have food and the essentials of survival, whereas some loved ones or friends may be struggling to survive on their income.
If the free citizen needs to pay rent, buy food, or otherwise take care of themselves and family, in my opinion, as a former prisoner, I’d rather have gone hungry than for my loved ones to have sent me money that was needed to provide for themselves. My comfort came in second compared to theirs.
My personal opinion is that most prisoners should be able to get by on $50-$100 per month and even less if no one from the outside can help. Unfortunately, many fall into a trap trying to get by and revert to various ways of survival I won’t address. And some of those who have money coming in may be extorted by the stronger prisoners or gangs and still do without.
Prisons are commercialized and charge inmates for many things that were once given to those under their care. Because of that, if the incarcerated receives funds and owes for services provided, the institution may freeze the inmate account and take funds sent in by a person’s family or friend.
Most systems have policy or program statements that define what the law allows, which may be challenged through the Administrative Remedy process and the courts. In most cases, courts rule in favor of the prison administrators but not always. Therefore, money sent in to someone for food items, etc., gets taken and the person has to get by without the funds but will normally survive, even if it means going hungry or not having what he or she wants or needs.
UNICOR HELPED ME PROVIDE FOR MYSELF
In the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, I was happy to provide for myself by working and not having to be dependent on others to provide funds for my wants and needs.
Many of my peers were different, especially if on drugs and wanted to get high, the same as I did until 1995. I understood their actions because I know what it was like for me when I lived the life of an addict, so I am not condemning those who still live the life I once did.
When I first entered the system, after having served time in the Georgia Department of Corrections, where I was not paid for working, I felt good earning the low-wages ($0.12 per hour) then paid to federal prisoners who did not work for UNICOR.
UNICOR is the trade name for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. that has changed considerably since when I began my federal sentence over three decades ago in 1988.
Please note that all prisoners do not get paid for working, or get paid as much to work in places like the Federal Prison Industries, Inc.
I was one of the highest-paid, hourly-rate, inmate employees who worked for UNICOR, and rarely made over $200.00 per month. In the copy of the paystub above, I earned $189.14 for the month of May in 2018.
On average, by working in the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR), I earned enough to spend $64.00 on the phone, $50.00 on writing/emailing blogs, etc., and $45–50.00 on commissary items, based on cost in the Federal Prison System.
To do the things I wanted to do, I made sacrifices, such as to pay for the creation and upkeep of my website, STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN, and my blogging expenditures that added up when considering I paid five cents per minute to use the emailing system provided by Corrlinks.com. To print my drafts, of which there were many for some of my more lengthier blogs, I paid fifteen cents per page. That is in the federal system, which operates different than Corrlinks does in some state or private prisons.
In deciding what to send, a person may want to see what type of information is posted on the prison system website. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons posts inmate handbooks and even the commissary lists for institutions.
I checked the page for the Federal Prison at Edgefield, SC to see the commissary list that seems current. As for the Inmate Handbook, old and outdated. View the Commissary List by clicking HERE.
I hope the above information helps to make informed decisions.
Update: June 29, 2022: I now have over 1,014,407 views on Quora and a page title Life Inside and Out. Check it out to see updated content to a variety of questions and answers. Thanks!
These Top Three Posts have the highest number of views on Quora.com, where I’ve had a total of 105 K views (all content) since I began posting answers on December 16, 2018. https://www.quora.com/profile/Wayne-T-Dowdy
Most viewed posts within the last thirty days (01/25/19-02/25/19):
Answered: January 26, 2019, by Wayne T. Dowdy
How are new inmates treated when they first come to prison?
Prison life has a lot of variables. The older cons often keep a new prisoner at a distance until they learn more about them, such as their criminal history and certain characteristics (e.g., depending on the old-timers, most want to know if they’re a rat, sex offender, coward, drug user, rich or poor).
If the new prisoner gets accepted, he will be looked out for and provided things people need walking in the door with nothing but a blanket roll (e.g., in the federal system: sheets, blanket, mini-care packet with a small packet of soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and a tooth brush).
Then there are those who will befriend a new prisoner to use and take advantage of, while others will truly befriend the new arrival by treating him the same way he wants to be treated.
Most new people are greeted by other prisoners, who will ask questions, with the main ones being, “Where you from?” “Who you run with?” or some variants, thereof, and if accepted, will provide the new prisoner with needed items, such as cosmetics, a few soups, maybe even a radio and headphones, if he has impeccable credentials for life inside prison.
If rejected or from the wrong area or gang, he’ll get run off the compound or carried off after suffering more physical abuse than he may deserve.
21 k Views, 39-Upvotes
Can you survive and stay healthy on food provided to you in prison? Is the food clean and nutritious enough, or do you need to order out like the rest of the inmates?
Updated: February 19, 2019, by Wayne T. Dowdy
I can only write about my life while serving time in the Georgia Department of Corrections and in the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons. This is what I wrote, in part, on December 19, 2016 in “Gratitude and More”:
“12/25/2011: On Christmas Day, I sat in my cell reading my favorite magazine (THE SUN). “Chow time,” the guard shouted.
“I rushed to the chow hall. Inside, I sat at a rectangular table of four with three of my peers. One person stood to leave. Each of us exchanged Christmas greetings, wishing him a Merry Christmas before a 27-year-old youngster sat down to take his place.
“The one who sat to the right of the youngster had just complained how the Cornish game hen was small. I had previously tried to maintain the attitude of gratitude at the table by commenting how it was good, though, it was smaller than those we had had in the past. It was still tasty. I simply agreed with the other guy about it being smaller than usual. I labeled it as a “Cornish Game Chick.”
“That’s when the youngster sat down. “There sure are a lot of complaining people at this prison,” he said.
“His words filled me with guilt. He had once told me that both of his parents were still in state prison. I realized his parents were probably doing worse than all of us at the table.
“The youngster’s comment helped redirect the nature of our conversations toward what we were grateful for.
“I shared my favorite saying by an author whose name I do know to give him or her their credit due (“I complained of having no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”).
“I continued to express gratitude for the well-prepared meal; knowing we were all fortunate to have what sat before us, as we compared our plight to others incarcerated in state and other federal prisons, who probably wished they could eat as good as we were.
“This is what we had to complain about: a Cornish game hen, black-eyed peas, which were really good; collard greens, rolls or wheat bread (I chose wheat bread); an individually packaged cherry pie, chocolate cup cake, and some other stuff I probably forgot. I ate my fill.
“Each of us walked away feeling more grateful for the meal we had been blessed with because we had stopped for a moment to remember the less fortunate in life.
“Not only do I have two feet and nice shoes, I have a fat belly filled with gratitude. I hope each of you have a wonderful Christmas meal and feel fortunate for the freedom you share in a less than perfect world.
“ Along the same theme as above, I wrote this on America’s Turkey Day:
“THANKSGIVING DAY 2016: Happy Thanksgiving Day to each of you. If you feel like you don’t have much to be thankful for because of the hardships life has thrown at you this year, stop to think of all you have to be grateful for; perhaps you have food to eat; two feet, two arms, shoes on your feet, and clothes to warm your body, a place to stay and be safe. Feel fortunate.
“When I find myself disgruntled for having to wait for an hour in the commissary to purchase a few items, I try to stop and remember those who wish they had my problems, financially able to shop for a few items needed to maintain a decent level of living inside this prison. That makes me feel grateful for the opportunity, rather than disgruntled and agitated for having to wait as I listen to loud mouths shouting to the man next to them, disturbing the peace, killing the sound of silence.
“Upon remembrance of the less fortunate, I find myself grateful for the simple things in life I often take for granted. Be thankful for those you have in your life who love and care for you. Happy Thanksgiving!” [End Quote] GRATITUDE AND MORE
[2017–2018]: The recent federal budgets reduced available funds to prison administrators. When a warden saves money by operating under the approved budget, he or she may receive a bonus. At the last federal institution I lived at, the warden received hefty bonuses by reducing the operating cost.
Thousands of dollars saved came from her reducing food service expenditures and by reducing staff, much like private prisons operate to theoretically save taxpayer dollars.
Many times I sat eating and feeling regret for those who could not afford to have food in their locker to supplement the meal; however, overall, the food was well-prepared and most of the staff allowed inmates to go through the line twice, because they knew the meal was less than what the menu required to meet dietary requirements for adequate nutrition.
State prisoners are probably fed less but could survive with what is served. Though they could survive, that does not mean they would not walk away hungry and suffer from health-related issues due to dietary deficiencies.
5.1k Views, 15-Upvotes
When does the day start for inmates in federal prison?
Answered: February 4, 2019, by Wayne T. Dowdy
From my experience, when the day starts for federal inmates varies according to the prison and the employment position held by the prisoner. For most of the prisons I was in, which included four United States Penitentiaries and one Federal Correctional Institution, the doors opened by 6:00 am under normal circumstances.
In the lower-security prisons, certain prisoners assigned to food service (chow hall) may leave the unit for work as early as 4:00 am, whereas the majority who work in the chow hall won’t leave until approximately 6:30-7:00 am.
Those schedules and processes vary according to the security rating of the prisoner and institution. For instance, high-security institutions that house inmates assigned as Max. Custody, may not allow those inmates to work in certain positions where more readily-available weapons or tools may be used to aid in an escape plan, or during high-risk periods (when visibility is reduced, such as when foggy or before sunrise or after sunset).
For thirteen of the thirty-years, I was a maximum custody prisoner which required that I stay in a high-security institution; however, the only consistency in management techniques to control me was inconsistency. The way I was managed because of my custody/security rating, varied according to the Captain of the institution.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ program statement for Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification (P.5100.08), approved 09/12/2006, and other referenced documentation, establishes security protocols for management of its prisoners.
In the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR), where I worked for most of the thirty-years I served, we reported to work at 7:30 am. The cell house doors opened at 6:00 am for the general population to begin their day.
2.8k Views, 11-Upvotes
If I add in the fourth, the previous champ comes in with 18.4 K total views and 84-Upvotes.
How does serving time in a federal prison compare to serving time in a state prison?
(Question Modified) Answered: December 26, 2018, by Wayne T. Dowdy
When I first began my sentence, an old-timer said, “The states control you physically and the feds do it psychologically.”
I found that true. The feds use incentive-mechanisms to control its prisoners (gives prisoners something to lose, recreation privileges, more freedom of movement, better living conditions; something authorities take or restrict access to for misbehavior).
The typical prisoner mentality in the federal system is milder, less violent than many state prisoners. Again, an old-timer gave me a few words of wisdom:
“The federal system lulls people to sleep because it’s more laid-back, and there’s not as much violence every day, so guys forget where they’re at because they get away with so much. And then when one of them does something stupid to the wrong person, he gets stabbed or killed.”
I behaved better in the federal system than when I served time in the State of Georgia, where violence dominates every day activities.
My published writings show the difference between the young knucklehead I was while serving time in Georgia where I didn’t have much to lose, in comparison to the responsible man I become, due in part to the aging process and having programs available to help me change. Read The Price of Change by Wayne T. Dowdy, Midnight Express Books, for an example of the differences in my behaviors in the State versus the Federal system.
Being paid for working in the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) made a significant difference because it allowed me to take care of myself, rather than to burden my family for support, and that made me feel better as a human being.
The difference in my behavior illustrates the effectiveness of incentive programs, as well as the difference in the life of a prisoner serving time in a federal or state system; however, prisoner experiences vary.
__________________________________________________________ Purchase the latest paperback novel by Wayne T. Dowdy, Guns, Drugs and Thugs: Drug Store Spree, $6.95 USD at Amazon.com
My opportunity to reenter society approaches faster than additional studies can be produced to predict the likelihood of success for released prisoners. I am prepared for successful reentry. Failure is not an option.
Without thinking of that particular day, I have worked toward it for almost three decades. Even when my release date seemed more distant than the stars that glittered in the night (too far away to see without a telescope), I moved forward on faith of better days.
Others have led the way that shows I can reach the stars by following their paths. One such person is Brandon Sample, Esq., whose inspiring story I will share before conclusion of this blog.
PREPARING TO REENTER: Part of my preparation process included getting help for addiction and associated mental health issues, back in the early to mid-Nineties.
I also worked for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR, a UNIque CORporation), since December 1, 1989. I learned lucrative job skills to increase my chance of gaining successful employment upon release; e.g., technical writing (writing and editing quality manuals, operating procedures, manufacturing and inspection instructions, training modules, designing & creating forms, etc.); internal auditing, ISO 9001: 2008, Quality Management System requirements; working with NSAI external auditors during the ISO certification processes, and many others.
This week (January 9, 2017), I begin a twelve-week, Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program, which I am taking more so to mentor others than for an interpersonal reasons (I stopped using drugs and alcohol in April of 1995).
BRANDON SAMPLE, ESQ.: Brandon ignored the naysayers and moved forward toward his future as an attorney.
As a troubled youth and young adult, he made decisions that led to a 168-month federal prison sentence in 2000, at the age of twenty. During his twelve-year stay in the federal prison system, he “fell in love with the law,” while fighting for his freedom. It was then that he decided to begin college to study law to become an attorney.
Brandon did not pay attention to those who said he could not be an attorney with felony convictions on his record. “When I look back now, that 14-year sentence saved my life. I very well could have ended up dead or caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison had I not received that serious wake up call. I say that not to suggest that all sentences, no matter how long, are fair and just.
“But the key, for me at least, was that I decided to change. I wanted a new life, a new future with all my being. So many people along the way told me that my dreams were unrealistic. I never listened to any of them and just plowed ahead.”
While incarcerated he paid for correspondence college courses through Adams State University. Upon release in 2012, he walked out the prison doors with his Bachelor’s degree.
In August of 2013, he began classes at Vermont Law School, where he graduated in May of 2016, magna cum laude, and now holds a Juris Doctor degree.
He received his law license from the Vermont Supreme Court in October of 2016. Now he is licensed to practice in the State of Vermont, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits.
Brandon may have lost the battles for his freedom in the courts. But he won the war when those battles led to him successfully becoming Of Counsel for the Law Firm of Jeremy Gordon, Esq., Mansfield, Texas (www.facebook.com/gordondefense).
Brandon’s story proves that prison does not have to be a negative experience. Miracles do happen. My hope is to become additional evidence of that important aspect of life, as many of my peers have proven true over the years; especially, those I met through Twelve-Step Programs. I will not fail!
Teaching Cons New Tricks–Creative Writing & Q.A. Apprenticeship Program
THE ART OF CREATIVE WRITING CLASS: When a person is searching for a theme for an article, short story or novel, some writing professionals suggest that writers take a real life situation and ask “What If?” For instance, what would the U.S. economy be like now if President Obama had been white and his Congress had approved the same economic plan to rebuild the economy, as that of President Roosevelt’s, whose plan Congress endorsed to bring the Nation out of the Great Depression? What if an impoverished person sat in a creative writing class, inside of a prison classroom, and then wrote a million seller, and never returned to prison after release? Miracles happen!
What if that person simply learned to do something constructive that changed the direction of his or her life? That would be priceless! That is my hope for the students who participate in the Art of Creative Writing class, held for two hours, one night per week, in the education department at the Federal Correctional Institution, in Edgefield, South Carolina. This is the same education department I wrote about in my essay, “Fighting for Rights to Write”; published by PrisonEducation.com in Feb. 2014; posted on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com in March 2015. I was poised and ready to battle in federal Court to defend my First and Fifth Amendment rights to occupy my time constructively by using an AlphaSmart word processor to type my manuscripts for publication, and other forms of writings for reasons other than sending documents to a court, as other federal institutions permit. (Another battle may be looming in a similar fight to write.)
A fellow writer and friend, Jeffery P. Frye (aka Professor Frye), initiated the class by working with the Supervisor of Education. Once the class had been approved, then he invited me and another friend and budding author, S.G. Garwood, to sit in and offer assistance to the aspiring writers. Garwood is nearing completion of a historical fiction novel, The Last Confederate Coin, which is already receiving praise from Civil War buffs (view his writing samples and his magnificently designed webpage at http://www.thelastcharlestonconfederate.weebly.com).
The results of this adventure are yet to be seen, but I feel confident that everyone in the classroom will benefit, including me. As a fellow prisoner and someone who is concerned about the insane recidivism rates in the United States, my hope for everyone involved in the class is for them to be blessed with freedom and success, whether that success be as an author, or through some other method where the discipline learned through becoming a writer assists them in their quest to live a better life and not return to prison.
To succeed as an author requires discipline, something most of us lacked before coming to prison, and may lack now. Maybe writing will become more than just putting words on paper. Personally, I wrote my way into learning how to live a new life by journaling on a daily basis, so I know from experience that reading and writing has the power to change lives. Words pack a punch, whether written or spoken, words have the power to change or destroy lives. I choose my words carefully and hope the ones I select affect a positive change.
Professor Frye blogs about the Art of Creative Writing class on bankblogger.weebly.com and murderslim.com/BankRobbersBlog. He labels me and S.G. Garwood as Adjunct Professors, and wrote in his #creativeconvicts (blog), “Wayne (aka Adjunct Professor Dowdy) was challenged on the proper use of an adjective in relation to a plural verb. Wayne claimed he was right, while the other guy claimed he was wrong. Things got a little tense there for a few minutes, and as they had a spirited debate, I wondered if Adjunct Professors carried shanks. Wayne finally went to the library and found a GED textbook to prove his point, and to show that he was right. He was. That’s why he’s my adjunct.”
Professor Frye is a gifted writer who tells a great story and is one who usually makes me laugh anytime I read what he writes, especially his blogs. He also types faster than a woodpecker pecking on a tree, which pays off when paying five-cents per minute to use the Corrlinks computer system we use to email these blogs to someone to post on our behalf. I type slower than he does, but still love to write, and have my own style of writing: I’m a more serious, in-your-face type of writer, who often writes on topics to inform, inspire, motivate or educate, more so than to make readers laugh or cry, even though I sometimes do that too. In the classroom setting, as well as in my personal endeavors, I “seek” to find the truth, and usually succeed, whether that truth concerns a historical fact; the proper use of a word; discussing a verb that becomes a present participle after adding “ing” (e.g., “break” versus “breaking”); so that the ex-verb then functions as a noun, not-so-commonly known as a gerund.
Either way, I always want to know the correct answer and will sometimes go to extremes to find it; whether I do or don’t, I still want to find the answer and will continue my quest to do so, long after the thrill of debate has gone. I am also known for calling it as I see it, politically correct or not. I am not. That’s just not me, even though I do try to be considerate of another person’s feelings, I am not one who sprinkles sugar on a pile of poop to claim it is ice cream.
Please pardon my frankness, and my bizarre metaphor, but this is Straight From the Pen, not the Pentagon, and my use of that metaphor certainly paints a picture to stick on a wall, not soon to be forgotten. Perhaps the students in the Art of Creative Writing class will be more selective and less aggressive with words; however, since we are in prison … some may be more vicious with words than an overzealous prosecutor in a murder case. We’ll see.
QUALITY ASSURANCE APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM: As I wrote in my “Vacation In Prison” blog on April 10, 2015, I work for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR). I am a tutor in their Quality Assurance Apprenticeship Program, and have been since its inception in 2006. None of the graduates released back into society have become recidivists. That deserves recognition by all standards. I mainly teach Grammar & Writing Skills and other education-related fields of study, as well as helping the students to learn certain aspects about the Quality Management System, which meets the required standards for certification under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), 9001: 2008 Requirements.
The Quality Assurance Manager realized its importance for the students to learn. He put an emphasis on teaching these students more about ISO principles than the previous students had to learn before becoming certified Quality Assurance Inspectors, who may be able to get out of prison and obtain a position as a Q.A. Manager by going to college to take a few more associated courses. One inmate who learned ISO in prison got out and got a job as a Project Manager for a reputable company. Dreams do come true.
The Apprenticeship program recently expanded to having six students enrolled. I create tests that all of them hate but learn more about the subject by the time they complete their assignments. As in Kindergarten, the only grade I give anyone is an “S” or “U” for satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Basically, the students are given course material and then turned loose to learn all they can. If someone fails to earn an “S” … I take the time to help him learn what he is missing or failing to understand about the procedure or process being taught.
Essentially, one has to refuse to do the assigned task to receive a “U,” which is then up to the Q.A. Manager to decide on where to go from there. Most apply themselves to learn what is being taught. This is a voluntary program, and the only one with anything to loose is the student, so each of them usually does what is required, even though some do complain about the level of difficulty in my tests. I give them tough love because I care enough to challenge their intellectual capacity to get them used to using their head for more than plotting crimes against humanity or for storing effects from illicit substances.
If the person doesn’t want to learn, I tell them not to waste my time. For the eager ones who really want the prize, I offer to teach them “Advanced Grammar & Writing Skills.” In that part of the program I teach the apprentice technical writing so that he will be qualified to write instructional documents; e.g., manufacturing & inspection instructions, quality manuals, policies and procedures. In other words, something more than simply inspecting a product. Technical writing is a very lucrative craft, which I have years of experience at doing in UNICOR. In 1997 I began writing job procedures for constructing missile cables, remote area lighting systems, power distribution boxes, army tank wiring harnesses, and other military products. I literally earn pennies in comparison to what I would earn doing so as a freelance technical writer in society, but at least I have obtained enough knowledge at doing it to share the wealth with others who may one day get to use those skills for the betterment of society.
A FIGHT TO REDUCE RECIDIVISM: Education is a proven method of reducing recidivism, as shown in my essay, “Education, the Prisoner, and Recidivism”; published by PrisonEducation.com in May of 2013; posted March 2015 on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com. For both subjects above, writing is an instrumental process, and is one that allows participants to occupy their time in a constructive manner, instead of running around creating drama by plotting on how to get out to commit more crimes and continue to feed the American Mass Incarceration Machine.
Shouldn’t prison administrators want their inmates to be learning something to prepare them for successful reentry into society? Don’t the designated keepers owe it to the public to provide prisoners with needed tools for preparation of release back into society; especially, those who want to learn something so that they can increase their chance of success upon release? Who wants prisoners to reenter society and collect new victims? Don’t we owe it to each other to help the disadvantaged transcend to another level? I feel we do. I do my part, and am sad to say that I often struggle to get support from the staff to do what needs to be done to help my peers get out and not return. That includes having something as simple as regularly held Twelve-Step meetings, or having ample time to use educational tools or equipment needed to help prepare the prisoner for the challenges that lie ahead. Read “No Sympathy” posted on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com for some staggering statistics on recidivism to grasp the seriousness of the situation. I am sure it will leave you wondering why a prisoner must struggle to help others avoid becoming a recidivist.
The looming battle concerns the possibility of the education department not allowing writers and inmates to use the AlphaSmarts for creative and other forms of writing, other than preparing documents to mail to the courts. The use of such a device that has the potential of preventing some prisoners from becoming a recidivist seems worthwhile. If possible, many of us prisoners would buy or rent AlphaSmarts or other similar products to constructively occupy our time and attempt to learn a skill to rehabilitate ourselves. I suggested the same but it fell on deaf ears. Imagine that!
The cost of an AlphaSmart word processor and the associated costs of supplies, cannot compare to the cost of a recidivist. On March 9th, 2015, the B.O.P. Director reported in the Federal Register that the FY 2014 Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration was $30,619.85 per year/$83.89 per day. Based on those numbers, the cost of providing educational tools and equipment is a cost effective measure–money well-spent–an investment far less expensive than re-incarcerating a person for multiple years or possibly for the rest of their lives. The cost of recidivism is human lives.
Follow me on Twitter: @DowdyFromThePen
[Update: AlphaSmarts were removed for the general population two-years later after the Supervisor of Education changed. This section modified and address removed due to release from prison on August 28, 2018]