Yesterday I brought further attention to the comment Michael Douglas made about not being able to visit with his son in federal prison. In response, I received a kind note from a former BOP warden. To protect the warden’s identity, I will use the pseudonym Tom, as I don’t want to discourage Tom from making further contributions. I appreciate input from BOP officials.
Tom wrote that there was more to the story of Cameron Douglas than what the actor revealed, and I don’t doubt that to be the case. Tom wrote that:
a warden would not prohibit an inmate from visiting with his father unless his father had a problem of if the son did not want to see the father.
Although I appreciate the warden’s insight, the 25 years that I served in custody brought different experiences. I have personal knowledge of many, many prisoners who lost visiting privileges for extended lengths of time because the prisoners violated what I perceive to be petty rules. For example, Bureau of Prison officials sanctioned many men I knew by taking away their privileges to visit, to use the telephone, and to use the commissary for a full year. The prisoners lost those privileges because the men participated in three-way telephone calls with family members. The men were not discussing criminal activity. They were only trying to hold their families together during the difficult period of confinement. Yet prison officials did not care at all about the nature of the conversation. Nor did they care about the strains on family relations that such sanctions would cause. They insisted on punishing prisoners who violated ridiculous rules that prohibited prisoners from making three-way phone calls.
When prison officials cut off communications between family members, they fail to serve the interests of society. Instead, they show their blind allegiance “to protecting the security of the institution.” Bureau of Prisons’ personnel recited that mantra routinely.
Prisoners have only three ways to keep communications alive with people in the free world:
- Written correspondence
Prison authorities controlled each of those mechanisms. Despite the consistent findings of social-science data that showed maintaining family ties as being the surest way to reduce recidivism, prison authorities routinely sanctioned prisoners with loss of access to both telephone and visiting. They would take those privileges away when a prisoner was accused of violating a rule, or when guards were investigating a prisoner for possibly violating a rule.
Individuals going into the prison system should know all there is to know about how to navigate the system successfully. Although I don’t have any doubt that there is a lot more to the Cameron Douglas story, it pleases me to see an man of Michael Douglas’ stature bringing attention to the ways that the Bureau of Prisons disrupts family and community ties.