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On Easter Sunday 2006, I reported to Allenwood Low Security Corrections Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania. A guard came out and I showed him my court orders – he did not seem happy about my reporting on Easter Sunday. As we went through the metal door he spun me around, held my hands behind my back and slapped handcuffs on them. I had been anticipating this moment for over a year and not once did I consider that I would have to be handcuffed. At that moment I had my first inkling of how little I knew about surviving in prison.
Next, I was brought to a section called R & D, Receiving & Discharge, that felt very much like its title – a place for FedEx packages. I was processed and then told to strip naked. While I was standing naked in this cold room, on a cold cement floor, a man entered who I would later learn was the Head Lieutenant. He basically ran the day-to-day operations of the prison. Looking me up and down, he then asked me if I was the lawyer. I told him no, but that I used to be one. This answer seemed to please him. Then he told me that there were 1500 men on his compound, and I was to be the only lawyer, although there were some jailhouse lawyers working out of the library. He advised I’d have no problems on his compound if I stayed out of other people’s legal affairs and I took no money or favors from another inmate. And then he said that I was a short-stayer and he suggested I just do my time and go home without a problem. He asked me what I thought of that? I was standing there naked. I told him that making a few dollars from other inmates was the last thing on my mind.
I was given an orange jumpsuit to wear, re-cuffed and marched across the compound to the SHU (Segregated Housing Unit). When I got to the SHU, it looked like something out of the worst prison movie I had ever seen – dark and dimly lit, with rows of metal doors with tiny holes in them. I wondered if this was what the entire prison was like, if it was a holding area, and how long I would be there. Inside the cell was a narrow bunk bed – barely wide enough for a grown man’s shoulders – a combination toilet and sink, a desk and a chair. And there I met my first “cellie” – a black man, about 50 years old, with dreadlocks down to his waist. When I came in, he didn’t acknowledge my presence at all. He just pointed to the upper bunk. I understood – that was mine.
His first words came about ten minutes later when he told me to move fast. The sound of a cart moving down the hall meant we had no time to lose. The slot on the metal cell door opened, and very quickly, four covered trays of food slid in through the slot. I understood what he meant by moving fast. If we didn’t catch the trays they would have dropped to the floor and the food would have spilled all over. He caught each tray and quickly handed them to me. I put them on the desk. We sat on the floor, dividing the dinner between us. I had already decided that I was going to lose the forty pounds I had put on in the months leading up to my incarceration. Looking at the trays, I saw there was a little meat of some sort, and lots of bread, potatoes and rice. Starches were apparently the mainstay of the diet – I asked him if he wanted my potatoes and rice. We became friends in no time. His name was Raoul.
Almost everybody who was designated Allenwood was first brought to the SHU, Raoul explained. There was no way to know how long I’d be in the SHU, but Raoul suspected that I wouldn’t have to wait long: first timer, middle age, and most importantly, white. I later learned that some inmates are kept in the SHU “waiting for a bed” thirty days or longer. I only had to wait 16 hours before I was released onto the compound.
After serving almost fourteen months in a Federal prison for a white-collar crime, I made the decision to dedicate my life to individuals and families who were suffering the shame, guilt, remorse and ostracism that accompanies white-collar and nonviolent crime. I led addiction recovery and prisoner reentry groups. I was accepted to Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and earned a Master of Divinity with a focus in Christian Social Ethics. Then I had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of several prisoner reentry nonprofits. I was then called to serve as Assoc. Minister and Director of Prison Ministries at an inner city church in Bridgeport, CT. My wife Lynn Springer and I then founded the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project, the first Ministries in the U.S. created to provide confidential religious/spiritual support and counseling to individuals and families with white-collar and other nonviolent incarceration issues – before, during and upon reentry from prison.
We offer spiritual solutions for material problems, and shepherd people and families all the way through the incarceration and reentry process to a new and transformed life of productivity and helping others.
If you, a friend, or a member of your church community are experiencing a white-collar or nonviolent incarceration issue, or if you would like to discuss a speaking or guest preaching opportunity, please contact us and we will promptly send you an information package by mail, email or via Dropbox.
The darkest days of a person’s life can be a time of renewal and hope.
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
Jim Gabal, Development
Babz Rawls Ivy, Media Contact