If one year ago I was asked what diesel therapy is I would have guessed it’s the act of getting in a pickup truck and driving out to the countryside for fresh air and wide-open spaces. Something you might hear about in a country music song. Unfortunately, the diesel therapy I’ve learned of involves no pickup trucks, very little fresh air, and extremely confined spaces. Man and machine still exist, but the machine is the Bureau of Prisons national transportation system – how federal inmates of all security levels are moved throughout the country.
Self-surrendering, on the other hand, is when the court allows a defendant to report to prison on a pre-determined date. Like a reservation for a trip you can’t miss that lasts far longer than you want. I am grateful I was able to self-surrender. Time was spent saying goodbye to family and friends, putting my personal affairs in order and managing a mixture of dread and responsibility. This allowed me to arrive here in as calm, prepared and vaccinated a manner as possible. I’ll never forget watching my family drive off, then turning around to walk through the doors into R&D (receiving and discharge) – it is a moment that will forever be imprinted onto my mind. After I made it inside, the realization hit me hard that I was not going to be walking out of this place any time soon. All that to say, it was downright pleasant when viewed in relation to what others dealt with.
In our judicial system, several months after a defendant is found guilty, through either a plea deal or at trial, the defendant is sentenced to their term of imprisonment. This is the day the judge gives his or her determination on the length of prison-term to be served. After sentencing, if you are remanded into the custody of the US Marshalls instead of given the chance to self-surrender, you will be begin the arduous journey of making it from the court house to a federal prison. The BOP is not overly focused transporting inmates to their final destination in the fastest manner. They go for the most cost efficient option and that involves being shuffled through a maze of county jails, federal holding centers, and federal transfer centers via airplanes or most commonly, diesel buses. The following is one story I have been regaled with that gives an idea of how grueling a time it can be and the type of ‘therapy’ that ensues.
It’s August 2020 and the defendant lives in Oregon but was arrested while grocery shopping when on a trip to Nevada. He was taken into custody and held at a local jail. He spent six weeks in county jail waiting for an 8 hour bus ride to the opposite side of the state to a Federal Detention Center (FDC) for the Western US. Upon arriving at the FDC outside of Las Vegas, he quarantines for seven days. Come the end of September he is flown via Con-Air, the BOP’s in-house airline, back to Portland. The flight takes off and lands at various military bases, picking up and dropping off inmates along the way. After two months he is back in the state he lives in.
Once arriving in Oregon he is held at a county jail in downtown Portland. Five days later he is transferred to a jail on the outskirts of town and placed into quarantine upon arrival. Three days after that he is transferred back to the downtown Portland jail to be taken to the Columbia county jail. After ten days in quarantine he is able to obtain work in the kitchen at the facility, working 6 days a week from 9am-6:30pm, which was far more enjoyable than being locked down.
Come March of 2021, 7 months after his arrest, he has his sentencing hearing. After the hearing, he is taken back to the county jail for two months until they call his name late one night and he is en route to the Portland airport for a Con-Air flight back to, ironically, Nevada. Upon arriving in Las Vegas there is a two-hour bus ride to a holding facility. Due to multiple Covid outbreaks at the holding facility he is placed into quarantine and all transfers are frozen for two months. Come July, now 11 months into his experience, he is cleared to continue on.
At this point, he is put on a flight to Oklahoma City – the Motherland. Oklahoma City is the main hub for all transfers within the Bureau of Prisons and can hold anywhere between 1,000-1,500 inmates at a time. After arriving in OKC he is placed on a two hour bus ride to a CCA, where, as you would guess, our dear friend is placed into another quarantine.
One week after arriving at the CCA he is flown to another CCA in Mississippi and placed into quarantine. After spending 6 weeks in the South, and for reasons unknown to him, he is flown back to Oklahoma City. This time, when the plane lands, instead of going to the Federal Transfer Center he is bussed to a county jail.
It is now September of 2021 and he is taken from the county jail and flown to Tennessee. To his surprise, after only one night in Tennessee he is flown back to Oklahoma and bussed back out to a county jail.
From the county jail, located outside of Oklahoma City, he is loaded onto a bus and told they are heading to…Yankton, South Dakota. 13 months to the day since his arrest in Nevada. This guy was thrilled to show up here and provided a healthy perspective for me early on.
At times I would wonder how I was staying calm through the challenges we’ve faced here. The 11 day quarantine when the CDC recommended only 5 days. The National Lockdown for a week. Arriving vaccinated but quarantining for 18 days. Five minute controlled moves on the half hour and spending a single digit amount of hours outside so far in all of 2022. I’m shocking myself because the old me would have been bemoaning all of it. Then you see the light. Everyone here is dealing with the same stuff, inmates across the country are dealing with it as well (and worse) and a lot of guys at FPC Yankton have gone through far more for much longer. The final straw – complaining doesn’t change a thing. I can’t win at the no complaining game 24/7, but I am getting much better at limiting the number of things that bother me and how quick I can turn my attitude around when days and weeks don’t go as planned.
The only thing I can control is how I respond. I also have a lot of gratitude for what I have here. Even if right now that includes a too big for me sweatshirt, beat up basketball shorts, comfortable gym shoes and a locker with plenty of oatmeal and a few good books – plus of course, good company.