The orientation for the new people takes place in a lovely corporate-style boardroom with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that give a sweeping view of the harbor.
Half-a-dozen officials walk the newbies through the procedures they will face in this next phase of their lives: where their assignments will take them; details on getting email and phone service; all the usual sort of HR stuff.
But these individuals, approximately 20 in number, aren’t going to a new job. They’re going to prison.
Our image of how the convicted enter the prison system is shaped by movies like “Shawshank Redemption,” where new prisoners are stripped naked, deprived of all worldly goods, given a jumpsuit, assigned a cell and so on.
Surely that goes on in some places, but some folks in the Federal Bureau of Prisons realized that it was a waste of time to keep on answering the same questions over and over again for each individual entering the prison system. So they hit upon the idea of doing a seminar, complete with a multi-page PowerPoint, to answer all questions.
A friend of mine, whom I’ll call Fred, told me about these seminars because he recently attended one.
Fred was involved in some financial transactions that securities law frowns upon, earning him a guest booking of several years in a minimum security federal prison camp in Florida.
“They could not have been nicer,” Fred told me. “Super professional. In fact, you could forget about where you were going and what the meeting was for, at least for a while.”
Going to prison is not a simple thing. Our lives are complicated today. We have possessions, prescriptions, email address lists. All of these things need to be taken into consideration when a person is off to do federal time.
“I learned that we can put money in a canteen,” Fred said. “We can use that money to buy email or phone time. People on the outside can put money in as well. State prisons don’t accept packages from Amazon, but the federal prisons do. There were a lot of nuances.”
The other attendees at Fred’s seminar included a few people who looked as though they had committed white collar crimes of some sort, a few people Fred described as “hardcore,” and a mother and son.
“The son was in his 20s,” Fred said. “The mother was asking a lot of questions.”
There were bottles of water at the center of the table and brownies on the side bar.
“I was blown away by the courtesy,” Fred said. “They could not have been more respectful. At the end, when one of the seminar leaders was giving me my prisoner number, he said, ‘Good luck, sir.’”
The seminar leaders told the attendees that they would have case managers overseeing their prison stay and making sure that everything was up to snuff, although Fred said he checked it out with some ex-felons he met in a support group.
They said that the case manager thing was just for show.
“Still,” he said, “you could see they were trying to do the right thing by us.”
Everybody took their PowerPoints, and their brownies and maybe an extra bottle of water, and headed out of the conference room to contemplate what they would do with their email lists, their canteen money and this next phase of their lives.
“If prison is anything like the seminar,” Fred said, “it may not be that bad.”
Now that the prison system offers such a dignified approach to orientation, it just has a few more things to clean up – arbitrary placement in solitary confinement, nonconsensual sex among inmates, and beatings, to name a few – and then the system will be ready for ratings on TripAdvisor.