There was a memo from a prison employee higher-up stating that effective last Saturday, prisoners would no longer be allowed to receive vending machine food in wrappers or packaging, but the visitors would have to take the food from the vending machine, remove the wrapper, place the food on a paper plate and deliver it to their imprisoned loved one. The prison employees expanded that to include visitors, too, even children. There was a stack of paper plates placed on a desk between the desk where the prison employees "supervise" visitation and the vending area.
So far, so good, and actually a decent idea for sandwiches, although not at all "green" as prison employees like to portray themselves and the BOP. But I had purchased a fruit cup for Gary, containing mandarin oranges and "100% fruit juice." When the prison employee stood and announced the new policy and the requirement that "all" vending products be removed from their packaging and placed on paper plates, Gary had not even been allowed to join me, but I was front and center, which was convenient for me to stand holding my fruit cup, and point to it. A BOPer I hadn't seen before said, "Yes, you have to put that on a paper plate." "Fruit? And fruit juice?" I asked.
After a brief discussion with another BOPer, they decided that they had better check with someone higher up since the contents of my purchased fruit cup could not be placed on a paper plate. In the meantime, until the details of managing the fruit cup on a paper plate were worked out, I was allowed to keep the fruit cup in its clear plastic cup. When Gary was allowed to join me, I let him know about the fruit-and-juice-on-a-paper-plate controversy and he quickly drank the juice and ate the fruit lest I be ordered to put it on a paper plate, which would make quite a mess. Since it was Sunday, they were undoubtedly unable to reach anyone high enough up in the BOP bureaucracy to be able to make a definitive decision that fruit-and-juice cups and paper plates just don't work together.
JB: Unbelievably pointless and ridiculous. What a mess, on all fronts.
JW: Speaking of messes, back in the visiting room, things were getting really messy. The BOPers had brought in additional garbage cans to accommodate the paper plates. The garbage cans have flat tops, so, along with the desk with the paper plates, the garbage can tops became makeshift tables for food preparation, with visitors having to place the paper plates on the garbage can lids then move the food from its packaging to place it on the paper plate. I mentioned sandwiches, but everything had to be on a paper plate - M&Ms, crackers, candy bars, gummy fruit, cookies, everything. Then, all the paper plates were gone, but those innovative and flexible BOPers dealt with the crisis by bringing out a huge package of styrofoam plates which were replenished with additional styrofoam plates throughout the remainder of the day.
Styrofoam, as you know, is on the extreme environmental no-no list, not only because it doesn't break down, and not only because of the environmental damage inherent in manufacturing styrofoam, but because of the harmful toxic fumes emitted when it is microwaved, which should never be done. Everyone in the room undoubtedly got a lung full of those fumes Sunday as hamburgers, chicken wings, egg rolls, barbecue sandwiches, breakfast foods and other microwaveable foods were placed on those styrofoam plates and microwaved hour after hour, all day long.
The nice thing about the styrofoam plates was that children were able to use them along with plastic forks for craft projects. I saw one little boy using the fork to make eye and mouth holes and create a mask.
The rumor was that a visitor had somehow smuggled drugs into the visiting room, disguised the container holding the drugs as a food item, and that the prisoner being visited had swallowed the drugs in the container for later use or distribution. One visitor. One prisoner. Who was caught, apparently, even without paper plates, but this one incident had to be blown up and used to create a crisis while blaming the constant availability of contraband in prison on visitors bringing items in during weekly visits. This is, of course, ridiculous.
JB: Why's that?
JW: Prison employees are the primary source of drugs and all other contraband in federal prisons. Think volume. Even if every visitor smuggled in drugs at every visit, they would not be able to smuggle in a sufficient quantity to supply just that single prisoner between visits. Most prisoners never have any visitors and most prisoners, in Gary's and my opinion, do not participate in the contraband smuggling business. There are thousands of prison employees with unlimited capacity to bring in whatever they want every single day. Remember when Gary was in solitary confinement? Only prison employees could supply contraband to that area. Yet contraband was readily available to Gary from the first day he was there. And remember the gallon jugs of whiskey in Millington? How exactly would a visitor smuggle in a gallon of anything, pass it to a prisoner, and have the prisoner pass the post-visit search? It simply is not possible.
BOPers do not want to stop the flow, as it is too profitable for prison employees who sell contraband to prisoners. And the problem of prison employees' involvement in smuggling in contraband for personal profit has been well-known at the highest levels of government for over a decade even as they have chosen not to do anything to address or resolve the problem, according to this Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report and others.
JB: Your assessment of who's responsible for supplying most of the contraband is correct, Judy. I skimmed the governmental report and discovered those findings for myself [see pages v and 35].
JW: As for visitors, BOPers will never be able to stop any minuscule amounts of contraband brought into prison by visitors (competitors with BOP smugglers) because they are too busy focusing on whether there are any exposed toes or visible upper arms or V-neck tops or skinny jeans or whistleblowers to be harassed, and they are too obsessively focused on harassing me in particular and watching every move I make. It gives special meaning to the phrase, "They can't see the Forrest for the trees," doesn't it?
JB: At least you've somehow kept your sense of humor, Judy. Thanks so much for continuing to share your story with us. Please send our regards to Dave as well as Gary on your next visit. I hope the BOP finally wakes up and properly takes care of him and the other prisoners.
And I understand that we'll be discussing some interesting new developments in our next installment. So, dear readers, please join us then.