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In The Hole in Lewisburg USP by Mark Anthony Given


When the door swings, you swing..... 

           DRIVING onto the property of the United States Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in the middle of the afternoon on a crisp fall day the manicured landscape was reminiscent of approaching a prestigious Ivy League College until you got up close.  At the very top but set back from the front facade was an old black Iron Christian Cross providing a foreboding atmosphere.  I found out later it had been a monastery long ago.  Two young go-getter FBI agents had transported me from a county jail in upstate New York after a routine traffic stop resulted in my arrest for five counts of bank fraud out of the Southern District of Alabama.  No words were spoken for several hours as we headed south for the Big House; I knew better than to talk to them….
          THE STRANGEST THING happened there that never happened again or before which is why I write this.  Parked right in the front and walked up twenty-six steps, I counted them and in the giant front door of one of the scariest maximum security prisons in America.   Before the advent of the SuperMax facilities to hold the worst of the worst "Lewisburg," was one of a handful of serious federal penitentiaries.  Guys walked around with magazines strapped around their waist stabbings were so frequent.  From the front marbled atrium, I was ushered into a small coat room and the cops exchanged restraints.  Ten steps across the marble foyer into a door and down into the belly of the beast.  One, two I don’t know how many floors we went down tight stairwell surrounded by metal and chain fencing and chains rattling we descended passing cops in narrow passage ways, I seen no other inmates which told me I was in some back administrative area to R&D “Receiving and Delivery” just like in a factory.   Everything was old, seats, old wooden rails, dark and depressing and all the cops were young and freaking HUGE!  Pennsylvania farm boys averaging 6’8” and the one thing I do remember most was the way people look at you standing there in shackles and chains trying to look tough.   An inquisitive look like they are sizing you up to determine how or if you can possibly make it shoulder to shoulder with real killers, and psychotic child molesters, people who will put a bomb under your car, shysters and institutionalized men.  Many with looks of utter rejection and self-loathing and nothing to live for.  Crazed desperate men trying to get into an altercation where someone will mercifully bury a knife into them deep enough for this awful world to fade to black.  

Nothing is ever so bad that it can't get worse. -Samuel Beckett

       I WAS QUICK to tell everyone I encountered with brass on, that I was a “Pre Trial Detainee” and had not been convicted of any crime and that I wasn’t supposed to be there.  I knew a little bit about the law even then and knew it was unheard of to confine pretrial detainees with convicted felons.  I was twenty-nine years old but I was scared I ‘aint going to lie to you.  I’ve been in Riker’s Island when I was 16, Elmira at 16, Coxsackie Correctional Facility an hour north "Up the River," from New York City.    I had learned long ago that the only way you will live in here is to be ready to die.  You show any fear whatsoever and you will be turned out.  But if you will fight, win or lose you might just make it.  I found this switch in me when I was about 11 or twelve and had I ran away from a series of foster homes and wound up a reformatory.  INDUSTRY it was called in upstate New York, another in south Florida.  That if people messed with me to take something from me, I get mad enough I just snap, intentionally.  And you better hope there is someone there to pull me off your ass because I can’t stop.  I usually made a point of stomping someone out in the county jail so by the time I got to the joint, people knew to miss me with the dumb shit.   You might beat my ass but it’s going to cost you chipped tooth, punctured lung…..the beast has to be fed.  That is the only way I made it, the only way I knew how.  That and keep my back to the wall and my mouth shut.  If I saw anything like people passing things, whispering, anything I didn’t need to know I made it a point to turn my head or walk away or stare at my feet like they were the most interesting thing in the world… mind your own business.  Believe me, there are things in this world you do not want to know…
        BECAUSE I HAD YET TO BE CONVICTED I was placed straight in the hole.  The SHU the Fed's call it’ “Special Housing Unit.”  It is special in the sense that you can be locked down 23 hours a day without having broken the rules.  The state calls it Administrative Segregation as opposed to Disciplinary Segregation.  Back through narrow windowless staircases going up this time I found myself being handed over yet again to a couple of Nephilim (Genesis 6@4) guards I was standing at the gates looking down the range at a dozen or so chow shoots all closed and several fishing lines running across the floor from cell to cell.  Unlike all state joints with inmates screaming and banging the feds ain’t having that.  Nice quite orderly, the guards wear ties and address you “Mr.” and feed you like a champ!  Soup and salad bars, all the milk AND chocolate milk you want, pop machines just like at 7-11 on the line.  They figured out that if they treat you half way decent you will act like you got some sense. 
Through the ancient Iron gates two cops escort you everywhere you go about half way down the range on the left we stop and one guard calls down the range for another guard to open the door.  The door opens I step in and back up to the door to let him uncuff me I’m staring at a guy about my age but taller laying in his boxer shorts reading “Short Eyes”  eating "zooms zooms and wam wams," which was prison slang for pornography and commissary candy.    This wasn’t my first rodeo and I been in the hole before but this place was eerie quiet and smelled of wet blood but I was just in time for my first federal dinner.  Oh, it must have been a Wednesday night because they served “Country Breakfast” eggs, hash browns, milk and toast and an Orange.  A week later having been in another federal prison and two county jails I would arrive in Alabama at Talladega FCI where they had floor to ceiling windows about seven inches wide where I sit at a table and had Cornish Game Hens and wild rice and peach cobbler and came around twice with cold milk!  I got there before the Cubans burnt administrative building down and rioted in the late ‘80’s, and after that everything changed everywhere in the federal system, they weren’t nearly as hospitable…  I remember thinking if maybe this wasn't the meal the give condemned prisoners the night of their execution...
       I FORGET HIS NAME now but he had an interesting story to tell and eager to talk.  He told me he too was a pretrial detainee like me, having come from a Pennsylvania state prison where he just finished a five or ten-year sentence.  While in prison he put an ad in the newspaper classifieds for an Administrative Assistant position asking interested applicants to submit their resume.  From the response, some were stupid enough to provide their Social Security Numbers.  With this information, while in prison he filed federal taxes for these people with a return address he controlled.  I asked him where he came up with that idea.  He said something about he already had helped lots of other inmates to file theirs and that was how he got started.  He wasn’t in near the trouble I was,  facing six counts of bank fraud and probably a dozen state charges.  That was just in one district.  I split deposit scammed 75 federally insured banks out of a couple million dollars from Manhattan to Malibu and I only had one Ace in the Hole:  I didn’t have any codefendants so when they get ready to talk Turkey they got to talk to me….
            MY NEW SMELLY said he made a fortune but now had to pay the piper.   He’d been down a long time but delighted to be in federal custody after the state dog houses.    Had a stack of short eyes and a boom box with headphones and a $60 box of commissary under his bottom bunk.    This is where the weird part comes in.  This was a very long time ago and I remember within a few hours we were old chums and he threw me a stack of letters from his girlfriend to read for some reason or another.  We were three maybe four floors up and the window was at least 100 years old wrought Iron with glass you could barely see through.  But standing at that window I looked up over the adjoining cell block to a faint moon and the big Black Iron Christian Cross again, this time a lot closer, maybe forty, fifty feet, dark in against the faint moon.  I have actually been in lot’s of “Hole’s” to tell you the truth, but I never have seen this trick before.  They had welded on to each window a big sheet metal black box all the way round with mesh wire so that you could not pass anything out the windows…this was a serious joint.  It wasn’t long after I was there that in an identical SHU two prison guards were stabbed to death right there on that shiny between the cells.  Dude came out of his cell handcuffed behind his back with two prison guards escorting him he stopped and backed up to an open chow shoot just long enough to have his handcuffs unlocked and handed a shank….  After he killed and decapitated at least one of them the crazy bastard turned the highly polished floor into his own personal Slip and Slide in the cops’ blood…. Did I tell you this was serious shit?  I came across the case researching my restitution issue.  Serving several life sentences in federal prison the BOP or USA petitioned the court for restitution for the cops caskets and burial expenses….  They wound up seizing his little inmate money like 2 and a half cents a day or something….It is in the law books, a Fed.Supp. case meaning district court as opposed to F.3d an appellate court.
 To be continued.
11:42 AM 2/1/2016

 COPYRIGHT 2016 by Mark Anthony Given
All Rights Reserved 28 USC 1746  Public Law: Pub. L. 94-553 (Oct. 19, 1976)
U.S. Statutes at Large: 90 Stat. 2541

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