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Prison Diary, Part 1

A memoir


In case anyone was wondering, I haven't always been an editor for AVN. There was a time, long ago (1972-1991), that I was a "court reporter" - one of those stenographers with the little piano-looking machine who records the testimony of witnesses to accidents, or parties to civil lawsuits, or the occasional drunk-driving hearing. But I've pretty much always been political, and a couple of issues I was really activist about were legalizing drugs (particularly grass and acid), and fighting what I then considered to be the unfair income tax system. I'd even joined - and this is where a certain amount of my legal background also comes from - a couple of tax protest groups in 1981, many of whose members filed what were know as "Fifth Amendment returns": Anywhere on the tax form that called for a number for "income," they (I!) would write in "5th Amendment" since we didn't want to be witnesses against ourselves on a document we had signed. What can I say? It seemed logical at the time, but in case any Justice Department types are reading this, let me assure everyone that I'm Over That Now.

And part of the reason I'm over it is that I spent two and a half months in Allenwood Federal Prison Camp in north-central Pennsylvania in late '84 after having been convicted of "Willful Failure to File" those tax returns I claimed my Fifth Amendment right on - the IRS considered those returns invalid - and since a few adult industry members are currently in prison (Max Hardcore, who was supposed to go to a minimum security facility like the one I describe below) or probably soon will be (Rob Black and Lizzy Borden), it seemed like a good idea to reprint what I refer to as my "prison diary": A memoir of prison thoughts and recollections I wrote up in early 1985 and distributed to a few friends who'd been asking questions on the order of, "What was it like?"

Not everything I wrote then would be interesting to AVN's readership, so I've made a couple of deletions, and as they say on "Dragnet," some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and some, the guilty), but for those who are wondering what a few months in a minimum security prison is (or at least was, 25 years ago) like, I present the first part of my "Prison Diary."

On July 19th, 1984, I was convicted of "willful failure to file tax returns" for 1980 and '81 ... and they threw in '82 and '83 during the trial, so the jury could get a rounded picture of the depth of my transgression. Needless to say, I had filed tax returns for those years, but the IRS, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, had declared that my claiming of my 5th Amendment rights on the returns had, in effect, made my forms "non-returns." So for the crime of attempting to exercise my Constitutional rights, I spent 2 months and 17 days in Allenwood Federal Prison Camp, a very unpleasant experience.

The reason I'm going into so much detail now is that I'd like to try to give you a feeling for what it's like to lose your freedom for a period of time, and there be nothing you can do about it.  And if any of you find yourselves in a situation where you're likely to spend a short time in a jail, preferably at the federal level, I say go to it, and learn as much as you can from the experience. There is no better teacher than jail for clarifying the relationship of yourself to your government.

In retrospect, my trial was uneventful, despite how interested I and my friends were in its outcome ... I suspect that everyone on the jury had heard the myth, "There's nothing certain but death and taxes" from childhood, and nothing I could say from the witness stand would be likely to shake that belief. Not even several favorable rulings by the Judge - including the extremely rare decision to allow me to submit actual Supreme Court rulings to the jury for its consideration, and his using nearly all of my suggested points for his charge to the jury - could affect that. They simply didn't understand my arguments and the law behind them, and certainly nobody else in the courtroom was going to help them on that score. Obviously, I didn't do a good enough job.

The judge deferred sentencing for 6 weeks while I filed post-trial motions, all of which were denied ... as had been every other motion I had filed. (I wrote all of the motions myself, using only paralegal assistance, though I hired a lawyer as my co-counsel at the trial.) Finally, on September 6, 1984, the hammer fell: 3 months in a minimum security federal prison, 1 year suspended sentence, 5 years' probation, and a $2500 fine ... and, of course, file "proper" tax returns and pay the taxes. I was allowed 2 weeks to wind up my affairs - I'd decided not to appeal, mostly for monetary reasons - and on September 20th, my parents and I drove up to Allenwood Federal Prison Camp, high in the central Pennsylvania mountains.

Fortunately, I'd already had a brief taste of jail. In 1969, 1 was busted for possession and sale of grass, and spent 3 days in the local lockup while awaiting bail to be posted. I spent the first 10 hours in their isolation cell, the prison officials not being sure if I was safe enough to associate with other criminals. Finally, I was put in with 3 cellmates; one who spent his days chinning himself on a water pipe, another who kept muttering about what he was going to do when his girlfriend got his bail money together - he had already been inside for 6 months - and the third guy who got his laughs by telling the second guy that his girlfriend was never going to come through. ("She done forgot all about you, man. She's probably shacking with some other guy already. You ain't never gonna get outta here.") The upshot was 1 year's non-reporting probation, all of which was considered a badge of honor in my circle but an experience I was not anxious to repeat.

So as I sat in the "incoming" area at Allenwood, I wasn't scared stiff. This wasn't likely to be as bad as a county jail, I thought - but it was to be a considerably longer stay. My apprehension wasn't helped by my first contact with Allenwood authority, Lt. Sarkany, the "R&D" ("Receiving and Departure") officer, who took away my wristwatch as "contraband." Those of you who don't wear one don't realize how those of us who do are wedded to our timepieces. In the outside world, work runs by schedules (unless you're an artist without a deadline), and while prison life does even moreso than life outside, they'd rather that you follow their sirens than your watch. I'd been told by a marshal in Philadelphia that I'd be allowed to bring in a wristwatch, a wedding ring and a religious medallion, but here I was, getting first-hand experience in the left foot not knowing what the right foot was doing.

(It was only after I actually got settled in that I found out the only reason I didn't have my watch was because I hadn't protested enough. Anybody who put up a half-decent fight got to keep his watch, any of which were better timekeepers than the one you could buy at the prison commissary: a Timex, supposedly self-winding - it wasn't - at $27.50, and worth about $2 from any street vendor in Philadelphia. This turned out to be a valuable lesson: A lot of the rules weren't set in concrete; always do what you want until it looks like they're about to bring the hammer down, then plead ignorance.)

I did manage to bring in a book on a Zen sutra that I'd been meaning to read. I'd brought along another book of Zen koans, but Sarkany, being the type of person who always needed to feel he had the upper hand - not such a tough job when you're dealing with a bunch of criminals - said that one book was okay, but 2 was too many. In retrospect, I'd have done better to keep the koans; the sutra was boring, once I started trying to get through it.

My feeling of dread during this whole process was not eased by the only other arrival that afternoon, 'Pito,' a transfer from Lexington Federal Pen, where he'd had some sort of abdominal surgery. He looked like TV's idea of a hardened criminal, and i thought, "This is who I'm going to spend three months locked up with?" - but as it turned out, he was a fairly nice guy. Looks can be deceiving.

But there was enough to think about in the present without worrying about the future. Sarkany had about a dozen forms for us to fill out, all of which I insisted upon reading before I'd sign. Of interest was a strange combo document that gave the Institution my consent to open any mail sent to me - none of which I would receive if I didn't give said permission - but it added that if I didn't sign, they wouldn't let me make any phone calls ... which seemed to me a non sequitur. But as I came to learn, phone calls are one of the few daily joys one can have in prison - the other being visitors - and being deprived of one's phone call is to be avoided at (nearly) any cost. I signed ... and signed and signed and signed.

As one might expect, the experience of induction was designed to intimidate us bad guys. "This is your number. Memorize it. You will be expected to respond to this number as if it were your own name. It will serve the same function as your name while you are in this institution." And, of course, the last stage is the exchange of clothing: Mine in a box to be sent home, and well-worn - in fact, falling apart - "temporary" army surplus khakis so everyone would know I was a new arrival. (Getting better clothes, it turned out, was an art, and only long-timers could boast a completely spiffy wardrobe.)

Sarkany then passed me along to Mr. Nelson, my dorm counselor. Naturally, I had my guard up, trying to divine, "Who is this guy and what does he want?" with a tinge of, "and how much trouble is he going to make for me?" His first question to me was, "Can you think of any reason why you can't sleep in an open dorm with 75 other guys?"

"Well, yes, Mr. Nelson, I can. I suspect that most of these guys have committed some sort of crime, which I certainly haven't. And I don't even know these people. Some of them are probably completely loony. Who knows what they do in the middle of the night!?! And being basically a non-violent sort, I expect to be at the mercy of any 2-bit asshole that's watched too many episodes of The Untouchables, and I'll probably have to resort to threats I'll never be able to carry out, like warning somebody that if he touches me, I'll sneak into his cubicle in the middle of the night and bang a ballpoint pen through his ear with my shoe, which will just get me into more trouble."

But what I actually said, after mulling it over for a few seconds, was, "Uh ... no, I guess not."

"That's fine. Now, you'll be assigned to Dorm 2, Cube #2-3-4 Upper. (Allenwood definitions: cube = cubicle) Here's your bedding. After you've made up your bunk, run down to the hospital for a medical checkup if you have time, but whatever you do, Make Sure You're Back In Your Cube For Four O'clock Count."

Four O'clock Count?? What in the hell was that??? The tone of voice confused me. What could be that important, and why? And what would happen to me if I missed it? I was still wary enough of Nelson that it didn't feel right asking too many questions of him. (Translation: I was already beginning to develop the slave mentality that all good convicts have. Rule 1: Don't Question Massa.) Perhaps the answer was in the handy-dandy "Inmate Information - Guidelines and Procedures" that Sarkany had given me (and that I had to sign for, like everything else).

Ah, yes: "The purpose of the count is to make sure that all inmates are accounted for at the Institution. For count time in your dormitory, you should be beside or on your bed. It is your responsibility to be at the indicated place in advance of count time. ... The 4:00 p.m. count will be a standing count. All inmates must be standing or sitting in an upright position."

Well, by the time I'd put my bedding on my bunk and run down to the "Hospital" (which building also housed the dining hall, visiting area and "Center Control") for a quick, extremely cursory check-up, it was past 3:00, so I decided to survey the terrain. I was surprised at how few people were in the dorm. It turned out that most of them were at work. Not my "cubie", however. (Cubie = person sharing cubicle)

Willie Robinson was a short, chubby, 65-year-old black guy, who I found out later probably should never have gotten to Allenwood in the first place. When I first got to the cube, he was asleep on his bunk. He was, I found out later, an electrician - in his pre-Allenwood days, he'd managed his own apartment house in a Baltimore slum - but he also lacked a high school education, and obtaining one was considered priority #1 for any incoming prisoner. (I didn't find out until later that the reason for this was that Allenwood receives lots of education grant money, depending on how many prisoners are in its GED program.) What that meant was that Willie spent his mornings in "school" - a section of the prison library cordoned off for the students, where they spent about an hour or so learning sentence structure, and then a couple of hours watching whatever movie happened to be on HBO that morning. Then, Willie would mosey back to his bunk for an afternoon nap, to be roused only if there was some sort of electrical emergency on the grounds (which only happened once during the time 1 was there, and its cause was way beyond Willie's abilities to fix).

Willie's case was quite interesting. Seems he'd been convicted of transporting narcotics in his car (hence his nickname, "Cadillac") and, considering his age, was sentenced to a long stretch in a halfway house near his Washington, D.C. home. Trouble was, all the halfway houses in D.C. were full at the time. His lawyer filed a motion to delay the start of sentence until a bed became available, but apparently never followed through on it ... so one Friday, Willie got a letter telling him to report to Allenwood on Monday. And Willie, being not too savvy about such things, just went.

(To be continued)







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