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 First Days in Federal Prison 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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First days in federal prison

Our friend surrendered to serve a sentence at the federal prison camp in Sheridan, Oregon, in the fall of 2021. What were those first days in federal prison like for him?

We don’t have to ponder that question about first days in federal prison.

Not anymore.

We received a message from our friend that we’re sharing with members of our audience. We’ve blocked our friend’s name to protect his identity. 

The person who wrote the letter will serve a sentence of fewer than five years. He pleaded guilty to a single count of a white-collar crime related to decisions he made in a business he owned. Our friend learned a great deal through the experience, and he is doing everything within his power to advance his release date.

The letter below offers insight that others may appreciate having.

Letter on First Days in Federal Prison


Hope you are doing well! This has been a roller coaster ride for sure. I arrived on 10/01 at about 10am shaking in my boots to say the least. The day had finally come. When I checked in the Lt. and another officer saw my disarray and decided to mess with me a little bit. You could tell that they had done this before. It was nice to see there pleasure messing with me because I knew they were just trying to ease the situation, but it was certainly something I will never forget. 

Upon surrender, I knew I was going into quarantine for likely 7 days? Maybe 14 days tops. But what I found was that everyone goes in for at a minimum 14 days, but that it always turns into 21+ days. Everyone I talked to post-quarantine did at least 21 days. Some 28 – 30 days for the most ridiculous reasons. Once staff test you, there is a 2  – 3 day wait time before results come in. Needless to say, in here, you don’t get antsy, staff works on their own time for sure and its tough for them because they are heavily understaffed. 

I ended up doing 22 days in quarantine… By the time they swab you for the second time (14 days), staff gets busy, forget about you, etc…. The only reason why I was quarantined for 22 days was because they missed my swab, then the weekend hit. But its always something. And nothing happens on the weekends! Sometimes not on Friday or Mondays eithers, as you can imagine. 

The only items I was able to bring in was some religious stuff, two pairs of prescription glasses, my contacts list, and that was it! I brought in some medications, they took them, and gave me replacements. They don’t allow, and never allow, anything from the outside. No shoes, watches, etc… Nothing.    

Let me describe quarantine. Everyone all people coming in, quarantines is in the detention center. Which I thought was going to be exactly like my experience in Oakland, but wasn’t. This place is run so much better, but when I came in that was what I expected, something super terrible. In quarantine you are locked in a 10’x’12 cell 24/7 and only out 30 minutes 3x a week. 30 minutes gives you just enough time to shower and make one phone call, maybe two if you are quick (if you can even get your name through phone system to verify its you. Sometimes you have to try 10+ times before it accepts your voice. “Please say your name at the tone”. “Sorry, the system couldn’t recognize your voice!”. That was frustrating). Then back in the cell for 2-3 full days staring at the walls. Those days were long and drawn out but luckily limited. Lets just say you get a lot of sleep. And there is no Red Bull’s anywhere! haha.  

When they first put me in quarantine, their happened to be another “gentleman” (another “camper”) in the cell I would be in. We would quarantine together. He had been in for one day already, and was freaking out thinking he was going to have to do the entire time by himself. This guy upon surrender didn’t even realize he was going to have to any quarantine at all! Then they throw him in a cell for 3 weeks! lol. When I came in, his eyes lite up! Like so many others here, he made no preparation before he came. I understood that. He said that it was to hard to face what was happening, so he did nothing before he came in – kept his head in the sand. But lets just say he learned quick. haha. 

When I walked in, we were both pleased to see each other knowing at least we would have some company. LUCKILY, he turned out to be a really cool guy and we got along well and passed the time together. After looking around at some of the other guys in this place, had it been someone else, I don’t know if it would have been a good thing. There are some “interesting” campers / people in here to say the least, even at the camp. The best way to put it is that its just like society, you have all the different levels of people, just like on the outs.  

In advance of surrender to ease my quarantine time I had books, puzzle books, 3 different daily newspapers, all sent to myself. I was able to buy a radio at commissary and some other things to help make that time fly by. I spent those 22 days reading (read 4 big books), writing letters, exercising, streching ( I had a yoga book sent in ), listened to talk show on the radio, my bunky and I would compete in word puzzles, and I jotted down some really great bizz idea’s while I sat there . My bunky and I would discusses different ideas, topics, our lives, and there were many times my brain was just overloaded with stuff. Sounds like a restful time but don’t get me wrong – it totally sucked, but you do what you can with what you have control over. I also got off caffeine completely (with my head spinning on the 3rd day) and haven’t’ had any since and still have tons of energy. But now that I am at the camp and have done a pretty amazing job networking, I have met with some real heavy hitters in their space and have just been absorbing the vast amounts of knowledge I now have access to that’s just being warehoused here. Litteraly, smart guys, just put on a shelf for 10 years.  

Don’t get me wrong. The place is everything you would expect from a prison. Especially the detention center. Its dirty, somewhat dilapidated, can be rough, and the people here are all here to leave as fast as they can – but some I don’t think will ever leave. Their words and actions don’t seam to match up. Many guys fight their case from the detention center, then by the time they are sentenced – they get released or only have a couple more years to to do. And I say YEARSss, because they hand them out like you put raisins in your oatmeal at breakfast. Most guys won’t be leaving here anytime soon. The amount of time that guys get is crazy. Its nothing to talk to a guy that got 8, 9, 10 or even 20+ years who worked their way down from a low security to a “camp.” Lots of different personalities, and story’s. Some are pretty straight forward, but many, many, sound very familiar to me.  

I got to the camp three weeks ago. And coming from living on the ranch, to isolation in the detention center, then into a fast paced people intensive environment was intense for the first few days. What was crazy is that once out of quarantine. They issued me my new stuff, then walked me out the front door I came in to surrender, and pointed to a building and said, “go there, walk over there. Just go in and find the officer. Hes somewhere around”. lol… I was like, “Oh, ok… You mean all the way down there?” And he shut the door behind us leaving us outside. 

It was raining out side and my bunky and I made our way through the parking lot that I was dropped off in. It was a strange feeling. We walked in and found the officer, he told us what unit to go to, we walked in and everyone was checking us out. There must have been 30 guys looking at us – “The New Guys”… haha. It was wild. 

I got a top bunk in a 4 man cube (which is better than a 6 man cube because less guys in the space) and I am all the way in the back of the wing. A wing holds about 50 people, but right now there is around 30. the camp itself currently has about 335 people, with a capacity of 580 – 600. Almost everything is closed because of COVID (but its really because they are short staffed). 

The campus is like a small heavily unfunded college campus. There are two large housing units (like military barracks). Unit 5 is general pop, and unit 6 is for RDAP (the drug program). Its green outside all around (right now) and feels open and free (but it just isn’t). 

Guys have to exercise outside under a big steel structure, there is a track to run on, pickle ball court, handball, all the games, and some 1990’s exercise equipment to use. But you would be amazed at how guys figure out how to build muscle with what they have. I will never take the “gym” for granted ever again at home! Its kind of like being in the stone age (they actually sometimes use actual stones as weight), but you make it work. 

Outside of daily count times (8:30, 12:30, 4:00, 9:00pm – you have to be at your bunk for an Officer to count you to make sure you are there), you can roam around the “campus”, but there is just only so many places to go. I can see how it gets boring here. I’m not bored and will never be bored, but many guys are. And there are the 4 TV rooms. Blacks, Whites, Mexican, and Islanders. That’s right, you can only go in the “car” you are a part of. Another place I have not been and will not go. That is where the little amount of politics takes place in here.  

My bed is super uncomfortable. So when you read this tonight and slip into bed, be grateful for that comfy bed you are in. And for that person laying next to you. It gets lonely here from that perspective. Its like a fraturnity here, just no sororities! haha. Only in a magazine! Or, if you get your girl to send you something good. But again, you make it work. The camp is probably the best place to be if a guy has to serve time. But don’t be mistaken, it still sucks ass.  

And the food! I was expecting Oakland style food (I wouldn’t feed my dog that stuff) and it was nothing like that. In fact, its super good! For real. Yesterday for lunch, full on baked chicken with mash potato’s and gravy. Super good actually. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. The cooks do a great job in the kitchen with what they have. And , we get fresh vegetables from the APP program here. Last night I had baked spaghettis square with a little brown n sugar and butter! haha It was awesome! And today for lunch, litterally, baked d tilapia fish filet, brown rice pasta, and some canned green beans. And if you don’t like that. The shit the guys make from the commisary stuff is an art form in its own. The other night I had a “sushi bowl”, haha.. And it was just as good as I would get on the outside! Because of all the good food, I actually decided to go on a diet (who would have thought I would have to diet in prison! haha) since I am spending  a bunch of time exercising. No reason to waste a good workout by eating a “cinimmon roll” for example. Its not like one from a French bakery, but for being in prison – they are pretty dame good. But you know me – always making it work! 

And my job (everyone has to have a job and for most that means cleaning dishes 3x a day, and you don’t want to clean dishes which I don’t – its terrible – you better get to know who’s who quick – or they sweep you into the kitchen) will be in horticulture with my new hedge fund manager buddy. Horticulture will give me access to a nursery / Zen garden type area. About 10 total acres. Its the only quiet peaceful place here, and let me tell you, its beautiful. 30 years of guys making this place a little oasis from the camp. It has a 2 acre full on water feature with fountains and streams that are all connected. A grove of Japanese maples. Benches. Yard art.  And its private – only for a few guys (like me) that work there and when they bring the “class” over. When you go out there (away from the camp), you don’t feel like you are at a camp at all, let alone in prison. Its super nice and a place I plan on spending time at reading and studying (I’m on a self study program and when I have questions in a certain area, there is always a guy (professional) here to consult with! For example, I was going to send myself books to learn blockchain – no need. I already learned everything there is to know about it in 3 days walking the track taking notes. haha). 

Horticulture is part of the education department so guys will come out and learn about landscaping through a class they take and I will be doing some landscaping / plant work in the gardens, trimming trees, etc… Its only about 10-12 hours a week but I will have access to this exclusive area of the compound. They have a backhoe, side x sides, and its just a really cool spot to get away. Away from the bustle of camp life. After a while, you start to know every one by first name. Good to get some disconnection from that.  

So that’s what I’m doing for now! I am grateful every day that my time is limited here, compared to many many others who won’t be out of here until the next decade comes. Overall through, this is the biggest WASTE of humanity that I have ever seen. Its hard to believe that some how we as a society decided that sending guys here for decades was the answer? But it could be worse. Just studied some journals about what Russia did to its people throughout the 20th centaury. Compared to that, this is a breeze. But still. Why? What is even more significant to witness is that some guys really like it here. Its like a fraternity at times. Just makes you realize how twisted the world / people can be. Just when you think people are generally smart, they support putting people here, or rally around the ones who put people here. I think we could do a better job as a society then this being the answer.  

Warmest Regards,


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