Learn About Atwater USP 

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Learn about Atwater USP

My name is Michael Santos and I’m a founder of Prisons Professors. I served 26 years in different federal prisons, and I concluded the sentence at the minimum-security camp in Atwater, which is adjacent to USP Atwater. Since then, USP Atwater became a client of Prison Professors.

I learned a great deal about federal prison while serving my term. Our team strives to help other people learn and grow by helping them prepare for the best outcome during imprisonment. We are fully aware of the hardships a person is likely to experience in prison. However, we also know how to encourage, restore strength and confidence by offering beneficial information about federal prisons, including Atwater USP. At Prison Professors, we offer dependable guidance people can use to live through prison and leave as better citizens no matter where they serve their time. 

The United States Penitentiary Atwater, situated in Atwater, California, part of Merced County, is a high security-level federal prison with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp. It sits on a farm previously part of Castle Air Force base 130 miles from San Francisco. This male adult facility holds about 987 people, 888 at the central unit and 99 at the Camp. 

It houses imprisoned persons in six housing units, each consisting of 256 people divided into various double-bunked cells. The Camp, on the other hand, has a dormitory-style housing unit. The facility maintains tight security through electrified perimeter fences, armed guard towers, and video surveillance systems. 

Typically, Atwater USP holds people aged 20 to 86 years with an overall average of 37 years. The average sentence time for most individuals in this facility is around 14 years. However, there are several people serving longer sentences for serious felonies, including murder charges and those serving life sentences. 

Notable Inmates

Some of the most notable individuals to grace the walls of this prison include:

Jerry Whitworth 

Jerry is currently serving a 365-year sentence and will be eligible for parole in 2196. He is a former senior chief petty officer for the United States Navy but was convicted in 1986 for spying and selling high-classified US Navy documents to the Soviet Union for $332000. His co-conspirator, former US Navy chief warrant officer John Anthony Walker, testified against him during his trial.

Demario Atwater

Demario Atwater is currently serving a life sentence for robbery, murder, and kidnapping. He, alongside Laurence Lovette, kidnapped Eve Carson, 22 years, then a student body president at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill. The two men later murdered Eve Carson by shooting her five times.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari from Saudi Arabia was convicted in 2012 of attempted weapon use of a weapon aimed at mass destruction. He is currently in USP Big Sandy. 

Admission and Orientation

Upon booking at Atwater USP, an incarcerated individual receives an Admission and Orientation handbook. The handbook contains information on the Bureau of Prisons, the facility’s programs, and designated rules and regulations. This handbook comes in handy for newly incarcerated people to comprehend expected experiences behind bars and assists in the initial adjustment to prison life. 

For orientation, the penitentiary conducts a compulsory social screening via the Management Unit staff. Moreover, all the new individuals undergo medical screening by Health Services and mental health staff immediately after arrival. Ideally, all must participate in the Admission and Orientation program within 28 days of arrival. Through this program, the correctional staff advises on facility services, programs, procedures, and policies. 

After orientation, the prison assigns each person a housing unit. Each unit has an individual’s self-contained living area and the unit staff’s office space. A unit team in each housing unit is directly responsible for incarcerated individuals in the designated units. They are strategically situated in the living units so staff and people can easily access each other. A unit staff usually consists of:

  • A Unit Manager
  • Case Manager,
  • Correctional Counselor
  • Unit Secretary

Other members include a Staff Psychologist, Unit Officer, and Education Advisor; they help in the classification process. Additionally, these team members offer assistance in parole matters, family and personal problems, counseling, release planning, and attaining and setting prison goals. They are available at the prison from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm, during the day on holidays and weekends. 

Inmate Commissary

Like other BOP-run facilities, Atwater USP permits incarcerated individuals to obtain items and services not provided by the prison. Each individual has a deposit account where family, friends, and other community contacts can deposit their commissary money. People can utilize money in their commissary accounts to purchase additional items at the prison’s kiosk in the lobby, including food items, clothes, medical devices, and writing materials. Additionally, they can place some of these funds in their phone accounts, send money by creating a BP-199, or buy TRU-units for their TRULINCS accounts. 

After completing their sentences, the prison consolidates all Trust Fund accounts and places the funds in an Inmate Release Debit Card. The prison posts commissary and validation schedules on the inmate bulletin boards. People can withdraw funds after identification by fingerprint or commissary card. Like in other federal correctional facilities, an imprisoned person at Atwater USP can spend up to $360 per month on commissary items. You can see the list of all the allowed commissary items in federal prisons here:

How to Deposit Funds to a Trust Fund Account

The Federal Bureau of Prisons encourages family and friends to send funds to their loved ones in prison. If you want to send funds to your loved one in any of these facilities, you can check out this helpful article that we have published on our website:

At Atwater USP, incarcerated persons receive funds seven days each week, including during state-recognized holidays. Money sent from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm is posted within two hours, and on the other hand, funds sent past 9:00 pm are posted the following morning.  

You can send money to your loved one through any of the following methods:


To deposit funds via mail, the deposit must be in the form of a money order, made out to the incarcerated person’s full committed number and complete eight-digit register number. The prison returns funds to the sender if they do not indicate the receiver’s accurate and valid information. The mail method does not facilitate personal checks and cash. 

Do not send money orders to incarcerated people through Atwater USP’s address. Ensure to address all orders to the facility to the processing center in Des Moines, Iowa. Use the following delivery address:

Federal Bureau of Prisons
Insert Valid Committed Inmate Name
Insert Inmate Eight-Digit Register Number
Post Office Box 474701
Des Moines, Iowa 50947-0001

Moreover, ensure you include a return address on the upper left corner of the envelope to ensure the prison returns the funds if it cannot post them in the designated inmate account. 

Western Union Quick Collect Program 

Family and friends to people held at Atwater USP can send money through Western Union’s Quick Collect Program. The prison posts all funds sent in this manner to the inmate’s commissary account within two to four hours. For this program, one can choose from the following ways;

  • Agent Location: you can deposit cash at the nearest Western Union agent. Here, one must fill out a Quick Collect Form. To find the nearest agent location, family and friends can visit the Western Union website or call 1-800-325-6000
  • By Phone: Use any of your cards, credit, or debit card to deposit funds via phone by simply calling 1-800-634-3422 and choosing option two. 
  • Online: Using your credit or debit card, visit Western Union, select “Quick Collect,” and follow the provided prompts and instructions. 

Remember to include a valid inmate eight-digit register number, committed full inmate name, and Code for each transaction.

MoneyGram ExpressPayment Program 

Like Western Union’s program, all funds sent through MoneyGram ExpressPayment Program reflect on the inmate’s account within two to four hours. You can deposit money through the following ways: 

  • MoneyGram Physical Agent: To find the nearest agent location visit MoneyGram or call1-800-926-9400. This method allows you to deposit cash, and one must complete a MoneyGram ExpressPayment Blue Form.
  • Online: You can deposit funds online using a credit, debit, MasterCard, or Visa card. You only need to enter the receive code 7932 and the amount to send. 

Programs and Services at Atwater USP

Atwater USP offers various wellness and reentry programs to ensure the smooth reintegration of incarcerated individuals into society upon their release. 

Here are the programs and services the prison offers:

  • Education Services

The prison offers General Education Diploma, Occupational Education, English-as-a-Second Language, parenting classes, and Adult Continuing Education.  People who show satisfactory progress and complete GED and ESL receive incentive awards. Moreover, those that qualify can have the privilege of continuing to advance levels in literacy programs. Adult Continuing Education involves foreign language, computer literacy, business skills, and typing. The facility also offers high school diplomas or college programs through paid correspondence. 

  • Health Services

People held at this prison can access physical examinations, emergency medical care, dental, sick call, general medicine, reading glasses, and EKG tests for those 50 years and older. Atwater USP assigns each person a specific medical care provider who treats them during the incarceration period. Emergency medical care is available 24 hours, all days of the week. 

  • Psychology Services

Upon booking the facility, incarcerated people mandatorily undergo screening and assessment for mental health and drug-related problems. Certified and licensed psychologists provide individual and group counseling, self-help, supportive services, and psycho-educational classes. Additionally, the prison offers referrals to Health Services for specialized treatment of acute mental illnesses. 

  • Substance Abuse Treatment

People identified as drug and alcohol dependents or those who desire to deal with their substance abuse-related issues can enroll in this program. The prison offers a Drug Abuse Education Course, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program (NR-DAP).

  • Vocational Training

Atwater USP recognizes the importance of vocational skills to ensure imprisoned persons increase their employability and have a purpose after release. They can enroll in Building Trades, Landscaping, Electronics, Cooking, HVAC, and Computer Skills.

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