Learn About Big Sandy USP 

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 Learn about Big Sandy USP

My name is Michael Santos and founded Prisons Professors to help people learn how to get better outcomes from the federal prison system.

I served 26 years in different federal prisons. While living in prison, I learned a great deal. Now I lead a team that strives to help other people learn and grow.

We acknowledge that the mystery of imprisonment can disrupt a person’s mindset, which could take a toll on them. However, we also know how to restore strength and confidence by offering helpful knowledge about federal prisons, including Big Sandy USP.

At Prison Professors, we offer guidance people can use to push through life in prison and come out as better citizens no matter where they serve their time. 

Big Sandy United States Penitentiary, also identified as Big Sandy USP, is a high-security federal prison in Inez, Kentucky, part of Martin County. This is a large Bop-run prison that also operates an adjacent minimum security satellite camp. Currently, it holds 1287 incarcerated people, 1250 in the main unit, and 37 at the Camp. The facility sits on 306 acres; however, it keeps the secure area individuals in 26 acres. Being a high-security facility, the prison contains several large-armed observation towers, electronic detection systems, roving patrol, and perimeter fences around the facility razor wire-topped. 

The prison houses its people in one and two-person cells at the main unit; the Camp houses them in dormitories. Most people held at this prison are convicted of highly violent crimes and are serving long sentences. As such, the facility has seen a fair share of violent incidents since its inception in 2003. For instance, in the recent incident in 2010, Steven Michael Reid, who was already serving an additional 20-year sentence for assault in 2008, stabbed a correctional officer in June 2010. He utilized a two-feet spear-like object made from two rolled magazines and sharpened Plexiglas. As a result, the prison added another 15 years to his time scheduled for release in 2049. Big Sandy later transferred him to Atlanta USP. 

Notable Inmates

The US prison has held some of the most outstanding high violent criminals in the history of incarceration. 

Here are some of them:

  • Charles McArther Emmanuel

Also known as Chuckie Taylor, he is currently serving a 97-year sentence. The son of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor was convicted in 2008 of acts related to the torture of his father’s political opponents between 1999 and 2003 in Liberia. Scheduled for release in 2091, Charles McArther Emmanuel is the first United States citizen prosecuted for committing torture acts outside the US. The prison transferred him to USP Lee.

  • Vincent Basciano

Vincent Basciano became the Acting boss of Bonanno Crime Family after the arrest of Boss Joseph Massino in 2004. He is currently serving two life sentences for murder, racketeering, and conspiracy. He began serving his time in 2011 directing the murder of a Bonanno associate, Randolph Pizzolo, in 2004. The penitentiary transferred Basciano to USP Atlanta.

  • El Sayyid Nosair

Nosair is an Egyptian-born American citizen currently serving a life sentence in Big Sandy USP. He is responsible for his involvement in the 1993 New York City landmark bomb plot. Notable, Nosair had undergone trial for the 1990 New York City assassination of Meir Kahane but was later acquitted. He later admitted his involvement in the assassination. 

Programs and Services

The federal prison provides wellness and reentry programs and services that facilitate the smooth reintegration of incarcerated individuals into their communities. Studies have shown the success of these programs in significantly reducing recidivism rates. Individuals who participate in the programs present a generally positive attitude towards life.

The programs include:

  • Health Programs 

Professional and licensed medical staff at the prison provide medical, mental, and dental care services. These services are consistent with the community and national standards for a correctional environment. Usually, the prison conducts primary health screening during the admission of an incarcerated person. Typically, health programs consist of physical examinations, emergency medical care, sick calls, Tuberculosis screening, EKG tests, HIV, immunizations, dental, and eye care. Emergency services are available 24 hours. Incarcerated individuals with chronic or acute health conditions can receive referrals for advanced care in other community hospitals. 

  • Counseling Services

Big Sandy USP contracts certified and licensed psychologists to offer counseling and treatment services to incarcerated people. Counseling services typically address mental and behavioral health issues. These programs include a self-help program, group therapy, and individual counseling. Additionally, the prison offers the Challenge Program that addresses cognitive, behavioral health, and psychological factors, among other issues that may deter an incarcerated person from becoming a responsible citizen. All people held at the facility participate in anger management, stress management, critical thinking, and the impact of crime on victims’ classes. People receive counseling or treatment depending on specific needs. 

  • Substance Abuse Treatment

Drug treatment programs have shown success in reducing recidivism, criminality, relapse, and inmate misconduct. All people must undergo a drug screening (urinalysis, blood test) upon arrival at the facility. The prison then assigns specific substance abuse treatment programs to incarcerated persons depending on the damage severity. Big Sandy USP hosts a Residential Drug Abuse Program. Group classes for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Drug Abuse Education are also available. Non-Residential Drug Abuse Treatment is available for inmates serving short sentences and those that do not qualify for the RDAP. 

  • Work Programs

Generally, medically able incarcerated people are eligible to participate in work details. Work assignments typically include employment at the warehouse or food service. Additionally, an inmate can work as a plumber, groundskeeper, painter, or inmate orderly. Incarcerated people can earn from $12 to $40 depending on the work detail. 


UNICOR is Federal Prison Industries (FPI) trade identity. It is an autonomous government corporation tasked with selling market-priced and quality services and goods produced by incarcerated people. Most importantly, these programs equip people with the skills necessary for transition to law-abiding and contributing members after release. Big Sandy USP’s central unit has a UNICOR facility that produces clothing and textiles. The Camp, on the other hand, does not offer UNICOR. 

  • Recreation Programs

The facility allows people to participate in approved indoor and outdoor recreational activities. People can utilize the facility’s gym to engage in physical fitness and intramural sports. Additionally, table games and art classes are available. 

  • Library Services

Like all other federal institutions, Big Sandy USP offers access to law and a leisure library. The law library contains legal reference material and services for the preparation of legal papers.  On the other hand, the leisure library has a vast selection of reading materials, including newspapers, magazines, references, and fiction and non-fiction books. Incarcerated individuals can also access computers and copiers. 

Prison Intake

Upon arrival to the facility, staff from case management, mental health, and dental units interview and screen each individual. The facility then assigns people to the Admission and Orientation Program. This program offers a formal orientation to all services, programs, procedures, and policies of the institution. Generally, the prison provides an Admission and Orientation Handbook to help them adjust to prison life, especially during the initial incarceration. 

Personal Property

The prison limits the amount of property an incarcerated individual can possess due to safety, security, and sanitation concerns. Personal property can include photographs, jewelry, magazines, books, among others. Usually, the facility provides basic needs necessary for survival behind bars, including hygiene items, clothing, bedding, and laundry services. Incarcerated people can purchase other personal care items from the kiosk, such as recreational clothing, shoes, food, and hygiene items.  The prison generally does not permit people to possess civilian clothes during incarceration; civilian clothing refers to clothes not issued by the facility or purchased from the commissary. 

Incarcerated individuals may possess the following items:

  • Items authorized to retain after admission to the prison
  • Articles issued by authorized staff
  • Items received or purchased through approved channels such as those in compliance with institution guidelines or approved by staff for receipt.

All other items that do not comply with the above and are considered contraband are seized and destroyed. Alternatively, the prison may mail the property of the institution at the incarcerated person’s expense. Contraband items that potentially threaten the safety and security of the institution may result in criminal prosecution or

disciplinary action.


The thought of searching for meaningful employment upon release can be daunting, particularly for people incarcerated for a long time. Most incarcerated people acquire vital skills from the already discussed programs and services. However, individuals nearing release need to relearn how effectively seek employment. Although preparation typically begins on the first day of incarceration in federal prisons, intense release preparation starts at least 18 months before release. The jail usually holds a mock job fair to offer incarcerated individuals a chance to practice interview skills. Additionally, the facility exposes the skills to community recruiters. Qualified people can apply for job openings with companies with slots at this point. 

The program also involves community-based organizations’ presentations aimed at assisting incarcerated people in finding jobs and offering training opportunities when they complete their time. Even better, the BOP places qualified people in Residential Reentry programs to help them adjust to community life and find employment before release. With Reentry, incarcerated individuals are eligible for clothing, transportation money to their destinations after release, and release gratuity. 

Sending Money

Individuals housed in any federal facility, including Big Sandy, can freely receive funds from their family members, friends, or any other legal community contact. Individual facilities will often offer basic needs and essential services, but these might not be enough for any level of comfort. As such, receiving money from outside gives the imprisoned individuals access to additional items and services. However, to send money to a person in this prison, you have to use the authorized avenues. Learn more about these means in this incredibly resourceful article that we have prepared for you:


Big Sandy USP encourages incarcerated individuals to have visits to maintain family and community ties during incarceration. Typically, the prison hands a visitation form during admission, so an inmate fills out the names of potential visitors. Visiting at this prison is open to incarcerated people on a point system; each afforded ten visitation points each month. The prison may impose time limits in the visiting room in case of overcrowding. People must direct special visits request to the designated Unit Manager. 

On the actual day of the visit, the visits must provide valid photo identification, including a state ID card or a state driver’s license with full names and signatures. The facility does not consider birth certificates as a proper form of identification. 

The penitentiary expects all visitors in a manner deemed as of good taste. Suggestive or revealing clothing can result in denial of visit

Visitation schedule:

  • At the USP

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Federal Holidays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm

  • At the Camp 

Saturday, Sunday, and Federal Holidays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm

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