Co-Founders of Prison Professors
Shon Hopwood and Michael Santos are co-founders of Prison Professors. We help people prepare for best outcomes after they’ve been charged with a crime.
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My name is Joshua Boyer. On February 8, 2001, I was arrested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) after becoming involved in a sting operation in Tampa, Florida. In July, I proceeded to a jury trial and was convicted of numerous drug and firearm violations. While my criminal history was limited, conviction on these counts exposed me to a significant sentence. Due to mandatory minimum penalties associated with federal conspiracy offenses and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, I faced a minimum sentence of 20 years. Several months after the guilty verdict, the United States District Court imposed a 24-year term.
Due to the nature of my convictions and security concerns expressed by the United States Marshals Service, the Community Corrections Manager (CCM) designated me to the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois (FCI Pekin). Based on the aforementioned determination (i.e., belief I posed an escape risk), the Bureau of Prisons placed me in a medium security institution. As fate would have it, I spent the first ten years of my federal sentence at FCI Pekin. Making me somewhat of an aficionado.
Given FCI Pekin’s location in the Midwest and close proximity to Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, there was a significant gang presence at the institution. The potential for violence was significant. However, I found that staying to myself and limiting interaction with certain problematic groups
exponentially decreased the possibility of trouble with fellow inmates.
We were housed in either 2 or 3-man cells. Off the bus, you could generally expect to start off in a 3-man cell. Eventually a more desirable 2-man cell would become available. Which offered additional space and opportunities for brief periods of solitude that inevitably come along with sharing small quarters with one (rather than two) people.
Educational and vocational opportunities at FCI Pekin were limited. The education department offered classes in business management through a local community college. However, the education department did not offer additional courses required to obtain a degree.
Vocational experience could only be acquired through jobs offered in Unicor prison industries or facilities. At Unicor, inmates manufactured metal goods by running a break press, welding or utilizing other industrial equipment. Machinist apprenticeships through the US Department of Labor were available to select inmates after completing a specified number of hours. Additionally, Unicor jobs were highly coveted due to the pay scale. These positions offered the highest rate of pay on the compound. Apprenticeships in plumbing, electrical, and HVAC were also available to select inmate employed through facilities upon completing course material and a specific number of hours working in those fields. Grade one positions at facilities also merited significantly more pay than most work assignments available at this particular institution.
Despite the highly restrictive nature of confinement provided at FCI Pekin, one can successfully navigate the potential pitfalls with relative ease by keeping things simple. Avoid getting into debt, gambling on credit, and using drugs. I managed my time relatively well. Spent numerous hours each day in the law library conducting research and writing. Other inmates did the same who were interested in trading stock or routinely came together to discuss their business plans for the future. Routine and regimented activities are vital to remaining on track. Focused, goal-oriented individuals will do well in spite of the difficulties posed by Pekin’s somewhat rigorous correctional environment.