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 Women’s Federal Prison Camp 

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Michael Santos

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The federal prison camp in Dublin, California, is also known as Pleasanton. The prison includes a minimum-security prison camp, and a low-security prison. Two women serving time in the camp offered their thoughts about living at the federal prison.

Surrendering to a Federal Prison Camp for Women:

Coming to the satellite, federal prison camp in Dublin, CA may feel like a terrifying experience for anyone who has never been to Federal Prison before.

In reality, though, it’s not as scary as it may seem.

Being prepared by getting as much information as I could before I self-surrendered definitely eased my anxiety. Most of what I am about to tell you pertains to how the institution is being ran, post-pandemic; a lot has changed since 2017, and still changing, but I do see things slowly going back to normal again.

For now, I offer this advice, as it is relevant to anyone about to surrender to a women’s minimum-security federal prison camp.

When a person self-surrenders, the person will only need to bring three things into the federal prison camp:

  • A valid identification,
  • Currency to fund the commissary account, and
  • A piece of paper that has a few phone numbers and addresses (most people don’t have this info memorized due to reliance on cell phones).

I’d recommend bringing $300 to 500 in cash. Those funds will be sufficient to buy what you need to be comfortable and for the email usage.

Right now, phone calls and video chats are paid for under the CARES Act. In time, those perks may go away. Staff members will mail home the clothes and shoes a person wears into the federal prison camp after they process the person inside.

How is the Federal Prison Camp at Dublin Structured?

The camp is one building. Every department is under the same roof. There are only two housing units. Each of the housing units hold about 100 women. One of the units has been transformed into a quarantine unit. The housing units have cells for two-people, and each cell has a toilet and a sink.

Once a person arrives, staff will hold the person in quarantine for two to three weeks. The person gets tested for COVID-19 at the start and end of your quarantine period.

Staff members do not allow phone calls or emails during the quarantine period. A person can receive incoming mail. When a person gets mail, the staff members will copy the letter and deliver the copy—not the original letter. Some people find it difficult to get a pencil and paper to write an outgoing letter.

The orderlies in the housing unit try to communicate. They relay any requests to the officers who only make rounds every hour.

While in quarantine, a person is on “lockdown” 24 hours a day. A person only leaves the cell on days when showers are scheduled, currently on Tuesday and Fridays only.

Staff members bring all meals to the cell. Breakfast arrives at 6:00 am, lunch comes around 11:00 am, and the staff serve dinner between 3:00 and 5:00 pm.

Medical staff members will come to take the person’s temperature daily and provide medications if needed.

There are plenty of books that a person can choose from to read and pass the time. Family members and friends can order books from Amazon.

General Housing Population at Dublin Federal Prison Camp:

Once the staff members transfer a person from quarantine to the housing unit, the staff will assign the person to a two-person cell right away; we call it a cell, but it’s really just a room with a door—not bars.

The laundry girls will call the newly arrived person upstairs to size her and issue her uniforms and bedding.

A person should always listen to the PA announcements for news pertaining to those identified as a “new commit.”

The system does not allow a person to place a call and send an email until the person receives the identifying information, known as a Personal Access Code (PAC).

Once a person gets the PAC from either the counselor or case manager, an inmate orderly will walk the new commit through the process of how to get set up on the communication system. The cumbersome process requires patience.

All people assigned to serve a federal prison sentence inside the minimum-security camp must work on an assigned work detail. I recommend talking to other people about the available jobs and what each job entails. That way a person will have an idea of the different work assignments.

A person can apply for the best-suited job. Many options exist, including jobs in Food Service, Warehouse, Garage, Recycling, Landscape, Maintenance, Education, Trust Fund, or Custodial/Orderly. Once the pandemic ends, other jobs will open back up, such as work at the Army base, cleaning at the Presidio, and UNICOR Town Driver.

Facilities in the Federal Prison Camp at Dublin:

The camp offers an outdoor recreation patio and a volleyball court, a basketball court, picnic tables, exercise equipment, and free weights.

The inside of the housing unit offers ellipticals, bikes and a fitness room to exercise along with fitness videos. People have access to plenty of equipment to keep fit and healthy. There are programs such as Adult Education distance learning, health and wellness courses, Religious Services, and Arts and Crafts. A person can purchase hobby items such as yarn, embroidery thread, and cardstock to make projects and send them home to your family.

The camp is small, but staff members operate it in a relaxed way. Some may feel that there is not a whole lot to explore, that it is boring, and not many resources. But a person can easily pass time at the camp by participating in all their programs, working out, doing hobby craft projects, watching TV, reading drawing, writing. I recommend that people use the time to work on self-development and personal growth. Family support can be especially helpful, as you can request books and journals sent to you.

As the pandemic lifts its weight on the world, the institution will slowly open back up and resume normal operations. Eventually, the visiting will return to normal, the outside track will open for more hours, and more jobs will become available. They are still offering the vaccine to anyone who decides to take it.

Coming from the camp to the FCI to join the RDAP program, is a little bit of an adjustment because the compound is much larger.

The FCI at Dublin has six housing units, and each housing unit holds between 100 and 150 women per unit. It also has separate buildings for each department. Women participating in RDAP go through the drug treatment program, in accordance with a “modified therapeutic community” with stricter rules and requirements.

The RDAP unit is a “programming” unit, with requirements for counseling sessions known as “treatment” for the first half of the day. People in RDAP do not participate on job assignments while in treatment.

A person must stay uniform and boots from 6:00 am until 2:00 pm every weekday. The people must keep rooms clean and in order during this time as well. The staff members place a very big emphasis on cleanliness and tidiness especially in the RDAP unit.

Staff members that teach RDAP rely upon an approved curriculum. Further, the participating women must hold each other accountable for behavior. With a zero tolerance for insolence, some women consider it a stressful environment to some, at times. For those looking to improve a quality of life, learn valuable tools to help you reenter society, and correct your criminal thinking and behaviors, The RDAP unit can be helpful. To participate, a person needs to have a documented history of drug or alcohol abuse.

Post COVID, each housing unit is divided by work detail. ‘A’ houses UNICOR workers, ‘B’ houses kitchen and food service workers, ‘C’ houses elderly/medical needs and new commits, ‘D’ houses RDAP participants, ‘E’ is maintenance and ‘F’ is landscaping.

Movement in the Federal Women’s Prison Camp:

Currently, staff members only allow the women in two housing units to “cohort,” which means to walk around. Staff members must escort the women to work details and follow a monitored movement schedule. The staff allow women from certain units to visit other parts of the facility in accordance with a specified schedule.

Each unit is allowed to go to Recreation and/or Chapel twice per week. Staff members also limit access to educational programs.

As of May 2021, staff members authorize classes such as Baking, Cake Decorating, ServSafe Food Handlers, ServSafe Food Managers Certification, ACT WorkKeys, Adult Education Distance Learning by Coastline College and Las Positas College. If a woman works in Maintenance, she can also join the apprenticeship program in Welding, HVAC, Electrical, or Plumbing.

A woman can find all the standard information by going online to the BOP website. For the sake of redundancy, I won’t go into the rules and regulations.

Personally, my experience at the camp and at the FCI has had its ups and downs. There was a time we felt overcrowded, with women sleeping on cots, in rooms that were converted from an office to a cell without lockers or sinks or toilets.

There was a time when we had a mouse infestation. There were plenty of times when the water heater went out, and we’d either take a cold shower or walk outside to use the shower trailer.

As a matter of fact, the RDAP unit has had no warm water for longer than five weeks and we are still waiting for the staff to replace the boiler.

Despite these inconveniences, it’s only as bad as a person makes it out to be. I’ve heard of really bad stories where officers will spit on inmates, call a person names and act disrespectfully, or use force unnecessarily. I have not seen any of that at the federal prison camp in Dublin, and I’ve been locked in this institution for almost four years.

I find the staff at the federal prison camp in Dublin to be cordial and approachable, even when listening to complaints. Like anywhere else, we’ll see some people that are moody or rude. For the most part, staff members will look at a person in the eye when talking. I’ve even heard of some inmates get called by their first name, which is nice.

The women serving time are also friendly, both at the camp and FCI, and a woman should expect to get plenty of help upon arriving. More than one person will offer essentials, I can guarantee it. 

My advice to a woman surrendering to serve time in a federal prison is to remain resilient, roll with the punches, practice stress reduction methods, and remember that if you keep yourself busy (and stick to the rules), your time will pass with less stress.

The article below describes the experiences of a woman that served several years in the federal prison camp for women, in Dublin.

Tina P.

Tina’s Experience at Dublin Satellite Prison Camp

Tina’s Experience at Dublin Satellite Prison Camp

When I am asked about my experience in federal prison, I always start by saying, “we are not in Kansas anymore,Toto.”

On television and in books, prison looks scary.  In my experience, with the right mindset prison is what you make of it, regardless of the designation. I went into prison alone, and when it was over, I left. Believe me, I am not trying to scare anyone. In sharing my story, I’m offering an authentic dose of reality. 

Some prisoners have permission to report, or “self-surrender,” on their own. I was not that fortunate. I made the journey on a bus loaded with other prisoners.

I was a girl from Montana. I gasped when I saw the federal prison in California known as FCI Dublin. The place had by yards and yards of razor wire around it. I thought I might pass out.  I told myself: “You’ve really screwed your life up this time!!!”

When the bus arrived at FCI Dublin, guards divided the “campers” and the “FCI girls” into two separate lines.  I couldn’t get a feel for what was happening because prisoners were not allowed to speak to anyone.

I went to intake for processing, then walked with guards over to the Camp, if that is where you have been designated. 

Meeting Ms. Connie:

As soon as we walked into the door, I knew that I was going to be fine. I met a woman, who to this day I will never forget. Her name was Ms. Connie, 75 years old and quite a spitfire.

She came right up to all of us that had been brought over from intake and said to come with her. Miss Connie was going to make sure we were alright.  She took us on a tour of the compound, gave us a brief show of where all of the administrative offices were located, and then she showed us to our rooms. 

Most of the federal prison camps for women are not the same as those for men. Some camps, like Dublin, hold two people to a room. Other federal prison camps are “dormatory” style. They offer cubicles with several people in a confined space, but all in an open area. 

I figured that would be the last that I saw of Miss Connie. But I was wrong!!  She rounded us all up that evening after we had settled into our rooms and helped us get on the computer and phone.  She then went around introducing us to all of her friends and different women that she knew.

It was at that time that I started getting showered with items. The women at the camp spend their money on extra hygiene products so that a person can shower and freshen up after the journey.

Some women do not come with funds right away.  A lot of times, a person doesn’t get to the Commissary for a week or two.

I always made sure to pay it forward to the new women, because I knew how it felt when I first got to the federal prison camp.

Once a person gets a bedroll, the person needs to learn the rules. All sorts of “rules” apply to the Inmate Code of Conduct. No one describes what this code means. A person learns along the way, figuring out how to serve time in prison.

I know we are in prison, but there is still a respect of boundaries, other people and your elders.  If you get assigned to a room, please whatever you do, do not move your stuff in to it if the roommate is at work.  That is a No No.  This was well pointed out by one of the ladies who had been there for over 10 years and was not happy that someone had come into her room.  The lady that we came with who had been in and out of prison for years proceeded to just go into the room and make herself at home, moving the personal belongings of the new roommate that she had not met.  Well fireworks flew when she came back to her room.  That was the first meeting we had of the “Godmother” of the unit.  It was my first meeting of a very tall Hawaiian woman who did not take crap from anyone….I found out later everyone was afraid of her.  She is the one who ran the unit.  She decided what was watched on one of the TV’s, knew everything that was going on, who did not get along with this or that person, what was the latest gossip and if you wanted the unit quiet, just ask and she would yell.  You could hear a pin drop after her yell. 

There were a lot of girls that I met who I really admired after I had been there awhile.  Several ladies would confide in me that they thought they could get away with their crime because they needed the money to feed their kids.  I had a lot of respect and gave a lot of motherly advice to girls between the ages of 19 to 21 year old women who did not have a mother figure in their life and were mothers themselves. One of my friends that I made while I was there was on a video call with her sons three times a week making sure they had their homework done and help them with it, would watch 25 minutes of a baseball game on their video call so she could be included.  Another one of the girls would try and parent their child over the phone by reading books to them for 15 minutes at bedtime so they could maintain some type of contact with their young child and would talk to her older child about how school was that day and what was happening in her life such as new boyfriends or the latest dance craze on Tik Tok.

Most of us would agree that the hardest thing about being in prison is being away from our family, friends and loved ones.  Some of the girls told me that the hardest thing about being away was not being in the “real world”.  I always made sure that I read newspapers, watched TV and tried to stay up on current events.  In an environment like this, the “real world” can seem like you are on Mars.

Our adjustment in prison is how we deal with life, and as we know, life can deal us some pretty bad hands on a daily basis.  This was apparent in some of the ladies attitudes.  One girl I remember was a rebel and did not want to follow simple rules.  She was always pouting around and did not want to participate in anything that was going on in the facility.  If you followed the rules, your time went by easier.

All inmates in the Federal Prison system are assigned some sort of job.  It is part of your programming that your case manager will discuss with you.  It could range from working in a warehouse driving a forklift and building pallets of food to send to the kitchens for meals, to working as an orderly keeping the common areas of the prison clean.  After we would get back from the jobs, we were on our own.  This is where trouble could start.  As the saying goes idle hands are the devil’s workshop.  I would entertain myself and to be honest, that is how I did my time and got thru 12 years I ended up serving.  To make my time go by easier, I would watch TV, crochet, knitting and cross stitching.  I would also volunteer to facilitate inmate run classes.  The more that I had to do, the happier I was.  I even would help girls that worked in the warehouses with their laundry just to keep myself busy. 

Now of course you had the exact opposite.  You need to remember you are now living in a community where there are many walks of life, different nationalities, many types of religions and religious beliefs as well as women who have been abused or come from neglected or drug infested homes. A lot of the women did not know how to read, balance a checkbook or write a resume.  I noticed that these were the ladies that wanted to sleep when they got back from their “forced” job as they see it and basically do nothing.  These were the ladies that were always in trouble with staff, did not get along with others and were unapproachable.

A lot of the ladies would say “another day down and one more day closer to home”.  That was how a lot of them got themselves thru the days of prison.  If you approached everyday as if you need to get what you need to do done, you can go to bed and wake up the next day and keep pushing forward.

As I said earlier, Dublin Satellite Prison is one of the older prisons.  It used to be a men’s detention facility and so it is structured in that way.  Cells with bunk beds and the sink and toilet in the room.  I have never been to any of the other Camps within the BOP, however I understand that Dublin is completely different.

This facility does have its advantages and now that we are heading toward a possible post-COVID world, hopefully things will get back to normal.  On the weekends the girls try and get a volleyball tournament together and we all go out there and cheer them on like we are a high school cheerleading squad.  The music is cranked up loud and we have a good time.  A lot of the girls go out and sit in the sun, remember we are in California and read a book or just close their eyes and meditate to bring them some peace. 

Right now, in this age of Covid, Dublin is one of the smaller camps.  We have around 90 women.  That is small compared to other facilities.  We all know each other, live with each other day in and day out and become sort of a family.  During the holidays are the hardest.  All of us try and keep each other in the spirit of the holiday season and we put on choir concerts, have a holiday party, where the ladies cook for all of the inmates with food we purchased on Commissary.

If you are on your way to federal prison, my advice to you is to keep your head up.  You will get thru this.  It is a detour in your road of life.  If you go into with an attitude of “I can do this” you will come out the other end a more enlightened person and ready to become a productive member of society.  While you are in whichever facility you end up in, take advantage of courses they have to offer.  Every facility has a different vocation you can learn and maybe end up with a whole new career when you are released.  Take advantage of help from other inmates.  DO NOT BE TO TRUSTING.  Make sure that you watch your back and your personal property.  Do not brag about having a lot of money, you will then have a lot of new “friends” at your door.  Keep personal information to yourself, again, let me say it again, you came by yourself, you leave by yourself.

I hope my story has been of some comfort to you in this stressful part of your life.  You will be fine and can come out a better person.  Just make the best of this situation and hold your head up high.  Going to prison does not define you.  You just made a mistake and will get your second chance.

Tina P.

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