Day 1 in Prison, Life in the Shu | Noah Bergland’s Story

Day 1 in Prison, Life in the Shu | Noah Bergland | construction2style

So here we are September 3rd, 2013, the day I had been preparing for since 2011.

2011, the year I started to have an idea that I may be in some trouble.

Certainly, by that visit at the beginning of 2012, the days the feds came…. I  knew I was going to serve some prison time. So I did what I could mentally and physically to get ready for the inevitable.

I didn’t have to surrender until about two or three in the afternoon, we got there early, but I knew my mom and aunt had a long drive back, so we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and got some breakfast and headed to the location on the GPS.

As we were hitting our exit I could see the prison off to the left, and as we got closer, my stomach started to turn, and I realized nothing could get you completely ready for this moment.

I didn’t know how long I was going to have to stay here, but I knew I would be there or in some other prison for the next seven to ten years of my life.

As we approached the front door, completely unaware of the protocol, all I knew was that I had to do it without crying…incase there were inmates on the other side of wherever they were going to take me.

My mom and aunt were unable to keep it together as their eyes filled with tears, and we said our goodbye, and I just told myself, “Stay strong, we can do this.”

They left, and I went with the guard at the front door, and they took me inside to a secure room where they stripped me out and gave me a khaki jumpsuit, some very uncomfortable underwear, socks, and very cheap looking pair of Chuck Taylors that slipped on with no laces.

They informed me there was no room for me on the compound so I will be going to the SHU (Special Housing Unit) also known as “the hole,” (Not a great place), where I would be held until some bed space opened up.

Milan, Michigan was a facility that housed over a thousand inmates, and it was packed. I found out later this was the case with all the FCI “Lows” around the country, due to a log jam effect of people coming from the higher-ups, country jails, or self-surrenders, and not being able to go to the minimums or camps, due to their records.

I was thinking well what better time to find out the worst-case scenario than fresh off the street.

Also, Milan was built in the 1930s and the hole I was staying in, which was built that same year, resembled something from Shashank Redemption, four tiers stacked on one another, four to six cells wide, with cells backed up to each other facing in opposite directions.

I am guessing it housed between 50-80 guys and from the sound of it, it was pretty full. Since we are in the SHU, we might as well talk about the life of someone spending time there.

First, why do people go to the hole (SHU)?

Well, it’s usually for disciplinary acts or a protective custody reason. Different disciplinary acts could range from fighting, intoxication, drugs\ use or possession, conflict with staff or inmates, investigation, being out of bounds, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Prison is very unpredictable, and you can easily get sucked into some shit that you didn’t plan on being involved in by simply choosing to go to the library or watch some TV.

Next thing you know you and twenty other people are in the hole under investigation, and that is where you will be until they sort things out.

I was lucky to only experience those first three days in the hole and never went back. But, one other time I got caught in the wrong unit, and they put me in a holding cell in the hole to scare me into not going into the wrong unit again and then released me right before count time. However, as for protective custody reason, someone might check-in because they do not feel safe on the compound and if the officers feel it threatens the security of the prison they will hold the inmate in the SHU until they determine what to do with that inmate.

So, as I said earlier, I only did three days in the hole, but it was long enough to get an idea of what it is like to spend time there because those three days were the longest day of my time.

I also have talked to people over the years who have spent longer amounts of time in solitary confinement both with a roommate or by themselves. From my one experience, I can tell you is it is chaotic.

Inmates are yelling from 7 am until 11 pm, and they are generally talking about nonsense. These are people who have been here a while and may not be holding up as well as the ones that keep quiet. As you start to do months or years in the hole, you start to go crazy or lose your mind. Your thoughts start coming to the surface, and they eventually become voices, and you may even respond to those voices because you are so desperate for conversation and eventually letters and one phone call a month doesn’t cut the cake.

SHU time is not for everyone; just the same as prison is not for everyone.

Some people can’t handle one day in the hole, just like some guys can’t handle one year in prison.

This is one reason why many suicides happen in the hole because it may start to seem like the only way out. It all comes down to how strong your inner self is.

Just like doing dope some people can do drugs for 25 years, might look like shit, but mentally still intact, and some can do a drug for a short period and they are never the same again.

The hole is a dangerous place and not because you are at a heightened risk of getting raped or killed, which can also happen here, but because the mental state is such a fragile thing.

It’s like the engine in your head keeps spinning, and there is an annoying noise, like a radio station you can’t get a signal on, and that noise is consistent. It’s like living in a house next to some railroad tracks, and a train is going by the whole time you live there, you would eventually lose your fucking mind. Another aspect of the SHU or hole life is the creativity that stems from the experience.

People are also very creative in prison, which I will get to…but in the hole your resources are even more limited, so you have to dig deeper.

For entertainment, inmates grid out a chessboard and yell out their moves to another inmate, A1 to A2, and so forth. In the three days I was there I never heard a single game go to the finish, they eventually get sidetracked because some other louder voices get their attention, and eventually the game restarts knowing they will never finish it.

How do you block out the noise, well one idea was, find any type of resin or epoxy or silicon and get your hands on a paper bag and make earplugs.

I thought that was pretty creative.

Contraband can be found at every prison in America, so all those same items can also be found in the hole. Liquor or Hooch is made in the toilets, or it is brought in anally or orally from incoming inmates, or through lunch trays.

How do you get items from cell to cell? Either by the orderly on duty or using a Cadillac or fishing line. This is a homemade contraption made out of thread from your bedding and a comb. You combine them to throw them out, and then other inmates throw theirs out, and you drag them over, connect the item, and have them reel it back in.

Inmates that do too much time in the hole or even in prison can start to revert to animalistic instincts or ways and can become very aggressive and violent if they feel their standards of living are not being met. It can be compared to a pit bull that is trained to fight, then you take that same dog for a walk, and it ends up attacking someone or something, and people wonder what happened? It makes it very hard for these inmates to go back out and reintegrate back into society.

Luckily I only spent those three days in the hole, and I am thankful for the experience right off the rip, so I could put things in perspective as different choices arose throughout my prison time. I never went back, nor ever will. Those three days were the longest days of the last six years of my life.

After three days, I was brought to laundry, received a bed roll, new clothes and boots, given a bunk number, and sent out into my new world…

Which we’ll chat on tomorrow. From the inside,

Day 1 in Prison, Life in the Shu | Noah Bergland | construction2style

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[…] was a life experience for sure. And my experience in the SHU was definitely on the other foot from what I grew up […]