Before Orange is the New Black was published, author Piper Kerman asked me if I would give her permission to use my real name in her memoir. I said yes, it was OK. She wanted to tell the story of my unfortunate experience while working as a tutor in the education program at the Federal Prison Camp in Danbury, Connecticut. This unfortunate experience resulted in my being sent to the segregation unit in the main prison (the Federal Correctional Institution). In the book, once I am taken away to segregation (called the “Special Housing Unit,” the SHU, or “seg”), I am never mentioned again, almost as if I have fallen off the face of the earth. But, alas, nothing quite that dramatic occurred to me, so here is my story.
day, the teacher told us that he would not be with us the following day. He had
to drive a perimeter truck all day. There were correctional officers who spent all day driving on the large campus of FCI Danbury. They carried a shotgun in the truck, probably to shoot escaping prisoners in the back. Fortunately, I don’t know of any time when the correctional officers actually used the guns (eeek).
By then, we had a third tutor. She had just
recently arrived at the camp, transferred from somewhere else. I was told it
was a county jail. She had only a short time left to serve her sentence and Merry Lee said that the new tutor had to “touch federal ground” before being
sent on to the halfway house. She appeared to agree with everything that the
teacher said. Merry Lee said that she did not trust the third tutor. Merry
Lee and I were also not too thrilled with the idea of that teacher driving a
truck equipped with a large gun. To us, he seemed like the sort of person who should be separated from all weaponry.
teacher showed us the grammar lesson that he expected us to teach the following
day. We told him that we would teach the lesson.
next day came, and class began. I looked at the lesson and noticed a multitude
of grammatical errors. The teacher was not present in the classroom. I stood
and told the students that the lesson was full of grammatical errors. Instead
of teaching this lesson, I would teach the class some basic editing techniques.
I explained to them that they would be more effective writers if they knew how
to edit their own work.
time, the students focused on their work and had stopped yelling to their
friends across the room. I left the classroom, feeling that the editing lesson
had been a success and that I had helped the students gain some valuable
next day, the teacher returned from his perimeter driving experience. He began
by criticizing Merry Lee and me for not following his lesson exactly. Later,
Merry Lee and I wondered who had told the teacher that we had changed the
lesson. We had no clue but we did have a few suspects. As it turned out, the
teacher was just warming up. He then told the students and the tutors that we
had to sign a “behavior contract,” which he handed out to all assembled. My
roommate and I quickly read the behavior contract, and we said that we would
not sign the document. We handed it back to the teacher.
teacher then decided to explain the behavior contract. He started reading, “There
will be no swearing or foul language used in class.”
he said, rubbing his head and nearly causing his toupee to fall off, “I don’t
mind if you say the occasional ‘shit’ or ‘fuck.’”
other kind of swearing is there, I wondered, fortunately not out loud.
teacher said that he would explain what sort of swearing was forbidden in
class. He began describing, in luridly graphic detail, the intimate points of
sex between women. He used foul language that I had never heard in my entire life, undoubtedly because I didn’t know anyone who used such foul language. “That is what people who are ‘gay for the stay’ do,” he declared.
is offensive,” Merry Lee said. She informed the students that they did not
have to sign the behavior contract. She glared at the teacher. She looked angry but she also looked as if she were on the verge of tears. I was surprised because it was usually me who cried about the school disaster. He ordered her
out of the room. She left.
teacher continued to shout for the rest of the class session.
class finally ended, and I returned to my room, exhausted from listening to a *teacher/correctional officer throw a temper tantrum that lasted for an entire
roommate and I decided that we would go to the counselor, the case manager, and
the unit manager to inform them of the sexual harassment that occurred in class
that evening. We agreed that we would go together the next day. We also agreed
not to include the third tutor because we were not sure if we could trust her.
(to be continued)
*almost all prison personnel, regardless of their title, are also “correctional officers. They carry huge key rings on their belts and they are encouraged to practice their gun skills at the firing range on prison grounds.