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Lunch Hour at USP Lompoc

By Roy Lonewolf, Prisoner of the Drug War

One of the traditional ways Americans utilize their lunch hour from one coast to the other, is to engage in some type of physical activity. In the hectic work environment of this modern culture it is considered wise time management. Not only does jogging utilize a period of time that not so long ago was relegated to caloric bombardment, it now brings to the work place the mental and physical benefits that such exercise produces: stress reduction, energy level, and overall better health.

No place are the mental and physical benefits more pronounced than in the Federal Prison Industries environment. If you can imagine combining the elements of prison life with the elements of a full time job in a manufacturing format, then one could see where the lunch hour workout serves as a useful tool for the benefit of all concerned, inmates and staff alike.

This has been the tradition for decades and decades in the federal prison system. A lot of the guys who work in Unicor (Federal Prison Industries) utilize their lunch hour like millions of other working Americans in an exercise format. In fact, unless you want to go to a chow hall where the decibel level is equivalent to a flight deck of an aircraft carrier during take off and landings, and the food very military like, the yard is the only alternative in the prison setting.

Here at the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc, California a new spin has been put on lunch time exercise. It is no longer permissible to utilize normal exercise clothing.

The vehicle by which this has been accomplished is simple in its enactment; you are not allowed to take anything to work except 2 packs of cigarettes and your ID card. Now, combine this with the policy of not being able to go back to your cell during the lunch hour and one can see that lunchtime exercise takes on a whole new perspective for those who wish to engage in it.

Enactment of this policy has to do with an incident that happened this last April when a lone inmate attacked a staff member and the end of that mayhem resulted in a staff member's death and several others injured. When staff are asked the reason for this new policy the response varies depending on who your speaking too, but the most popular seems to be a toss up between "Orders from the warden" to an aggressive, "Safety-it will save lives."

With much grumbling and complaining, convicts as a normal course of things, in this environment with a bureaucratic organizational structure, accept and adapt. It is the adaptation process that amazes me. Before this policy change, we carried our accoutrements in large meshed-cloth, see-through bags. Things like workout clothes, radios, weight-belt, gloves, wraps, towels, ointments, lotions, water bottles, etc., were easily transported to and from work. Now, a whole new cottage industry has developed for smuggling these innocuous accoutrements. If one does not wish to risk smuggling his own stuff out to work, there are "mules" who will gladly take on the task for the right amount of cigarettes or other compensation.

The other day I had to reflect on the absurdity of my own actions as I prepared to go to work with enough gear for my lunch hour jog. I was wearing my headband on my right leg under my trousers, my jock-strap was wrapped around my left leg, again, under my trousers, the sweat rag that I use to wipe the sweat out of my eyes during the course of my run was stuffed inside my two (2) pairs of socks that I happen to be wearing; one pair designated to be my running socks. I disguised my under arm deodorant in my pocket to look like a pack of cigarettes, had a Peanut Butter sandwich crammed in the waistband of my running shorts, which were under my trousers, and wore my running shoes to work. I looked like somebody out of a "Far Side" cartoon. Had I been stopped and shook-down (searched), I would have been immediately taken to Psych. Services for an evaluation.

Even though we go through two to three metal detectors in the course of going to or from work to the yard, this policy surely serves no other purpose other than to harass the inmates. As a long established resident of this facility, I will continue to strive for the "safety" of inmates and staff alike as I hide my jockstrap and headband because I know in my heart; " saves lives."

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