Lockdowns are ever present and occur at all prisons, regardless of security level, from
Supermax to a Camp. It’s something that arrives unexpectedly and can occur at any time. They
range in severity from simple ones that can last for hours to major security issues that can play
out over the span of months, from minor annoyance to major inconvenience. And, they all
begin with something called a “recall” announced over the prison’s PA system.

The most basic are “census recalls” done randomly, once a month. They typically last for an
hour or two, as the prison administration stops to asses things. The point is to keep you on
your toes and readily accessible. At a Camp, without a fence, disappearing during the day to
get involved in some offsite activities is always a possibility. At higher levels of security,
inmates can find themselves stuck in places they shouldn’t be, like in a friend’s housing unit or
at some other location where they’re up to no good. The idea of the census recall is to limit the
likelihood of inmates playing Russian Roulette, taking chances on being sent to the SHU. You
generally stay in place when these are called, counted where you are, unless told otherwise.

For any recall besides Census you are expected to immediately return to your bunk, no matter
what you are doing, even if dripping wet from sweat at recreation. Some people will try to rush
in and get in a shower before things are fully locked down, but often you don’t even get that
chance. No excuses, no questions asked. The reasons for a recall can be for anything from the
Captain running a drill, discovery of contraband, or some fight breaking out in the yard or some
unit. If you happen to be in a Pen (penitentiary) during any such fight, recall will be preceded
by a looped announcement to immediately hit the ground because “deadly force has been
authorized,” real serious stuff.

Any lockdown beyond a few hours, typically results from a major prison-wide fight or discovery
of excessive hard contraband (alcohol, drugs and cell phones) in common areas. While
everyone was clearly not involved, you all get punished equally. The lingering affects from a
fight can pose genuine security issues, as race riots are a very real possibility. We had a
full-blown battle royale break out between two groups during a basketball game at Miami Low,
and even brief instances of the same at the Camp. The idea of the lockdown is to dial down the
temperature and try to remove the instigators. The lockdown, however, sometimes has the
opposite affect as tensions rise from being hunkered down like caged animals. You never know
until the gates re-open. As for any lockdown due to excessive hard-contraband, the entire
point is group punishment, to root out inmates who will tell on others. The only problem is that
guys who get caught snitching rarely get any benefit themselves but earn the wrath of fellow
inmates. I’ve seen several who had to voluntarily check-in to the SHU (and out to another
prison) for their own safety.

Sometimes a prison will merely take away several privileges instead of enforcing a full lockdown. A
combination of either eliminating visits, recreation, or access to emails, telephones and commissary, to let you know they mean business. The ironic part is that the vast majority of the inmates causing
the problem don’t use these privileges anyway. They don’t get get visits because family lives far
away and have no need for the prison phone because they chat and text away on their illegal
cell. And, even after their cell phone gets pinched, it’s usually replaced by another later the
same day from some other hidey hole. Ask any prison officer and he or she will tell you, off the
record, mass punishment is implemented to encourage inmates to police themselves. It’s a
tactic that’s effective at higher security prisons where “shot callers” (think – leaders of the
various prison gangs) keep things in check, but not so well at Camps and most Lows where stuff
like that simply doesn’t exist. Yet, prison administration only knows one way and they need to
show they’re doing something. It’s pure Kabuki Theater. The problem is, when you enact group
punishment this way it can have serious unintended consequences. Besides undermining the
morale of both the officers (who now have extra work) and inmates (who fight over what
limited privileges remain), drug use run rampant and many inmates get carried with nothing
else to do, which resulted in at least one overdose death of a young father at Miami Camp.

When most people think of a lockdown, though, it involves, complete confinement to your cell –
24/7. You may, or may not, be given one last chance to access phones or email to notify friends
and loved ones that you’ll be indefinitely unavailable. Many times they sadly only find out after
driving a long way to visit, only to be turned away. Lockdowns can last for any duration. Some
higher security prisons may stay locked down for up to six months, or longer, and even at
Miami Low we once had a lockdown that lasted an entire month. Boxed meals were delivered,
served through a hatch in the door, sometimes with expirations dates well past those
recommended by the manufacture, until they started arriving with no dates at all. We were
allowed out to shower, twice a week, in domino succession, supervised by officers. Even after
that lockdown ended, recreation was only one hour a day, divided by Unit, for another month
before things resumed to normal. Frankly, I’m told we had it easy compared higher security
joints. At Camp Miami, they made more use of the “modified” lockdown, in order to avoid
reporting unusual activity to the Regional Office, and looking so incompetent that they couldn’t
even keep a Camp in check. We’d just have most privileges revoked but would retain one or
two and be allowed to walk a tiny interior courtyard for an hour a day.

Lockdowns are a constant reminder, among many others, that aside from air, water and some
type of food, you’ve forfeited almost all of your rights. Anything and everything may be taken
away at a moment’s notice under the rubric of “security concerns”, which is a generic BOP
speak to justify anything and everything they want to. If you don’t like it, then you could always
pursue the ridiculous “administrative remedy” process which I’ll cover in a separate article.
That, unfortunately, and as you’d expect, works like a Catch-22, sending you around in circles
until you almost always, inevitably, throw up your hands in defeat.