Every single employee on the compound is an officer, never forget that.  Whether it’s the chaplain, a psychiatrist, someone in Medical or your boss at Unicor who you get somewhat chummy with.  There is no confidentiality and they can turn on you in a heartbeat.  In fact, it’s part of their training to treat you with distrust and put you in your place.  Some just seem to relish that more than others.  They can frisk you at any time and all orders must be obeyed (unless they’re against the law or prison rules).   

Always treat them with respect and swallow your pride when you must.  It happens, a lot.  There will be a number of times, for instance, when you or a family member gets slighted or treated rudely, but it’s almost always best to diffuse the situation and let it go.  The potential consequence is much worse for you than it could ever be for them – it’s just not worth it. 

The various positions on the compound are:

  1. Warden
  2. Associate Warden(s)
  3. Camp Administrator (obviously only at a Camp)
  4. Captain
  5. Lieutenant
  6. Chaplain
  7. Unit Manager
  8. Case Manager
  9. Counselor
  10. Secretary
  11. Re-Entry CO
  12. Doctor/Dentist/Psychologist
  13. Nurse/Dental Assistant/Physician’s Assistant
  14. Food Service COs
  15. Education COs
  16. Recreation COs
  17. Unicor COs
  18. SHU COs
  19. Special Investigative Service COs
  20. R&D COs
  21. Laundry COs
  22. Unit COs
  23. Compound COs

The Warden is the big cheese, in charge of running the entire compound like a CEO.  Each has her or his own personality and style but, as a general rule, expect changes every time a new Warden arrives and it’s rarely positive.  Some Wardens are more approachable than others, as they occasionally walk the compound, particularly near Regional Inspection time (see Chapter 9).  That’s when they ride herd on everyone, promising the world, provided we cooperate in helping them pass.  You’ll also find that some are more apt to keep to those promises.  Warden Romero famously promised to remove 10-minute moves at Miami Low, only to renege once a passed Inspection was in hand.   Wardens generally rotate prisons every 18-24 months and are, therefore, not motivated to use a long-term management style.  As you’ll see, Wardens, Associate Wardens (AW), Captains and Camp Administrators come and go but COs will often stay at one location for most of their career.   

AWs are delegated administrative responsibilities by the Warden.  There are usually at least two per compound.  Almost all Wardens and AWs begin their career as a CO and work their way up through the system.  As a result, they’re not all that management savvy.  You’ll frequently see plenty of things that make no sense whatsoever, as they try to apply methods, they saw somewhere else, which brings us all to the conclusion that BOP actually stands for Backwards on Purpose.  

The Captain is in charge of control and discipline.  While she or he reports to the Warden and AW, the Captain is given fairly free range to decide on compound wide security-related restrictions and punishment.  These group punishments might include cancelling visits, closing recreation for an extended period-of-time, or even locking down the entire compound, depending on the seriousness of the event.  Several times both at the Low and in the Camp, we were locked down for weeks at a time, or longer, because of fights and excessive contraband.  In fact, even at a Camp, I was in some variation of lockdown for almost one-third of my final year in prison.  

There are several lieutenants and they all report to the Captain.  All officers, in turn, report to the lieutenants on matters of security but they also have a direct boss if they work in a particular department.  So, for example, a CO in Education reports directly to the head of Education but is also required to cooperate and comply with orders from a lieutenant.

Your UNIT TEAM is the most important and involved officer contact you have during your time in prison.  This group is comprised of a Case Manager, Unit Counselor and Secretary.  They, in turn, report to a Unit Manager, who’s in charge of several Unit Teams.  You’ll typically have minimal contact with a Unit Manager, other than to address issues regarding your Unit Team. 

Unit Team is supposed to engage in discussions about how you’re adapting to prison, help with concerns and aid in your adjustment back to society.  Good luck!  What you’ll actually discover is that these officers are much less helpful and more demeaning than BOP guidelines suggest.  You’re supposed to be seen by all members of your Unit Team within 30 days of arrival.  In reality, it will just be with your Case Manager.  She or he will give you a Sentence Computation Sheet (showing your “”release date after deductions for gain time), your security level analysis, and a Progress Report providing a breakdown of your status showing such things as whether you have a high school diploma, past disciplinary issues, any work restrictions (here’s where certain ailments built into your PSR come in handy) and restitution status.  You’ll then be told to sign a document indicating that you received these forms and asked if you have any questions.  Of course, you have no idea what the forms are nor any idea what questions to ask.  Even later, when you do, Case Managers are generally abrupt, have little time for you, and make that abundantly clear in both deed and attitude.  Don’t worry, though, fellow inmates can walk you through those documents and answer other questions that crop up.  “Teamings” are Unit Team reviews you’re given every 5-6 months thereafter, sprinkling in one or more additional officers (depending on your location), info on classes you’re taking, and your eligibility for and progress towards the First Step Act, until the day you leave. 

Unit Team members make themselves available to answer questions during something called Office Hours, typically one hour a day four days a week.  It’s mandated so they can’t get around it.  My experience was that’s the best time to get meaningful assistance.  Certain other departments like R&D and Education also have Office Hours to help resolve issues.   

Now for the breakdown of those positions.  You go to the Case Manager if you want to be transferred to another prison, request a treaty transfer (discussed in Chapter 9), need a furlough request form, and to discuss issues relating to release to Halfway House.[1]  Don’t expect much else, even though BOP guidelines suggest that she or he should be “helping you adjust to the institutional environment and prepare you for eventual release.”  Your Case Manager also reviews and loosely supervises the courses you take while in prison (discussed further below in Education).  Credit for these courses is input into a BOP program called SENTRY, which your Case Manager uses to monitor your progress.  Your SENTRY profile also includes other information such as your charge(s), release address, remaining time on your sentence, etc. so all COs have access to that at a glance.  The other important function of the Case Manager is to pressure you to pay more money from your commissary account toward restitution (see FRP in Chapter 9).

You go to the Unit Counselor to follow up on visit forms, if you need a legal call, submit furlough requests, for package mail outs (anything larger than a legal size mailing envelope), and to hand paperwork seeking administrative remedies (covered in Chapter 9).  She or he is also in charge of designating bunks but other officers like those from the SHU and R&D can do that as well.  The final important function of the Counselor is assigning you a job.  You can get ahead of that process by finding an opening somewhere (like Rec or Education), getting a CO from that department to sign a Cop Out offering you a job, and submitting it to your Counselor.  While your Counselor will most often honor that request, she or he has final say and can just as easily ignore the Cop Out and assign you anywhere.  BOP guidelines further assert that the Counselor is supposed to do such things as conduct individual and group counseling and help you resolve day-to-day problems.  Don’t count on it.  Most are, at best, distant with limited office hours, while others are intentionally mean, to keep you at bay and lighten their workload.

You’ll hardly have any contact with the Unit Secretary.  They mostly do clerical work. On occasion you might see the Secretary to receive special delivery mail (instead of at R&D).  Their further responsibilities include processing medical furloughs, release paperwork and, perhaps, coordinating notary services.

Special Investigative Services (SIS) is a group you prefer to never have contact with.  They investigate all serious rule violations on the compound such as fights and hard contraband like phones and drugs.  They also serve as the internal affairs department in case of officer violations (like smuggling in contraband or inappropriate relations with inmates) which keeps other officers wary of SIS as well.  Once contraband is found or an incident occurs, members of SIS rush over with cameras and begin an investigation.  In the event of a fight, the entire compound will be locked down as SIS goes cell-by-cell checking hands and bodies, instructing you to remove your shirt while they look for scrapes or bruises indicating possible involvement.  For that reason, always immediately report accidental cuts and injuries to your Unit CO to avoid getting jammed up.  All discovered cell phones, whether in an inmate’s possession or in a common area, are reviewed by SIS to see who can be connected to them.  Technically, they’re supposed to be sent to the FBI.  In reality, though, modern day encryption ensures that no one gets in trouble unless caught red-handed.  The prison instead uses group punishment like lockdowns and terminating visits to smoke out the culprits.   

SIS frequently cultivates inmate snitches to rat out others, as do Unit COs looking to build a reputation.  That almost never works out well for the snitching inmate because word eventually gets around the compound, plus, there’s little to gain from being on an officer’s good side.  They don’t have much to offer and you end up suffering the exact same collective punishment as everyone else.  SIS is additionally in charge of random review of phone calls, emails and mail, and mass shakedowns of a Unit or the entire compound, which can include wanding for cell phones, drug sniffing dogs, etc.  One time, we were even woken at 2 am by SIS in full riot gear, toting paintball guns.  They looked completely ridiculous, like Pufferfish in full puff.

All department officers such as those at Trust Fund, Unicor, Education, Recreation, etc. supervise activities within their area and directly report to a supervisor of their department.  The chaplains handle all religious needs and compassionate calls for inmates whose loved ones have passed, and authorize religious furloughs from Camps, but those are generally rare.  In Education, COs primarily supervise inmate teachers, tutors, library staff and Law Clerks.  They’ll also be involved, on some level, in the preparation of inmates for GEDs and the administration of exams.  At some locations, these COs also teach special courses like automobile maintenance and repair, dog training and the culinary arts, but those are few and far in between.  Just to give you an idea, one officer was hired to teach HVAC at Miami Low on the condition that he get certified.  The prison bought over $10,000 worth of equipment and set it up in the largest room of Education supplanting the library.  It took three full years for the CO to finally get certified to teach the course.  Psychology is another department of note, with classes taught by COs with psychology degrees and outside graduate student interns.  Do not expect one-one-one sessions or any kind of traditional therapy.  There are classes to help with coping skills, mental health, and addiction related issues.  Most bore you to tears.  R&D COs do inmate intake and departures plus handle package mail outs organized through your counselor, about once a month.  They’re also in charge of all mail and legal mail (coming from the courts or your attorney).  In Rec, the COs supervise classes taught by inmates (like healthy living, a Step class or Yoga), intramural sports, the barbers, process Recreation related Special Purchase Orders (SPO, explained below) and handle package mail outs for the artwork and crafts created in Recreation related activities.  So, as you can see, COs mostly supervise and do little actual work themselves.   

All Unit COs report to the lieutenants and Captain, and rotate Units every quarter.  Unit Team COs rotate Units and/or schedules over a longer (undefined) period of time.  One Unit Team at Miami Camp, for example, was there for four years straight.  You’ll find that all other COs stay within their department, sometimes for their entire career.  Finally, no matter an officer’s position, they can all be called on to do whatever is required.  Medical staff might be subbing in for a Unit CO, Food Services COs might be helping out in Rec, and several times we even had the acting head of Psychology serve as the compound officer at the Camp because her number came up.


[1] They’re also supposed to assist you in obtaining your birth certificate and social security card, for critical identification purposes post-prison.  Frankly, though, you’re much better off having family do that, if you can.