Abby Lee Miller has reported to prison; specifically, FCI Victorville Minimum Security Women’s Camp, in California. So what is life going to be like for her there? Fortunately, the internet has plenty of message board posts and blog posts from people who have done time there, or whose relatives have done time there. Here now, from people who know from experience, are their stories.
Day One: Self-Surrender, Searches, And Setting Up Commissary Account
Abby Lee has done what the prison industry terms a “self-surrender” – that is, she shows up at the prison on her own, rather than being brought there directly from a courtroom following sentencing. Upon arrival, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons Handbook, the inmate will be searched for contraband. He or she will only be able to keep a wedding band and a handful of personal items, such as photographs.
Just about everything else a prisoner would want or need, beyond the bare minimum, he or she will have to purchase through a commissary. And as the message boards of Prison Talk make clear, there is no point in showing up to prison with money for commissary, or in sending money there. Rather, a friend on the outside will have to manage the inmate’s commissary account through Western Union.
blip: SEND NO $ TO THE PRISON ITSELF, IT WILL BE RETURNED TO THE SENDING ADDRESS
She’ll Have To Pay – Dearly – For Phone Calls
According to Prison Talk, inmates are limited to 300 minutes of phone calls for the month; 400 in the months of November and December. Each phone call will last 15 minutes, and not a second longer; Prison Talk user blip says that the phone call is automatically cut off after 15 minutes, no questions asked.
What’s more, she’ll have to pay a pretty steep price for those calls: as of December 2009, when user fbopnomore posted the information, the price of a phone call was six cents per minute for local calls, 23 cents per minute for long distance calls. That’s about $70 per month to call her family back in Pennsylvania; while Abby can undoubtedly afford that, most federal inmates, who come from low-income situations, can’t.
Oddly enough, Abby (and other Victorville inmates) will have access to email – tightly-monitored access, of course – and will be able to send email for five cents per minute per use of the email system.
The Rules For Visitors Are Much More Liberal
Although the rules for visitors are precise and spelled out in exacting detail, they’re actually not too awfully odious. Inmates must be in their uniforms, which must be clean. Further, visitors must adhere to a dress code and will be searched.
Inmates are allowed up to 20 authorized visitors (children under 15 do not count towards that limit), and the approval process to authorize a visitor takes about three weeks. They are allowed 32 hours of visits per month; those hours can be docked for disciplinary violations.
As Abby will be a minimum-security prisoner, she’ll be allowed to interact with her visitors in person, rather than through the reinforced glass window like you see in TV and movies.
All Things Considered, It’s Not Too Bad, As Prisons Go
The message boards on Prison Talk reveal some truths about prison. The bottom line is that, if you’re going to go to prison, you could do a lot worse than a federal minimum security camp. What’s more, Victorville is neither the best, nor worst federal minimum security spot for female inmates.
blip: “[The dorm] is a huge warehouse looking dorm and you share a cubical with one other person. The cubical walls are as high as your bunk bed. If you’re on top, you will literally be able to reach over and touch your neighbor. The dorms are air conditioned, but it does get quite noisy at times. There are 2 or 3 separate TV rooms.
Pros: Air conditioning, have email (you can email with your family and friends), educational benefits, exercise
Cons: No grass (nothing but dirt), doors lock at 10pm
No one is saying that prison is fun; and in fact, it’s going to be very difficult for Abby – or anyone else. She will essentially be treated like a number; will be away from her family and friends; and her every move will be watched. However, there are worse places to go than FCI Victorville, and if she obeys the rules and stays out of trouble, she may find her prison experience as something approaching being tolerable.
[Featured Image by Keith Srakocic/AP]