Grocery Shopping

It’s 6:00 am. Inmates are anxiously waiting for the compound to be opened for the day. A crowd is gathering around the door. Empty laundry bags are in their hands. It is eerily quiet, considering half the unit is up, all waiting for the rush to begin. Keys are heard rattling from the officers’ hallway. An officer is making his way to the door. It is just about Go Time. At 6:01 as the officer nears the door, an announcement comes on the speaker and says, “The compound is open for the day.”

Instantly the door is unlocked. Within 30 seconds, hundreds of inmates have pushed, shoved, and squeezed their way out the unit door into the inner compound. The majority of the inmates who got out the door first are now sprinting. As a man falls to the ground and scrapes up his face, ten others are leaping over him, continuing their run. Tables are jumped over. Bushes are run through. Within one minute of the compound being opened, the line is already 50 people deep. It’s commissary day!! (Or,  grocery shopping in the outside world)

It’s quite a scene to witness a mass of people coming from all corners of the compound to gather in one line at the commissary building. Running is prohibited on the compound. But try being that officer telling the hundreds of inmates to walk. It just doesn’t happen. I once approached an elderly man. Picking himself off the ground he tells me that once every few months he takes a spill. Another inmate comes back to the unit with his commissary bag in hand and blood dripping from his face. I asked, “What happened?” He responds, “I fell face first jumping over a table.”

Every inmate is allowed to shop once per week. The commissary is only open two hours in the morning and two hours during lunch, Monday through Thursday. And with almost 2,000 inmates on this compound, unless you get in line early, you will be turned away, as the wait will exceed the two hour time limit. Each inmate is designated a specific day to go. So if you are not able to go on your day, or you are too late getting in line, that’s it for the week. You will have to try again next week. It’s an extremely slow process for some odd reason, and can actually take the whole two hours to get your items. If you want to purchase snacks, foods, and various hygiene items you must get in line on your assigned day. Not a great system, but it is definitely worth the wait to get the items you need and want.

Thankfully I have never been injured or been involved in any skirmishes while trying to get into the line. But I do laugh and smile watching the old men with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs make their way to the store. I’m shocked at how fast some of them can move when they want to get in line.

Just a typical day in Federal Prison – Grocery Shopping Day!


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