“Christopher St. Lawrence, whose name was once synonymous with power, is now just another inmate with an eight-digit number in a federal prison camp, sleeping on a cot and with a rigid daily work schedule imposed by authorities.The deposed Ramapo supervisor will live the next 30 months — barring time off for good behavior — in a dormitory setting with more than 100 other inmates on the grounds of the U.S. Penitentiary, Canaan in Waymart, Pennsylvania. The facility and satellite camp is 20 miles east of Scranton and 134 miles outside Philadelphia.
His life — once filled with expensive suits and taxpayer-paid perks as he controlled Ramapo and a pair of countywide agencies — will be routine and likely boring, if he minds his own business and accepts his fate, experts on prison camp life told The Journal News/lohud.com.
“He will be a nobody in the camp, to be honest,” said Jack Donson, former federal Bureau of Prisons official for more than two decades. He works with families and inmates about prison life and testifies on prisons as a partner with Prisonology.
“He’s going to be another eight-digit prison number and officers will order him around,” Donson said.
Donson said prison camp life is not “Shawshank Redemption,” the popular prison movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
“Life is benign,” Donson said. “The hardest time is dealing with the boredom. There’s not a lot to do. Understand, it’s still a prison. It’s not cushy, not Club Fed. This camp gets lots of people from the Northeast and has a lot of older inmates, a lot of inner-city drug offenders.”
Justin Paperny, a former stockbroker who spent 18 months for securities fraud in the Taft Federal Prison Camp outside Bakersfield, California, said St. Lawrence still needs to watch himself and should take advantage of the positive programs offered.
Paperny suggested St. Lawrence keep a low profile and understand the environment he’s living in. He said although prison camp life is not as dangerous as it is in high security or minimum security prisons, things can become volatile.
“If you want to hustle and show off you are a big-wig and try to impress people, it could end badly,” he said. “You don’t try to run the TV room, change channels with people watching, or compete with the other inmates.
“You don’t cut the chow line,” Paperny said. “If the kitchen runs out of chicken, a popular food, and someone misses out because you cut the chow line, you are not making friends and that could lead to problems.”
Don’t cut the chow line
The prison camp handbook given to all inmates states “cutting into line ahead of others in the dining room is prohibited. Show respect for your fellow inmate and wait your turn in line.”
He described St. Lawrence’s likely daily existence routine, based on his own experience in prison camp. The camp’s handbook also delineates life for an inmate, including wake-up calls, lock downs for counts, meals, work, dress, and free time.
- General wake-up call is 6 a.m. during the week and 7 a.m. on weekends.
- Inmates are required to wear the uniform of the day under the inmate dress code.
- Breakfast in the cafeteria follows shortly after wake-up
- Inmates are assigned work duties, with their work days starting at 7:30-8 a.m. Paperny said newbies like St. Lawrence are likely to first get kitchen duty. Other jobs include scrubbing and sweeping floors and toilets, horticulture, or working in the commissary and warehouse. Some inmates can matriculate to driving duties, such as taking people to the airports or events, he said.
- Inmates get a lunch break at the cafeteria at mid-day.
- Work ends at 4 p.m.
- Evening meal comes several hours later. Inmates can wear casual clothes to dinner but no sleeveless shirts, open shoes or shorts.
- Lock-down is at 9:45 p.m. when free time essentially ends for the day. The handbook says lights out at 10 p.m. and it’s “quiet hours” until 6 a.m.
- Prison officers take roll call five times during the 24-hour day.
Inmates can play games during free time — such as cards and dominoes — use the library, play instruments. There are various recreational and fitness programs, including weight reduction, soccer, softball, and basketball.
Paperny said prison life can be expensive, with inmates having to pay for purchasing items from the commissary, as well as using the phones and computers. He suggested St. Lawrence get a friend or family member to fill his account for the commissary, open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the camp.
Paperny said he got paid 15 cents an hour, about $15 a month, for prison labor.
“It’s expensive with the phone calls, emails, shopping at the commissary,” he said. “Some of our clients pay $1,000 a month. You need a network of people who believe in you.”
Living in the dormitories is not what some call “big-boy timeouts,” Paperny said. The camp has schedules for showers and laundry.
“There’s very little privacy,” Paperny said. “Imagine walking into a gymnasium and seeing 150 bunks.”
Read the complete Journal News story here.