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Bar News - August 16, 2017

Book Review: Federal Prison Guide Offers a Peek at Life Inside


Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons
By Christopher Zoukis
Middle Street Publishing, 2017
Paperback, 522 pages

The Federal Prison Handbook was an unexpectedly interesting read, and while it won’t prepare you completely for incarceration, it is chock full of useful information for those interested in life in federal lock-up. It is a 380-page paperback, with another 100 or so pages of appendices, that lives up to its subtitle.

The author is a 31-year-old inmate of a federal prison who was arrested in 2006 and served around 18 months in state prison in North Carolina and was then sentenced to 151 months in federal prison after that. He is scheduled for release in 2018. The details can be found on his website. By his account, he has turned his life around and taken full advantage of the educational opportunities available to him, earning among other credentials a bachelor’s degree, and he is working on an MBA. He is not a saint but appears to have utilized his time behind bars to his advantage. All this by way of saying that the man appears to have the background to lend this handbook credibility.

The book has 27 chapters that introduce the reader to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) and walks us through every step of incarceration from the bus to the prison to life inside. There are chapters on admission, work available, the prison economy both official and underground, medical and treatment programs, discipline and much more. The information is presented clearly and often with endnotes that are located at the end of each chapter. It is largely a factual book with very few anecdotes. Few stories about life behind bars here, but a lot of valuable information.

There is a 40-page chapter on inmate discipline that leads you through the process, with tips on how to respond to and appeal an incident report. Another chapter focuses on the Special Housing Unit (SHU), more commonly known as solitary confinement, and what to expect and how to survive it. There are another four chapters on prison culture dealing with fights, gangs, vices, and sex. I would not say that this book prepares you for prison. I’m not sure what would prepare one for incarceration. It does however lift the veil and give outsiders a glimpse of what life in the FBOP is like.

The last 100 pages or so have 11 appendices with specific information on subjects like addresses for FBOP institutions, prisoner publications, prisoner’s rights organizations, sample menus, commissary lists and more.

So, who should read this book and why? Anyone whose life is touched by the FBOP should read it. If you represent federal criminal defendants or prisoners, there is a wealth of insight and information that will assist you in providing adequate representation. If you know someone in the system, this book contains insights into the inmate’s life behind bars and how you can help them. If you are headed to federal prison, I would definitely recommend it. Even if you are fortunate enough to not interact with the FBOP, it is still an interesting book. There is an important discussion going on about incarceration in the United States, and while this book does not take a position on it, there is much in it that will inform your position.

Dear colleagues, I would not put this book on your “must read” list, (Locked Down, people, really, read it!), but if you have any interest at all in incarceration, this is a good one.

Eric Cook

Eric Cook is an attorney in Portsmouth NH.

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