The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York is in essence a big county jail. Run by the Bureau of Prisons for the feds, this nine floor, two-sided jail holds about 3,000 prisoners in various stages of the criminal justice system process. The buildings house pretrial inmates, the newly arrested or indicted, those on federal writs, those just sentenced and awaiting designation to a federal prison, prisoners who are in transit transferring from one prison to another, work-cadre prisoners who are close to being released, INS detainees awaiting deportation, and inmates who are working for the US Attorney’s office and can’t be placed safely anywhere else.
The dentition center consists of two buildings side by side and connected by an underground tunnel that is used for prisoner movements. The old side is a crumbling and dilapidated, converted postal center and the new side is a modern BOP facility. The old side houses prisoners in big dorm like units while the new side has units with two-man cells. My first visit to MDC Brooklyn was in January of 2002 when I was transferred from FCI Fort Dix to FCI Fairton, both in New Jersey. My visit was quick as I was processed in through R and D, placed in Four South, a dorm on the old side, and then shipped out on a bus a couple of days later to FCI Fairton. While there though I heard some horror stories of dudes being stranded there in transit for months awaiting a bus to their destination.
Also the unit I was thrown into consisted of pretrial inmates and the newly sentenced so I was bombarded with questions about the BOP and prison life in general. I was surprised at how many dudes were telling me about their cases and almost asking my permission if it was alright for them to snitch or not. As a prisoner who had been down 9 years on a 25 year sentence I found the environment just a little surreal and disconcerting. I mean I had been “bidding and here I was in some county jail type joint. Snitch central, you know. I just counted myself lucky to get out of their so quick.
It used to be that USP Lewisburg was the main holdover/transit spot on the eastern seaboard bust as the prisoner population of the BOP quadrupled in the late 90’s and new prison came online MDC Brooklyn become a prominent holdover/transit spot with the opening of the new side in 1999. I visited MDC Brooklyn again for a second time in January 2004 when I was being transferred from FCI Fairton to a brand new institution in West Virginia, FCI Gilmer. This time though my stay was far from quick.
The journey started with the unheard of midnight transfer. I was called to the Lieutenant’s office with about eight other prisoners after the 10 PM count, stripped out, shackled, chained up, and marched out of the prison by the three members of the bus crew. In my 11 years of incarceration in the BOP this was the first time I’d been taken for a bus ride in the middle of the night. Supposedly it was unheard of due to security reasons but I guess with the population explosion a lot of security measures were waived. Anyhow I arrived at MDC Brooklyn at the ungodly hour of 3:30 AM in the morning, tired and bewildered.
I was placed on the new side in K8-2, which I learned was one of two transit units on the floor and in the building. Supposedly on the old side they had converted a whole floor to deal with prisoners in transit also. I guess they developed problems with the system they had employed before that I experienced on my previous stop there. Mixing fish (the newly incarcerated) with penitentiary veterans in transit isn’t the swiftest policy in the world. I would assume that after a trial and error process MDC Brooklyn administrators discovered this. The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the detention center for the second time was that the staff was predominantly black and predominantly female. And all the female correctional officers were thick. I’m talking baby got back. They were like boom- all ass, you know. And it wasn’t just like one of them. It was all of them. From R and D to the block. I kept thinking of all the rap songs talking about a big butt and a smile. Well, it seemed like all the girls they rapped about in those songs worked at MDC Brooklyn. Maybe it was a qualification or something. Like big butt required, I don’t know. But all the dudes on the block were lusting after those chicks. It was incredible. I don’t know where they found all those women at but they could have formed the cast of a Lil’ John video. And it wasn’t like they were pretty. They were just thick. It must be a Brooklyn thing. There was this one little gorilla mami chick who was just ugly as hell but she had all the dudes sweating her because her ass was phat as shit. Dudes would be standing around her like bodyguards and all that. Pressing her like she was their girl. These dudes were crazy. And the little gorilla mami chick loved it too. Big butt and a smile and all that.
The transit unit was mad corny too and I was not lucky this time around. The weeks went by and after a month I had been through four cellies, I tired to stay active by walking laps around the tiers for an hour a day. I did pushups and sit-ups trying to tire myself out so I could sleep the days away. It was kind of like being in the hole except you weren’t locked in a cell 23 hours a day. You were locked on the block 24 hours a day instead. The unit was in constant flux as I waited for my bus or plane out of there. I was stuck in limbo. No mail, no routine to make the hours go by, awful food, and complete and utter boredom. This was some new jack shit and I resented it because I was a veteran. I had been doing time for 11 years, bidding you know, and I had developed habits and a routine which made my time pass rapidly. And here was stuck in a county jail type environment with no personal property, no programs, and no routines. The C/0’s were lazy and incompetent. Leaving the unit locked down 1 1/2 hours at a time for the counts that took a half hour on a regular compound. And some of these broad C/0’s would be walking around like they were tough or something. Trying to act all gangsta at soft-ass MDC Brooklyn. It was bananas. And my only relief was a book to read, the chance to buy something from the commissary, which was only once every two weeks, or using the phone and burning up my 300 minutes.
I burned my BOP allotted 300 minutes of phone time in a week and then had to wait two more weeks to get more minutes. It was mainly out of boredom. I called everybody on my BOP approved phone list. I scoured the unit for interesting books to read and waited a week for the chance to go to commissary when I first got there. Starving the whole time with the bullshit food and ecstatic just to be able buy some junk food and to get a radio.
After I bought the radio from commissary I spent my time listening to sports talk radio like the Dan Patrick show and the BBC news. This was my entertainment and how I made it through the days without going crazy. Howard Stern, K-Rock, Seton Hall’s Pirate Radio, Hot 97, and the Staten Island college station. But after the first couple of weeks even the radio got old. I was used to being out and about on the compound. Moving, you know. And this stuck in the block shit was lame. There was no where to go at MDC Brooklyn anyhow. At first, I was in radio heaven because being in New York there were a lot of Radio options and just discovering all the different shows and stations on the dial was a treat but eventually I burned out on the repetition. Listening to the radio 10 hours a day will do that.
There were two English language TV’s and two Spanish ones but the block was full of corny-ass dudes who wanted to watch Gone in 60 Seconds or the Mask of Zorro on TNT five times a day. I had been bidding and was used to going hard on sports. That’s how a lot of prisoners do their time. I always thought that real men watched sports but in the transit unit at MDC Brooklyn all you had was a bunch of suckers. A bunch of corny-ass dudes for real. Watching Charmed and Law and Order and shit. Dudes all up in the block with hot breath, rank, sleeping all day. Rolling out of bed for chow and then starving all night. It was some shit but just goes to show you the state of the feds today.
During my stay the toilet in my cell broke, got clogged up, and the c/0 didn’t even care. I told her about and she kept bullshitting me about the emergency plumber coming up. I had the plunger all up in my cell plunging the toilet after every use so it wouldn’t flood. After a week the emergency plumber finally showed up and fixed the problem. The showers were some shit too. Bugs all up in the shower. Cold water most of the time and I mean ice cold. If you got a hot shower then it was a good day, you know. I was bored, frustrated, and ready to lose my shit but luckily I was mature enough to take it all in stride. I just kept telling myself this is only temporary.
Ninety percent of the units were prisoners in transit who had been doing time for a number of years plus the newly sentenced who were moving on to their first designations in the BOP. But 10 percent of the unit consisted of special inmates. These dudes worked as orderlies and food servers. Most of them hadn’t even been sentenced yet. A lot of them were suspect too and they had rackets going on with the food. They would steal the orange juice and other food that was meant for the dudes on the block and then try to sell it to dudes later. They would give out small portions so there was more for them. I had to finally step to one of the dudes and tell him that I was trying to eat. He would hook me up after that but a lot of the dudes in transit didn’t say nothing and the cops just turned a blind eye. A lot of the special inmates were their wanna-be bodyguards and the dudes that were sweating them the most so they just shook their butts and smiled. They enjoyed special privileges also from their status as orderlies and food servers. They always got unlocked early and got extra food like bread, bananas, milk, orange juice and chicken. I heard them talk about having been locked up for three or four years there without having been sentenced. That shit sounded funny for real. This one dude who worked as a food server came screaming down the tier one time with the cops behind him saying he better get his radio back and the cop seconded him on it. It turned out his radio was sitting on the table right in front of the TV.
There was this one Spanish dude who thought he was the case manager or something. A straight inmate-police. He was the head orderly and word was he’d been at MDC going on five years. Supposedly he testified against a bunch of Colombians and couldn’t be placed anywhere else in the system. So the BOP had him hid up in the transit unit. A lot of prisoners mocked the special inmates and called them hot ass motherfuckers but you had to be careful because some of those dudes would run to the man right in front of you and get you locked the fuck up in SHU.
I had this one bunkie who came on a state writ. An oldhead who told me he was doing natural life for murder one in Attica. The way he described the routine from the famous prison I figured he was for real but then he started going on legal visits and it turned out he was fitting to testify against someone on a fed murder case to get a sentence reduction. The feds came and got the dude on President’s Day, a motherfucking holiday, to brief him on his upcoming testimony. He told me he was keeping it gangsta. “I ain’t doing life for no nigga,” he said. That seemed to be the prevailing attitude at MDC Brooklyn and the overall new theme going around the feds in general. A straight snitch culture, you know.
But where there are drug dealers there will be drugs. I didn’t pay any mind at first but after the weeks passed there I started to notice the little moves going on. Dudes were in transit but still shit was jumping off. There was plenty of weed and tobacco on the unit to be had. The building was supposed to be smoke free, but it wasn’t and drug free give me a break. I didn’t indulge, but so much for the War on Drugs. The proof that it’s failed exists right in MDC Brooklyn.
As the weeks passed I had urges to hit somebody. I had flashes of walking by a special inmate and slamming him in the face. But I maintained and didn’t give in to my baser impulses. It was the environment that did it to me because for real MDC Brooklyn is some straight shit. It exemplified the state of the feds. It’s a big-ass county jail filled to capacity with prisoners and ran by lazy and incompetent staff who are basically just punching a clock. The inmate population consisted mainly of fake-ass dude, hot-ass motherfuckers, and scaredy cat types. Transit sucks but MDC Brooklyn is some pure garbage. I couldn’t imagine finishing up my bid there like the work-cadre prisoners who exist without athletic programs, programs, weights, a gym, or recreational leagues. I guess the furloughs and the chance to go into the real world for at least part of the day must be the trade off. Because doing time at MDC Brooklyn is an adventure in futility.