A Geek in Prison - A Life Series by Charlie Shrem (Part 7 - I'm a Working Boy Now)

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This is Part 7 in a series about my life as a Geek in Prison. Click my name to follow me and check out my blog for the Preamble and Parts 1-6. All names are changed to protect inmates privacy.

When you first get to prison the advice people give you is "Create a routine, become busy and find things to do". During my first few weeks there I thought everyone was nuts. How the hell do I stay busy? I was waking up in the morning and the only thing I had planned was meals in the chow hall. The days went on for years and I would lay in bed and read half the day. I was extremely unproductive.

I wanted to get to work as soon as possible. There are a dozens of different prison jobs you can apply for but you can't start working until you go through prison "A&O". A&O is orientation and held once a month so if you land yourself in Lewisburg right after A&O you could be waiting 3-4 weeks without a job. Luckily, I only had to wait a week. The next day my job was posted on the Call Out Sheet

Every day they administration published a "Call Out Sheet" in various locations through the building.

The Call Out Sheet are the words of God.

A call out is a formal notification for you to report to a certain place, at a certain time. They are published daily and should be treated as if written in stone. Harsh penalties can come from not being at an appointed place and time as posted on the call-out. Never make a C.O. come looking for you if you are on the call-out.

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If you are not a mechanic, electrician, barber, or anything with a specialty you will get assigned to UNICOR or the Kitchen. Those are two of the highest paying jobs with the best benefits however you have to work the hardest. Working in the kitchen you start off wiping tables and cleaning the room, but you can eat all you want and many kitchen workers are part of the "Kitchen Cabal" which handled the black market buying and selling of food.

UNICOR is a United States government corporation that acts as correctional work program for inmates within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. UNICOR produces more than 100 products and services for sale primarily to the Federal Government. Most federal prisons have a UNICOR factory from making furniture, to breaking down electronics. They pay is awesome for prison standards, about $80 a month base pay to start with a raise every month. The good part is usually you take a bus or walk to another part of the compound so it feels like you leaving for work.

Halfway through my prison stay I was hired by another prison to work in the landscaping department, but for the time being I got a job in the education department.

I had applied directly the head of the education department that I wanted to work as a GED tutor. He agreed and gave me my first student after A&O.

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Being a GED tutor was difficult at first building a rapport with your student. I'm a 26 year old kid trying to build a teacher-student relationship with my first student who's nickname was "Knife". I was never allowed to call him by his real name, as you can imagine why. He happened to be a very nice guy once you got to know him. His strengths were science and social studies because reading and answering questions was easy. His weakness was math, which happened to be my speciality. I gave him homework and we met every day from 11am-1pm, eventually he got his high school equivalency.

I liked working in the education department because it was quiet and I had plenty of time to read books, newspapers and have good discussions with other guys in the department.

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My other student was a 60 year old man who never finished the 5th grade. He hustled all his life and had no need for school. He told me when he got out, he was too old to hustle anymore or do anything else so he had to find a real job. I explained to him that with his high school equivalency diploma the opportunities were a lot higher for him. The diploma could mean the difference between being a shop clerk and a manager.

He took me seriously but got burnt out after 30 minutes so it was difficult. He would walk in some days and say he doesn't want to work, so what am I supposed to do? I worked around his schedule and we often took breaks. It took 6 months and he finally got his GED.

Halfway in my stay I felt I wanted to move on from the education department. It was getting kind of boring and since the weather was getting nicer I felt working outdoors could be fun.

I went from being a city boy to chopping down trees, tune in for part 8!

What prison jobs interest you ?

-Charlie

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