A Geek in Prison — Part 3 “OK, I’m Actually in Prison”

A Geek in Prison is Bitcoin Pioneer Charlie Shrem’s account of his experience going from being a force for increasing adoption of Bitcoin before the world had heard of cryptocurrency to a 15-month stint in federal prison for selling it to the wrong people. In his excitement to spread the word about Bitcoin, Charlie fell afoul of the law and acknowledges that he committed the crime. He has since gone on to found Crypto.IQ, an educational and investment firm.

March 31, 2015

Woke up around 7 a.m. Barely slept through the night. The total shock of yesterday is starting to kick in. Omar said it would be super hard to sleep, and he was right, but the earplugs helped a little. I took a shower this morning. There wasn’t much of a wait. Using the showers is like trying to land an airplane on a runway with no traffic control. All the planes that are waiting to land and take off are speaking to each other directly.

To prevent yourself from crossing someone else, you wait outside and yell:

“Showers”

Everyone in the showers will reply:

“One on the right. Two on the left.”

Meaning there is one person on the right, and there are two on the left, so there is a right shower empty. Then I say:

“Coming in on the right.”

I go into the changing room area assigned to my shower and say:

“In on the right.”

When I’m ready to cross into the shower I say:

“Crossing on the right.”

And I let them know when I’m in the shower. When I’m finished, I do the same but in reverse order.

I was issued my khakis today, and I have to wear them from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. After 4 p.m., I can dress down into shorts or sweatpants. They are olive green and not the most comfortable things in the world.

It feels weird not using a cell phone or technology. Everything here is word of mouth. There is no Google, and information is trickled in. I think the hardest part is learning how to use my own resources to grow and not the internet. I need to learn how to read bullshit and filter through wrong information to find the right answers. Your word is your life here. We all live together, so if you don’t follow through, no one else will trust you. Information travels fast here. The slang for when you hear about a rumor or unverified information is “I heard it on Inmate.com.”

On the outside, I had this Bitcoin celebrity status. In here, no one knows me nor do they care about me. I’m just inmate 92164–054. As I move through the range, using the restroom, making coffee, I notice some hateful stares. People have their everyday routine. Some for 1, 5, even 10 years, and here I am going about it like I own the place. I need to change that attitude and humble myself. How do I stay out of someone’s way but at the same time still be assertive? Everything is such a fine line here. If you back down you are a wuss, and if you stand up for yourself, you go to the hole. I have a lot to learn.

After my shower I spoke to Courtney and had a 12 minute call. This used up my 10 minute allocation for the day and 2 minutes of tomorrow, but it was my first day, and I really needed to talk to her.

She found the visitor form on the BOP website and is printing and mailing it today. The visits are once a month Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You get one weekend a month, which is based on the last digit of your register number and last name. My number ends in four, which is an even number, and my last name ends in S, so my weekend is coming up this week! If I can’t get her approved in a few days, I won’t be able to see her for five weeks. On the outside, I’m so used to things being done within minutes of when I want it to be done. In prison, I have to learn to get used to things taking days, sometimes weeks. I can’t always get what I want when I want it. This is a thinking error as I would later learn.

Here in Lewisburg, I learned that there is a program called RDAP, the Residential Drug Abuse Program. RDAP is the prisons most intensive treatment program. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is used in a modified therapeutic community model where inmates experience living in a pro-social community. Inmates live in a unit separate from general population; they participate in half-day programming and half-day work, school, or vocational activities for 9 months. In reality, RDAP is 24-hours-a-day because your life in prison revolves around it. If you graduate, you can get time taken off your sentence — from six months to a year. The program focuses less on drugs, more on dissecting your life and rational thinking. Why do you feel the way you do, and how does that affect your actions and reactions? I may try and get into the program. I would get to go home earlier, and it would help in my quest to better myself.

Skipped lunch today because the line was too long. Lunch is served around 10:30 a.m., and follows a five-week menu. Wednesdays are burgers, and Thursday is chicken, so those are the best days.

Today they were serving chicken patties, although I’m not sure if there is chicken in it. I think I’m going to be a vegetarian in here. You wait on line, scan your ID card, and get a tray which is what you may have used in school. Usually for lunch there’s a protein, a carb, vegetable, and fruit. Today was chicken patty on a bun with baked potatoes and green beans. For dessert, an apple. To be honest, some of the food wasn’t bad, but I guess it’s because it was all I was used to. Unfortunately, the seating choices are as diverse as I’m used to, being from Brooklyn.

I will likely make some soup in a few minutes of ramen and mackerel with some adobo, jalapeños and garlic powder. I miss Courtney a lot, but I need to focus on getting out. We speak in the morning, and we say goodnight to each other on the phone. During the day we email as well.

To use the email, you log into the prison intranet on one of the computers. You can add someone to your contract list and it emails the contact asking if they want to communicate with you. If they accept, you can start sending emails. It costs five cents a minute and there is a 90-minute delay from when you send an email to when the person receives it and vice versa. When you log out, you have to wait 30 minutes before logging back in.

My locker is more like a pantry. I have candy, tuna fish, chicken breast, various drinks, ramen, soups, soy and hot sauce. Everything is either shelf stable or in powdered form. I’ve seen some of the guys cooking up some crazy things, but right now ramen is as far as my culinary skills go.

An hour ago, I watched CNN with Shimi. Shimi is the personal injury lawyer I mentioned earlier, and he lives in Range 1, downstairs from me. He has been helping me out a lot, and I’ve been shadowing him. Tonight, he said after dinner I can go play spades with him and some other guys.

Everyone in my Unit is pretty cool for like the first five minutes. I’ve noticed after that, either they become hostile towards me or ignore me all together. Overall it’s like living in a small town with minimal outside communication. In the bunk next to me is Tommy, a former judge from the midwest. I look forward to getting to know him.

I used the bathroom earlier, and a few minutes after I got out, I noticed a lot of hostile stares from guys in the range. I couldn’t figure out why. When Omar got back from work, I asked him, and he spoke to some of the guys. He came back and told me that I smelled up the whole range because I did not courtesy flush. Courtesy flush? Yes, while you are sitting on the toilet you have to flush every minute or so because the water starts smelling up the place. He explained to them it was my first day, but it caused a bad first impression.

At 7 p.m. after dinner and cards, I’m going to try out yoga. I’ve never done it before, but I’m told it’s good to have in your routine and helps with stress and anxiety.

……

Dinner was pepper steak with broccoli and soda! Yoga was intense, and the classes are offered three days a week. It takes you out of mental prison for an hour, so it’s worth it.

I’m wiped out, so I’m going to call Courtney and try to sleep.

I can do this. I think.

-Charlie