I’m Holli Coulman, a former Federal inmate. I want to let you know you’re not alone. If you’re viewing this, you’re probably a bit scared and confused and facing a sentence inside a woman’s Federal Prison.
My job’s to relate my own experiences, and help women understand what they’ll be facing as Defendant’s going through the Federal Court Process, and more importantly survive when they become inmates in a women’s Federal Prison.
The RDAP Consultants site offers several Pre Custody and Sentence Reduction services along with guidance by my colleague Larry Levine who spent 10 years in Federal Custody at 11 different correctional facilities.
This page primarily focuses on guiding woman how to survive the female Federal Prison experience itself!
Know You’re Not Alone
First off, know you’re not alone. There’s currently over 14,000 women being held at overcrowded High, Medium, Low and Minimum custody level prisons by the Feds nationwide.
While some FCI prisons might be a bit rough and violent at times, I’m going to concentrate on the Minimum Security Camps as that where the majority of White Collar women go, and I spent 15 months in one of them.
As of 2018, approximately 1.2 million women were held as Inmates, or under judicial supervision by the criminal justice system, with 33% of all women prisoners worldwide held in the U.S., in realities nothing like that in “Orange Is the New Black.”
Since 1999 imprisonment rates in state & federal prisons for black women declined 47% with rates for white women rising by 56% due to women being convicted on White Collar or non-violent drug crimes.
While the likelihood of woman being assaulted in Federal Prison camps is low, the element of violence still exists from women moving down in custody from higher level correctional facilities. But in may cases its the staff you have to watch out for.
Unlike characters in Orange is the New Black, life for incarcerated women can’t be fast-forwarded or rewound, but plays out second by second, day by day, with sometimes difficult relationships with other female prisoners and conflicts with prison staff members.
While there’s typically less violence in women’s prisons, the facilities are full of bickering drama queens and manipulative behavior. Many of the women lack the skills of conflict resolution, so they act out according to what they’ve learned in negative relationships throughout their lives. Tensions among inmates are extremely high and many are quick to blame others instead of taking responsibility for their own actions.
Another problem women in custody tend to do is internalize stress, which leads to self-harming behavior like cutting, carving and burning and frequent suicide attempts. After losing their kids, their families, their jobs and houses, many give up hope while locked up and just want someone to listen to them and be there for them. They seek emotional support.
Rich or Poor, White, Hispanic or Black, about 60% of all females enter federal prison for white Collar and non-violent drug-related offenses, and all have common issues coming from the lifestyle they led before entering custody as well the actual incarceration itself. Many of have histories of physical, domestic or sexual abuse with no support system and feel society has turned their backs on them.
With loneliness and boredom playing a big part of custody, female inmates tend to form surrogate families with women forming communities among themselves. Female inmates will generally help each other out and work with one another to get through a crisis when one of them needs help. These families are for social more than sexual contact, although Lesbian sexual relations are rampant throughout the Federal System.
What I noticed at Victorville was, the older inmate population is done playing games so they’re more respectful, while the newer inmates have something to prove, They’ll be much more disrespectful to show the officers and to the other inmates to show that they won’t conform or follow the staff’s orders or prison policies. They have to find their place in prison.
Unlike inmate on TV and old prison movies, you’ll not be locked in a tiny cell 23 hours a day, but live in a dormitory or cubicle with bunk-beds and wall or footlockers. Although federal prisons are misconceived of environments comparable to country clubs, they are not. Sure inmates can watch TV, but if you look deep down TV isn’t really for the inmate’s benefit as much as the staff. TV’s are electronic babysitters that occupy an inmate time and keep them from breaking the rules or fighting.
If you think you’re safe from sexual abuse in a Minimum Security Woman’s Federal Prison Camp, GUESS AGAIN…YOU ARE NOT!!!
Every day I was at the Victorville Camp I was subjected to constant verbal sexual harassment by male staff with offers of special treatment for sexual favors. And when I tried to report it, I was placed under investigation and sent to the San Bernardino County Jail for month and placed in solitary confinement.
And it wasn’t just with me but a virtual epidemic at Victorville and women’s Federal Prisons nationwide. Everyday female prisoners are raped, groped or victimized through other types of sexual coercion in exchange for basic commodities like cigarettes and toiletries. Often, these incidents go unreported because of fear.
When I was at Victorville the following Staff Rape actually happened to inmates I knew. PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU!
Correctional Officer Apolonio Gamez began working for the BOP in August 2012, and at the Victorville Federal Prison Camp since 2016. In March of 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged him with engaging in forced sexual activity with two female inmates.
In September 2016 while on duty, Gamez directed a female inmate inside a food warehouse to perform oral sex on him. A week later, he brought her to a different warehouse and where he engaged in sexual intercourse with her.
And then in March 2017, Gamez forced another inmate he thought was stealing food to perform oral sex on him. The inmate stated to the authorities as “she did not resist feeling powerless with fear”.
Although Gamez said the inmate was lying and denied the contact, DNA evidene from his sperm the inmate wiped from her tongue onto her bra was analyzed by an FBI Laboratory and found to contain DNA materials consistent with that of Gamez and the inmate. Gamez faces 15 years in prison.
Substandard Prison Medical Care
While the BOP operates a handful of inmate medical centers around the country and small medical clinics at its woman’s facilities like the one at Victorville woman’s camp, female inmates are routinely given substandard medical care. Most prisons can’t perform mammograms, pelvic examinations and services needed exclusively by women. Other issues like giving birth in shackles to struggling with issues like mental illness, narcotics abuse add to inmate’s psychological issues.
In July 2017, not long after I left custody, it seemed help for women inmates would finally become law. Four Democratic Senators introduced Senate Bill 1524 known as the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. But as of April 2018, it’s gone nowhere, and never made it out of committee.
The bill was supposed to create reforms strengthening family ties and support rehabilitation, require the BOP to consider the location of children when placing mothers behind bars, expanding visitation policies for primary caretakers, and ban shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women, along with prohibiting prisons from charging for essential health care items, such as tampons and pads.