CON AIR

But not like the movie

By David C. Taylor
 
You remember the movie Con Air with Nicholas Cage?  It’s the story of a paroled ex-con and former U.S. Ranger who ends up trapped in a prisoner transport plane when the inmate passengers take over. Well, recently I got to experience the real thing (prisoner transport, that is, not the siege) when I was transferred from my correctional facility in Atlanta, Georgia, to another in Portland, Oregon. Only the real thing is called Airlift Operations, and it's nowhere near as cool as the movie.  Although, we did land at Las Vegas International Airport…but not on Las Vegas Blvd.
 
The reason for my transfer is that I applied to participate in the RDAP (Residential Drug Abuse Program), which is 9 months of intensive drug rehabilitation treatment, learning life skills (like how to use MS Word, for example), formal education, as well as group and individual therapy. It’s for federal prisoners only, and if you complete the program successfully they take a year off your sentence. I’m not going to kid you…it’s tough. A community of 120 convicts holds you to the high standards of the program. Not everyone who applies gets accepted, but I was. I’ll tell you all about it (by way of a future blog post) after I’ve been in it for a while. 
 
But first I had to get to Oregon, where the program facility (at least for me) exists. On day one, my convict transport journey started like this:
 
At 6 a.m. I unexpectedly hear my name on the jailhouse intercom, "Taylor, report to RD (records department).”  
When I report to the C.O. (corrections officer) he says, "Pack your property, you’re leaving for the airport in 15 minutes. The bus is waiting on you."
What? I’m leaving? Today? Seems they forgot about me needing to be on the prison bus with the other bad-boys from the penitentiary.
 
At the Atlanta International Airport we wait on the tarmac for two hours for an Airbus 380 that seats 300 people. Chained and shackled we board the plane. My chains cross and I almost fall off the boarding steps.  Once inside the cabin I notice the plane is almost full. And after the next stop, it is full. I have no idea where that stop was, as the pilot didn’t point out interesting facts and locations during flight, and the flight officers have you draw down the window shades before landing.
 
We have a layover on day one of my trip in Oklahoma, where the prison is right on the tarmac. A 1,000-foot jet way extends out onto the runway. The huge aircraft pulls right up to it and almost 300 chained and shackled inmates (me included) disembark straight into lockup.
 
And then we wait.
 
Eight days later about 200 of us board the same plane, chained and shackled. The really dangerous or violent prisoners are "black boxed," which means a box covers their handcuff's key openings.
 
Next stop is Ontario, California.  The plane lands and seven buses wait on the runway to transport us to our next destination. My bus heads to a private prison (Corrections Corporation of America) for holdover in Pahrump, Nevada, just minutes from beautiful Death Valley. (I wonder who the guy was a couple hundred years ago that stood up in his covered wagon and announced to his oxen, "Home at last fellas, let's call this garden spot Pahrump.”)
 
Time drags by as I sit indefinitely in Pahrump.
 
Finally after 10 days of living with over a thousand incarcerated men, 120 to a dorm, no walls even in the showers or bathrooms, we head off to Las Vegas International Airport on a prison bus. In this trip we’ve been whittled down to sixteen men and three women. It's 100 degrees outside and the A/C is wheezing.  The bus smells like feet.  
 
Another wonderful transport day in chains.
 
Looking out the window as the free world goes by, a black Honda Civic with four young women pulls up next to the bus. A young lady in the back seat pulls up her T-shirt and presents my side of the bus with a perfect pair of large breasts.  God bless that girl!  The ladies smile, wave, laugh, then drop it in third gear and take off towards Las Vegas. 
 
Riot ensues.  You can imagine.
 
I just want to say to you ladies, in my best Elvis impression, "Thank you…Thank you very much."
 
Eventually we pull into Las Vegas International Airport and board a turbo-prop plane that sounds like a giant sewing machine, bound for Portland, Oregon.
 
Time drifts by in flight, and then we touch down. Again, I have no idea exactly where we are (Have we arrived in Portland yet?), but our landing leads to another two-and-a half-hour bus ride to the prison camp, where I’m to be held over in the Federal Detention Center for processing.
 
Here's the interesting part (as if all of this isn’t interesting enough), I am considered a "camper" now, and therefore have a community custody level of security.  I am eligible for furlough, meaning I can be outside the prison for twelve- to seven-hour days if approved by the warden.
 
All in all, this Con Air trip took 20 days over four flights, and cost the taxpayers way too much money to move around a non-violent-crime prisoner. Do you see the irony in this? They could have put me on a Southwest flight from the Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta to Portland for $179, plus a $35 shuttle to Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, all of which would’ve taken about eight hours, saving $50,000 to $60,000 dollars and twenty days of chained and shackled hell.
 
On the flip side, I am now at the nicest institution I've ever seen, and I have seen plenty.  But the best part is that I am back on the west coast, close to Mom and Dad.
 
Speaking of which, I'd like to give a old school "shout-out" to my dad, who, two weeks before I left Atlanta, had a quintuple bi-pass heart valve replacement and a temporary pace-maker operation.  Yesterday Mom told me he rode his bicycle eight miles.  You go, Daddy-O, you bad motor scooter!!!
 
See you soon in the visiting room, Dad. I can’t wait.
 
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