Drug Treatment in Prison: A Harsh Regime

By Seth Ferranti 10/25/12

The Residential Drug Abuse Program demands exacting standards of behavior, prisoners tell The Fix.

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In a federal prison's RDAP unit, the residents are expected to aspire to high standards of living. Adhering to all the usual institutional rules and regulations isn't enough; participants are given an additional set of dictates on personal behavior, appearance and cleanliness. "You have to wear you khaki prison-issued uniform all day, from 7:30 am to 4 pm, and it has to be pressed, ironed and neat," one prisoner tells The Fix. "Your cell has to be inspection-ready when you get up, and you can't lie down at all during the day until after the 4 pm count. During programming hours [8-11 a.m] you can't leave the unit or use the phone or email. No commissary, no work, no nothing. Only treatment and recovery. They're preparing you for the streets and everything is restricted." He continues, "Little things that you get away with in other units are big things in the drug unit. RDAP can be vicious if you aren't on point. You're held in constant fear of losing your release date. They even say, when you make a decision, consider whether it will affect your earliest projected release date."

If RDAP participants break the rules, disciplinary actions apply. Sanctions can include behavioral contracts that target problematic attitudes or behaviors—as well as just about any other remedy the staff decides is relevant. "I had to write 150 sentences once because I went to take a piss during community without asking permission," the prisoner says. "You have to comply to their every whim. If you violate the rules, they can make you write sentences or stand up in community and humble and humiliate yourself. If you really piss them off they will set your release date back or kick you out of the program. It pays not to make any enemies—staff or prisoner—because they will just jack off your date." The RDAP coordinator may remove a participant for disruptive behavior or unsatisfactory progress. A resident normally gets a formal warning first. But this becomes unnecessary if his lack of compliance is serious enough for his continued presence to create an immediate or ongoing problem for staff and other prisoners.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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