How Much Money Should I Send My Incarcerated Loved One? An Interview With Prison Expert Christopher Zoukis

By Randy Radic

Christopher Zoukis, a 27-year-old federal prisoner, is the
author of Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win
Strategy for Maximum Security
(Sunbury Press, 2012), a contributing writer
for Prison Legal News, and a regular
commentator on prison matters in the penal press.  He has navigated the troublesome waters of
incarceration for the past 8 years, in both federal and state prisons and at
the medium and low security levels. 
Today I sit down with Mr. Zoukis to discuss the complex issue of
determining how much money family members and friends of the incarcerated
should send to those in prison.

Randy Radic: In
my duties as the senior editor at Middle Street Publishing and the chief editor
of the Prison Law Blog, I often receive inquiries from family members and
friends of the incarcerated concerning how much money is appropriate to send to
those in prison.  I find this question
hard to answer since it is so subjective. 
What are your thoughts on how much money is appropriate to send
incarcerated friends and family members?

Christopher Zoukis:
Subjective is most certainly the word here. 
The first two questions those outside of prison should ask are: What
prison system is their loved one or friend incarcerated within and what is the
allowable monthly or weekly spending limit at the prison (if any)?  This should be the starting point of any
determination on how much money is appropriate to send to an incarcerated loved
one or friend.

My experience is with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the
North Carolina Department of Corrections. 
As such, I can provide specific information for these two prison
systems.  In the Federal Bureau of
Prisons, federal prisoners can spend $320 per month ($370 in November and
December) on commissary items.  This
doesn’t include over-the-counter medications, copy cards, or postage
stamps.  In the North Carolina Department
of Corrections, prisoners can spend up to $40 per week in the institutional

With these numbers in mind, anything up to $320 per month
for federal prisoners and $160 per month for prisoners in the North Carolina
Department of Corrections would allow them to live very comfortably.  This would easily place them in the top one
percent of those incarcerated within the respective prison systems.

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Prison Profile: Federal Correctional Institution Butner Medium 1

By Christopher Zoukis

Official Address

Federal Correctional Institution Butner Medium 1

Old North Carolina Highway 75

Butner, NC 27509

Phone: 919-575-4541

Fax: 919-575-5023



Inmate Correspondence Address

Inmate Name and Registration Number

FCI Butner Medium 1

P.O. Box 1000

Butner, NC 27509

(Funds can only be sent to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ National Lockbox Address listed below, not directly to the inmate at FCI Butner Medium 1.)

Sex: Male

Security Level: Medium Security Federal Prison

Location: FCI Butner Medium 1 is located in North Carolina near the Research Triangle area of Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill.  It is 5 miles off I-85 on Old Highway 75.

BOP Region: Mid-Atlantic Region (MXR)

BOP Institution Code: BUT for FCI Butner Medium 1, BUX for Butner Federal Correctional Complex

Medical Care Level: FCI Butner Medium 1 is a Level 3/4 medical care facility.

Judicial District: Eastern North Carolina

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Prison Legal News Files Public Records Suit Against CCA in Texas

By Prison Legal News

In a lawsuit filed in state court on May 1, 2013,
Prison Legal News, represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP),
alleges that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is concealing information
about CCA-run correctional facilities by failing to respond to a public records

To obtain information about CCA’s operations in Texas,
PLN submitted a records request to the company on March 1, 2013 pursuant to the
state’s Public Information Act, requesting a number of documents related to
CCA’s contracts with state and local Texas government agencies, injunctions
issued against CCA in Texas, and settlements and verdicts in legal actions
involving CCA in Texas. The company did not respond to the records request.

“Privately operated prisons and jails are
notorious for their abhorrent conditions,” PLN stated in its complaint.
“Although they perform a government function, they are driven by a profit
model that cuts costs for the benefit of shareholders and to the detriment of
basic services, security, and oversight. Prison Legal News seeks to enforce its
rights under the Public Information Act to investigate details about these
facilities in Texas.”

The lawsuit filing was tied to CCA’s lack of
transparency with respect to the Dawson State Jail, where at least eight
prisoners have died, some due to medical-related problems.

Demands to close the CCA-operated Dawson State Jail
erupted in June 2012 after a pregnant prisoner gave premature birth in a toilet
in her cell, with her baby dying four days later. CCA staff had reportedly
refused the prisoner’s requests for medical care. “The baby was born
premature and without any medical personnel present because of CCA’s gross
mismanagement,” said TCRP attorney Brian McGiverin, who represents PLN in
its public records suit. “Their indifference was horrifying.”

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Can Federal Prisoners Blog From Prison?

By Christopher Zoukis

Yesterday a regular Prison
Law Blog
reader, who is preparing to self-report to a Federal Prison Camp,
brought a question to our attention.  He
asked, “Once I self-surrender, can I blog from prison?”  As regular readers of the Prison Law Blog
know, we love tackling First Amendment in the correctional context issues.  We provide some answers on blogging from

The Question: Can I
Blog From Prison?

Federal prisoners, and those in state custody for that
matter, have a right to the exercise of their First Amendment privileges. 
In the prison context, this means creatively writing and seeking
publication for those creative writings. 
These creative writings could be letters, articles, blog posts, books,
reports, studies, or even drawings.*1  Yes,
even political cartoons are protected by the First Amendment.

The most common question concerns writing in the electronic
realm.  This is a grayer area, but a
solid one from the case law perspective. 
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ “Manuscript” program statement
clearly states that prisoners are allowed to write for publication and they can
mail out their manuscripts as general correspondence, without staff approval or
authorization.  This is in line with the
BOP’s “Correspondence” program statement.  These program statements, though, don’t
specifically authorize federal prisoners
to write for electronic publication. 
After all, the “Manuscript” program statement was promulgated
in the 1990s, back when the internet wasn’t commonplace in homes and really
wasn’t heard of on cell phones. 
Regardless of the lack of specific and direct authorization to write for
the online marketplace, the Prison Law
asserts — as case law and other experts in the field support — that
prisoners have a right to write for online publication, either on a personal
blog or at larger media or creative writing outlets (e.g., the Huffington Post,,, etc.).

Restrictions on Content

In terms of the writing itself, the only real area to be
mindful of is the content.  Prisoners
most certainly can voice their objections to or feelings about anything.  They can also voice their political, personal,
and other sorts of opinions.  But what
they can’t do is violate existing laws through their writings or, more specific
to the prison context, write anything which would hinder the “good order,
security, or operations of the institution.”

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 From Diane A. Sears

PHILADELPHIA, PA (USA) – SEPTEMBER 28, 2013 — A National Dialogue on Mass Incarceration will take center stage at the Joseph Priestley District’s Racial Justice conference, at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, 6511 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sunday, November 3, 2013 in the form of a “Teach In”.

The “Teach In” will occur on Sunday afternoon from 12:30 P.M. through 4:30 P.M.   A stellar line-up of participants headlining  the event include Eric Sterling, author and President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C.; Mark Boyd, Esquire, President and Chief Executive Officer of Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia; Michael E. Erdos, a sitting judge in the Court of Common Pleas for the City of Philadelphia; Portia Hunt, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling Psychology in Temple University’s Department of Psychological, Organizational & Leadership Studies in Education;  and J. Jondhi Harrell, a Social Justice and Reintegration Thought Leader and Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Returning Citizens.  A condensed presentation and discussion of “Broken On All Sides,” an award winning and nationally acclaimed film produced by Matthew Pillischer, Esquire will precede the panels.

Panels and “breakout” groups will allow participants to interact with formerly incarcerated persons who have established themselves in society or are presently engaged with turning their lives around and those of their colleagues.


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PLN Prevails in Challenge to Postcard-only Policy at Oregon Jail

By Prison Legal News

On April 24, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon held that a postcard-only policy at the Columbia County Jail, which restricted mail sent to and from detainees at the facility to postcards, was unconstitutional. The court therefore permanently prohibited enforcement of the policy – the first time that a jail’s postcard-only policy has been struck down following a trial on the merits.

The ruling, by federal judge Michael H. Simon, was entered in a lawsuit against Columbia County and Sheriff Jeff Dickerson filed by Prison Legal News. PLN sued in January 2012 after Columbia County jail employees rejected PLN’s monthly publication and letters sent to detainees. Further, the jail had failed to provide PLN with notice or an opportunity to appeal the jail’s censorship of its materials. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.50].

The rejection of PLN’s publications and letters was attributed to the jail’s postcard-only policy and a policy or practice that prohibited prisoners from receiving magazines. PLN contended that such policies violated its rights under the First Amendment, and that the lack of notice and opportunity to appeal was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

During the litigation the defendants admitted “that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and inmates and their correspondents have a Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.” However, the jail defended its postcard-only policy and claimed there was no official policy that banned magazines at the jail.

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Life in Prison: Men Who Abuse Small Animals

By Christopher Zoukis

Few things in this world anger me more than grown men who attack or torture small animals and think it’s acceptable.  Sadly, I’m often reminded of how much I hate this occurrence due to the apparently large population of animal abusers who reside at FCI Petersburg, the medium security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia where I am incarcerated.  Tonight was no exception.

This evening I spent a good two hours playing Ultimate Frisbee on the recreation yard.  At 8 pm, when we finished playing for the night, I was on my way to the gate and had to pass the basketball courts.  I witnessed a grown man, who had just finished playing basketball with his friends, throwing rocks at the sleeping pigeons up in the rafters of the overhanging roof.  Yes, you heard that right, a grown man, with his friends cheering him on, attacking small animals with rocks.  I was furious.

I was so angry I walked right out onto the basketball court and confronted the man.  Obviously not a very good idea, but I couldn’t allow such reprehensible behavior to continue and I didn’t see any of my friends present to back me up.  So, I, the one white guy confronted a group of perhaps eight basketball players.  All of them looked at me as if I was the crazy one since I thought torturing small animals was outside of the range of acceptable conduct.  Perhaps they thought me as crazy for confronting them alone.  Words were spoken and we went our separate ways, but when I left my blood was boiling.

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Prison Law Blog Announces Prison Survival Reports Service; Reader Input Sought

By Christopher Zoukis

For the past several months we at the Prison Law Blog have been searching for ways to better answer your questions about the Federal Bureau of Prisons, prisoners’ rights, and prison survival.  We have been seeking ways to delve more comprehensively into the realm of prison life so that those soon-to-be-incarcerated, those already incarcerated, and  those who work with or know the incarcerated will have better information upon which to understand incarceration and the rights of prisoners. 

In our search for effective information dissemination methodologies, we have increased our publication volume on the Prison Law Blog by coming to content sharing agreements with Prison Legal News, Jean Trounstine’s Justice With Jean blog, and other media outlets (both online and in print).  We have invited guest bloggers — experts in the prison consulting and prison survival realms — to contribute their voices through interviews and articles.  We have even penned a book about prison survival — which is currently being reviewed by literary agents for representation consideration — and are currently working on another book which profiles every institution within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Long story short, we have strived to be innovative, unique, and active in all of our efforts.  We feel that we have succeeded on all three counts.

Now we’re back at it again with our Prison Survival Reports service.  The Prison Survival Reports service is a concept which we have been mentally toying with for quite some time and are now ready to start working on.  We plan on producing downloadable Prison Survival Reports which delve into all areas of the arrest, incarceration, and release arenas.  These reports will cover all manner of criminal justice topics which the Prison Law Blog readership will find of interest.  Several Prison Survival Report topics, which we are considering researching, are as follows:

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