Former inmate's description of minimum security Federal prison: sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll

I recently started listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Wikipedia describes Rogan as an "American martial artist, stand-up comedian, actor, writer and color commentator."

In the latest episode Rogan interviews Victor Conte. From Conte's Wikipedia entry:

Victor Conte (born c.1950)is a former musician with Tower of Power and the founder and president of BALCO, a sports nutrition center in California. He served time in prison in 2005 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering.

I enjoyed the entire interview, but the most interesting part to me was hearing Conte talk about his four-month prison sentence at the Taft Correctional Institution (near Bakersfield, CA). It's a privately-run minimum security federal prison with 1,700 inmates, and Conte's account of the goings on there is astounding:

Sports complex "The first morning, when I woke up it was a kind of university-campus like setting. I walked out and in the middle of the courtyard was a huge sign that said 'Sports Complex.' Basketball, football, baseball, soccer, bocce ball, volleyball, handball. And I looked around and there were about 500 guys there. And they all had on equipment; there was a soccer game and a baseball game going on."

Rec center "I looked over I saw the rec center. And I walked over to that and looked in and there were six pool tables, six foosball tables, six ping-pong tables."

Music department "Then I went through this door and there was this huge music department. Three different musical groups were practicing. I said, 'Do they have concerts here?'

'Oh yeah! We have a routine on Friday nights and the bands play concerts outside.'"

Drugs This is my first 10 minutes -- I was on the compound I started walking with some guys around the walking track and I went [sniff] -- 'Are they smoking weed around here?' And they said, 'Yeah! You want some weed?'

I said, 'Listen, I don't want anything to do that with this kind of stuff. I don't want to get in any more trouble that I'm already in.' But yeah, anything that you wanted -- alcohol -- any and every type was $25 for 8 ounces. They had meth, they had steroids, they had cocaine."

No fences "There's no fences around the the place, about every 200 feet they have a sign on a stake that says 'Out of Bounds.' I got there on December 1 of 2005. That Christmas, about 25 guys just walked out on the freeway and they had their families pick them up and they left. So it's kind of an honor system."

Female prison guards as hookers "It didn't take me long to figure out, they had several really nice-looking female correctional officers there. You know, hair done up, big chest. It was kind of stunning to me. And they said 'Listen, you want some action?' I'm telling you the straight scoop. My understanding is on average they were making about $30,000 a month."

Some prisoners don't want to leave "This young kid came in that same first day I was there and my cubie was a guy named Evil. And he said 'Evil, I'm going to have to do something bad because I'm supposed to go home tomorrow.' And I said 'You're supposed to go home and you want to stay here?' He said, 'Yeah if I go home I've got to start paying rent!'"

JRE #277 - Victor Conte, Brian Redban


  1. is it just me, or do these prison stories sound like some old roadie telling tales from the glory days of his youth that likely never happened?

    1. As a friend of mine said about sliding down a trash chute into an empty dumpster at the Beverly Hills Hotel while trying to escape the cops, “It sounds better now. At the time, it just hurt.” His descriptions of jail were equally prosaic. He certainly never mentioned recreational or dining options.

    2.  Google satellite view confirms multiple soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball and tennis courts, and no guard towers.

      Although there appears to be a more secure facility with fencing and a less secure area with no fences as described.

  2. Why do I get the feeling this guy is saying the things the right wing wants to  use as examples of “Big Gov’t” spending and how poor people are living high at the tax payers’ expense?

    1. Actually, I can plausibly imagine that this was his prison experience – but that it would NOT be a “normal person’s”. He sounds like he was reasonably well-connected and upper-middle-class before any of this happened. 

      Of course, yes – this will likely motivate the right wing to make “poor people’s jail” even worse, while not doing anything to reduce the luxuries that people get in “rich people’s jail”.

      1. The privately run prisons are becoming the norm. They’re not white collar prisons. They’re prisons for profit. The kid he talked about who didn’t want to go home was not an upper class Wall St. criminal (not that any of them have paid their dues).

    2. I could see this playing well in northern Illinois, which people erroneously assume is all Democrat.  People in the surrounding counties know most their tax dollars go to other parts of the state, and that areas like the one I live in are dependent on those tax dollars to keep correctional facilities open.

      1. What part of northern Illinois other than Chicago has enough people and tax dollars to have this sort of analysis? Lake County? Certainly not Rockford, McHenry County, Kane County or any area further west.

        1.  If you don’t think there isn’t a lot of wealth out in the chicagoland suburbs, you are crazy. …or very ignorant.

    3. Back before I was born a family friend got caught doing finance fraud and was sent to a ‘country club prison’ which makes this one sound like steerage

  3. This is the point where I’m supposed to be shocked that rich people, with rich friends, get VIP treatment, right? This is my completely unconvincing “pretending to be shocked” face. Where did you think you lived? Some country with actual rule of law?

    Edited to add: Oh, and I’m only mildly shocked that the rich people’s prison with all the hookers and blow is on Commerce Way, just off of Petroleum Club Road. They’re not even trying to hide from us what kind of country we live in, not any more, not really.

  4. In the UK, prisoners are six times more likely to take their lives than an average person. (Source: Ministry of Justice website and the Samaritans Information Resource Pack). 

    I don’t know the suicide rate for this prison, but it might provide some more perspective on what this prison is like.

  5. Back in 1986, I was in the US Air Force, stationed at an installation in Montgomery, Alabama.  There was one Air Base and one Air Station (no flightline), each with Federal Minimum Security installations.  One year before I arrived, the barracks I was put in had been used as “cells” for prisoners (a dormitory-like environment) but the prisoners had to be moved out, as the rooms WERE TOO SMALL TO HOUSE TWO PRISONERS IN!  Just fine for two service members though.  The prisoners also go to eat first at the chow hall each day, as they weren’t allowed to be in the dining hall at the same time as service members, having them eat later would have broken the law.  So, very often, the majority of the best food was eaten at it’s freshest by the prisoners and the main lines of food would be gone for the military late arrivals.  They had their own exercise facilities (gym, weights, etc), basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball field, and free run of the base golf course (they had to schedule tee times just like anybody else).

    Rough life indeed.

    1. I live in Montgomery, and I’d like to very briefly contrast that to other prisons in Alabama. Until very recently, a minor offense could land you in jail and without conviction you could find yourself at hard labor. Convicted people, often for very minor offenses, were sent to coal mines and lumbering, and there were many deaths. This is still done, to a degree, the labor part, but they’re much more careful about safety. Also, many, most, of the state’s prisons are for-profit, and the guy running the largest for-profit prison company is connected to the governor, I believe, by marriage. And we have many, many people sitting in jail for smoking a joint or something like that.

      And I’ll conclude with this: the fact that the prisoners were protected from crowding and cold food says more about the military than the prison system. And currently, there’s a dirt-cheap alcohol store on base, a dirt-cheap PX, cheap apartments, a huge rental allowance. Frankly, as someone with friends over there and relatives in the service in general, I don’t think people in the armed services should be griping too much. They’re pretty well cared-for (at least prior to combat).

  6. If you are new to the Joe Rogan show, wow are you in for a treat!! JRE is hands down the BEST podcast going. Go back and listen to the ones with Jason Silva, Graham Hancock, Aubrey Marcus and any that feature Duncan Trussell. Joe is one of the most amazing human beings it has yet  been my priveledge to encounter. Truly diverse range of guests on all manner of topics. Can’t reccommend his show enough!!

        1. Right, you know him and you think he’s a great dude. Lemme guess, you’re a straight white guy and you don’t “notice” sexism or homophobia.

  7. 2.5 million prisoners in America — one out of 50 adult American males are incarcerated.  

    I’m going to guess that the overwhelming majority of American prisoners aren’t kept under this kind of “honor system” minimum-security protocol.

  8. I’m not surprised to hear that inmates simply walk out of a fenceless, honor system prison; I want to hear the part of the story about how the poor and homeless are trying to get in for the ‘three hots and a cot’, and being turned away.

    1. Inmates who want to get out and hang out with their families ought to sell their spot to homeless people who want a nice place to live.  You can’t make much on it, since homeless people traditionally don’t have a lot of money, but if the inmates aren’t going to be there ANYWAY, a little bit of money is better than none. 

      1. If you could buy your way in, I doubt the homeless would have much of a chance in competing with the hookers ($30,000 a month!).

  9. So I’m supposed to accept such revelations from Joe “the moon landings were faked” Rogan?  Color me unconvinced.

    1. Yo bro, just legalize it and vote for Ron Paul maaaan!  Can’t you stupids seeeeeeee! 

      Joe Rogan…..*ungh*

  10. Sounds interesting but I gave up after the first seven minutes were nothing but shilling, & saying “bitch” a lot.

  11. This guy is so full of crap. I’ve seen minimum security prisons – two of them at least – and they were the most sterile, boring, unhappy places I’ve ever been. No pool tables, no sports, a TV you couldn’t change channels on, no internet, inmates were sent to lockdown for handling money, and a cup of coffee cost $4 and you had to have a guest/visitor buy it for you.

  12. It’s interesting that in the most imprisoned nation in the world, so many of us have little idea what prison is actually like.  This guy can claim to tell us what prison is like, and we believe him because we don’t have much else to compare it against.

    1% of US adults are in jail, and yet it’s somehow rare to hear about their experiences.  Why is that?  Well, if he had told this story to a poor black audience, they would have rolled their eyes and shook their heads.  Because in the black community, 11% of men are in prison.  Almost everyone knows someone who did some time, and so they probably know something about how miserable it is in reality.

    Unfortunately, the stories which reach our ears are from the likes of this guy, while the majority of the US prison population suffers in silence.

  13. Well at a certain point, if it costs 100,000$ to keep some jerk in prison, would it not be more efficent to simply give the prisoner the 100k and tell him to take a vacation for a year?

  14. Joe continues to wake up from the haze of his super-tough guy past.
    Martial arts, Yoga, DMT and isolation tanks will do that for a person.
    Effective, possibly not at the same time but definitely in combination.
    He’s making the effort and asking his listeners to give it a go too.
    Give the guy a break and a listen and if you don’t witness him making a supreme effort to correct some misconception he’d lumbered himself with immediately after finding out his mistake, you get your money back.

    1. Baseball fields, soccer field, track and the likes… I think everyone is just assuming that prisons are the worst places on earth, but there are prisons for all income levels, and this isn’t the only time I’ve heard “rich” people talk about prisons as resorts.

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