Journal Entry: Melinda Bixler-01/05/2024

Journal Entry

Updates from FDC Philadelphia

I haven’t written in awhile. I work, participate in programs, read, help others, and do a lot of self-reflecting. Honestly, I prefer to limit my writing to things that inspire others, but sometimes I struggle. I miss writing and sharing, and decided that an update may be useful for those of you who follow my profile page.

I self-surrendered to Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Philadelphia on August 22, 2023 to begin serving an 18-month sentence. Although this is a tough facility for a minimum security female such as myself, I’m making the best of the situation. Prior to surrendering, I was under the belief that I’d serve my sentence in a minimum security federal camp.

Leaving my family was the hardest part of this, but I learned all that I could about the federal camp that the judge and attorneys had recommended for me. Minimum security camps don’t have cells. They have dormitory-style living with bathrooms having private stalls, showers and moderate level of privacy. They have lots of things to do and inmates have the freedom to go outdoors, walk the campus freely and take advantage of various things such as a track, field, fitness center and dining hall. Visiting hours are available most days of the week and video calls can be made in addition to traditional phone calls. Inmates aren’t confined or locked in cells. After researching and accepting the fact that I’d be incarcerated, I focused on the positive aspects of going to a federal camp versus being confined to cells within a more traditional incarceration settings. I envisioned video calls with my kids and regular visits.

I later learned that a judge can only recommend where the inmate should go. Ultimately placement decisions are made by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). They have a series of factors they consider. Proximity from home as well as the capacity and needs of the institution are a few. Ultimately, the BOP designated me to FDC Philadelphia and it couldn’t be more different than a federal prison camp. We sleep in 8’x10′ cells with a toilet a few feet from our beds. Due to the facility being a high-rise building in downtown Philadelphia, we have a small rec room on our third floor unit versus an actual outdoor space. Visits are three days a MONTH with only one of those being on a Saturday. There’s no ability to make video calls.

Federal Detention Centers are designed for pretrial offenders who are awaiting trial or sentencing. This facility also houses inmates who are here for “punishment” because they’ve violated probation or excessively caused trouble at another institution. In many cases, those women were kicked out of the more desired setting due to behavior. A few people stay here for a few days or weeks while in transit to their permanent designated facility elsewhere in the country. This building houses more than 1,100 inmates with women making up less than 100. Like me, a few dozen women have been designated here. We’re the work cadre, and are needed for a series of roles such as working in the kitchen, commissary, cleaning offices and other areas of the facility. Prior to arriving I’d been assured that designated women are housed separately from all pretrial women. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

So why have I shared all of this information you? Education. It’s important that as citizens for this great nation we’re educated about the systems we pay for and support . Whether it’s understanding the branches of our government, history or the justice system, it’s valuable to understand. As someone who lacked experience with the justice system, I had preconceived notions, assumptions I’d grown up believing. I was very wrong.

I’m an educator and advocate by nature. I try to find the good that is within bad situations, and find solutions to problem. One of the best influences of my life taught me the value of education and understanding. He taught me to think critically about things, and remain open-minded. Maintaining a willingness to listen and find compassion has served me well. With that in mind, I hope that some of you who are reading my posts approach life with a similar mindset.

Thank you for sharing in my journey.