Monday, April 25, 2011

"I'm Afraid of that Beaver!"

One of the first impressions I had when I got off the bus at FCI, Morgantown was of the deer and ducks. The prison camp is nestled in the mountains, actually a small valley evoking to my mind a china soup bowl from some views.  The residential units ring a compound below and the wooded tree line with ring roads, farms, and factories rise above the facility.  Originally, FCI, Morgantown was the Kennedy Youth facility, and this natural setting was perfect for the purpose.  As you might guess a great deal of the charm was lost when it was converted over to a prison camp.  Local lore has it that Barbara Walters visited the facility years ago and dubbed Morgantown, "Camp Cupcake."  The authorities have gone to considerable lengths to abolish the appearances (the pool, tennis courts, etcetera) that prompted Ms. Walter's nickname; nonetheless, it's customary for inmates to ironically welcome new guys to "Camp Cupcake." 

The deer, ducks, and other wildlife roam the grounds and congregate around the seven residential units: Byrd (of course, it's West-By-God Virginia), Bennett, Gerrard (after the first director of the Kennedy Youth Center), Alexander, Bates-(the residential drug abuse program), Randolph, and Carlson (where I resided.)  The population of deer, ducks, geese, wild turkey, raccoons, groundhogs, are augmented by two white bulls that wander down from a local farm, which as far as I know is not associated with the prison camp,  from above the tree line.  As you might imagine inmates feed the authorities fight a losing battle to keep these population of ducks, et al. at a minimum.  Thus it is illegal to feed the animals and inmates are employed as wildlife relocation specialists and "duck scrubbers."  The latter clean duck and goose shit off the walkways.  Since "helper dogs" are trained and kept by inmates (in the Alexander unit) the dogs are also used for deterrence (there's that word again!)  The authorities also bought plastic crouching coyotes, fox, and other scary looking plastic predators/lawn ornaments to scare off the animals.  The wildlife is not impressed.  I'm told that last year two of the crouching coyotes were placed outside of the warden's office windows in a copulatory pose not appreciated by the warden or his subordinates.  Usually, when the COs are offended by some inmate prank there is an official institution-wide response--loss of an activity, although I'm unable to report what the response this provocation provoked.

In my last couple of months at Morgantown I was bunked in what is called an "overflow" room, a former TV/Card room converted to bunk space.  Nine guys shared the room and for the most part things were harmonious.  A new bunkee, GS, a former gang banger from the Bronx.  GS was a scary looking dude:  he almost looked like a 19th century pirate.  GS is all threatening muscle belied by a funny sort of charm and consideration for others.  We hit it off:  old white dude, street-smart NY kid. 

As you folks in the NE will recall Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10 were unseasonably warm. Most inmates spent the weekend outside hanging at NoName creek, walking the compound, playing softball and participating in outdoor rec.  Sunday, April 10th Carlson inmates were actually kicked out of our unit for a periodic "shakedown" and for some 3 1/2 hours no one was permitted in the unit as COs combed the bunks, lockers, and common areas looking for cigarettes, cell phones, and the like.  As the afternoon wore on many of us assembled at the foot of the path leading up to Carlson with an eye to the unit front doors.  It was in the 80s and some of us had had enough sun and were anxious to get back in the unit.  GS sidled up beside me, pointing halfway up the path to where a Groundhog was sitting upright gnawing on an apple someone had discarded beside. 

"[BL], I'm afraid of the beaver."

"GS, what beaver?"

"That Beaver eating the apple.  It doesn't like me, it watches me when I walk up to Carlson."

"GS, that's not a beaver. . . that's a Groundhog.  You know, like Puxatawny Phil?" 

"I'm scared of it, [BL]"

When it was time to go back to Carlson GS hovered to my left as the Groundhog nibbled the apple.  I protected him  When we safely arrived back at Carlson's front doors, GS gestured to the assembled Mallards. 

"I don't like them ducks, either."

Thank God, the wild turkeys and bulls hadn't chosen that moment to make themselves known or my pal GS might have been in the waiting area of the J-complex waiting to see Dr. Roff the psychologist.


  1. Totally awesome! I bet GS thought that Beaver was a giant rat. Thanks for returning to Bad Lawyer.

  2. Are you saying that the federal prison camp is implementing lawn ornament deterrence measures? Too funny!

  3. GS sounds like a character.

  4. More on the grounds and surroundings when you get a chance.

  5. I was a resident of the old Kennedy Youth Center from '73-'76. It was co-ed then, and, of course, quite different. I was the 'fire chief' at the garage, and one evening Warden McDannell's secretary asked me to pick up the warden and a VIP from the administration building, and drive them to the educational building. I jumped in the center's Ford, 'Country Squire' station wagon, and picked them up. With the warden was Senator Ted Kennedy. I drove them to the 'school', dropped them off, and went back to the garage. This was 1974. I have photos of his visit to the center. I met a lot of educated, respectable, people while at KYC, and, to be honest, miss the hot summer nights lying by 'no name' stream with my girl, spending time with her at the Olympic size swimming pool, or catching a flick at the center's theater. When I speak to her today we laugh, and joke about all the good times shared there together....listening to Pink Floyd's 'Dark side of the Moon' album for the first time blasting over the speakers next to the chapel (and the pond......) filling the night air with music....God Bless!!

    1. I was there in the early 80's.....the pool had been removed by this time but we still had a blast......drinking, getting high & disguising ourselves as men & walking right past the guards into the men's unit. I must admit for prison I have a lot of fond memories. Visitors were able to bring us food....we got boxes from home once a month which food could be sent. It didn't seem like prison. I too was romantically involved & will never forget the tender moments I shared with this man.

  6. Anon--

    'Loved your post and remembrance. You might want to check Google Earth for a current view of the grounds.

    Someone with "facilities" told me that they came across a collection of old Kennedy Youth Center photos from the period you're describing. As I said in either this or another post, Barbara Walters is attributed with the coinage of "Camp Cupcake" dating back to the time when the pool and tennis courts were still operational. The authorities had the pool covered with a concrete pad and it became the "multi-purpose room filled with pool and table tennis tables, exercise equipment, card tables and email carels.

    I have a funny story to relating to the pond which I'm saving for the right opportunity.

    Thanks for posting!

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  8. I also remember the old KYC...I met my wife there! 1974 I was released, moved home to Miami, picked her up upon her release, drove her home with me, married her, had 4 kids, and now have 6 grand kids. If it were not for my 'screw up' as a youth.....who knows? We are happy, and laugh about the past.

  9. I spent 7 months at morgantown.5/2011-1/2012.. I am African-American from Detroit.. I was sent to FCI Morgan town on bribery charges.. I self.surrendered. wow.. I have never ..seen a more racist an good ole boy atmosphere. Minority inmates possess none of the good jobs, nor do they run the rec., library, r&d, laundry, or butcher food service, or commissary. Luckily I was only there for seven months. FCI morgantown is beautiful... But its the good ole south. If u come.from a up north and are a minority, put ur boots on. The associate warden is a self loothing black woman, the warden is a serious hillbilly, an the head captin is a racist red headed woman.. my advice is to stay out the way an get an orderly job in one of the units.. Get the help out of wc. Asap... Oh, an on the day u get release get a load of the guy that drives from the prison to I didn't know mutts like this actually exist in modern day Americam.