Most prisons are pretty bleak places.
But the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, NY is especially bleak.
Except for a few “cadre inmates” whose assigned jobs take them outside the prison for a few hours each week, none of the inmates at MDC ever experience natural sunlight while they’re incarcerated there.
The “cadre inmates” are a small group of already convicted prisoners who have been assigned to work at MDC as part of their sentence (The vast majority of inmates at MDC are awaiting trial 0r sentencing).
Some of the “cadre inmates” work in the kitchen, some on building maintenance, some on shipping and deliveries, etc. A few of those jobs occasionally requires them to be outside the walls of the prison for a few hours.
But for guys like Keith Raniere, the closest they get to the outside is looking through a narrow plate glass window, across a 6-foot wide walkway, and through another narrow plate glass window.
Never outside – and always under the glare of fluorescent lights, 24/7 (The lights are dimmed at night but never turned off).
And not surprisingly, many prisoners develop a rather greyish skin-tone after a few months at MDC.
In the case of Raniere – who has already been at MDC nine months and who will likely be there for at least another nine months before he goes to trial – the place has already started to affect him.
Since he arrived last March, he’s claimed to have vision problems, headaches, ulcers, a cut on his foot, a pinched nerve in his neck, a bad back and sore feet. And let’s not forget the mites.
And his hair has turned much greyer – which could be because he was dying it before he got arrested or simply the result of living at MDC for nine months.
In a few more months, he’ll quite likely start experiencing dental problems as well. But, not to worry, the MDC resident dentist stands ready to pull any tooth that is causing any sort of problem for an inmate.
But amidst all this bleakness and depression, there is one day per year when the prisoners at MDC – and every other federal prison in the U.S. – experience real joy: Christmas Bag Day (I guess if you’re Jewish, you can call it Hanukah Bag Day – and if you’re Black, you can, if you prefer, call it Kwanza Bag Day – – or just a Holiday Bag – but the vast majority of prisoners just call it Christmas Bag Day).
And what, you ask, is Christmas Bag Day?
Why it’s the day that each federal prisoner receives an 18”x 18” plastic bag that is full of snacks and treats that are otherwise not available from the prison Commissary.
Little bags of snacks and popcorn, some dried out cookies, cinnamon candies, malted milk balls, peanut butter crackers, fig bars, etc. Most of it off-brand – but an occasional item that has a recognizable name.
The arrival of the Christmas Bags is a day of joy at federal prisons – and usually leads to several days of trading among the prisoners.
“I’ll give you my three fake Tootsie Rolls for your four fake Oreos” is a common refrain heard throughout federal prisons at this time of year.
Some enterprising inmates will hide their Christmas Bags away for several weeks – and then bring them out in February or March and sell them to the highest bidder for items from the Commissary (An intact Christmas Bag is worth about $30 worth of Commissary goods in most federal prisons).
So, as we move closer towards Christmas, we can rest easy knowing that Raniere is in the midst of a serious carbo-loading gig – or a serious sugar high – or both.
Or maybe using his superior knowledge of the commodities markets, he’s about to make a fortune leveraging his Christmas Bag into a locker full of mackerals better known in prison as macks – the closest thing to legal tender in prisons such as MDC.