My First Weeks in the Residential Drug Abuse Program

I was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison in January 2022 and was designated to Alderson Federal Prison Camp. I reported on February 28, 2022.

Based upon my allocution, the judge made a recommendation RDAP as part of my Judgment and Commitment. RDAP (Residential Drug Abuse Program), is a 500-hour Bureau of Prisons substance abuse and rehabilitation program that takes between 9 – 12 months to complete. One of the additional benefits of successfully completing the RDAP program is a reduction in your sentence. The amount of the sentence reduction you receive depends upon the length of your sentence, and the maximum reduction is 12 months.

I was hesitant at first to sign up for this voluntary program. My pretrial services officer had told me that he did not think the program was for me. He had said “It is a difficult program for people who have more severe drug problems.” I asked several people about RDAP and most had something to say about it. My biggest motivation was the opportunity for a reduction in my sentence, so I decided to apply.

Since the RDAP program is in high demand, there was a long wait list for the English program at Alderson. As I really wanted to get started, and I am bilingual, I decided to interview for the Spanish language RDAP program offered at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. I felt comfortable enough to do the program in Spanish and preferred it in Spanish. I was accepted into the Carswell RDAP program very quickly and was processed for transfer to Carswell soon after.

I began my transfer to Carswell with so many unknowns. How long would I be on a plane? Would I go direct or through a Federal Transfer Center (FTC)? How long would I be at a transfer center?

I was semi prepared for the shackles on my wrists and ankles during transfer (thanks to a popular Netflix show). My Conair flight, transit time and time in holding at the FTC was 5 days, which was about the most I could handle. However, I was not prepared for 2 things I learned upon arriving at the Oklahoma City FTC.

First, due to COVID restrictions, we were to be isolated in a 48 square foot cell with no windows for 23 hours a day. That left just 1 hour to shower, make phone calls, and send emails. I also scrambled to get all the books, puzzles and pen and paper I can get my hands on to keep me occupied the rest of the time inside the cell. I was not alone, but my cellie who was on heavy psychotropics, slept the whole time. This is a good roommate in my book! I wrote, read, and prayed and I planned on remaining calm in Texas and getting through the ordeal I had put myself through.

The second thing I learned was the RDAP program at Carswell is ‘behind the fence.’ Carswell has a minimum-security satellite camp, but the program is not located at the Camp, rather it was at the very secure medium medical unit. I would be housed with inmates from all security levels. It was an overwhelming revelation. I had gotten somewhat used to a camp setting in the mere 7 weeks since I self-surrendered to Alderson and could not fathom going through such a drastic change. I was disappointed and angry. I had asked all the questions I could think of while considering my choice at Alderson but did not know to ask about this. I found out I was not the only person who also was misled into thinking they were being sent to another camp in Texas. 

On my first day in the program, I made a mad dash to the coordinator to see if she could calm my fears or answer my questions about the program. She was not available, so I decided to get proper rest before making any hasty decisions.

The first thing I noticed was there were rules for absolutely everything! Most of the rules in the unit had to do with keeping the unit in pristine condition. My first impression was that it was sort of a “finishing school” for women in the program. The head counselor made sure to say, “We are to be an example for all of how a unit should look.”

We had to wake up at 6 am Monday through Friday and broom clean our rooms daily. We also had to make sure our uniforms were ironed and ready for the day. Most women would iron their uniforms in the afternoon or weekends to avoid the morning rush.

To take a shower you had to place your name on a list and write down which shower stall you would be using that day. The shower stalls were numbered. When you were done with your shower, you had to call another program participant to visually inspect the stall to verify it was left as clean as possible. They would sign off on the list that you kept the shower stall clean and cleaned up after yourself. While I am no stranger to challenging work, this was a bit of a culture shock coming from a camp where very few rules like these are enforced.

The camp at Alderson was much more laid back, and each person could have their own routine. Here, the RDAP unit stays together all the time. For those that had work assignments, they must work after RDAP programming hours. At Carswell, the programming consists of a 3-hour community meeting which is held every day, Monday through Friday. The meetings are intended to be a safe place for participants to speak freely about the topics covered.

I expected to attend this community event and then have the rest of the day to myself. This was not the case, as treatment is to be 24/7 in a community-based environment. However, there were pockets of time for relaxation and socializing with your fellow unit members. I learned the rules as I went along but being a curious person, I do like to know why a rule is put in place.

One such rule was very odd to me. We were not allowed to hug anyone. While I do not naturally go around hugging people all day, as a prisoner this was one of the first things I lost; human touch. The last hug I felt, besides the hugs at self-surrender, was when I hugged my friends at Alderson goodbye, knowing I might never see them again.

Most of the women were adjusting to the unit rules and program expectations. We all deal with change in diverse ways. Something magical happened in week 2 of the program. I saw the women welcome the change in their lives and embrace the routine. These new rules gave them structure in their day, and with structure came security, responsibility, and discipline; all tools for success upon reentry. Once the rules were embraced, we bonded over food and discussions in the TV room about which Spanish soap opera to watch. I decided to make the most of my time at Carswell, and with RDAP, and chose to use the program’s tools to make a better future. 

Aillyn Aulov is a member of our White-Collar Support Group that meets on Zoom on Monday evenings.