Why a First Time Non Violent Offender Ends Up in Marion

Letters from Marion, by Joel Blaeser


Based on Mr. Blaeser’s personal experience, Letters from Marion is a rough yet touching  account of the author’s day to day life inside federal prisons;  Blaeser was charged and sentenced at 23 for Federal LSD violations as a first time non violent offender to 151 months of incarceration. USP Marion was the last and longest stop of the six federal prisons he did time.

This book was written after the Federal Crack Law riots happened on October 18th-19th 1995 in which 13 federal prisons almost simultaneously rioted. Blaeser himself was part of the Fedreal Prison riot in Talladega (Alabama).


In 1995 the U.S. Sentencing Commission issues its first research report to Congress on crack cocaine, finding that because over 80% of crack offenders are black, and because the 100-to-1 ratio results in unduly high sentences, sentences are harsher for minorities and create a public perception that the criminal justice system is unfair and inconsistent. The USSC tries to amend the guidelines to equalize the amount of crack and powder cocaine that trigger particular guideline sentences. Congress rejects the amendment.


When USP Marion opened in 1962 as the highest-level penitentiary ever built within the U.S. Federal Prison System (level 5.5) the prison administrators aimed to maintain a safe and orderly environment and rehabilitate the inmates, reason why implemented a behavior modification program named Control and Rehabilitation Effort (CARE)* in 1968.

Inmates assigned to the control-unit would spend 23 to 24 hours a day in one-man cells which were specifically designed to severely limit or eliminate the inmate’s contact with other people inside the prison and the outside world.

After the two officers murders in H-unit, Marion became designated a federal super-maximum lockdown penitentiary (level 6) the first ever in the United States, and the renovations increased the inmate population from 383 to 900.

Either if you are a student or you work in the field of criminal justice, this is a good book you might want to read;  Blaeser gives a precise account of his life back in prison and makes intelligent considerations about the justice system in the US. From drug legalization to prison administration, this book will make you think.


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