Monday, April 17, 2006

Easy Money

(I'm just cross-posting this from the other blog to put it where it belongs.)

She was in her mid-twenties and gorgeous. She walked in the midst of her class of new correctional officers. The six young male recruits surrounded her as they toured the institution, clamoring for her attention. She was enjoying every minute of it, smiling at them and flirting. Here was a woman who would never have to buy her own drinks or dinner. I bet she never got a speeding ticket either. As I watched, two thoughts jumped into my mind: Why would she want to work here? And, there’s going to be trouble. I wasn’t wrong about the trouble, but it came in a form that I didn’t expect.

I’ve seen it dozens of times. A good looking woman comes to work and the group of skirt chasing officers we have working here hound her until she relents. Then she is dropped, passed around, used and abused until she’s left bitter, lonely, and craving attention. Then the inmates take over, who are more than willing to give her the love and attention she desires. She falls in love with an inmate. The affair is made public and she is history. Another one bites the dust. I could see all this coming as I looked at that young woman. Not that we don’t have some great women officers here because we do. I’ve just seen the above scenario too many times. I’m jaded, I know. I would never let any woman I cared about work here.

As it happened, I was dead wrong about her demise. I was right about some things, though. She made the rounds through some of the male officers. She was treated about like I expected, but she didn’t turn to an inmate. She turned to a woman officer. She hooked up with one of the several lesbian officers that have come to work here in the last few years and they moved in together. We had so many lesbian officers come to work here at one time that I thought the administration must be sending out recruiters to all the gay bars. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. If I were a woman, I’m pretty sure that I would be a lesbian, too. Sadly, the young woman’s relationship with the female officer didn’t last either. She got her own place and adopted a cat that belonged to Mike, one of the inmates who work for me.


The Protective Custody Unit is housed on the third and fourth floors of Echo Block. In general, PC inmates are comprised of child molesters, wife beaters, inmates deep in debt on the yard, and rats; lots of rats of the two-legged variety. The unit officer on a PC floor is one of the worst posts to work. PCs whine more, file more grievances and lawsuits, and smell worse than any other inmate population. When you walk into the PC unit your nose is assaulted by fifty years of stale, roll-your-own, cigarette smoke and body odor; not just B.O. but mutant, make you gag and your eyes water until you get used to it B.O. PCs are only on the yard two hours a day, five days a week. That's their only time to shower. It's a shame more PCs don't take advantage of it.

Administration will never admit this, but the only officers who get assigned to a PC walk are either being punished, or are suspected of being dirty officers. After a few months, the young woman in question got assigned to third floor, Echo block.One of the hardest rules for officers to follow is "Don't talk about your home life at work." Don't talk about it to inmates. Don't talk about it to other officers, because they will talk about it in front of inmates. It happens every day. The young woman apparently had some problems, not the least of which was a severe cash flow problem. She was from Chicago and had no family or support system here. Her searching for love was really a searching for someone to support her, financially. She found no takers.

I don't know if she talked too much to the inmates or other officers did it for her, but it wasn't long before two of the third floor PCs approached her with a deal; a money-making opportunity guaranteed to solve her financial woes. She agreed.

The two PCs set her up with a contact on the streets. An appointment was made for her to meet the contact. She was to be given $1800 by the contact. Then she was to buy a quarter pound of weed, worth between $500 and $750 on the street, depending on the quality; worth between $3000 and $4000 behind the walls. She would get to keep the rest.

The rendezvous was set up for last Saturday. She met with the street contact. He gave her $1800.

At about the same time, two PC inmates from the third floor were escorted to internal affairs.

She drove off, intending to keep the entire $1800. Her plan was to buy a train ticket back to Chicago, leaving the Penitentiary in the dust.

The PCs were locked up in the segreagation unit.

She drove about a mile down the road before she was surrounded by four state troopers. One of which was her street "contact." She was arrested. Because she didn't buy the drugs and she didn't attempt to smuggle them into the institution, the only charge against her that I know of is "Bribery of a State Official." She is being held in a local county jail. Her bond is $10,000. She doesn't have the money. I don't know what penalty the sentence carries if she is convicted.

The only unknown I have yet to figure out is what the two PC inmates got out of the deal. They approached her. They set her up. They informed on her. The only thing I can think of that they could get out of it is some lost good time restored. Worse things have been done for less.

The young woman's former lover went by her house and took possession of Mike's former cat, Dawson. The cat is making the adjustment.

Monday, April 10, 2006


First of all, I would like to extend my appreciation to all of you who still stop by, hoping against hope, that lew would have posted a new poop or orifice-stuffing story. Your longing for the tales of the macabre and disgusting is comforting, and only slightly disturbing.

I have started working on a longer, hopefully, more profitable, venture. (Although I wouldn't take a million dollars for all of the comments and friendships I and my alter egos have made in the past year of blogging adventure. Okay, I'd take a million dollars, but I think you know what I mean.) What I'm trying to say is that I'm writing a book, or making the attempt. It will be fiction but based on my experiences in the wonderful, colorful corrections profession. Judging by my strenous work ethic, expect to be able to read the book mere minutes before they close the lid on ol' lew. But I am making the attempt.

Don't expect many, if any, new posts here while I work on this project. Yes, that's right. I'm asking you to lower your expectations even further, if that is possible. I may occasionally post something new, or tantalize you with an excerpt or two. Or I may not, so don't hold your breath. It makes your face turn a funny blue color. By the way, if you want to unlink from this blog, I understand. No hard feelings, I promise.

One other thing. In the past, when I've made similar pronouncements, the muse attacks me with reckless abandon (Read: I get an idea) and I end up posting more than usual. That's because I'm an enigma. I'm an enigma, wrapped in a riddle. I'm an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by mystery. I'm an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by mystery, and covered in cheese sauce. Yep. That's about right.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Off-White is a Little Off

Many of the comments to the last post questioned why an inmate would swallow a pen and stick a spork where the sun don't shine. (By the way, after the inmate told me his "secret," I informed the officer and the x-ray tech. The inmate wasn't lying. Medical staff removed the spork by hand but the pen had to be removed surgically at an outside hospital. He returned to our institution, sans pen, over the weekend.) From my experience, some inmates act out like this for attention. The others are just nuts. Not being a psychologist, that's not a medical opinion, but why else? As I've said before, there has been an inmate who cut open his sack and took out his balls and played with them, another jammed an ink pen down his penis, others fingerpaint their walls with shit, and others make fecal chess sets. We end up with them because they are dangerous, but they really belong in a mental institution.

I can't think of a new story to share, but the fingerpainting reminded me of the following post from the old blog. For my newer readers, it's just like a brand new post. For the long-time faithful readers, just reminisce...

This institution always has money in the budget for paint. There is no money for salary increases, edible food for the inmates, or rehabilitation programs that work; but paint, yes, we have to have lots of paint. The theory is that if you slap enough wax on the floors and throw enough paint on the walls and bars, the place at least looks good. In a never-ending process, the whole place gets a new paint face-lift every year, always with the same colors though: Battleship gray and off-white.

About seven years ago, F-Block was being re-painted. The janitors were kept busy painting and setting up and tearing down scaffolding. The tyrant in charge of this operation was the cell house walk officer we call Quick-Draw. Quick-Draw got his nickname one day at the firing range. He was pulling his .38 out of his holster and spinning it on his finger, wild-west style. Another officer asked him if he had a pistol at home. He replied, “No, but my wife does. She lets me practice.” Quick-Draw’s inmate supervisory style was simple. He was a practitioner of the “you will do it because I say so and if you don’t, I will write you up” technique. Several janitors quit and others were fired before the cell house painting neared completion. All that remained to be painted was Quick-Draw’s office.

The disgruntled inmate janitor given the job of painting the office decided that a slight color change in the paint scheme was needed. While Quick-Draw was off harassing some other hapless worker, the janitor closed the door to Q-D’s office and promptly took a dump in the paint bucket. He stirred until the paint was thoroughly mixed. (I don’t know what he did about the lumps. Perhaps the previous night’s meal was bean burritos, rendering his “evacuation” lump-less.) The janitor then painted Quick-Draw’s office with the newly mixed paint. The office was locked up until the next day for the paint to dry.

The next day, Quick-Draw entered his office. He thought the new paint smelled rather peculiar. He decided that some inmate must have left something in his office. He searched through his filing cabinets and his desk for the offensive odor. For the next week, anyone who made rounds in F-Block and stopped by Quick-Draw’s office immediately wrinkled their noses and remarked about the malodorous smell. Finally, either the janitor fessed up (unlikely) or another janitor ratted him out (very likely.) The office was re-painted with several coats of sealer, before new paint was applied. The office has had at least seven more coats of paint since then, but if you have very strong fingernails, I bet you could still get some “Scratch-N-Sniff” action.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Pen is Tastier than the Sword, or Have You Seen My Spork?

This one is hot off the presses, folks. This incident just happened yesterday.

I was escorting some outside contractors to various parts of the institution. One of the places they needed to go was the hospital. Technically, it’s the infirmary now, but we old-timers still call it the hospital. We were let in through the outer door into a caged area, called a “sallyport,” then through the inner door. To our right, the waiting room area contained only one segregation inmate and his officer escort. I took the contractors where they needed to go and left them to their work while I returned to the waiting area.

Segregation inmates wear only yellow, from their outer clothes, which are similar to a set of hospital scrubs, down to their state issued boxers and tee-shirts. Even their canvas slip-on shoes are dyed yellow. By policy, whenever a seg inmate is escorted out of the unit, like to the hospital for instance, he must have his hands cuffed behind the back and his legs shackled. The inmate in the hospital waiting room yesterday was thusly attired, but he was wearing a new accessory which I had never before seen. He had a black leather and canvas mask strapped to his face. So you can get a visual in your mind’s eye of what it looked like, I would describe it as a cross between the mask worn by Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs, and the one worn by Darth Vader in Star Wars.

I sat next to the officer escort, a fairly new officer that I didn’t know except by name, and asked, “What’s with the mask?”

“Oh, he’s a spitter. That’s the new spit shield.”

I replied, “We used to use those mesh bags on spitters.”

“We quit using them awhile back after uncle Wally chewed through one.”

I laughed, “Leave it to Uncle Wally.” Motioning toward the inmate, I asked, “What’s he down here for?”

“He’s got to get x-rayed. He’s supposed to have swallowed an ink pen. It’s something everyday with this idiot.”

“Some things never change. Seg always has been more of a nuthouse than anything else.”

Neither of us said anything for a minute, and then the officer asked, “Are you going to be here for a few minutes?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Would you stay with him,” he nodded at the inmate, “while I use the bathroom and grab a cup of coffee?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks. I’ll be right back.” He left to use the facilities. I moved into his seat next to the inmate.

So far, the inmate had said nothing. I asked him, “Did you really swallow an ink pen?”

The mask made it hard for him to talk. All his words came out muffled and slurred but I think he said, “Huh-huh. Yep. Huh-huh.” The “Huh-huh,” I was soon to learn, was a chuckle with which he started and ended every statement.

“Why did you do that?”

“Huh-huh. I don’t know. Huh-huh.” After a few seconds he said, “Huh-huh. You want to know a secret? Huh-huh.”

“Probably not, but go ahead and tell me.”

“Huh-huh. I stuck a spork up my ass, too. Shhhh. Huh-huh.”

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Clean Sweep

The original cell houses and buildings of Probity State Penitentiary were built in the 1890’s. Echo block was added in the 1930’s during the height of the great depression. It was built under the auspices of the W.P.A., one of the many agencies instituted by Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Having worked in and around Echo block as an officer, a supervisor, and a maintenance person, I can say that during the 30’s the W.P.A. was more interested in putting people to work than in the quality of the workmanship achieved. Echo block was constructed from inferior materials and designed poorly. An important design flaw was building the cell house on top of the dining room and kitchen. Every time a toilet floods or a water pipe leaks it inevitably leaks down until it drips from the kitchen ceiling; unappetizing at best, unsanitary at worst.

Echo block consists of four floors of 91 cells. Each floor is shaped like an "E." The main hallway has a gate that leads to the exit stairs and also contains the walk officer’s office. Coming off of the main hallway are the three arms of the "E" where the inmates’ cells are located. Two of these "arms" are double walks; a hallway in the middle with cells on either side. Officers dislike this arrangement because the hallway is not wide enough for a patrolling officer to be out of reach of both walks at the same time. Inmates hate these double walks because there is even less privacy than in other cell houses, with another inmate living directly across the hall.

In deference to this lack of privacy, there is a long-standing, unwritten rule allowing inmates to put up a privacy screen, consisting of a sheet or towel hung up on the cell bars. In practice, the privacy screen should be hung low enough that an officer can still see over it if needed and are only to remain up long enough for an inmate to take care of the essentials; namely, sitting on the crapper or running off a batch by hand. To use Seinfeldian terminology, few here, if any, are "masters of their domain." I, as an officer, have no desire to witness either bodily function so I welcome the privacy screen. I never find it necessary to peer over it, either. If I need to verify that an inmate is in his cell, I just speak to them.

Several years ago, I was the midnight shift walk officer on first floor, echo block. On midnight shift, the only duty of a walk officer for the first six hours is to make the scheduled counts and call them in, and make "random" rounds at least every thirty minutes. (I always wondered how random a round could be when you have to make one every thirty minutes, but I digress.) At 5am, the officer has to wake the kitchen workers if there are any on his post and let them out to go to work. At 6am, the officer has to wake everyone up for breakfast.

It was a little after 6am when the Senior Captain showed up at my post to make rounds. This was a little out of the ordinary. He normally didn't come to work until 7. Maybe he thought he could catch somebody sleeping, but he would have had to show up a couple of hours earlier for that. I walked with him as he made rounds. After we came off of the first walk, he started chewing on my ass a little about all the people that had privacy screens up. I tried to explain that I just woke them up for breakfast and they were just taking care of their morning business. Well, the captain wasn't hearing any excuses. He began lecturing me about the old days, more or less implying that I was a weak officer for letting them get away with putting up a privacy screen. He asked me how I could ever really know they were in their cell. I told him I could look over the top of the screen if I felt the need, but I usually just talked to them. I admit I said this in a kind of superior tone, which kind of pissed him off. When we started down the next walk he was mad and decided to show me how a good officer took charge.

We were four or five cells down the walk when we encountered another cell sporting a privacy screen. Captain said, "You, in cell 5, take down this sheet."

The inmate replied in a strained voice, "In a minute." I swear I thought he must be taking a dump.

The Captain said, "I said take this sheet down and I mean now!" But he didn't wait for the inmate to comply. He reached up and jerked one corner of the sheet down himself. Neither of us was prepared for what we saw. The inmate was lying on his bed, legs stuck in the air. In one hand he had a broom about two feet long that inmates are issued to clean their cells. He was riding that broom handle in a frenzy, and I don't mean like the wicked witch of the east would ride a broom. To complete the picture, in his other hand, he had a small mirror positioned so he could watch the process, up close and personal. I turned my head quickly, not quickly enough, but quickly. The Captain stood their dumbfounded for a few seconds, then he turned and exited the walk. He never finished making rounds.

I came off the walk and locked the walk door. We both stood there in silence for a minute then I said, "Sometimes those privacy screens are good things." The Captain never said another word to me, in fact he didn't speak to me for several weeks. He just motioned toward the the crash gate by the exit stairs and I let him out. I think he lost his appetite for breakfast.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Time Capsule

I have some additional thoughts on our friend Carl Ray, mentioned in the post below. If you haven’t read about his little misadventure yet, read it first.

It’s funny to think that anyone could be fooled into believing that a fancy thermometer is some sort of new-fangled lie detector. I found it humorous and thought that you would, too. Obviously, inmate Carl Ray is not the brightest crayon in the box, the sharpest tool in the shed, the crispiest cracker in the box, or whatever metaphor you choose. In Carl’s defense though, he had been locked up for twenty years or so when the incident happened. Think how much new technology has been introduced in the last twenty to twenty-five years. In his way of thinking it was entirely possible that there was a hand-held polygraph.

In some ways, Probity State Penitentiary is like a time capsule stuck in…I’d guess about the 70’s. We are making headway. When I started working here I’d say we were still stuck in the 50’s. When I worked the legal office, about 10 years ago, was the first time that inmates were allowed to use electric typewriters. The administration only allowed me to make that update because we could no longer find anyone to repair the old manuals. The legal office still has those same electric typewriters today. Now they’re having trouble getting those repaired, so sometime in the next couple of years I expect them to update to computer terminals. We’ll see. Change comes hard and slow around here.

Inmates only have a limited number of TV stations available, although that is better than it used to be, too. So unless an inmate actively tries to remain abreast of technological advances in the real world by reading the right magazines and watching the right programs, they are left behind while the world marches on. Most old time inmates I know spend more time watching sports and reading (?) porn than checking out the latest technological innovations. And really, why should they care that one can surf the net on a cell phone now. They’ll never have a cell phone and most have never experienced the internet.

There own small world also changes without them while they are locked up. Now I’m not talking about technology, but personal things. And no, I don’t feel sorry for them. They did what they did and now they have to pay the piper. I’m just recognizing that there are some difficult adjustments to be made for those inmates who get released, and the majority of them do.

In the position I now hold, I have two inmates who work directly for me. Both are serving out there sentences shortly. Brian goes home March 31. He’s been locked up on this stint about 4 years. Many things have happened in his family during those 4 years. His oldest daughter was molested by a family acquaintance. His mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. His older brother, long the most stable and successful of his siblings, out of nowhere started experiencing severe mental problems. The brother lost his job, his house and is in and out of mental institutions, putting more of an emotional drain on his already sick mother. Then about four months ago, Brian’s wife decided she was leaving him. Then she changed her mind. Then she changed it back. Then back again. He’ll have a lot of adjustments to make and relationships to renew when he re-enters the real world. Brian is a hard worker and determined to work things out. I have a reasonable amount of faith that he’ll make it, if he can stay away from the alcohol.

My other worker, Mike, I’ve written about before. Look down a few posts to find it. Mike’s family is a screwed up mess. That is why when he was on the streets he lived with his grandmother. A few months back she had some health problems and now resides in a nursing home. Then back in November, a tornado tore threw his hometown and demolished both his grandmother’s and his father’s houses. So literally, when he leaves the friendly confines of Probity on May 1, he has no place to go. He is working through the V.A. to find a job and a place to live. Mike has a strange outlook on life. I hope he makes it, but if I were a betting man I’d give him no better than a 50-50 chance.

It does sound like I feel a little sorry for them. I’d love to see them both make it. I’d like every inmate who gets to walk out of here make good on their second (or third, or fourth…) chance. I guess I’m really wishing that I’d be out of a job.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lie Detector Lies

Major and minor rule infractions in the penitentiary setting are handled through the Disciplinary Process. Inmates are guaranteed what the courts have termed “limited” due process rights. Those rights include the right to confront their accusers, the right to call and examine witnesses, and the right for the case to be heard in front of an Adjustment Committee (commonly referred to as “Court Call”) comprised of staff not involved with the incident. One of the main limitations of an inmate’s due process rights involves the standard of proof required for a conviction. The standard of proof in a criminal case on the streets is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The standard of proof in most civil cases is “a preponderance of the evidence.” The standard of proof in a corrections disciplinary hearing is only “some evidence.” Some evidence is not a high standard to meet. For example, I can issue a disciplinary report, or “write-up”, against an inmate for threatening me. The inmate shows up at Court Call with three other inmates who swear they were with the first inmate and testify he never threatened me at all. My write-up and my testimony still constitute “some evidence,” and the inmate in most cases would be found guilty.

Any staff member who observes or is made aware of an inmate’s rule violations can issue a write-up. After the Disciplinary Report is filed, the Shift Captain has two hours to review the report. The Shift Captain’s review is to determine if any immediate action needs to be taken and to insure all pertinent information is contained in the report. The Shift Captain then forwards the write-up to the supervisor in charge of investigations. All write-ups must be investigated within 24 hours of the Shift Captain’s review.

In the investigation stage, the investigator interviews the inmate, the inmate pleads guilty or not guilty, the inmate lists any witnesses he would like to call, the inmate picks a Legal Aide to represent him if desired, and a date for Court Call is set. The investigator may also interview any staff members involved. I’ve given you all this background to tell you a little story.

I was working investigations one day. I picked up the stack of Disciplinary Reports that had been written in the last 24 hours and set about calling each inmate to the yard office to interview them. I was near the bottom of the stack of reports when I came across one written by Sgt. Hagar, the internal affairs officer. Sgt. Hagar was an old hand. He was disliked by the inmates and not trusted by other staff members. This was primarily due to the fact that he was good at his job. He had a network of informants that kept him apprised of the major happenings at Probity. He was an expert at sifting through this confidential information and he took great pains to protect his informants. The write-up stated that inmate kitchen worker Carl Ray had stolen a fifty pound bag of sugar from the kitchen. The report didn’t say that Sgt. Hagar witnessed the theft, but it did say that inmate Ray had confessed. This aroused my curiosity because most inmates would never confess if the Warden himself caught them with the bag of sugar on their shoulder.

I called Carl Ray to the yard office. I read him the write-up and asked him if he agreed with it. He said, “I wouldn’t have admitted to stealing the sugar if it hadn’t been for that new Lie Detector Hagar had.”

I was confused. I knew that we didn’t have a polygraph machine. We transported inmates to a different facility when a polygraph needed to be administered. Plus, there was no polygraph report attached to the write-up. I didn’t want the inmate to know all of this so all I said was, “I see. So you do admit that you stole fifty pounds of sugar from the kitchen?”

Ray said, “Yeah, there ain’t no sense denying it now.” I got the rest of the information I needed from him, set the date for his Court Call appearance and went to find Sgt. Hagar.

I found him in the Internal Affairs office drinking coffee and reading inmates’ mail. I said, “Hagar, tell me about this new lie detector machine we have.”

Hagar choked on his coffee and started laughing. He said, “You’ll get a kick out of this.” Then he told me what happened.

Hagar had obtained information through one of his informants that inmate Ray had stolen the sugar to make up a big batch of “hootch.” Hagar didn’t have any corroborating evidence to go along with his confidential source. Since nobody witnessed the theft and Hagar couldn’t reveal the identity of his informant, inmate Ray was going to get away with the theft unless Hagar could get him to confess.

Sgt. Hagar went to “F” block where Ray was housed. First Hagar conducted a cursory search of Ray’s cell. Then he went to the “F” block office and had Ray paged from the yard. Hagar questioned Ray for about a half hour. Hagar tried to bluff him with bogus witnesses, lies, and half-truths. Ray was steadfast in his denials.

Hagar was about to give up when he noticed the institutional environmentalist, Lt. Bradley, making rounds. Lt. Bradley was in charge of checking and documenting the living conditions in all the cells in the institution. Lt. Bradley had to check cell temperatures, air flow, and available light because there are certain standards that living quarters must meet. In order to make these checks, Lt. Bradley carried several pieces of equipment with him.

When Sgt. Hagar saw Bradley, he got an idea. Hagar said, “Bradley, I’m in here.” Bradley stopped at the door looking a little puzzled but he kept quiet. Hagar asked him, “Did you bring that piece of equipment from the control center for me?” Hagar reached out his hand toward Bradley.

Bradley replied, “Yeah, sure. Here it is, Sarge.” Bradley handed Hagar what was in his hand at that moment which turned out to be an infrared digital thermometer. The thermometer looked like a space-age ray gun. It shot an infrared beam like one of those annoying laser pointers and recorded the temperature of whatever surface the beam touched on its digital display.

Hagar took the high tech thermometer and fiddled with some of the dials. “Let’s get this thing calibrated,” Hagar said to no one in particular but totally for Carl Ray’s benefit. He pointed it at Ray and triggered the beam so that it landed on Ray’s forehead. “Now, for the record, state your name.”

“Carl Ray.” Hagar nodded and flipped a switch and tweaked one of the dials.

“What is your number?”


Hagar made another adjustment to one of the dials. “Now I think we’re ready to get to the truth.” He looked up at Bradley for confirmation. Bradley nodded in agreement but didn’t say anything; probably afraid he would laugh.

Hagar turned back to Ray and began asking him about the sugar again. Carl Ray still denied any knowledge of the sugar at first, but his calm demeanor was gone and he was beginning to sweat. Hagar said, “I’d like to believe you Carl but this thing says you’re lying. Let’s try again.”

Hagar began the “calibration” process over again then resumed questioning Ray about the sugar. After a couple more rounds of questioning, Ray confessed to the theft and told where he had hidden the sugar.

At Court Call, Ray was found guilty based on the “some evidence” of his own confession and sentenced to thirty days in the hole. Ray was never told that he was outwitted by a clever officer and a fancy thermometer which dutifully displayed “98.6” when pointed at his forehead.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Phone Check

Sixteen two-man bunks lined three of the four walls in the cell at the county jail everyone called the bullpen. On the other wall are two stainless steel toilets, two steel sinks, and a shower in the corner. Everything is out in the open. There is no privacy in jail, even when nature calls. That is why, although he was beginning his third day in the bullpen, Brian Hunter had not yet taken a dump. But that is near the bottom of his list of concerns right now.

On a worn blue rubber mat located near the toilets is a weight bench with some free weights. Well they call them free weights but none of the weights is really free. There is a straight bar for bench presses, a curl bar, and two dumbbells, all with the weights welded to the bars. Posted on the wall above the toilets, a large sign with bold letters warns inmates not to remove the weights from the blue mat area. Along the same wall in the opposite corner from the shower is the community television. Below that and to the left is a phone. Above the phone is a small indicator light that when illuminated, signals that the phone service has been turned on for another day. The only other accoutrements in the cell are two heavily scarred wooden picnic tables placed end to end and taking up most of the remaining space. That small light above the phone is the focus of Brian’s attention this morning.

When the bullpen is at its design capacity of 32 men it is crowded. Today it houses 53 inmates, 34 of whom are black and the remaining 19 are white. The 32 beds are claimed on a seniority basis but only for those inmates who are strong enough to stake a claim. The rest are issued a mattress, sheet, blanket and pillow. Along with the beds, the best floor space is already claimed. Being the last person to be placed in the cell, the only floor space left for Brian is between the weight lifting area and one of the toilets. It’s the jail equivalent to the table in the back by the kitchen and the bathroom at a fine restaurant, but it suits Brian’s purposes this morning because he is nearest to the phone. After two days of being ignored, intimidated, and bullied whenever it was his turn, Brian was determined to get to the phone first. Brian needed the phone because he needed money; money to buy snacks to supplement the meager meals the jail served; money to buy cigarettes, the jail house currency; money to buy protection if the need arose.

Brian never considered himself to be prejudiced. He was an equal opportunity drug dealer. He didn’t care if a person was white, black, or purple. The only color he cared about was green. As long as their money was green Brian would sell anybody any drug they wanted. In fact it was his undiscriminating ways which landed him in jail. The undercover Drug Task Force Agent’s money was green, but his badge was bright shiny silver when he flashed it after Brian sold him an 8-ball of his finest coke. But after two days in jail with the blacks monopolizing both the television and the phone every minute of the day, Brian was starting to get a feel for racial hatred.

There was almost a riot yesterday when Brian, seeing that nobody was paying attention to the TV, turned the channel. He found out that was a no-no when he was immediately surrounded by black inmates who pushed him into the corner and explained to him the ways of the world. The same thing happened with the phone. Brian waited to use the phone but one black inmate handed it off to another black inmate all day long. Brian finally spoke up for himself and said, “Hey, I’ve been waiting for the phone all day.”

“You never said, ‘Phone check,’” a black inmate informed him.

“Phone check? What the hell is phone check?”

“Phone check means you want the phone next.” Then black inmates all around the room almost in unison said, “Phone check," insuring that Brian wasn't going to get to use the phone that day.

This morning was going to be different. The light went on and Brian grabbed the phone. While he is still dialing his girlfriend’s number, three black inmates walk toward the phone. One of them says, “Phone check.” While Brian was waiting for the operator to connect the collect call another inmate says, “Phone check!” Now there is a bigger crowd around him, all of them intermittently calling out, “Phone check!” And Brian’s girlfriend is not answering the phone. He breaks the connection and starts to dial his mom.

“Hey, you get one call. I’m next. Get away from the phone.”

Brian tries to reason with them. “Nobody answered. I’m trying someone else. I won’t be long.” Reason doesn’t work in the bullpen.

One says, “I said get off the fucking phone!” Then in unison, those that surrounded Brian began chanting, “Phone check! Phone check!” The chanting crescendos until Brian cannot hear what is being said on the phone.

Brian drops the receiver and leaves it dangling. He walks around the crowd who begin to disburse. Brian picks up the curl bar with 80 lbs. of free weights attached, and with a primal scream charges the phone and spears it straight through the heart. “There’s your phone check! And here’s your fucking TV.” He swings the weight bar through the picture tube of the TV and it explodes, smoke filling the air. He throws the curl bar, sending it bouncing across the floor.

The noise brings the guards and Brian is taken away and locked up in a solitary cell. He has his own bed. He doesn’t have to fight for his meals. He gets to make one 10 minute phone call a day and he gets to take a crap in private. Brian plans to get a “White Power” tattoo at his first opportunity.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

One More Blast From The Past

George S. came to my institution by way of an interstate compact agreement. An interstate compact agreement is where states "trade" a few of their worst prisoners to another state to lessen the tension and trouble at their institutions. George S. was transferred from one of the panhandle states to us because he had killed a couple of inmates while incarcerated at their max. institutions. George S. was a stone cold killer. I spent a couple of hours last night trying to find some background information on him. His crimes were pre-internet, so the only thing I found was a copy of the appeals court ruling on his initial charge. His sentence was Life for the killing of a young woman with a sawed-off shotgun. From the sketchy information I could gather, he killed her because she was a witness to some of his other criminal activities. His own words were "I was not going to do a hundred years for anybody." He was right.

By the time we got him, George S. had four murders to his credit. It only took a few months before he added number five. It was 1993 and I was new to dayshift. I had spent my first fifteen months as a correctional officer on midnights. I wasn't a "fish", as new officers are called, but I wasn't very experienced either. That morning I was walking the yard with Cisco. Cisco is Puerto Rican, ex-special forces and probably the best officer to ever patrol the yard at our institution in its 120 year history. Cisco has saved more than one officer's life in his twenty something years at our institution. A call came over the radio from "D" wallstand to check out the weight pile. The weight pile was a roofed area on the back of the yard where inmates worked out with free weights. It was one of the most dangerous places on the yard. The roof blocked the wallstand's ability to observe and all the nickels and dimes, which are what the five and ten pound weights are called, not to mention the weight bars were all potential weapons. When Cisco and I came into view of the weight pile, their was a mass exodus of inmates leaving the area; a sure sign that something bad was or had happened and these inmates wanted no part in it. We, along with some other responding officers stopped everyone from leaving. Cisco went to the weight pile and quickly called for M-1, the nurse on duty, to respond to the area.

Cisco tried to warn me but I had to see for myself. Lying next to the bench press on the ground was an inmate called "Silver", or at least his mortal remains. He was brutally beaten with a weight bar. His head was recognizable only as a gray haired pile of red Jello. I had to swallow down some dry heaves.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. George S. was charged with Silver's murder and placed in ACU. ACU is the jail within a jail within a jail. The segregation unit is the jail within a jail and ACU is a walk within the segregation unit. I met George S. the one and only time when I worked ACU one day. George S. was making his weekly ten minute phone call as mandated by the courts. I looked at my watch and told him, "Time's up." He heard me but didn't acknowledge me. After another minute or so I said again, "Time's up." Much to my relief he hung up the phone. Then he walked over to the bars that separated us. His eyes were something out of a nightmare. I'm at a loss to describe them, but I'll try. They were distinctive like Elijah Wood's eyes, except they were a much paler blue and they radiated an evil that was so intense it was palpable. I've only seen eyes similar to his on two other people and they are both on death row and were contract killers. It was then that George S. said one of the most memorable lines I've ever heard. He looked at me with those eyes and said, "You fuck with me again and I'll rip off your face and use it for a jack rag." Much to my relief again, he turned and walked to his cell and we put him in it.

Fast Forward a few months. George S. was being transferred to another penitentiary. This one was on the continent but not in the 48 contiguous states (kind of narrows it down doesn't it?) He was scheduled for a one day and one night stop at his original panhandle state penitentiary to expedite some paperwork, then on to his new home. He was placed in panhandle state's most secure walk in their most secure cell house. I'm not familiar with their procedures but I assume they are similar to ours, so the following is educated conjecture. George S. was cuffed and shackled and escorted to the shower. He was placed in the shower, the door secured and his restraints removed. The most dangerous prisoner at Panhandle State Pen. was a man named Matt A. He was so dangerous that they had built a cage around his cell. This was where he was allowed his mandated recreation time; away from all other prisoners. The officer that escorted George S. was walking past Matt A.'s cell. Apparently, Matt A. was in the caged area and not his cell. Somehow Matt A. got a hold of the officer as he walked by. Matt A. told the officer to give him his keys or he would kill him. The officer turned over his keys and Matt A. locked the officer in his cell. Matt A. walked to the shower while brandishing two homemade knives, called "shanks." Matt let himself into the shower and screams, shouts and a struggle were heard. After a surprisingly short amount of time, Matt A. walked out of the shower covered in blood. He walked back to his cell, layed his weapons on the ground, let the officer out, handed the officer back his keys and allowed the officer to secure him in his cell. George S. was found dead in the shower with 46 stab wounds. The investigation never turned up how Matt A. knew George S. was going to be there on that particular day. Normally, transfers are very confidential. Matt A. still lives in the same cell serving out 12 life sentences.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Worst Jobs #1- What did you do at work today Daddy?

[When I first posted this one, some were incredulous that it actually happened. I assure you, it really happened. Only the names have been changed to protect me.]

Some of you may not consider this worse than the other job I mentioned, but I was glad I didn’t have Nurse Boone’s job. Thankfully, I was only involved as an observer. Mr. Boone quit shortly after the incident.
It all started with a phone call….."Hospital. Nurse Boone speaking."

"Boone, this is Lt. Galloway from the seg unit. We need you over here. We have a situation that requires your attention."

"What kind of a situation? A fight? A cutter? I need to know what to bring with me."

"Oh, it’s nothing like that. This is kind of...well...unique. The only thing I can think of that you might bring with you is some Vaseline."

Boone thought he heard a chuckle on the other end of the phone. "OK. I’ll be right over." Boone arrived at the seg unit and was ushered to 2 walk, cell 15. Galloway, the shift captain, and a couple of officers were standing outside the cell door. Two other officers were in the cell kneeling down and looking under the bed. Boone approached Galloway and said, "I’m here. What’s the problem?"

"The inmate is stuck."

"Stuck? Stuck how?"

"Take a look for yourself."

One of the officers came out of the 7’ X 10’ cell so Boone could enter. The mattress was thrown on the floor and the inmate was lying face down and naked on the steel bunk. The bed frames in the segregation unit are 1/16" plate steel with an angle iron frame. The frame is welded and bolted to the wall. The steel plate has a series of holes drilled in it slightly smaller than the diameter of a coke can, presumably to make the frame lighter. As Boone entered, the inmate turned his head to the nurse and said, "It must have fell in the hole while I was asleep. When I woke up, I was stuck." Boone knelt down and peered under the bed. Sure enough, the inmate had "it" sticking through one of the holes in the bed.

"Sure," Boone said. "It just ‘fell’ in that hole. I guess you always sleep naked on the bare bunk." Boone looked a little closer. The inmate really was stuck. The edges of the hole were biting into his skin and the circulation to "it" was obviously cut off. Boone walked out of the cell shaking his head. (I’m sure this inmate was not the first to try this, but he was the first "gifted" enough to get stuck.) Boone turned to Galloway and said, "You’re right. That’s a new one on me. Any suggestions?"

"You could take the Vaseline I told you to bring and relieve the pressure for him. He can’t reach to take care of it himself." Everybody thought this was uproariously funny, except Boone of course.

Boone ignored him. "How about some ice water? We could put "it" in some ice water. That ought to shrink it."

"You got a mouse in your pocket? There is no "we." Try whatever you want. This is a medical problem now." Boone had an officer bring him some ice water in a bowl. Boone went back in the cell and held the bowl under the bed and placed it over "it." The inmate howled. Oblivious to the inmate’s protests the Nurse held the bowl there for a few minutes. It should have worked, but it didn’t. Still the same. Still stuck.

Boone went to call the institutional doctor and explain the situation. Boone came back and explained that the doctor wanted the inmate, bed and all, to be taken to the inside hospital. Exasperated, Galloway said, "How are we going to do that?"

Boone laughed. "Now who’s got the mouse in their pocket? I’m done with him until you get him down to the hospital." They ended up calling someone from the maintenance department to cut the bed off of the wall with a cutting torch, while 4 officers held the bed and inmate from falling to the ground. They then placed the inmate on his back with the bed frame on top of him onto a four-wheeled cart that was used to deliver food to the seg unit. They then had to push this cart across the whole compound. It looked like some kind of obscene sundial pointing at the sky. Somebody finally threw a towel over "it."

They made it to the hospital amid wide eyes and copious amounts of laughter. They carried the bed/inmate into the hospital and the doctor arrived some time later. I wish I had a good ending to the story. I don’t know what the doctor ended up doing, but the inmate finally became unstuck. The rumor always was that somebody had to relieve the pressure like Lt. Galloway initially said. I doubt it. But that was the story and Nurse Boone never did live it down. Staff and inmates alike teased him mercilessly. I guess that is why he quit. But what a story he has to tell.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Open the Floodgates

One of the favorite past-times of disgruntled segregation inmates is flooding the walk. They stuff whatever is handy: books, newspapers, clothing, sheets, pillows, mattresses, spare body parts, into the toilets and flush, flush, flush! Voila! We now have instant waterfalls adorning the otherwise drab cell house. This is loads of fun and hours of pleasure for all staff involved, I assure you. When the segregation cell house was being remodeled, the whole seg unit was moved to “F” block. “F” block was the newest cell house at the time. Unlike the old seg unit, “F” block came equipped with a fire suppressing sprinkler system. Each cell had its own sprinkler head mounted above the cell door, about ten feet up. Ralph “Lucky” Luckenbrock occupied one of these cells. Lucky stood all of four and a half foot tall and weighed about 200 lbs. He was perpetually in the seg unit. He was deep in debt on the yard. Whenever his seg time was about up, he would do something to get “written up” so he could extend his stay in segregation. He was a nasty little man. He cussed staff. He used to shit down (throw excrement at) officers pretty regularly until a law came into affect that classified this behavior as assault and carried an added five-year sentence. All in all, Lucky was equally disliked by staff and inmate. Lucky viewed his new surroundings and spotted the sprinkler. “Ah,” he thought. “I can flood the walk without stopping up my toilet and getting my water turned off.” The problem was how to do it. He looked for something heavy to throw at the sprinkler head. He didn’t have anything heavier than a magazine. Then he got a brainstorm. He rolled up his sheet and tossed it over the sprinkler. He jumped up, grabbed the sheet and his weight broke the sprinkler head off. Lucky wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Without the sprinkler head to diffuse the water, Lucky was hit full force with a ¾ inch stream of water propelled at 90 p.s.i. The stagnant, rusty water knocked him to the opposite wall. His screams for help were unheard over the sound of the fire alarm. After the initial blast, the January temperatures caused the water pelting him to turn ice cold. The stream pummeled him for the twenty minutes or so it took to get the fire and safety officer and maintenance personnel to shut the water off. By this time, Lucky had turned a shade of blue and was shivering in the corner. He earned a new nickname that day: Lucky Smurf.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Worst Jobs #2- My First Written Reprimand

(Bear with me as I try to get most of these old posts back up.)

Smoking and other tobacco products are banned for inmates in the segregation unit. Therefore, an inmate can make some serious money or pay off a debt by successfully smuggling tobacco (and rolling papers, matches, etc.) into the unit. Every inmate is strip-searched and his property thoroughly searched before being placed in the unit. How is the tobacco smuggled in? You guessed it. The tobacco and accessories are "keestered." Which is prison parlance for having it shoved where the sun don’t shine. Many fights on the yard are started by someone with an ass full of tobacco planning to smuggle it into seg. The amount of tobacco that can be keestered by some inmates is truly staggering. Two cans worth of Topps, matches and papers is the most I’ve heard of. That’s basically two cartons worth of cigarettes. A cigarette costs about 10 postage stamps, so that guy had a veritable gold mine in his ass. Cigarette, anyone?

When the administration has evidence that an inmate is smuggling contraband in this fashion, he is taken to the infirmary and placed in a "dry cell" with no running water, no toilet; just boxer shorts, a bed, and a bedpan. Some lucky officer’s sole duty is then to constantly observe the inmate until he "makes a deposit." That’s when the fun starts. Then the unfortunate officer gets to go through the "deposit" looking for contraband. I was the unfortunate officer one time. I was still a "fish" guard working midnights.

When I arrived at work I checked the roster and noticed my post had been changed to "special hospital duty." After roll call I went to the hospital and relieved the evening shift officer. His report: "No deposits yet." "Maybe I’ll be that lucky, too," I thought. My luck don’t roll like that, though. I almost made it. It was 6:45 am and I got off at 7. Mr. Inmate got up, looked at me, and with a malevolent grin, dropped his boxers and sat on the bedpan. I was praying he would have to work it out for a while. God’s answer was no. He finished, smiled at me, and pushed the bedpan in my direction. I was a dedicated officer, so I gloved up and with tongue depressors in hand did my job. Nothing but, well you know. Now I had to write a report stating the results of my investigation. I was relieved by my day shift replacement and I wrote my report and turned it in. Now, why did I get that written reprimand? Because in my report I stated, "After conducting a thorough search of the bedpan, I found nothing noteworthy to report except a few kernels of corn." The administration doesn’t have a sense of humor. (I just noticed the first part of this title is a pun.) Worst Job #1 coming up soon. Don't worry. It soesn't deal with the same bodily function.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Just to Get You Thinking

(You are correct. This is a re-post. I wanted to remind you of "Mike" because I am writing another post about him to be posted in a day or two...hopefully.)

It is time for a little soul-searching, dear readers. Here is a thought to ponder. How many of you have done something in your life that could have landed you in prison if the circumstances or timing had been just a little different? Come on. Be honest with yourself. You don’t have to tell me, just think about it. I would daresay that not many of us have lived a life completely devoid of criminal activity. I’m not talking about armed robbery, murder and the like, but what about "fudging" on your taxes, smoking a little weed, using somebody else’s prescription meds, driving under the influence? What? You didn’t know that some of those things could make you end up in prison?

Allow me to illustrate………..This is the story of an inmate who currently works for me. I’ll call him Mike. At the outset I want to inform you that this is his story as told to me by him. I haven’t verified the details other than I know his charges and sentence. Also, I am in no way condoning or excusing his actions. I just want to show how a quirk of fate (although I don’t believe in fate or luck) and a bad decision or two can have grave consequences. In other words, "There, but by the grace of God go I."

Mike was 21 years old and home on leave from the army. He enjoyed being home and visiting his High School friends and his family. The night before he spent at a party in his honor, socializing and drinking. Although he never was much of a drug user, he did take a few hits off a joint as it got passed around during the party. On the day that was to change his life (and others’) forever, he was chauffeuring his fifteen-year-old cousin around. He was on the way to drop her off at a friends’ house. Mike had never been to this particular friend’s, and was driving a little too fast and a little recklessly for a road with which he was unfamiliar. He was deep in conversation and failed to notice the "Stop Ahead" sign, which was partially obscured by overhanging tree branches. He topped a small rise and the stop sign and a highway intersection were immediately in front of him. He knew that he couldn’t stop in time so he punched it and hoped he could make it across the highway. He made it half way. Traveling in the far lane of traffic was a Ford mini-van. The driver was a man rushing his father, who was experiencing chest pains and seated in the passenger seat, to the hospital. The driver was wearing his seat belt. His 84-year-old father was not. The van collided with the passenger side of Mike’s car. Mike woke up in an Intensive Care Unit some days later. That was when he found out that his cousin was alive but on life support. The driver of the van was uninjured, but his father was ejected through the windshield and died from the accident. Mike also found out that his blood had been tested and that he was under arrest. His charges included Manslaughter II, Wanton Endangerment, D.U.I., various other traffic violations, and another charge related to his cousin’s injuries.

What sealed his fate was his blood test. It showed a barely detectable level of THC from hitting that joint the night before. Although anyone who has ever smoked weed knows that you are not still "high" the next day, it is still in your bloodstream. In this state, that means you are still under the influence. He went to trial. The prosecution had expert witnesses say that he was still under the influence. His family hired expert witnesses to say that he wasn’t. In the end, he was convicted of most of the charges and sentenced to 14 years. He went up for Parole for the second time a few months ago. It was denied and he was ordered to serve out the remainder of his sentence. The Parole Board didn’t feel that he showed proper contrition and sorrow over his crime. The Board was right. To this day, he doesn’t feel that he did anything really wrong. In his view, it was just an accident. The state considers him a murderer. He considers himself a victim of circumstance.

It’s made me think about things.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Probity State Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all ‘round the Pen,
In their cells rested
Eight hundred-sixty odd men.

Seg. inmates in yellow,
Protective Custody in green,
Death Row wearing red
So they could be seen.

And I was disgruntled
Having to work on this night.
With my family at home,
It just didn’t seem right.

My post was Ten Wall Stand.
Worse places I could be
Than sixty feet in the air,
Just lots of weapons and me.

My job was to watch
All the area within
Hoping no inmate I saw
Until breakfast begin.

I sat back in my chair,
Checked my eyelids for cracks.
Too soon I was snoring.
My security, lax.

When all of a sudden
There arose such a clatter.
I wiped sleep from my eyes
To see what was the matter.

Stumbling to the window,
I looked out with dread.
The first thing I saw
Was a fat man in red.

An inmate’s escaping!
He must be Death Row!
I reached for the shotgun
Or a gas grenade to throw.

My heart filled with panic,
My nerves all a tingle.
Just then I realized
It’s only Kris Kringle!

It was then that I noticed
The eight reindeer and sleigh
Were caught in the razor wire
And couldn’t get away.

I thought and I pondered
What course I should take.
My post orders were clueless
On what decision to make.

When what to my wondering eyes
Should appear?
The Goon Squad marching toward him
In full riot gear.

The Goon Squad don’t play.
They’re a serious bunch.
This could be all for the Fat man
Was my very strong hunch.

They surrounded poor Santa,
Riot batons at the ready.
I threw open my window
Yelling, “Men, hold steady!”

“He’s not a death row inmate,
Though he is dressed in red.
He’s Santa, you numbskulls!
See his reindeer and sled?”

The Goon Squad didn’t listen.
They ignored me completely.
With their nightsticks they beat him,
And not very discreetly.

They cuffed him and stuffed him
Into one of his sacks
And packed him to the nut walk
By the strength of their backs.

They thoroughly searched him
Then threw him in a cell.
Not a good night for Santa
The Squad sure rang his bell.

So if Christmas morning
Less presents you see,
It’s only ‘cause Santa
Has not been set free.

The dear name of Santa
I no more will besmirch
I won’t even mention
The body cavity search.

Merry Christmas to all,
Peace on Earth, Good will to men.
Santa will see you
In a mere five to ten.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chester Revisited

I realize that most of you have lost interest by now, but let me try to answer a few of the questions that came up concerning Chester.

The reason that we watch the video of the incident nearly every year is to discuss what was done wrong and what we would do under a similar situation. Some wondered why we didn't just leave him alone and ignore him, letting time diffuse the situation. Not a bad idea. It would be fun to watch him rant and rave while totally ignoring him. Talk about the ultimate disrespect. He couldn't be ignored though because there were 39 other people on the walk that still had to get their showers, phone calls, etc. In other words, you can't let one inmate grind the whole institution to a halt. If 38 inmates didn't get their shower as stated in policy and procedure, guess how many grievances and lawsuits would have been filed the next day?
To my way of thinking though, the main reason that Chester couldn't be ignored, "Bright-eyes" stated correctly in her comment. We couldn't take the chance of Chester handing the knives off to someone else. We couldn't take a chance and let the weapons get out of our sight. If we did, the next time we saw one of them, it might be sticking out of someone's gut.

So how should the situation have been handled? I would have used some other tactical options to "soften" the target. Some of the options available: 37 mm firing (mostly) non-lethal wooden blocks, or beanbags; shotgun firing rubber bullets; several different kinds of mace and pepper spray with various modes of delivery. I only would have entered the walk with Chester still holding the knives as a last resort. And I sure would have taken a lot more officers with me than just four. Four looked like fun to Chester. Twelve probably would have changed his opinion, and twelve officers could have been mustered from other areas of the institution in a matter of a couple of minutes. When we entered the walk, the whole front row of marching officers would have been carrying a shield (they were available) instead of just one.

If I remember correctly, Chester got several assault and attempted assault charges. He ended up getting an extra twenty years with a flat ten years before he gets to meet the parole board. The funny thing about Chester is he was never much trouble before that incident and he hasn't given us any trouble since. We keep him in his cell on his birthday though.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Chester's Birthday

All was quiet in the segregation unit. It was evening shift and we had just finished feeding the cell house. It was “shower day” for four of the eight walks in the unit so the officers supervising those walks gathered the supplies needed and began the task. The officer assigned to 5/6 walk called the control center officer and instructed her to open cell #20 for his shower. The inmate came out of his cell and came to the front of the walk where the officer issued him a towel, a razor, and a clean set of “yellows,” the prescribed attire for segregation inmates. The inmate then entered the shower area to take his timed, ten minute shower. When the ten minutes were up, the inmate came out of the shower and handed his dirty clothes, wet towel, and used razor through the bars to the walk officer. After that inmate was secured back in his cell, the walk officer instructed the control center to let out cell #19.

With the flip of a switch, chaos erupted. The slim and diminutive inmate, Chester Roberts, bounded out of his cell like an imp on crank. He had a homemade knife tied to each hand as he bounced and paced at the back of the walk, repeatedly yelling, “It’s my birthday. Come on, everybody. Let’s party!” I was working a different walk, but I heard Chester’s invitation and the officer’s subsequent call for assistance. In a matter of seconds, the cell house became a cacophony of competing sounds and voices. Chester continued to yell out his party invitation. The other inmates on his walk banged on their cell doors and shouted encouragement; while the cell house Lieutenant struggled to be heard ordering Chester to put down his weapons and come to the front of the walk. There was no way Chester was giving up that easy. He had planned his birthday celebration for too long and the party had only just started.

Buoyed by the other inmates’ encouragement, Chester became even more frantic and animated. He made a couple of false runs toward the front of the walk, brandishing his knives. Even though bars and the walk gate still separated Chester from the assembled officers, his mock charges caused all of us to take a few steps back. This made the other inmates egg Chester on even more. The cell house was filled with shouts of, “Get ‘em Chester. Kill ‘em all.” I don’t know about the other officers, but I was starting to feel rather unappreciated.

The lieutenant had us back away from the walk while he formulated a plan. Four officers suited up in riot gear. One of the officers carried the large Plexiglas taser shield. The other three had riot batons and the lieutenant carried a taser gun. When they were ready, the lieutenant offered Chester one last chance to put down his weapons. Chester declined the request by laughing and saying, “Come and get me.”

The walk gate was opened and the move team entered the walk, spreading out across the walk to stop Chester from getting by them. The officer manning the taser shield periodically triggered the shield to intimidate Chester with its visible sparks and unmistakable sound of the electricity cracking and popping. When the move team had made it about half way down the walk, Chester climbed the bars at the back of the walk to the top tier of the two-tiered walk. The move team reversed their march to the stairs that lead to the top tier. When the move team reached the upper level, Chester climbed back down. Two officers remained on the top tier while the lieutenant and other officers went back to the bottom walk to resume the chase.

The taser gun the lieutenant was packing has an effective range of only fifteen feet. When the lieutenant deemed he was in range he fired the first of the two cartridges. The two fish hook like needles which must both hit the target for the taser to work fell short. Meanwhile, Chester had untied one of the knives from his hand, and when the taser shot missed, he hurled the knife at the lieutenant. The thrown knife had a greater effective range than the taser gun. The knife connected with the lieutenant’s right arm, slicing a six inch gash and causing him to drop the taser gun. While the officers were momentarily stunned by the turn of events, Chester charged the officer with the shield, knocking the shield out of the officer’s grasp. Chester turned to the other officer and slashed at him with his remaining knife. The officer backpedaled in retreat while swinging his riot baton. Both missed, but an observer, as I was, would have scored the bout: Chester - 3, Move Team – 0.

Things could have turned out even worse had it not been for Officer Goody. He was still on the upper tier as Chester pursued the backpedaling officer. Goodie climbed over the rail and jumped from the upper walk onto Chester’s back. Goody weighed about 220 and Chester only about 140. Chester was taken by surprise and flattened to the floor. There was an audible “umph” as Chester’s breath was knocked from him. Goody held Chester down while the shield officer recovered his shield. Then the shield was placed on Chester. When he caught his breath, Chester made a last valiant struggle to extricate himself. The shield officer hit the trigger and gave Chester fifteen seconds of “Happy Birthday” accompanied by the staccato rhythm of 50,000 volts of electricity popping and charging through his body. That was the end of the birthday celebration. Chester was no longer in the party mood.

In the aftermath, the lieutenant went to the hospital for stitches and another officer went home with an injured knee. I was moved to 5/6 walk to finish the shift. On my last round I looked into cell #19 and saw Chester sitting on his bed. I said, “Happy birthday, Chester.”

He looked up at me with a big grin and said, “It was great, wasn’t it. Let’s do it again next year.” I made a mental note to be sick that day.

[We view the tape of this "move" every year in training as an example of how not to disarm an inmate.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Worst Jobs - # 3

The phone rang at 2:45 am. With the remnants of a dream still littering the landscape of my mind, I picked up the phone and grunted something unintelligible into it. “This is the Control Center Officer at the penitentiary. The E-Squad Commander needs all E-Squad members to report to the Command Center by 4:00 am.” I started to wake up a little. “What’s up,” I asked. “I’m just calling everyone. You’ll find out when you get here. 4:00 at the command center.” As I jumped in the shower, the possibilities ran through my head. It’s probably not a riot or a hostage situation. There are no inmates out of their cells at this time in the morning. It could be an escape. It could be a fire. I got out of the shower, toweled off and began donning my E-Squad uniform: Black BDU’s and army surplus jump boots. On the way out of the door, I grabbed my riot helmet, riot baton, gas mask and radio. On the way, I stopped at a 24-hour convenience store for a large cup of coffee and a couple of extra packs of smokes. If it is an escape, I could be there for days. I got to the Command Center about the same time as everyone else. Someone had had the foresight to make a big pot of coffee so I helped myself to a refill and took a seat. Nervous energy filled the room as possible scenarios ran through our heads. Nearly everyone was wondering aloud and making guesses on why we had been called. In a few minutes, the E-Squad Commander and the Warden came in and began their briefing. The Warden began by telling us that his office had received several “reports from confidential informants” that a large supply of marijuana had been smuggled into the institution. “Reports from confidential informants” is prisonspeak for what officers call “rat notes.” The Warden’s plan was to keep the prison locked down. The midnight shift would be required to remain on their posts. The day shift, when they arrived, would be organized and sent out to do a cell-by-cell, building-by-building search. The E-Squad would be divided up and perform a drug test on every inmate in the institution. Everyone’s enthusiasm and adrenaline rush evaporated immediately. Drug testing the entire institution meant that a urine sample had to be collected from each inmate. The E-Squad was divided up into groups of four and assigned part of a cell house. My group was assigned the second floor of Echo Block: ninety-one cells, ninety-one unhappy inmates, and ninety-one bottles of piss. A Chain of Custody form is required for each sample. A Chain of Custody form has to be filled out correctly and precisely for the analysis to be valid. Many inmates have had drug charges thrown out of court because of mistakes on the Chain of Custody. Because of this, the E-Squad Commander had picked one in each group of four to be the designated witness. Those officers had to personally and visibly watch every inmate provide a sample. The witness was the only one allowed to touch the sample bottle after the sample was provided. I drew the short straw.I spent the next 10 hours watching ninety-one inmates, with their pants dropped to their knees, pee in a bottle one at a time. Then I had to number and catalog each bottle and sign each Chain of Custody form. I saw more penises that day than your average hooker in Times Square sees during Fleet Week. I could probably still pick a few out of a line-up if I had to.

Monday, November 07, 2005


[The other Uncle Wally Story]

As I’ve stated elsewhere, a correctional officer’s shift, on most days and on most posts, is thankfully, completely uneventful. Hours of boredom are matched only by the seemingly endless tedium of routine tasks done at the same time, in the same place, and in the same way every day. Inmates and staff both grow accustomed to the routine, becoming “institutionalized.” That is why Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption, when released on parole, couldn’t even pee without asking permission. Of course there are not many stories worth telling about the boring days on boring posts. Just as the ninety percent or more of inmates who mostly follow the rules, doing their time the best they can under trying circumstances don’t make good characters.

As you can tell if you’ve read any of my other stories, the segregation unit is seldom one of those boring posts. That is especially true to the officer assigned to work what is affectionately known as the “nut walk.” A list of the “eccentricities” of inmates who have been housed on the “nut walk” would be to long to mention, but here are some highlights: an inmate who jammed a ball-point pen down his penis, another who cut his scrotum open with a razor blade and took his testicles out and played with them, many who finger-paint on the wall with shit, and one rather industrious fellow who made a complete chess set out of turds and toilet paper.

I was working the “nut walk” one night on midnight shift. It was one of those rarely encountered, uneventful nights. Evidently, the “patients” had wreaked enough havoc on the previous shifts to warrant a much needed rest. Never look a gift horse in the mouth I always say. I was reflecting on my good fortune when Sgt. Landers walked up to me. “Call the other walk officers. We’re going to do some training.” Sgt. Landers is one of those people who never get excited about anything. He talks in a slow drawl that leads some to believe he’s not too bright. That is not the case at all. Sgt. Landers is one of the few people I would want to be standing next to when the defecation hits the electric oscillator. On this particular day however, I would come to wish he had had the day off.

I called my fellow seg unit officers and we all congregated in front of the “nut walk.” Sgt. Landers began by pulling his canister of mace out of its holster. Seg unit officers at that time were allowed to carry mace and this required a periodic review of our mace training. Sgt. Landers began, “When it becomes necessary to use the mace, you aim for the convict’s chest, not his face. You spray in two-second bursts, with five seconds rest in between bursts, until the convict’s behavior is modified.” He spouted the party line while demonstrating with exaggerated motions the proper way to mace someone. “I think we need an example,” Landers said.

He instructed the cage officer, who controls the doors, to open the “nut walk” gate. He walked up to cell one, which just happened to be occupied by Uncle Wally. (See previous post for more information on this colorful character.) The cells in the seg unit have solid steel fronts with only a small window for viewing into the cell and a locked tray slot through which the inmate receives his food. All that meanness has to rest sometime and as Landers peered through the window, Uncle Wally was sound asleep. Sgt. Landers turned to us and reviewed, “Two second bursts with five seconds in between bursts.” Then he took the lock from Uncle Wally’s tray slot, opened the slot, and began beating on the door with the lock and hollering “Wally! Wally! Get up!”

From inside the cell, we heard Uncle Wally’s tirade begin. “What the f#$%? You son of %&%&. Get the %$&* away from my %^&*%$* door!” Uncle Wally then leaned his head sideways and stuck his face right in the tray slot opening. Sgt. Landers let him have it right between the eyes from about six inches away. Uncle Wally fell away from the door and started coughing as the mace began to work. In between coughs the cussing started in earnest. The whole walk woke up and joined in.

For the remainder of my shift the door rattling, yelling and screaming never quit. As Sgt. Landers left the walk, he just smiled contentedly and said, “That sounds more like it.” Then he turned to the assembled officers standing with their mouths agape and said, “You’re training for tonight is complete. You may return to your walks.” So much for a quiet night.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Uncle Wally

[One of my friend, WordWhiz's favorites, slightly edited.]

As the only maximum-security correctional facility in this state, my institution is home to death row, inmates with extremely long sentences, the most violent offenders, escape risks, and is the last stop for any inmate too wild or uncontrollable for the other institutions to handle. Perched on one of the choicest pieces of waterfront real estate in the area, this institution has been in business since the 1890’s. Inmates call it “the castle.” It truly is something to see from the water at night, all lit up, looking like an impregnable fortress. The institution has been featured a couple of times on The Discovery Channel. Also, most of the location shots for the movie, “The Last Dance,” starring Sharon Stone, Rob Morrow, and Randy Quaid were filmed here. Rob and Randy were here. Sadly, Sharon was not, but her stand-in was.

Uncle Wally was one of those wild and uncontrollable inmates that made his way through all the other institutions before he was shipped to us at the end of the line. Uncle Wally was originally sentenced to 5 years for manslaughter II and could have been home in 3 years, but by the time he made his way here, he had picked up an additional 20 years for various assault charges. He was the most cantankerous, mean-spirited old man I’ve ever met. Raised in the hills and “hollers,” I’m sure his mother and father were pretty close kin, siblings or at least first cousins. One of Uncle Wally’s favorites from his bag o’ tricks was filling a toothpaste tube with a mixture of excrement and urine and squirting it at staff as they walked by. He flooded the walk so many times that finally his water was left off and only turned on once a day so he could flush. He liked to scream and yell, cuss anybody and everybody, bang on his cell bars all night long, spit at you, piss at you and he talked like Mr. Haney from “Green Acres.”

One time, Sgt. Whitsend and I had the unenviable task of transporting Uncle Wally back to his home county for a court appearance. Spending six hours in the same vehicle with this nasty, smelly old codger was not on anybody’s to do list. In addition to being cuffed and shackled, we were authorized to bring a pillow case along to place over his head if he started spitting on us, such was Uncle Wally's charm. Uncle Wally was unusually subdued for a couple of hours until he decided he wanted a smoke. We told him we weren’t stopping for him to smoke, and that’s when it started. He began cussing us like cussing was an Olympic event and he was going for the gold. He began by questioning are parentage and said many things that I’m pretty sure are anatomically impossible. He was banging against the door, knocking his head against the window, and kicking the seat. I made a mistake and told him he could have a smoke when we stopped for a bathroom break. Then he started saying how bad he had to go. He threatened to piss on himself, the car, and us if we didn’t stop.

Finally, Sgt. Whitsend had enough. He took the next exit and drove until he found an uninhabited road. He turned on the road and drove till we were out of sight of anything or anybody. Then he pulled over to the side of the road. Uncle Wally said, “What are you doing, you &^#$@(*^& ?”

Whitsend got out of the car and pulled out his revolver. He went to the back door, opened it and pointed the pistol right at Uncle Wally’s head. Then he said, “Wally, do you know what road this is?”

Wally said, “You’re a #^%#$ idiot. What are you, lost?”

Sgt. Whitsend smiled and said, “No. This is the road that you tried to escape on.” Then he pulled back the hammer on the .38. Uncle Wally, to his credit, got the meaning right away. He was a model prisoner for us the rest of the trip. I’m still not sure if Sgt. Whitsend was bluffing or not. Neither was Uncle Wally.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Siren's Wail

There are four flights of stairs, a total of sixty-six steps, from the street to the front gate of Probity State Penitentiary. The first flight is under an archway at the base of Alpha Wall Stand, or guard tower. The next two flights lead to a level area about twenty feet above the ground. On one side is the last flight of steps leading to the front gate. In the direction back toward the street is a thirty gallon barrel leaning at a forty-five degree angle and a catwalk leading to Alpha Wall Stand. The barrel is filled with sand and is where visiting law enforcement unloads their weapons before storing them in Alpha Wall Stand for safe keeping. There are no firearms allowed past the front gate.

Alpha Stand has an unobstructed view of the front of the penitentiary. The back side of Alpha Stand sports a view of the river that this penitentiary borders. During the summer months, Alpha Stand officers have been known to use their binoculars to view eye candy sunning themselves on boats on the river. Hopefully, the officer will spend the majority of their time watching the front of the institution, because that is the primary responsibility of the Alpha Stand officer. In addition to watching for escapes, the Alpha Stand officer is also to keep track of all visitors, minimum security inmates and staff in their vicinity.

On the Wall Stand is the standard complement of weapons on all Wall Stands: shotgun, .38 pistol, and semi-automatic rifle. In addition, all the weapons used by transportation officers are stored in Alpha Wall Stand and are issued and logged out to the appropriate officers when needed. All weapons and ammunition is counted every shift with any discrepancies noted in the logbook, and the shift captain notified.

Also on Alpha Stand are three buttons, rather, two buttons and a switch. The two buttons control the inner and outer door to the armory, located directly below the floor of the Stand. The armory houses a wide array of weapons which would be issued to personnel in the event of an escape and an abundant supply of gas grenades for riot situations.

The remaining switch causes the most problems. It appears to be a normal light switch mounted on the wall, but it’s not. A small sign above it declares its function: Escape Alarm. The escape siren is designed to be heard in the surrounding communities to warn them when an inmate or inmates have escaped; “Katie bar the door”, in other words. The last escape from Probity State Penitentiary was a few years before I began my correctional career so I’ve never heard it sounded in earnest. I have, however, heard it on many occasions. New officers, known as “fish guards” are always the culprits. There are two reasons. First, out of curiosity or possibly boredom, a new officer feels compelled to throw that switch “just to see what it would do.” It will make your ears bleed is what it will do, along with bringing a lot of much unwanted attention and mounds of paperwork. The other reason a new officer will sound the alarm is because they are the brunt of a practical joke. It usually goes something like this…

*phone rings*

“Alpha Wall Stand, Officer Bluegill speaking.”

“Um, yes, Officer Bluegill this is Lt. Jokester. It’s now 11:45 and I haven’t heard you test the escape alarm yet. Is there any reason for that?”

“Uh…I didn’t know I was supposed to.”

“Have you ever worked that post before?”

“No, sir.”

“Didn’t you OJT on that post?”

“Yes, but I don’t remem…”

“Haven’t you read your post orders?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Get with it Bluegill or I’ll have to put this in your file.”

“Yes, sir.”

This is where the smart or wary officer will quickly review their post orders to find that they are not supposed to test the alarm. The naïve and trusting ones, eager to please, flip the switch. It doesn’t happen very often now. A couple of years ago, a computerized phone system was installed. Every call’s origin and destination is logged and recorded. The first “Lt. Jokester” to try the con after the new phone system was caught and given five days off without pay. As far as I know, it has not been tried since. That was why I was so surprised to hear the siren go off yesterday morning, about 7:30. I was Yard Lieutenant and was sent to Alpha Wall Stand to ascertain the cause of the foul up and to “counsel” the new officer.

When I arrived, the young officer apologized, but said he was just doing what the sign said. That was when I looked above the switch and saw the memo attached to the wall. Done with the penitentiary header, complete with a reasonable facsimile of the Warden’s signature, was a memo that stated in bold letters: “Test Once Per Shift.” The Officer who worked the stand on midnight shift is in deep s**t.