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.]