Pictured above is the state prison where I was employed as a Correctional Officer, a position I have utmost respect for while hating it all the same. Hating it for what the stress was doing to my inner psyche and the negative impact it was having on my health. I only thought I was prepared for the chaos and horror I witnessed inside those 150 year old walls, turns out I was not. If you have ever seen the movie In Cold Blood about the murder of the Clutter Family in Kansas, this is where their murderers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were housed until their execution in 1965. When you walk through Tower One,at the far left of the picture, you enter the maximum security unit. The fourth floor of the center section is where the current Death Chamber is located. Although it has never been utilized since Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, it is still a creepy area when doing security checks. In one room is a cell containing a bed, toilet and shower as well as a desk for an officer to sit while ironically on suicide watch over the condemned. Then there are two viewing rooms, one for the press along with the family and friends of the inmate. The other being for the family of their victims. The actual death chamber is a very sterile environment with a gurney and little else other than a phone in the case of a last minute reprieve from the Governor.
I had many experiences inside those walls that I am going to write about in future blog posts, but I am going to deal with one specific night first, where I was totally losing my shit when I got home from that hell on earth. It was a night where I had begun to seriously consider resigning as an Officer. A night I am not positive I can ever forget, and oddly, it was not exactly the worse of what I have seen. For any who think I can not relate to binge eating, or trying to eat my emotions away from sweets, maybe this will show that I am after all, a fucking human being too. A human with thoughts and emotions like anyone else. A human who has witnessed horrible events beyond the imaginations of most folks I know.
Picture this, a two hundred and fifty pound power lifter in his crisply starched and ironed uniform with spit polished boots, Clean shaved with a high and tight haircut. The picture of a man usually not phased by much of anything, A man who is usually cool as a cucumber even in the most stressful of situations, ready to throw down and go hands on with any inmate, under any circumstance. I was a bad mother fucker, who would lift weights after my shift in the prison religiously for one to two hours and then finish up my gym time by doing either tire flips with a three hundred pound tire for a half hour to forty five minutes, or, I would finish up with 100 yard hill sprints for the same period of time. Although I was realistic and knew I could be seriously hurt or killed by inmates inside the prison, I was never afraid for my life, until one night where I did wonder if I would be leaving in an ambulance or a coroners van. But that is another story I will address in another blog post.
Now, picture this strapping bad ass of an officer in his still crisp, yet blood splattered uniform sitting on his kitchen floor eating Betty Crocker frosting from a can while eyeballing the freezer and wondering if there is still ice cream inside as I had damn near polished off the chocolate frosting with a spoon. Sitting there, my mind serously all fucked up, tears streaming down my face. Losing my shit over what I had witnessed this evening while on a suicide watch in the prison infirmary. Seeing a ghastly sight while having a gruesome sound permanently implanted into my mind. And the irony is I hated this inmate so much, that I was shocked that I had saw him as a frail human being who only wanted to die right in my presence that night. In the interest of privacy and possible legal implications I will just refer to him as Inmate Jones.
Inmate Jones, hands down is the prickliest son of a bitch I have ever encountered in my entire life. I used to imagine this bastard was born with a cactus jammed up his ass he was so mean. I first encountered him in the Administrative Segregation Unit of the prison. A unit where unruly inmates were housed in single man cells and only allowed out of their cells while hand cuffed and escorted by an officer no matter what the reason they were taken out. I hated this inmate as did all the other staff and felons inside those walls. You could begin an eight hour shift and receive verbal abuse for the entire time you were there. As with any cell house, there was always going to be verbal abuse from inmates, but Jones took it to a whole other level. He was the type that you always steered clear of his cell as you never knew when you could get a cup of piss, feces and sperm thrown on you, Or as the inmates call it, a Cuban Cocktail. Jones was the nastiest bastard I have ever encountered in my life. There were times I wished he would just fucking die and let everyone else live in peace. He had been in there so long that it was unlikely he was ever going to leave alive anyhow. Imagine the sick kind of joy I felt the night I heard he had attempted to take his own life. Until…
I ended up being placed on suicide watch for him. Inmates who attempt suicide get moved to the prison infirmary and placed into single man cells with no bars, or furnishings inside but a toilet with a sink built onto the back of it. Not even a bed is inside their cells unless they are strapped down with five point restraints for their own safety. The cells have concrete block walls, with a metal door which has a window for viewing inside and a slot in the door called a bean hole where you pass them their meals and medicines.
Suicide watch makes for suck duty and most of the time will bore an officer to tears. You have a hard uncomfortable chair to sit on and a small table to use for taking notes. Your duty is to watch the inmate for an eight hour shift, and you are not allowed to leave the post unless properly relieved only to use the restroom. During this shift, you are required to watch everything the inmate does and take notes every fifteen minutes where you note if he is awake, asleep. Sitting or standing. Quiet or belligerent along with anything else which should be noted. The inmate is stripped nude and has a only a rip proof smock to wear and use as a blanket and a rip proof mattress laying on the floor. The smock and mattress are rip proof so they can not be used to fashion into a noose to finish the suicide. The inmates are not allowed to even have toilet paper in their cell except that which you give them in small amounts when they have had a bowel movement. Sometimes on suicide watch, the inmates will just lay around or pace about quietly in their cell. Other times, they will mentally snap. What I got out of Jones this evening was odd, as he wanted to talk to me rationally as a man, before he totally lost his shit. I had never experienced Jones being rational.
During suicide watches, the officer is not allowed to engage in conversation with the inmate, yet this does not stop the inmate from talking to you. So here I am having to watch this motherfucker I have grown to hate and he decides that I am his friend in which he can confide. This evening I learned that Jones had been in Lansing for 38 years and his sentence was coming to a close in about a month. He was going to be released with no parole as he had served one hundred percent of his sentence. The state could not hold him even if he wanted to remain inside, which turned out to be one of his issues.
Jones was going to be put out on the street after thirty eight years of being in prison. He had no money, no family and no friends to take him in. No one to turn to. No job skills, nothing which would give him even a remote chance at employment. Turns out, everything I had thought was wrong with him was brought on by the fact he was scared to death to be released, and had no choice but to leave what was the only place he had come to know as home. As fucked as the prison is, it had become comfortable for him. He was extremely institutionalized. And, he was simply terrified of the outside world where the rest of society find normalcy and hopefully personal joys of life. I tried to blow off most of his conversation with me, but was at the same time kind of taken in with it. I gained an understanding of his psyche. And for unknown reasons, he saw me as somebody to confide in.
After a while of telling me his story through the bean hole, Jones turned dark and began telling me he was going to kill himself that night. I tried to make light of the situation and asked him to at least wait until I was off shift so I would not have to extra paper work should he succeed in killing himself. As much as he began getting insistent he was going to, I was not worried in the least. After all, he was nude with his rip proof smock, and there was nothing in the cell he could possibly use as a weapon against anyone else or on himself. I also knew that the most likely scenario was that he was trying to con me, so as compelling as his story was, I still kept my guard up. All I wanted was for the hands on the clock to speed up so I could get through this shift.
At one point, I breifly took my attention away from Inmate Jones in order to write down my notes. The inmate was awake, talking, a little agitated etc… I am finishing my notes when I hear a sickening thud sound from inside the cell. I looked through the window to see Jones with a knot on his forehead where he had slammed his head into the metal edge of the bean hole. I asked Jones what the fuck he was doing and he told me “I’m going to kill myself Yochim” I said to him “Please do not kill yourself tonight” and he slammed his head down on the edge of the bean hole again. This time he drew blood. Here in is where my problems really began. It was the time of night that the prison is locked down and the Shake Down Team have gone home. They would not be back in until the morning. Shake down could have come in and did a force cell removal and kept him from hurting himself had they still been on shift. I contacted the medical staff who said they were powerless to do anything as they needed correctional staff to lock the inmate up if they were to have interactions with him. I had no authorization to act on my own, nor should I because of personal safety. Meanwhile Jones is still banging his head on the bean hole opening as I was informing the medical staff that he needed to be placed in a five point restraint.
As it turned out, the only one who could make the call for restraint was the shift Captain or above and for some reason, the Captain was not there, as neither were the Major, Assistant Warden or Warden. I could not leave my post, and spent my last hour on shift trying to talk Jones down from killing himself while trying to get someone to bring help for the situation. Finally, just before I was to get off, the Captain made his rounds and I was relieved by the next shift. But in that last hour as I tried to talk Jones down he kept banging his forehead against that damn bean hole ledge. The sound had gone from just a dull thud to a juicy sounding dull thud from all the blood. I swear the sound of the blood squishing with the thud of his head still haunts me to this day. It was a sickening sound, which came over and over and over. He knocked himself delirious more than once and when he regained his bearings he would go back to bashing his own head against that opening. I do not know how any human could inflict that kind of damage to themselves for that long without knocking themselves completely into unconsciousness. My God, Inmate Jones was intent on dying that night in my presence and I was powerless to stop him. That squishy and bloody sound of his head banging into the bean hole was unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. This was the last time I ever saw Inmate Jones. I never heard what become of him, nor did I ever ask afterwards. I left the prison about a month later when I resigned my position.
That night I found myself doing something I had actually done before in life, but thought I never would do again. I sat there on my kitchen floor with tears streaming down my face, shoving spoonfuls of chocolate Betty Crocker frosting down my throat. I can not even explain why, as it certainly did not make me feel any better. In fact, my blood sugar and subsequent insulin spike made me very ill, yet I kept shoveling that shit down my pie hole like there was no tomorrow. At the time, I felt like I could keep eating the frosting as the other thought in my mind was eating a nine millimeter round from my pistol. The only thing is, suicide is a cowards way out and I am no coward. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
It is times like this, when the stress is crushing your soul that you have to take a moment to regroup and refocus your life’s priorities. It was this night where it was pretty much cemented into my mind that I had made a poor career choice. That I had thought it would be easier than it was. I had thought I would be above the stress induced from working inside a maximum security prison. I was wrong. I resigned not long afterwards, but there are more experiences that I am going to relate in future blog posts. I am writing about this life experience not to glorify something horrible, but for a couple reasons. First, it is cathartic for me to get the emotions out even after being gone from the prison for over three years now. The next, is to display that despite my personal discipline with nutrition and exercise, I am a human with emotions the same as anyone else. I rise above a lot of issues, but getting to a point where I can has not been an easy route. I have never done easy in my life…
4 Comments Add yours
David, my heart aches for you having this horrible memory following you. Your frosting binge was a very minor reaction to this kind of trauma. No, you haven’t ever done easy, my friend. This piece is hauntingly, beautifully written. ♥️♥️
51 years old and I will never forget learning to read. The letters, the sounds, the words! ! It was, and still is magical! I am a reader, and you are definitely a writer.
The horrific things humans do to themselves; the tragedies we endure and survive. Your strength is truly inspiring.
Thank you so much for the kind words of support.
Amen, Dawn, Amen!