So, how does one who suffers Post Traumatic Stress from military service make the decision to make a career in Corrections, while knowing that it was also probably not the best choice? I could say that it was my overwhelming sense of duty that drove me to this, but what it really amounted to was I missed military service and the tight camaraderie which came from it. A camaraderie unlike anything else in the world, except for that of first respondents. I retired from the military in October 2010 and was missing it tremendously. I had the misguided notion that once again being in uniform in an environment which has a military style rank structure I would be in a place where I once again felt at home. I was wrong on many levels. The largest issue was despite the rank structure, rank in Corrections meant very little as Corporals and Lieutenants were on a first name basis where in the military that was strictly against regulations as it breaks down good order and discipline. Once I had graduated from the training academy, this became a blatant reality on day one. Many of my fellow officers had never served in the military so the significance of fraternization between ranks had no meaning to them. This detail was just one of many other things which just kind of kept me off balance the entire time I worked behind the walls, and the camaraderie among officers was little more than meeting after work which usually meant meeting up somewhere to get shit faced drunk while rehashing all the days events. This did not work for me as I am not a huge drinker and did not want to fall into the trap of alcoholism as so many of my fellow officers had.
I will never forget my first time inside the maximum security unit during my academy time. We were taken on a tour, and it was a hell of an eye opening experience. The prison was on lock down as there had been almost a month of inmate uprisings with assaults on staff, including an officer getting stabbed with a shank. I will never forget the sensory overload of stepping through the door under Tower Two into The Street between cell houses. The air was hot and thick as the walls do not allow for good airflow. The smell was almost sickening inside. It was a combination of sweaty bodies warehoused by the hundreds in each of nine cell houses. Lansing does not have air conditioning for the inmates, the heat can be stifling inside for inmates and staff alike. Then there were the smells from the chow hall, laundry facility and the prison industries. All of which together just left me feeling unclean every time I stepped inside for my shift. So unclean, that even if I was not outwardly dirty, I would remove my uniform and shower first thing when I would get home, before doing anything else. I had to get that unclean feel off of my body.
The sounds inside are deafening most of the time which is actually a good thing as when the prison is silent, shit is getting ready to hit the fan with the inmates. Even when they are locked up, the situation can get quickly out of hand simply by having one or more inmates catching piles of clothing and bed linens on fire. Even without lighters or matches, they will disassemble their light fixtures enough to gain access to the wiring in order to short it long enough to catch a torch of tightly rolled toilet paper on fire which can smolder for quite some time. These fuckers get creative to say the least. Once they begin setting fires, you have to evacuate them from their cells, which only opens the door for riots and assaults against fellow inmates, staff or both. Life is cheap and no one is sacred behind the walls.
After graduating from the academy it did not take me long to fall into the routine of being an officer. Report for duty, then assume those duties where ever you were assigned ,be it in a cell house, the yard or on a tower. Tower duty was always a nice break even if it could get boring as hell. You were locked in to the most secure of places in the prison with the some of the only fire arms allowed inside. In the cell house all you are armed with is OC pepper spray, hand cuffs and your wits. Inside the tower you were armed with a pump shot gun, a .223 caliber Ruger Mini 14 rifle and a .Ruger .357 magnum revolver. During times of inmate movements such as chow time or yard period, you were to be vigilant with your rifle or shot gun at the ready in case of troubles in the street. At the ready to shoot inmates should an officers life need to be protected from death. I have picked my targets and aimed center mass on several occasions, but thankfully never had to pull the trigger. Not so much thankful that I never had to take an inmates life, just thankful that it did not become necessary to protect a fellow officer before they were either assaulted or killed. Yeah, this environment will get you fucking jaded in a hurry, and if you think it could not happen to you, you could not be more wrong in your thinking.
Being inside a cell house is much like being in a large dog kennel. The sounds of hollering inmates can be deafening. There will be inmates playing chess and hollering moves all shift between their cells. Inmates rapping all kinds of stuff, some actually pretty good with their talent. Inmates just losing their shit because of being confined. And then there are the mental health cases where you never know what you are going to get. Some will fling shit like monkeys in a zoo, the chronis masterbaters, and then like one night, I met a white Jesus, black and Hispanic Jesus who were each going to either save my soul or condemn me to an eternal hell and damnation solely because of my existence as an officer.
Inmates get more freedom of movement inside the prison that most ever imagine. You report on duty in the afternoon and you have large numbers of inmates coming in from the yard who need to get their shower before count. Once they have had this opportunity, you lock down the cell house for count. Count gets complete and you begin letting them out for chow, which is divided into regular chow, religious diets and then special diets. It becomes a pain as they will always try to get out for more than one chow, or get out and not return from the chow hall until they have to. Once show is over and you once again have your cell house locked down, then comes time to let inmates out for hair cuts, religious services and library. Religious services are often quite the joke as even the Chaplain once told me this is where a lot of them get out of their cells just so they might be able to either fight or fuck another inmate in some out of the way place. Even though almost every where is under camera surveillance because of the PREA Prison Rape Elimination Act, there are still areas beyond the reach of the cameras where the inmates can get away with sexual activity. Prisoners are some nasty bastards. Not because they are gay, it is because they seem to give little thought or care to hygiene or disease which comes from a quick romp of random anal sex when ever they have the opportunity.
I was a Correctional Officer while all of the Hands Up Don’t Shoot bullshit was happening. I do not give a flying fuck about what you might believe or disbelieve about this issue. Are there dirty cops out there who abuse their authority? Well hell yes there are. But in the millions of transactions each day between police and citizens, this type of abuse, if the narrative was even true, is a miniscule percentage of one percent of all transactions daily. It is the same with officers in the prison, even though you can get jaded really quick, it does not mean that you are going to intentionally treat inmates one way or the other out of racism. This kind of shit is not conducive to good order and discipline and because of the unnecessary problems it causes, racist officers get weeded out of the ranks. Do racists get in and inflict damage? Yes, but this comes from every race in uniform and is not limited to only one. People who hate do not make it long in these professions no matter what the media and politicians might tell you.
The Hands Up shit behind those walls could make the hair stand on the back of your neck. Usually the uprisings would happen in the chow hall, but it also happened in the yard and cell houses too.
In the chow hall you have an average of twelve officers manning it for security with an average of two hundred inmates cycling in and out. I had experienced more than one occasion where inmates staged a tussle and as soon as officers got involved, they would stand up and begin their Hands Up bull shit. As soon as there is trouble, all openings to the chow hall are secured shut to keep other inmates from being able come in from outside to join in the maylay. All you can do at this point is maintain your professionalism, order the inmates to resume order. And then pick your inmates to begin hand cuffing while also being prepared to deploy your OC pepper spray against them. The problem with OC is it also affects you, the officer. Breathing it is not as bad as getting it in the face, but it still hurts. You have to learn to fight your way though it when you really feel the need to escape the environment to stop your lungs from burning.
Once you have sprayed key players in the face with OC and have them subdued, the rest become compliant as they also want the burning eyes and lungs to feel better. I swear, OC is hotter than Satan’s dick, and will get most compliant quickly.
And then, you clear the chow hall of all inmates, air it out for a bit to get the air breathable again and begin the cycle all over again with the next two hundred inmates until they have all been fed.
Once chow has been completed, you have your cell house all locked down, and then it is time for the night yard period before the night time count begins. Want to talk about shit getting real? Try doing count and having inmates unaccounted for.
Working in a prison setting is a stressful environment to say the least. It was not a smart move for me to make this career choice being as I already suffered a degree of post traumatic stress. In my next and probably final segment, I will talk about having the genuine fear one night that I was going to either leave the prison in an ambulance or a coroners van. I really did not believe I would leave the facility alive that night. Obviously, I did, and that is when I made some life decisions which I will also get into.
Until next time, thanks so much for reading and all the support. Writing is cathartic for me and keeping a blog has reaped many rewards on my inner psyche.