A Just Another Day in the Life of a Correction Officer

I’m a forty year old displaced, white, male, factory worker. I’m a good and honest man. My wife thinks I’m too honest for my own good sometimes but that’s just the way I’ve always been. I’ve been working in corrections for four years now and for the last two I have been working towards my degree in Human Services and Correction Management. I couldn’t get any other work that paid this good and so…here I am. I work housing relief, I have for four years. Housing relief is an officer that works the housing units exclusively and fills in for the “good days” of the regular dorm officer. Housing relief is the hardest job in the camp, but I like the challenge of something new all the time. This is just one day in my life.

I’ve just finished my good days (the weekend) which for me is Monday and Tuesday. In corrections it’s a 24/7 operation and if you don’t have at least 13-14 years in the system you’ll never get a weekend off. They call the weekend days your “good days” because every day that you don’t have to be in the prison is a good day. I spend my “good days” taking college classes. It’s now eight o’clock Wednesday night and I start to prepare for my first day back inside. I make sure I have my uniform pressed and I adorn it with my name tag, badge, pen, and prison I.D.. I gather my gun belt and boots, tee-shirt, boxers, black socks and my chew. I grab a quick pinch of snuff to calm my nerves as I get into the shower. Already I’m dreading the thought of going into work, the thought of dealing with the asshole inmates, the thought that I may not be able to please my peers (corrections is very cliquey), and the thought that I may not come home, constantly in the back of my mind. Of course, I don’t ever let the thought of fear come to far to the front of my consciousness and would never admit it to anyone; for fear of showing weakness to those around me (inmates, family, friends or coworkers) although each for obviously different reasons.

I groom myself to military standards, pressed, shined, shit, showered and shaved. I pack my own lunch, say goodbye to my wife and kids. I tell them I love them every night that I leave for work, just in case I never see them again. My wife generally leaves for work just before I do, she works 3rd shift as well, but her job is in a factory. The kids are now home alone, which happens three nights a week now that we are both on thirds. I have two sons, one is fifteen and one is seventeen. I hate to leave them alone at night. I know what trouble teenage boys can get into at night when they are left alone, but I don’t have much choice in the matter. The relative tranquility of my country home is all but gone from me now.

I get in my truck, usually running a little late, but knowing I can make up the time once I’m on the road. I hit the brights as I head down the country route towards work. I put in my favorite CD and hit play and the songs, “Mama Tried,” “Beer for My Horses,” and “Ol’ Red,” start playing. I quickly grab another chew of Kodiak as I start down the road. I usually cruse around 70 mph, the only thing out here I have to worry about hitting is the deer. I crank up some country music on the radio and trying not to think about what dorm I’m going to have to work tonight. As I draw closer to the prison and my job, the apprehension builds, although not as much as when I first started this job (it’s amazing what you can grow accustomed to). As I see the water tower and start to see the lights of the institution I ready my truck to be parked. I kill the radio, close the windows, put the tilt up, shut the defroster down and as I turn into the lot I kill the lights. I do all this in an effort to make a quick departure from the vehicle. I park the truck, get out, grab my lunch bag and lock the truck.

It’s about nine forty at night now and I have to hurry. I have to go to the administration building, punch in, see what side of the institution I’ll be working, and to find out which dorm I’ll be running. The Zone “A” side houses inmates that range from “close” security to “maximum.” The Zone “B” side houses minimum security inmates. We have about twenty two hundred inmates in all. As I get out of the truck and start heading in, I put on my game face. I have proven to myself and my coworkers, “white shirts” (Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants) and “grey shirts” (Correction Officers) that I’m a pretty damn good officer; I still take pride in that, however moot the point maybe. A lot of the seasoned officers like the way I work and the rookies look up to me and ask me for advice. My bosses all like me and can count on me to go into any dorm and run it as slick as snot on a door knob. They like the fact that I can run shit without bothering them, not all officers can do that. Well tonight…I guess I have to work the ghetto, “A” dorm, on the “close” security side. This dorm isn’t all that bad. It’s got a lot of murderers and rapist in it, but they all know me and what I’m about (respect goes a long way inside these walls).

After I punch in, I quick step it over to, Zone “A” Entry, and put all my belongings up on the desk for the entry officer to go through. I then walk through the metal detector. My boots always set the damn thing off, it’s so sensitive. After setting the thing off twice I have to go over to the entry officer and have him wand me down to make sure I don’t have any contraband (guns or knifes). I wonder sometimes if it’s my metal in my boots or the titanium rods in my back that sends the thing squealing…guess I’ll never know for sure. The Zone “B” metal detector has always been a little more forgiving but the Zone “A” one bites. It slows me up and right now I have to get to control to exchange chits so I can get to roll call before nine fifty. The entry officer checks me to see that I have my I.D. on and in I go through the first door of the sally port. The door closes behind me and I have to wait ’till control pops the second door of the sally port until I can gain access to the inside of Zone “A.” Once again I’m quick steppin’ it over to control to get my chits (pieces of metal on key chains, with my name on it). I exchange mine for ones with the dorm officer name on them, the guy I’m going to relieve.

After that, I settle in at roll call to listen to the IOC’s and any other pertinent information that is being disseminated to the officers, usually by the Lieutenant on duty. As the Lieutenant reads his information to everyone, I stand by the door (I never sit down at roll call) snapping my keepers on my gun belt and then turn my man down alarm on. Tonight it’s the same stuff he’s been reading for three days now, nothing new. After the Lieutenant reads the roll call notes, he asks if anyone has anything and of course two or three wise ass remarks float about the room and everyone laughs. The Lieutenant says, “remember where you work and be safe.” With that, we all head out to our post assignments.

The C/O’s (Correction Officers) usually head out in a group and tonight is no exception. We walk as far as we can together, cracking jokes and trying to break the tension before we all have to split up to go to our separate dorms. My dorm tonight happens to be the closest to the Captains Office and I turn to head in that direction. As I walk that way I can’t help notice what a nice night it is and how peaceful the yard looks (even with all the razor wire). I reach the door and hit it hard, so the officer inside can hear me over the noise of the inmates, and through both, heavy-steal, sally port doors. I see him look out at me and he reaches for the phone to call control to access “A” dorms outside door. The door pops and I go into the entryway of “A” dorm. I wait there for the officer to make his way to open the second sally port door. I can hear the noise of the inmates loud and clear by now. The officer opens the second door to let me in. We walk to the desk together where the roving officer (the second officer on duty for second shift) is already standing ready to get the hell out of the unit and go home. I give the dorm officer his chits and he gives me the dorm cuffs, keys, 911 tool, CPR mask, and flashlight. He tells me that I have a couple of guys on “Cell Ice” (sanctions in which inmates are placed on cell restrictions and have to ask permission to get out of their cell) and that my dorm count is one hundred and twenty inmates. He tells me that it’s been kinda loud and he thinks the inmate up in cell 214 has been cooking up some ink for tattoos. I tell him, “I’ll keep an eye on him tonight.” I tell the officers to get the f#*k out of here and to have a good night. We all head over to the sally port doors and I let them out. I then make sure the doors are secure behind them.

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Now comes the fun part…It’s ten o’clock and I’m locked in this dorm with one hundred and twenty lowlife, cop killing, cut throat, baby raping assholes, by myself.

My first instruction to the dorm is sent out in a booming voice…”KEEP IT DOWN, YOU GUYS ARE WAY TOO LOUD.” It quiets down a little. I grab my gear and do my first round of the night, always watchful of what’s going on around me. I check every door, fire extinguisher, cell, window, screen, bar, lock, and room of “A” block. Things on the surface seem calm tonight but inside these walls you never can tell. Tonight I didn’t get that gut feeling that something is wrong, so I relax a little, but never let my guard down. I talk to a few of the convicts to see how they’ve been since I was last in their unit and to see if there is any new gossip. It’s always good to get the respect of the convicts in the unit. Convicts are guys that have been down a long time. Inmates are usually the young dumb ones that haven’t been down very long. The young ones make you work more too, they like to argue with you, and generally speaking, don’t give a shit what you say. The convicts generally lay it down for you but if they do get in trouble it’s usually bad news.

All seems well as of right now, so I go to my desk and start to fill out my paperwork. I start my log book. fill in my “Daily Security Check” list, sign my “Sign in Log,” check and sign my “Post Orders” and then I check my bed roster and my four A.M. wake up list for the four thirty A.M. food service workers. As I do all this, I try and keep an eye on who is where, and who is doing what. It’s amazing what I can pick up, out the corner of my eye, when they think I’m not watching them. As I’m working on my paperwork the phone rings, now its about a quarter after ten, and it’s control asking me for my equipment check and my “man down, one button test.” So I tell control officer that I have my keys and I give him the ID number and amount of key on the ring, cuffs “A” dorm, 911 tool, CPR mask, flashlight and then I press one button on my man down alarm (when you do that is sends a signal to the control center computer and lets them know your man down alarm is working and that the system is OK in your area). I log this check in my log book and then I turn my full attention to the inmates and convicts in my dorm.

It’s now ten thirty and time for me to do another round. As I proceed on my round I go to the top range and I find three inmates in a cell. That’s a problem because we only house two inmates to a cell. So, I pop the lock on the door to investigate. It turns out that they are also smoking in the cell and two of the three inmates do not “lock” in this cell. I tell them to put out the Black and Mild cigar and they cop an attitude with me right off the bat. Now, keep in mind, these guys are down for hard core offenses and would stick me in the neck with a shank if they thought they could get it off. I’m also on the top range and these guys could easily send me over the rail. The only thing that might keep them in check is the fact that it might interfere with their future parole or judicial release, if they even have that coming (but ya can’t count on that).

One of the inmates tries to get by me and I step in his way and tell him to stay put. One tries to lie to me and says that this is his cell and the third inmate has the balls to ask me if they can finish their smoke. Now remember, I am a relief officer and don’t know these guys from Adam. So, I tell these guys to show me their ID badges. The guy that lived in the cell grabs his real quick and hands it over. The one that is trying to lie to me about this being his cell acts like he is looking for his ID, and the other said I have to go to my cell to get mine. I let the one pass by and go to his cell to get it.

As I’m standing there waiting for the one to supposedly find his ID, the inmate that “really” stays in the cell comes up the stairs and asks if he can go to bed. I can’t help it, I start laughing. The inmate that was trying to lie to me just drops his head in disgust. I tell him that, “he needs to pick another line of work because this criminal thing just isn’t working for him.” I ask him what cell he stays in and he tells me. I then tell him to go get his ID. So, with one of the inmates ID in hand, I walk down to my desk and wait for the other inmates come to me and hand me their ID badges. By that time the other inmate who’s cell they all were in comes up to me as well. The one that tried to lie to me asked if they were going to get a ticket, and I tell him, “You know if you guys would have been honest with me you might have just got an “Out of Place” ticket, but now your going to get an “Out of Place,” a “Failure to Follow Institutional Rules,” and a “Lying to Staff” ticket. The one guy that was lying to me earlier says that’s bullshit man. I stop him right in his tracks and told him to knock off the attitude or we can take this to a whole other level (meaning he would be sent to segregation for disrespect).

Now, not only do I have to watch the dorm, I’ve got to write each inmate a ticket (Conduct Report) ,which has to be filled out in detail, as to the time and events of the incident.

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Between ten thirty and eleven thirty in the night I had a few more confrontations. At eleven thirty I call for lock down and that can be fun, try and get 120 inmates to go to their rooms and lock it down for the night. In a fifteen minute time span, between eleven thirty and eleven forty five, I have to get the dorm cleaned by an unmotivated inmate work crew, get the dorm locked down, do another round and get my institutional count done. I call count into the Captains office, I tell him my name, read to him the dorm designation, and count total. Then the Captain on duty tells me it’s a good count. There is nothing more nerve racking then calling in a bad count but tonight it’s OK.

With the count done I have a few minutes to get my tickets completed. As I’m working on the tickets, control calls and tells me counts clear, so I stop what I’m doing and catch my log book up and then back to the tickets. After all my paper work is done, I start my next round. I walk the bottom range first and check every cell along the way, the only thing out of the ordinary is a loud TV and a couple of loud radios; I tell the guys to turn it down, no problems. I then head up to the top range. Everything is good up here except I find a convict smoking a cigarette, I tell him to snuff it and he does as I ask. I then proceed to do my porter closet inventory. We have to account for every item in the unit, pool sticks, brooms, mops, and the like. Tonight the porter closet is a mess and it takes me awhile to get the stuff accounted for, but every thing is there. It’s now twelve thirty a.m.. I go out of the porter closet and call in on my “Every Hour on the Half Hour Call In”. I start my common area search; every night we have to do a shake down of all the common areas because the inmates like to hide hooch, tattoo guns, dope, and shanks outside of their cells. By now I know most of the favorite hiding places they use, so I check them first. Tonight I come up empty on the search. Time for my next round and as I start, I hear an inmate yell, “C/O’s a bitch”, and I yell back, “so’s your mom.” Then another one yells, “You’re a fat bitch C/O, I bet it’s from swallowing all my come,” and I tell him, “That probably explains why your mothers ass is so fat…she’s must be storing all my sperm up in it…huh?” I then tell him, “I didn’t know your mother was religious until last night, I was banging her in her ass and she kept calling for Jesus, Jesus, oh Jesus.” A bunch of the inmates start laughing at the guy, and then they all lay it down. I know what your thinking, that’s not very professional, but sometimes you just got to let ’em have it like that.

I finish my round just in time for the phone to ring. It’s the Shift Commander. He asks me to, “call next door and give my keys to the extra officer that is stationed in the Youthful Offenders dorm and then to report to Segregation A.S.A.P., we have a situation down here and we need to get the cell extraction team together.” It’s instantaneous, the adrenaline rush you get. The cell extraction team is an all volunteer crew of guys that have been trained to extract inmates as safely as possible with out getting hurt in the process. I do as I’m told and get my relief over to my dorm and head out to segregation. As I get to the door of segregation, I look into the camera outside the segregation sally port door and hit the call box and identify myself. The outside door pops and I enter into the entryway. From here I can see the rest of the team already inside getting suited up. There are three officers that are stationed in segregation all the time, Seg. 1 controls the doors to the entrance and to the bay areas, Seg. 2 and 3 are responsible for inmate movement (recreation), laundry, linen, feeding, inmate processing, security rounds, anything that can go wrong, and they make sure when the nurse comes in he/she is safe.

Seg.1 comes to the door and identifies me, then lets me in. I start getting suited up on the spot. The inmates in the cage know me and start yelling at me, “hey Toledo (some of the young guys call me that because they know that’s where I’m from) you guys going to come in here and smash us…and they both laugh?!” I tell them, “Oh yah” and I shake my head in disgust at them. To them it’s all a game, a way for them to get some violent recreation in! As we are getting dressed the Captain starts debriefing us as to the situation. There are two inmates from each side in each of the outdoor recreation cages, they have busted the outdoor lighting system and there is glass and plastic all over the recreation cages (four inmates in all). They are refusing to cuff up and come in. They have been outside since the end of second shift. Now, inmates are only supposed to get an hour of recreation once a day, at least five days a week. They have now been out there for four hours and have destroyed state property and have made weapons out of the glass and plastic. I finish getting suited up which is a process in and of itself. You have to put on a helmet, gas mask (I never wear the damn thing, it’s too hard to breath and it blocks your view), chest protector, elbow pads, elbow-length padded gloves, shin and knee covers similar to what catchers wear.

After we get suited up, I notice that we are four guys short if we are going in after four inmates. Usually we have five guys on a team for two inmates. We are going in on four inmates and we only have six guys, we should have ten. The Captain gives us our assignments, two shield men and each shield man will have a number two and three man, so…two teams of three. The “two” man will, in theory, take the right arm of the inmate and the “three” man will take, again in theory, the left. If we had a four and five man, each would take a leg. Cell extractions rarely if ever go as planned as you’ll see. These inmates are smart and they definitely never make it easy on us. They booby trap the area so you get injured. The Captain then explains, we didn’t have enough guys to fill out the team so you’ll have to do the best you can.

Now that we all know what’s going on and we are suited up to go, the Lieutenant turns on the camera, introduced the team to the camera gave the camera a debriefing, and all of a sudden, the two inmates in the left hand side recreation cage bitched up and said they want to cuff up and go in. The regular officers oblige them. Cool, I think to myself, two down and only two to go; it brings the odds back in our favor.

The Captain is a good guy, very knowledgeable, but the plan he came up with sucked and here it is: There are two entrances to the outside cage, now that the other two inmates bitched up. One entrance is from the other recreation area and the other entrance is from the common area or day room. The Captain said he and the Lieutenant would go in to the recreation cage (because he thinks he will have a better view of the inmates and a better shot at them) and ask them one more time to cuff up. If they still refuse, he will spray the inmates with OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) or pepper spray. First of all, we had to switch over to a water based spray because Parole Officers did not want to qualify (get sprayed) with the oil based OC and they filed a grievance and won. The result of the grievance was the removal of all oil based sprays from the system (all except for the riot foggers). The problem with the water based stuff is that it’s not effective, in short it sucks. After the Lieutenant sprays the inmates the Captain will ask them to comply again, if they refuse to comply he will signal us to come in through the day room door and take them down.

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Well, that was the plan. Here’s how it actually went down: The Captain and Lieutenant did as they said. They gave the inmates multiple direct orders to cuff up and the inmates started playing games with us. They said, “OK we’ll cuff up” and they would stick their hand out the cuff flap in the door, with their hands in front of them. If you know anything about custody, you never cuff an inmate in the front, NEVER, and they know it, it’s too dangerous for staff. The Captain gave them several direct orders to cuff from behind and they refused. Out comes the spray, it just dribbles out (told ya it sucks) the inmates are too far away for it to be effective plus they have their faces and eyes covered with T-Shirts. The spray hits the fence and ricochets back in the Captains face and damn near blinds him at that range, but doesn’t do a thing to the inmates, they’re still ready to rock and role. The Captain tells them to cuff again and they tell him to go F#*ck himself! The Captain readjusts his aim and fires again, a little closer this time but still ineffective. He tells them again to cuff and they tell him F*#k NO! One more shot of pepper and one more order…they refuse.

That’s when he signals us to go in. That’s what they were waiting for, they had it planned out. As soon as we cracked the door to go in they rushed the door and tried to get out into the common area. These guys were some big dudes and they almost made it out against six big C/O’s. They held us there for what seemed like five minutes, by now the shields are hurting us more than helping us. All six of us are caught on the door frame and the inmates are giving it everything they got to get through. My number two man dives under our legs in an attempt to get at least one of the inmates legs, he fails and comes back out. Finally the second shield man gives up his protection and throws the shield over the top of the inmates and grabs the legs of his inmate and takes him down. The whole pile comes crashing down, with the inmates on the bottom.

They aren’t done yet, but neither are we. Have you ever tried to cuff someone (ankle chains and hand cuffs) who doesn’t want to be cuffed? It’s not easy! As the pile goes down, my number “two” man gets up and jumps over the pile to get control of the other teams inmates legs. I see him go over, so over I go. I get my inmates legs cuffed after some struggle and then move up to his arms. My number “two” man is yelling for ankle chains because he was supposed to get the arms of my guy and he didn’t have any ankle chains. Someone on the other team hands him some, and he and the shield man from the other team get him cuffed, ankles and arms. I get one arm of my guy cuffed but can’t get to his other arm. He’s resisting and has it tucked up under himself and my shield man is on top of him. Finally with some help I get his other arm out and cuffed. The other team try to get their inmate up and he is still fighting them, so they carry him to the holding cage and put him in. My shield man and I try to get our inmate up but he resists us as well. So, with the one inmate secured we wait till some of the other team comes back and four of us carry him to the holding cage and put him in. The nurse then comes in and checks the inmates out and helps decontaminate them from the spray. She then checks them for any injuries they might have. Both of the inmates are banged up, cuts and scrapes and one might have a broken nose but all in all they are OK. Only one of our guys got cut (my shield man) but it’s not bad, other than that we are all OK. The extraction is done. So far that makes four for me, in as many months.

Now that the fun is over, here comes the work…blah! We dress down and get cleaned up. The Captain tells us to go to the assembly area and we’ll review the video and write our reports. On the way over (it’s still a beautiful, clear, crisp, night out and it feels good) all the guys involved critique the extraction and some good suggestions come out of our discussion. We all catch our breath and then go in to view the video. The Captain and Lieutenant set the TV and camcorder up for us to watch the footage. When you do an extraction sometimes it happens so fast, you need to see how it all went down, so you can write an accurate report. Report writing is what we did for the next hour and a half. Each officer involved had to fill out a “USE OF FORCE COVER SHEET,” and a two page detailed “INCIDENT REPORT.” Every little thing you did in the extraction has to be included in the “Incident Report,” everything…including where your hands were, exactly how you proceeded, what force you used, what inmate you touched, how you touched him, did you cuff one-how you cuffed him…etc…..etc…etc..! If it’s not quite right the Captain will make you do it over and over, until it’s right. Luckily, I only had to rewrite mine once (I’m a decent report writer and I still had to do mine over). I take mine to the Captain for final review, he reads it over and says, “Now that’s a good report.” I ask him if it’s OK to go back to my unit and he says, “Go ahead” and “You did good tonight!”

Once again, I head back across the yard, and a thought occurred to me as I looked at the houses around the institution, these people are sleeping safe tonight because of guys like us, and I feel a little pride in that. I’m back at my unit now, banging on the door for the second time tonight. The Officer inside calls control to pop the door and I finish the rest of my night, uneventfully. In the morning I get relieved by first shift, debrief him about the unit and I head out. On the way back home, riding in my truck, I take a deep breath and listen to my CD player once again playing the songs, “Mama Tried,” “Beer for My Horses,” and “Ol’ Red,” one after another and I grin. I grin all the way back to my little peace of heaven in the woods. As I pull down my drive, I can hear my dogs going nuts with joy…they know Dads home, it makes me chuckle a little. I go in and say, “hey boys, Dad’s home” (as if the dogs didn’t already let them know), and I say to my wife, “Hey Babe, I love you..!” She asks me how my night went and I tell her, “Just another night as a Correction Officer…!”