This is part II of my Meditations on Prison. Part I is at this link.
So what’s up with the marine? That image represents Lt. C. and also represents the chest-thumping “Monkey Dance” that Sgt. Miller talks about in Meditations on Violence. (No offense to the marine that I linked to — I’m sure he’s a lovely person.)
Lt. C. was a former marine, corrections lieutenant, and a member of both CERT (Correctional Emergency Response Team) and SORT (Special Operations & Tactics). Yes, he was a bad ass.
He was also a major dick. Seriously.
Patterson Patting Down the C
I mentioned in part I that I was never in a solo use-of-force. We’ll get to that in a minute. First lets talk about the good marine. Lt. C. was an example of how not to treat inmates. Yes, he stood six foot two, weighed over two hundred pounds and could handle himself. He was also a moron.
One example: I was tasked with searching the morning kitchen crew. This is the part where we pat searched them before locking them in a room with staff, inmates, and knives. Anyhow, the criminals are lined up and I am searching them one-by-one when Lt. C. happens to come by.
I’m not sure if Lt. C.’s mom didn’t hug him enough when he was little or maybe she hugged him too much. Either way, he was one of those types that purposely goaded inmates. So Lt. C. inserts himself into the line in such a way that each inmate has to go through him in order to get to me. As each one approached him he’d stare down at them and growl: “You wanna hit me, don’t you?” Given that we were outnumbered 10 to two I’m just glad that nobody took him up on his offer.
Lesson #1: Don’t Piss Off the Zoo Animals
Here’s the deal. I was a small guy then and I am am still a small guy. I also had absolutely nothing to prove. Seriously. They were inmates for a reason. At the end of the day I always won because I could leave. So the only time I got stupid is when the inmate gave me no other choice. Even then, my preferred method of operation was to call in the Goon Squad.
The Patterson Method of Inmate Management ™
- Generally ignore the small rule violations (i.e. see the spit incident in part I)
- Treat the inmate with respect
- Expect the inmate to always obey direct orders
- Expect the inmate to not get in your face
- Only write up the major incidents (e.g. major contraband, fights, etc.)
- If the inmate violated 3 & 4, make their life hell (e.g. write them up for every little thing, constantly search them, try to push them so they would go off and you could call the Goon Squad, etc.)
- Go back to 1 – 5 after the inmate backed down and showed you respect
Lt. C. vs. Patterson: Which Method is Better?
The guards that were like Lt. C. were always getting into fights with the inmates. Given that some of the inmates had killed before, I always thought that this was a bad idea. Moreover, many of the inmates had diseases like AIDs, hepatitis, etc. so exposure to bodily fluids was best avoided, in my estimation.
Anyhow, part of the reason I made it four years without a one-on-one surprise attack is because the inmates always knew where they stood with me. Don’t mess with Bob and Bob won’t mess with you. Simple as that. Using your brain and de-escalation skills would take care of 85% of the problems — just talk to the damn inmates! Really. The other 15% of the situations required force. Luckily I was always in a situation where I could call in help.
Brave Could get you Dead
So it’s third shift and I’m assigned to roving patrol and the emergency response team (aka ERT). What this means is that when the shit hits the fan, I’m expected to be one of the first people to arrive with a mop.
So the shit hits the fan.
We get called to the segregation unit because an inmate covered his cell window with toilet paper. Despite the fact that this guy could be a rapist-murderer, we were expected to make sure he did not hurt himself. Sgt. John Wayne is on duty and running shift that night. The Duke had 20 years in the system and originally started at the state penitentiary at a time when certain rules did not exist.
Protocol requires the Duke to wait for five staff, suit them up in protective gear, and then call for the cell door to be opened. The Duke had other plans. Three of us arrive: 1) A former Air Force MP, 2) Yours truly, and 3) Corporal S. from part I. Corporal S. is a former Navy fire fighter.
So the three of us are standing there waiting for two more officers: three plus two equals the five-person team that protocol required. That’s when we noticed smoke coming from the bottom of the cell door. Apparently math was not the Duke’s strong-suit and just about the time we see smoke, the Duke calls for the cell door to be opened. The door opens and we see nothing but gray smoke. About that time Corporal S. dives into the cell. I look at Air Force, he looks back at me, and neither one of us budge. I think the exact words in my head were “fuck this.” Once the smoke cleared enough that we could see the inmate and the Corporal, Air Force and I joined in the fun.
Kiester is not a town in Germany
Long story short: The inmate had smuggled a lighter in via his rectum. After covering his cell window with TP, he lit pretty much anything that would burn in an attempt to asphyxiate himself. After his exploits, Corporal S. became known as that crazy and fearless SOB that dove head-long into a cell full of smoke. Patterson and Air Force got ribbed for hesitating. Given that Mr. Inmate could have had a weapon, well, there was no way I was going into that cell until I could see. Lucky for Corporal S. the inmate was passed out. Oh, and yes, the inmate did live. Aside from now being mostly colorful stories, there are lessons we can learn from Lt. C and Corporal S. The biggest one in my estimation is that your brain is your best self-defense weapon.
As for Lt. C., well, we were all shocked when he tendered his resignation to become a mail carrier. I kid you not. I can only hope he was bitten by a dog (although that might qualify as animal cruelty)
Sometimes You Just Know it’s Time to Go
I’m not sure when Lt. Jack Wagon decided it was time to leave. My decision was based on one of two incidents.
Slip Slidin’ Away
So I’m on ERT again. This time it’s day shift and we get called to the segregation unit again. Another inmate covered his cell window with TP and was not responding to direct orders. This time we have a lieutenant on duty who does follow protocol. We suit up and line up. The Lt. calls for the door to be opened. When it opens we see a nude man standing there screaming: “Come on you motherfuckers, come on!”
How this is supposed to work: Big guy on front holds a con-caved shield. The rest of us line up with our hands on the shoulders of the person in front. The meat wagon charges in and pins the offender against the wall. Shield guy holds the inmate while the remaining four officers grab an appendage. It’s usually over in less than a minute.
Green means go so the five man team plows forward. However, this time Mr. “come on you motherfuckers!” thought things through. He smeared lotion all over the floor, and, for a finishing touch, he decided to piss all over the floor. So the meat wagon hits the mess and we all go sliding.
Credit to shield guy for still hitting the inmate and knocking him down. Three of us fall on our asses in the mess while two keep their balance. My personal Jesus comes when I slam my shin into the stainless steel toilet. The edge of the crapper hit exactly in the one spot where my shin guard was not. Two stitches, thank you.
So we are cuffing a nude man who has feces in his own hair. We are doing this while trying not to kneel in his urine. As we remove him from the cell, we notice that he took the time to color some of the back wall cinder blocks with his own feces. How artistic.
For this I went to college?
Saving my Soul
Most of the time when I think about why I quit, I blame this next episode. Maybe it’s not the episode per se. Maybe this moment is when I finally realized that I needed to go.
So I’m on RP again but I am not part of the ERT. I am wandering through the second level of the segregation unit, waiting for the shift to end. I am approaching a “U” that’s encased in glass. The “U” overlooks the segregation unit’s mini-yard. Here they let the bad inmates out in small, controlled groups. As I look down I see two inmates beating the hell out of each other.
I look up and I see one of the unit case workers. He’s on the other side of the “U” opposite from me. We both look at each other through the glass and neither of us does a damn thing. Two years earlier I would have freaked out. Now, after dozens of idiotic fist fights, I barely care.
In my head it always seems like this moment played out for minutes. In reality it was long enough for us to make eye contact, look at the fight, and then make eye contact one more time. At that point we both reached for our mics. Mr. Case Worker was just a tad faster than Mr. Patterson. Aside from the usual bumps, neither inmate was seriously hurt.
I had reached the point were I was starting not to care. This could be bad and I knew that it was time to go. However, it would be another two years before I got out. I’ll cover that in part III. For now lets close with a little Johnny Cash.
It only seems fitting.