Prison Riot, A True Crime Story of Surviving a Gang War in Prison


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You seen what the sign say when you first come in the gate? There is a pause. Jefferson titters. What they do after the lights are out? The unit manager is a black woman who is so large she has trouble walking. She is brought in every morning in a wheelchair pushed by an inmate. Her name is Miss Price, but inmates call her The Dragon. Prisoners relate to her like an overbearing mother, afraid to anger her and eager to win her affection. She got out of her wheelchair, grabbed him by the neck, threw him up against the wall. In the middle of the morning, Miss Price tells us to shake down the common areas.

I follow one of the two COs into a tier and we do perfunctory searches of the TV room and tables, feeling under the ledges, flipping through a few books. I bend over and feel around under a water fountain. My hand lands on something loose. I get on my knees to look. My job, of course, is to take it, but by now I know that being a guard is only partially about enforcing the rules.

A prisoner is watching me. If I leave the phone, everyone on the tier will know. But if I take it, I will show my superiors I am doing my job. I will alleviate some of the suspicion they have of every new hire. Two and a half are gonna be dirty. Miss Price is thrilled. The captain calls the unit to congratulate me. When I do count later, each inmate on that tier stares at me with his meanest look.

Some step toward me threateningly as I pass. He smiles. When you start working those hour shifts, you will see. He racks the balls on the pool table and tells me about a nurse who gave a penicillin shot to an inmate who was allergic to the medicine and died. They had to airlift him out of there.

He breaks and sinks a stripe. On my first official day as a CO, I am stationed on suicide watch in Cypress. In the entire prison of more than 1, inmates, there are no full-time psychiatrists and just one full-time social worker: Miss Carter. In class, she told us that a third of the inmates have mental health problems, 10 percent have severe mental health issues, and roughly a quarter have IQs under She said most prison mental health departments in Louisiana have at least three full-time social workers. Angola has at least Here, there are few options for inmates with mental health needs.

They can try to get an appointment with the part-time psychiatrist or the part-time psychologist, who are spread even thinner. Another option is to ask for suicide watch. A CO sits across from the two official suicide watch cells, which are small and dimly lit and have plexiglass over the front. My job is to sit across from two regular segregation cells being used for suicide watch overflow, observe the two inmates inside, and log their behavior every 15 minutes. And truth be known, we do pencil-whip it.

Add by That looks pretty come audit time. Other than the blanket, he is naked, his bare feet on the concrete. There is nothing else allowed in his cell other than some toilet paper. No books. Nothing to occupy his mind. They also get worse food. Nowhere else does a single guard oversee one or two inmates. If more than two inmates are on constant watch for more than 48 hours, the prison has to ask the regional corporate office for permission to continue, Miss Carter tells us.

CCA says this is inaccurate. Sometimes the regional office says no, she says, and the prisoners are put back on the tiers or in seg. I look over to the cell to the right and see Skeen sitting on his metal bed, staring at me and masturbating under his suicide blanket. He starts singing and dancing in his cell.

I have about a hundred write-ups. Someone down the tier calls for me. He has a wild look in his eyes and he speaks intensely, but quietly. With four inmates on suicide watch, we are already over capacity. I get off the bed, jump off that mothafucker headfirst. When I tell the key officer, she rolls her eyes.

The CO sitting directly across from him twiddles his thumbs and gazes ahead blankly. In the neighboring cell, Skeen is staring at me, completely naked, masturbating vigorously. I tell him to stop. He gets up, comes to the bars, and strokes himself five feet in front of me. For an hour, I stare at a cup on the floor and study the blotches in the concrete. A few hours later, a SORT officer walks a cuffed man onto the tier.

He was pepper-sprayed after punching my old instructor Kenny in the face as Kenny sat in his office doing paperwork. Kenny is gone for days, recovering from his busted nose. The message his assailant sent was clear: Keep your hands off our phones. Now I work there, on the floor, almost every day. I immediately try to smooth over the phone thing with the inmates. In some units and on some shifts, the pairing of floor officers changes day to day, but for whatever reason Bacle and I become a regular pair. He has allowed me to use his real name. One inmate asks him for his Social Security number every day just to set him off.

But he hates the company too. He counts the days until his Social Security kicks in and he no longer needs to work here to supplement his retirement checks from the Coast Guard. Every day, I come to know him more and more. He is a reader of old westerns and an aficionado of Civil War reenactments.

Once, he bought her a handmade saddle for her toy unicorns. We are still fat, dumb, and happy over it! Bacle becomes a teacher of sorts. Mostly, he is referring to the orderlies, the prisoners selected for special roles inside each unit. Without the orderlies, the prison would not function. Each unit has a key orderly, whose job is to keep the key clean and pack up the property of any prisoner sent to seg.

Tier orderlies, floor orderlies, yard orderlies, walk orderlies, and gym orderlies keep the prison clean. Orderlies typically maintain a friendly relationship with the guards but take every opportunity to make it clear to other inmates they are not snitches. And they rarely are. It is much more likely for them to be movers of contraband.

They cozy up to guards who will bring it in, and their freedom of movement allows them to distribute the goods. Bacle regularly gives his lunch to the muscular key orderly. We are not allowed to do this, so he does it discreetly. Corner Store is a year-old black man who looks His hair is scraggly, his uniform tattered, his face puffy. I rarely know what anyone is in for. Fourteen of his 18 years behind bars have been at Winn.

Corner Store does not inspire fear, yet he is confident. He tells COs to open the tier door for him; he does not ask. He talks to us as if we are office colleagues from different departments. When I ask him to teach me some prison lingo, he refuses gently. The first time I meet Corner Store, he walks through the metal detector at the entrance of the unit. It beeps, but neither Bacle nor I do anything; its sound is one of the many we tune out. The device was installed not long before I started working here, in an effort to cut down on the number of inmates carrying shanks, but functionally it is a piece of furniture.

We never use it since it takes at least two officers to get inmates to line up, walk through it, and get patted down whenever they enter or exit the unit, which leaves no one to let inmates into their tiers. I laugh. He had to learn to hustle because he has no money and no support from his family. For his courier services, inmates kick him cigarettes, coffee, and soup. Sexual predators prey on needy inmates, giving them commissary or drugs, seemingly as gifts, but eventually recalling the debt. You go to people for protection. But this is the No.

You have to be a man on your own. You have to rehabilitate yourself. Instructors like Kenny preached against giving concessions to inmates, but in reality most guards think you have to cooperate with them. CCA says this went against its policy. COs are always under pressure to impress on the supervisors that everything is under control.

We rely on inmates for this, too, letting some stand out in front of the unit to warn us when a ranking officer is coming so we can make sure everything is in order. It can be a slippery slope. In , a Tennessee inmate, Gary Thompson, sued CCA, claiming that guards, including a captain, periodically ordered him to beat up other inmates to punish them, giving him the best jobs and privileges as a reward.

CCA denied his allegations but settled the case. In Idaho, CCA was accused of ceding control to prison gangs to save money on wages. A subsequent FBI investigation found that employees had falsified records and understaffed mandatory positions. No charges were brought against CCA, nor were any sanctions levied against it.

But the state ended automatic renewal of its contract, and reopened it to bidders. CCA did not bid. There are no gangs at Winn, but that has more to do with Louisiana prison culture than the management of the prison. In most prisons around the country, the racial divide is stark and internal politics are determined by racialized prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia.

But Louisiana is an anomaly. Here, there are no prison gangs. In a prison that is 75 percent black and less than 25 percent white, people of different races sit together in the chow hall, hang out on the yard, and sleep in the same dorms. Throughout my time at Winn, I meet guards from CCA prisons around the country who talk up the benefits of gangs. They have to maintain cleanliness.


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When I write up one inmate after he runs off the tier against my orders, I think about it all weekend, wondering if he will get sent to Cypress. I feel guilty and decide I will only write up inmates for two things: threatening me and refusing to get on their tier after they enter the unit. The floor is where most assaults happen, and if a lot of inmates are out there, things can get out of hand.

I spend free moments leaning up against the bars, making chitchat with prisoners about their lives. I tell one, Brick, that I am from Minnesota. He says he has friends there. I cultivate these relationships; having gray-haired, charming inmates like him in my good graces helps me because younger, harder prisoners follow their lead. They teach me how to make it in here. Investigating and fact-checking this story took 18 months of nonstop work.

If you agree it was worth it, become a monthly donor —or make a one-time gift. If you agree it was worth it, make a tax-deductible contribution today. Brick can see that I get tired striking across the unit from one place to the next for 12 hours a day. He sees that by the end of the day my feet and back hurt and I start to ignore the inmates.

We bump fists. T here is a looming sense of crisis at Winn. Shortly after Cortez escaped, the warden decreed that the security staff should meet at the start of every shift. Wardens from publicly run state prisons have appeared out of nowhere, watching over COs as they work, asking them questions. The newer guards fret about losing their jobs. Corporate has tried to mitigate the problem by bringing officers in from out of state.

The economics of this are never clear to me—it seems far more expensive to pay for their transportation and lodging than to hire more locals or raise wages. In addition to the SORT members, there are an average of five guards filling in for a month or so at a time from places like Arizona and Tennessee. Twenty-nine of them fill mandatory hour positions that require a body in them at all times—these include unit floor officers, front-gate officers, perimeter patrol, supervisors, and infirmary officers.

I make a habit of counting the number of security staff at the meetings. Some days there are 28, some days 24, but there are almost always fewer than But it still appears there are often fewer people on the shift than contractually required to keep the prison open, let alone running smoothly. Correspondence between CCA and the DOC shows that in early Winn had 42 vacancies for regular guards and 9 vacancies for ranking officers.

Often, the only guards in a inmate unit are the two floor officers and the key officer. From 9 a. Not once do I see all these positions filled in a unit. During my time at Winn, I witness corners cut daily. Key officers, who are charged with documenting activities in the units, routinely record security checks that do not occur. I hear that these logbooks are audited by the state and are the only evidence of whether guards walk up and down the tiers every half-hour. I almost never see anyone do such a security check unless DOC officials are around. Miss Lawson later says she was once reprimanded by a warden for refusing to log checks that did not occur.

Even with the guards filling in from out of state, we are required to work extra days, which means that for up to five days in a row, I have just enough time to drive home, eat, sleep, and come back to the prison. Sometimes I have to stay longer than 12 hours because there is no one to take over for me.

CCA says no such incident occurred. Miss Lawson says such requests hit a roadblock at the corporate level. Over the next four months, Winn will report using chemical agents 79 times, a rate seven times higher than that reported by Angola. At in the morning, the air is so saturated with pepper spray that tears stream down my face. The key officer is doing paperwork in a gas mask. A man screams and flails naked in a shower, his body drenched with pepper spray. Cockroaches run around frantically to escape the burning.

A couple of prisoners are pinning each other up against the fence, and a frail-looking, young white guy is rolling around on the ground. I run to him.

He rolls from side to side, whimpering and heaving in panic, grasping at small cuts and lumps on his arms. They are not deep like stab wounds; they are shallow and there are many. Under them there is a multitude of tiny scars, cut crosswise—the trademark self-mutilation of the sexually abused. Just calm down. When the crowd around him clears, I am shocked. The guy on the ground is probably about 25 years old. A couple of officers look down at the young man disdainfully, pull him off the ground, and take him away.

Brick beat him with a lock in a sock. He was angry because the young man had stayed in Cypress for seven months, partly by his own choice. He was supposed to come back to Brick. Did the young man stay in Cypress to escape Brick? Does he belong to Brick like a sex slave? Or would he say the relationship is consensual in the way a battered woman might say she stays with her husband because she loves him?

Did he agree to exchange sex for protection? Did he understand that once he crossed that bridge, there would be no going back? Once a punk, always a punk. Guards here do not turn a blind eye to overt rape, but the more subtle abuse of punks is accepted. Inmates and COs know a punk when they see one. He will do menial tasks when someone demands it. He is expected to keep his face clean-shaven at all times. He has to pee sitting down or by backing up to the urinal with his penis tucked between his legs. He must shower facing the wall.

At Winn, this includes teaching new cadets about the law. Even consensual sex could lead to time in seg. Nationwide, as many as 9 percent of male inmates report being sexually assaulted behind bars, but given the anti-snitch culture of prison, the real number might be higher. According to the Louisiana budget office, Winn reported sex offenses in the fiscal year, a rate 69 percent higher than that of Avoyelles Correctional Center, a publicly operated prison of comparable size and security level.

Inmates like Brick rarely see themselves as gay and typically go back to pursuing women once they get out. Self-identified gay or transgender prisoners are, however, often on the receiving end of abuse: Federal data shows that 39 percent of gay ex-prisoners reported being sexually assaulted by another inmate.

But not all sex in prison is violent; many of the letters from male lovers I read in the mail room were full of tenderness and longing. Take, for example, this one from a man in Angola, written to one of the most flamboyant men at Winn:. You are the only same sex person in my life. So you have to never worry about anyone taking your place, not even a female…Sweetie, you are a good wife.

To truly understand you was my hardest goal but when I did our relationship got so good. An hour after the young man who was attacked went to the infirmary, he walks into Ash, his arms still bleeding. Now, he has no protection. A couple of well-muscled inmates stand at the bars and look at him lustfully, telling him to try to get placed on their tier.

Inmates have complained to me about this sort of thing; even people who have stabbed each other are sometimes put back in the same dorm. I open the gate and watch him walk down the tier. Minutes later, he asks me to let him out. He talks to Miss Price, telling her that he is in danger. Maybe they think he snitched on Brick to get away from him.

When I open the door, a large, bearded man inside pushes him back out onto the floor. The young man has two options: Go back on the tier or go to the count room, where they will assign him to another unit. He thinks they are going to put him in protective custody. Consider the options swirling in his mind: He could go back to his tier, where a man twice his size has made it very clear he is not welcome. There, he would risk nights as a punk without a protector. He might get robbed.

He might get raped. He might get stabbed. Then there is the alternative, the only one that Winn, like many other prisons, offers to inmates like this: the protective custody wing in Cypress. He would be put in a cell, maybe alone, maybe with another man, for 23 hours a day. He would be branded a snitch just for going there, which means that when he eventually left, the odds of getting stabbed would be high.

He storms past me, back to the key. Real talk. During our training, Kenny warned us how easy it was to be manipulated into sex by inmates. A federal institution. This story came up several times as an example of a guard who had to face the consequences of his weak will. Nothing was ever said about the inmate who gave Roberts blow jobs. She had identified as a girl from age Her father beat her repeatedly, and by the time she turned 13 she had left home and begun stripping on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. During her first year, she was serving a stint in seg for a dirty urine test when, she later testified, Roberts shackled her, brought her to an office, and told her to give him a blow job.

Over the next two years, China said, she was raped several times by inmates, but she kept it to herself. There, an officer ordered her to take another urine test by peeing in a cup while standing. After a long standoff, Roberts showed up and told her she could sit on the toilet. The other guards left. As she peed, Roberts entered the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

Roberts slapped her in the face. She dropped to her knees and did what he asked. She held the semen in her mouth and spit it out onto her shirt. An agent came to the prison, took the shirt, and interviewed Roberts. She was released from prison 11 months later. Roberts also denied her allegations when the FBI interviewed him, but the bureau found that the semen on her shirt was his. I have not been able to track down China. Roberts served his sentence and was released in Nearly half of all allegations of sexual victimization in prisons involve staff.

In the BJS survey , CCA prisons reported a rate of substantiated staff-on-inmate sexual assault similar to that of public facilities. Another federal report found that former inmates of private state prisons are twice as likely to report being sexually victimized by staff members as inmates who were in public prisons.

Prisoners also sexually harass and abuse officers. A recurring issue is inmates standing at the bars and masturbating at women guards sitting in the key. I regularly see the macho culture of prison transcend the division between guards and inmates—male officers routinely ignore the harassment of their female colleagues. Man, you was down here every day shaking your stuff!

Not long afterward, the inmate was released, and he sent a letter to the prison, telling them to look at the surveillance footage from that night. CCA fired the guard for sleeping on the job and for leaving the tier door open, Kenny recalled. He gone home. He got her for us. It worked out on both ends. They are frustrated because no one is doing it. Why should the guards put themselves on the line? You guys ever heard that term? We want them institutionalized , not individualized. Is that sort of a mind game? But you know what? We do not want them to feel as though they are individuals.

We want them, for lack of a better term, to feel like a herd of cattle. Parker says the DOC wardens have been pestering him. Parker, to be strong enough to take clothing away from an inmate? Are they that scared, Mr. His tone softens.

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After the meeting, everyone moves slowly down the walk. They need to tighten up on the tier doors, re-man the towers, and reinstitute the inmate work out in the field and the inmate programs, and give these fools something to do besides sit in their beds, eat, watch TV, and figure out how to fuck with us. Today, the supervisor tells Edison to join Bacle and me in Ash. Having a new guard come to Ash is like having a visitor to our twisted household.

The question makes me nervous. You get your ass on the bunk. You get stupid, you get beat down. You get big and stupid, you get gassed and beat down. Either way, you learn your fucking place. Edison has been here for a year and a half. He is an Army Rangers veteran and was once a small-town police chief. When I went to work, I went to war. When I got off, I still went to war. I carried two clips on me regardless of what I was wearing. I carried at least my Glock 40 underneath my arm, and usually I had a Glock.

Go ahead, play with me. We walk the floor. He stops. We stop. I see rapists. I see robbers. Twenty-five years, federal mandatory. Getting busted with a joint near a school will typically land you about six years , not I unlock the door of B1 tier and Edison walks in. An inmate is standing at the sink, brushing his teeth. The inmate keeps his back turned to Edison.

The inmate walks out, still brushing his teeth. Be dumb! I walk down the tier and do count. When we leave the tier everyone comes up to the bars and yells at Edison. The captain and a sergeant enter the unit. The captain tells Edison to step aside so he can talk to the inmates and try to ease the tension. That pacifies. The sergeant, whose name is King, pulls me aside. As a kid, he spent time in juvenile hall.

Like Edison, he is an Army vet, and he credits the military for correcting his delinquent ways. After 22 years in the service, he got a job in a juvenile correctional facility in Texas. One day, he told a boy to get off the basketball court and the kid grabbed his throat and tried to strangle him. Sixteen years old, 6 foot 3. During count, I tally bodies, not faces.

If I look at faces, it means I have to keep the numbers straight while constantly calibrating sternness and friendliness in my eyes for each individual. When I go down the tier, I make a point to walk in a fast, long stride with a slight pop in my left step, trying to look tough. I practiced this in the mirror because inmates comment every day on a twist in my walk that I never knew existed.

Sometimes prisoners whistle at me as I pass.

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In my normal life, I try to diffuse any macho tendencies. Now, I try to annihilate anything remotely feminine about me. As I walk and count, I tighten my core to keep my hips from moving. I steel myself for A1 tier. I ignore it. Another comments that I look like a model.

You like that dick. This has been going on for weeks, but this time something snaps. I stop count and march back to the guy calling out to me, a thirtysomething black man with pink sunglasses and tattoos crawling up his neck. You are always focusing so much on me, maybe you like the dick! Bitch ass! He refuses. I get his name from another officer and write him up for making sexual comments. I try to cool down. My heart is still hammering 10 minutes later. Slowly, my rage turns to shame and I go into the bathroom and sit on the floor.

Where did those words come from? I rarely ever shout. I am not homophobic. Or am I? I feel utterly defeated. I go back to A1 and call Pink Shades to the bars. And I apologize. You feel me? I understand that you gotta live. You got to survive. Those words hurt you.

I feel you. I mean I was singing a song, but you probably took it the wrong way. It triggered something in you. Something about being here reminds me of being in junior high, getting picked on for my size and the fact that I read books, getting called a faggot. I tear up his disciplinary report and throw it in the trash. When I walk back down the tier for the next count, no one pays any attention to me.

Man down! His eyes are closed and his left leg is moving back and forth slowly. Mason starts to cry. His left hand is a fist.

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His back arches. They finna come see you now. A stretcher finally arrives. The nurses and their orderlies move slowly. Earlier today Mason was playing basketball and fell to the ground in pain, he explains. He went to the infirmary, where they told him that he had fluid in his lungs. Three inmates pick up Mason in his sheet and put him on the stretcher. His hands are crossed over his chest like a mummy as two prisoners wheel him away. Days later, I see Mason dragging his feet, his arms around his chest. I tell him to take my chair. He sits and hunches over, putting his head in his lap.

We call for a wheelchair. A nurse happens to be in the unit, passing out pills. She looks at me sidelong. If he were sent to the hospital, CCA would be contractually obligated to pay for his stay. For a for-profit company, this presents a dilemma. Medical care within the prison is expensive, too. CCA does not disclose its medical expenses, but in a typical prison, health care costs are the second-biggest expense after staff.

On average, a Louisiana prison puts 9 percent of its budget toward health care. About 6 percent have a communicable disease such as HIV or hepatitis C. One day, I meet a man with no legs in a wheelchair. His name is Robert Scott. He consented to having his real name used.

My feet hurt. His medical records show that in the space of four months he made at least nine requests to see a doctor. When he visited the infirmary, medical staff offered him sole pads, corn removal strips, and Motrin. He says he once showed his swollen foot, dripping with pus, to the warden. If you make another medical emergency you will receive a disciplinary write-up for malingering. Eventually, numbness spread to his hands, but the infirmary refused to treat him. His fingertips and toes turned black and wept pus.

Inmates began to fear his condition was contagious. A resulting altercation drew the attention of staff, who finally sent him to the local hospital. Part of being locked up. Inmates have this thing that if they have a sniffle they are supposed to be flown to a specialist somewhere and be treated immediately for that sniffle. Yet CCA has found ways to minimize its obligations.

At the out-of-state prisons where California ships some of its inmates, CCA will not accept prisoners who are over 65 years old, have mental health issues, or have serious conditions like HIV. In , the company and Immigration and Customs Enforcement settled a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU that asserted immigration detainees at a CCA-run facility in California were routinely denied prescribed medical treatment.

CCA admitted no wrongdoing. He removed the wires himself with nail clippers while guards watched. CCA has also been the subject of medical malpractice cases involving pregnant inmates. When the inmate went into labor, she was put in a cell with no mattress and left there for three hours as she bled heavily onto the floor.

CCA employees did not call an ambulance until approximately five hours after the prisoner asked for help. Her newborn baby died shortly thereafter. In court proceedings, the warden testified that surveillance footage showed no signs of an emergency. But before the footage could be reviewed, CCA claimed it had been accidentally erased. The court sanctioned the company for destroying evidence.

The next morning, the inmate was shackled and taken to a hospital, where doctors found that she was already dilated. While prison guards watched, she gave birth and was immediately sedated. When she woke up, medical staff brought her the dead baby. At least 15 doctors at Winn have been sued for delivering poor medical care. The prison hired several of them even after the state had disciplined them for misconduct. He was put on probation, but CCA kept him on. Winn hired Stephen Kuplesky after his license had been temporarily suspended for prescribing painkillers to a family member with no medical condition.

Robert Cleveland was working at Winn when he was put on medical probation for his involvement in a kickback scheme with a wheelchair company. He was later disciplined for prescribing narcotics from his home and vehicle. Data collected by Prison Legal News on more than 1, state and federal suits against CCA shows that 15 percent of them were related to medical care. This sample is not a complete list of complaints against the company; in alone, CCA faced more than pending cases.

Between and , the company settled another cases. My reconciliation with Pink Shades encouraged me. Every time I have a problem with a prisoner, I try the same approach and eventually we tap knuckles to show each other respect. Still, these breakthroughs are fleeting. We can chat and laugh through the bars, but inevitably I need to flex my authority. My job will always be to deny them the most basic of human impulses—to push for more freedom. Day by day, the number of inmates who are friendly with me grows smaller.

There are exceptions, like Corner Store, but were I to take away the privileges Bacle and I have granted him, I know that he, too, would become an enemy. My priorities change. Striving to treat everyone as human takes too much energy. I am vigilant; I come to work ready for people to catcall me or run up on me and threaten to punch me in the face. I show neither fear nor compunction. Sometimes prisoners call me racist, and it stings, but I try as hard as I can not to flinch because to do so would be to show a pressure point, a button that can be pressed when they want to make me bend.

Nearly every day the unit reaches a crescendo of frustration because inmates are supposed to be going somewhere like the law library, GED classes, vocational training, or a substance abuse group, but their programs are canceled or they are let out of the unit late. Inmates tell me that at other prisons, the schedule is firm.

Here, there is no schedule. We wait for the call over the radio; then we let the inmates go. They could eat at a. They could eat at 3 p. School might happen, or maybe not. Sometimes we let the inmates onto the small yard attached to the unit. Canteen and law library hours are canceled regularly. Guards bond with prisoners over their frustrations. Prisoners tell us they understand we are powerless to change these high-level management problems.

Whenever I open a tier door, I demand that everyone shows me his pass, and I use my body to stop the flood of people from pouring out. Some just push through. I catch one. You hear me? He walks back in, staring me down. I shut the door, ignoring him. An inmate comes around the key. Bacle is following him and calls for me to stop him. I know him, the one with the mini-dreads. I feel threatened, frankly, whenever I see him. He tries to walk past me. I lock eyes with him. He turns back and walks slowly away. I walk behind him. I open his tier door.

He walks in, stands just inside, and stares me down hard. I grab the door and slam it shut— bang! I turn and step back into the throng of inmates milling around the floor. I stop and turn around. He just stares. I grab the radio on my shoulder, then pause. Was I ever taught what to do when something like this happens? I know how to press the button and speak into the radio, but whom do I call? I go back to chasing the others into their tiers. In the back of my mind, however, there is a voice: Did you see him say anything? Are you sure what you heard? He wanted to intimidate me and it was about time I threw someone in the hole.

They need to know I am not weak. One morning, Ash smells like feces. On D2, liquid shit is oozing out of the shower drain and running down the tier. We let inmates out to go to the small yard. As they flow out of the tiers, I see a large group run to A1 tier. Bacle pushes the tier door shut and calls a Code Blue over the radio. Inside the tier, two prisoners are grappling, their bodies pressed up against the bars. Drops of blood spatter the floor. The surrounding scene is oddly calm. Inmates stand around and watch, not saying anything. Bacle, Miss Price, a CCA employee from out of state, and I stand just two feet from them, separated by the bars, and watch the two try to press their knives into each other.

My breath stops for a moment, and I utter a gagging sound. Bacle reaches through the bars and grabs the stabber by his hood as the other inmate struggles to break loose. For the first time, the other prisoners make noise. Bacle lets go, and the two men tumble across the floor, landing in a heap by the toilet, blocked from our view by a short wall. They keep scuffling. An arm swings up and jabs down. One prisoner walks over to the urinal two feet from them and pees as they keep stabbing. The fight lasts nearly four minutes, until a SORT member comes in with a can of pepper spray.

The other goes to seg. The smell of pepper spray fades, but the smell of shit does not. At the end of my shift, I stride briskly down the dark walk. The longer I work here, the more people have grudges against me. The gate before the exit is locked and I am routed through the visitation area. There, 20 or so officers from my shift are sitting at the tables, frowning. Two inmates are serving pizza. Assistant Warden Parker is there. The chief of security. I grab some pizza and sit down, frustrated. I raise my hand. And it takes all of us working together. It really, really does.

On the wall is a painting of a black kid and a white kid lying on their bellies on a grassy hillside, looking at a rainbow. Next to it is another mural of a lion and a tiger tearing through an American flag with a bald eagle flying overhead. So congratulations to everybody sitting inside this room.

We gotta panic! Hit the panic button!


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