Thursday, January 19, 2012

Laser Dude

   Many people from all walks of life have worked at our jail. We had one correctional officer who I will call Sully. He had been a radio personality for many years before coming to work at the Sheriff's Department. He definitely had a gift for gab and was a positive influence for many CO's.
   He was also one of those who truly enjoyed making his fellow officers laugh. Often, though, it was because he pulled pranks on them. What goes around, comes around is befitting for this story.

   One day, Sully, officer Jack, and I crossed paths by the elevators on the jail's first floor. We formed a triangle to talk. Officer Jack was offering information on a recent situation that was circulating through the jail grapevine. These types of things always held Sully captive and he would participate with great concern and interest.

   If the subject were funny, he would respond with jovial repartee's . If it were a serious subject, Sully would purse his mouth with the intensity of a WWF wrestler and offer his two cents like it was worth millions. This particular day his lips were ALL wrinkled up in fervent participation.

   As Sully stood there with his coffee cup in hand, I directed the red dot of the laser pen I had attached to my key ring on my hip to the center of his hand holding the coffee. He wasn't paying too much attention to me because he was so involved in this part of the conversation with officer Jack.

   Officer Jack saw me wink and secretly nod in the direction of Sully's coffee cup. Just as Sully was bringing his intense verbal exchange to a crest, officer Jack said to him, "Hey Sully, your hand is on fire!" Sully looked down at the red hot dot of coal in the center of his hand, screamed like a girl, and promptly threw the coffee cup about four feet in the air.

   Officer Jack and I could not stop laughing. Sully's face turned almost the same shade of red as whatever hair he had left on top of his head. From around the corner came about five officers who had heard the scream and were ready to rumble. I can't count the times I heard the words, "Son of a bitch...son of a bitch". As always, he was a good sport about the whole thing.  

Let Me Smell Your Fingers

At the satellite facility we house inmates who have been sentenced to a year in jail or less. Offenses varied like snowflakes. These guys were on the work crews that cleaned the streets, parks, and buildings. We even let them work at our pistol range. That one always baffled me. The only men not eligible to work off their time under this honor system were those who were charged with domestic violence, or for sales of drugs. Since all they had to do was walk off the job or even out of the front gate at the satellite, it would make us look pretty bad if one of those two groups went back out and committed the same offense.

    Because they had the freedom to be unsupervised from time to time, they had plenty of opportunities to pick up stashes of contraband while they were working the various jobs. The biggest item smuggled back into the facility was tobacco. That was due to the fact that smoking was not allowed during their incarceration.

    It was one of the most violated rules of the satellite. They were getting caught all the time. Not necessarily in the act, but through circumstantial evidence. Like finding enough smoke in the bathroom to call out the Forestry Department to put out the fire. Inmates didn't want to get caught. A rule violation would add 5 days to their sentence and he would also be sent back downtown to the real jail to finish his time.

    If an officer walked into one of the bathrooms of the pods (living quarters) and smelled smoke, they would not let anyone exit who was in the room at the time. Questions were asked, accusations made, and rule violations were written. It was pretty much cut and dry most of the time if you knew what time it was. Smokers got away with their offense more easily with inexperienced officers.

    Many a rookie officer was tutored into the fold with the following shenanigan. If, let's say, 6 or 7 inmates were corralled in the bathroom before making a hasty escape, a rookie officer would line them up for the grill. The first thing the officer would do is tell them to show their hands as he progressed down the line in the same fashion as a military drill instructor would do to look for the telltale signs of yellow staining from the nicotine. It's the next step that leads to mistake mistake mistake.

    You see, nicotine leaves a very distinct odor on the fingers, especially when the hand-rolled cigarette is burned to the very nub. Nothing but ashes are left. What does the new officer do? As he confronts each inmate, he says, "Let me smell your fingers." My my my.

    As his attention is glued to the inmate in front of him, the one on the end is promptly sticking his finger up his own butt just waiting for his turn to produce the fingers as the officer instructs...      

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Must Be Talking to You

     One of our seasoned officers was escorting the Sheriff through the booking areas while explaining some of the newly developed procedures that had been adopted.

     Officer Belker had always been adept at using words to his benefit. He was also a prankster. Another officer, who had very recently been a victim of one of his shenanigans was also working in the area.

     Just as she turned the corner to see officer Belker, she loudly proclaimed that he was an "asshole". She had not seen the Sheriff standing behind him when she said it.

     Without skipping a beat, officer Belker turned to the Sheriff and said, "She must be talking to you... I don't know who she is."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bulk Property

We had an older officer in his early 50's who came to us from Russia. He was really a good guy, but it seems he was always screwing up. It was never intentional, I'm sure. Maybe it was just a culture thing. I always got a he haw when I worked with this guy. If it was not a funny story he shared, it was something he did during the shift that cracked me up. He wore every conceivable calamity possible in his hip pocket. If something happened in the jail, he always seemed to be a part of it somehow or another. He was the only officer in the jail who ever caught a male and a female inmate in the act of having intercourse. He just stood there and told them to "stop it". Unbelievably, they did. Both were codefendants in a murder case.

After I retired, one of my friends who still works at the jail told me something that he did while working in the clothing room. His duty for the night was to stock shelves, process the bulk property bags, and issue clothing to the new arrivals. The job is not that difficult, but it can be demanding and hectic at times. Most of it depended upon the officer's organizational skills.

When a person is booked into jail, any property they have that does not fit in a clear 6 x 9 inch tamper proof plastic bag is put into a sealed paper grocery bag. It is labeled "bulk property" and then transferred to the clothing room to be put in the inmate's larger clothing bag, providing it will fit. If not, it is stored on shelves in the back of the clothing room. Items in bulk property ranged from backpacks holding all the person's worldly possessions to filled purses to desktop computers.

Since the arresting officer is the one who packages everything into the paper bag, we don't have a clue as to what is inside the bag as it is sealed with evidence tape before they are even booked into jail. The inmate is handed this bag as he is leaving our custody just prior to walking out of the door.

This night was particularly busy in the clothing room. One of the meal relief officers finished his duties a little early and was told to go help our Russian friend. As he walked into the clothing room, he witnessed what looked like the aftermath of a small Midwest tornado in the dress-in area. There on the floor were the scattered and shredded remnants of brown paper and evidence tape.

The officer asked him what the mess was from. He calmly replied that it was from the 15 paper bags of bulk property and he was trying to get caught up so he could clean it up. The next question for him was, "What happened to the bulk property?"

With the calmness of Yoga instructor, he said that he gave it back to the inmates at the same time as he provided them their jail-issued clothing. "Where are these inmates now?", asked the officer. "Oh, I already sent them to their floors."

Oh boy!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Have a Heart Attack

One of our veteran female officers was working the floor that housed all of the 288's. That is short for Penal Code 288 referring to child molesters.

One of the inmates on that floor had been trying to manipulate officers and medical staff to give him pain killers for yet another mysterious ailment. He was known for this behavior by many of the officers, and by all of the medical staff as well. There was nothing really wrong with him. He would always inform everyone of his rights. He was a genuine pest.
The inmate would not leave officer Bardly alone. She kept telling him that he needed to turn in a green slip (a medical request form) for treatment.

In a final attempt to convince officer Bardly to circumvent the process, he said in a feverous pitch, "what if I have a heart attack?" She stopped what she was doing, turned and looked him in the eye. "You'll die and go to hell!"

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Such a Small Thing

There is a story that happens frequently where a female officer is sexually harassed by inmates. Some women get so tired of it that they eventually look for another line of work. The ones who stick it out and make a career out of corrections learn quickly how to deal with these ill-mannered obnoxious inmates.

Often, the female correctional officer will pull the inmate aside and read him the riot act. They are stern, forceful, and will let the inmate know in no uncertain terms that his behavior is unacceptable. The inmate will be threatened with punishment that is backed fully by our Policy and the department, as it should be. Often, a rule violation is handed out to the inmate if he does not respond favorably to counseling.

Sometimes the threat of being punished just isn't enough. Many of these inmates are looking at being put away for a very long time and the least of their worries is a rule violation. However, here enters the other type of correctional officer who is just as skilled, maybe more, in dealing with these situations. That is the brash, no nonsense, in-your-face lady like Goldie.

Goldie wasn't always one to follow all the guidelines set forth for officer conduct and professionalism. But, she was extremely effective. That is what counts when it comes right down to brass tacks. Do what works...

A story conveyed to me involved an inmate who would seem to find something derogatory to say to every officer who would walk into the medium security 48-man pod. It didn't matter if the officer was a male or a female. Talking shit in front of the other equally disrespectful cellmates was actually a false award for bravery in the face of the enemy.

On this particular occasion, Goldie was making a security check within the pod and walked within a few feet of the shower stall. On cue, the inmate stepped out, presented his genitalia in cupped hands as if they were some sort of blue ribbon prize and loudly proclaimed, "Hey! Look here what I got for you".

She paused, and with everyone's eyes on her, took an intent survey of his groin, giggled in disrespect and said in an even louder voice, "Such a small thing to be so proud of!" The comment certainly was not professional, but it was the last time that particular inmate made any sexual overtones in his comments towards Goldie.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I remember a several-month stretch when I was assigned to the floor where our ding dongs were housed. Remember, ding dongs is my term of endearment for those who don't have the wherewithal to exist in society in a normal manner. I won't get into semantics over the definition of normal. We all have our moments, but these guy's elevators really don't go to the top. Some of the problem has been fostered through genetics, but most of them exist the way they do because they sniffed too much paint in their lifetimes. Either way, they broke the law in one form or another and have temporarily become one of our guests.

Remembering that these guys need to be handled a little differently than the general population of inmates is the secret to surviving the duty assignment on this floor without becoming a casualty yourself. I was always fearful that the illnesses could somehow rub off on me in one way or another. Maybe it did... Great, just add it to my PTSD.

I will give an example of handling just three of the different classes of inmates who have broken the same "house" rule. I'll make it simple. Let's say that the inmate was sitting on one of the tables. It's not allowed for many reasons. Providing fodder to screw with inmates is not one of them, just so you know.

Inmate who is a newbie or unsophisticated: Firm and direct works best. "Off the table, bud." They usually respond quickly.
Inmate who has spent a lot of time in prison: Respect means most. "Let's not sit on the table, sir, it makes me look bad to the man." They usually will answer with something like, "Right right", and then slowly get off the table.
Inmate who has mental deficiencies: Circumlocution (talking in circles) works great. You kinda need to get to know their individual behaviors, but something like this usually is effective. "Hey sport. How we doin? Y'know, sitting on that table means I have to go write a report and that means the nurse won't get to pass out the meds on time. If you get off, I can go let her know." Now, not only does he get off of the table, the whole pod won't sit on the table for two days for fear that they won't get their meds on time.

With that background in mind, I need to share the following story with you. An inmate who had threatened one of our newer staff members with bodily harm had been pulled out of the pod by numerous responding officers while I was at lunch. I got back to find the inmate being temporarily held in a holding cell directly across from the security station. The only real mistake made by the officer was that he brought the book-learnin' philosophy taught at the academy directly to the jail and tried to apply it to someone who thinks that "compliance" is some kind of machine you can buy at Sears. Everyone does not accept authority, especially if it's delivered with robotic indifference. Since I was the senior officer on the floor that day, I was the one who had to handle the rest of the problem before the Sergeant got a full report. I was told that the inmate was extremely agitated.

I headed for the holding cell after providing a half hour cooling off period and keyed open the door. I was unfamiliar with this inmate because he had only arrived the day before. If ever, and I mean, if ever, a person fit the category of "Bubba", this was him. This guy was 6' 8" tall and weighed over 300 pounds. Man, was he ugly! I'm 5' 9" at 185 and ugly. Where are those guys with the "No Fear" stickers on their truck windows when I needed them.

Apprehensively, I just stood at the door and was ready to slam it shut if the inmate rushed me. I just began talking to him from the doorway like we had known each other for a long time. These guys are often manipulated into an acceptable behavior silhouette if they think they have had a past experience with you that was positive. Since they are not sure most of the time, they actually give you the benefit of the doubt and aggression levels subside with a little patience.

About 10 minutes into my nonsensical conversation, I felt I could venture a little further into the holding cell. I can only say that experience with these inmates is the only basis for taking a possible chance like this. Some of our staff would have just pissed the inmate off further by acting within the guidelines of an "officer" and the inmate would have wound up in the safety cell for 36 hours. The way I see it, that doesn't solve much in the long run. I would always try the reasoned approach with most inmates first. It often worked out successfully, even with our mentally challenged inmates. At the time, I felt that my methodology was right on track with Bubba.

Towards the end of our conversation, I told him that I know he probably missed his family and that he needed to go along with our rules so he wouldn't have to stay in jail longer than he had to. Hurting one of our officers could keep him in jail much longer and I didn't want that because he was probably a pretty good guy - bottom line. He just wasn't showing it. I told him that the officer was just trying to do his job the best way he knew how and was not picking on him. I also said that I expected him to help our officers do their job and to help protect them, not hurt them. He also had to apologize to the officer the next chance he got.

I told him he probably acted out because he was pretty depressed about being in jail. He spent almost our entire 30-minute encounter together just listening to me, but with that statement he said that he felt lost and alone. I told him that there were people out there who needed him and loved him and that he was very important to have around, so it was time to take better care of himself. I told him he needed to try as hard as he could not to let them down.

At this point, I asked him if he was ready to go back to his pod and if he was going to be okay. He shook his yes and stood up. Now I'm looking straight up at a gargantuan mountain! Tentatively, I backed out of the cell and asked him to follow. We are now in the hallway between the security station and the holding cell. He stopped suddenly and with an unpredictably shaky voice, he said, "Hey" and I became witness to a facial expression that I was not familiar with... from a paltry distance of 3 feet. All I knew was that he was not smiling.

He slowly took one step towards me and all I could think of was, "Oh Shit!" He hesitated for about 5 long seconds, then slowly bent over and put his head softly on my shoulder and whispered, "Thanks."

Just as that occurred, our officially paid jail resident shrink had walked by and witnessed the head-on-the-shoulder routine. He simply said, "How's it goin', Father Bill?" I have to admit, it was a feel-good day for me as I returned "Bubba" to his cell.

Monday, January 09, 2006

In Lieu of a Rule Violation

Here is an example of my way of dealing with inmates who don't always follow the rules. This particular inmate was caught off of his bunk at count time. This was not a body count, it was a "wrist band" count, which makes it very important that everyone is where they are supposed to be for the hour it took to count 3,300 inmates.

I could have issued a rule violation for this infraction, and depending the wording I used to describe the offense, he could have spent up to 10 days in the "hole".

I always thought outside the box. By making this inmate write this mini essay, it accomplished two things. First, he knew I would not allow this particular infraction. Second... that I didn't send him to the hole for 10 days for which he now "owed" me. Third, inmates found that I enforced the rules, but was not unfair about it. It garnered me "respect". This approach would not always work on the career inmate, however.