One day a guard at visitation told me that an inmate had just been caught smuggling in cigarettes (all tobacco had been banned years earlier). I knew this guard better than most because I had visits every week from friends, relatives, lawyers, and the media. S was usually on duty for media visits and once got in trouble with his boss, Captain Lucita. Frau Himmler!
During an interview for a newscast, S laughed when I asked him if he was going to strip search me on camera. That exchange appeared on the news and Captain Lucita told him he had not acted in a professional manner—guards don’t laugh, she said; she certainly never did.
I told S that everyone knew where cigarettes were coming from; it wasn’t through visitation. Visitors might sometimes slip an inmate cash, pills, some weed, tobacco, but it was not the main source of contraband. Guards were.
I told S that the going rate to a guard for a carton of cigarettes was $275 cash.
He looked at me and said with a straight face, “How many do you want?”
I laughed because I knew he was joking. He and most guards were honest, but temptation was too great for some: $275 for a carton of cigarettes that could be bought for $35. One carton a week would bring a guard an extra $1,000 per month, half his salary. Tax free.
Since there’s no story in good guards, I’ll tell you one about the murderous Sergeant Foreskin (not his real name, but close).
For inmates, a good guard minds his business, ensures order, doesn’t harass inmates, and doesn’t see himself as part of the judicial system punishing prisoners. He’s there to earn a paycheck and make sure no one gets hurt. They’re the majority.
But Robo Cops, sick sadistic guards, inflict as much pain and suffering during their shift as possible. Unfortunately, the job attracts such men.
Pedophiles go where they can find children—scouts, priesthood, coaching; troubled twisted individuals go where the defenseless are—prisons, nursing homes, shelters.
Prison is miserable and dangerous. Dealing with inmates, some very disturbed and vicious men, challenges the most even-tempered guards. Despite this however, most guards handle themselves well, but some make the situation worse. Zoo workers know better than to rattle the cages of dangerous animals, yet some guards purposely rile inmates to make inmate lives miserable.
Smalls, Callahan, Copeland, Savage, Gilbert, Hardy, Minot would walk into a quiet orderly unit with the sole intent of causing uproar. They’d rattle bunks to wake guys who were asleep, drag others off for searches, push unstable guys to the limit, tease and torment others to the point they’d snap, then write them up for disrespect. They’d fuck with inmates in a hundred ways for pleasure and amusement, but we would just laugh when little Barney Fife--100 pounds with glasses, squeaky voice, pressed starched uniform and shined boots tried to terrorize us. He didn’t have any credibility and would shrink when someone snarled at him.
People who torture animals are sick. Guards who torment inmates are sick.
While outraged at animal and nursing home abuses, the public believes inmates deserve whatever treatment they receive. There’s no PETA for prisoners.
Inmates are vulnerable targets. Public perception is of big burly tattooed miscreants, but many are mentally deficient disturbed men who need to be in hospitals and institutions, not in general inmate population among murderers and rapists, yet prisons now serve as a dumping ground where the strong become even stronger, and the weak are lost, easy prey for bad guards.
Levon, a mildly retarded inmate on a bunk in the Day Room next to me had a severe kidney problem; he had to go to the bathroom frequently, but the guard kept the bathrooms locked and wouldn’t unluck them for him, so he had to piss himself. When out of desperation Levon pissed down the shower drain, the guard wrote him up and sent him to The Hole.
Sergeant Foreskin had been relieved at another prison where an inmate was beaten into a coma and died. The News an Observer investigated. The official story claimed the inmate had tripped and caused his own injury, but Foreskin’s vicious clubbing was caught on camera. He sat out the ensuing investigation at Nash, supposedly not allowed contact with inmates, but he couldn’t help himself; he constantly tormented inmates.
I avoided him as much as possible, but I always felt his eyes on me.
Once I was unexpectedly called to Visitation; Foreskin was at the desk. He looked at me with killer’s eyes. “Peterson, you have no idea what I want to do to you,” he said, hands unconsciously twisting.
I knew exactly what he wanted to do to me, but I said, “I still need to go to Visitation,” adding for good measure and protection, “It’s one of my lawyers. He knows all about you.”
Cruel and vicious abuses are legion; every inmate could relate dozens. Cool Hand Luke, The Longest Yard, Shawshank, The Green Mile feature these guys, but they’re in every prison.
Officials invariably side with officers (like Catholic Bishops sided with perverted priests) unless the abuse is on camera, but even then, the tape has to survive; frequently it disappears.
I wrote about guard corruption in the book, and also about the legendary insane Officer Carter who aimed a rifle at the Time Warner cable guy—in uniform, up a pole, outside the wire.
On one visit day I was last to leave. The yard was closing for Count Time when no inmate movement was allowed, but S called over the radio to see if I could to go. The tower radioed that it was ok because Officer Carter was still on the yard monitoring inmate traffic.
“Has she had her meds today?” he asked--on the radio for everyone to hear. Then other posts started calling in about her, and of course she had a radio to hear it all.
But Carter was a rock of sanity compared to Capland.
Like anywhere, promotions are supposedly based on performance; not always though.
Carter had a lot of seniority but had been passed over for sergeant many times. She took it well; even she knew she was nuts. But then Capland was promoted, a woman even loonier.
Capland was a terror (Carter just wacko), and obsessive compulsive; a serious drinker too. She’d leave the unit relatively stable for a break, then return thirty minutes later weaving. We could smell the alcohol.
However, she was a Lumbee: female and Native American--two important cards for promotion. Poor Carter only had the white female card to play.
On night duty, the Sergeant had to sit with her simply to calm her down; she could not sit still. We’d all keep a nervous eye on her, see her start twitching like she had hives, then she’d jump up, let out a war hoop and start terrorizing the unit, literally run around bunks to sniff them while guys were trying to sleep.
“What the fuck are you doing, you crazy bitch?” guys would yell at her, and then it was on until there was total uproar and the Sergeant had to drag her away, the unit in chaos.
Only Capland cared what was on a bunk chair. If a book, newspaper, t-shirt was on it, she’d wake the guy to move it. Constant harassing nut stuff. Other officers hated her because she caused them so much trouble: when she’d start inmate fires, they had to put out the flames.
When a sergeant left, an officer had to be promoted. We knew it would be a woman because the ratio of female to male sergeants was embarrassing. Capland got the promotion.
Poor Carter--even we felt sorry for her. Nuttiness was no longer an excuse because someone even crazier had been promoted.
Usually when officers were promoted to Sergeant, they’d mellow--the race was over, they won; they relaxed. Not Capland; she became worse. With more power she became intolerable; guards under her transferred to other units, but we inmates were stuck.
Pimp Daddy, a unit manager!, carried Hugging a Thug to a new extreme.
Rarely in his office, Pimp Daddy spent most of his time on the rec yard joking with gangster Bloods.
He didn’t know what to do with me when I was sent to his unit, the notorious “Chesterville,” filled with child molesters.
“You’re the most popular inmate in the system,” he told me unhappily. I think he meant “famous,” but I said nothing and tried to stay out his way, which was easy because I was white.
Pimp Daddy was a black Mason, as were the assistant chain gang guard assistant warden and the warden himself. He had all the protection he needed, so could spend mornings and afternoons with Bloods, perhaps reliving his younger days as one. He gave them prize jobs and ignored transgressions.
Racist and corrupt, he got away with years of malfeasance until the admin bathroom ceiling next to his office collapsed and a ton of weed fell on the floor in plastic bags.
He was transferred to another prison. Kept his rank and salary.