Ask a former prison guard

Inspired by the “Ask the guy who used to frequent hookers!” thread, I thought I would offer to satisfy the curious with regard to prisons.

I spent three years as a correction officer (the PC term for a guard) at a state penitentiary. My mother was an officer at the same prison for ten years. I come from a family of guards, since in my hometown there is a state pen, a federal pen, a military prison, a county jail, and a privately managed facility (that is somewhat of a mystery to me). Yep, that’s Leavenworth.

Prisons are a small world-within-a-world. Most people’s ideas of prison are formed strictly from movies. This is good for movie-makers since they can get away shaping the picture any way they need to.

The Green Mile had the guards carrying firearms so that at the end of the film one of them could shoot the bad guy and himself. In reality, guards never carry guns inside the prison. Sometimes a guard is by himself in charge of 40 prisoners. How easy it would be for them to take a gun away from you!

Want to know how your favority movie holds up? Fire away.

Welcome to the boards! A frequently discussed topic here, especially in the Pit, how often does prison rape occur and do the guards ever “just look the other way”?

Did people ever try to bribe you with cigarettes?

First let me clarify that I worked at a prison for men. I don’t know much about women’s prisons. Except to say that most experienced guards (my mother included) preferred to supervise men. Women are more devious and like to do things to get guards into trouble or fired.

In men’s prisons actual rape, whereby a person is physically forced during the act, does not happen often. It is quite common for weaker prisoners to be coerced into becoming a “punk,” a sex slave, by threats or beatings. But here you might have the defiant victim get beat up in the “yard” or the chow hall as a punishment, rather than get forced into sex. The predators generally prefer their “partners” to be willing or at least submissive. Another reason is that fighting is just going to get sent to “segregation” (essentially, solitary confinement) while raping a guy would get you convicted for another crime and more time.

Of course, it does happen. Opportunity is the key problem. I would be surprised to learn that a guard “looked the other way.” Instead, the predator would have an accomplice distract the guards. And many of the guards were just plain lazy.

There is generally enough punks willing to give it up, homosexual or not. In exchange for sexual favors, their daddies protected them from other prisoners. For instance, there is quite a lively free market within prison - from drugs to the more innocent magazines and cigarettes - and eventually someone will try to cheat you. Your daddy would take care of that.

An older convict told me that if you’re ready to fight some when you’re new, then you’ll pretty much get left alone. But if you give it up once, then fighting won’t help you later. They know you gave in once, you’ll give in again.

No. One time a kitchen worker tried to bribe me with a few pieces of fudge so that he could take the rest out to sell. This was common. The usual food was pretty awful, so kitchen workers might make a few goodies on the side and sneak them out to sell.

What is the stupidest escape attempt you have ever witnessed? Also, how many prisoners have been successful at escaping (at least until they’re reeled back in after being fugitives?)

How much access do prisoners have to information on what’s going on in the outside world? I know they have access to TV and newspapers, perhaps the Internet, but are there restrictions imposed on what they can and can’t view?

Very interesting. Thanks for your comments.

Stupid escape attempts are by far the most common. The first one that comes to mind that happened while I was working there… Transportation officers stopped at a rest-stop with a prisoner. He got a gun away from one of them, took the car keys and drove off. Unfortunately, he didn’t think to get the handcuff keys. Handcuffs are looped through a prisoner’s belt during transport and he couldn’t steer properly and wrecked the van a few miles away.

My favorite unsuccessful attempts:

Prisoner hid in an adjacent building outside of the walls (but inside the fences) where he worked during the day. His intention was to make everyone think he was already gone and wait a few days for the initial furor to blow over and then sneak out. Problem was it snowed and since there were no footprints, they knew he was still inside the fence. They waited for him to come out for a drink and then nabbed him.

Three prisoners crawled out through the ventilation. And you thought that just happened in the movies! Most clever escapes fail because the escapees didn’t think about what they were going to do once they got outside. But these guys had a plan that was going to take all the way outside the U.S. Unfortunately, another prisoner squealed on them. The guards were waiting on the roof when they crawled out. Good thing too since their plan included killing a guard in a nearby tower.

There’s a ton of stories like this.

Prisoners pretty much have unrestricted access to TV and news. This is a good thing because in these kindler, gentler times when you can’t give someone a good beating, the threat of taking away their TVs goes a long way towards keeping them in line. The prison I worked in had a limited amount of cable channels. This was funded by a religious organization so that the prisoners could get their religious channel.

Suppose you are a middle-class guy who has never been in prison…how do you:
-make clear to the prison “boss” that you don’t want to be placed with a 300 lb. prisoner called “jamal X”
-secure a nice jon (like cleaning the warden’s office)
-get out of prison withoput being raped.
What kind of bribes do you have to pay to get all of this?

Whats the most horrible or violent thing you ever saw whether it was a conflict between just convicts, or convicts and guards?
Did you ever personally get into any potentially life threatening situations?

Do you believe in the death penalty?
What was the worst crime any prisoner you knew was convicted of?
Does anyone in prison ever admit to being guilty?

Who’s the top gang in your prison?

Is it true what they say happens to child molesters?

What kind of programs are offered to prisoners to help them either stave off the boredom or learn a trade to support themselves when released?

Why are you no longer a prison guard?

Do you think most prisoners learn their lesson and when released ( or paroled) try to change their lives, or is prison really a big revolving door?
I read somewhere a long time ago that most prisons were self sufficent, earning their own money through the way the prisoners could do jobs for the outside world at a rock bottom rate that outside competitor’s could not touch. How true is this?

What would a prison do if there were a fire inside? Are there fire drills and tornado drills?

What’s your take on The Shawshank Redemption?

I’m not even going to ask what you think of the HBO series Oz.

Ok I am.

Haha! :smiley:

Who was the worst prisoner you ever encountered? By that I mean the most violent, psychotic, evil inmate you knew of.

How much murder/suicide is there? My mom had her residency in a prison hospital and got some pleasant stories out of it. Not as much as one would think, though.

I grew up in Folsom, and a lot of my buddies parents were guards. They were also by and large all alcoholics. Did you drink a lot when working? What made you get out of the biz?

are you still replying to questions?

What level prison do you work at? i assume III or IV.

Do prisoners use threats against family members to keep ‘punks’ in line? i read a story about a guy who was coerced into being a punk for a black prison gang because the gang found some mail from his family, copied the return address, and said they’d send members on the outside to rape his wife & kill his kids if he resisted.