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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Riot of One

A prison has certain sounds. They are rhythmic. The prison usually sounds the same at the same time every day. A prison is all about routine and sameness. The two I worked at were both operated like military organizations. I was always getting those military titles confused. It is frowned upon to call a Lieutenant a Sergeant. I had always worked where people were terribly informal so I had a challenge when trying to use all those proper titles. The nurses did not allow the inmates to call them by their first names.

I was in the habit of arriving early to work every day. This worked well for me. I did not feel rushed going through all the locked gates, the x-ray machine, and the metal detector. You also need to stop at the front desk and trade a chit for your prison door keys. Everywhere you go you must unlock and lock the door. It requires thought. A bathroom key is critical.

One morning I arrived early. It was about six-thirty am. I was in the first cage with a Sergeant. The inmates would have been eating breakfast in shifts by this time. The officers were changing shifts. The noise inside the prison was wrong. It was loud. Too loud. The Sergeant said something about the noise being off and I agreed. He said "It sounds like a riot". It did. Not that I had any expertize in the matter but I just knew it did. The officers controlling the gates left us in the cage for a while. I imagine they were calling people in charge. At that time not a lot of officers are present on the yard. When we got in the front door they let the Sergeant in. Not me. I was left in the office part of the prison. I could see through expansive windows onto the yard.

The prison has a couple of mental health dorms called J1 and J2. The mental health inmates are classified according to severity of mental disorders and level of supervision needed. There are a large number of level three inmates in J2. Level three mental inmates need close supervision. They see the mental health staff frequently. One particular level three inmate named Sam was a fairly tall well built man. He was known to be quiet and respectful. He had been working out for months. Buffing up. Muscular. That morning he asked a Lieutenant a question in the dining hall. I heard it was a simple request. I don't know the truth because I wasn't there. The officers are trained in dealing with mental health inmates but that doesn't mean they listen. I am just saying a staff member has to be mindful that these guys are not stable by any degree. Sam took the Lieutenant's billy club away from him.

Then it was on. The full force of the officers were on Sam. Sam went out onto the large grass yard. The inmates in the yard were cheering for Sam. I witnessed this from the office windows. He was pacing with the billy club. He looked angry and fierce. He had been working out for this moment, planning it. It was his and he owned it. Four officers jumped on him. Then a fifth. He was the Sergeant who was in the cage with me earlier. All I could see was arms flying. Eventually, Sam was subdued and taken to the Medical Unit. It felt as if this scuffle took a long time but it took a few seconds in reality. I viewed it in slow motion it seemed.

The officers at the front let me onto the yard. I went straight to the Crisis Stabilization Unit. Since it was still the night shift there was one night nurse on duty. I helped him with Sam. Sam was on the floor bucking. All the officers had some sort of minor injury. Sam had NONE. The night nurse and I, after calling the doctor, gave him three injections. Which was no small feat. The officers used the shock shield on him. It's a Plexiglas shield that covers the torso with a built in taser. It was effective. He calmed enough to have the injections in his buttocks.

Meanwhile out in the yard there were about ninety mental health inmates virtually unsupervised. They were too dumb, stupefied, and starstruck to act. But they could have taken over that yard. One of the more irritating occurrences that morning was that the Warden did not Lock Down the prison. I would have. I would have put every inmate in their cell for the remainder of the day. But I am a simple nurse not security. After Sam was put in a CSU cell I called Joe. I told him it would be a swell day to mail my retirement package.

Olive Out

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