From The Inside: An Interview with a Georgia Correctional Officer
Due to the nature and subject matter, the interviewee had reservations. It wasn’t just because he didn’t want to put his new job in jeopardy but he also didn’t want to jeopardize his personal safety and well-being while on the job. Frankly, he didn’t want to be viewed as a possible media “snitch” by GDOC (Georgia Department of Corrections) staff nor the inmates.
After just two month on his new job he had so many stories. Nothing as glamorous as you see and hear on television. I begged “man look; I don’t want to video tape you, I just want to record our discussions so I can transcribe it later”. He told me flat out NO, under no circumstances. Due to my source’s apprehensions, the interview below is based off my notes of our conversation. I kept it in true to form per our conversation; slang and all. Some of what is stated here has been common knowledge within some media outlets , with the ACLU and the Southern Center For Human Rights. Below is an excerpt from one of our conversations. For his safety and anonymity, we will call my buddy and source Alex.
He told me after weeks of educational and some self-defense training, he was nervous but anxious to start his new position. After years in the Public School system, he wanted more money to help pay off his student loan debts. With his degrees in education and psychology he felt his skills could be put to great use filing certain voids in the under staffed GDOC prison system. There were certain “higher level” positions that were available but he had to get his foot in the door and gain some experience before he could apply.
Ocky: So you been busy…haven’t heard from you in a while.
Alex: Man they got me working so much because they understaffed and the drive is crazy because of the distance from my house.
Ocky: So now that you got your feet wet, what’s it like?
Alex: Loud. It’s so noisy on the housing unit and a lot of the guys are very needy.
O: What do you mean needy?
A: They are always asking you for something or wanting to talk to you about something.
O: Like what?
A: Just difference stuff and follow-up questions from requests and complaints or grievances they have made.
O: How do you interact with them? I mean do yall have conversations or is it just like a question and answer type thing? Like do you just have yes-no type interactions with them?
A: Naw they love me because I actually talk to them. A lot of them guards talk to them and treat them like garbage but there is no need for that. These are men so I treat them like men. Plus they out number you so why be disrespectful.
O: Do you feel scared?
A: Not like I use to. We get some self-defense training so I feel like I can handle myself. When I’m not doing my rounds the housing unit, I’m in the office. It’s like a guard shack protected by glass. You gotta go through another set of bars to get to it.
O: I hear a lot in the news about the broken locks and violence. Do you see or experience that?
Note: Alex gets excited and animated
A: Yo B, the shit is crazy! These locks aint worked since I been here. Yo, I just had a lengthy conversation with this one dude and when I came back the next day he was dead.
O: Word? What happened?
A: Apparently later in the day, he got into an argument over a honey bun. That night due to the locks not working, kats got out and they threw him over the rail and he split his head open.
O: What? Did anybody get in trouble?
A: Hell naw B, how? Nobody gonna say who did it cause they don’t wanna be next, what the fuck? So because they sneak drugs in and shit, it then turns into, “well he could have had drugs in his system” so he tripped and fell over.
O: So you think gang members or somebody killed him?
A: Exactly. Man these gangs in here, B the shit is crazy. Yo it was this one kid that came to me beggin to use my cell phone. I was like hell naw son, I can’t do it.
O: Use it why?
A: Yo they was ravaging that ni**a and he wasn’t even convicted of anything yet.
O: I don’t understand?
A: Yo he was caught riding dirty with a little bit of weed. They arrested him. He couldn’t post bail so them sent him here.
O: What, wait a minute, how is he in prison and not convicted of anything?
A: The prison I work at is a procession facility, meaning we process inmates, hold them until they are ship to another prison but we also will house people when the jail is overcrowded or when they are awaiting trial. Dude aint have no bail money. His family lives out of state and he could not get in contact with them. So he was just in there until his trail.
O: So what do you mean they was ravaging him…what was they doing to him?
A: He was being raped son! Yo he would be in my office crying begging to use my cell phone so he could let somebody know where he was at. I couldn’t because I could lose my job. Even though dude was 19, he was small as hell and couldn’t do anything.
O: So he couldn’t tell anybody about him being raped?
A: Naw, they would probably kill him. I can’t do anything about it unless you tell me who did it or if I personally see it. Then I could write ni**as up and they could be re-arrested. That shit will add time to their sentence. If I go tell, yo dude is being raped, they will ask him to tell them who and if he doesn’t want to tell or won’t tell, nothing will happen. You got these kids in here with convicted murders and gangbangers, simply because they can’t make bail.
O: That’s fucked up.
A: Yeah and the gangs control who has access to make calls. They be extorting the other inmates.
O: What you mean?
A: They will tell another inmate, “tell your peoples to give us money on our commissary or get us a cell phone or we will rape, pimp you out” type shit. They made one dude dress up in full dress and make up until his people sent money. Sometimes if your peoples don’t pay up, they may have you stabbed up at night. It’s like what can you do because the locks on the doors don’t work and the staff can’t be everywhere. You have kats doing what they wanna do at night and you not gonna go in there by yourself.
After our phone call, I didn’t speak to Alex again for another couple of months. When I did he told me that he was working his plan. He got his foot in the door and he had already moved into another position guarding Death Row inmates. He told me how quiet and less stressful his new position was. I asked him why he felt this way about his new environment and he said, “I don’t know. Maybe they know at some point they’re gonna die.”
Hancock State Prison gang members wear guard jackets after guards fled during a riot. Pics taken with prisoner cell phone.
Prison overcrowding, malfunctioning locking mechanisms, death and gang activity continue to plague Georgia Prisons. Southern Center For Human Rights released a report this past summer that focused on these problems. From the report;
*Georgia state prisons are at 106.3% of capacity.
*From 2010 to date, 33 prisoners and one officer were killed by other prisoners. In 2012 alone, Georgia had more homicides in its state prisons than many states’ prisons had in the last ten years. (e.g., Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi)1. Three times as many prisoners were killed in Georgia state prisons in 2012 than ten years ago.
*Hays State Prison houses some of Georgia’s most challenging prisoners, many of the cell doors at the prison did not work. Prison audits from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 reported that the facility’s cell door locks could be easily opened, leaving prisoners to roam in and out of their cells at will. An audit in September 2011 found that the “locks in the inmate housing area could be easily defeated.” The locks were not repaired. An audit in September 2012 found that of 442 locks checked, 184—41% of the locks tested—were able to be “defeated.” The locks were still not repaired. As a consequence, close security prisoners at Hays State Prison were routinely able to leave their cells at any time of day or night, even when cells were supposed to be locked. GDC officials did not take steps to fix the problem until after four Hays State Prison inmates were killed in a seven-week period between December 2012 and February 2013.
*The violence in Georgia’s prisons has grown increasingly brutal in recent months. In January 2014, a prisoner was airlifted from Coffee Correctional Facility to a hospital burn center with third degree burns and other injuries, after he was bound with tape, beaten with a bar, had bleach poured in his eyes, and boiling water poured on his face and genitals. In February 2014, Ariel Ocasio had three fingers severed by a man wielding a 19-inch knife at Wilcox State Prison. In March 2014, Jeffrey McDonald was beaten to death at Central State Prison. Cristian Bailon recently became the seventh person murdered at Smith State Prison since 2010. And on June 29, 2014, Shannon Grier died after being stabbed at Augusta State Medical Prison.
*The violence also has a disproportionate effect on African-Americans. African-Americans make up 61% of Georgia’s prison population and a majority of the victims of homicide within our prisons.
*A snapshot of incidents at Ware State Prison revealed that 25 knives were recovered in a two-day period in May 2012. Less than month later, a man had three fingers severed by a mob wielding “machetes.” The discovery of a two-foot long “machete” in a maximum security prison, on the heels of multiple stabbing events, reflects the abysmal state of security in Georgia’s prisons.
*A similar pattern is presented at Valdosta State Prison where twelve prisoners were hospitalized in a series of armed fights spanning three days.
*…men at close security facilities report that gang-affiliated prisoners often control inmate housing arrangements within a dorm, deciding for themselves which cells they will occupy. Prisoners routinely sleep in cells to which they are not assigned. (At Hays State Prison, incoming prisoners in certain dorms were not even given a cell assignment, but were simply left to find an open bed on their own.) Additionally, gang members are permitted to expel people they do not want from their dorms. Permitting gang members to dictate prisoner housing assignments is a gross breach of accepted correctional security practices that underscores the need for a thorough review of the policies and practices in Georgia’s prisons.
*Baldwin State Prison is a 925-bed, close security prison in Hardwick, Georgia with several open dormitories and a special unit for persons with mental health conditions. Insufficient supervision of prisoners has been a serious problem at Baldwin for years. Groups of prisoner-assailants have regularly seized, tied up, beaten, and tortured other men, holding them for extended periods, without being discovered by correctional officers. Baldwin’s notorious M3 dorm has been the site of several such incidents. Officers often failed to patrol this open dorm, making an appearance only briefly at count times. In their absence, gang members would target new prisoners – attacking them on their first day in the open dorm.
Hays state inmate showing off his shanks. This photo was found on an inmate’s phone. Photo by Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Since this increased violence, deaths, inmate hunger strikes and subsequent lawsuits, GDOC has and is continuing to fix locks at many facilities.
You can read the entire report here.
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