Prisoner Face Smashing: A New, Fun Sport For Guards?

 

Sure, prison inmates have done wrong. They’ve chosen to break the law and to go against the grain of society. Many of them have done things that are simply too reprehensible for words. There’s no doubt that each of them should be punished. But there are men and women in prisons and jails throughout the country who, while serving their time (which is the prescribed punishment for their crimes), claim abuse at the hands of the officers who stand watch over them.

Prison is not a nice place, not by any means. It’s a dangerous place in a world all its own. That world behind the bars, the looping miles of razor wire, and thick concrete is reminiscent of the Mad Max  movies where society has been stripped of all things civil, leaving citizens to fend for themselves using whatever means is available. In fact, some prison life brings to mind the old film Escape From New York where an entire geographical section of New York (Manhattan) is walled off for use as a prison, the most dangerous prison in the world. There are no guards. Food is air dropped in every so often, and the prisoners there, too, exist through whatever means available. It’s all very primitive, and abuse is rampant. But could a place like that exist in our present-day culture?

Well, according to an article in the Omaha World Herald, prison guards at the Nebraska State Prison have been making a sport of beating up inmates and then posting details of their deeds on Facebook. Corrections Officer Caleb Bartels wrote on his FB page, “”When you work in a prison a good day is getting to smash an inmate’s face into the ground. … for me today was a VERY good day,” Derek Dickey, one of Bartels coworkers replied, “”very satisfying isnt it!!!”

While abusing people is definitely not the policy of any corrections facility or law enforcement agency anywhere, it’s obvious this type behavior does occur. The question is why? What do people get out of physically abusing and torturing another human being, even if that person is an inmate in a prison? Does that make it right?

Many of the inmates in jails and prisons are the same people who once lived in normal neighborhoods alongside normal, everyday people. They worked in the same jobs, their kids went to the same schools, and they went to the same meetings and shopped in the same stores as everyone else in the community. The difference between the arrested lawbreakers and many other people – they got caught cheating on their taxes, or smoking marijuana. Of course, I’m not speaking of violent criminals. They’re not the normal neighbors by any means. But what about the criminals who had a substance abuse or other mental health issue that totally clouded their judgment. Again, sure they did wrong, but does that give prison guards the right to beat them and abuse them for entertainment? And what does it say about the abusers who enjoy this behavior so much that they shout it to the world? What’s fun about beating people and slamming their faces into the ground?

What are your thoughts? Should the corrections officers involved in the Facebook posting be disciplined? Fired? Hailed as heroes for giving the lowlifes what they deserve?

The local paper reports that the three officers involved were suspended pending an investigations. However, prison officials caution the public about the possibility of counterfeit posting on sites such as Facebook. They’re sort of standing by the guards for now, it seems.

– Last year, a Nebraska State Trooper was dismissed after it was learned he was a member of the KKK and had shared his support for the group’s beliefs on the Ku Klux Klan website. The state Supreme Court upheld the trooper’s dismissal.

  1. vania
    vania says:

    Many prisoners are simply addicts whose drug of choice happens to be illegal, based on an arbitrary set of standards. Our treatment of them is often brutally unfair.

  2. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I have worked in a prison as a female C.O. What I can tell you from my point of view is that not every inmate that is incarcerated should be there. True, inmates do live in their own society, and they have there own set of rules and inmate laws they abide by. Trust me, if there are guards abusing inmates there is a bigger picture that needs to be investigated. As someone in an earlier post stated, guards are outnumbered in the prison environment. More than likely a guard or guards are paid off in some way to inflict pain upon the inmate in retaliation for another inmate. It is sad to say, but not every guard is on the up and up. A lot of the contraband that ends up inside prison walls is being smuggled in by the guards. Being a C.O is a very hard job that gets overlooked a lot. It is a very dangerous job. Think about it. Police Officers do their job by catching these guys which is a danger in itself, but they only have to deal with these guys for a short time. A C.O deals with these guys on a daily basis 8 to 12 hours a day 365 days a year. You also need to remember that C.O’s are also dealing with more than one convicted criminal at a time. For anyone who has never been in a prison, imagine yourself in a locked room with up to 500 men that are in there for anything from check forging to multiple murders and rapes. So I applaud C.O’s for the job they do everyday. And just like with any other law enforcement agency there will always be a few bad apples in the group, but please do not look down on all for something that only a handful do.

  3. Mark Young
    Mark Young says:

    The incidents should be investigated. If substantiated, let justice take its course. I’ve seen both sides of this issue, however, when I was in law enforcement. Operation Black Widow (a joint federal, state & local task force operation I was a part of) focused on Nuestra Familia (NF) prison gang members. It took us into most of the prisons in California.
    These NF gang leaders used the legal system to strike back at prison authorities, and most of the law suits and “crimes” were a hoax. Sure, there are always a few bad apples. But for the most part, the life of a prison guard is dangerous, stressful, and thankless. I met a lot of heroes working behind those bars trying to keep the predators from the prey.

  4. Les Edgerton
    Les Edgerton says:

    L.J. Sellers makes a valid point. Also, estimates have been made that as high as 60% (and higher) of those incarcerated have mental illnesses which results in criminal behavior. It’s just cheaper to warehouse them in prisons than provide mental health care.

    Drugs have absolutely ruined this country. When I was in (mid-sixties) prison, nearly all of us were in there for “traditional” crimes, i.e., burglary, armed robber, murder, kiting, etc. No drug crimes to speak of at all. I only knew one guy who was in there for child-molesting, and that wasn’t really child-molesting. He got charged with statutory rape and that was really a bogus rap. A guy caught him in bed with his 17-year-old daughter and this guy had no idea she was that young–she’d passed herself off as 21. Besides him, I didn’t know of another single person in a population of 2,000+ who was a child molester. Very few rapists. Drugs changed all of that, and I suspect the huge rise in child molesters and rapists stems from drug use for a variety of reasons. One, drugs and the welfare state have created fatherless homes, leading to a reduction in family values and the drugs themselves lowering libidos. Cops and criminals also interacted differently then. While I would never say policemen “respected” criminals, there actually was a kind of respect given back and forth. Most criminals acted like men, at least. If you did the crime, you expected to do the time, if caught. No whining. I watch MSNBC and their series on prisons and the other TV shows on crimes and criminals, and I’m flabbergasted at the guys who get busted who start crying. Crying! What kind of guy cries when he gets busted? Amazing. We had a term for those kinds of criminals. We called them “Punks.” Today, prisons seem full of snitches, babies, punks, and sissies. Not trying to “romanticize” criminals, but it just seems like we’ve got a different breed these days. A lot of kids who come from the suburbs who were trying to supplement their allowances by dealing drugs… Or, those who watch TV and try to emulate what they see there.

    Okay. Done with my rant…

  5. L.J. Sellers
    L.J. Sellers says:

    Many prisoners are simply addicts whose drug of choice happens to be illegal, based on an arbitrary set of standards. Our treatment of them is often brutally unfair.

  6. Les Edgerton
    Les Edgerton says:

    BTW, the cell pictured in your article looks exactly like my cell in Pendleton, except this guy has a WINDOW??!!! How does he rate a window? I would have killed for a window. They have TVs in the cells these days, too. Man! Born in the wrong century!

  7. Les Edgerton
    Les Edgerton says:

    Good post, Lee! I had a bit of experience with hacks in my 2+ years in the joint at Pendleton. There were two twin brothers who had the midnight shift on the hole, who had a little “trick” everyone was aware of. They’d haul an inmate out, and for “fun”, one would hold him down on the concrete and his brother would lift the end of one of the heavy wooden benches outside the cells and drop it on the guy’s head. There was one inmate in particular, they loved to do this to–a guy everybody called “Maggie” and he’d had it done so many times to him that he became goofy.

    This was in the “old” days (mid-sixties) so things are all civilized and stuff now… but the hacks were about half sadistic and half nice. They were paid just above minimum wage at the time, so not too many Yale grads were hacks. We had a train that rolled by the prison every night at midnight and blow its whistle, and we’d all laugh and joke that they “just let off a new batch of hacks” (hobos, riding the rails).

    By the same token, there were some standup guys working as hacks. One, a black guy we called Jonesy saved my life, literally. I’d made parole and made the mistake of telling a few guys (you never do that–some are bound to get jealous and want to take you out since you’re getting cut loose and they’re not), and I was a barber in the barber school, and this black inmate came up to me and told me he was going to make me his punk. I grabbed my straight razor and went after him, chasing him all over the barber shop, trying to cut his throat. Jonesy was on duty, and came over and got the guy, hustled him into the instructor’s office, and then talked me into giving up the razor, which I did. He knew I was getting cut loose on parole in a week, and he did something wonderful. He walked the guy who’d hit on me back to the guy’s cellhouse, then came back and… here’s the amazing thing… didn’t write me up or take me to the hole. That literally saved my life. If I hadn’t made my parole there’s no doubt in my mind I would have had to end up killing that guy or him me and I would have ended up doing life. What was cool was that Jonesy was a black man, too. That act changed my entire attitude against the races.

    We had 8 riots when I was there and President Johnson came on national TV and said, “Pendleton was the single worst prison in the U.S.” We were. When we busted out in a riot, the hacks just disappeared and let us have the prison for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Mostly, we had riots so we could make applejack, what they call pruno these days. You had to scrub out your toilet and dump fruit, sugar and yeast in it and let it ferment three days, which you couldn’t do except during a riot, so most riots were started so we could make booze. The hacks got out, because they knew they’d be the first ones we’d take down.

    Now, they all have college degrees and are “kinder and gentler” from what TV tells me…

    I’m finishing up my memoir (working title: Adrenaline Junkie”) and a lot of this stuff is in it.

    Blue skies,
    Les

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Good points, everyone.

    Dave Freas – Unfortunately, no. I just didn’t receive all the information in time to post a Friday’s Heroes column. There were five officer deaths to report (I have the numbers now) and I’ll include that information in the next post.

  9. Dave Freas
    Dave Freas says:

    First, the guard’s actions should be thoroughly investigated. If they are indeed guilty of the actitons posted on Facebook, they should be punished as severely as a citizen would be punished for the same actions in the public sector. Perhaps their punishment should be more severe since they were in a position of authority and abused that position. Prison guards have to establish and maintain control over the inmates they guard, but bashing prisoners and bragging about it is not the way to do it.

    A question: Since Friday is the day you remember fallen officers, Lee, does this post mean no officers fell in the line of duty this week?

  10. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Never having been a prison or jail officer, I can’t speak from direct experience, but here’s what I know from having talked with guards in the past.

    It’s not too good an idea to run a prison with brute force, since the prisoners vastly outnumber the guards. Sometimes brute force is needed, but should only be used when necessary. To do otherwise may solve your little minor infraction at the time, but you may have to pay for it later.

    There could be several explanations for the guard boasting on Facebook. One is that the force used was necessary, and he is bragging about it, which is stupid, and will obviously be a problem for him at work. The other is that he just made it up to appear to be a tough guy. Also stupid, and may be a result of the fact that he’s really a wimp. The third possibility is that he is a brute, in which case he just put his badge and career out there to the world and said, “Here, someone throw this away for me.”

    One more thing that I learned in my years in law enforcement. I would never wish to see the Bill of Rights disappear, for I could some day be in need of those rights.

  11. Jody
    Jody says:

    Well, I’m hoping it is a hoax/frame-up on Facebook. But if it’s true, the guards should be relieved of duty/fired!

  12. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    I think that anyone who ENJOYS dishing out physical punishment has some problems. The prison guards’ job is to maintain order & be sure the rules are observed. It’s similar to the police job on the outside (only the ‘citizens’ are all convicted criminals! – not so much protecting and serving). Physical abuse of criminals by police isn’t accepted on the outside & shouldn’t be accepted by guards on the inside.
    Now, the other side of the coin:
    Not having spent a moment of my life in a prison, I can’t make a comment on what life must be like in there (for inmates or guards). But I imagine that the guards must assert their dominance over the inmates in the same manner that the inmates must over each other. Physical violence & domination go hand in hand.
    The facebook comments (if they were, in fact, posted by the guards) make me wonder about these guys in general. ARe these the same sort of people who enjoy getting into bar fights & beating the crap out of someone? It seems to me their violent tendancies aren’t confined to the prison environment if they feel the need to brag about them outside of the prison.

  13. Sarahlynn
    Sarahlynn says:

    Long ago I heard an interview containing a wonderful quote from the warden of a minimum security prison: You’re not here to be punished. You’re here as punishment.

    Seems a pretty significant difference to me. (Again – talking about nonviolent criminals.)

  14. Terry
    Terry says:

    (Aside — your book, Police Procedure & Investigation, arrived this morning. The section on fingerprints has already solved one of my WIP questions)

  15. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Terry, I assure you that most police cars don’t look this way. Remember, they knew I was coming to take pictures for a book. Police cars are the officer’s mobile office. Everything they have is crammed inside somewhere.

    I kept extra handcuffs hanging from my spotlight handle, too.

  16. Terry
    Terry says:

    When I did a ride-along, the laptop swiveled out of the way enough so there was room for me. What amazed me was the multi-tasking he had to do. Drive, type, listen to the radio, read what came onto the screen (and even answer my questions).

    At one point, we were driving and all the cars were moving out of the way (most of them, anyway). There was a distant-sounding siren. I asked if that was ‘us’ and was surprised that it was. Definitely quiet inside.

    Also, your photos showed a much cleaner car than the one I was in. There were handcuffs hanging from the handle for the outside spotlight, he kept his big Maglite on the seat behind him, and there were bottles of water and other miscellaneous personal items between my seat and the door. The backseat was full of forms, and there were more in the trunk, plus his shotgun and his Algebra book.

  17. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Elena. Good question. Actually, the siren doesn’t sound loud at all, especially when driving at higher speeds. You can even carry on a conversation with a person in the passenger seat, and hearing the radio is no problem. I’m sure adrenaline and excitement are part of the reason officers don’t really hear their sirens.

    There is a formula regarding how sound travels, but I don’t remember it. Something about the the speed of a police car’s travel vs. the speed of sound, etc., etc.

    I also think we just tune out the sound like my wife tunes out my ramblings.

  18. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    sdr – I agree. I suppose that’s why cops always stop in the middle of the street or park on the sidewalk when answering a complaint. That way they don’t have to back out into the street.

    Visibility was even worse back in the day when we had those expanded metal screens dividing the front and rear compartments.

    I can recall the day when we didn’t have any sort of screen or cage. Think how tough that was if you arrested someone who was combative. Wasn’t fun, but we got by. Sometimes, a little love tap with a Maglite took care of the problem.

  19. sdr633
    sdr633 says:

    One thing that really surprised me was the horrible visibility, what with the cage and equipment mounted above and behind the front seat. There are some cars in the fleet I won’t back up.

  20. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Yes, it is an oversized, extra bright dome light and all patrol cars have them. I even had one in my unmarked car. Timber Beast brought up a good point about disabling the interior lights in police cars. Cops do that to prevent a light from coming on automatically when they open the door.

    TB, our dome lights were hooked into the regular wiring system of the car. No individual batteries.

  21. Timber Beast
    Timber Beast says:

    I’m with Su on the dome light. It’s battery powered because the factory dome light has been removed/disabled. The battery powered one is for doing paperwork at night or reading the latest Tom Clancy novel.

  22. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Joyce – This car had a laptop in it, too, but we removed it to see the radio equipment a little better.

    Su – Don’t feel bad. When I first started we didn’t have sirens. Instead, we just rolled down the window and yelled for people to get out of the way…

    Seriously, we did have chain-driven rotating lights that turned according to the speed of the car. The faster you went, the faster the lights turned. Sometimes, the chains seized up and we had to stick our hand out the window (at 100 mph) and hit the side of the light bar to make it start working again.

    Ah, the good ole days.

  23. SuGreene
    SuGreene says:

    Lee,

    I may be completely wrong, but it looks like a dome light, one of those that you press and it comes on. (Appears to be between the front visors.) Not really sure – haven’t been in a patrol car in twenty years, since I did my internship in college. Back then they didn’t use the laptops and cameras, and all the equipment they have now. (God, that makes me feel old!) Maybe I should look into a ride-along program and update my perception of this!

    Thanks for the great blog!
    Best,
    Su

  24. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    The cars we have also have laptops mounted on the console–they take up half of the passenger seat. It’s very difficult to ride in that seat. Some of our cars also have cameras, which take up even more space. Add to that all the gear the officers take with them, and I’m surprised there’s even room for prisoners.