Posts

The criminal trial is over but the story of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin will continue for many years to come.

Chauvin was found guilty of all charges relating to Floyd’s death, including 2nd degree murder, and after being led from the courtroom in handcuffs he’s now tucked away inside a cell at Minnesota Correctional Facility—Oak Park Heights, Minnesota’s only Level Five maximum security prison. The former police officer is no stranger to the Oak Park Heights prison since it’s the facility is where he was housed until he posted bail and was allowed to remain free until trial.

Cell door (Minnesota DOC image)

Now awaiting sentencing , which is scheduled in eight weeks, Chauvin’s home away from home is a 7’x10′ cell inside the institution’s administrative segregation unit. He is under a “suicide watch,” which is not at all unusual in these types of high-profile cases.

For his safety, staff will also closely monitor Chauvin’s every move since he is a former law enforcement officer who likely played a part in the arrests and convictions of inmates within the prison. That, and the prison population are not likely to accept him due to the nature of his crime.

The facility is secure and as safe as they come (keep in mind, it is a prison). No inmates have ever successfully escaped and only one prisoner has been murdered there.

Since Chauvin resides in a restricted housing unit, officers are required to check on him, and other prisoners, at least every half hour. He’ll not have physical contact with staff, unless he acts out in some way, becomes ill or injured, or needs to meet with attorneys or has a visitor. He is allowed one hour of recreation per day, which is a real treat for someone who’s isolated from the world, fresh air, sunshine, raindrops, gentle breezes, grass underfoot, the sounds and smells of spring, the wailing yelps of police sirens in the distance and, well, you get the idea.

Staff conducts more frequent checks of prisoners who are violent, those with serious mental health concerns, and inmates who exhibit odd or unusual behavior. The warden or a senior staff member is required to visit the unit at least once each week.

Cells in the restricted housing unit contain a concrete bed/seat combination that’s equipped with a thin mattress (it’s no Tempur-pedic, believe me) that’s pictured below in use as a seat back. Also pictured below is a steel toilet/sink combo, a standard fixture in jails and prisons.

The only view outdoors from these cells is through an extremely narrow window that’s far too small for a human to pass through.

Narrow window (Minnesota DOC image)

Every thirty days, a mental health professional interviews and prepares a written report on each prisoner who is assigned to the restricted housing unit. Mental health staff also respond to the needs of inmates when requested by corrections staff or the prisoner.

Visiting rules at Minnesota Correctional Facility—Oak Park Heights include:

  • Visits must be scheduled no less than 24 hours in advance and no more than 10 days in advance.
  • Visits for Complex 5 and ACU will be scheduled through visiting NOT the unit.
  • COVID Safe Visiting will be limited to a total of 3 visitors.
  • All visits will be 1 hour in length.
  • All visits will need to be prescheduled by calling the number above or the Online Scheduling Option link above.
  • Visitors and inmates will not be allowed to have physical contact at any time.
  • Social distancing will be followed at all time.
  • Visitors will need to wear a mask at all times.
  • No photos will be taken

Visiting Schedule

Sunday – Wednesday

No visiting

Thursday and Friday

10:35 a.m. – 7:45 p.m.

Saturday

7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.  Visiting Hours of Operation

Holidays

There is no visiting on the following State recognized holidays:

  • New Year’s Day
  • President’s Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Memorial Day
  • July 4 (Independence Day)
  • Labor Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving and the following Friday
  • Christmas Day

Items Allowed

Per prison rules, Chauvin, like all inmates in the restricted housing unit, are allowed to possess only the following items, and nothing more – “clothing, footwear, towels, bedding, writing paper and pen, inmate communication forms, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, soap, shampoo, restricted housing information packet, and a comb.

These additional items are also allowed unless prohibited for safety or security reasons: personal mail, legal materials, wedding rings, approved religious items, shower thongs, address book, eyeglasses, dentures, prosthesis, approved canteen items, ear plugs, and envelopes.

Certain magazines, newspapers, publications, books, and education materials may also be approved as well as radios (in some cases).”

*Next: Eight Longs Weeks Until Sentencing: Why So Long After the Trial?


Only one day left to sign up to reserve your spot!!

Forensic Psychiatry, Murder, LAPD Lipstick, and Memorable Characters  

Presenters

Guest of Honor – Charlaine Harris

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD 

Kathy Bennett

Robert Bruce Coffin

 

Schedule

Schedule (Times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

 

11:00 – 12:20

Forensic Psychiatry and Crime Fiction: Correcting the Top 10 Myths 

Instructor,  Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D.

 

In this illuminating session, acclaimed forensic and perinatal psychiatrist, Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D., describes common misunderstandings about her field of forensic psychiatry when it appears in crime fiction. These include: 

-confusion between forensic psychiatry and psychology 

-misunderstandings about forensic hospitals 

-how confidentiality works in forensic evaluations 

-psychiatrists testifying about their patients 

-whether people look left when they are lying 

-how malingering is determined 

-how forensic psychiatrists get paid 

-what insanity means legally 

-what incompetency means legally 

 

12:20 – 12:50

Break

 

12:50 – 2:10

Murder for Real—Adding Realism to Your Mystery Writing 

Instructor, Bruce Robert Coffin

 

Former detective sergeant and award-winning author Bruce Robert Coffin shares his years of experience as supervisor of homicide and violent crimes investigations. This workshop is filled to the brim with behind-the-scenes law enforcement information. This class, taught by one of the best in the business, is certain to help writers create stories that rise to the highest levels.

  • The CSI effect. What is it and why it doesn’t fly in high-end writing?
  • Evidence gathering (the real deal).
  • Cold Cases. What are they and how are they investigated?
  • First response vs. CID (two worlds-two goals)
  • Dealing with the media.
  • Hierarchy and chain of command.
  • Job stressors and how cops cope (or don’t).
  • Telling lies (everybody does it).

2:20 – 3:40

A Badge, a Gun, and Lipstick: A Female Perspective of Working Patrol on the Mean Streets of Los Angeles 

Instructor, former LAPD Senior Lead Officer Kathy Bennett

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in a high-speed chase and then be involved in a shoot-out at the pursuit termination? Do you think the cop who gave you a traffic citation was wrong? Do you know what it’s like to tell a mother her only child was killed in a traffic collision? Well, Kathy Bennett experienced all these things and more. In her presentation she’ll reveal candid information of the life of a street cop. Kathy is also happy to answer those burning questions you have but were afraid to ask. 

3:50 – 5:10

How to use Research” and “Making Characters Memorable” 

Instructor, Charlaine Harris

Author extraordinaire Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse novels were the basis of the television series “True Blood,” reveals the secrets to using research to craft unique characters. This is a rare opportunity for writers at all stages of their careers.

 

5:10

Final words


Presenter Bios

 
Guest of Honor Charlaine Harris is a true daughter of the South. She was born in Mississippi and has lived in Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas. After years of dabbling with poetry, plays, and essays, her career as a novelist began when her husband invited her to write full time. Her first book, Sweet and Deadly, appeared in 1981. When Charlaine’s career as a mystery writer began to falter, she decided to write a cross-genre book that would appeal to fans of mystery, science fiction, romance, and suspense. She could not have anticipated the huge surge of reader interest in the adventures of a barmaid in Louisiana, or the fact that Alan Ball would come knocking at her door. Since then, Charlaine’s novels have been adapted for several other television series, with two in development now. Charlaine is a voracious reader. She has one husband, three children, two grandchilden, and two rescue dogs. She leads a busy life. www.charlaineharris.com is her website.

Susan Hatters Friedman, MD is a forensic and perinatal psychiatrist. She has practiced in forensic hospitals, general hospitals, court clinics, community mental health centers, and correctional facilities. Dr. Friedman has served as vice-President of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL), and as Chair of the Law and Psychiatry committee at the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP). She has received the AAPL award for the Best Teacher in a Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship, the Red AAPL award for outstanding service to organized forensic psychiatry, the Manfred Guttmacher Award for editing the book Family Murder: Pathologies of Love and Hate, and the Association of Women Psychiatrists’ Marian Butterfield early career psychiatrist award for her contributions to women’s mental health. She has published more than 100 articles (including in World Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry) as well as book chapters. Her research has primarily focused on the interface of maternal mental health and forensic psychiatry, including notably child murder by mothers.  

She currently serves as the inaugural Phillip J. Resnick Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, where she also has appointments in the departments of Pediatrics, Reproductive Biology (Obstetrics/ Gynecology), and Law. Dr. Friedman also serves as honorary faculty at the University of Auckland (New Zealand). 


Kathy Bennett worked for the LAPD for twenty-nine years. Eight years were spent as a civilian employee, and she served twenty-one years as a police officer. While most of her career was spent in a patrol car, Kathy also worked at the police academy as a firearms instructor, promoted to the position of a field training officer, then worked in the “War Room” as a crime analyst. She promoted again, this time to the position of Senior Lead Officer—where she was in charge of a basic car area within a geographic division. She’s done a few stints undercover and was honored to be named Officer of the Year in 1997.

In her spare time, Kathy started writing romance books. However, she decided she wasn’t really cut out to be a romance author—she’d never write the romance but was always killing off one or more characters in the book. After a few years she realized she’d better write what she knew: Authentic Crime told in Arresting Stories. So, this retired cop started killing off fictional people…and she likes it! 

Kathy lives in Idaho with her husband and soul mate, Rick (also a retired LAPD officer.) They have two entertaining and energetic Labrador retrievers, and one cat who isn’t nearly as energetic or entertaining…but she’s loved just as much. Kathy likes to garden, exercise, and spend time with their daughter and her family. Kathy says, “Life doesn’t get much better than the one I’m living. Welcome to my world, and I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to contact me and say “Hi”.

Kathy can always be reached at [email protected]

Her website is www.kathybennett.com


Bruce Robert Coffin is the award-winning author of the bestselling Detective Byron mystery series. A former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive.

His novel, Beyond the Truth, winner of Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award for Best Procedural, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction. His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016.

Bruce is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Murder Books blogs.

Bruce is represented by Paula Munier at Talcott Notch Literary.

He lives and writes in Maine.

www.robertbrucecoffin.com

 


This is a truly must-attend event for crime writers!!

Former inmate #12345-678 received a sentence of 37 months to be served in federal prison, followed by 3 years supervised probation.

The following is his account of serving time in a federal prison camp. The tale is his and he’s told it with hopes that it will help with your fiction and with your understanding of prison life at the federal camp level. Like others with real-life experiences, he sees mistakes in books that feature scenarios in which he has first-hand knowledge. Mistakes that could be easily avoided by simply conducting a bit of research.

The writing below is a combination of his and mine. I apologize for any errors I may have made during the process of trimming the story to fit this space. Please do examine the details because even the smallest could breathe life into what could be a boring scene. More importantly, though, this information could help with accuracy.

Off we go, to the federal prison camp in Anytown, USA.

My name is ***** ************ and I served a little less than three years of a 37-month prison sentence. The judge who sentenced me was a no-nonsense guy who handed out maximum terms like someone who rubber-stamps envelopes for a living. But I did what I did and into the system I went, leaving behind two children and my wife, a stay-at-home-mom, who had no source of income at the time. I’ll always stand by the notion that my sentence was far lighter than hers. But that’s a different story.


NOTE: Parole was abolished in the federal prison system in 1984. In lieu of parole, inmates sentenced after 1984 are instead eligible for “earned good time.” With no infractions during their period of incarceration, inmates may earn up to 15% of earned good time, thereby reducing their sentences at a rate of 54 days per year served, or 85 percent of the ordered term of imprisonment. Prisoners sentences prior to 1984 are still eligible for parole.


I was asked to talk about my time at “the camp” so that’s what I’ll do, saving the rest for another day. By the way, it’s sort of like therapy talking about this stuff, so thanks for listening and thanks for understanding that I’m not making my name public, for obvious reasons.

If you believe what you see on TV and in the movies—the rock breaking and planning the next escape—you’ll be disappointed at life in a federal prison camp, especially the camp where I was assigned. It was a privately-run facility out in the middle of nowhere, and the staff was, at best, extremely slack.

I will say this about prison life in a higher custody level institution—a minimum security federal prison, one that’s a step above a camp and the kind where I first started serving my time—the person who wrote the TV show Orange is the New Black definitely did their homework because they hit many points spot on. Maybe I’ll be back to talk about the time I did there behind the razor-wire-topped double fences. They also had helicopter wire strung over the outside areas to prevent a chopper from landing during an escape.

In the camp where I served time, there were no fences. No razor wire. No dogs or corrections officers patrolling the perimeter. No towers. And oftentimes, only three or four guards worked some shifts, supervising 1,000 inmates. Fortunately, for them, there was never any real trouble and that’s because the men serving time there were within ten years of release—short-timers—so they tended to behave so they wouldn’t be returned to prisons where conditions were far more severe. Actually, inmates policed themselves, meaning if another prisoner got out of line, well, the situation was “handled” from within without staff knowing the problem ever existed. The only telltale signs were the occasional cuts and bruises on the faces of the inmates who received “jailhouse justice.”

It’s a real privilege to be at a place where supervision and custody is more relaxed. But make no mistake, prison is prison, and serving time is an awful experience. My first couple of months of incarceration were had. I missed my family, my friends, my house, my yard, my car, real food, my bed, my pillow, my dog, soft sheets, walking on grass, fresh air, and so much more. Beyond those things, though, my focus was on the date of my release, three long years in the future. Nearly every minute of every day, my thoughts were of three years, three years, and three years. I darn near drove myself crazy. I became depressed, much like many newcomers to prison. It was simply overwhelming.

But an old-timer, a prisoner who’d been locked up for over twenty-five years with as many to go, sensed my mental state and told me his secret for handling life on the inside. His advice was to not dwell on the length of the sentence, nor on the date of release. Instead, he told me, to focus on only one day at a time. Do today, today and tomorrow will take care of itself. Do my work, read a book, listen to music, draw, study, exercise, or even pour myself into church, but think no further ahead than the weekly commissary day or the next weekend softball game.

Once I got myself into the “do today, today” rhythm things turned around for me. Time even seemed to go faster, and much easier.

At camp, as it is at most federal prisons, each inmate is required to have a job, such as painting, carpentry, electricians, landscaping, gardening, auto mechanics, factory work, sewing, and more. Each facility is like a small city, and nearly all the jobs you’d find in your area are also needed within prisons. During my first year in I worked in the prison kitchen wiping tables and keeping the little chrome napkin holders full. Later, when the position became available, I worked as a clerk in the chaplain’s office.

While in the dining hall I worked the evening shift, which also meant I mopped the floor after dinner was complete. The rest of the day I spent taking classes, reading (I read over 500 books during my time in prison), or out on the recreation yard playing Bocce whenever I could get in a game.

The Italian guys monopolized the Bocce courts. Oh, that’s one thing about prison—the place is strongly divided into ethnic groups. Italians hang out together, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, etc. Even the TV rooms are segregated and the wrong person better not wander into the wrong room.

Speaking of bocce and the Italian guys, a mob boss was housed at our camp and when he and his entourage of lieutenants wanted to play everyone else stepped aside. The Boss was rarely seen anywhere without “his guys” around. Believe me, he lived like a king, with people doing his laundry, shining his shoes, cooking his meals, and handing over items to him that they’d purchased at the commissary. There’s a limit on how much money you’re allowed to have on the books so people on the outside would send cash to the mobster’s fellow inmates and they, in turn, would spend it as he wished.

The food at our camp was so-so. We served typical prison food—your basic frozen pseudo-meat patties as entrees. We did make a decent spaghetti sauce; however, the meat we used was that pink gooey stuff that looked like a slimy paste when thawed. Special meals were prepared on various holidays, such as Mexican food on Cinco De Mayo. Some Fridays were special for everyone because we served real bone-in chicken quarters. That was a thing at the other prison too. Guys lined up early outside the dining hall on chicken day. Rarely did someone skip this particular meal.

Cutting line was something that was taboo. It was an a**-kicking/shank-sticking infraction of unwritten inmate rules. But, members of various ethnic groups allowed other members of those same groups to cut line. Just no “outsiders.”

I didn’t get out of the kitchen until around 7 p.m. so I missed a lot of action on the yard—football, basketball, and soccer games. But I did get a chance to hear some of the music played by the various prison bands. They’d set up the music equipment on the yard and play for the guys. This special treat occurred mostly on holidays. Some of the bands were really quite good. Even the bands were all ethnic based, though, which was to be expected, I suppose. Although, one white guy was super good on the guitar and he played with several groups.

I was a bit of a loner, preferring to spend my yard time alone, walking laps around the track while listening to my radio through earbuds. The only way we were allowed to use our radios, by the way, was to listen through earbuds. Even the TV’s were programmed to send wireless signals that could be picked up on a certain radio frequency. That’s how we listened to TV programs and movies, through those ear things. Otherwise, the combined noises of several TV’s playing at once would be awful. Not to mention adding the sounds of a couple-hundred men, or more, talking, playing cards, laughing, etc.

While walking laps around the track after dark I’d see all the action since the oval circled around the entire recreation yard. The track at the camp was a dirt surface. The one at the low security prison where I started out was a nice rubber-like material that was designed to be better for the back, hips, and knees. That place was super nice as far as prisons go.

There were no fences at the camp, by the way, so there was nothing between us and the city except miles of flat land and a few bushes and trees. At night, seeing the city lights twinkle at the horizon was a lonely feeling, knowing that people were going about their lives without someone dictating their every move.

Out of Bounds signs were planted all along the outside edge of the track. We were not allowed past those points. An infraction would be considered as an escape attempt and we’d be punished accordingly. I think an escape attempt could result in an additional five years added to a sentence. Some inmates, however, saw the open fields as a means of bringing in contraband. They’d have a friend drive up a nearby road and drop off duffle bags filled with food, liquor, drugs, and other niceties from the outside. Then, at night, they’d walk a few laps and then, when the time was right, run over to scoop up the bags and bring them back inside the prison grounds.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. We were each issued a black windbreaker-type jacket. On one cool night, I was walking my usual laps around the track and I saw five guys walking along slowly, only one of those guys was a woman! She’d walked over from a nearby road and then her “boyfriends” gave her a prison jacket to wear to help conceal her identity. Every few laps she and one of the men would disappear into the shadows. A couple of laps would pass and she’d return and then disappear with a different inmate. I kept walking, not wanting any parts of that deal. Who knows how much it cost to arrange that liaison, or how much additional time would be tacked on to a sentence if an inmate was caught.

An alarm sounded at 9:00 p.m. each night, signaling the end of recreation time. Guards cleared the yard to make certain we were back inside our dorms for 10 p.m. count. They were very strict about the count rules. We had to stand perfectly still by our bunks—no talking—while two guards came by to count us. Any violation meant a trip to the hole (the hole is a no frills/no privileges jail hellhole inside the prison). After count was cleared, a loud and extremely annoying buzzer sounded and we were free to watch TV, play cards, do laundry, cook food, visit guys in other cubes, etc. We just couldn’t go back outside. Lights-out was at eleven.

Nighttime was also the time when guys got tattoos, drank alcohol, sold and used drugs, gambled, cooked meals using the microwaves, washed and dried and ironed their clothing, polished shoes, etc. It was also the time to steer clear of the showers unless you wanted to participate in the goings-on in there. The showers were the place to go to dole out punishment. Groups of prisoners would grab an offender (someone who had disrespected them or had broken an inmate rule of conduct), drag the guy into a shower stall, and then beat the daylights out of him. And if he told what happened he got it worse the next time.

Of course other things I won’t mention happened in there, too. Needless to say, I showered in the morning and in the early evening, during the safe times. It also didn’t hurt that my bunkie was the size of a small bulldozer. People generally left him alone. I was shown professional courtesy—you didn’t mess with the bunkie of guys who could rip off your head with one hand.

I was usually in bed reading by nine or ten. I had to wear earplugs (the commissary sold them) to sleep because of the noise. Lots of talking at night. And the snoring! Imagine trying to sleep in one large room full of men sounding off like roaring lions, or 100 chainsaws going at once. It was tough.

After I’d been in a while I heard about inmates having been granted furloughs—weekend trips to their homes to spend time with their family. The purpose of the furlough is supposed to help prisoners gradually become accustomed to outside life with their families. Well, I applied for one and it was approved. I went home for three days during the Christmas holidays and it was wonderful.

My wife picked me up in the prison parking lot and we spent those three glorious days together, at home, before I had to return to the camp. I was walking on air when I got back.

I’d also gone on short day trips, like to trim roses in the town parks, or to the warden’s Ruritan Club to spruce up the grounds. They were nice outings to break up your time and to see some real people, but they were nothing like my time with my family, at home. Still, seeing people and cars and trees and flowers and freedom … well, any time outside the camp grounds was like a dream.

Nighttimes, when things grew quiet and still were the worst times for most of us. That’s when we had time to think about where we were, why were there, and about our families and about life on the outside.

I’d shed more than one tear during those times, and I’d seen others do the same, including some of the biggest and baddest men I’d ever encountered.

Prison can bring the strongest of the strongest to their knees.

 

My career in law enforcement started in the prison system working as a corrections officer in a maximum security facility. The aged institution was a series of old, weathered and worn brick buildings that were probably ten years past the demolition stage. Ironically, that description fit many of the prison’s residents—old, weathered, and long past their prime.

As a new employee, and someone who didn’t know what to expect, once I was permitted inside the endless fencing and razor wire, well, I was a bit apprehensive to say the least.

During our orientation period (the prison system is a revolving door of both inmates and employees—neither seem to want to stay for very long), we were told the prison housed many hard-core inmates, even brutal murderers who’d never again set foot in society.

It didn’t take long to discover how many of the prison inmates survive in such a harsh environment. To do so, many of them “obtain” things from the outside. However, getting their hands on contraband is not the easiest of tasks. Therefore, using tactics similar to those used by feral animals, they stalk their prey, focusing on weak-minded, soft-touch officers. Then, when the moment is right, they cull the timid from the herd before moving in for the kill.

The difference between this type of prisoner and a lion is that the lion hunts for food, while the desperate inmate hunts for favors, liquor, drugs, cellphones, women, and possibly freedom. His prey—new, unsuspecting prison guards who could be manipulated and conned into granting those wishes.

Thankfully, I’m not weak or meek, nor am I an easy mark, so I never once fell for any of their clever con games. However, there’s another type of prisoner that did seem to get to me at times—old-timers with sad stories who seemed to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They could have been anybody’s grandfather, even mine. And such was the case of …

The Wheel: Page Two of My Spiral Notebooks

Tired eyes.

Skin, wrinkled like grooves etched in wet sand.

Working man’s hands.

Nails bitten to the quick.

“They tore down the mill,” I said.

Anxious eyes.

“The one near my place?” he said.

I nodded.

“I used to gig frogs at the base of that old wheel.”

“Caught some nice ones there.”

I offered another nod.

“What’re they gonna do there?”

“Convenience store’s what I heard.”

A gaze into the distance.

Staring into his past.

A deep breath.

A sigh.

A tired voice,

Nearly a whisper.

“The wheel was turnin’ that night, you know.”

I’d heard the story a hundred times before.

“I heard the water running over it when I crossed the road.”

Trembling hand through white hair.

The other, clutching fence wire.

Knuckles, white and taut.

“She screamed, but I still heard the water pouring off the wheel.

And the metal squeakin’ and creakin’.

It was loud. So loud.”

His eyes meet mine.

“Still hear it, you know. Every night, in my head.”

“I know you do.”

I know this because I hear his screams.

The ones that wake him late at night.

“I went over to her trailer to see about all the racket.”

Hand gripping hand.

Wringing and twisting.

Beads of sweat spattered across his forehead.

“She was my little girl, you know.”

Deep breath.

“I opened the door.”

Eyes growing wide.

He was there, again.

In his mind.

“He … He was sittin’ on top of her …”

Voice quivering.

“She was naked. Lips bleeding. Down there, too …”

Old eyes filled with water.

Spilling down his sun-leathered cheeks.

“I tried to pull him off.”

Voice cracks.

“Too big. Too strong.”

Anger crept in.

Teeth clenched tightly.

“I went back across the road to my house.”

Looking at, but through me.

Seeing it all again.

“To get my shotgun.

I didn’t want her to marry him. Never did like the guy.

A drunk and a bum.

Never worked a day in his life.

Beat her all the time.

Bruises and black eyes.

I seen ‘em.”

More hand-wringing.

“Loaded three rounds of double-aught buckshot, I did.

Get off my little girl!

Mind your own business, old man, he says to me.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

“Well, that bastard’’ll never touch my precious angel again.

No, sir.

Never again.”

Police.

Arrest.

Jail.

Court.

Murder.

Went home to get gun.

Premeditated.

Life sentence.

No parole.

A beat of silence passed.

“So they tore it down, huh?”

“Yep.”

A sigh.

“A convenience store, huh?”

I nodded.

“I’ll always hear that water runnin’.

And the metal screechin’ and squealin’.”

Wiped away a final tear.

“I know you will.”

“I’d do it again tomorrow, you know.”

I nodded.

Another beat.

Announcement from speaker.

“Count time in five minutes.”

“All inmates report to their cells.”

Voices approach.

Chatter of dozens.

Feet shuffling on concrete.

“I wish she’d found somebody like you.

Maybe we could’ve gone frog-giggin’ together, you and me.

Before they tore it down.

Or fishin’.

Crappie there are as big as your two hands held side-by-side.

They’s some good eat’n.”

Gnarled fingers through the wire.

Reaching for me,

For a simple touch.

Human to human.

Liver spotted hand.

“I’da liked that. I really would have.”

“Me, too …

Me, too.”

* The Old Man and the Wheel is a true story that crosses my mind from time to time. Today is one of those times.

Thinking back to the days prior to working in law enforcement I recall the intense desire to become a police officer.

I especially wanted to work in a sheriff’s office. However, openings in the local sheriff’s office were as scarce as hen’s teeth. It was a job that deputies loved and there they remained. Sure, I’d applied and I’d spoken to the sheriff to express my eagerness to become a deputy. But his reply was the typical “I’ll keep you in mind if an opening becomes available.”

So, while impatiently waiting, I decided to apply for a job as a corrections officer within Virginia’s state prison system. And, soon after applying I received a call directing me to come in for an interview.

The day for the initial meeting finally arrived and I was escorted inside to a small conference room. To set the stage, a three person interview panel were seated behind a long table. The chair where my escort indicated that I was to sit, was positioned approximately eight feet in front of the trio of white-shirted ranking officers—one captain, a lieutenant, and a sergeant. No one had passed out smiles that morning.

The captain spoke first, introducing himself and the others. He then asked me to tell them a bit about myself and my background and why on earth did I want to work in a place that could be described as hell’s stinky armpit.

Could you, would you?

When I finished my opening spiel, the real questioning began. “Have you ever belonged to a gang?” “Do you personally know anyone who’s in prison?” “Have you ever been struck, punched, or physically injured by anyone?” What are your views on the death penalty?” Could you shoot another person, if necessary?” Could you bring yourself to shoot a coworker if they’d been taken hostage by an inmate and that shooting through the fellow officer was the only means of preventing the escape?” “Could you?” Would you? And why?”

A few weeks later I received another call instructing me to report to the prison for a physical and a drug test. Two weeks after the exam and drug testing I was officially hired and was scheduled to report for orientation and assignment of uniforms and other equipment, including the first badge I’d ever pinned to a uniform shirt.

Then I received my duty assignment, a prison in the middle of nowhere that consisted of four separate sections, with each building surrounded by a tall, razor-wire topped fence. The four individual areas were contained by a double set of larger fencing that encompassed the entire place. Towers were strategically positioned around the perimeter and an asphalt drive circled the prison, just outside the fence.

Armed officers drove around the compound on a never ending loop. I found out during my orientation that this particular prison was where the state housed many of the inmates that other prisons couldn’t handle.

The prisoners were divided into four categories—those with medical and mental problems, bad-to-the bone dangerous, younger inmates, and finally a mixture of “not super rowdy but were there anyway.” Inmates classified as either of the four groups were housed appropriately—medical and mental were assigned to C Unit, younger inmates to D Unit, the mean and nasty to B Unit, and “the rest” to A.

The Guard Shack

An officer’s station, a small building, sat in the middle of the main compound yard. Inmates were allowed inside this area only when moving from place to place and under controlled circumstances—medical department, visiting room, etc. Each individual section had it’s own recreation yard. The inmates were not permitted to mix (No As with Bs, etc.). The only exception would be during visitations and medical visits.

Nurses delivered medication to each unit. It was at this time when prisoners were permitted to address their medical needs. They would then schedule an appointment to see the prison doctor who, by the way, only visited the prison only once or twice per month unless there was an emergency.

Okay, so I’m at work on my first day and they’ve assigned me to the main compound. My job was to check the passes of inmates before manually unlocking the gates to allow them outside of their designated unit yards. Yes, each gate was locked with a large padlock and I carried a huge ring of keys, many of which I never learned their purpose.

When I arrived at the main gate that morning, an officer used a key to open the lock and let me inside. We walked to the “guard shack” where he gave me a quick briefing about the goings-on during his shift (nothing at all) and then handed me the keys. We walked back to the gate where I opened the lock to let him out. On the way we passed by large man wearing jeans, work boots, a green long-sleeved shirt, and a bright yellow hardhat. The officer spoke as did Mr. Hardhat. Then I snapped the lock closed and returned to the guard shack.

Belly of the Beast!

I was in the process of entering a bit of information in the logbook when “Hardhat” poked his head inside the door. He said good morning and offered his name and mentioned he’d be around if I needed anything. Of course, I appreciated his presence since I felt as if I’d been shoved into a caged arena as the star of a Roman execution ad bestias, “to the beasts.”

Assuming Hardhat was a prison maintenance worker I gladly took him up on his offer and he joined me out on the yard to advise me as to where and when inmate movements should take place. He also kindly provided whispered information regarding which prisoners could be trusted and which could not.

An hour or so later Hardhat suddenly made himself scarce when he spied a sergeant on his way to check on me. Everything was in order—inmate movements were flowing smoothly, logbooks were in excellent shape, keys and other equipment were present, etc. He was pleased.

As my supervisor started to walk away he stopped and turned around to say, “By the way, if you see an inmate walking around wearing a hardhat, send him to C Unit. He didn’t show up for an appointment. Not unusual for him, though, so not to worry. He often hangs out in this area. But he’s as wacky as a box of Fruit Loops. Sometimes he thinks he works here.”

Believe me, the call from the sheriff’s office didn’t come soon enough.

As most of you know by now, Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. She was later sentenced to serve time in federal prison, a penalty also shared by the likes of  dangerous criminals such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Martha Stewart (I’m sure staff kept a close eye on Stewart, thinking that she had plans to bake a cake containing a tasty filling made of files or hacksaw blades).

Huffman will soon face a huge challenge, setting foot in prison where she could become an even more hardcore criminal.

First, she, through her attorneys, has requested that she serve her time at FCI Dublin, a women’s correctional facility in California. Typically, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) allows inmates to serve their sentences at a facility within 500 miles of their home. This is to help maintain close family ties during long stretches behind concrete walls and steel bars.

What many of you may not know is that judges do not have the final say in where a federal prisoner serves their time. That decision is that of the BOP. Judges may recommend, but it is the BOP who has the final authority.

For now, let’s say Huffman gets her wish and the BOP assigns her to FCI Dublin, a “low security” correctional institution. Here’s what she can expect while serving her brutal 14 day sentence.

  • Huffman is assigned an inmate an eight digit inmate register number. She must memorize this number because at any time during her time in “the system” she may be called up to recite it. This number is important because it tells staff vital information about the inmate. The first five numbers are unique to the inmate. It’s their specific ID. The last three digits signify the district wherein the offender was arrested and/or processed into the system.

If the feds use Boston, where she was sentenced, as a basis for the assigning district, the last three digits of her register number would be 038, the code for the District of Massachusetts (D/MA).

If her arrest location is used (I’m not sure of the exact location or district) one of the following would be the identifying numbers—097- Eastern District of California (E/CA), or 098 for the Southern District of California (S/CA)

Therefore, her official register number would be something like 12345-038 (Boston), or 12345-098 (Southern district of California.

  • Huffman has been granted the option of self-surrendering to prison, meaning that her family will deliver her to the entrance of the prison where they’ll say their goodbyes with hugs and kisses all around.
  • Next, Huffman will be escorted to Receiving and Discharge (R&D). It is at R&D where she’ll be processed—fingerprinted, etc.—and she will receive initial clearance by the Medical and Unit Staff. Afterward, she’ll be sent to the Admission and Orientation (A&O) sections of the Housing Unit where she’ll remain until she is classified (determination of her custody status—low, medium, high).

Should the medical staff find that Huffman has medical needs she will be placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), otherwise known as solitary confinement. Inmates with medical needs may not be released into general population until cleared by a physician.

  • Assuming all goes well, a counselor and a case manager will be assigned to Huffman. They will direct and follow her progress during the entirety of her confinement.
  • New inmates such as Huffman will be expected to work within their assigned housing units when asked to do so by the Unit Officer.
  • Huffman will be required to make her bed by 6:30 a.m. The bed-making deadline on weekends and holidays is no later than 10 a.m.
  • As a new arrival, Huffman will be required to attend Unit Orientation within seven days of her arrival at the prison. This session details rules of the housing unit.
  • Within thirty days of an inmate’s arrival to the institution, it’s mandatory that they receive an in-depth institutional orientation from each of the prison’s  Department Heads and Executive Staff. This session lays out ALL prison rules.

Some of the rules Huffman is required to obey during her stay are:

  • Khaki clothing furnished by the BOP will be marked with the inmate’s name and number (F. Huffman 12345-098). She must wear the khaki clothing while at work and during weekday breakfast and lunch meals.
  • Baggy pants and excessively large shirts are not permitted.
  • Khaki shorts may be worn after 2:30 p.m. and on weekends, except to Visiting, Education, and the Chapel. Shorts must be no shorter than above the knee. No sleeveless tops are authorized as outerwear at any time.
  • Huffman may not hold hands with other inmates, and she may not, not ever, engage in sexual activities with other inmates or staff members.
  • Inmates are permitted to watch television in the common area until 8:45 p.m. during the week, or until 11:45 p.m. on the weekends. She will be  allowed to spend up to $320 per months at the commissary. If she has money “on the books” she’ll be required to purchase her own toiletries. Otherwise, those items—basic needs—are furnished by the prison.
  • She may sunbathe on the weekends but she’ll have to wear a shirt and shorts. No topless or nude sunbathing allowed. Sunbathing is permitted only on the sundecks.
  • Huffman, like other inmates in the system, may not possess cash or coins.
  • Felicity must be completely dressed in full khaki attire by 6:30 a.m.
  • She may not take away any food item from the dining room, with the exception of one piece of fruit. However, the fruit must be eaten before it spoils. It goes without saying that the fruit may not be used to make homemade alcoholic beverages.
  • Huffman may not at any time feed birds or other wildlife.
  • Sitting on stairs is prohibited.

Head counts are held at 12:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 4:30 a.m., 4:00 p.m., and 9:00 p.m. An extra count is held at 10:00 a.m.on weekends and holidays. These counts are considered as Official Counts.Unofficial Counts may be held at any time and for any reason.

When staff announces a count, Huffman and her fellow inmates must  be in their own rooms (unless they’re authorized to be elsewhere). Each and every day, at 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., inmates are required to stand for these official counts. An extra standing count takes place at 10:00 a.m. on weekends and all Federal holidays.

Okay, I could go on and on about the dos and don’ts of prison life, but there’s simply not enough time or space here to do so. Believe me, the list of rules, regulations, and procedures is long. Very long.

However, Huffman will only be in “the joint” for a couple of weeks. Not even long enough to make it to the main orientation. Not long enough to visit the commissary for the first time. In fact, I doubt she’ll be able to have her visiting list approved in time to receive a single visit from a family member.

Actually, Huffman will probably be in and out before she has a chance to get a gang or teardrop tattoo, make her first batch of pruno, or to join the prison softball team. Her sheets won’t have had time to wrinkle before she walks out of the front gate to leave prison life behind. Her sentence is so short that she couldn’t binge watch all episodes of Desperate Housewives before she’s released.

So many things to do and such a short time to do them…

 

You have been found guilty

So, you’ve been tried and convicted for a crime and now you’re ready to do your time. Well, it’s not like you had a say in the matter, but the day has arrived, nonetheless. And that day arrived a lot sooner than you’d preferred. Time simply would not slow down, no matter how hard or how often you prayed that it would.

You knew the evidence was stacked heavily against you, but you were still a bit shocked when the jury found you guilty. Your mind was still racing when sheriff’s deputies (that’s who takes you into custody after court) handcuffed you and led you to a section of the courthouse you’d never seen. Who knew there were jail cells back there?

Now you’re sitting in a not-so-clean holding cell with a dozen or so other people of various criminal backgrounds, waiting for someone to transport you to the county jail. Soon, you hear voices and the sound of chains rattling. Deputies call you out one at a time and begin shackling you—handcuffs attached to a chain around your waist, and leg irons that dig into the tender flesh at your ankles. You’re surprised at how quickly the soreness set in.

The transportation officers pack each of you into a very full van and then padlock the door from the outside. The benches in the back of the transport vehicle are crammed with men of all sizes and shapes. All skin colors and a variety of languages. Some were there because they’d been caught with illegal narcotics, while others were guilty of rape or murder, or both. The air is thick, and stale—gas fumes, stinky feet and flesh that hasn’t seen soap or water in many days. Not a good time for your claustrophobia to act up. Your gag reflexes are switched on and you fight to held back their attempts to expel stomach contents.

The fat man wedged in beside you, the guy who smells like a high school locker room times ten, had just been found guilty of using a machete to hack his mother to death. You couldn’t help but notice the foamy white stuff gathered at the corners of his mouth, and the crusty nuggets piled up over his tear ducts and lower eyelids. A blue scorpion tattoo on his neck wiggled a little with each beat of the now convicted killer’s heart. You soon find yourself passing the time by watching and counting the number of times his carotid arteries pushed against the inked arachnid, like counting ceiling tiles in a doctor’s office while waiting to say “ah” and hoping for a prescription that’ll calm your shattered nerves.

The driver made a sharp right-hand turn, slamming the wild-eyed, unshaven rapist against your shoulder and bare left arm. His slimy sweat transferred to your skin, feeling as if it  burned your exposed flesh. But the chains prevented you from wiping away the cause of the fire. You’ve never felt more filthy in your entire life.

You arrive at the jail where you and the others are herded into a large room, much like livestock you’ve seen at county fairs. Then you’re told to remove all your clothing. A long line of naked men standing before both male and female officers. The stench of body odor is overwhelming. The embarrassment is worse.

“Hold up your arms. Spread your fingers. Turn around. Bend over. Spread your buttocks. Squat. Cough. Next.”

A female deputy, a woman who’d somehow managed to squeeze a rather “wide load” set of buttocks into a pair of size-too-small khaki pants, issues you a set of jail clothing—an orange jump suit big enough for two inmates, a dingy gray t-shirt that could’ve been white once upon a time, a pair of threadbare yellowish-gray boxers, and a pair of white socks that wouldn’t stay up no matter how many times you tugged. At the moment, though, while exposed for all the world to see, you gladly put on your brand new, many-times-used outfit.

Deputies yell for your group to hurry. The few who weren’t completely dressed awkwardly attempted to finish the task as they stumbled along trying to keep up.

Everyone is marched down a concrete corridor to another large room where you’ll learn the rules and regulations of the jail. It’s orientation time, and you’d better pay attention. The rules you’re about to hear are important. They’re for your safety. By the way, if you don’t follow the rules you’ll find yourself staying behind bars a little longer than you’d expected.

Now, please sit quietly and watch your orientation video, courtesy of the Chatham County Georgia Sheriff’s Department.

Welcome to jail.

 

Last weekend, August 1-4, 2019, coroner Graham Hetrick, the star and host of the TV series, THE CORONER: I SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, served as special guest speaker at MurderCon in Raleigh, N.C.

During his talks, Hetrick detailed low-hanging suicides committed by a victim who ties a rope, cloth, twisted garbage bag, shoestring, belt, or other material, to a doorknob, bed post, etc., and then places the other end—a loop—around the neck. The victim then, with practically unbelievable willpower, simply leans forward to tighten the “noose” around the neck thereby shutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. The end result is, of course, death. All without the body dropping from a platform, chair, ceiling beam, etc.

In this type of suicide by hanging, the person committing the act must overcome the body’s forceful urges to live. They must resist ripping the ligature from their body in order to take another breath—to ignore the begging and pleading of the lungs, demanding that the brain immediately intervene.

These people often have a very strong desire to die, and they do. Maybe not on the first attempt, but kill themselves they do, eventually. Somehow, someway. Others, however, use a suicide attempt to escape intense emotional pain, not necessarily to die.

Was it possible that Hetrick had some sort of premonition? After all, he’s quite the insightful man.

Whatever brought the coroner to discuss this sort of suicide tactic remains to be seen but, ironically, it was a mere few days later when 66-year-old Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in the protective housing unit, 9 South, at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federal prison in Lower Manhattan, And he did so in the precise manner detailed by Hetrick.

Back in the day, during my time as a state corrections officer, when working in the segregation units we were required to make rounds every 30 minutes, 15 if the prisoner was on suicide watch. We took that a step further by stationing an officer outside the suicide watch cells.

During the course of those 30 minute rounds in segregation it was mandatory to sign and timestamp a logbook positioned at each block of cells. The log station was in a location where each cell was clearly visible to the officer. The logbook was attached to a podium and could only be removed by a watch commander.

We were required to make verbal contact with each inmate. In return, they were to respond to the officers questions. We were required to see and make note of signs of life, meaning the inmate must move, sit, stand (speak) or, if asleep, we were to observe the chest rise and fall normally. If not, we were to wake the inmate. They were not permitted to sleep with blankets covering their heads.

Things Could Go South in a Hurry!

One night, while making my rounds in the segregation unit, I found a young inmate hanging by the neck from a bedsheet attached to a steel bedrail that was no more than three or four feet from the concrete floor. He’d simply tied the sheet around the steel rail and leaned forward until his airway became constricted.

I saw him the moment I rounded the corner. His facial skin was beginning to turn a slight grayish hue. His eyes were open and and slightly bulging and his tongue protruded from between his lips just a bit, much like a thirsty dog’s tongue. It had only been 15 minutes or so when I last passed by his cell. We’d even exchanged a few words of small talk on my last round. He’d seemed fine.

I used my radio to call for help and for control to unlock the cell door. I managed to raise the man’s body to the bed and then released the sheet from his neck. Medical staff arrived and took control. The inmate survived the suicide attempt. All of this took place within minutes. Mere minutes.

Suicide attempts in jails and prisons across the U.S. are not uncommon and those who try often succeed.

In one U.S. jail alone, the county lockup in Traverse County, Mi., there were 51 attempted suicides and two suicides during the years between 2011 and 2018. Marilyn Lucille Palmer and Alan Bradley Halloway hanged themselves in the shower sections of their cells. They accomplished the task by attaching nooses to small openings in the steel walls. These two deaths occurred nearly ten years apart, to the day.

Bedsheets are a common instrument used in inmate hangings. So much so that jail officials in Cleveland, Ohio have eliminated bedsheets from all cells housing inmates at risk of suicide. In lieu of sheets they’re issued an extra blanket. The decision to replace sheets with the thicker and tougher-to-tear blankets came after five prisoners committed suicide, including Nicholas Colbert, who hanged himself in the military veteran’s pod section of the jail.

In North Carolina, a record 12 inmates died by suicide, in 2018, while in state custody. This is compared to six inmate suicides in 2017 and seven in 2016. To help tackle the problem of inmate suicides, the state is recruiting prisoners who will watch over other inmates who are considered suicide risks. Each the selected prisoners will receive specialized training and take notes every 15 minutes during their assigned shifts. If trouble should arise they’ll hen call for staff members. The same policy is already in place at the federal level (see below).

Epstein’s Death Was More Than Likely Just As It Seems, a Suicide

As much as folks from all spectrums of the conspiracy theory trail would like to believe, prison suicides occur far more often than the public generally hears about. They’re not reported by the media because they don’t involve high-profile prisoners, like Jeffrey Epstein. Nor do those suicide cases come at a time when the death conveniently saves the day for a lot of high-profile politicians, businesspeople, etc. (Please, I’m begging you to not turn this into a political discussion or debate. I’m merely reporting fact, not opinion).

Unfortunately for Epstein and his family, and for the victims who wanted to face him in a court of law and to see him rot in a prison cell for life, it seems that the corrections facility staff dropped the ball due to staffing shortages, rules that weren’t followed, unreliable and unprofessional officers, and a perfect storm of other issues that could’ve gone unnoticed during a typical day in prison, if the deceased had not been connected to high-profile folks.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center’s website issues an Admission and Orientation manual for pre-trial inmates. Jeffrey Epstein was one of those pre-trial prisoners. The first paragraph of page five of the manual is dedicated to inmate suicide prevention. It reads:

“It is not uncommon for people to experience depression and hopelessness while in jail or prison, particularly if they are newly incarcerated, are serving a long sentence, are experiencing family problems or problems getting along with other inmates, or receive bad news. Sometimes, inmates consider committing suicide due to all of the pressure they are under. Staff are trained to monitor inmates for signs of suicide, and are trained to refer all concerns to the Psychology Department. However, staff do not always see what inmates see. Ifyou are personally experiencing any ofthe problems noted above, or you or another inmate are showing signs of depression (sadness, tearfulness, lack ofenjoyment in usual activities), withdrawal (staying away from others, reducing phone calls and/or visits), or hopelessness (giving away possessions, stating that “there is nothing to live for”), PLEASE alert a staff member right away. Your input can save a life.”

Finally, in case you’d like to learn more about the BOP’s policies on suicide watches …

From the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)

OPI: CPD/PSBNUMBER: P5324.08DATE: 4/5/2007

SUBJECT: Suicide Prevention Program

RULES EFFECTIVE: 3/15/2007

SUICIDE WATCH

  1. Housing. Each institution must have one or more rooms designated specifically for housing an inmate on suicide watch. The designated room must allow staff to maintain adequate control of the inmate without compromising the ability to observe and protect the inmate.
  • The primary concern in designating a room for suicide watch must be the ability to observe, protect, and maintain adequate control of the inmate.
  • The room must permit easy access, privacy, and unobstructed vision of the inmate at all times.
  • The suicide prevention room may not have fixtures or architectural features that would easily allow self-injury.
  • Inmates on watch will be placed in the institution’s designated
  • suicide prevention room, a non-administrative
  • detention/segregation cell ordinarily located in the health
  • services area.  Despite the cell’s location, the inmate will not
  • be admitted as an in-patient unless there are medical indications
  • that would necessitate immediate hospitalization.
  • Placement of a suicide watch room in a different area may be
  • warranted given the unique features of some institutions.

However, designating a room for suicide watch outside of the Health Services area requires written approval of the Regional Director.  Such rooms must meet all of the requirements identified above.

Administrative detention and disciplinary segregation cells will not be designated or approved as suicide watch cells. Under emergency conditions a suicidal inmate may be placed temporarily on suicide watch in a cell other than the institution’s designated watch room. The inmate must be moved to a designated suicide watch room as soon as one becomes available.

  1. Conditions of Confinement. While on suicide watch, the inmate’s conditions of confinement will be the least restrictive available to ensure control and safety. The inmate on watch will ordinarily be seen by the Program Coordinator on at least a daily basis. Unit staff will have frequent contact with the inmate while he/she is on watch. Ordinarily, the Program Coordinator or designee will interview or monitor each inmate on suicide watch at least daily and record clinical notes following each visit.

The Program Coordinator or designee will specify the type of personal property, bedding, clothing, magazines, that may be allowed.

  • If approved by the Warden, restraints may be applied if necessary to obtain greater control, but their use must be clearly documented and supported.
  • Any deviations from prescribed suicide watch conditions may be made only with the Program Coordinator’s concurrence.
  • The Program Coordinator will develop local procedures to ensure timely notification to the inmate’s Unit Manager when a suicide watch is initiated and terminated. Correctional Services staff, in consultation with the Program Coordinator or designee, will be responsible for the inmate’s daily custodial care, cell, and routine activities.
  • Unit Management staff in consultation with the Program Coordinator will continue to be responsive to routine needs while the inmate is on suicide watch.
  1. Observation. For all suicide watches:
    • Any visual observation techniques used to monitor the suicide companion program will focus on the inmate companion and/or the inmate on suicide watch only.
    • The observer and the suicidal inmate will not be in the same room/cell and will have a locked door between them.
    • The person performing the suicide watch must have a means to summon help immediately (e.g., phone, radio) if the inmate displays any suicidal or unusual behavior.
    • The Program Coordinator will establish procedures for documenting observations of the inmate’s behavior in a Suicide Watch log book, which will be maintained as a secure document. Staff and inmate observers will document in separate log books. Post Orders will provide direction to staff on requirements for documentation.
  • Staff Observers. The suicide watch may be conducted using staff observers. Staff assigned to a suicide watch must have received training (Introduction to Correctional Techniques or in AT) and must review and sign the Post Orders before starting the watch. The Program Coordinator will review the Post Orders annually to ensure their accuracy.
  • Inmate Observers. Only the Warden may authorize the use of inmate observers (inmate companion program). The authorization for the use of inmate companions is to be made by the Warden on a case-by-case basis. If the Warden authorizes a companion program, the Program Coordinator will be responsible for the selection, training, assignment, and removal of individual companions. Inmates selected as companions are considered to be on an institution work assignment when they are on their scheduled shift and shall receive performance pay for time spent monitoring a potentially suicidal inmate.
  1. Watch Termination and Post-Watch Report. Based upon clinical findings, the Program Coordinator or designee will:

1) Remove the inmate from suicide watch when the inmate is no longer at imminent risk for suicide, or

2) Arrange for the inmate’s transfer to a medical referral center or contract health care facility.

Once an inmate has been placed on watch, the watch may not be terminated, under any circumstance, without the Program Coordinator or designee performing a face-to-face evaluation. Only the Program Coordinator will have the authority to remove an inmate from suicide watch. Generally, the post-watch report should be completed in PDS prior to terminating the watch, or as soon as possible following watch termination, to ensure appropriate continuity of care. Copies of the report will be forwarded to the central file, medical record, psychology file, and the Warden. There should be a clear description of the resolution of the crisis and guidelines for follow-up care.

At a minimum, the post-watch report will include:

  • risk factors assessed,
  • changes in risk factors since the onset of watch,
  • reasons for removal from watch, and
  • follow-up recommendations.
  1. INMATE OBSERVERS – INMATE COMPANION PROGRAM.
  2. Selection of Inmate Observers. Because of the very sensitive nature of such assignments, the selection of inmate observers requires considerable care. To provide round-the-clock observation of potentially suicidal inmates, a sufficient number of observers should be trained, and alternate candidates should be available.

Observers will be selected based upon their ability to perform the specific task but also for their reputation within the institution. In the Program Coordinator’s judgement, they must be mature, reliable individuals who have credibility with both staff and inmates. They must be able, in the Program Coordinator’s judgement, to protect the suicidal inmate’s privacy from other inmates, while being accepted in the role by staff. Finally, in the Program Coordinator’s judgement, they must be able to perform their duties with minimal need for direct supervision.

In addition, any inmate who is selected as a companion must not:

  • Be in pre-trial status or a contractual boarder;
  • Have been found to have committed a 100-level prohibited act within the last three years; or
  • Be in FRP, GED, or Drug Ed Refuse status.
  1. Inmate Observer Shifts. Observers ordinarily will work a four-hour shift. Except under unusual circumstances, observers will not work longer than one five-hour shift in any 24-hour period. Inmate observers will receive performance pay for time on watch.
  2. Training Inmate Observers. Each observer will receive at least four hours of initial training before being assigned to a suicide watch observer shift. Each observer will also receive at least four hours of training semiannually. Each training session will review policy requirements and instruct the inmates on their duties and responsibilities during a suicide watch, including:
  • the location of suicide watch areas;
  • summoning staff during all shifts;
  • recognizing behavioral signs of stress or agitation; and
  • recording observations in the suicide watch log.
  1. Meetings with Program Coordinator. Observers will meet at least quarterly with the Program Coordinator or designee to review procedures, discuss issues, and supplement training. After inmates have served as observers, the Program Coordinator or designee will debrief them, individually or in groups, to discuss their experiences and make program changes, if necessary.
  2. Records. The Program Coordinator will maintain a file containing:
  • An agreement of understanding and expectations signed by each inmate observer;
  • Documentation of attendance and topics discussed at training meetings;
  • Lists of inmates available to serve as observers, which will be available to Correctional Services personnel during non-regular working hours; and
  • Verification of pay for those who have performed watches.
  1. Supervision of Inmate Observer During a Suicide Watch. Although observers will be selected on the basis of their emotional stability, maturity, and responsibility, they still require some level of staff supervision while performing a suicide watch.
  • This supervision will be provided by staff who are in the immediate area of the suicide watch room or who have continuous video observation of the inmate observer.
  • In all cases, when an inmate observer alerts staff to an emergency situation, staff must immediately respond to the suicide watch room and take necessary action to prevent the inmate on watch from incurring debilitating injury or death. In no case will an inmate observer be assigned to a watch without adequate provisions for staff supervision or without the ability to obtain immediate staff assistance.
  •           THE DECISION TO USE INMATE OBSERVERS MUST BE PREDICATED
  •           ON THE FACT THAT IT TAKES ONLY THREE TO FOUR MINUTES
  •           FOR MANY SUICIDE DEATHS TO OCCUR.

Supervision must consist of at least 60-minute checks conducted in-person. Staff will initial the chronological log upon conducting checks.


Again, please, I’m begging you to not turn this into a political discussion or debate. I’m merely reporting fact, not opinion. Thank you.

Police Officers are the brave men and women who’s duty is to protect us and to round up the evil folks who commit dastardly crimes against society. They’re enforcers of the law. They run into danger, leaping mud puddles and discarded fast food wrappers along the way. They dodge kids on tricycles and those licking popsicles.

Officers often work during the nighttime among feeding feral animals and smelly winos. Their nerve are cords of steel and their hearts and minds are filled to the brim with compassion.

They train and train and they train, and they’re given all the tools needed to fulfill their duties with the utmost expertise.

Unfortunately, though, cops are human and we all know that humans subject to making mistakes. Cops are no exception. Here, see for yourselves.

Oops!

Serving search warrants and entering homes and businesses to search for killers, robbers, and thieves is risky to say the least.

Before “going in,” though, there’s often a ton of necessary preparation—surveillance, paperwork, briefings, etc, not to mention the hours of training and practice that goes hand-in-hand with being a finely-honed, well-oiled member of police department’s special team. After all, the goal is to make a swift and safe entry, collect evidence, and to bring out the bad guys with no one getting hurt, including the crooks.

But, after all those grueling hours of aforementioned training, often in harsh conditions, repeating the same tactics over and over again until they come as naturally as taking a breath, well, things still happen while executing warrants. Such as …

Knock on Wood

We’ve all seen the TV cops, the officers knocking and announcing their presence and purpose. Bam! Bam! Bam! “Police! Search warrant!” Then the door-kicking starts (battering ram, actually) until the jambs and locks give way. Officers are then able to storm the house like ants on a dropped lollipop.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? But then there’s this …

Officers kick and kick and kick, and pound and pound and pound, trying to get inside a crack house. But the door won’t budge. They’re frantic that evidence is being destroyed with each passing second, so one cop decides to break a window when he suddenly hears a voice calling out from inside the home. “Use the door knob, dumbass. It’s unlocked.”


Lookin’ Through the Window

It’s mid July and a baby is trapped inside a locked car. The motor’s running and the mother is hysterical. She accidentally hit the lock on the driver’s door as she was getting out. “Please hurry! My baby’s so scared, and it’s really hot inside. Hurry!”

The responding officer peeks through the glass of the driver’s side window and sees that all four doors are securely locked, so he uses a Slim Jim to try and pop open the latches. But it just doesn’t seem to work this time and he curses those “newfangled” electric locks and all the wiring that becomes tangled around his cardoor-unlocking device. Precious minutes tick by as the temperature climbs past 90. The baby seems to be okay and the ambulance and fire crews are on the way. Another five minutes of jabbing the metal tool inside the door panel passes before a fire truck finally pulls up. Whew! They’ll have the right equipment to get the kid out safely.

The fire captain hops out of the truck and walks up to the car. He steps around to the passenger door and calmly reaches inside through the OPEN window. Then he gently scoops up the cooing baby and hands her to her sobbing mother.


The Old “Mattress as a Shield” Trick: Please Help Me I’m Falling

The prison Emergency Response Team has been called to extricate a suicidal inmate from his cell. The prisoner is extremely violent and he’s well known for hurting staff members. He’s also built like a bulldozer and is as strong as twenty men.

The team assembles at the cell door waiting for the command to go in. The lead officer, typically the largest of the group, is in charge of a cot-size prison mattress. His assignment is to hold the mattress in front of his body, vertically. The idea is to rush the guy and pin him to the rear cell wall with the padded shield. Doing so allows the team to easily restrain the guy. No problem. They’ve used the tactic several times before with great success. Never had an injury, either. When everyone is ready, someone begins the countdown. One. Two. Three. Go!

The door opens and the 6’4, 250 pound ox of a man, the officer who’s wielding the mattress makes his move. The only job for which he’s responsible, to be a human battering ram. However, he steps on the bottom corner of the mattress and tumbles inside the cell. The rest of the team fall on top of him while the inmate looks on. He slowly begins to laugh and then starts to chuckle uncontrollably as the team scrambles to get to their feet. The prisoner, of course, is laughing so hard he has tears streaming down his cheeks.


Slim Jim

Before the introduction of electronic locks, it was a simple matter of slipping a Slim Jim between the window glass and rubber weather strip, feel around until the tool hit the “lock rod,” and wiggle it around a tiny bit until the lock knob popped up.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 9.19.23 AM

So presto, bingo, all was well and the happy citizen went about their daily routine.

20140107_113402

Slim Jim

20140107_113322

Notches used for “hooking” the lock rod and other mechanisms

After electronic locks replaced the simple, manual ones, things changed. No longer was unlocking a car door an easy task. In fact, it was quite the opposite and many officers, especially the old-timers, found themselves jabbing Slim Jims inside car doors while pushing and pulling and pumping the darn things in and up an down motion that brings to mind a frazzled grandma in the kitchen using a hand-mashing implement to frantically and wildly smash the heck out of a pot full of potatoes.

Parstamp1

Grandma pounded out a week’s worth of frustrations using one of these things while preparing Sunday lunch.

Sometimes during a particularly violent Slim-Jimming session, the device became entangled in the nests of wiring, rods, gadgets, and connections inside the door. When this occurred it sometimes was impossible to remove the “Jim” without damaging an entire network of electrical, well, car stuff.

Therefore, it was not all that unusual for an officer to leave the device protruding from the door of a high-end vehicle while the owner called a professional for help. Then off they’d drive (the car owner), heading to the dealership with long, flat piece of metal flapping in the breeze.

Most of us are familiar with famous forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee. I, in fact, I have a couple of books on my office shelves, reference material that features his renowned work. He’s practically a guru when it comes to his word in a court of law, as it pertains to crime scene evidence.

Dr. Lee’s word had been golden until a recent case in Connecticut showcased a crack in the manner as to how he collects and examines crime scene evidence. As a result, his character came under fire.

Sure, mistakes happen because Dr. Lee, like the rest of us, is merely human. But when those errors send potentially innocent people to prison for decades at a time before a third party discovers that an expert, especially one of Dr. Lee’s caliber, offered incorrect testimony during a murder trial, well, it’s nothing short of inexcusable. The facts in this case speak for themselves. Someone goofed and it caused two men to spend the past three decades behind bars.

The Case

Two men, Sean Henning and Ralph Birch, were convicted for the horrific murder of Everett Carr, a victim who was stabbed 47 times. His attackers also slit the man’s throat and then tracked Carr’s blood throughout the house.

Henning and Birch were sent to prison based partially on the testimony of Dr. Lee.

Dr. Lee testified that a towel in the victim’s bathroom had a small speck on it, a spot that he had tested and found was “consistent with blood.” Dr. Lee’s word is golden, right?

However, the Innocence Project, after taking the case, offered that the state forensic laboratory revealed the towel had not been tested prior to the original trial. And, in a shocking discovery, they learned that when the lab did finally test the towel for DNA they determined the substance (the spot) on the towel was not blood after all. A KEY piece of evidence.

So how was it that Dr. Lee arrived at his conclusion regarding the spot on the towel found in a second floor bathroom? The renowned expert simply relied on the results of a presumptive field test, a chemical that turns blue in the presence of blood. But, presumptive field tests are used merely as an indication of that the substance is probably blood, drugs, etc. It is only when a full test in a laboratory is performed that can confirm the actual ID of a substance.

Field tests are not always 100% accurate. They do, however, provide probable cause which points an official in a certain direction—to pursue the notion that blood or drugs are present, or not (to make preliminary conclusions). Proper and formal lab tests are a must if the substance in question is to be introduced in court as evidence.

So what happens when officers and experts such as Dr. Henry Lee offer inconsistent and/or inaccurate and misleading evidence?

Last Friday, Connecticut’s highest court ruled that Sean Henning and Ralph Birch should get a new trial.

In the decision, Justice Richard Palmer wrote, “It is inarguable that Lee, as the representative of the state police forensic laboratory, should have known that the bathroom towel had not been tested for blood. He, like any such witness, had an affirmative obligation to review any relevant test reports before testifying so as to reasonably ensure that his testimony would accurately reflect the findings of those tests.

To conclude otherwise would permit the state to gain a conviction on the basis of false or misleading testimony even though the error readily could have been avoided if the witness merely had exercised due diligence.” 

The Appeals Court said, “We agree with the petitioner that, contrary to the determination of the habeas court, he is entitled to a new trial due to the state’s failure to alert the trial court and the petitioner that Lee’s testimony was incorrect, and, therefore, we reverse the judgment of the habeas court.” 

And just like that, after a 57-year career of investigating over 8,000 cases, a tiny stain on a towel instantly became a large stain on the record, reputation, and the integrity of one of the world’s leading forensic experts.

After serving 30 years in prison, Henning has been released on probation. Birch remains incarcerated at the Osborn Correctional Institution. Meanwhile, prosecutors must decide whether or not the two men should face a new trial.

Dr. Lee adamantly states he did nothing wrong.

The courts and the two men who were tried and convicted and imprisoned based mostly on Lee’s testimony back in the late 1980s, well, they’d probably disagree with Dr. Lee’s self assessment.

 

Serving Time

Close your eyes for a moment and then allow your imaginations to take you inside the filthiest public restrooms you’ve ever visited. I’ll give you a minute to set the stage.

Are you there?

Okay. Now take a deep breath and let your senses take over, first conjuring up a stench that lingers in places only roaches and vermin dare trod. Combine those odors with the scents of dirty sweat socks and t-shirts, soiled underwear, cooked popcorn, urine, hot tuna, raw onions, and steaming chicken-flavored Top Ramen noodles.

Then add the scent of unwashed human bodies, the flesh of humans who’re allowed to shower only once or twice each week. And some who simply refuse to bathe even when allowed to do so.

Picture living or working where every breath is similar to what I’ve described above. Never a single lungful of fresh air.

Could you drink water from a sink that was used to wash the feet of a man who just finished working on a roadside work crew for eight hours in ninety-degree heat and 100% southern humidity—a sink positioned two feet above a toilet that’s used several times a day by two or three three people, but is sometimes flushed only twice in an eight hour span due to water restrictions imposed upon prisoners who clog their drains in order to flood a cellblock?

How about sleeping in an enclosed six-by-nine concrete box with two other large men who haven’t showered in several days during the hottest time of the year? There’s no ventilation—no windows to open. And the only way in or out is a heavy steel door that’s locked nearly 24/7.

What about sleeping on a hard floor with nothing between you and the grimy concrete surface but an itchy, wool blanket, with roaches, rats, and mice darting from gaps between rusted plumbing and cracked cinderblocks. Dried blood and vomit are the only splashes of color on drab walls.

HGTV it ain’t.

What I’ve just described is a mild description of the experience of serving time in some jails and prisons.

Keep in mind, though, that no two lockup facilities are identical. Conditions in many are far better than what’s seen in others. Some, in fact, are super clean, actually. Many, however, are just like I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Some are worse. Much worse.

But even the cleanest jails and prisons each have that certain, unmistakable “odor” that clings to the linings of your nostrils and then worms its way into deep lung space. That “funk” often comes to rest inside your mind where it’s never forgotten no matter how hard a person tries.

Serving time is no picnic. Even doing time in the nicer, cleaner prisons, especially federal facilities, is no walk in park. And, no matter how often you hear it, there are no “country club” prisons. Although, in the the less restrictive prisons, the federal camps, prisoners have more freedom and privileges. But it’s still prison.

The photos below were taken in one of the cleanest jails I’ve seen. It’s also a very well-run operation. The staff is well-trained, and for the most part, the prisoners seemed to be in good spirits considering their circumstances.

A brief tour of a county jail:

Deputy sheriffs  monitor and control inmate activities and movement from inside a master control room. All doors are operated electronically by the officer seated at the control desk.

Inmate Movement Control

Female dormitory

Some prison dormitories house over one-hundred prisoners in a single room. Many times, a single officer is assigned to supervise the activities of one or more dorm rooms.

Correctional officers day

Jail Library

Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.

Jail Library

Cell block

In the photograph below, a deputy sheriff makes his rounds inside a cell block. He’s inside a dayroom that’s occupied by several inmates from morning until lockdown at night. The area outside the windows to the left is beyond the locked cell area. The doors to his right are inmate cell doors. Each morning those doors are opened allowing all inmates into the day room where they play cards, watch TV, eat their meals, and socialize. They return to their cells at night.

At no time is a prisoner allowed back into his cell unless medical staff finds that he/she is ill. Bunks must be made neatly each morning. An illness is the only time when a prisoner is allowed on their bunk during the daytime hours.

Looking out

The image below is of the inside of a steel cell door. The tiny rectangle (appr. 6″ x 12″) is a secure plexiglass window at eye level. Its purpose is to allow officers a view into the cell. It’s an inmate’s only view from inside his cell unless he’s fortunate enough to be housed inside a cell with a window. Otherwise, their only scenery is whatever goes on in the hallway outside their cell.

Many dreams and fantasies of life on the outside begin at this very spot. The door across the hall below is that of another inmate’s cell. The checkered grate at the top of the picture is the only source of ventilation in the cell. It’s also a means for the jail staff to communicate with the prisoner. Jail doors are heavily insulated to retard fires and noise.

 Overcrowding is a huge problem in jails and prisons. This jail was forced to hang metal beds from the hallway walls when their cells reached capacity – three men in each two-man cell.

Just as I clicked off this shot, a group of deputies ran past to quell a disturbance in area I’d just left. The problem—an inmate was having an anxiety attack from being in such tight quarters. He’d become quite violent and was tossing things around.  His troubles reminded me of how much I appreciate the little things—trees, flowers, family, home-cooked meals, wine, and flushing my own darn toilet whenever I want.

I looked into the eyes of a serial killer

Visiting Room

Prisoners are brought to these small rooms where they “visit” with family members seated on the opposite side of the window. The family’s room is a mirror image of the inmate’s visiting room.

visiting room