Three types of people become prison guards. First there's your Good Samaritan type. The people who want to help these inmates. They want to fix them if they can be fixed. And for those who can't be fixed then at least not make the remainder of their lives completely miserable. These are the young, idealistic rookies who more often than not get burnt out. It's the pressure of trying to save those who can't be saved that turns them into bitter asses or just grinds them down until all that's left is a husk of their former self.
Then you have your cynical “nine-to-fiver”. I was one of those types. I'm just working at the prison because it's marginally safer than working the field, and surprisingly pays a bit better to boot. Just like being prisoner, if you can avoid going insane, or becoming an alcoholic, in the first week, then odds are good you'll make it.
Finally you have your sadistic son-of-a-bitch who isn't satisfied with the risk of police work, and would rather have full control over people who can't really defend themselves. People who are already in bad situations, perhaps deservedly so but nonetheless people who if anything untoward happened to them, nobody would care.
I wish I could say this last type was a rare anomaly, but in the three different prison systems I worked in during my 28 year career, I met more than “just a handful” of these people. It still wasn't a majority, despite what people might think. I imagine most of us were people like myself, just there to do a job. But I've seen some horrible things.
I saw this one meat-head smash a dining tray over this deaf inmate's head because he thought the inmate was ignoring him. He was reassigned, but nothing else came of it. Of course. There was another particularly delightful piece of vermin who would sit as close as possible to a claustrophobic inmate. He was pissed off that his cell mates all gave him extra space to help him out, and so he made sure that whenever he was around, he “took it back”. I asked him why he was always busting this guy's chops in such a cruel way, and he told me with an insufferably smug sneer. “Because they deserve it.”
Not to say there haven't been plenty of criminals I've met who I refused to cut any slack to. You work in a prison, you're going to see the dregs of humanity. I've seen rapists, murderers, even a couple of child molesters, but they never last very long. But that said, my belief is quite simple. These people are paying for their crimes by being in jail, at least to the extent that society can make them pay. I don't need to go out of my way to make their lives more miserable.
The worst guard I've ever had to deal with was the reason I decided to leave corrections behind me. My last job was at an all-female prison. I'd been there for about seven years. I never really moved up the ranks in my time there because by this time I'd kind of gone to seed and gotten complacent about my work. My lackluster attitude never impressed anybody so I was just one of your run of the mill guards. I was handed a weeks worth of night shifts. It's quieter of course since the prisoners are all on a very strict schedule, but still you have to patrol the area to make sure people are obeying the curfew.
I'm going to be intentionally vague since this wasn't that long ago and an investigation is still pending. The guard in question I'm going to refer to as Jack, partly because it's a nice, inconspicuous name and partly because, like the legendary Jack The Ripper, he had a taste for working girls.
You can probably guess where this is going by now. I only wish I had done more because even I saw the warning signs. I often saw his eyes linger a little too long on the young blonde girl who I'll call Sarah for the sake of the story. I remember her blonde hair was of note because she was the only inmate out of nearly 200 with the color. She would walk alongside her black and brunette haired fellows and stand out like a sunflower.
She was 19 years old, and had been busted for prostitution on a sting operation. Of course the boys in blue cheer a victory for the moral majority and destroy a young woman's life who was forced into the profession by circumstance. In some legal mumbo-jumbo that I can only describe as a kangaroo court, she and four other women were slapped with 10 year sentences. Their pimp got three.
She was the kind of girl who you could tell had once been happy, before whatever happened in her life that drove her to the oldest profession. She never told us, and I never asked. All she would say about it was it wasn't something she wanted to do. Course it could be a ploy for a reduced sentence and all that, but after a few years you get good at spotting the genuinely remorseful for the fakers. This girl wasn't lying to me.
Jack followed this girl everywhere. I mean sure, he found ways of looking innocent. He would only follow her to places with other groups of inmates. Because of her sweet nature, Sarah made a handful of friends in the prison, mostly among the matronly middle-aged women who had either been there for years or had been put in for minor offenses. This small circle he always found a reason to supervise when he could.
During my second to last night shift, and third to last day on the job, he had found an excuse to drop Sarah in solitary confinement. I don't know what reasoning he used. All I know is that while I was making the rounds I decided to pop into solitary to check on Sarah. She had become one of my favorites. This was technically a break in my patrol route, but I cleared it with my supervisor before hand. It had been a quiet night and even she thought the punishment was bogus. She would have removed her early herself, but the prison had a ridiculous policy that required anybody sent to solitary confinement for any reason to remain there for 12 hours.
When I got down to the cells on the lowest level of the prison, I heard Sarah crying out, but it was muffled. I rushed towards her cell and opened the door to find Jack was in there with her. I don't have the stomach to recount the details. Suffice it to say as I pulled him off of her, he began spitting excuses, most infuriating of which was “That's what she's here for! She likes it!”
I had to contain myself from belting the scumbag right there. I decided the best course of action was the only one I had to me. I pulled out my weapon and ordered him to hand me his. He protested at first, until I turned the safety off. I helped Sarah out of her shackles and then shut Jack in the cell. At that point, my concern for the 12 hour rule evaporated. I took her to the infirmary and had the night shift nurse help treat her for shock. I filed a report on everything I'd seen. Jack was going to be out of there one way or another.
I delivered my report to my supervisor during the morning, who was most intrigued to hear that Jack was still in a solitary confinement room. She said that I'd done exactly the right thing under the circumstances and that she would deal with Jack after he'd spent his 12 hours in the hole.
At this point I wanted to go back to Sarah's room, to try and comfort her. I'd been away from her for too long filing my report and I wanted to make sure that she was okay before I left for the day. But she wasn't there. She was back in the infirmary. In the mere two hours that I'd been apart from her, she had gotten hold of the first bottle of pills she could find in the nurse's office and downed the entire thing. The on-call doctor had arrived at this time and was desperately working with the Warden for a transfer to a proper hospital.
I didn't want to leave Sarah's side, but I was exhausted from the night and I had to return to work in less than 12 hours. I had to leave her. I wish I hadn't.
The Warden had approved the request in the time I was busy sleeping, but it was too late. Sarah's system was already overwhelmed by the drugs. Alone, in a concrete pit of a building, was where this young girl died.
I found out from my supervisor who had stayed late to tell me the news. She also told me that she did not want to see Jack leave the place, get a slap on the wrist and the get reassigned. Even something as serious as a rape can be covered up quite well if you have friends in the system and Jack had plenty. They would make this go away.
I had a plan of my own.
I went down to the inmates in general population about an hour before curfew and told them all exactly what Jack had done. I made sure each and every one of them knew why their friend, or at least their cellmate, had died. It should be noted that while guards are allowed to be around the inmates in the dining area, most just patrol from the catwalks for their own safety. I've clocked it. It takes three and a half minutes to get from any of the catwalks down into the dining area. Three and a half minutes, if you're running, which you almost certainly would be, to get down and try and stop anything that might be happening.
I made sure these women, some of whom had committed horrible violent crimes knew exactly what had been done.
And then I went down to solitary confinement and collected Jack. He spat at me the whole way, alternating between empty apologies and threats of repercussions from his powerful friends. It didn't matter to him though. He thought I was taking him to the supervisor. What he didn't expect was for me to turn at the corner to the entrance to the dining area and stand him in front of the inmates. I expected to hear running footsteps at this point, but there was nothing but an eerily calm silence.
Then a thousand things happened at once. I pushed him to the ground, ran back into the hallway and locked the double doors behind me. Almost every inmate pounced upon him, each participant eager to deliver an especially painful blow.
It takes three and a half minutes to get down the catwalks, down the two flights of stairs and around two hallways with locked security doors on either side to enter this community space. Like clockwork. Three and a half minutes.
It was more than enough time. By the time the guards reluctantly pulled the women off of Jack, he was long dead. They'd descended upon him like a pack, leaving what could only barely pass for a human body.
The official report says I panicked when I realized I'd taken a wrong turn and accidentally locked my partner out. That's how the supervisor and most of the security guards remember the incident. Those who know better about the true events also know better than to change anything.
Something bothers me about what happened to Jack though. Somehow, in the chaos, Jack had managed to reach out and grab a clump of somebody's hair. It was still in his hands when they recovered the body. Clenched tightly in Jack's fist was several strands of long, beautiful, blonde hair.