Violence Behind the Walls (by Guest Blogger Lorenzo Steele Jr.)
Lorenzo Steele Jr. is a former New York City correction officer. He now mentors young people about the consequences of breaking the law.
I was 21 when I first became a correction officer. I didn't even know where Rikers Island was, yet I’d lived in New York City for over 20 years. Rikers Island is the largest penal colony in America. It houses over 10,000 inmates in 11 prisons. There are many classifications of inmates on the Island: murders, rapist, thieves, burglars, pedophiles… Every classification you can name.
How does the Department of Corrections properly train an individual as a correction officer that has never been to jail and not even taken psychology courses? It doesn’t. They just give you a crash courses in sociology, psychology, penal law and even judo.
Many things stick out of my mind while writing this, but one in particular is how a corrections officer mentally deals with the violence that takes place everyday day: inmates on inmates conflicts, and inmates on officers.
One of the most vicious incidents was an inmate on inmate assault. It happened on a sunny day while the inmates were in the segregation unit yard. The segregation unit is where inmates are housed in 8-foot by 6-foot cells for 23 hours a day, and allowed 1 hour a day for a shower and a phone call. An 8-foot by 6-foot cell is the size of the average bathroom. Yes, that’s the size of your new home when you break the law. Imagine being locked in an 8-foot by 6-foot bathroom for 23 hours a day. Now these inmates are allowed by law to have recreation for 1 hour in these small cages outside. The cages are about 50 feet by 40 feet with razor wire on the top of the gate to prevent escape. There are 2 officers, and they have to supervise up to 12 of most violent inmates in the prison. Charges for some of these inmates range from stabbings, cuttings, rapes and even assault on correction officers.
I was assigned a corridor post where I could look out the window and see inside the segregation area. Working as a correction officer you develop special skills and added senses. The longer a correction officer is on the job, he or she develops extra senses whereby officers can feel when and where something is going to happen: assault, stabbing, razor cutting… For some strange reason I knew something was going to happen in this one particular area in the segregation yard. I noticed inmates playing basketball. Several were exercising and one was doing push-ups alone. My attention was taken to the inmate doing push-ups. I noticed another inmate walking slowly towards him, cautiously looking over his shoulders to see if the 2 officers were alert. The inmate stood over the one doing push-ups and started to converse.
Now in jail you are constantly looking over your shoulders because violence happens regularly and you have to stand guard at all times. So I knew that the inmate standing up had to have known the inmate working out because you would never let someone stand over you that you didn’t know in jail as that’s suicide.
All of a sudden the inmate standing jumped on the inmate doing push-ups, and straddled him, placing his hand under his neck. He began to motion his arm back and forth quickly several times under the neck of the inmate doing push ups. The inmate on the ground wrestled the other inmate off his back and then held his face with both his hands. From where I was positioned I thought that they were just horse playing, but I then noticed a pool of red blood on the floor where he was doing push-ups. I pressed my personal body alarm for assistance. The inmate that was doing push-ups reached down to pick up his white T-shirt to put over his face and the shirt turn beet red. The blood was gushing out at every possible angle.
Officers arrived, and were very careful escorting the bleeding inmate to the clinic because he could have been HIV positive. The inmate dripped blood from his face for several hundred feet to the clinic. I wondered if the bleeding inmate were to grab an officer and smear blood on the officer’s face to later find out that the inmate was HIV positive. It was a sick thought, but those are the thoughts of a correction officer.
We later found out that the inmate received over 1000 stitches to his face. Imagine receiving 1000 stitches to your face. What type of job could you get if you make it home with so many prison scars on your face? I never saw that inmate again. Inmates that get viciously assaulted in that manner never return home from jail because if you get cut or stabbed in any manner like that you have to retaliate, meaning doing physical harm to the person who assaulted you and that gets you a new jail case behind the prison walls.
Tune in for more violence. That’s just one incident out of hundreds.
Lorenzo has created a prison DVD called Scarface 4 Life where he takes you into the most violent prison on Rikers Island.
Click here to view clips of his DVD
Click here to go to Lorenzo's website
Click here for the previous guest blog written by someone working in a prison
As this is Lorenzo's first post for Jon's Jail Journal, your comments would be greatly appreciated.
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