Confessions Of A Maximum Security Prison Guard

prison guard outside open cell doorBy Paul Szoldra

Life behind bars is a challenge for prisoners serving time, but they aren't the only ones in maximum security prisons dealing with stress. Corrections officers responsible for overseeing prisons work in one of the most stressful and hazardous jobs in the U.S. -- topping the list of occupations with some of the highest nonfatal on-the-job injuries.

One Ohio CO took to the popular Reddit networking site to answer questions in an "Ask-Me-Anything" format, offering a very interesting (and somewhat disturbing) look at the life of a prison gatekeeper.

Some answers have been slightly edited for clarity.

On whether he has ever been afraid for his life while on the job:

I once denied access to chow 5 minutes too early and had 70 irate inmates standing in front of me pounding their fists. I called for backup, but at that moment I feared for my life due to their sheer strength in numbers.

I once was clocking out and was told by my supervisor that there was a riot planned in the block I was working that day and they planned to take a CO hostage. Thanks a lot, boss.

More: 10 Most Dangerous Jobs In The U.S.

On the dangers that officers face outside of work:

My wife and I have a code phrase. If we are out and about and I say "time to find socks," and quickly walk away -- that means I've spotted a former inmate that could possibly wish harm on me and my family. The life of my family and my life are threatened every day, followed by "I get out in xxx days." It only takes one to follow up.

He went on to say he's run into former inmates twice, but they ended "without incident." He also noted that "time to find socks" was not the actual code he uses.

On some of the unique weapons prisoners are able to create:

I see a lot of straightened, sharpened bed springs. A razor blade melted into a toothbrush handle. Tightly rolled paper and elastic band from a pair of underwear can be used to make a lethal bow and arrow.

More: Confessions Of A Prison Doctor

On what was the most disturbing contraband item ever discovered at his facility:

Cell phones are HORRIBLE. Gang leaders can quickly communicate and coordinate with other inmates at other institutions. Riots, murders ... Things like that. I've found steroids. Freakishly strong, insubordinate inmates that refuse to [do] anything you ask are dangerous. Especially when it becomes physical.

On how prisoners can possibly get such an item:

Staff bring in phones and in return are paid on the street by inmates' families.

I've heard [smugglers can be paid] $1500 for a smart phone. But I've never fully investigated. I value my career and livelihood of my family [too much] to do something impulsive like that.

On the importance of respect in prison:

The older gang leaders are respected by staff if they give the respect. They don't have to lift a finger on the compound. Their soldiers get them food, clothes, press their clothing, do all their work really. Older inmates that are respectable are called "convicts." A young gang banger is an "inmate."

More: A New Career Option For Ex-Cons: White-Collar Jail-Prep Tutor

On how prisoners find out about convicted child molesters and rapists:

When they call their families, they have the family member look up the inmate by name or number on the state offender search Web page where charges are listed. Child molesters normally have a very distinguishing look to them.

He agreed that inmates generally despise rapists and child molesters, saying "they are preyed upon and extorted very much."

On how to survive your first day in the joint:

Mean what you say and say what you mean. If you tell a guy you will get him something, get it for him. If you tell a guy you're gonna slam him if he doesn't go back to his cell, well ... get busy.

On whether he ever feels pity towards any of the inmates:

It does break my heart when I see an inmate holding his kids in the visit room. Those children did nothing to have their father taken away. A father is a protector and a mentor. Those children are missing all of that.

Ted Koppel:

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How long will it be before prisoners go union? I hear unions are needing members. That way they can negoiate who can sleep with who. lol

May 30 2013 at 5:14 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I worked inthe prison system for 25 years 21 of which was in supervision . 16 years in a maximum and the remainder in a medium facility. I found that many employees were just as problematic as the inmates. The minute I had time enough to retire I did. I still have bad dreams but they got fewer and fewer as the years have gone by.

May 30 2013 at 9:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
i hate cops

I think jail gurards are just as corrupt as the local alley cop.

May 29 2013 at 10:22 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Now look, I was a CO for 10 years. Yes, it is a stressful job, but not for your own safety but the safety of the inmates. It took me about 2 years to understand the dynamics of the job. They don't teach you the psychological aspects of the job in the academy. You have to learn that on your own. What it boils down to is very simple. Yes, the inmates are the scum of the earth. They lie, cheat and steal. But, when you are in their world in the facility you have to recognize who your dealing with. If you're fair and show respect to them, they will do the same to you. If you go in and expect to bust heads and brow beat them you will lose. My biggest challenge was not with the inmates but with co-workers who were lazy and incompetent. In my facility there was no coordination between shifts. I would come to work and find nothing had been done in the previous shift. Then I had to deal with the complaints from the inmates. There is so much that goes on that the public doesn't realize. Geesh, just had to vent!

May 29 2013 at 12:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bill's comment

By the way, I quit because of the bull I had to take from the administration and the disgust I had for co-workers, not because of the inmates!

May 29 2013 at 12:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Tom P

You know the hazards when you take the job so quit your whining. You are dealing with criminals not choir boys

May 29 2013 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Goes both ways! It aint easy doing time!

May 29 2013 at 9:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sammy's comment

Then don't be a criminal.

May 29 2013 at 10:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Life in prison should be ALOT harder than it is now.
When there are ex cons that want back in, that should be a very telling sign.

May 29 2013 at 9:11 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to appalled_patriot's comment

True, but our society makes it very difficult for offenders to get on their feet. Try finding a job fresh out of prison. No one wants you. So what do you do for money? Something that may get you in trouble again. I think once the sentence is served, and you've paid your debt to society, your background shouldn't weigh down your future.

May 29 2013 at 10:52 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

To boldly walk where street cops fear to tread. Alone and unarmed.

May 29 2013 at 4:56 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment

so true

May 29 2013 at 8:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Myron E Holley J


May 29 2013 at 3:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, some of these comments are obviously seen from closed eyes. Comments about how being married to a CO is so difficult, cmon, be happy your husband comes home every night. I listen to my husbands unpleasant days and share interest with him no matter what. Remember Attica??

May 28 2013 at 11:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to absolute415sue's comment

You know, if he really cared, he wouldn't have put himself into the postition of being in prison in the first place.

May 29 2013 at 10:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to macbenson5's comment

You should have read the comment before you started typing, Macbenson5. She said being married to a CO, hint " Correctional Officer. " Not an inmate.

August 25 2013 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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