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.
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.
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."
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.
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