As documented by the incidents in Rikers the reality is that for both guards and inmates as well as associated staff members it is a kill or be killed dynamic. The last two escapes, one in New York and the other most recently in California, tell of inmates who manipulate and exploit the serious understaffing issues, that the idea of prison complex is just that complex and the reality is that we are bursting at the seams when it comes to incarceration.
And then we have the now pardons/exonerations and early releases of prisoners who suddenly are expected to re-join society and build community after years of abuse, neglect and lack of resources that will enable assimilation and adjustment in the outside world.
This morning I awoke to an Al Jazeera story about a suicide at a Susanville Prison, and then I realized I had read about this prison before, in Rolling Stone. Yes the much maligned journal that failed in its due dillegence to substantiate the claims of a young woman and her sexual assault. Funny last week the much acclaimed, then maligned internet news site, the Intercept (which has its own tales of intrigue in its brief history) have apologized for the fraudulent reporting of one its reporters. I note that the same town criers and histronic media professionals aka "bloggers" did not say one whit about that story, but then again we have short memories in the internets.
But this story is from last year and it was ignored on substance perhaps or due to that cloud, but now here we are with America Tonight covering the suicide of a CO. I read the Rolling Stone article and that is below but these two comments stood out:
Much is made of Teachers Unions. Well we have never hazed a fellow member, rounded kids up and thrown them in a bunker (but Charters have done so with kids who are troubled by hiding them in a basement, out of site out of mind), nor ever had a suicide watch due to endless abuse both experienced and witnessed. And yes there are many many stories of hideous incidents in public schools, including sexual assault that have been obfuscated but that is not due to the Unions. Ask the school district and their administration staff about that.
Both in New York and California the Prison Guard Unions like the Police Unions wield political clout and their influence runs deep and wide across adminstrations in many cities as it is the Mayor who appoints the Police Chief. Funny how Mayors want city control of schools much for that same reason. Well clearly what one reads of charters and discipline their tactics are less of the same, so I see why. We are becoming a nation of compliance and one where information is duly neglected.
And the local townships are company towns and that prisons are the town's business also offers a veiled conspiracy with regards to the malfeasance and culture of complicity that results in what transpires.
I am not sure what to say with regards to this story but it is one I have heard before and it is veiled in the same "bro" culture, testosterone fueled, kill or be killed mentality that dominates the industry/
High Desert Suicide: Was a Prison Guard Hazed to Death?
At one of the country's most dangerous prisons, correctional officers face off against murderers, rapists, gangsters and each other
In August 2006, in the enclosed Z Unit of High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California, Officer Scott Jones, a correctional peace officer assigned to Search and Escort, joined in a hazing ritual known as the "Usual High Desert." Sergeant Ernie Rausch had just received a promotion.
To celebrate, Jones and several officers put the 6'7" 280-pound Rausch into a "cage" — one of the phone booth-sized stand-alone units used to contain unruly inmates — and doused him with trashcans full of water. Officer Steve Oschner was there and later described the scene as part of a workers' compensation claim investigation: "You put up a little bit of a struggle, you know. Then obviously it is in good fun and put him in the cage, got him wet. Poured some water on him."
According to the workers' comp investigation, Rausch's tormenters headed off for dinner, with Rausch in the cage and water pooling on the floor. After a few moments, while some guys were getting squeegees to clean up, Rausch got out and was soon face-to-face with Jones.
Compared to Rausch's massive size, Jones was a mere 6'1" and 180 pounds. According to the workers' comp investigation, Rausch extended a hand, as if to shake, but when Jones reached out to reciprocate, Rausch pulled him close and began dry-humping Jones' leg. Rausch's weight was too much for Jones, and they both tumbled to the ground in one tangled wet mess.
A few yards away in the Z Unit's law library where officers typically eat their meals, an officer claimed to hear Jones scream as he hit the wet concrete floor. Jones tore two ligaments in his knee. His actual workers' compensation claim from the incident states that he slipped and fell while mopping the floor. Rausch, who was later questioned as part of Jones' claim, said that he and Jones were "hugging each other goodbye" some sixty feet away from the cage when both of them slipped and fell.
"There wasn't a mop in his hand," Rausch said. "There wasn't a mop in my hand. We had just got done with those activities." But when pressed for details on the altercation, Rausch said, "It was wrestling. It is what we do for a living."
It's unclear from the workers' comp investigation to what extent the highest-ranking officer present, Second Watch Sergeant (now Lieutenant) Ed Simmerson, was involved in Rausch's hazing or responding to Jones' injury. He failed to file a report on the incident. "You ain't supposed to do it," he later admitted to a workers' comp investigator about hazing.
"But it is kind of overlooked." What Simmerson did do, according to a civil complaint, was instruct Jones to fill out the injury report with the claim that he hurt himself while mopping. Jones' father-in-law, Robert Hartner, himself a former High Desert CO, testified that Simmerson told Jones, "You need to write it this way," meaning fill out the workers' comp form in a way that would not implicate any other officers. Jones wanted to get along. So he signed it. (Simmerson did not respond to requests for comment.)
For four years, Jones — "Jonesy" to his pals — had been happy at High Desert. He was an exemplary worker with no complaints. Handsome, with neatly close-cropped hair and a slightly goofy grin, he was known as a quiet guy who kept his head down and didn't fuck around. But the encounter with Rausch and the falsified workers' comp claim seems to have upended Jones' work life.
According to people who knew Jones well, over the next five years, some of his fellow officers, suspicious that Jones might turn on them, launched a series of cruel and anonymous attacks. To Jones and his family, it seemed like a unified effort aimed at his mental health as much as his physical wellbeing.
In July of 2011, Jones drove his truck to a secluded spot outside of town and shot himself in the head with his pistol. He was one of at least five known correctional officer suicides at High Desert since 2008. Of course, COs everywhere experience massive amounts of on-the-job stress.
A 2009 study found that they have a suicide rate higher than any other type of law enforcement, and those working in high-security institutions like High Desert experience levels of violence that can lead to incidences of PTSD on par with combat veterans. But, in at least some of these cases of suicide, the victims' families claim that abuse from other High Desert COs compounded the obvious strains associated with working at a maximum-security prison.
Jones' wife, Janelle, has sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the former warden of High Desert, alleging that her husband was harassed for reporting misconduct until he became so depressed that he took his own life.
Janelle, now raising their teenage son alone, still lives in Susanville and sees her dead husband's old co-workers often. "I don't care what they say," she says. "What I know is that Scott went in fine and he came out dead." High Desert is isolated even by prison standards.
The surrounding town of Susanville, CA is situated in an arid valley 90 minutes northwest of Reno, where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains meet the Great Basin desert. Signs for Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonalds stretch towards the open sky alongside ranchers roping cattle in clouds of dust.
For years, this was a struggling logging and mining town; Main Street still features Old West storefronts and the local book store is full of old self-published titles on finding gold. There are two Mormon churches and a modern-looking pub that brews its own beer. On the side of the highway, five minutes from downtown, is the area's major attraction: the Diamond Mountain Casino & Hotel.
The subject of the 2007 documentary Prison Town, USA, Susanville is also home to not one, but two major state prisons: High Desert and California Correctional Center (colloquially called "The Camp"). Unsurprisingly, the majority of the town's population works or is otherwise affiliated with the prison system. In a town of about 15,000 people — as many as half of them are inmates and three-quarters are male.
High Desert, which opened in 1995, is by far the tougher of the two facilities. Designed to hold 3,336 high- and medium-security inmates, it is sometimes referred to on prison message boards as "High DRAMA State Prison."
In 2010, the Sacramento Bee wrote a two-part feature on extreme cruelty at High Desert, which found a "behavior modification" program full of brutalities like hours-long strip searches in the snow, cell doors covered in excrement and severe beatings from officers. Allegations of racist slurs were also common and authorities were generally suspected of sweeping incriminating evidence under the rug.
A former inmate told the Sacramento Bee that it resembled a “concentration camp.” (One CO I spoke with described this investigation as "totally overblown.") Before landing a job at High Desert in 2002, Jones, then 27, worked in the produce department at Susanville Supermarket. His son Tyler had been born a year before and his future wife Janelle, though only 22 years old, had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The prison promised better pay and benefits. Though a CO's starting salary is in the mid-five-figures, incomes can quickly climb to well over $100,000 with overtime. (One officer told me that he made "at least" $120,000 to $140,000 a year at High Desert.) CDCR, which employes 30,000 officers to watch over 130,000 inmates, also provides full medical coverage and a guaranteed retirement fund. Jones enrolled in the 16-week-course at the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center in Galt, where cadets learn everything from prison policy guidelines to the use of batons, pepper spray and hand-to-hand submission techniques.
According to a CDCR spokesperson, "suicide prevention is part of the training all cadets receive at the academy" as well. Graduates are required to pass written, physical and oral exams. Other COs told me that most cadets easily pass these tests, which include an in-person interview and a psychological evaluation. One retired CO told me, "They just wanted warm bodies." Jones reported for duty at High Desert in July 2002. Many of the COs there pride themselves on not taking shit from some of the state's toughest inmates.
Officers I spoke with described a process they called "flushing," wherein other maximum-security prisons like Corcoran and Pelican Bay transport their worst cases to High Desert. The COs repeatedly emphasized that High Desert was rampant with rapists, pedophiles, killers and other generally undesirable characters.
According to one CO, a number of new recruits leave the academy planning to "treat inmates like animals." But another CO observed that, in practice, "these young people don't know the kind of force you can use." The inmates that come to High Desert, he said, "they know they are going to a prison and will be treated like prisoners."
In 2006, Jones was assigned to a four-person shift in the Z Unit, a high-security administrative segregation (Ad-Seg) holding around 200 high-ranking gang leaders, or "shot callers." These were the most severe cases in a prison already full of the worst of the worst.
Inmates were housed in solitary confinement cells — each about as big as a parking space — behind grated doors, with only a concrete bunk, a metal toilet and a sink in each cell, and allowed out to exercise for one hour a day in an adjacent high-walled dog run.
Jesse Barron, a CO who worked with Jones in the Z Unit, says, "Working in the Ad-Seg units is not like working the [general population]." These were inmates who refused to "program." According to Barron, programming means "not wanting to stab another human being, not wanting to constantly bring in drugs or rape other inmates." Barron told me he saw an inmate hoist up his cellie "like a hammock," use him for sex, and kill him; another young inmate got a prison tattoo of a naked woman on his back for the viewing pleasure of his rapists.
Officer Anthony Tirado, who worked with Jones, found Z Unit so stressful that, as he told an investigator in an interview, he "didn't even want to come to work anymore." After his knee injury, Jones took a few months off and returned to Z Unit in February 2007. According to the complaint, he was in severe pain and still concerned about falsifying the workers' compensation form, but determined to make the best of it.
One month later, in the presence of several unnamed officers near the Z Unit law library, Sergeant Derec Fletcher sprayed Jones in the face with pepper spray at close range, and, according to the workers' comp investigation, said "What you gonna do now, bitch, tell on me?" None of the officers present were identified in the complaint, but one reportedly asked Fletcher, "Why the hell did you do that?" Another called out to him, "That's fucked up!" Jones' face almost immediately began to blister. He went home, saying he needed to change his clothes, and did not return for the rest of his shift. He never reported the incident, even though the discharge of pepper spray is considered nonlethal force that can cause serious and lasting injuries.
In testimony taken after Jones' suicide, Fletcher said: "I had an accidental negligent discharge of my pepper spray. It did spray him but, uh, there was nothing, uh, negative about it. I mean it was an accident. It was during training. It was an accidental negligent discharge. It wasn't intentional in any way."
Jones' father-in-law, Robert Hartner, who spent eight years working at High Desert as a CO before moving to the parole division, suggested Fletcher sprayed Jones as a test of loyalty. "[Fletcher needs] to know that he can do or say whatever he wants," Hartner said. "And whoever he's doing that to will have his back. So if he's out of line, he doesn't have to worry about somebody telling on him." A number of other COs I spoke with were similarly convinced that the spray was intentional. (Fletcher did not return a request for comment.)
Shortly after the incident, Jones took a few months off for knee surgery. In June 2008, he requested a return to Z Unit and was assigned to the Third Watch shift — 2 P.M. to 10 P.M. His new partner, Officer Anthony Lares, had been a paratrooper for 22 years before joining the CDCR, and shortly after coming to High Desert in April 2008, became known as a "loud-mouth" and a "troublemaker." A big part of that reputation was likely due to his role as the Third Watch union job steward. Lares was responsible for writing notices to supervisors about faulty equipment and concerns over staff safety, which he sometimes concluded with barbs like, "God forbid that you lose a life of an officer today to save a dollar tomorrow."
By all accounts, Jones was a loyal partner; he supported Lares for doing the right thing and that impulse may have cost him. Janelle's complaint describes a cryptic exchange between Jones and Lt. Simmerson in the summer of 2009. After a shift one night, it appears Jones asked Simmerson for a talk and both men retreated to the cab of Jones' truck. Beneath the floodlights of the parking lot, Jones voiced his ongoing concerns about the falsified workers' comp claim and reported fears about some of the harassment he'd received in Z Unit. Simmerson allegedly responded by warning Jones about Lares. Lares, Simmerson allegedly said, was "going down" and Jones should separate himself from him lest he end up "collateral damage."
Jones tried to defend Lares, but Simmerson reportedly cut him off. "Come on, Scott," Simmerson said. "You know what's going on out here."
"No," Jones said. "I don't know what's going on. You are talking in riddles. Just spit it out."
"You know what?" Simmerson allegedly said. "Maybe it's better if you don't know what's going on."
Simmerson later testified in the workers' comp investigation that he spent about 15 minutes in the parking lot discussing how Jones should handle a particular inmate. "I would never have threatened Jones," Simmerson said. "Never. The dude was a good dude."
Either way, rather than distance himself from Lares, Jones rallied around him, and, according to the complaint, became the target of increasingly vicious harassment. At first, the incidents seemed like juvenile pranks, almost funny. Jones came out of work one day to find his car windows open and the visors pulled down. Always meticulous about his vehicles, he was alarmed that someone was messing with his ride, but shrugged it off. A few weeks later, his car was keyed. He notified a sergeant, but no action was taken. He began to worry about taking his car in for repairs, believing someone might sabotage his brakes. He installed a camera in his car to catch whoever was breaking into it, or, he said, in case someone planted drugs or stole his cell phone to give to an inmate and set him up.
The harassment followed Jones home as well. Janelle says other officers somehow learned that she and Jones had recently bought a new Tempur-Pedic mattress, and would ask Jones in passing, jabbing elbows the whole time, what he thought of it. Jones grew suspicious that either his house was bugged or Janelle was actually having an affair. (Janelle says she never had an affair during their marriage.)
An unidentified caller shouted into Jones' phone, "Turn in your badge!" One summer evening in 2009, Jones, Janelle and their eight-year-old son Tyler took a walk on a scenic road in the hills outside of town. According to the complaint, when Jones reported for his shift later that day, he ran into one of his superiors, Sgt. Anthony Amero. "I saw you walking with your family today," Amero said. "I thought about running you over and making you a hood ornament." That same summer, Jones noted having to tell another sergeant, Scott Norton, "to quit calling me a bitch & not to make jokes about wife." (Norton and Amero did not respond to requests for comment.)
When Jones called Hartner for advice, Hartner urged him to transfer. "Get away from those assholes," he said."But I like my job," Jones protested. "Just not the drama."