When people ask me about my career as a correctional counselor, many believe that I sit behind a desk in a nice ofﬁce and summon a guard for my next counseling appointment. My duties as a correctional counselor have a much wider scope than that. To illustrate, let me explain what happened just two days ago. I was conducting a routine room search looking for weapons and gang related contraband for our gang intelligence unit, when suddenly I heard a commotion. I quickly exited the cell, and observed a ward who just picked his handcuffs and evaded a correctional ofﬁcer’s grasp come racing down the stairs from the second tier. He comes down yelling his gang name, pumped up in a rage, swinging his cuffs as a weapon. He attacks a worker (fellow ward) before being maced by another ofﬁcer. I then push him off the worker, but he runs under the stairwell. I take chase after him, catching up to him and restraining him to the ground, before we are both fogged by a powerful chemical agent called Z505, released by another ofﬁcer. Nearly two hours later, after I have ﬁnally washed the intense burning from my eyes and face, I have to physically push back another ward that attempts to barge out of a secured recreation cage. A few cages down, another ward refuses to give back his cuffs, angry that he has been denied a cage recreation mate. The ward has recently been placed on independent status and is a sure target for his former fellow gang members. We perceive he wants to set up a ﬁght, to get some of his respect back for being dropped from his gang or, as they say in Y.A., being placed on “leva” status, or “out the car.” As I walk back inside the unit, both my fellow ofﬁcers and I are being verbally abused by angry inmates on both the top and bottom tier, who are demanding to get into the one shaving cage, which also serves as a phone booth, to either shave or use the phone for their monthly phone call. We have incident reports to write, and there are still many who need a shower, along with one more meal that still needs to be delivered through the tray slot in their door. As I’m looking for wards that still need their shower, other wards are demanding a one-on-one counseling session with me. Moments later, I hear what sounds like Niagara Falls. The ward that I restrained earlier has just flooded his room with water by clogging his toilet. Water is flowing down from the second tier to the first tiers and into the cells of other inmates, and down the hallway on the top tier. The wards on the unit are now yelling and demanding to have their cell decontaminated, yelling for their food and others are still yelling for a shave, a telephone call or a shower. I glance upstairs at Niagara Falls, make eye contact with one of my fellow officers and just laugh under my breath, as I often do to relieve stress- trying to find the humorous side of every issue in order to keep my sanity. But as I stand there trying to laugh off the stress, we also have other wards holding their cell tray slots open, in protest of one thing or another. There are only 3 officers on the floor, including myself and one is outside on the caged recreation yard, still negotiating with that inmate to give up his cuffs. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant has been called, and they send back-up security to help us start pulling out wards in order to have the cells cleaned and disinfected.
These wards are the most violent in the institution, with an extensive history of assaulting other wards and peace officers. As we escort one inmate in full restraints to the phone and shaving cage, who just the day before had rushed out his room to attack a worker, he begins to demand another cell. There are not many cells available, due to the fact that many of the fixtures or toilets have been broken by angry inmates. After his room is cleaned and disinfected by inmate workers from another unit, he states, “fu*# that, I’m posting up (Refusing to move), I want a clean room.” The duty Lt. then warns the ward that they will deploy the pepper ball launcher on him (which contains hard plastic balls filled with pepper ball gas.) if he fails to comply. He screams a mouthful of obscenities towards the Lt. and security and then indicates he’s ready for whatever they have for him. For many of these inmates, getting pepper ball scars is a way to obtain status for themselves and their gang. There is word on the unit that an Asian ward took 20 pepper ball shots. Attempting to compete, this inmate tears his shirt, then makes a turban and a mask and begins to hit his chest like King Kong, yelling out his gang name, as other wards from his gang cheer him on by banging on the door-some advising him “don’t go out!”, while rival gang members advise him to “break your life down.” When it’s all over, he walks proudly to the MTA (medical technician) for medical attention before being taken back to his cell, having taken 7 pepper ball shots-13 short of the record.
After a very long hour, we are finally able to secure him in his cell. I turn to my right and notice that a third of the dayroom floor is under water, including our Youth Correctional Counselor’s office. I turn again to my fellow officer and laughingly smile in an attempt to lighten the mood. When I turn back around, security is shaking their heads, wondering what issue to attack next: the ward who had busted out of his cuffs or the ward who took the pepper ball rounds. The other wards become even more frustrated and angry, still demanding what they want. Meanwhile, it’s institutional count time. However, we are unable to clear count, due to the wards refusing to take the towels down from their cell windows. Others are plastering paper to their windows, so we are unable to see inside.
Finally, their meal is served, leading to more tray slots being held hostage, more hails of verbal abuse coming from the unit, and new demands – now we have a group demanding that the radio be turned on. A verbal battle between numerous wards commences, some demanding the oldie’s station; while the opposition is R & B. The radio will not be turned on due to the chaos. The refusal escalates the already frustrated wards who are now even more angry because all the water has been turned off due to flooding: the whole dorm is on water management program, which mandates only one flush and one drink of water every half hour. Meanwhile, we have a program (recreational period), or group of inmates to retrieve from outside, and we have word that the two gang members associated, along with the two who caused the earlier incident, are refusing to take it down to their cell. The reason is because one of them has refused to have his cuffs checked, so we can assure that they are double cuffed. Just two days ago, we had to restrain this ward in shackles after he exhibited hostile and aggressive behavior towards staff. A cell extraction is about to proceed, so the video camera comes out, and the wards begin yelling their monikers and gang names to the camera, excited about being taped. In the interim, we are escorting other wards into the unit, attempting to avoid the terrain of floodwater. Many of them are becoming angry, believing that someone else’s “piss water” has saturated their cell. The dorm’s volume has escalated a couple of notches, because the wards now realize the lateness of the hour, and know many will now be unable to shower, shave or use the phone. A half hour passes; the two-gang members in cage #2 finally comply before the pepper ball launcher is deployed again. They are taken in the shower to be held temporarily until their room has been disinfected. To this point, I have been on the unit for roughly 15 hours and 30 minutes, which is not unusual. Many times we are forced to stay due to staff shortage, but today I’m working a 16-hour shift because of a shift swap.We have made a little dent in the flood waters: numerous officers are on the unit assisting and supervising the wards on the clean-up team. At 2210 hours, the Lt. tells me that I’m released to go home, since by law I can’t go on to work the 17th hour. My co-workers look and smile at me in envy, knowing that they’re being held over for an under determined amount of hours. Tomorrow at 0600 hours, less than 8 hours away, I will report back to the unit again, working off of less than 6 hours of sleep due to my hour commute, with reports to write, and individual counseling sessions to attend to. Days like these are not uncommon: sometimes they include riots, gassings (feces and urine thrown on staff), attempted suicides, and staff assaults.
You ask, “Do I like my job?” To be honest, I love my job. Days like this are not every day, and there are many inmates that have a true desire to change. They just need the right tools, and it is my job as a counselor to provide it to them. I believe that this is my God-given purpose. Therefore, it brings me joy and satisfaction, even in the heart of the trials and tribulations that occur.
Ward stories (Incarcerated Gang Members):
“My Crazy Life”
As I was growing up as a young teenager it was very hard for me to understand what was right from wrong. But as I was becoming a young man, I started to realize my mistakes were very wrong. As I was growing up, my mom and dad use to tell me to do good and stay in school and do something good with my life. But during that time I started to get more involved into gangs and going to parties so I didn’t care what my parents told me. Every time my parents told me to do good or was telling me not to go out at nights with my homeboys to parties. I would ignore their wishes and whenever they told me these things I would sit there and listen to them give me their advice but it would go through one ear and out the other. I was being very ignorant and didn’t want to listen to no one’s advice but one day I started to realize and regret everything I was doing and knew I was in the wrong. I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of my actions I was doing. I didn’t really care because I use to tell myself I would never get caught up and go to jail or anything. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when ever I did it, I didn’t care. I use to love going to parties when ever there was one popping off some where. I would go with my homeboys a lot and things turn out to be fun and I thought all parties were going to be fun for me. My parents didn’t like me leaving the house at night and going to parties, but I didn’t care. I still went anyway. One day my homegirl called me up on the phone and asked me if I wanted to go to a party with her. She also told me there is going to be a lot of girls there so that caught my attention so I said yes, but not knowing who is going to be there and who is throwing the party. I didn’t think of it. So my homegirl came and picked me up and we both left together. When we got there it looked to me like it was going to be a fun party. We both went into the house and right away I started talking to the girls because that was my type of thing. I started to dance with some girls when this guy came up to me. I didn’t know who he was.
I was trying to figure who he was because he looked like someone I knew from my past. Then all of a sudden he started introducing me to some other guys that were there at the party. Then he took me to the other side of the living room where there was not much people dancing and he hit me in the face. I kinda fell back a little bit then I caught my balance and I started to fight back. Then I noticed that he was an enemy from a different gang.
A lot of the girls and people that was there started to get scared and left. I was trying my hardest to self defend myself until other guys jump in on me then I started to tell myself I wasn’t going to win. I was getting jumped so bad I blacked out. All I remember is waking up the next day in the hospital. I had to stay the night in the hospital for three days until they let me go home. I was hurt very bad. My face and my head looked like a smashed pumpkin. When I went home my homegirl paid me a visit to tell me how sorry she was but I told her it wasn’t her fault. She sat there and told me all about that night and details about what happened to me that night. She told me she thought I was going to die and she was very scared. I didn’t blame her for nothing because I wanted to go.
The following week I had a lot of time to think about my actions. I sat there at home and started to realize a lot of the bad choices I was making. Me getting jumped at that party had a big impact on my life and made me think twice. I finally realized I was in the wrong for going to the party and I should of took my parents advice and stayed home. Being ignorant didn’t get me anywhere. I know that there are a lot of teenagers out there that don’t like to listen to their parents, but what does it have to take to open up their eyes to see how dangerous things can get. How come something bad has to happen to get your attention and find out the hard way while you can stop now and think twice about your life and what you’re doing? You don’t need a wake up call because next time it might be too late.
“Why I stay in this crip life.”
As I enlighten you on why I stay in this crip life, I like to say it was never a choice. What I mean is, when I was growing up my mother and father were enemies.
I needed love, and wanted to give love. Give my mother love, my father will hate me. Give father love, mother will hate me. That is what I thought. So I gave the homies love and that gave me love.
I led a lot of kids into negative behaviors cause I knew they looked up to me and that I could get them to do the things I wanted, because they seen me as an idol.
“I don’t feel that hurting people is right but I don’t think that it is wrong.”
No one understands me. How could they when I don’t even understand myself.
I am afraid of the unknown, a lot of other people should feel the same if they knew not only what I am capable of doing, but what I plan to do. If they did know they would have me put to death. After I am deceased they would take my brain and examine it to try to understand what God has created. As sad as that fact may be, I am not sad. In fact I hope that after I pass away there is someone to examine my brain. Then people would come to understand that maybe this is not my fault. Maybe God has made another mistake. God created Satan once, could it be that he made the same mistake or a similar one? I hope so. Why? We’ll then my actions would be justified that I was not given the freedom of will. My fate was preordained. If that is the case then I can commit any deed that my heart may desire and know that no matter what I do, I will be damned to hell.
The signs of a monster were present from day one, but nobody took the time to look, but like I said before I am not like any other. I wasn’t molested as a child, I never tortured any animals, I wasn’t an abused child. All of the signs were still there. The hallucinations, the hearing of voices, being placed in mental institutions numerous times for a variety of reasons, all have something to do with the other some how.
I like seeing people in pain, in a lot or in a little, it really doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter if I am the one inflicting the pain or not, just as long as you are in pain. Age is of no importance nor is race, religion, or what the situation.
You might be wondering what the person has gone through to make him into what he is not. I can answer that question with one word, nothing. But I know it is hard for the brain to assimilate that, so lets take it into further detail. Why do I like seeing people in pain and when was the first time that I realized that I do? I like seeing people in pain because it is exciting. To see, read or hear somebody being tortured ignites something inside of me that captures my attention. I don’t feel that hurting people is right, but I don’t think that it is wrong. I think that it is just part of life.
I first realized that I was different five years ago but it goes back further than that. Five years ago was just the point where I was like I am not like any of those around me. As I began to read a lot of fictional books that were suspenseful, horrific and things of that nature about five years ago. I read about people being tortured, mutilated, raped, molested, kidnapped, shot down, and I began to think that I would like to do some of these things. I’ve already hurt people in the past, but the books were talking about taking it to a new level. Within time I began to fantasize about some of the things that I wanted to do. It almost became an obsession.
People ask me about my spiritual aspects concerning the things that I plan to do. I believe there is only one god. I believe in heaven and hell. I believe everyone will be held accountable for their actions. But like I said before, my destiny might have already have been written and there is nothing that I can do to change that. I kind of feel the earth is preparing some of us for hell. In a sense earth is hell. We now live in a place where kids are killed by the one that brought them into this earth. We have best friends murdering one another. We have mother and father having sexual relations with their own children. All of that and that is barely the tip of the iceberg. I feel that hell can’t be too much more worse than earth already is.
I also practice hedonism; I pursue this belief as a way of life. I am infatuated with worldly possessions, big houses, fancy cars, women, jewelry, name brand clothes, yachts and foreign places drive me. I want all of the finer things in life. One only has one life to live while on this earth, so why not make the best of it? There is always hell. To think about it, I am not afraid to go to hell. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go but these worldly possessions have too much of a hold on me. I feel that hell may be my final destination anyway so why not indulge. Unlike why I like seeing people in pain, my wanting all of the finer things in life has reasons. The most prominent reason being that as a child I came from the slums, surrounded by bums. Even though my mom did the best that she could do, it was still bad. Wearing third generation hand me downs, eating cereal with sugar water, sharing our apartment with roaches and mice. Even though I got used to living that way, I could never accept the fact that I would one day raise my family the same way. As I began to grow older, I slowly but surely began to think there was a way for me to live in luxury but I had to be willing to take risks. At first it started off with little petty things, but it soon escalated to bigger and better things. And as the prizes began to get bigger, so did the risks. I have committed robberies, burglaries, g.t.a’s, assaults and batteries. I sold drugs; I got to the point where I wanted money by all means necessary. On numerous occasions I had to put my body through pain in order to obtain what I desired. I not only had to hurt myself, but I had to hurt others. It didn’t and still doesn’t matter. It’s a must that I survive at any cost. As of now we live in a world where it is survival of the fittest it is a must that you must be fit to survive. I proved that I can survive and I will continue to do so until I no longer breathe. When I die, that is when I will stop doing what I feel I must do. And it is then and only then I will stop doing what I want to do and plan to do.
“I put my family in danger.”
I joined the barrio because it runs in the family. That’s all I know, the gang lifestyle was no problem for me. I breathe it and lived it. The only thing I don’t like about gangs is homeboys passing away, so soon, yes, by me joining the gang I put my family in danger, but they already done that before my time. I just added a little piece to the cake, my pro was excitement and the power. The cons, are early death, and return to jail or prison.