What goes on behind the walls

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If more people knew, there’d be a greater push for a new prison

l was a correctional officer for 26 years. Most of that time was at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s with just under two years at the Labrador Correctional Centre.

Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on Forest Road in St. John’s. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

It seems that members of the general public don’t understand what officers do or what they go through during their careers. Well, I have dealt with many incidents and situations that would break the toughest person. I have to say anyone working in a prison or who has worked anywhere in corrections has my utmost respect, always. Many incidents behind the walls are never reported in the media unlike with the police and fire department.

I worked 18 out of 26 Christmas breaks and many Easters, kids’ concerts, birthdays, etc. in the clink. I did it to feed my family and give them a decent life. The thing that bothers me is that the real heroes in law enforcement never get any recognition publicly. They put their lives on the line daily behind the walls and bars of our prisons to protect Newfoundland and Labrador. I have been in a few situations personally throughout my career where I didn’t know if I was going home or would be maimed or killed.

I have dealt with numerous slashes, suicide attempts, assaults, deaths and threats. I have seen officers have feces and urine thrown in their faces, blindsided by punches, choked, spit on and their families threatened. I have been around for five riots, an attempted hostage-taking and was attacked by an inmate with a shank. I have seen numerous inmates stabbed or beaten senseless and hospitalized.

Try responding to a call for backup and finding two inmates with blood squirting out of them, bleeding to death in the same cell. Or walking around on night shift doing a routine count and finding a guy hanging from the top bunk in his cell and having to cut him down and revive him. Another incident involved an inmate cutting his chest open with a razor blade and sticking a pen in himself, trying to pierce his heart. I witnessed a few inmates cut their throats and wrists directly in front of staff.

I responded to one code yellow “emergency code” with an inmate with a six-inch piece of broken-off broomstick hanging out of his neck. Another involved an inmate severely beaten over the head with a hockey stick in the gym. Another inmate came running from recreation with a dart shoved through his cheek. One other time, an inmate had his eye stabbed out returning to his unit from recreation. One emergency call had me and my buddy dispatched to the older part of the prison where a crazed inmate was trying to throw a guard over a railing about 20 feet up. Luckily, we tackled the guy.

Many incidents happened regarding drug overdoses, heart attacks, seizures, diabetic comas, and staff response saved numerous lives. These are only a few incidents I will mention, and I assure you I saw and dealt with much more over the years.

I witnessed mentally ill inmates cut their heads open with razor blades and beat their heads off doors and walls. I saw grown men cry for their mothers and others beg for help. As a side note, three staff members’ vehicles were firebombed on nightshift. Another time, staff were held back because someone phoned the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and threatened to shoot us as we left for the day. We had to wait till the RNC patrol made a presence before we were allowed to leave.

Another incident involved a bag that was left out in the parking lot and we had to wait for the bomb squad to clear the scene before we could go home.

I treated the inmates and staff with respect throughout my career, but sometimes you had to stand up for yourself. I never backed down from anyone on either side of the fence when I needed to.

I was with another officer one time and a dangerous inmate punched him in the face and we had to tackle him. We were understaffed on a Sunday and had to fight off the inmate for at least two minutes before help arrived.

In another incident, we were distributing meds and a mentally disturbed inmate attacked us and we had to fight for our lives.

The reason I have posted all this is so that the citizens of this province will realize that a prison built for the British military in the 1800s needs to be replaced, and not later, but now.  

Many inmates go into HMP with no hope of changing their ways and becoming productive citizens. I call on the justice minister and our Liberal government to take real action and approach Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and co-operate to build a new prison in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The brave men and women working at HMP deserve nothing less, and I will continue to advocate on their behalf until something is done to build a newer, secure facility.


G. Frank Power,

(Retired from Corrections in 2014)

Outer Cove



Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Robyn
    September 13, 2016 - 02:44

    So awful that these conditions exist,and because they are behind closed doors They seem to be swept under the rug so to speak. A new prison has been promised for years now, how many people have to be hurt or killed before something changes !?

  • deaver
    January 11, 2016 - 18:31

    Are u kidding me people. Who deserves to go to a work place as dangerous as this, like really. U think when someone go to college for corrections, they expect what this gentlemen has experienced. No this is not good enough. A new building would provide at least a safer environment, a modern service.Unfortunately the guards m u st feel like the prisoners. Stuck in a terrible job. I really feel for these men and women.

  • Leigh-Anne
    January 11, 2016 - 10:35

    This is absolutely a horrible situation indeed! I have family working in this same situation. However, it is a career choice without horse blinders. I certainly respect each & every person in this position & do feel for what they see & deal with. However, this is why I made a different career choice...Because I, personally, would not & could not deal with such things. In any event, I do agree 110% that every measure needs to be taken for the safety of our Officers. However, forgive my ignorance, what does building a new prison offer when it comes to safety? I do not mean this in a sarcastic manner either. I mean it as a legitimate question. How does a new building provide safer ways against the noted situations? What, specifically, in a new building will be different than this one that actually makes it safer for the Officers? Just, for example, let's take the mentally ill situation where there were meds being handed out & Officers got attacked. What structure in a new building prevents this? Or the guy with the dart in his face after 'leisure time'. I don't understand how the 'physical structure' prevents such things? To me, it's providing the activity itself. If the activity wasn't provided it wouldn't happen. If they are given this 'leisure time' with such 'weapons' as darts, hockey sticks, etc, how does the physical structure of the building prevent these dangerous outcomes? The possible bomb in the lot, etc. Obviously, I have absolutely no idea how the building is currently laid out & what the new plan may be. However, I am merely basing my questions on 'logic' with complete ignorance to the 'whole' situation. I would love to hear everyone's input on this to help me better understand how a new building provides safety against these situations...possibly :)

    • F Power
      January 11, 2016 - 17:02

      A new building would have extra units to keep various inmate crime groups from each other. You will be able to safely move inmates through separate entrances and corridors. Also a new prison will not allow prisoners to make weapons from deteriorating walls,corners ,siding etc..... You can have a place that isnt full of mould , mice and silver fish. You can expand rehabilitative programs and services. You could move some court services to the prison and a unit to treat mentally ill inmates. The St. Johns lockup could be built in as well. It would save money combining medical services,courts , lockups, womens centre all in on facility. Also more Federal inmates could be held there with extra Federal funding to help run the facility. Millions are spent keeping Hmp running right now every year. As for the darts and hockey sticks that was back a few yrs ago and are not used now after those of incidents.

  • Steve
    January 11, 2016 - 06:35

    Yes build a new prison and turn the HMP into a historic site and the government can make money off tourists and people in the province wanting to take a look behind them walls without the prisoners and gards

  • RATTER 01
    January 10, 2016 - 16:24


    • F Power
      January 11, 2016 - 17:07

      Yes by and I dont regret it a bit! Worked with some great people over the years. Obviously you didnt get the message! Anyway its not about me, a much bigger picture here and story that needs to be told!

  • Kev
    January 10, 2016 - 15:50

    Why should the federal government fund a provincial prison?

    • F Power
      January 11, 2016 - 17:12

      Its simple , because we dont have a Federal Prison here but yet 55 - 60 % of inmates at Hmp are federal. More federal inmates are held in Stephenville. Federal inmates can apply to stay in NL and even others that are eventually transferred have extensive stays at Hmp. Only several inmates are transferred at a time a couple of times a month. Hmp is a medium - maximum facility!

  • Jmck
    January 10, 2016 - 10:37

    What happens at HMP in St. John's that does not happen at other prisons across Canada? Is it worse here? If so, why?

  • Pedro
    January 10, 2016 - 07:25

    Mr. Power,you have my utmost respect. It's a tough way to earn a living. Not everyone would last as long as you did,in this job. Hope you get many years of happy retirement.

  • Pj Adey
    January 09, 2016 - 18:43

    So sad to hear that you had to witness this! But you must have known this was part of your job !! This was something you had to deal with on a daily basis in your field of work. Don't get me wrong i agree with 100% they do need new prison's too!!

    • Dolf
      January 10, 2016 - 09:13

      What's also needed is national legislation that would transport the trouble makers to a military Boot Camp to get their errant behavioral straightened out. I can dream can't I?