What goes on behind the walls

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

Published on January 9, 2016
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on Forest Road in St. John’s. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

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.

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