Prison Guards Share Their Scariest Experiences Working Behind Bars
There are few occupations we can think of that would be more high stress than working as a prison guard. Television and film have given us countless depictions of life behind bars, and none of them show it like a walk in the park - for prisoner or guard. One reddit user asked:
The answers were almost all pretty intense, but we managed to pull 20 stories that struck a chord with us. Some of these may be intense for younger or more sensitive readers, so be careful as you move ahead.
Stuck In An Elevator
Setting the scene:
1997; local Jail with a very big budget crisis.
The jail was on the 4th floor of the courthouse and the chow hall was in the basement. So we would have to take the prisoners up and down to eat. The elevator was junk. It broke down with me and 13 felony inmates trapped inside of it. Four were convicted murderers waiting on a bed to come open at the prison. I was trapped in a very tight space with some very bad people unarmed and alone.
They helped me crawl through the escape hatch in the roof of the elevator so I could get help. No escape attempts and no violence. It was scary, but went pretty well considering.
At last, my day has come. In lieu of one "scariest day," allow me, as a CO in the State of Florida, to tell you all of the scariest incidents to occur to me in the past few years.
-From the point you're hired until your graduation from the academy (roughly 6-12 months) you are advised to not get into any physical issues with an inmate. This can lead to awkward and dangerous instances when a new person is assigned to work in the Close Management buildings. On one particular day, I was assigned to assist an officer with escorting CM1 (most dangerous) inmates to their rec cages. For whatever reason, the officer I was with neglected to follow standard procedure and have said inmates step backwards out of his cell. The door rolled, and the cuffed inmates bolted between us, ran up the stairs to the second level, and started attempting to remove his cuffs. This inmate, I found out later, had a reputation for enjoying his beating of COs. It took nine officers to take him down and return him to his cell.
Fun fact; the officer I was with attempted to blame the whole thing on me since I didn't run after the inmate. He was shutdown when cameras revealed that he, as a certified officer, had ALSO not given chase.
So, I worked night shift at this jail for around two years, right before I went to the academy, I was working a control room that looked over four different pods, called F-Block. Easy pod, most of them are trusties and minimum security, so they're whiney, but usually not ones you have to worry about much. This block is set up where three of the pods are set up with cells, and there's one pod that is an open pod, meaning bunks and no cells. So two days a week, we do a razor night, pretty standard stuff, the worst part is making sure you get the razor blade back. After handing out the blades, about thirty or forty minutes pass when inmates start banging on the window to get me and another guy's attention, and hitting the call box rapidly. Sadly, this can be a normal occurrence because they'll play that as prank to get us riled up. So the guy I'm in the control room hits the button to answer the call box.
Other CO: Yeah?
Inmates: You need to get in here now.
Other CO: Is it an emergency?
Inmates: Yes, please get in here.
So since I'm the newest of the two, I get the pleasure of walking into the open pod and seeing what's going on. I walk in and just freeze for a second, there's an inmate laying on his bunk with blood coming from his neck, self inflicted. So I call a signal and wait for back-up to get there. Soon me and another guy (also hasn't been to the academy yet) rush over there. The inmate is still alive and he is determined to die, he kicks the other CO away and he begins to slash the blade towards us in a threatening manner to tell us to back off. The other CO goes to one side and holds the guys arms down to his own chest, so the inmate uses this time to just slash his neck even further.
About that time, nurses and superiors find their way to the pod, but the nurses can't come anywhere near them because he's still holding a blade. He scratches one CO who is one scene (the guy has Hep C) and finally the Captain elbows the guy in the best and gets him to drop the blade. We held tampons to the guys neck and proceeded to take him to medical.
Somehow, this guy lived. Turns out he declined a sentence that would have made him serve just 10 more months, but declined the plea and received 10 years to life.
My brother is a CO at Rikers island and around fall last year an inmate tried to stab him with a shank he had hidden in his rectum. The guy failed but I don't think the experience was pleasant.
Michael Clark Duncan
Obligatory not a CO. My dad, father in law and husband are COs at a max facility.
Each of them have been involved in riots, but the worst one was when my father in law, the commander on shift, was trapped in the yard by a group of inmates.
This area is normally gated off, and my FIL was in that area to make sure it was secure, but they later found out a notoriously lazy CO didn't feel the need to lock it up that day after yard (what could go wrong, right?)
The area at the time, for whatever reason, had a roof over the weight pit, and a set of double doors that led back into the prison. The tower guards didn't have a clear view of anything that happened under this roof, and the inmates knew it.
There were young inmates funneling him towards this area, and inmates behind the double doors holding them shut so he couldn't get through to safety. He was fucked.
Now, my FIL is a man that is very "by the rules". He's the kind of guy that just commands respect by the tone of his voice. He's fair, and he gives inmates what they have coming, good or bad. He'll make sure you're getting your mail on time, won't give you petty tickets and make sure you're getting a fair shake at chow. He also won't hesitate to sanction you if you fuck up. Because of this, he has built good rapport with a lot of inmates who are doing long term bids.
One of those long term inmates happened to be on the other side of those doors, trying to stay out of trouble.
My FIL described this man's appearance like that of Michael Clarke Duncan's character on The Green Mile. A quiet, compliant gentle giant.
FIL is by himself, no gun, no taser, no gas, no backup coming. He stands there helpless, trying to reason with the group.
He said he watched the window on the door fill with orange out of the corner of his eye. He turns to look and a huge arm swats these relatively tiny, young punk inmates out of the way. He opens the door for my FIL, threatens the rest of the inmates outside, and brings him inside to safety.
I'm not sure where they went after that, but he said that was absolutely the scariest situation and the most vulnerable he had ever been.
They have since removed the roof and if you EVER missed securing an area, you suffered the wrath of my FIL.
That inmate still locks there to this day, and the respect has continued on between him and my husband. Lucky for me, my husband had a great role model while training at the facility, his dad, and realizes that being a hard ass 100% of the time and being a "bad cop" can get you killed. It doesn't take much to treat people like humans.
"The Guts Guy"
I Had an inmate just come back from the hospital after having some sort of abdominal/stomach surgery. I was doing a round and as I passed his cell, He was sitting on the floor of his cell facing away from me with his arms in front of him and his head looking downward towards his lap.. I saw him moving so I at first didn't think much of it and continued with my round. During the round I had a weird gut feeling that I should go investigate a bit further. He was always pretty odd but never displayed any self destructive behaviors. I walked up to his cell and asked what he was doing. He just said "nothing go away". I had the door opened by the control center and when the door opened It let in enough light into the cell for me to see a bloody handprint on the floor next to him. I directed him to stand up slowly and put his hands behind his back to be cuffed, when he did that I saw both of his hands were literally dripping with blood. I got responders to the area and we pulled him out of his cell where we found his surgical wound was wide open and his innards were visible. We had come to find out that he had pulled his stitches out and had been sticking his hands inside the would to "play with his guts", as he so eloquently put it.
Current CO here, been working for about 4 years now at a federal joint that will remain unnamed.
This happened on my off day, but I was able to watch it on the camera in the control center the next day. One hard, older CO who was known to never let an inmate get by with anything and maybe sometimes said a little to much (cursing at inmates) was dealing with an inmate in a housing unit about wearing the right uniform, well this inmate was apparently having a bad day and started yelling at the older CO. The inmate walked away and went to his cell with the older CO close behind, I assume still talking crap to inmate. At this point you can see the inmate lacing up tennis shoes and putting on gloves on camera. For those of you who are not CO's this generally means they are about to fight. Well long story short, there was this older CO and 1 other unit officer in this housing unit, the older CO starts getting his a** beat and alot of the other inmates (about 120 in the housing unit at a given time) make a circle around the fight.
While there was no audio on the video I saw, word is the inmates that circled the fight told the other unit officer that if he called on the radio or tried to help they would beat him to death. He stood there and watched as the older CO got beat, but luckily the older CO was able to hit is body alarm and help came in about 3min.
3 minutes is a long time to get beat, but he made it out with a broken nose, few ribs and bruises. Older CO still works here and still won't back down from any inmate, he is a scrappy fellow. The other unit officer was forced to quit/got fired. Never leave a brother to get beat even if you get beat. That could have been very very very bad if the older CO had not been able to hit his own body alarm and the unit officer was unable to let anyone know what was happening due to being frozen with fear. No one would have known the older CO was being beaten.
"Urine Coated Spear"
Correctional officer of 4 years in Texas on a Max security unit working administrative segregation (in their cell 23 hours a day) I was stabbed multiple times with a feces and urine coated spear through a cell door. Thankfully all of them were caught in my stabproof thrust vest but it was terrifying.
My Dad has a great story:
One day he caught someone throwing drugs over the fence so he hopped in his truck and was driving over. When the guy saw him he ran into the woods next to the prison. My dad hopped out and ran after him. Eventually, they made it to a clearing and when my dad caught a glimpse of him, he had his hand on his hip like he was reaching for a gun. My dad wasn't armed. So at this point he was thinking:
"what am I supposed to do now?"
So he puts his own hand on his hip and yells at the guy to get down and my dad pretended to have a gun. The guy freaked and got down. Ends up he was reaching for a phone to get backup. But I think it's funny that my dad pulled a Paul Blart.
"Suicide In Progress"
I work for a small Jail. Nothing too crazy happens. One day, a female threw her sheet over her cell door and tied it to the handle. I just happened to be looking into the cell block and saw her hanging from the door kicking and struggling. I called a code for suicide in progress over the radio and ran to the block. We got her down just as she was slipping out of consciousness. She screamed at us when she woke up.
We placed her on suicide watch in the turtle suit.
About 3 years later I saw her out in public and she ran up and gave me a hug and thanked me for helping her. Apparently, she was struggling with meth really bad at the time of her attempt. When I saw her she had been clean for 2 years. Everyday I wonder why I keep doing this job and that one incident was worth it. When I started the job, I thought everyone in jail was just a sack of sh*t. But in reality, some people just mess up or have a bad day.
What Could Have Happened
I was one for two years before I left. I want to preface this by saying DO NOT WORK FOR NORTH CAROLINA:
So, we are so understaffed that we were working upwards of 80 to 90 hours a week. I was also working nights. Some nights i'd be in a dorm that was set up like military barracks. Those barracks had just two officers to 136 inmates. Also, the equipment we had didn't work. Our radios were fubar'd, our pepper spray had been out of date for six years, and only half of the prison cameras worked.
My other officer was asleep by 9:30 pm - as was pretty usual for my pathetic coworkers. I was walking my rounds when my baton clip breaks off my belt and the baton rolls in front of 34 inmates who are not locked down and freely moving about the room. I calmly walked over to the baton that had stopped right in front of an inmates bed and picked it up and left. Luckily nothing happened.
It was the thoughts of what could have happened that drove me to find another job. I could have died that night or any night with a sleeping officer one room over, without a working radio to call for back up or a camera to even show which person killed me. I saw so much corruption and dirt in that job that I'll never want to work for any law enforcement agency again. I sincerely hope that it turns around one day but it will have to without me.
Pregnancy And The Pencil
CO here. When I was 6 months pregnant, I got followed into a cell as I was doing cell checks. The inmate - whom I had given a warning about something earlier - threatened to stab me with a sharpened pencil. My partner was supposed to be watching my back to make sure I was not followed, but this wasn't the first time he slacked on that. Luckily, the inmate saw that I had my hand on my radio to call in backup and he let me continue on my checks.
I went on sick leave the following week until my maternity leave kicked in. Not worth the risks.
Was a Detention Officer in Max / Super-max. I have two bad stories:
Had a guy that got injured while fighting officers. One of his arteries was damaged. It was pretty frighting trying to get this guy under control so we could get him out to the hospital, at the same time as fighting with him, and having him spray blood everywhere.
The other was holding a guy up that had just hung himself for seven minutes waiting for another officer to respond with a 911 tool to cut him down.
Both inmates were saved.
Endearing, yet completely psychotic
My mom was a prison guard for 12 years. I actually remember a lot of stories but I'm pretty sure the scariest day for her was when her boss tried to assign her to be locked in close quarters with a TB infected inmate while she was pregnant with my sister.
This was the 90's I don't know if you can test for that now but back then you couldn't test the baby until it was born. That was her last day on the job.
She had held that job through all three of her pregnancies. It never caused her problems, in fact she used to tell us how amazed the inmates were by it. Some of them rarely see a women, let alone a pregnant woman.
I recall her telling me of one inmate who started reading about pregnancy because of my mother and would give her "fun facts" on the baby. That same inmate had stabbed another because he swore in front of my mother while while pregnant and he had read that the baby can hear everything.
Endearing, yet completely psychotic.
Flashlight And The Aryan Brotherhood
My friend told me this story of his account so I'll share. He was a prison guard in Arizona some years ago. On his way to work there was a monsoon. By the time he arrived the power was out and the backup generator was also out. When the power goes out like that, at least at this particular prison.
So he arrived to no power and open prison cells. It was his job to go around with a maglite and tell everyone to stay calm, stay in their cells and that food would be coming. Most inmates were cool and did as they were told. One particular man though was not so cool. My buddy approached a mammoth of a man leaning on the railing outside his cell with his arms folded. He towers over my friend, he is built like an ox and certainly outweighs him. When told to go back on his cell the inmate says "what if I don't wanna"
So you're not supposed to back down to images obviously. So my buddy is s***ting bricks but has to remain assertive. He tells him one more time to get back in his cell or else. The inmate doesn't care and takes a step towards him. My buddy swings the maglite into his face knocking him out instantly. He found out later that he had knocked out the leader of the aryan brotherhood at that prison.
He promptly put in his two weeks notice and spent the remainder of his time in a guard tower with a rifle.
My first week on the job I was in the unit where the violent offenders and confirmed gang members are housed. We had a mental health offender who got mad at the person in the cell to his left. When we fed him his dinner, he "jacks the slot." There's a small slot we open to put their food tray in. When we opened the slot, the offender put his arm through it in order to stop us from closing it, thereby "jacking the slot."
He refuses to remove his arm, so we sound the alarm system to request backup. As soon as he heard the alarm, the prisoner grabbed a bag full of "fluid" and hurled it toward the next offender's cell. Inside the bag was a mix of his own feces and urine, which spilled under the other guy's door into his cell and, honestly, all over the place.
The mental health offender then reaches back in his cell and grabs two plastic wrappers covered in his own feces and smears them all over the outside of his windows. There was feces everywhere and stunk up the whole wing. Easily the worst day on the job and it was like my 3rd day.
The Throat Scar
Not a prison guard, but spent 18 months in Illinois Department Of Corrections. There was an older dude that was a major jerk, like BAD. He HATED the inmates. He lived to throw them in seg and did his best to get their good behavior time taken away.
He had a scar across his throat. Turns out in the late 80s/early 90s a few prisoners in Statesville got out of control. They took him and his wife hostage then slit his throat. Both lived.
Why he kept being a guard, I'll never know.
Honestly, that the physical test to work in a maximum security prison is so simple a child could do it. I watched a 60 year old/100lb woman pass it. And 350+ lb woman finish it. As well as many people that couldn't protect them selves from a teenager let alone a large grown man.
And these were the people that I was suppose to trust to watch my back if something bad happened.
I was a prison guard in afghanistan in 2011 at the DFIP. I think somewhere around December, we had a Quran burning incident, and tensions were very high between the US and any of the local nationals or the Afghan National Army. People were dying because of riots outside base, this was some serious shit. We were recieving threats from some of the people we worked with.
The scariest day was when I was searching a communal cell some days after the Quran burning. Usually the detainees would put their Qurans in the front middle portion of the cell, near the airlock, laying on a prayer rug. We would leave them alone and ask our interpreters to search them. Anyway, I finish my search and as I'm walking out, I accidently step on a little carton of milk thats hidden under the edge of a sleeping pad, and it explodes all over the Qurans, all 30 of 'em. As I'm looking up and seeing what I've done, I notice 3 Afghan Army guys standing in the airlock. This momemt was the scariest, my adrenaline fired up and I was ready to fight.
They were pretty cool though. I apologized, and they said they saw what happened (one guy spoke english) and understood it was an accident. They cleaned them up and replaced them with new ones. Good people.