||In life, most people know who they really are. I know who I am. I am Tom. I am a husband, a father, a friend. I am trustworthy, honest, smart, strong. And I am different.
I wake up early every morning and start my routine. I make coffee, shower, and collect the newspaper from the front porch. I flip through the pages and try and find out what is good in the world today. Usually not much. My wife, Carla, rises to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and a breakfast. She attempts to wake up our daughter for school. Attempts. This usually will begin with a quiet, "Time to get up", then opening the curtains to let the nice morning sun flood into the room, and if all is still quiet, a nice "Let's go! Breakfast is getting cold!” from me. Breakfast is dished out onto everyone's plate and coffee and juice are poured. I'm already on my second cup of coffee when Gina makes her way downstairs. Gina, my pride and joy. Named after her grandmother. We exchange smiles as she takes her seat. That smile means more to me than life itself. We eat as a family and, after the exchanges of "I love you", Gina is off to school.
My wife is a homemaker and the next few hours are ours. Each day brings something new. Some days there is yard work or home projects. Other days there are errands. Then there are some where there is nothing to do but relax and enjoy each other's company.
At one fifteen every workday, I kiss Carla goodbye and tell her that I love her. She knows that I love her, but we both know that this could be the last time that we see each other. We never talk about it and the worrying is always at the back of our minds. But, over the years I've always made it home. Some aren't so lucky.
I arrive at work almost an hour and a half early. I park my car and walk through the front door after punching my code into the keypad. I head down the hallway and walk through another door. I walk up to the door and look into the camera above it. This isn't any door. It's a gate made of steel bars. This is where I work.
I press the button on the metal intercom and after a few seconds a buzzer sounds and I am able to push the gate open. As I let it go, it swings back and, as it makes contact with its locking device, it slams shut, echoing down the hallways. There are two slider gates. One directly in front of where I just entered, and one to my left. The sliders are gates that slide open. They are controlled by personnel in Central Control. I can see Central Control through the gate. A reflection of me in mirrored windows with the stencil wording, Central Control, is all that can be seen. I know there are two officers in there working their tails off. Answering phones, observing cameras, opening and closing gates, monitoring phone calls, tracking equipment.
The slider to the left of me opens with a click and the sound of unseen mechanical motors and gears whirring. It sounds like an electrical can opener. A really big electrical can opener. I enter into a brightly lit hallway as the slider closes behind me. From here, I can get to the locker room, the briefing room, the break room, the weight room, the courtyard, or the administrative corridor. Today, like everyday at this time, I head to the weight room. One of the best pieces of advice that I was given years ago was that fat, out of shape officers were seen as lazy officers. Sloppy officers were seen as lazy officers. Lazy officers were seen as vulnerable. We are all vulnerable in a way, but I push myself everyday to remain as fit as possible. Not only is it healthy, but it gives me a better chance of going home at night.
After an hour of some running, lifting, and stretching, I hit the showers. I put on my pressed uniform and arrange all of my ribbons neatly. My boots can compete with the mirrored windows of Central Control. I say hello to some of my brothers and sisters coming in for duty and go to the briefing room to wait for the Tour Sergeant's briefing and post assignments.
After briefing, we file out toward Central Control. On a metal cart just outside of the slider, we find our radio batteries. Each battery is labeled with a post number. Today, I take the 501 battery for the EFG Post. EFG is located on the second floor of our facility. The second floor is made up of six separate housing units, or blocks as we call them. Three officers will run this floor. I will be supervising E, F, and G Blocks, another officer will be supervising H, I, and J Blocks, and a third officer runs the floor. He takes and makes phone calls, looks up information on the floor's only computer, and makes sure everything runs smoothly.
As I exit the elevator, the first thing that changes is the noise level. I hear televisions blaring music. I hear inmates yelling back and forth to each other. I hear radios squawking. I make my way to the right of the elevator, toward EFG, and the other officer heads to the left, toward HIJ.
I walk through a manual slider gate and come face to face with a large steel door which leads into a pipe chase utility closet. On the right side of this door is E Block and on the left side of the door is F Block. Both blocks run the length of the pipe chase. To my left is the front of G Block. Each block can hold up to sixteen inmates, each with their own individual cell. This is called a linear setting. All of the inmates are currently locked in their cells until shift change is completed. Once completed, the inmates are released from their cells and are allowed to go into a common area which is enclosed in steel bars and contains four benches and two televisions.
The desk and the officer that I am relieving are just to my right. He looks ready to leave. He informs me that each block is full, while handing me a large brass key ring containing almost a dozen keys, and switching out his old radio battery for my new radio battery. Each key on the ring is different. There are keys for gates, doors, lockboxes. Lockboxes are located at the front of each block and contain switches operated by fuses to open and close gates on the individual cells.
After I am briefed, I open the cells, and am left to supervise the housing units. I make thirty minute rounds on a catwalk to look into every cell and make sure no one is doing anything they are not supposed to be doing. The rounds should only take all of two minutes, but I am constantly stopped to answer things such as, "What's my bail?", "What are my charges?", "Can I have such and such paperwork?", and on and on and on.
"Turn down the TVs or they go away."
I said it in a voice that was firm, but not yelling. They know that each officer has his or her own way of doing things. I will say it once and if it doesn't get fixed, I will turn the TVs off. This is a simple problem to fix. New officers have it tough. The inmates will always push to see what they can get away with, and the televisions are the least of concern. I've been here long enough that I don't have to repeat myself. Who am I? I am hated, feared, watched. I am authority.
It's ten o’clock. My night is almost done. This is the most dangerous time of the night. A lot of problems happen right before lock in. It is the nature of the beast. Just as I am thinking it, I pick out the sound of voices over the TVs. It isn't the excited voices over a football or basketball game. It isn't someone telling an animated story. It's an argument. I trace it to F Block. As I get up, my keys jingle, and I hear the squeaking of sneakers and the movement of many people. The keys are already going toward the lockbox and I am yelling for F Block to lock into their cells. It's a fight. I see wild punches being thrown and a ring of onlookers. I am on the radio, "501 to Central, fight on F Block." Smooth is fast. No yelling into the microphone. Clear, concise statement. It's funny how calm I am in this sea of violence and vulgarity. I'm different. My fellow brothers and sisters are different. This job changes a person.
The cell doors start to close and the inmates not involved run to get in them, knowing the punishment for disobeying an order. The two engaged in the fight look exhausted, but neither will admit defeat in front of their peers. At this point, I have five other officers at the front gate of F Block. One of them nods, and I flip the switch to open the slider. They run in yelling at the inmates to lie on the floor. Still not wanting to lose face, both continue to fight each other. They are pepper sprayed and subdued. From here, sweaty, bloody, handcuffed, and teary-eyed, they are seen by the nurse before being removed to Punitive Segregation.
Later, when asked why they fought, they admitted that it was over the television. They will spend ninety days in punitive segregation with no television, restricted privileges, and cuts and bruises over not agreeing on what to watch. But this is their way of life. This doesn't surprise me anymore.
After the proper paperwork is filled out, it is time for me to go home. I brief my relief officer and give him my keys and radio. I get on the elevator and go to the locker room. One more shower before I go. Once done, I walk out of the gates into the fresh night air and go home.
I walk into the house and all is quiet. I check on Gina to make sure she is tucked away. I smile. My angel. I kiss her on the forehead and head to bed. Carla stirs as I enter and asks how my night was.
"No problem. I love you."
She's already asleep. This is who I am.