Guards recall dorm without fondness DISTURBANCE AT THE PEN

July 18, 1991|By Michael Ollove Recent prison problems | Michael Ollove Recent prison problems,Compiled by Cynthia Webber

Herbert Berry Jr. has vivid memories of C Dorm. You don't forget a place where you were assaulted. Or a place where you were stabbed. Or a place where your knees were so badly mangled while wrestling with prisoners that you finally had to take your disability and give it up.

C Dorm?

"Hell," corrected Mr. Berry, 40, standing yesterday outside the prison where he had been a guard for 13 years.

As Mr. Berry spoke, the building he once supervised was under (( the control of an unknown number of inmates, who, using two handguns, had overpowered two guards the night before and taken them hostage.

The building, built in the early 19th century, is an L-shaped structure inside the penitentiary that has been grimly described. In 1979, after touring the building, Baltimore grand jurors reported themselves "shocked and horrified" at the "filthy and inhumane living conditions," which included feces and food splattered on the walls and the infestation of rodents.

Earlier this year, a Baltimore grand juror characterized another part of the Maryland Penitentiary, the South Wing, as "in deplorable condition" with, "at best, a dungeon-type housing."

Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a spokesman for the state corrections system, said that 260 prisoners were housed in C Dorm.

The building has two parts. The base of the L is a three-story structure with a dormitory on each floor, the first two housing 17 prisoners each and the top floor holding 20. Each dormitory is lined with bunk beds.

The other part of the L consists of five levels of conventional, 6-foot-by-9-foot cells, holding a total of 206 inmates. Because of crowding, inmates on three of the tiers were living two to a cell, he said.

Sergeant Shipley said that neither the double-celling nor the use of bunk beds in the dormitories represented "an ideal situation" in a maximum security situation. He said that the fact that a dormitory existed at all was an outgrowth of the systemic overcrowding in Maryland's state prisons.

Ricardo R. Silva, director of field services for the Maryland Correctional Union, said that C Dorm has not been adequately staffed. He said yesterday it would take 6 guards to safely cover the entire unit. Recently, he said, only four guards have been assigned to the building.

Sergeant Shipley said yesterday he didn't know what the staffing levels were at the time the incident began Tuesday night.

The inmates within C Dorm are part of the "general population" and not there as a result of their behavior, good or bad, Sergeant Shipley said.

Mr. Berry, who retired in 1989, said that when he was at the prison, inmates sent to the dormitories had been screened. Generally, he said, they were either older prisoners or they held jobs within the prison. Since then, said Mr. Berry, who works with the Maryland Correctional Union, "They've started putting anyone and everyone in there."

The days, he said, are long and boring. In the summer, they are also excruciatingly hot. C Dorm is not air-conditioned, and, Mr. Berry said, it doesn't get much cross ventilation. Prisoners are allowed to spend part of the day out in the yard. At night, those in the cells are permitted out on their tiers briefly to watch television in community rooms or to take showers.

As in all parts of the prison, Mr. Berry said, the guards were under no illusions that the prisoners weren't carrying dangerous weapons. The shakedowns, he said, were largely ineffective. While he was there, he said, he saw knives that were made out of Plexiglass, knives made from toothbrushes and knives made from the metal slats of the beds.

* Sept. 26, 1990 -- Sixteen inmates at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County try unsuccessfully to climb a 15-foot fence. One corrections officer is injured.

* Oct. 16, 1990 -- Five inmates escape from the state prison system's minimum-security Pre-Release Unit in East Baltimore. They are recaptured later.

* Dec. 4, 1990 -- Maryland Penitentiary guard Wendell A. Winchester is stabbed several times by an inmate as he and another officer do cell checks. The weapon is a 7-inch blade fashioned from a metal bed support.

* Dec. 5, 1990 -- Three correctional officers receive minor injuries scuffling with an inmate during a shakedown at the penitentiary in the wake of the previous night's stabbing.

* Dec. 27, 1990 -- Convicted murderer Wade P. Redfern escapes from a Department of Correction van while being taken to the Brockbridge Correctional Center in Jessup. He is rearrested Jan. 8.

* May 25, 1991 -- A riot at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown injures 41 inmates and 14 officers. Inmates claim white prison guards beat 20 to 30 black inmates several hours earlier, sparking the riot.

* May 28 -- Fifty prisoners stage a non-violent, 90-minute protest at the Brockbridge Pre-Release Center demanding ice to combat the heat. The inmates return to their cells after an assistant warden promises them ice.

* June 24 -- Officials quell an overnight disturbance on a segregation tier that houses about 80 inmates with disciplinary problems at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown.

* July 1 -- Escaped murderers Levi A. Hudson and George Edward Jolley escape from a state prison bus stopped at a red light in downtown Baltimore. The bus was returning the men to the Baltimore City Correctional Center from the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.

* July 16 -- Inmates armed with handguns take two guards hostage in Dormitory C of the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore.

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