Enough to frighten an average inmate

January 03, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

I'm at the Jessup House of Corruption," the first line of the letter read.

That was years ago, sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. The letter came from Louis Floyd, my first cousin who was seven years older than I was. Louis was the last of my Uncle George Floyd's three children. His troubles with the law started in his early teens. By the time he was 21, he'd killed another man in some pointless, idiotic street fight.

Louis had been in the Maryland State Penitentiary, in a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., and in what in linguistically simpler times was called the Baltimore City Jail. Of all those places, the "House of Corruption" was the only one he wanted out of -- and fast.

That was the point of his letter: a plea for me to find someone who could help him get the hell out of the Maryland House of Correction, known as the "House of Corruption" to inmates for at least 20 years, possibly longer. Louis Floyd was as tough and hardened a convict as they come, but even he wanted no part of the "House of Corruption."

We all know why now, don't we? Corrections officer David McGuinn was fatally stabbed at the MHC in July of 2006. Spokespeople for unions that represent corrections officers are on record as saying McGuinn was on an inmate hit list of officers who choose to do their jobs by the book rather than letting inmates run the joint.

Two men -- both serving life sentences that probably rule out the chance of parole -- have been charged in McGuinn's death. Another corrections officer was stabbed soon after. And just last week, MDOC officials said an inmate serving three life terms stabbed one corrections officer for each life term. This guy got a three-for-one deal, stabbing a trio of corrections officers at the Jessup Correctional Institution, which differs from the "House of Corruption" only in name and perhaps not even one degree on a global positioning system.

Formerly known as the Annex, the JCI is located next to its more notorious cousin, the "House of Corruption." Slightly different locations, but some of the same sorts of inmates are housed in both facilities: the ones state prison honchos call "dangerous and difficult to handle," according to an article by Sun reporter Greg Garland.

Ah, "dangerous and difficult to handle." Sounds like as fine a euphemism for "homicidal and psychopathic" as has ever come down the pike, doesn't it?

Let's not forget that these "dangerous and difficult to handle" inmates ain't exactly treating other inmates with tender loving care either. Last month, corrections officers found Richard Spicknall II dead in a shower with either a towel or rag stuffed in his mouth. Spicknall was serving a life term for killing his two children. His death has been ruled a homicide.

Boy, these state officials don't miss a trick.

Three other inmates at the "House of Corruption" were fatally stabbed last year. Other inmates and some staffers suffered injuries when some of these "dangerous and difficult to handle" inmates were having -- what? -- bad commissary days?

After each incident, prison officials reacted the same way: confining inmates to their cells, locking the joint down and tossing it for weapons and other contraband. That happened at JCI after the latest incident. It occurs to me that there just might be inmates at both JCI and the "House of Corruption" who are more than a little bit tired of this routine.

Some -- hey, it might even be most -- of the inmates at JCI and MHC just might want to do their time, do it with as problems as possible and go home. They want to do that time with as few lockdowns and as little tossing of their cells as possible. Who's preventing that?

Why, those "dangerous and difficult to handle" inmates, of course. If I were running things, I'd put one of these "dangerous and difficult to handle" inmates in a room with about 20 of those inmates who just want to do their time and go home. (And who, I imagine, are probably pretty ticked off right about now.) Then I'd let those inmates "regulate" him.

But I guess that's why it's a good thing that I'm not running things.

This is clearly a time for more level-headed folks to prevail. People like George Gregory, a spokesman for the state Division of Correction. Gregory said that, not being on the inside of either JCI or MHC, he couldn't really say how the majority of inmates at those facilities -- the ones not "dangerous and difficult to handle" -- feel about the frequent lockdowns. But he has a theory.

"When an incident happens," Gregory said, "and inmates get locked down, it's for their protection as well. I think they take it [being locked down] pretty well."

Well Gawd bless 'em, and more power to 'em if they do. Still, I'm sure they'd prefer to be somewhere other than with those inmates classified as "dangerous and difficult to handle."

Too bad we can't put all the ones in that category in a space shuttle and blast them permanently off the planet.

gregory.kane@baltsun.com

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