Michigan Reformatory - circa 1970s
After a career of any description, there are seemingly innocuous statements that stick with you and God only knows why. I began my time as a ‘convict counter’ in 1974 and being single, mobile and in the right place at the right time brought me a couple promotions, which entailed ensuring fellow convict counters were doing it properly. The very premise of our job was and remains, to ensure all prisoners were where they were supposed to be when our shift was over, because that’s what they do.
Joe Jesko, was a food steward and former kitchen officer, who had made the switch years ago for the money increase at the time. Lean and wiry, in his fifties or sixties his graying brown hair slicked straight back, in his kitchen whites, he looked like a convict from the ‘30s. He sat with the kitchen officer in the O.D. officer’s dining room, the C.O. drinking a cup of coffee, Joe, eating a bowl of cereal, legs crossed with both feet touching the floor. A blood curdling scream came from the other side of the wall in the chow hall. The young officer was immediately at the ready and Joe, swallowing another mouthful of cereal looked at him in his usual deadpan manner, “why, I believe someone drove it in too deep.” Apparently, not Joe’s first rodeo.
Eleven Post, atop the cell blocks sat six stories in the sky and the head’s up on the 30.06 rifle was basic. “If you drop the weapon, jump over after it and fire, reload and fire emptying the weapon before reaching the ground.” This job was almost too simple.
Sgt. Clark AKA Rubber Duck was promoted to Lt. Clark and as either, when it became necessary to call 2-10 staff in for an emergency or normal overtime, his first question was, “have you had less than six beers?” That he called Renucci’s bar looking for you, legitimized the question. With jukebox blaring in the background you answered with the same candor, one would in a traffic stop.
During an otherwise, uneventful evening a prisoner was taken to the Adjustment Center/Segregation. Found to be brandishing a razor blade, he held it to his neck and threatened to kill himself. A Sgt. kicked him in the face, knocking the razor away. While being secured, the prisoner cited all sorts of constitutional violations. The gist was, an inmate attempting to kill himself, shall not have that endeavor thwarted with a kick to the head. Cal Stanton, the Sgt. in charge, tapped on the top of his Skoal container and pondered the prisoner’s allegations. With all eyes on him, Cal placed a pinch of Skoal between cheek and gum and said slowly and deliberately,“Well, if we’ve gotta kick your ass to save your life, whyyy we’ll kick your ass every time.”
One evening after shift, two of our brothers, vastly outnumbered, were ‘engaged’ at a tavern in town. Word quickly reached Renucci’s drinkery and “squad assemble,” was the order of the day. The ‘squad’ reported and responded in kind, still outnumbered, but accustomed to unfavorable odds. Subsequently, it had to be reported to the warden. As two sergeant’s had been participants in the brouhaha and one was less presentable, having almost lost an eye to a carefully swung broken beer bottle, the other was elected to advise the warden. A formality, since Warden Foltz was aware of the pugilistic efforts and possible staff discipline was in the balance. The Sgt. met a stern and imposing warden, who after finding no law enforcement agencies were involved and no official record of the incident existed, punched the Sgt. in the arm and asked, “well then, how’d ya represent us?”
Dick Leonard, a housing unit coordinator and rather rotund fellow, was one of the assigned staff supervising about five hundred prisoners during night yard. P.K., a floor cop, summoned him via the mobile unit to ask if he, Leonard, could move to the middle of the yard, as the prison was beginning to list. Chuckles and comments abounded. One moment later, unarmed staff responded to a stabbing and were ass deep into what resembled a rugby scrum, because that’s what they do.